Paul Merson makes surprise Arsenal claim in warning to Tottenham ahead of North London Derby
Paul Merson believes Arsenal are favourites ahead of their North London Derby with Tottenham on Sunday.
The Gunners welcome their biggest rivals having taken a big step towards the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday with a 3-1 away win over Olympiacos.
But they will go up against a Tottenham side on a five-game winning run and back in with a shot of making the top four, five points behind Chelsea with a game in-hand.
Arsenal will be looking to spoil those hopes, and according to former player turned pundit Merson, they are favorites to do so due to four key players.
“I think Arsenal are favourites against them this weekend. I really do. If both teams play to the best of their ability I think Arsenal win the game,” Merson wrote in his Daily Star column.
“I think their passing and movement is better. Spurs rely too much on Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, and lately Gareth Bale.
“Arsenal are a different team to the one Spurs beat in December. Bukayo Saka is playing really well. Willian looks like he has turned a corner. Nicolas Pepe had his best game yet against Leicester.
When the two sides met earlier this season, Tottenham won 2-0 thanks to goals from Son Heung-min and Harry Kane, a duo Arsenal will be wary of again here.
But while Tottenham remain favourites on paper, despite Merson’s claim, much has changed since the last meeting with Arsenal recovering from their dire start, even if not to the level they will have wished, still 10th in the table.
The Arsenal player who holds the key to stopping Tottenham and Harry Kane
This week, Arsenal take on the old enemy Tottenham in a north London derby that has both local pride and valuable points on the line.
The visitors are seven points clear of Mikel Arteta’s men, therefore securing a victory feels key, especially if Arsenal want to make a late charge towards a spot in the European places this season.
Jose Mourinho’s men are also trying to close the gap on those sides above them, therefore they’ll equally see this as a must-win encounter.
This makes for an exciting North London derby on paper, but from an Arsenal perspective, Spurs’ biggest threat comes from their attack, with Harry Kane again in scintillating form for the visitors. He’s netted five goals across his past four appearances and also boasts 11 career strikes against the Gunners.
It’s not just Kane who poses a threat to the Arsenal goal though, with the likes of Son Heung-min and Gareth Bale also illustrating how lethal they can be at various stages of the season so far.
In order to combat the threat posed by Spurs’ attack, Arsenal’s defence will need to perform at its absolute best. A key profile within that defensive line is David Luiz who has developed into an important senior member of Mikel Arteta’s squad, even despite somewhat of a rollercoaster 18 months with the club.
Luiz has been criticised for performances in the past, and he’s still capable of the occasional lapse in concentration, as we saw in Thursday night’s victory against Olympiacos when he gave away the ball inside his own penalty box, nearly leading to a goal for the hosts. Yet, on the whole, he has been a big character and key player for Arteta.
This season he has a Premier League defensive duel success rate of 69.8%, and an aerial duel success rate of 67.5%. Both of these ranks him within the top 20% of all centre-backs who have played over 1000 minutes.