Kick Off: Sunday 1st September
Live on TV: 4.00pm Sky Sports 1
The current Premier League season has barely got off the ground, but the curtain will be well and truly raised on Sunday, with two sets of bitter rivals going toe-to-toe. First up is Liverpool’s clash with Manchester United at Anfield. Then Arsenal welcome Tottenham – actually, ‘welcome’ is probably not the right word – to the Emirates. It’ll be a ‘Super Sunday’ alright.
Since the inception of the Premier League, matches between Arsenal and Spurs have yielded a total of 124 goals – more than any other head-to-head in the English top-flight under its current guise – and 13 of the last 14 north London derbies have delivered over 2.5 goals (Paddy Power go 8/11 that it’ll be more of the same this weekend), while the last two fixtures in the Gunners’ backyard have produced no less than 14 goals.
As we were reminded when Manchester United and Chelsea played out a goalless draw at Old Trafford last week, early-season games between top clubs can often result in cautious, tactical affairs. So often, the desire not to lose is stronger than the desire to win in matches of this magnitude, with either side cancelling each other out for the best part of 90 minutes. It can be like watching a chess game unfold on a football pitch
Conversely, that mentality is not part of the DNA of either Arsene Wenger or Andre Villas-Boas. Indeed, the desire of both managers to win on Sunday will be stronger than their desire not to lose, and I envisage the pre-match battle cry in both dressing rooms being along the lines of “attack mother-f*****, attack”. Perhaps without the expletive, but you get the gist.
Though Arsenal and Spurs haven’t locked horns at this stage of the season for many a year – since 1997, in fact – only one of the last eight north London derbies has ended in a draw. Consequently, while odds in the region of 5/2 about this scrap ending honours even may be appealing to some, I wouldn’t touch that with a bargepole. Either way, one side will emerge with three points and – more importantly to fans – bragging rights, even if only temporary.
In terms of the club’s respective transfer window activity, it is very much advantage Tottenham. Whereas the Gunners have stuttered and stumbled, AVB and Spurs’ chairman Daniel Levy have gone about their business with real proficiency. They have identified their targets, moved swiftly and decisively, and closed deals in a timely fashion. Perhaps they can give Wenger some transfer market tips over a glass of red after Sunday’s game?
The Lilywhites have already recruited Etienne Capoue, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho and Roberto Soldado, while Erik Lamela, Vlad Chiriches and Christian Eriksen are all on their way to The Lane, if the rumours are true. But Bale will be missed on Sunday, as the Welshman has often proved to be a real thorn in Arsenal’s side, netting five times against the Gunners in 10 appearances, including in both fixtures between the north London clubs last season.
AVB’s charges have made a bright start to the season, offering encouragement that life without Bale will be just swell. However, it’s been an unwelcome distraction for the club – indeed, Villas-Boas looked understandably bored to tears by the subject during a recent press conference – and whether or not the new signings, assuming they figure in the starting XI at the Emirates, will be fully prepared for the toxic atmosphere that will greet them this weekend remains to be seen.
Paradoxical though this may sound, Arsenal’s failure to make a mark in the current transfer window thus far may be a blessing in disguise in the context of Sunday’s match. While Arsene Wenger has been thrusting around in a fashion akin to a gelded horse trying to bonk a filly in the paddocks, the equilibrium of the team remains very much intact. The integration of Yaya Sanogo and reintegration of Mathieu Flamini will have been seamless and, when push comes to shove, the Gunners may exhibit the greater sangfroid in this game.
Don’t get me wrong, unless Wenger does pull of some masterstrokes in the final knockings of the transfer window, Spurs fans may well get what they ultimately crave this season – that is, for Tottenham to usurp Arsenal in the Premier League table and automatically qualify for the Champions League – but on this particular occasion I believe that the home side will have the edge.
A home win is generally 11/10, with the visitors widely available at 13/5, but the most alluring option betting-wise in this match to my mind is backing Olivier Giroud to score anytime at 15/8 with Betfred. He’s as short as 5/4 in the same market with Coral, which underlines the generosity of the aforementioned price, and the Frenchman has made an impressive start to the season, scoring in both of Arsenal’s league matches.
I’m reluctant to get too heavily involved in the correct score market – and certainly do not expect Arsenal to prevail by anything like the same margin as they did in this fixture last year (the Gunners won 5-2) – but I’ll be disappointed if there isn’t plenty of net-bulging, so also recommend lapping up the standout 2/1 on offer with Hills about over 3.5 goals.
Olivier Giroud in the anytime goalscorer market – 15/8 (Betfred)
Over 3.5 in the total goals market – 2/1 (William Hill)