LONDON (AFP) — Arsenal and Tottenham will be battling for much more than local bragging rights on Saturday as the north London rivals look to prove they are serious Premier League title contenders.
Top action returns after the international break and Arsenal top the table after a surprisingly strong start, while unbeaten Tottenham are just a point behind third place.
With Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United still finding their footing after rocky starts to the season, a path has been opened up for North London clubs to turn the title race around.
If a title challenger were to emerge at either end of the Seven Sisters Road, it was Tottenham who were most likely, having dramatically snatched the top four from bitter rivals and neighbors last season.
Arsenal were in pole position to qualify for the Champions League as they were four points clear of Tottenham with just three games remaining.
But Mikel Arteta‘s side squandered their chance as a disastrous 3-0 defeat at Tottenham was followed by a devastating loss to Newcastle which dashed their hopes of a Champions League return for the first time since the season 2016/17.
Buoyed by the win over Arsenal, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy bowed to Antonio Conte‘s demands and sanctioned a season-ending spending spree that further boosted the feel-good factor at the club.
Conte refusing to let their players rest on their laurels, Tottenham continued to progress in their second season under the demanding Italian.
Conte showed his ruthless side in Tottenham’s last game when he dropped Son Heung-min after his eight-game scoreless streak and was rewarded with a hat-trick from the South Korean after coming on as a substitute in Win 6 -2 against Leicester.
While Tottenham’s rise underscores Conte’s leadership qualities, it is arguably Arteta who has done the most impressive job this season.
Arsenal’s implosion in the final week of last season could have been a hammer blow to Arteta’s gradual rebuilding of a club mired in mediocrity long before the end of Arsene Wenger‘s reign.
The eccentric side of Arteta’s personality was showcased during the TV documentary All or Nothing, which chronicles the Spaniard’s struggle to guide the club through choppy waters last season.
But Arteta’s quirks shouldn’t hide how he infused Arsenal with energy and enthusiasm, nurturing a group of talented young players while sacking Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang over disciplinary issues.
Revitalized by the signings of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko and the development of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal have so far enjoyed the benefits of a relatively cheap game plan.
Wenger, who led Arsenal to their last title in 2004, believes his former side should already be considered as title contenders.
“I would say they have a good chance because I don’t see a super dominant team,” Wenger told Sky Sports. “I think it’s a good opportunity to do that this season.”
However, Arsenal’s only game against one of the top four rivals this season ended in a 3-1 defeat at Manchester United.
Arteta needs a decisive win to show there is substance to the rebound that gave Arsenal their best start to the season since 2004 on a five-game winning streak.
History speaks for Arsenal, with Tottenham having gone 11 top-flight games without a win at the Emirates Stadium since their last triumph in 2010.
But Arsenal, who have been beaten just once in their last 29 home league games against Tottenham, must find a way to overcome long-time foe Harry Kane.
Tottenham striker Kane has scored a record 13 goals in 17 derby games in north London, including two in their last game in May.
English Premier League Fixtures:
Saturday (1400 GMT unless stated)
Arsenal vs Tottenham (1130), Bournemouth vs Brentford, Crystal Palace vs Chelsea, Fulham vs Newcastle, Liverpool vs Brighton, Southampton vs Everton, West Ham vs Wolves (1630)
Manchester City vs Manchester Utd (1300), Leeds vs Aston Villa (1530)
Leicester vs Nottingham Forest (1900)