There is never an unimportant North London Derby for reasons both idealistic and pragmatic. Arsenal and Tottenham are fierce rivals separated only by a few miles of London real estate and a couple of stops on the Lea Valley line. The two sides have met on the pitch 197 times since 1909, and that familiarity has bred a lot of contempt. Bragging rights are always at stake when the Gunners and Spurs square off, but so too are points.
Because of the state of the English Premier League — specifically the state of its elite six clubs — the North London Derby is likely to be a six-pointer in perpetuity, an opportunity for each side to not only propel themselves up the table but also force the other team to drop points and see their standing slip. Unless something drastically changes at one or both clubs in the next few years, Arsenal and Spurs will always be battling for a top-four place with only a few points separating them, and thus every Premier League NLD will have major ramifications at the top of the table.
And so the stage is set for the 198th playing of the North London Derby this Saturday (7:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports) at Tottenham’s temporary Wembley home, and the sides could not be on more different trajectories heading into the match. The Gunners have won five of their last six Premier League matches and are coming off a 5-1 victory over Bournemouth on Wednesday. They’ve jumped into the top four in the last two weeks, and a win over Spurs could help solidify that position for the stretch run. Tottenham, meanwhile, has lost two matches in a row, 2-1 to Burnley and 2-0 to Chelsea. Spurs sit third in the table with 60 points, four points ahead of the Gunners. A win for Spurs would provide some much-needed momentum and confidence, while a loss could portend the beginning of a major collapse. Either way, the entire complexion of the top-four race could change on Saturday.
While Tottenham is certainly a more accomplished team at this point in the season — it holds more points in the Premier League right now and is still competing in the UEFA Champions League — Arsenal will head into Saturday as favorites thanks to recent form. Following a dip in form around the holiday season, which included a 2-0 loss to Spurs in the League Cup, the Gunners have come on strong in the new year, specifically since a 1-0 loss to West Ham in mid-January. Arsenal has won six of their nine matches in all competitions since then with the only blemishes coming against Manchester City in the Premier League, Manchester United in the FA Cup and BATE Borisov in the first leg of a two-leg Europa League tie that the Gunners eventually won 3-1 on aggregate.
But it isn’t just the fact that they are winning the matches but the way that they’re winning them that will give Arsenal supporters confidence heading into Saturday. Arsenal hasn’t been shutout since the aforementioned loss to West Ham on Jan. 15, scoring 18 goals in that span. The Gunners really showed their attacking prowess against Bournemouth as five different players found the back of the net. On top of that, and more importantly, Arsenal and manager Unai Emery finally seem to be fixing their defensive issues. The clean sheets against Bate and Southampton are the club’s first consecutive clean sheets since it claimed a pair of 1-0 wins over Huddersfield and Qarabag in early January.