The Hard Tackle looks at the three players who can have a telling tale to tell at the end of the North London Derby on Sunday.
The North London Derby is upon us; with that, two teams are eager to get their hands on the bragging rights in town. Arsenal have had an upper hand in this fixture last season, doing the double over Tottenham on their way to finishing second in the Premier League standings.
Losing both games of the season to their bitter rivals was only part of the problem for Tottenham last term, as they finished outside of European places. Ange Postecoglou has instantly changed the mood around the club, as Spurs fans feel they have their team back.
A head to head of the North London Derby 🔴 ⚪ pic.twitter.com/T9QupAyzrd
— OneFootball (@OneFootball) September 23, 2023
Tottenham, under Postecoglou, have played an attractive brand of football, which has been missing since the departure of Mauricio Pochettino. Many managers have come and gone in between. But for the first time, the audience has taken a liking to someone in the Australian’s mould.
Spurs come into this huge North London Derby with optimism, and they should, considering how good they have been since the season began. They endured drama at home last weekend against Sheffield United, but the three points and the jubilation at the end of the game mattered to the players and the fans.
Some may argue that Tottenham have yet to face any opponent of serious intent, barring a struggling Manchester United side. Hence, this clash against Arsenal holds much value, especially if Tottenham can manage a win on enemy territory.
That is easier said than done, as Arsenal themselves are in supreme form, having smashed PSV Eindhoven in midweek in their Champions League opener. The Dutch side played an open game, took it to the Gunners with their attacking style, and got punished.
Arsenal, who could miss two influential players in Thomas Partey and Gabriel Martinelli, are still stronger without them. The presence of Declan Rice and William Saliba gives them defensive security at the back, and the unmistakable form of Martin Odegaard will stitch the attack together.
Hence, it is no coincidence that Arsenal are the overwhelming favourites for pundits to take three points against Tottenham. But without discounting Spurs right now, this game offers plenty of goals and drama on Sunday. However, key players dictate these moments, and here we list three of those who can influence the outcome of this edition of the North London Derby.
There are always these debates in the current stream about what constitutes a top player. Who is the best in the league? Who has a more considerable impact on proceedings, or which player asserts himself as someone who stitches everything together?
Who else is excited for more Martin Odegaard magic? 🪄 pic.twitter.com/SqLzunQkB1
— Premier League (@premierleague) September 22, 2023
Odegaard has received considerable shoutouts to be considered at least top three in the Premier League on current form. His scintillating form was there to see when Arsenal returned to the Champions League and put on a show for the Emirates crowd on Wednesday.
Some may see the Norwegian’s new contract as extra motivation to perform in the North London Derby. But Odegaard won’t need that to make everyone stand up and notice. This game holds much meaning, especially at home, and the attacker will be pumped right from the start.
Odegaard is the glue of this Arsenal attacking setup. Everything passes through him; for the most part, he’s been very decisive over the last two years. Yet, again, Tottenham defenders will have to worry about his movements and ideas, as the Norwegian holds the keys to change the game around with one pass or a top-notch shot towards goal.
Tottenham have had lots of impressive performers since the season began. Son Heung-min looks a different player since Harry Kane’s departure, while James Maddison has had an instant impact since joining up during the summer. But one player that has caught the eye is Yves Bissouma.
🔴 Declan Rice 🆚 Yves Bissouma ⚪️
🤔 Both midfielders have started the season strongly, but who is the higher rated over the course of 2023?
🔗 Check out the full Premier League weekend preview on Edge of the Box 👇
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) September 22, 2023
In recent seasons, Spurs have struggled to have a solid midfield in place despite the decent job done by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and the likes. Yet, they needed someone to control and dictate the tempo, and the forgotten former Brighton & Hove Albion star turned up in style.
Spurs have looked much more composed in the middle, and Bissouma has provided them with a base to work on. He appears like the ideal Postecoglou lynchpin to hold the midfield together and get others into play. However, the challenges so far have been nominal for the midfielder, as the Arsenal test is a significant examination of his character and personality.
If things go Tottenham’s way, Bissouma will have a telling tale. For Spurs to take three points or a positive result at the very least, the midfielder would have to win his battle against Declan Rice, which will personally boost his confidence for the remainder of the season. Hence, this midfield battle will be the most intriguing one.
There are few players in world football, especially after the most recent transfer window, that tend to justify their price tag. Jude Bellingham over at Real Madrid has looked every bit the £100 million player, and the other is Declan Rice.
The improvement in Declan Rice's game since joining #Arsenal has been incredible. The thought behind his passes has elevated, he's working the angles, and they zip across the surface. Like Ødegaard and Saka, we're watching a player with phenomenal ability to learn and grow. #AFC pic.twitter.com/Fq7KRMKPrB
— Adam Keys (@adamkeys_) September 21, 2023
The former West Ham United captain did not need the late goal against Manchester United to showcase his worth, as his value is evident in his performances for Arsenal. Some still believe the Gunners got lucky in signing him, but he is Mikel Arteta’s perfect holding midfielder.
In the recent absence of Thomas Partey, Rice has enhanced his reputation and showcased how easily he can take over the lone six role. His influence is already evident in this team, and another top-notch performance in the North London Derby would elevate his status in this Arsenal side.
Hence, the middle of the park will hold the biggest battle of the game, especially against Bissouma. The team that controls the midfield will probably win this clash, and Rice gives Arsenal the overwhelming edge to do so. So, as things stand, Rice is the most important player on the pitch, and the Emirates faithfuls will look up to him for a top performance against Tottenham.