Tottenham Hotspur vs Arsenal: Three key players to look out for

The Hard Tackle looks at three key players to watch out for in the upcoming North London Derby between Tottenham and Arsenal.

A North London Derby without drama, goals, and charged-up individual performances probably does not exist. Of course, the goalscorers often take the plaudits at the end of each encounter. But plenty of others work hard in the background in games between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

Over the years, some magnificent individual performances have proved crucial in helping both sides. For example, at the back end of last season, when Tottenham hammered Arsenal 3-0 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Son Heung-min put up a rather witty display to let his team gain an advantage early in the game.

In another instance, Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka’s midfield masterclass this season at the Emirates saw both the midfielders master the ball and even score in either half. Plenty of examples have accumulated over the years, and there could be a few on Sunday.

North London Derbies are always unique, as every player will remain charged up to make a point. This time around, there are 22 possible players who could have a significant impact. But here we want to talk about three players who could turn things around at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Going back to the last meeting on this ground, and it is clear Tottenham dominated that game. Arsenal’s day turned into misery owing to the circumstances, but the Gunners were missing key players that Arteta will have at his disposal again. Considering everything, we look at three players who could be the difference in this edition.

Thomas Partey

The Ghanaian midfielder is silently becoming the most crucial cog in Mikel Arteta’s system. Partey has had many injury issues since joining the club, and fans have often complained about it. However, they are right, considering the midfielder has missed many crucial games through fitness concerns, and more so last season.

Arsenal sorely missed him as they chased a top-four place, more so in the North London Derby at Tottenham. Partey offers a level of control that no Arsenal midfielder has since probably Patrick Vieira. His mopping-up of play and ball progression are severely underrated.

The critical element of Arsenal’s success this season has been his constant availability. Partey offers total security for the two advancing midfielders, provides passing lanes, and controls the tempo for the team. He could become the vital component for Arsenal if they want to win the North London Derby against Tottenham this time around.

Oleksandr Zinchenko

Mikel Arteta started deploying his inverted full-back style last season, but Oleksandr Zinchenko gives more meaning to the role. The Ukrainian international was a shrewd acquisition from Manchester City in the summer. And barring his fitness troubles, he is worth every penny spent.

Zinchenko’s role allows him to drift infield and, depending on the progression of play, brings an extra man into midfield. He is a player who becomes difficult to track because he operates as a full-back in the deepest phase of build-up. Then, the Ukrainian utility man drifts inside when the play advances further up the pitch.

To better understand the role, the winger marking him is left with no one to mark due to Zinchenko’s unpredictable movements. His interchangeability with his winger and ability to slot in central or advanced midfield gives Arsenal a different dimension, especially when attacking.

The most important part of his presence is the level of control Arsenal have on the ball when he is around. Forget the goalscorers and wingers; Zinchenko will be the most important player on the pitch if he executes his role to perfection against Tottenham.

Dejan Kulusevski

As a note of caution, Kulusevski is only just returning from fitness. Antonio Conte confirmed he is ready to play, and given the current choices, the Swede will likely start against Arsenal on the right side of the front three. On the opposite flank, Ben White has built a reputation for stopping some of the top wingers in the league. In reality, the other flank is where all the action lies.

Kulusevski will be the man tasked with the difficult task of facing Zinchenko, and there are two facets to it. Considering the Ukrainian’s defensive frailties, the Swede will expect plenty of joy down that flank. But his main task will be to mark the full-back and thwart his influence successfully.

In the attacking third, Spurs underperforming in the final third coincided with Kulusevski’s prolonged absence. They are more fluid and create plenty of chances with the winger on the pitch. His presence will prove crucial to Tottenham’s chances to hurt Arsenal.

His and Zinchenko’s roles are by far the most crucial ones, and an exciting battle will be brewing down that flank. The game will go in the direction of one player and directly benefit their respective side. The outcome of the duo’s battle may decide the final result of this North London Derby.

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