The 193rd instalment of the North London derby headlines Sunday’s Premier League action, as Tottenham Hotspur entertain bitter rivals and league leaders Arsenal.
The Gunners ran out convincing 3-1 winners over Antonio Conte’s sluggish side earlier in the season, but the Lilywhites tend to prove a different beast in North London derbies on their own soil.
Leaving the managerial duties to Cristian Stellini as he mourned the death of former Juventus teammate and Italy legend Gianluca Vialli, Conte witnessed his Tottenham side make harder work of their FA Cup win over League One side Portsmouth than they did a Premier League thumping of Crystal Palace.
Three days after putting four unanswered goals past the Eagles away from home, Tottenham relied on a sweetly-struck Harry Kane effort to get them over the line against a dogged and determined Portsmouth side, setting up a fourth-round trip to Preston North End in the process.
While ending their wretched 15-year trophyless run will certainly be at the forefront of Conte’s mind, the Italian is fighting an uphill battle to make it back-to-back seasons in the Champions League for Spurs, who occupy fifth place in the table with 33 points from a possible 54 so far – two behind Manchester United having played a game more.
The 4-0 thumping over Crystal Palace is arguably the only convincing success that Tottenham have posted over the past couple of months, with three of their last four Premier League contests at home ending in defeat, during which time they have shipped at least two goals per game.
Victory at Selhurst Park did at least snap a dreadful seven-game league run without a clean sheet for the Lilywhites, who have not failed to score against Arsenal in the top flight since November 2017, but those in red and white will not make the short journey to hostile territory quaking in their boots.
Having to answer to not one but two improper conduct charges from their last two matches, Arsenal are learning the hard way about zealous handball penalty appeals, but their denial of a spot kick against Oxford United had little impact on the result of that FA Cup third-round tie.
Continuing to defy the doubters in the absence of Gabriel Jesus, Eddie Nketiah made it four goals in four games with a brace at the Kassam Stadium after Mohamed Elneny swapped his long-range bullets for a close-range header to break the deadlock, but the Gunners will now have to go through Manchester City to reach round five.
Six days before putting Oxford to the sword, Arsenal huffed and puffed but could not blow down the brick wall that was Newcastle United in a 0-0 Premier League draw, cutting their lead at the top over Manchester City back down to five points approaching the midway point of the season.
With Manchester United in the league and Man City to come before the end of the month, business both on and off the field will be telling when it comes to Arsenal’s title credentials, as top transfer target Mykhaylo Mudryk watches on this weekend with bated breath.
Now unbeaten in their last 11 Premier League matches, Arsenal also have five wins from their last six top-flight games on the road – including each of their last three – to write home about, and six goals conceded away from home is unsurprisingly the best defensive record of its kind in the Premier League alongside Man City and Newcastle.
Thomas Partey, Gabriel Jesus and Granit Xhaka all made the net ripple in Arsenal’s deserved win over Spurs at the Emirates in October, but Tottenham have won all three North London derbies at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and would love nothing more than to derail their adversaries’ title ambitions further.