Unfortunately two of Arsenal's most influential players Mesut Ozil (left) and Aaron Ramsey are not gunner play in the North Londen derby against Tottenham on Sunday due to injury. - AFP
BRAGGING rights aside, there is still a lot to play for when Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur clash in their Premier League derby on Sunday night.
A top four spot is still up for grabs and both clubs also have a lot to prove.
This is their third meeting this season, with Arsenal winning the previous two clashes – 1-0 in the league last September and 2-0 in the FA Cup third round at the Emirates in January.
European glory, or money at least, is something that both clubs need next season and that leaves them with no margin for errors in the league.
Of the two, I think Spurs will be hungrier. The players have been told they have to fight for their places after the 4-0 drubbing by Chelsea last week. They also lost 3-1 to Benfica in the Europa League round 16 first leg match at home on Thursday.
And Spurs have another advantage – unlike the Gunners, they have no fans’ title expectations and pressure to worry about and can take all the risks they want and ask harder questions of their neighbourhood rivals.
Spurs can definitely pull off a shocker over Arsenal, and their head coach Tim Sherwood had said as much about his game plan for the rest of the season: “We’re looking to mess up as many other people’s seasons as we can, and enhance ours at the same time.”
The Emirates is also abuzz with news of Spurs’ 12th man for the night, Arsenal’s hated referee Mike Dean, who will officiate the derby – a fan tweeted, “Spurs basically 1-0 up already”.
Arsenal’s form has been dipping anyway: according to Opta statistics, the Gunners have kept only one clean sheet in their last seven Premier League away games and won none of the last three (one draw).
But then again, this might not be the best time to play the Gunners.
They just got knocked out of the Champions’ League by Bayern Munich on Tuesday, so they will want to bury their disappointment with a victory, and no win will be sweeter than that against their biggest rivals Spurs.
While Arsenal’s record at White Hart Lane is nothing to rave about – Arsenal have not won any of their last five EPL derbies there – Caughtoffside.com reported that they have the second best away record (after Spurs) this season.
They need to really buck up though. Against Bayern, Arsenal showed no ambition, playing with restraint when they needed to take more risks and ran out of ideas to attack the European champions.
Worse, Arsenal’s prized star Mesut Ozil damaged his hamstring in the game, and might be sidelined for a month.
Their German adventure also exposed Arsenal’s lack of depth – the Gunners had no one on their bench who could worry their opponents when things got stale.
Bayern, in contrast, could afford to leave the scorers of their goals at the Emirates – Thomas Mueller and Toni Kroos – on the bench.
Hariati predicts a 1-1 draw in a bad-tempered game.
(The Official Arsenal Malaysia supporters club welcomes Arsenal fans to watch live matches at Herris Delicious Corner, 22A-1, Jalan PJU 8/3A, Perdana Business Centre, Damansara Perdana. Visit arsenalmalaysia.com for more info.)