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It might as well be a battle for the wooden spoon at this stage, but this Sunday’s North London Derby offers up plenty of intriguing angles for punters to consider ahead of placing their bets.
For one, it’s Jose Mourinho’s first North London Derby, while former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta will experience his first meeting of this kind as a manager, having played in 16 as a player.
Arteta’s win ratio against Spurs as a player was 56.25%, having won nine of those games across all competitions, losing just four. However, that was then and this is now, with Arsenal and Spurs much more evenly matched in the present than they were during Arteta's original spell at the Emirates.
Mourinho may not have any experience of North London Derbies as yet, but having managed Real Madrid and Inter Milan – teams who form one half of two of sport’s greatest rivalries – he is unlikely to be fearful of Arsenal’s visit to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Indeed, another significant aspect heading into the game is the fact the stadium will be devoid of fans. Will that favour visitors Arsenal or will the notoriously defensive Mourinho excel in absence of pressure to attack from a would-be home support?
“It’s going to be quite weird to be honest,” former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn, who played in 22 North London Derbies, told bookmakers.co.uk. “What’s going to be fascinating, for me, is what the intensity is going to be like without the crowd.
“Having played in these games, I think Arteta will be able to relate to his players and what the result will mean for the supporters. It’s certainly a game you don’t want to lose because you’ll be reminded of it for a very long time.
“Does it make any difference that Arteta has played in the North London Derby whereas this is Mourinho’s first? I’m not so sure. Mourinho is very experienced as a manager, so I think he knows what it’s like to be a part of big derby games.
“Some of the players might find it easier to play in a derby game without the intensity of the crowd, but you have to remember that derby games are unpredictable.”
Arsenal’s Form Upturn
Although Arsenal have since addressed their worryingly bad form upon the Premier League’s return from suspension amid the coronavirus pandemic, beating Wolves and holding Leicester to a draw in their last two outings, Winterburn accepts it doesn’t count for much when these two sides meet.
He said: “It’s really hard to weigh up what’s going to happen. Sometimes form goes out the window, but even still you want to be going in super confident and I think Arsenal are in a good place at this moment in time.
“The first couple of games back I thought they were really poor, but then Mikel switched to a back five which I think is the best system for the squad that he’s got right now. Their organisation has looked really good and there’s pace on the break.
“So it’s looking a lot better than it was three weeks ago, but it’s going to be a long process for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal and the derby game won’t determine what’s going to happen in the coming months, but it’s a huge game for the supporters, even though they can’t be there to experience it.”
🔢 Premier League top 4 finish odds ahead of this next set of #PL fixtures:— Bookmakers.co.uk (@bookmakers) July 7, 2020
🔵 4/11 - Chelsea
🔴 4/11 - Man Utd
🔵 4/5 - Leicester
🟠 11/1 - Wolves
🔴 80/1 - Arsenal
⚪️ 80/1 - Tottenham
Arsenal are currently between 80/1 and 100/1 for a top four finish and although they’re in the FA Cup semi-finals, their best hope of a successful conclusion to the Premier League appears to be a Europa League spot and to finish above Spurs.
“From the supporters’ point of view, finishing above Spurs is probably the best way to salvage something from this league campaign, but Arteta will be aiming for a Europa League place because the club will need that money going forward,” says Winterburn.
“Some supporters might be quite happy to have a year out of Europe to concentrate on other things, but the club will be looking for that Europe League revenue and I don’t think anything higher is achievable at this stage in the league.
“We’re still waiting for news on Manchester City’s fate but even with that, there’s too many teams ahead of Arsenal, too many teams in good form for them to make the top four. I just don’t see Arsenal climbing enough places in so few games to get Champions League football.”
Arteta Shows Strength
Meanwhile, Arteta appears as though he’ll have a few transfer sagas on his hands this in the coming months, with Matteo Guendouzi joining Mesut Ozil in being exiled from the first team following a questionable attitude both on and off the field.
Winterburn, however, has been impressed with Arteta’s handling of the situation, saying players have been getting away with too much at Arsenal in recent years.
He said: “Arteta doesn’t seem to be the type of manager to accept any excuses, we’ve already seen that he’s not afraid to leave players out of the squad who don’t toe the line and I really admire him for that because he’s clearly trying to instil some discipline.
“With Guendouzi, it all comes down to the player’s actions as well as the manager. I don’t know exactly what issues there are with Guendouzi, but it looks like the manager has had a word with him and asked him to show that he can do what is asked of him for the benefit of the team so everyone can move forward.
“But if the player is not willing to do that, or has taken offense in some way, then you usually find that the player will ultimately force his way out of the club. He’s a young player who has made some improvements over a short period of time but there’s a lot more room for development from him.
“It’s up to the player to turn this situation around. It looks as though Arteta has thrown down the gauntlet to try and test his resolve, and if Guendouzi reacts in the wrong way then he’ll be gone. You can’t have someone in your squad who is disturbing the rest of the team.
“But I have to say I like the way Arteta is organising the team and how he is dealing with these situations, it seems as though he won’t take any messing around and that’s a good thing – it’s been too easy at Arsenal for too long.”
According to French publication L’Equipe, France Under-21 international Matteo Guendouzi is wanted by Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid and – much to Winterburn’s surprise – Barcelona too.
“I think there would need to be a huge improvement in Guendouzi’s game for Barcelona to be willing to take him,” he said. “He’s a young kid who’s made big improvements but there’s a long way to go, so that would surprise me if it turns out to be true.
“Arsenal wouldn’t just let him go easily even if they do decide to sell him, it would need to be a substantial fee, so would Barcelona think he’s worth the risk? If the price is right, maybe, but it seems like a bit of a long shot to me.”
Despite such reports, Betfair believe PSG and Lyon are more likely destinations for Guendouzi in the next transfer window at 4/1 and 6/1 respectively.
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