The Premier League resumes on Saturday after the final international break of 2017, and the North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur is a fitting fixture with which to start.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side are on a run of 10 straight home wins in the league — a record since they moved to the Emirates in 2006 — but they have not beaten Spurs in any of their last six league encounters.
But while there are question marks over Arsenal’s credentials as they try to break back into the top four, Tottenham are facing uncertainty over the fitness of several key players including striker Harry Kane, attacking midfielder Dele Alli and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Some of ESPN FC’s writers and analysts have given their views on different aspects of clash, picked out their key player and predicted a scoreline.
Mark Ogden — ESPN FC’s senior writer
For all the talk of a shift in the balance of power in North London, Arsenal still hold the upper hand against Spurs when it comes to derby meetings at the Emirates. Wenger’s team haven’t lost at home to their neighbours since November 2010 and they also go into this weekend’s game unbeaten at home all season, with five wins out of five in the Premier League. But the visit of Spurs is Arsenal’s biggest test yet on home turf and, if they lose this one, it will be a significant moment in the history of the rivalry between the two clubs.
Key player: Alexis Sanchez — The Arsenal forward has looked disinterested in recent games. If he is up for this one, Arsenal have a chance. If not, they will carry little or no threat.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-3 Tottenham
Paul Mariner — ESPN FC analyst and former Arsenal forward
Arsenal fans are going into this game a little fearful as Pochettino seems to have his system down — solid in defence and very bright in the attack, while Arsenal have yet to settle on their system. I don’t think the Gunners’ advancing full-backs give the back three enough cover and against Spurs that could be a problem. Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka have not been the answer, and if you drop Aaron Ramsey back it takes away some of his attacking attributes. But the real burning question is, who plays up front?
Alexandre Lacazzette, Mesut Ozil and Sanchez should be a mouth-watering trio. They possess the skills to destroy any defence, but Wenger does not seem to want to play them all. The derby is and always will be a massive game and you need your star players to perform at the highest level, Lacazzette’s runs off the shoulder can unhinge most defenders with the supply line coming from the guile of Ozil and the trickery and pace from Sanchez. If those three are selected and they are in the correct frame of mind then the game will be magical. Big players turn up on the big occasion. For Arsenal fans this is the biggest and it could be a watershed moment for their season.
Key player: Laurent Koscielny is such a key figure in the Arsenal defence, and he will need to be on his game against Kane and Co.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-2 Tottenham
Kasey Keller — ESPN FC analyst and former Tottenham goalkeeper
The derby is always a special match that you look forward to playing in. Because you know that there will be more media scrutiny and the added focus of the supporters, you always have a few more nerves in these matches. With Spurs’ two senior goalkeepers racing to be fit (No. 2 Michel Vorm is also struggling), third-choice Paulo Gazzaniga must be cultivating a virtual swarm of butterflies in his stomach at the prospect of playing this weekend. Many times as a goalkeeper you need to wait for you opportunity. As No. 3 in the pecking order, very rarely will you ever get the chance to prove yourself with the first team. Even more rare is it that you get to do this against your club’s biggest rival. After a good performance on his debut against Crystal Palace, will Gazzaniga endear himself to the Spurs fans with a great performance against the mortal enemy, or will Lloris or Vorm recover to dash his hopes of glory?
Key player: Whoever plays in goal, they will need to keep out an Arsenal attack that has scored 13 goals in their last six league games.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham
Mattias Karen — ESPN FC Arsenal correspondent
Arsene Wenger has seen off 10 different Spurs managers during his time at Arsenal but may have finally met his match in Pochettino. Wenger has yet to beat the Argentine in six Premier League meetings, losing twice, and badly needs a victory on Saturday to dispel the notion that he has allowed Arsenal to be overtaken by their biggest rivals. The Gunners boss has tried to downplay the North London rivalry since finishing behind Spurs last season, but make no mistake: Wenger wants this win just as badly as the fans do.
Key player: Having been benched against Man City, Lacazette will be desperate to make his mark on a big game. Sinking Spurs is the quickest path to becoming an Arsenal legend.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-2 Tottenham
Dan Kilpatrick — ESPN FC Tottenham correpsondent
Victory over Real Madrid may have looked like final confirmation of Tottenham’s place among the elite but Pochettino’s critics can still point to his poor away record against top-six rivals (W0, D2, L4 since the start of last season). After another 1-0 defeat at Manchester United last month, Spurs cannot be taken seriously as title contenders until they start beating the best away from home and there would be no better time or place to start than at the Emirates on Saturday. Spurs are better than Arsenal — in every department — but winning these games is often as much about mentality as talent.
Key player: Harry Kane is always the main man in North London derbies. If he scores, he’ll become the first player to net in six consecutive league matches against Arsene Wenger.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-2 Tottenham
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