It's 3rd against 5th, but describing this North London derby as such elides the chasm that exists right now between these two teams. Arsenal, deep in what analysts agree is their second crisis of the season, comes into this game clinging to a 5th spot in the table. Arsene Wenger, after Arsenal's exits (both actual and effective) from two more competitions last week, is desperately trying to recast this as some sort of ' trophy.' Tottenham Hotspur (anxiety about their manager's ongoing employment notwithstanding), who has never ridden higher in the Premier League, having capitalised on the mutual collapse of London's traditional PL powerhouses, sits comfortably within the Champions League places.
A victory at the Emirates would, in fact, restart talk of Tottenham's title credentials, which, though in this previewer's opinion is irrelevant, shows the rivals' divergent fortunes. Their chances of doing so depend on the health of Luka Modric, who missed his side's insipid FA Cup draw at Stevenage through illness but should be available on Sunday. His availability provides Tottenham with the quality it needs in the center of the park, where Arsenal will (again) have to field the exhausted looking trio of Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and Alex Song. Modric also allows Gareth Bale the freedom to dominate the left flank while providing him with an infield route to goal which will trouble Arsenal's continually troublesome back four. Wenger hopes to have Kieran Gibbs and Laurent Koscielny back for the game, but despite teaming with Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna in the club's first choice back four they have only played together in the season's first two games and then the first half in Milan (and we know how that turned out).
Tottenham's buoyancy this season and its rotated midfield and pacy attack against Arsenal's hobbled backline and fatigued midfield means that they are, for the first time, favorites to win at the Emirates. In this unique environment, unpopular Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke will make his derby debut. For many Arsenal fans, for whom Silent Stan is the cause of the club's demise, his appearance amidst a backdrop of rivalry divergence is both appropriate and galling. Whatever happens on Sunday, Tottenham will coast into the Champions League and Arsenal will continue their infighting.
Game Date/Time: Sunday, February 26, 8:30 a.m. ET, 1:30 p.m. local
Venue: Emirates Stadium, London, England
TV: FOX Soccer Channel (USA - English), FOX Deportes (USA - Spanish), Sportsnet World (Canada), Sky Sports 1 (UK)