Wednesday’s 5-1 demolition of Bournemouth is just what we needed before Saturday’s North London Derby. This scintillating display was Emery’s best result at the Emirates and should ignite belief within the squad that fourth is ours to lose. Only four points separate us and Spurs, who suffered their second consecutive league defeat at the hands of Chelsea. With 10 games remaining and competition rife for fourth, this is our most crucial North London derby since 22 April 2006. On that day, Henry came off the bench to make it 1-1 and secure a point in the last ever derby played Highbury. That season, we would go on to pip Spurs to fourth by two points. A score draw tomorrow at Wembley may lead to a similar outcome.
The Bournemouth game
Emery reverted back to a 3421 formation and made six changes to the team that started against Southampton. I still haven’t managed to predict an Emery line up and frankly I have given up. Despite wholesale changes we started with the same zest that led us to victory against Southampton. Ozil opened the scoring on 4’ with a delightful finish. In trademark Ozil fashion, he waited for the keeper to show his hand, then pushed the ball into the ground to generate the loft needed to lift it into the net. Only he could score that goal.
The Ozil we adore was back and he was purring. On 27’ he and the equally impressive Mkhitaryan combined to make it 2-0. Bournemouth pulled one back on 30’ after Guendouzi was caught in possession just outside our box. Despite a poor mistake, the swashbuckling teen did not let his head drop and never shied away from the ball. He had more touches than any other player on the day emphasisng his increasing importance to Emery.
We were never going to lose this match, but the third goal settled the nerves. Laurent Koscielny latched onto Mkhitaryan’s pass to make it 3-1 on 47’. Aubameyang then secured a much deserved goal on 59’ after being cleverly slipped through by that man again Mkhitaryan. After three games without a goal, he needed that.
The rout was completed with a delightful free kick by Lacazette on 78’ who came on for Aubameyang. The last time a substitute scored for us was Aaron Ramsey against Fulham in January. During our unbeaten run, goals and assist from the bench were critical and this goal immediately reminded me of the significance of strength in depth. With more of the squad recovering from injury, we may see a few more match winners coming from the bench.
Man of the match: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Ozil was majestic, but I have to give man of the match to Mkhitaryan. He now has six goals and four assists from 17 appearances. With 28 of our 60 league goals scored by Aubameyang and Lacazette, Mkhitaryan’s excellent instincts in front of goal and can relieve some of the burden from our strikers. It’s great to have him back.
Caution: Spurs are not Bournemouth
Bournemouth were dreadful and far too open for an away team playing us at the Emirates. Despite two consecutive losses Spurs will not be as easily rolled over. The benefit of Mauricio Pochettino’s ingenious management of the squad at the start of the season appears to have waned. Spurs have looked mentally fatigued and over-reliant on moments of individual brilliance in recent times. However, form goes out the window with the NLD, and Spurs will be energised in front of their fans. Despite being the home side, I have a feeling Poch will set them up like an away team.
How will we line up?
For the first time in a long time Emery has a real selection headache. This may sound ridiculous to some of you, but I don’t care what attacking personnel he goes with. Any combination has enough quality to give Spurs trouble. What’s more important is what we do without the ball. We have improved defensively in recent weeks but we are still too easy to score against. Our weak spot is right back and Spurs may target that area like City did at the Etihad. How we manage that area as a team will be vital.
We will need big games from Sokratis, Koscielny and Torreira to give the attack a chance of securing the points.
Prediction: Score draw