Arsenal face Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday.
Ignoring the context of the season and each side’s respective places in the Premier League table, this is the North London Derby. Arsenal versus Sp*rs. Red versus white.
When you throw in the current predicament facing Arsenal and the bitter reality that Tottenham are top of the table…well, we really need to beat them, don’t we? We always do, but this time, we really do. Oh how sweet it would be.
Coming into Sunday, however, you’d be hard pressed to find a positive supporter from the bottom end of the Seven Sisters Road. Potential injuries and rotten form tend to do that.
Assessing who should start rests on Mikel Arteta‘s shoulders, with some debate around who is deserving of a spot in the team. Ian Wright has weighed in with his thoughts, the like of which will be echoed around most Arsenal households watching this weekend.
Speaking on Ringer FC’s Wrighty’s House podcast, he said:
"“I’d try to throw something else into the mix, Reiss Nelson or even [Bukayo] Saka on the right. But Saka’s going to be on the left so I’d put Reiss Nelson on the right instead of Willian because we know what Willian’s going to do.“For me he’s been a little bit negative with the way he’s been playing, a lot of backwards passing. You need somebody who can at least get back and progress the ball.“If Saka can go and really put pressure on [Serge] Aurier, that’s where I think if we’re going to get any kind of joy then I think Saka’s got to go up there and put pressure on him, then [Granit] Xhaka can pull in on the left, just to put that body in there then [Mohamed] Elneny should hold.”"
Willian not being in the starting lineup, it’s fair to say, is a commonly shared view. The Brazilian grabbed an assist against Wolves but has flattered to deceive despite arriving with huge backing from both Edu and Arteta.
Wright has basis for stating that he can be too negative, as he isn’t the type of player anymore who can drive with the ball, make aggressive runs and take players on. Arteta almost uses him as the safe option: someone who will do simple elements right.
While a case for that can be made, Nelson finished up in midweek with a 100% passing accuracy against Rapid Vienna, creating five chances during the game – the joint most be a single player in 90 minutes under Arteta – and tracked backed accordingly. By all accounts, the did the simple elements right.
As well as that, for explosiveness and unpredictability, Reiss Nelson is far more suited. However, on Wright’s point, while both he and Bukayo Saka can player on either wing, Nelson looks more comfortable on the left whereas Saka has performed well on the right side.
Adding a layer of disruption to the Tottenham backline by fielding Saka on that side isn’t a totally outlandish idea. Featuring there on a few occasions at the latter end of last season, it would allow Nelson to cut in off that left flank where he’s looked dangerous in the Europa League.
Saka found good link-up with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang during that period and opting for a similar setup may appeal to the boss when it comes to selecting his team on Sunday – Willian as a false nine incoming, right?