Arsenal - Tottenham: Home advantage to be a huge factor, but Conte will have other plans

Arsenal - Tottenham: Home advantage to be a huge factor, but Conte will have other plans
Arsenal - Tottenham: Home advantage to be a huge factor, but Conte will have other plans
Arsenal - Tottenham: Home advantage to be a huge factor, but Conte will have other plans
I wouldn’t be gifting you with any great insight if I told you that playing at home is a real advantage in football. It’s just common knowledge. But when it comes to the North London derby, it becomes more than just an advantage. It means that barring a major shock, you are certainly not going to lose. Antonio Conte (53) will be well aware of the facts, but ahead of Tottenham’s clash with Arsenal this weekend, he will inevitably be looking to change that.

Both outfits have started the season in superb fashion. Despite the contrasting playing styles – Conte’s circumspect and counter attacking approach is the antithesis of Mikel Arteta’s front foot and aggressive brand of football – Arsenal (1st) and Spurs (3rd) sit right at the top of the Premier League.

Hence why this Saturday’s contest is already of paramount importance, and one of the most eye-catching North London derbies in recent years.

Manchester City are the overwhelming favourites for the title, and the typically candour Conte also admitted recently that his side are still a few transfer windows away from being able to reach their aspirations of competing on all fronts.

But with the struggles of their London rivals Chelsea, and Liverpool looking a shadow of the team they were last season, both Arsenal and Spurs are in prime position to pounce and potentially finish in the top two and attempt to get close to City.

But to do that, these are the types of games you have to start winning. If you really want to be taken seriously and show that you are the real deal, you need to come out on top in clashes against your closest rivals (geographically too, in this instance).

The issue with Spurs is that their record in these matches means they are very rarely taken seriously, with the term ‘Spursy’ regularly dished out. Lacking a serious winner's mentality, they have often been mauled when push come to shove.

Their numbers away to the traditional ‘top six’ makes for egregious reading. Since the 2010/11 season, they have played 61 games away to Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, winning only nine times. That’s a win percentage of 15%.

The biggest issue ahead of this weekend, is that their winning record at the Emirates in the Premier League during that same period is the worst of them all.

Their main struggles in the league have been at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates, with just one victory at each stadium since 2010. A win percentage of 8% is grim.

Spurs’ last win at Arsenal goes further back than any other though, with their most recent victory in November 2010 – a stunning 3-2 comeback.

Of course, this could just be representative of a flaky side, often accused of having a soft underbelly. They have been unable to make any impact in these big away games, which is why they have failed to compete with the top teams in the league.

Interestingly though, Arsenal have a similar record to Spurs when they face the big six teams. Eerily similar.

The Gunners have exactly nine wins in 61 away games, which is identical to their North London neighbours. They have one win in 12 at Spurs, which came in a 1-0 victory in March 2014.

Arsenal have also perhaps been labelled with a similar tag to that of Spurs. Seen as lightweight, frail, and at times a push over – especially late on in Arsene Wenger’s tenure – these stats suggest that that could indeed be the case.

Which is exactly why home advantage is astronomically important in the North London derby. Neither side have demonstrated over the last twelve years that they have the capabilities to grind out results in these contests.

Another factor could conceivably be that the home side raise their level a few notches. Due to the magnitude of this derby as well as the raucous atmosphere, the players press with more intensity and overwhelm their opponents.

As seen at the Emirates last season, Arsenal completely ran through Spurs and put the game to bed inside 35 minutes with three goals. In the rest of the game, once that adrenaline rush had gone and Arsenal were comfortable, Tottenham were the better side.

So how do Tottenham overcome this?

The man at the helm may be the solution. It is already somewhat evident that Conte has inculcated a tougher and more resolute mentality into his side. Spurs haven’t played particularly well this season, but are still unbeaten and find themselves perfectly poised.

This is illustrative of the Italian and the relentless efficiency he demands.

His methods and approach are perfect for these types of away games, as well as the players he has at his disposal. With the quality of Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min, Richarlison and Dejan Kulusevski up front, he is able to sit deep and hit teams who leave space in behind on the counter.

There has already been an improvement in performances and results for Spurs against the top six in Conte’s reign thus far. After losing 2-0 at Chelsea a few months in, he managed to chisel out draws at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, won a sensational game 3-2 at the Etihad Stadium against the champions, but lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Manchester United despite a decent display.

The matches against City and Liverpool were superb templates for the way they may aim to play against Arsenal. Kane will be critical to creating chances, dropping deep when he can, then releasing Son or whoever else is deployed next to him.

Conte also now has the option to go to 3-5-2, a system he used frequently at Inter Milan. Against Leicester City, Spurs looked a far stronger outfit when Yves Bissouma came on to bolster the midfield, and Rodrigo Bentancur had the licence to go forward a bit more.

It gave them a stronger physical presence, and they were able to dominate in the centre of the park more than several other games this season – which has been an issue. If the manager believes he is ready to trust Bissouma, then it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a start.

It would also allow Son and Kane to play closer together. Despite being the most prolific partnership in Premier League history, the duo have failed to link up as well as usual, which could be attributed to the former’s loss of form. However, a hat-trick against Leicester – once they went to a 3-5-2 – is sure to have given the South Korean confidence.

Arsenal will be the favourites going into the game, with the statistics also contributing to that. But football is played on the pitch, not a piece of paper. Conte has the know-how and experience to break Spurs’ duck at the Emirates, but the Gunners will be full of confidence too.

What is for sure though, is that this may be the biggest game of the Premier League season so far, and there is an awful lot more than just bragging rights at stake in North London.