The optimism growing around manager Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham Hotspur squad will be put to its stiffest test yet when they visit Arsenal for Sunday’s North London Derby.
Despite the summer departure of Tottenham’s all-time leading scorer, Harry Kane, Postecoglou has gotten his side off to an unbeaten start to the new season while employing more aggressive, possession-based tactics than used by any of his predecessors last season.
So far, they’ve made up for Kane’s production by committee, with Dejan Kulusevski, James Maddison, Son Heung-min and Cristian Romero each scoring two or more league goals.
Spurs (4-0-1, 13 points) have mostly employed a 4-2-3-1 and have held the majority of possession in every match. They’ve also enjoyed some good fortune, including wasteful finishing by Manchester United in a 2-0 home win late last month and goals deep into second-half stoppage time by Kulesevski and Richarlison to steal a 2-1 home victory against Sheffield United last weekend.
Now Postecoglou’s players will see how they fare in their first match as a heavy underdog.
“It’s a great challenge for us as a football team that’s beginning on a journey and trying to have an identity in the way that we play,” Postecoglou said. “There’s no greater test than playing one of the top teams in the competition away from home who also happens to be your biggest sort of rival.
“People have given me an indication of how they feel about this game and that’s great. I’ve been involved in derbies and one pretty significant one (the Old Firm derby with Celtic),” Postecoglou told reporters on Friday.
“You understand what it means to supporters of both clubs, the significance in terms of the general mood around the place.
“They are a very, very good football side, they had an outstanding season last year and they’ve strengthened this year. You can see there is a real belief within them. Playing them at their place is going to be a hell of a challenge for us.”
Form has rarely been a factor in North London derbies in the past but Postecoglou said experience may play a role with several recruits set to get a taste of the heated rivalry for the first time.
“We have quite a few that haven’t played in this fixture. It’s not just that it’s a derby and it’s away from home, but it’s the challenge of overcoming a strong opponent as well,” he added.
“As much as you want to talk about it, it’s the experience that makes you grow. In these fixtures, you allow the players to go out there and hopefully try and get them to express themselves in the best possible way.
“I don’t want to put too many restrictions or try and guide them too much as to what to expect.”
If Spurs have any edge, it’s in preparation time after enjoying a full week off prior to matchday.
Meanwhile, Arsenal (4-0-1, 13 points) were occupied with their UEFA Champions League opener, a comfortable 4-0 win over PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday.
It was the Gunners’ second consecutive clean sheet since manager Mikel Arteta lifted goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale in favor of David Raya, a difficult decision, he admits.
“In your tummy when you have players sitting, or you have to announce the lineup, it’s one of the hardest things, because players feel happy and valued when they play,” Arteta said. “When they don’t, it’s very difficult. You want them to feel loved and trusted, and the way to do that is to play them.”
Gabriel Martinelli could return for Arsenal after a knock forced him off early in a 1-0 win against Everton last weekend and made him miss the Champions League opener.
Meanwhile, Spurs are weathering the news that midfielder Ivan Perisic is likely done for the season and will need surgery to repair his right anterior cruciate ligament.