Sunday's north London derby could define Arsenal & Tottenham's seasons

Matt O'Connor-Simpson
Harry Kane is the top scorer in this fixture
Harry Kane is the top scorer in this fixture /

On paper, Sunday's north London derby does not have the highest stakes, especially when compared to recent incarnations of the fixture.

Tottenham and Arsenal spent the majority of last season battling it out for a place in the Europa Conference League - and there is little to suggest that things will be much different this time around.

However, the game could end up defining both clubs' campaigns.

Arsenal and Spurs have each endured patchy (at best) starts to the campaigns. After three successive defeats to start the campaign, the Gunners have responded with back-to-back 1-0 victories over Norwich City and Burnley.

Meanwhile, the sheen from Tottenham's lightning start has been taken off by successive 3-0 losses to Crystal Palace and Chelsea.

Both clubs are part way through much-needed rebuilds and Sunday's encounter will provide the clearest indication yet of how each one is going. It will also give head coaches Mikel Arteta and Nuno Espirito Santo the opportunity to answer questions about their ability to oversee said rebuilds.

Nuno's biggest issue so far has been Spurs' startling lack of creativity. Only one side has registered less shot creating actions in the Premier League this season - Leicester City. That has not been their only issue either.

When they have finally carved out opportunities, they have lacked a killer instinct. This is backed up in the numbers with Spurs underperforming their xG by 1.6 - a figure that only a handful of teams can beat.

Predictably, Spurs' lack of goals have dragged up the age-old debate about whether Harry Kane is playing too deep. Those complaints will soon disappear if he nets on Sunday, as he has done so many times before in this fixture. Kane has bagged 11 goals against the Gunners previously and you would not be surprised to see him settle things, in what is likely to be a low-scoring game, again.

While Nuno has doubts over his ability to turn unlock his player's creativity, Arteta's issues are more wide-ranging. Like Spurs, Arsenal's finishing has been embarrassing and there are also serious question marks over their defence - despite considerable recent investment.

The Gunners are currently underperforming their xG by a frightening 4.1 in the Premier League. Against Spurs it is time for high-earners Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette to stand up and be counted.

Spurs will also provide further clarification on whether Arsenal's new-look defence is up to scratch. £50m Ben White and fellow new arrival Takehiro Tomiyasu are likely to join Gabriel and Kieran Tierney at the back - a foursome that is yet to conceded when fielded together, albeit they have only faced Burnley and Norwich so far.

The lack of goals conceded is promising but a the back four still allowed 38 shots against two of the least potent attacking sides in the division and Spurs - despite their recent struggles - will provide their sternest test yet by some distance.

There is plenty of uncertainty swirling around each manager ahead of Sunday's showdown then. By 6:30pm we will have a far better idea about the shape of each team's seasons to come, making this a deceptively important north London derby.

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