Putting bias aside, and debating this like reasonable neutrals, you can see the argument that Spurs are on the up as Arsenal pass them going the other way. Brand new stadium, regular Champions League participation, manager that seems to understand what the Premier League is about, players with a higher book value than their neighbours.
However, in recent matches, there are signs that wheels might be coming off for Tottenham Hotspur. At 2-0 up in the North London Derby, they’d have expected to win. Arsenal staged a comeback and might have even won the game. It looked like a blip as Mauricio Pochettino’s team hammered a normally belligerent Palace side 4-0 at home following the international break. Since then though… they’ve conceded a two goal lead again, this time away in Greece on Champions League duty. Then losing at Leicester. And finally the ignominy of being eliminated from the Carabao Cup by League Two Colchester United, granted away from home and on a penalty shoot-out, but nevertheless…
Tottenham finished in fourth place last season for the simple reason that they only drew two of their games. In spite of losing 13 matches out of 38 (three more matches than both Arsenal and Manchester United below them), their ability to win fixtures whilst the latter two clubs were piling up draws saw them over the line for Champions League qualification. But this season, they have already drawn three times in the League, as well as losing twice. Did Spurs peak last season?
At the other end of the Seven Sisters Road, there may be cause for optimism. There don’t seem to be too many issues about their firepower upfront, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring for fun, as the club wait for Nicholas Pepe to complete his adaptation to a new country. Once Alexandre Lacazette returns to fitness, there is good reason to believe the attackers can make this a better campaign than last season. That, of course is based on an improvement at the other end of the pitch.
An area of concern has to be the defensive solidity of the midfield. It’s widely acknowledged that never properly replacing Patrick Vieira is a significant factor in the club’s decline since their former captain was sold in the summer of 2005. You cannot compare current skipper Granit Xhaka to the Frenchman in spite of the fact he plays in the same position. If Emery is bold enough to try something different though, he may have a solution on hand. Calum Chambers excelled playing as a defensive midfielder in his year on loan at Fulham last season and is surely worth a look in that position for the Gunners. Another option might be moving David Luiz forward from centre back, or even simply instructing Lucas Torreira to play there and hold his position as Francis Coquelin used to, with the emphasis less on creation than prevention.
There is of course good news with regard to returning defenders which could also stem the flow of goals, such as the three conceded against Liverpool towards the end of August. Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney are the first choice full backs and likely to do a better job than Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac, who have been playing there in recent Premier League outings.
And of course, the central defence can only be strengthened by the return of Rob Holding. The player was initially signed by Arsene Wenger back in 2016. In Ladbrokes’ guide to Premier League managers they detail how Wenger took charge of more Premier League matches than any manager, but the Frenchman didn’t get to see the best of his investment from Bolton, mainly down to a series of injuries under his watch. After his return to fitness it seems likely that he will replace one of David Luiz or Sokratis as a first choice centre back, although his availability does also offer the prospect of Emery returning to three at the back with Bellerin and Tierney playing as wing backs. There are many who believe Luiz would be less of a liability in such a system, were he to remain in the backline. And Holding has performed well in a three man system, most notably in the 2017 FA Cup Final defeat against Chelsea.
Although fans know what Bellerin can offer, the Carabao Cup match against Forest saw Tierney’s first team debut, and what was seen justified the amount of fan anxiety during the summer as the club seemed to be dallying over the signing of the Celtic defender, and although they might have had to end up paying more than they’d have liked, the evidence from last Tuesday evening suggested he can bring more stability and balance to the back four. With the three returning players, as well as Calum Chambers battling for a place, the wonderful array of attacking talent could finally be backed up by something approaching a solid and robust defence.
Given how close Arsenal finished behind Tottenham last season, it could be enough to see the North London balance of power shift back towards Islington and the once-dominant Gunners.