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Sports News of Sunday, 26 September 2021


Will Arsenal’s African contingent flourish against Tottenham Hotspur?

Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey

Five games into a new season is never a wise time to draw definitive conclusions, as the results of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur clearly demonstrate.

Mikel Arteta’s men were playing catch-up after three games, trailing their unblemished rivals at the time by nine points.

On Sunday, the Gunners could move level on points with Nuno Espirito Santo’s men with success at the Emirates Stadium. Win by two goals or higher and the red-half of North London will celebrate the small matter of being ahead of their fierce rivals on goal difference.

This weekend’s North London Derby may not excite the neutral like previous meetings between the sides over the years, but both fanbases will nonetheless relish the possibility of getting one over the enemy this weekend.

Spurs’ issues so far have been at both ends of the pitch. They aren’t creating chances in the attacking third (their expected goals of 4.6 is the lowest in the league as it stands) and have had to rejig their backline in the last few games due to injuries, suspension and quarantine rules.

Arsenal’s African contingent of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Thomas Partey are all likely to start in Sunday’s Premier League meeting, and Arteta will hope all three can help the Gunners take maximum points.

The challenges Arsenal have faced at the start of 2021/22 mean the club captain’s return of only one league goal has largely flown under the radar.

In fairness to the Gabon star, there are extenuating factors. Contracting coronavirus before the opening day clash with Brentford has left him playing catch-up, and he was introduced for the final 20 minutes against Chelsea with the game effectively over.

The 5-0 hammering at Manchester City was an all-round disaster, with Granit Xhaka seeing red after 35 minutes, so the forward probably shouldn’t be singled out in a game he saw only an hour of action.

Results have been prioritised in the last two games and Aubameyang did get the winner in the following game at home to Norwich City, a match in which Arsenal probably deserved a greater margin of victory.

While big chances have been at a premium — five clear-cut opportunities rank higher than only two sides in the league — but the team’s current xG underperformance is the third highest in the division, a situation they’ll want to improve on going forward.

As Auba continues to get up to speed after his Covid absence, he’d strive to play a part in this potential upswing…and Sunday would be a good time to start.

The Ivory Coast wide attacker has featured in all but one of Arsenal’s PL fixtures — missing out completely in that rout at City — with so far mixed results.

He’s yet to open his account for the season and has registered one assist, inadvertently setting up Aubameyang in the Norwich win, a match he was somewhat unlucky not to score.

Curiously, while Pepe doesn’t lead the way for expected goals in the division, his xG underperformance is second-bottom in the entire league.

Will the Ivorian’s luck in front of goal change on Sunday evening?


Slowed down by a pre-season injury suffered in the Mind Series defeat by Chelsea, Partey has yet again been playing catch-up in his second year, albeit at a lesser degree to last season.

The former Atletico Madrid midfielder returned for the last half-hour against Norwich, got 75 minutes in last week’s win at Burnley and came out unscathed following an hour of action in the EFL Cup success over Wimbledon.

A notable facet of the Ghanaian’s outing at Turf Moor last time out saw him take up positions at centre-back at times in preparation for the Clarets’ direct style.

It is unlikely that Partey will reprise his role as a supplementary central defender against Spurs, but there’s an expectation to see the West African play from the off in the North London Derby.

Despite playing only 103 minutes of Premier League football so far, the midfield man’s inclination to be positive in possession has been evident, nonetheless.

The Black Star’s nine progressive passes is eight behind Arsenal’s top-ranked players (Xhaka and Emile Smith-Rowe) and 11 passes into the final third of the pitch is already joint-third for the Gunners.

This comes as no surprise owing to the direction of Partey’s passes, with 46.4 percent intended to take play into the attacking areas. Admittedly, this comes after a small sample size of games but this is thoroughly a trait of the Ghana star in possession and will aid Arteta’s men against Spurs.

Arsenal are aiming for successive league victories against Tottenham for the first time since 2013/14, a long time in a rivalry that was arguably one-sided in the 1990s and 2000s.

Arteta’s African contingent have had mixed starts to the season, but all could be momentarily forgiven if they all come up trumps and deliver maximum points at the Emirates on Sunday evening.