It’s the North London Derby this afternoon (Sunday) and Arsenal are hoping to complete a Premier League double over Tottenham Hotspur for the first time since the 2013/14 season
Emile Smith Rowe is available for selection again, although it does leave Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta with a big decision to make for the North London Derby against Tottenham Hotspur.
The 22-year-old versatile attacking midfielder played the final quarter of an hour in the Gunners’ 3-0 FA Cup third-round win over Oxford United on Monday night, marking his return to action after four months on the sidelines following surgery to finally correct an ongoing groin issue.
“It was great to have him back,” Arteta said of Smith Rowe in the Arsenal pre-match press conference on Friday afternoon. “It’s his first minutes after four months. He worked so hard to be in the position that he’s in today and now we need to give him more minutes in the team because he’s a very important player for us.”
By climbing off the treatment table at London Colney, Smith Rowe joins 22 other senior Arsenal players – as listed on the club’s official website – who are in contention to face Spurs. And whilst the England international is unlikely to start, he looks set to make the bench for a Premier League fixture for the first time since September.
In fact, of the Gunners’ first-team players, it’s only Gabriel Jesus and Reiss Nelson who are definitely ruled out through injury. Therefore, Arteta already knows two of the four stars he is guaranteed to be without as he aims to complete the double over Antonio Conte and Tottenham this season.
Of course, as Arsenal are back in Premier League action, the Spanish tactician is once again permitted to name a 20-man matchday squad for the North London derby, but he is facing a semi-difficult decision on which other first-team stars he must leave at home.
For the goalless draw with Newcastle United, it was Karl Hein and – somewhat surprisingly – Cedric Soares who missed out alongside Smith Rowe, Jesus and Nelson. But the situation could change ahead of the short trip to N17 with three of the aforementioned quintet available for selection.
With that said, based on previous decisions this season, it’s likely that Hein won’t make the matchday squad vs Tottenham. Firstly because Matt Turner is the backup option to Aaron Ramsdale and secondly it is rare for a team to name two goalkeepers on the bench outside of a European fixture.
Meanwhile, Arteta’s comments about Smith Rowe point towards Arsenal’s number 10 being included in the travelling party too. Despite missing the opening Premier League game of the season as well as the last 17 across all competitions, when fit, the 22-year-old has tended to make an Arsenal matchday squad.
Should this trend continue this afternoon, then he could take his place amongst the substitutes at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with youngster Amario Cozier-Duberry – named in the last two squads against Newcastle and Oxford – set to drop out altogether after featuring for the U21s on Friday night.
Then it’s a case of how bold Arteta wants to be. Does he stick with £3m summer signing Marquinhos on the bench as an extra attacking option? Or does he play it safe and recall Cedric for defensive cover? If it’s the former then speculation regarding the latter is sure to ramp up as it