The Gunners are four years into a robustly-financed project under Mikel Arteta and finished 24 points clear of their neighbours last season, while Spurs are just six games into Postecoglou’s rebuild, which the head coach has consistently said will take time.
With both clubs unbeaten and level on 13 points from five games, optimism is brimming at either end of the Seven Sisters Road, but Arsenal are further along in their development and should be considered favourites.
Regardless, Postecoglou’s side can be expected to take the game to last season’s runners-up as they have not done away from home in this fixture for years and win, lose or draw, their approach this weekend will matter.
Spurs have tended to wilt at the Emirates in recent seasons, and their record there is abject; they have not won there in the League since November 2010, when Harry Redknapp’s side memorably came from 2-0 down. In 12 away derbies since, Spurs have lost eight, twice been thrashed 5-2 (in consecutive meetings), squandered three 2-0 leads and generally been meek, particularly in their last three visits.
A 2-1 defeat in March 2021 was a microcosm of Jose Mourinho’s tenure, as Spurs went ahead in an empty stadium through Erik Lamela’s magnificent rabona but paid for their negativity as Arsenal responded after the break.
Six months later, with Nuno Espirito Santo at the helm, Spurs were even worse, falling 3-0 behind inside 34 minutes after turning up with seemingly no midfield and a game plan to cede control to the hosts.
Last season’s 3-1 defeat under Antonio Conte was Spurs’s first reverse of the campaign but wholly predictable, the visitors sitting off Arsenal and being punished when Arteta’s side inevitably converted their dominance into goals.
Those defeats were all the more galling for Spurs fans amid the sense that their side lacked the fight, desire and adventure to win.
Under Postecoglou, there already seems little prospect that the visitors will roll over on Sunday or play with the negativity that has characterised their recent derby doldrums.
The Australian demands his side approach every fixture with the same aim: to win through attacking and entertaining football; and it will be no different against the Gunners, even if Arteta also wants his players to dominate the ball and take the game to their opponents.
Given both managers’ entrenched philosophies, a fixture that rarely disappoints promises to be even more entertaining than usual.
For Spurs, a meeting with Arsenal can never be described as a free hit, but after Saturday’s last-ditch win over Sheffield United, there is no great pressure on Postecoglou’s side. If Spurs remain unbeaten, belief and optimism around the club would further increase but, provided they show progress on the pitch and play with commitment, there would be no disgrace in coming up short against Arsenal at present.
Really, this is the crux of why it is so important for Spurs to have an identity again; to be playing in a style befitting the club’s rich traditions and under a manager who wants to build for long-term success.
When Mourinho and Conte were in charge and results were all that mattered, the stakes were simply too high. There was nothing for supporters to cling to after defeats, no sense that bad results were a natural part of a wider process or a stepping stone to a greater objective.
Under Postecoglou, that is no longer the case, and when his young Spurs side hits a bump in the road, it can be put down as a step in their ongoing development. That said, everyone connected to Spurs is desperate to delay the inevitable hiccup for at least another week.