LONDON (Reuters) – Arsenal’s trip to Wembley for Saturday’s crucial North London derby against Tottenham Hotspur will feel like a home game because of their outstanding record at the national stadium, according to former Arsenal forward Paul Merson.
The sides meet at Wembley for the first time since 1993 in a lunchtime kickoff that has taken on huge importance in the battle to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Tottenham have shaken off their early teething problems at their temporary home and are unbeaten in their last 12 league games at Wembley – showing similar form to last season when they were invincible at the now demolished White Hart Lane.
But Arsenal won on their last nine visits to Wembley, including last year’s FA Cup final against Chelsea, and that statistic could be vital.
“If it was at White Hart Lane, no chance,” Merson said on Sky Sports of Arsenal’s prospects. “Arsenal have lost six away games this season, but have got one of the best records at Wembley in recent years, so this is a bit of a home game for them.”
A new-look attack featuring 55 million pounds ($76 million) signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will fuel Arsenal’s hopes of closing the gap on their neighbours.
Although in 24-year-old Harry Kane, according to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, Tottenham have the best striker in the world, at least statistically.
Kane reached the 100-goal milestone when he salvaged a vital point for his side with a 95th-minute penalty in the 2-2 draw at Liverpool last weekend and has been in stunning form since Tottenham’s 2-0 loss at Arsenal in November.
That match was the only time Kane failed to find the net in the league against Arsenal, against whom he has scored six times in six league matches.
He has 35 goals in 36 games for club and country, including three hat-tricks, this season and is ahead of the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.
“If you look at the numbers then, no,” Wenger said when asked if there was a better striker in the world.
“I can talk and talk and talk, but it’s the numbers which will show that.”
While Arsenal were impressive when dismantling Everton last week, when Aaron Ramsey scored a hat-trick, their form away from home has been erratic and lost at Bournemouth and Swansea City in their last two road trips.
Merson said their best hope of a result on Saturday was to rein in the gung-ho style and play on the break.
“Arsenal have the ammunition to hurt Tottenham. If Wenger turned round and said: ‘Aubameyang, (Mesut) Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Ramsey, you four go and get on with it’, and the other six keep it tight then I would give them a great chance.
“But the two Arsenal full backs will be playing as wingers after five minutes and you know they’ll be all over the shop defensively.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)