Paul Merson says: Heung-Min Son's absence from north London derby a big blow for Tottenham

Paul Merson: "Son's absence is huge. I think Arsenal win at Spurs because he is missing. He's a huge miss, especially in this game. He has been Arsenal's Achilles heel in recent seasons. Watch Tottenham vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4.15pm on Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm

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Paul Merson says Tottenham forward Heung-Min Son's absence from the north London derby - live on Sky Sports on Super Sunday - gives Arsenal a huge advantage as both sides look to land a significant blow in the race for the Premier League's top four.

The north London rivals face off in a game which could go some way towards deciding who finishes fourth and qualifies for the Champions League next season. The Gunners sit two points above Tottenham, but Antonio Conte's team have two games in hand and a win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium would see Spurs go above their neighbours.

However, Spurs will be without Son, who is likely to be out of action for the rest of the month after picking up a muscle injury in his side's 2-0 defeat to Chelsea in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final.

Former Arsenal player Merson thinks the Korean, who has scored nine goals so far this season and also has five goals in his last eight games against Arsenal in all competitions, will be a huge miss.

Read on for the Magic Man's verdict on this Sunday's north London derby...

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Sunday 16th January 4:00pm

'A massive game; Arsenal cam make big statement with win'

Gabriel gestures after scoring Arsenal's third goal of the game (AP)
Image: Arsenal have recovered from being bottom of the table heading into the first international to being in top four contention

This is a massive game.

Tottenham have games in hand in the race for fourth and if they beat Arsenal they will be above them and have those games in hand to come. That would be a really strong position to be in.

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However, if Arsenal can go to Spurs and win it would be a major result for the Gunners.

You've got to say Arsenal [have improved more this season]. They were bottom of the league going into the international break. It was their worst start to the season in who knows how long, but now they are right in the mix for Champions League qualification. They are in the top four race, which they should be anyway, but after the start they had fair play to them.

Tottenham's key fixtures...

  • Arsenal (A) - Sunday Jan 16; kick-off 4.30pm (live on Sky)
  • Leicester (A) - Wednesday Jan 19; kick-off 7.30pm
  • Chelsea (A) - Sunday Jan 23; kick-off 4.30 (live on Sky)
  • Wolves (H) - Sunday Feb 13; kick-off 2pm
  • Man City (A) - Saturday Feb 19; kick-off 5.30pm (live on Sky)
  • Manchester United (A) - Saturday Mar 12; kick-off 3pm
  • West Ham (H) - Saturday Mar 19; kick-off 3pm
  • Brighton (H) - Saturday Apr 16; kick-off 3pm
  • Leicester (H) - Saturday Apr 30; kick-off 3pm
  • Liverpool (A) - Saturday May 7; kick-off 3pm

Arsenal's key fixtures...

  • Tottenham (A) - Sunday Jan 16; kick-off 4.30pm (live on Sky)
  • Wolves (A) - Thursday Feb 10; kick-off 7.45pm
  • Leicester (H) - Saturday March 12; kick-off 3pm
  • Brighton (H), Saturday April 9; kick-off 3pm
  • Manchester United (H), Saturday April 23; kick-off 3pm
  • West Ham (A) - Saturday April 30; kick-off 3pm
  • Chelsea (A) - TBC
  • Liverpool (H), TBC.

It's a big turnaround from Mikel Arteta and his side, but they now have to carry it on.

I thought the Nottingham Forest game was a big game and I only say that because it keeps the squad happy. It gives the fringe players another game and makes Arteta's job easier. He was fuming after the game because now he knows it is hard work. He'll have the fringe players always asking why they are not playing and before, he had the cup games to play these players in.

It was a bad result for Arsenal because they are only playing once a week anyway. The last thing they want is two-week breaks. They want to be playing football now.

Race for the Premier League top four examined

Race for the Premier League top four examined

With the help of Sky Sports' Alan Smith, we assess the runners and riders in the race for the top four, their form and their fixtures until the end of the season...

'Carabao Cup defeat at Chelsea not so bad for Conte'

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Good Morning Transfers' Jess Creighton reports that Tottenham would consider offers for Tanguy Ndombele, Dele Alli and Matt Doherty this month

For Antonio Conte and Spurs, I thought the Chelsea defeat in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final was a good result. It might sound silly, but I thought it was the sort of result that would kick-start the board into some action where they look and say 'we need some players because are a million miles away here'.

They were probably thinking they were fine. They had a great manager, they were winning games and they maybe thought they might not have to buy anyone. But now, Chelsea eased past them and then they struggled against Morecambe [in the FA Cup], and now they are thinking they have to buy some players.

In that sense, that's why I don't think that Chelsea defeat was such a bad result for Conte. I'd say a bad result for Spurs and the fans, but a good result for Conte because now he can bring in some players.

Smith's Tottenham verdict...

Sky Sports' Alan Smith assesses Spurs' chances of a top-four finish:

"Antonio Conte has achieved quite a lot in a very short space of time at Tottenham.

"There is still a lot of work to do at Spurs but in terms of the short term fix, Conte has gone about it cleverly in order to give him some time. As he said after the defeat to Chelsea in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final, he needs time and patience in order to overhaul that team and get it back to what it was at times under Mauricio Pochettino.

"I think there are a few more questions marks in the starting line-up than there is within West Ham and Arsenal. The defence can certainly be improved in terms of individual quality and he mixes and matches at times in midfield, but they do have a great three-man strike force.

"Conte has got his work cut out, though. To finish fourth would be a fantastic achievement for the Italian.

"Conte will be the key for Spurs if they are to get into the top four. You'd imagine he has funds to improve the squad otherwise he wouldn't have taken the job. So, it will be interesting to see what happens in January and then in the summer and what kind of player he goes for.

"It was a sobering performance from Spurs against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and it maybe made him realise the job is even bigger than he thought."

'North London derby big again'

Tottenham vs Arsenal
Image: Tottenham vs Arsenal is live on Sky Sports on Sunday

The north London derby has once again become one of the top games. It's a big game again now.

Years ago, I think Arsene Wenger changed the context of the north London derby because Arsenal were too successful, and Spurs weren't a big fish at all. Manchester United and Chelsea were the games for Arsenal.

But now we are back to this game being huge because while both clubs are not title contenders, they are at a similar level and striving to go to the top level again.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win over Spurs earlier in the season

If you can't win the title, finish in the top four or win a cup, a win in the north London derby is 100 per cent minimum requirement for Arsenal or Spurs.

That's where the two teams have gone in recent years. This is the cup final for both Spurs and Arsenal.

It's a massive game for both sides. As I said, if Spurs win and with their games in hand, you'd think they'd be hard to catch. However, if Arsenal go there and get a statement win it would be huge.

They already beat them at the Emirates Stadium so a win would see them do the double over Spurs and, take away the Nottingham Forest result, you'd look at Arsenal and say they are moving forward. They are going somewhere.

Smith's Arsenal verdict...

Sky Sports' Alan Smith assess Arsenal's top-four chances:

"The Gunners look firmly in the mix for that last Champions League spot, especially if they can keep up the level of performance they showed against Manchester City last time out.

"I did have my doubts about Mikel Arteta's side. It was obvious they were improving under the Spaniard but as to whether they could clinch fourth was another matter. However, I think the Man City performance, irrespective of the result, gave every Arsenal fan and anybody involved in the club a great deal of confidence.

"Now, there's no reason why they can't look at that fourth place and think they are in with a great chance.

"What Arsenal will need to do is shed that tag of being flat-track bullies and show they can continue to compete with the best, especially with trips to Spurs and Chelsea not far away.

"The signs against City were very promising and the thing about Arsenal is there is a stability about them in terms of their team. Apart from one or two places maybe you can say what their best team is and Arteta is managing that well.

"At the moment, they've not had too many injuries to key players and if they can hold that all together there is a great understanding between them all. Everybody knows their individual roles and that has to stand them in good stead as we get into the final stages of the season."

'Son's absence huge for Spurs'

Heung-Min Son shows his frustration at full time
Image: Heung-Min Son is likely to be out for the rest of the month with a muscle injury

Heung-Min Son's absence is huge.

I think Arsenal win at Spurs because Son is missing. He's a huge miss for Spurs, especially in this game. He has been Arsenal's Achilles heel in recent seasons.

For me, Arsenal will have too much going forward for Spurs. If Tottenham play as they did last season [in a 2-0 home win in December 2020] and give Arsenal all of the ball, I think the Gunners are a better team this year and can hurt them.

Arsenal had all the ball in the game last season but never looked like scoring. Now, though, the flair players are playing so much better for Arsenal than what they were then, and that could be crucial.

Mikel Arteta's side also have more confidence this time around and if Spurs sit back, for me there is only one winner.

Watch Tottenham vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4.15pm on Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm

Premier League Preview: Will Spurs or Arsenal win north London derby? | Chelsea's last chance at Man City | Bowen's brilliance at West Ham

In the latest Essential Football Podcast, host Alice Piper is joined by Nick Wright, Charlotte Marsh, and Peter Smith to preview this weekend's Premier League action. Plus we hear from Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith ahead of the north London derby.

PART ONE | Alan Smith delivers his north London derby verdict ahead of Arsenal's trip to Tottenham and explains why the midfield battle will be key after the Gunners' tiring battle with 10 men at Liverpool on Thursday.

PART TWO | It's first vs second in the Premier League on Saturday when Manchester City host Chelsea. Is this the London club's last chance to stay in touch with leaders City? And could a win for Thomas Tuchel's side open the door for Liverpool, too? Plus we look ahead to Philippe Coutinho's Aston Villa debut, with Steven Gerrard's men facing an out-of-sorts Man Utd for the second time in a week.

PART THREE | Jarrod Bowen is in fine form and we take a look at the numbers behind his recent purple patch and discuss how it is driving West Ham back into the top-four race after their dip in December. Ahead of their match with Leeds we also examine how injuries have made life tough for Marcelo Bielsa this season. And finally, will Brighton or Crystal Palace come out on top in their rivalry showdown on Friday night?

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