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Premier League preview: Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur

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  • 194th edition of the north London derby
  • Spurs unbeaten in 6 vs. Arsenal: D-W-D-D-D-W
  • Spurs 3rd in the PL; Arsenal 6th

Has the balance of power shifted in north London? The 2016-17 season was the first in 22 years to see Tottenham Hotspur finish above Arsenal. While it’s clearly just one out of 23 seasons to finish with Tottenham on top, their respective trajectories have been moving in opposite directions considerably longer.

The latest installment of one of the Premier League’s fiercest, and suddenly most consequential, rivalries kicks off a full weekend of action on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), following the final international break of 2017.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Given Manchester City’s blistering start, the current season already seems a serious long shot that either side will mount a serious title challenge — Spurs currently sit third (eight points back of Man City) ahead of their trip to the Emirates Stadium, home of the sixth-place Gunners (12 back). The Emirates has been a tough place for Spurs to pull off the upset, having failed to win their last six times away to Arsenal, though draws in three straight will certainly have Mauricio Pochettino‘s side believing they’re now equals — if not superiors — and the time is now.

The international break couldn’t have come at a better time for either side: Arsenal, having been thoroughly beaten by City their last time out; Spurs, having suffered a handful of short- and medium-term injuries to a number of key figures — Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Harry Winks all skipped England duty to achieve full fitness ahead of Saturday, while Toby Aldeweireld is out an additional month and Hugo Lloris could miss another week.

As for the managers, Pochettino has been extremely complimentary of Wenger — as he’s always done since arriving at Spurs in the summer of 2014 — while his counterpart isn’t at all ready to concede Arsenal’s place at the north London summit.

What they’re saying

Arsene Wenger, on the rivalry: “Today, people always take one situation and it is permanent. The judgement is definite, permanent and forever. … It is down to us to change the opinions of people with our performances, I cannot say much more. If they have a perception like that they have a perception like that but how can you respond? Not by me talking here, we need to show on Saturday that it’s not true.”

Mauricio Pochettino, on Wenger: “In football history he is one of the great managers, the same level as Sir Alex Ferguson. He will always be a special manager. … To keep motivation more than three years is difficult. Five years, you must be very good, very good if you are 10 years. When you talk about 20 years it is amazing. Everyone who talks about him needs to show respect. … Arsene Wenger is my enemy because he is Arsenal manager but he is my colleague too. What he is doing at Arsenal and as a manager – I would like to be like him one day, 20 years at Tottenham.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Olivier Giroud (thigh), Rob Holding (thigh), Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Danny Welbeck (hamstring), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh) | Tottenham — OUT: Toby Aldeweireld (hamstring), Victor Wanyama (knee), Erik Lamela (hip); QUESTIONABLE: Hugo Lloris (groin); RETURNING: Dele Alli (hamstring), Harry Winks (ankle)

Prediction

A draw featuring (multiple) goals for both sides seems completely inevitable and unavoidable. Spurs have closed the gap to the point they’ll actually expect to win at the Emirates, but the quality of Arsenal’s squad, coupled with their desperation to challenge for a top-four place, is more than enough to put the two sides back on level footing and result in a thrilling, end-to-end deadlock which leaves neither side particularly pleased in the end.

Men in Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s day at Chelsea, stylish Arsenal, Tata leaving ATL

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Rog and Davo break down Chelsea’s last gasp draw against Manchester United and Jose Mourinho’s contentious return to Stamford Bridge. Plus, wins for City and Liverpool, Arsenal’s poetic football, and Tata is saying goodbye to the ATL.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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AP source: FIFA proposes annual Club World Cup

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A person with knowledge of the talks tells The Associated Press FIFA President Gianni Infantino is doubling down on his Club World Cup plans with a proposal for an annual tournament despite European soccer’s resistance to any competition that challenges the supremacy of the Champions League.

[ MORE: Premier League club power rankings ]

The revised proposal amends an initial plan to play a 24-team Club World Cup every four years. The new format will be discussed at the FIFA Council meeting in Rwanda on Friday, the person said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential.

UEFA has stymied Infantino’s attempts since March to gain approval for the new FIFA competitions, which will have $25 billion of income guaranteed by an international consortium including Japan’s SoftBank.

Is something amiss with Romelu Lukaku?

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Maybe he was sick. Maybe he was tired. Heck, maybe he’s still exhausted from the World Cup.

But something isn’t right with Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku, and it was on full display in Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to Juventus in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Match recap | Mourinho reacts ]

Lukaku was fighting his touch, and just plain out-of-sorts, which is unusual for the industrious center forward.

The 25-year-old has just four goals for United in 13 matches across all competitions this season, all coming in the Premier League and none since a Sept. 15 marker at Watford.

Tuesday’s performance could be down to one bad night, but Lukaku has been much better for country than club in the same time span. The Belgian scored a pair against Switzerland on Oct. 12 and two more the previous month versus Iceland.

While Eden Hazard certainly isn’t unlocking defenses for him at Old Trafford, Lukaku has struggled in a few different ways. He’s getting less shots off per game, his key passes are down, and so are his dribbles.

Moreover, his offsides are higher than they’ve been since 2014-15, so perhaps he’s even cognizant of his struggles and trying to cheat a bit more.

If Harry Kane‘s post-World Cup struggles, relatively speaking, can be down to exhaustion, perhaps someone should check on big Rom.

Lukaku is still grinding through performances, for better or worse, and his four goals do lead United on the season. And it’s paramount to note that the side’s uncharacteristic 16 goals allowed per game (5th worst in the PL) is a bigger reason for its record than the 15 goals for (tied-7th).

A visit from former club Everton could snap Lukaku back into form, but perhaps the big man needs more than adrenaline right now. Mourinho hasn’t subbed him once this season in any competition, and he’s being leaned on heavily by Roberto Martinez at Belgium, too. After running him 90 in the 2-goal performance against the Swiss, Lukaku got another 45 in a friendly against the Netherlands.

Maybe this is where the loan for Zlatan Ibrahimovic comes into play, or perhaps Marcus Rashford should get some time running atop the United attack. Either way, it’s a good bet that the big man could use a respite.

Allegri: Juventus tried to ‘attack around Nemanja Matic’

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Max Allegri’s plan to attack without Mario Mandzukic got the job done.

Juventus took a 17th minute lead against Manchester United at Old Trafford and did not look back, deprived of a multi-goal halftime lead by United backstop David De Gea.

[ MORE: PL club power rankings ]

Without Mandzukic, his towering talisman, Allegri turned to less hold-up play and more active runs through the midfield.

And he wasn’t shy about the tactics, with the numbers showing that Nemanja Matic was a very busy man. From Football-Italia:

“Naturally we can play without Mandzukic, someone has to get into the box. It was important against Manchester United to keep the ball to ground and attack around Nemanja Matic.

“We still make too many mistakes on the final ball, as we had so many more chances and half-chances that we didn’t develop properly. A couple of times it was the player with the ball, another couple it was the player who didn’t peel away from his marker to reach the space.”

Allegri has long been said to be a fan of Matic’s, but Dybala shook the center midfielder on this goal.

The win was Juve’s first at Old Trafford since a 1996 visit in the Champions League. All told, Juve is 2W-2D-3L at Manchester United in its illustrious history.