As it stands, Albert Sambi Lokonga is the only specialist central midfielder in Arsenal’s first-team squad who is expected to be available to face Spurs.
Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny are both at the Africa Cup of Nations, representing Ghana and Egypt respectively, Emile Smith Rowe has missed the last two matches due to a groin injury and Martin Odegaard tested positive for Covid earlier this week.
Granit Xhaka, who would likely have partnered Lokonga in midfield on Sunday, was sent off for the second time this season during Thursday’s 0-0 draw against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup semi-final. The 29-year-old will be suspended for three games after receiving a straight red.
Although not listed in the first-team squad on Arsenal’s website, promising 18-year-old Charlie Patino could be thrust into the action after making his senior debut last month and first professional start during last weekend’s 1-0 defeat against Nottingham Forest. Talented as Patino undoubtedly is, it would be some baptism of fire for the academy graduate given he is yet to kick a ball in the Premier League.
Alternatively, Arteta may have to fill the gap with a central defender. While it would be a wrench to break up the Ben White-Gabriel Magalhaes axis in the heart of the backline, White does have experience of playing in midfield, doing so on seven occasions for Brighton last season, according to WhoScored. White would be a more natural replacement for Xhaka than Patino, owing to his tenacity and ball-winning ability.
Who is unavailable?
- Mohamed Elneny (Africa Cup of Nations)
- Martin Odegaard (Covid)
- Thomas Partey (Africa Cup of Nations)
- Emile Smith Rowe (injured)
- Granit Xhaka (suspended)
If Arteta is reluctant to disrupt his first-choice pairing at the back, he could hand Calum Chambers a rare Premier League start instead. The 26-year-old has only featured twice in the league this season and on both occasions, he was brought on as a substitute. However, like White, he has played as a central midfielder in the competition previously, doing so regularly while on loan with Fulham in the 2018-19 season. Chambers may be required to play at right-back, however, with Takehiro Tomiyasu a doubt and Cedric Soares injured.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles could have slotted in at centre midfield or right-back, but has recently joined AS Roma on a season-long loan deal. It was also reported during Thursday’s match that Arsenal had activated an option to recall 19-year-old Miguel Azeez from his loan spell with Portsmouth in order to flesh out the squad, although like Patino, there will be concerns over his readiness for such a high-profile fixture.
Arteta is looking to bolster his central midfield options with the potential loan signing of Brazil international Arthur Melo from Juventus, although the 25-year-old would not be registered in time to play on Sunday even if a deal were completed by then.
Midfield isn’t the only problem position for Arteta ahead of the derby. Bukayo Saka limped off in the closing stages of Thursday’s game with Arteta admitting that the 20-year-old was “fatigued” and has “played a lot of minutes in the last months”. Arteta’s attacking options are further limited by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe’s absences due to the Africa Cup of Nations.
Predicted Arsenal team against Spurs (4-2-3-1): Ramsdale; Chambers, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney; White, Lokonga; Saka, Lacazette, Martinelli; Nketiah.