Gunners' title dream hinges on ending 'November Nightmare'
If Arsenal can stop the annual curse, their trophy dream is on
ARSENAL v TOTTENHAM
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There is a strange, ominous sound drifting across the Emirates Stadium.
It's unusual, unseasonal and a cause for concern for Tottenham Hotspur ahead of the North London Derby tomorrow.
It's the sound of silence.
Arsenal supporters aren't apoplectic. The "Wenger Out" camp, which usually screams, shouts and spins in more directions than the Brexit debate, is quiet.
Arsene Wenger isn't being ordered to fall on his sword. The angry Gunners have fallen silent.
If Tottenham aren't terrified, or at least slightly tentative, ahead of their trip to the Emirates, then they haven't paid enough attention to the calendar.
Like the autumnal leaves, Arsenal usually fall in November. That's what they do. That's their stock in trade, their cachet, their "thing".
Wenger calls it the "November Nightmare", the annual pre-Christmas sale where games, points and any sense of momentum are all essentially given away.
Last season, Wenger's flops failed to win an EPL match in the jinxed month. Draws with Tottenham and Norwich and a woeful defeat by West Brom saw seven points dropped.
The wretched form fed the Gunners' soft stereotype. As the temperature drops in England, the scarves and gloves come out and Wenger's frilly artists hibernate for the winter.
At a time when mental fortitude takes precedence, Arsenal's pocket dynamos display the consistency of flaky pastry. They crumble when touched. They disintegrate.
Whoever came up with the cliche about being able to do "it" on a wet Wednesday night in Stoke was probably thinking about Arsenal and their annual winter of discontent.
Most fans sing when they're winning. Gunners fans sing when it isn't winter.
Wenger's track record in November is really close to hopeless. In his 20 years at the club, the 11th month has always been the worst.
The Gunners won 36 from a possible 78 games and gained an average of 1.59 points per game, the lowest total of any month in the season (September's average stands at 2.14 points and October's figure is 2.15).
Wenger has good reason to hate November.
Traditionally, the month represents an awkward transition at the club.
November usually includes a couple of dicey European contests when Arsenal's craftsmen seem to recoil from the chilly temperatures.
So Tottenham's visit is a chance to end the November nightmare and allow the title dream to begin in earnest.
The fixture list already looks pivotal. Manchester United come after Tottenham and then there's a home Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain, followed by the visit of Bournemouth.
And the timing is just about perfect.
It's hard to recall another occasion when two clubs from the same part of the world, played with the same formation and believed in the same attacking principles, but experienced such different results.
Arsenal and Spurs both play 4-2-3-1, with an emphasis on getting the ball to their wide creators as quickly as possible, but that's where the similarities end.
Against Bayer Leverkusen in midweek, Mauricio Pochettino's plodders were a clumsy, confused rabble.
Their high pressing game, so impressive against Manchester City, looked predictable for the first time.
Familiarity bred contempt in their opponents. The German side threw a blanket over central midfield and suffocated a narrow Tottenham side with no width (and no goal-scoring threat without Harry Kane).
Arsenal sent out the same formation at Ludogorets Razgrad, but the outcome was different, with Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey pushed wide (Alex Iwobi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did the same at Sunderland).
Of course, the Champions League results should not be overstated. Leverkusen are a better side than Ludogorets and it was only a month ago that Pochettino was being hailed a revolutionary and Spurs were runaway title favourites.
But something has gone stale at Spurs.
Injuries play a part, but opponents are learning how to stop Tottenham. No wins in six matches, scoring just three goals along the way, prove that.
The Gunners, on the other hand, are in scintillating form, having lost just once in all competitions since mid-March.
But they face the only unbeaten side left in the EPL in a derby where the form guide traditionally makes less sense than Son Heung Min in the penalty box.
For Arsenal, though, it's more than a derby. It's an opportunity to shine through the winter and shake off that old stereotype.
Wenger's men must come in from the cold with a victory to put serious heat on their title rivals.
BY THE NUMBERS
The number of goals averaged in the 10 Premier League games between Arsenal and Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium since it opened in 2006, with back-to-back 5-2 Arsenal wins in 2012 ranking as two of the most memorable clashes.
The number of North London Derbies Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has managed in during his 20-year tenure with the Gunners. The Frenchman has won on 22 occasions.