Each year when the Premier League fixtures are announced the first games that Spurs fans look for are the two North London derbies.
Game week four feels like a particularly early encounter, but several weeks ago we were thinking that we would be the beneficiaries of that, given that our side was relatively stable, whereas Arsenal had made quite a few changes.
As it turns out, the opposite may be true.
Mauricio Pochettino has work to do after his side’s opening three matches: a none-too-convincing win against Aston Villa, a 2-2 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City, and a demoralising home defeat to Newcastle, who many are tipping to be relegated.
Settle down lads
The first priority for Pochettino is to re-establish his squad.
He pointed out after the Newcastle game that the squad in its current state is “the most unsettled group” he has had since taking over.
With the European transfer window still open, at least three players are still expected to leave: Christian Eriksen, Victor Wayama and Serge Aurier. Wanyama and Aurier would not be seen as big losses, but Eriksen leaving would be huge and there would need to be a period of adaptation while Spurs work out how to play without him.
But, importantly, the air of uncertainty currently hanging over Hotspur Way will soon be gone and Pochettino can move on with some clarity on what he has to work with.
All is forgiven Jan
The second priority is to reintegrate Jan Vertonghen. Pochettino left Vertonghen out of the squad for the first match; he felt he wasn’t fit enough to start. The Belgian did not take the news well and subsequently failed to even make the bench as he was punished.
The Davinson Sanchez/Danny Rose side of the defence looks shaky, and the introduction of Vertonghen – and possibly even Ben Davies – would likely help shore things up in the short term.
Nicolas Pépé will be relishing the prospect of Sanchez and Rose repeating Sunday’s showing.
The third issue is to work out the best blend of attacking midfielders for each opponent.
The use of Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura against Newcastle felt ill-judged. Two players who love to run in behind were playing against a team who were set-up to sit deep, soak up pressure and counter.
Newcastle’s back five and the four in front restricted the space for Son and Lucas to run into and negated their effectiveness with ease. If they tried to commit a defender, they were soon met with another and another and another. Spurs needed rotational play with someone coming deep to show for the ball, someone else spinning in behind, and quick one and two-touch passing to get the ball through the organised defence.
The only player attempting this was Erik Lamela, but he was ineffective in his attempts.
A generous reading is that none of his teammates were on his wavelength, a less generous one is that his passing was consistently wayward.
The idea of Son and Lucas running at David Luiz is an enticing prospect, though. While the combination was not right for Newcastle, it seems well-matched for an Arsenal side that is guilty of over-committing in the attacking phase and leaving space behind. Spurs will need to accommodate this with an appropriately balanced midfield and defence, though.
A delightful return for Dele
Finally, it’s not quite a problem, but a return for Dele could be huge. Pochettino needs to get him fit and firing as quickly as possible.
His dynamism, his want to receive the ball on the half-turn, his ability to play with his back to goal as well as to run at defenders and see through-balls have been greatly missed. His return will be most welcome, that’s for.
This will be a challenging week for Pochettino, in which he and his team attempt to prepare for the derby while also seeing off the last few days of transfer speculation and uncertainty.
He needs to make sure that the squad is as focussed and on-message as possible ahead of the next big challenge.