Tottenham ponder new plan to stop Bukayo Saka following Destiny Udogie injury

By the time Tottenham host Arsenal in Sunday’s crunch north London derby, Mikel Arteta’s side will have played four times since their rivals’ last fixture — the 4-0 defeat at Newcastle on April 13.

So there is a certain irony that Spurs have still managed to pick up more injuries than Arsenal in the past fortnight, after news over the weekend that Destiny Udogie will miss the rest of the season following surgery on his left quadriceps.

The Italian is expected to be sidelined for about three months, ruling him out of the European Championship and potentially the start of pre-season.

Udogie pulled up in training last week, the latest in a long list of Spurs players to succumb to a muscle injury in Ange Postecoglou’s first season.

Postecoglou’s Celtic squad suffered similarly, and the manager has said injuries are an inevitable consequence of his players adapting to the demands of his high-intensity football.

Udogie has been a near ever-present for Postecoglou this season, missing only four games in total (two through injury and two due to suspension), and his absence is a significant blow to Spurs’ hopes of ending Arsenal’s title ambitions and overhauling Aston Villa in the race for the top-four.

The 21-year-old has been one of the breakthrough players of the season, his pace, physicality and quality in possession making him a natural fit as one of Postecoglou’s inverted full-backs.

Udogie will be a real miss against an Arsenal side who tend to funnel their attacks down the right, through Ben White and Bukayo Saka.

Udogie was outstanding in the reverse fixture in September, maturely handling Saka as Arsenal twice threw away leads to draw 2-2. When Udogie was booked after just 15 minutes for a shove on the England winger, it looked like he could face a torrid afternoon, but he barely put another foot wrong, showing Saka down the line at every opportunity and helping to frustrate Arsenal’s most dangerous player.

“I thought both our full-backs had difficult jobs today. Arsenal’s wide players are outstanding and that’s where their threats are,” Postecoglou said after the game. “Destiny getting booked early, it could have made it difficult.

“But the way he dealt with it, in the end I thought he was the dominant player on that side of the pitch. He finished really strong and had to contend with having a yellow card. It’s a great learning experience for him and all the guys. They’ve come through that, going toe to toe with a top side.”

Udogie is likely to be replaced in the XI by Ben Davies, a steady and experienced performer but not blessed with pace. Significantly, Davies will come into a ferociously hot atmosphere even colder than his Spurs team-mates.

Udogie was excellent up against Saka earlier this season (Getty Images)
Udogie was excellent up against Saka earlier this season (Getty Images)

The 30-year-old played 90 and 120 minutes for Wales last month but has not featured for Spurs since mid-February and started just four games for club and country in 2024.

Beyond Davies, there are few obvious options available to Postecoglou, although one possibility would be to play Cristian Romero, Radu Dragusin and Micky van de Ven in a lop-sided back three, with Pedro Porro inverting into midfield from right-back.

To further complicate matters, there is a degree of doubt about Porro’s fitness, after he was replaced early in the second half at Newcastle in some discomfort, although the Spaniard’s status is unlikely to become clear until later in the week.

Emerson Royal could also deputise at left- or right-back, although, like Davies, the Brazilian is less comfortable at inverting than Spurs’ first-choice full-backs.

Postecoglou at least has time on the training ground to come up with the best solution for Sunday’s game and the run-in, although a north London derby is perhaps not the time to experiment.

The bottom line is that Udogie’s injury has further highlighted that left-back is one the areas Spurs need to strengthen in the summer if they are to close the gap to Arsenal next season.