Arguably the biggest North London derby in years takes place on Thursday evening as Arsenal travel to the Tottenham Hotspur stadium in what is a crucial top-four battle.
The Gunners start the day one place and four points better off than their opponents, whose Champions League dreams will be shattered with defeat on their own turf and if Chelsea gets the better of Leeds United.
Much to the amusement of Arsenal faithful and the annoyance of Spurs, the Gunners’ depleted squad through injuries, the Africa Cup of Nations and COVID-19 led to the postponement of the originally scheduled North London derby on Spurs’ turf, and the Lilywhites have numerously made their feelings known on the matter.
However, Antonio Conte’s side arguably prepare to welcome the Gunners to their home in a better position than they were four months ago, with the club’s January arrivals flourishing, playing with real Premier League know-how and the confidence in the camp slowly building up again.
While dissatisfactory results in April having harmed their top-four charge, Tottenham got right back on track by beating Leicester City before managing to end Liverpool’s 12-game Premier League winning run at Anfield – only conceding to a deflected Luis Diaz effort after Son Heung-min’s well-worked opener.
Tottenham have kept their top-four dreams alive and will finish fifth at the very worst but they must get a win if they are indeed to overtake their fiercest rivals. Any result below a win, and Arteta’s men will be in the ascendancy to finish in that coveted Champions League spot.
Conte may be slightly concerned at the fact that his side have only managed to keep one clean sheet in their last seven Premier League matches at home – shipping one goal in each of their last four – and the Italian does not have too many fond memories of meetings with Arsenal, posting just one win from eight against them as manager.
Securing Champions League football at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium may have quite the same ring to it as winning the league at White Hart Lane, but such an achievement would mark a momentous period of progress for Arteta’s Arsenal, and they are only 90 minutes away from doing so, especially as it’s on the eve of the Spaniard being rewarded with a new deal at the Emirates.
A three-game losing run over the Easter period threatened to derail their European ambitions entirely, but responding with four consecutive wins over Chelsea, Manchester United, West Ham United and Leeds United leaves the Gunners’ top-four destiny in their own hands heading into the final straight.
Being in such a crucial and momentous period requires constant wins on the board, no matter the performance and the Gunners have registered them with admirable street-smartness and fire in their bellies, something you would not have linked with them in recent seasons.
The Gunners made their 2-1 success over Leeds much nervier than it should have been after Eddie Nketiah’s superb 10-minute brace and Luke Ayling’s red card, but they eventually got over the line and will confirm a Champions League place for the first time since finishing second in 2015-16 with victory on Thursday.
Even if Arteta’s side slumps to defeat, they will still be in the driving seat before potential banana skins with Newcastle United and Everton, and failure to keep a cleansheet in seven Premier League matches is not a reassuring statistic before meeting Tottenham’s bright attacking trio.
A first-half flurry saw Arsenal storm to a 3-1 win over Nuno Espirito Santo’s team back in September, but Spurs have a formula for success on their own turf, unbeaten in seven home games against their North London rivals and cannot afford to let that impressive streak end if they are to keep their CL hopes alive.
WHERE AND WHEN?
Venue: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Date: Thursday, 10th May 2022.
Time: 19:45 (BST).
Referee: Paul Tierney.
Assistant referee: Constantine Hatzidakis, Neil Davies.
Fourth official: Peter Bankes.
VAR: Mike Dean.
Assistant VAR: Lee Betts.
LEAGUE FORM (LAST SIX):
Tottenham Hotspur: WWLDWD
Barring injuries to Sergio Reguillon, Matt Doherty, Japhet Tanganga, and Oliver Skipp, Tottenham should be well-stocked for the North London derby on Thursday.
At this point, Conte’s XI picks itself, with Ryan Sessegnon and Emerson Royal holding the fort in their wing-back roles and Ben Davies continuing in the three-man rearguard after a man-of-the-match performance at Anfield.
Harry Kane heads into Thursday’s battle aiming to build on a derby record of 11 strikes in 16 games against the Gunners, although he has now failed to score in back-to-back North London clashes.
As for Arsenal, defender Ben White has now missed the club’s last two matches with a tight hamstring, but Arteta is hopeful that the 24-year-old will shake off the issue in time to make himself available for Thursday.
Arteta also played down fears of an injury for Bukayo Saka at the weekend, but Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney will watch on from the sidelines, with Takehiro Tomiyasu likely deputising for the latter on the left once again.