Mikel Arteta looks on course to achieve his primary objective as Arsenal boss, but standing in his way is Tottenham.
It’s the north London derby and the stakes have rarely been higher. Arguably ahead of schedule, Arteta has Champions League football in his own hands, but defeat on Thursday will blow the race wide open.
The Gunners’ rivalry with their neighbours has flipped and flopped throughout the Premier League era, with the two teams now at an impasse before their crunch clash.
The Arsene Wenger years saw Arsenal largely keep Spurs at arm’s length in the table for two decades, which also saw them pick up three league titles.
Things changed as Wenger’s era wound down to an end. The Mauricio Pochettino effect saw Spurs ride a wave of a five-year streak of finishing ahead of their fiercest rivals, but now things have levelled out, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
With just three games to go this season, the two north London sides are separated by just four points, and with Manchester United and West Ham now out of the picture, it’s a straight dogfight between them.
Victory for Arteta’s young Gunners would clinch a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2017, earning a direct path into the group stages.
It would mark the first top four finish for Arsenal since the 2015/16 campaign – the same season they last finished above Tottenham, which is a long time to go since being able to celebrate ‘St Totteringham’s Day’.
‘Brilliant’ De Bruyne scores four, Leeds face relegation, De Jong to Man United
Watford confirm Rob Edwards appointment amid Forest Green departure storm
Man United v Forest live stream costs just 99p as Youth Cup final boasts record crowd
Arsenal have numerous injury doubts ahead of the north London derby
West Ham make huge eight-year offer to Rice to ward off Chelsea and Man United
Forest Green fume at Watford and Edwards over secret negotiation – ‘He let us down’
Things are complicated even further, with Arsenal unable to win away at Tottenham or do the double over them since 2013/14, long before Spurs even moved into their new state-of-the-art stadium.
The first part of the double has already been achieved this season, though, with three goals in the first 34 minutes downing Spurs 3-1 at the Emirates in September.
Part of their renaissance is due to sweeping changes at the Emirates though, with Arteta backed by £150million in last summer’s transfer window, his recruitment has been almost flawless.
Nuno Tavares hasn’t quite found his feet while Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu have become integral starting XI regulars, helping shift a widely accepted weak mentality that had seen them become second rate in Europe.
Now they have the chance to move up to Europe’s top tier, with an estimated £52.8m the difference between making the Champions League rather than the Europa League.
Doing so with young superstars such as Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe at the fore could see a win in the derby celebrated more than ever, with a new era beckoned in – at the home of their most loathed adversaries.
Betting Offer Of The Day
BetVictor: Bet £10 Get £40 in Bonuses + 100 Free Spins* – CLAIM HERE
18+ New customers only. Opt in, bet £10 at odds 2.00+ within 7 days, no cashout. Get 3x £10 Free Bets, set events at odds 2.00+. Plus a £10 Slot Bonus, selected games, wager 20x to withdraw max £250. Plus 100 Free Spins. 100 Free Spins have no wagering. Bonuses and Spins expire in 7 days. Card payments only. T&Cs apply. Please Gamble Responsibly.