At 4pm this afternoon Spurs and Arsenal go head to head in the hotly anticipated second North London derby of the season. Always an intriguing tie, full of passion with no shortage of goals, skill or cards, today’s game is all the more interesting given the current situations of both clubs.
Spurs would appear to be in the best possible shape coming into this game; both manager Andre Villas-Boas and winger Gareth Bale won their respective Manager of the Month and Player of the Month awards for February and the Welshman’s dramatic upturn in form, at time when the club’s lack of striking options threatened to derail their Champions League push, shows no signs of abating.
Arsenal on the other hand are somewhat of a shambles coming into the tie. A 2-1 home win over Aston Villa last week kept them in the race for the top four but would have done little to repair the confidence that had been left in tatters during a week that saw them eliminated from the FA Cup by Blackburn and on the verge of a Champions League exit at the hands of Bayern Munich.
This sort of form would suggest Spurs are facing Arsenal at the right time. However, derby matches can be therapeutic for ailing sides and this could be the perfect antidote for Arsenal right now. The blood and thunder of it all can free the players from the culture of gloom at the club and allow them to focus entirely on nothing more than defeating their bitter rivals for 90 minutes.
Games between these two are always important, but you can’t help but get the feeling that a lot is potentially on the line at White Hart Lane today. For both sides, it basically all boils down to one thing; the Champions League. The importance of this competition cannot be overstated. Playing next season outside of the Champions League would represent a major blow to both clubs’ ambitions.
For Spurs, the chances of realistically holding onto Gareth Bale would be greatly reduced. The Welshman has been the epitome of professionalism whenever he’s questioned on his future, however, should Spurs fail to seal a top four spot both he and the club would find a big offer from a big club very hard to resist. It would also put a major dent in Andre Villas-Boas’ plans. The Portuguese manager is no doubt delighted with how his first season with Spurs is going but he will consider it imperative that the club qualify for Europe’s elite competition, especially if he’s to resume his interest in long-term targets Leandro Damaio and Joao Moutinho.
For Arsenal, a season without the Champions League would rub away the remnants of silver that have lined the clouds that have been their previous trophy-less seasons. This is a club who have qualified for the group stages 15 consecutive seasons, they are veterans to the competition and it’s considered a given that the club should qualify.
It would also be a major hindrance to the expected plans of a major overhaul of playing staff at the club. Arsenal need to invest heavily in their squad and add top players but without Champions League football to offer, the pool of players Wenger can realistically target is effectively halved.
Simply put, both of these side’s seasons will be judged as either failures or successes depending on whether or not they can clinch Champions League qualification. Spurs have the momentum and the drive, Arsenal the experience. One way or another, today’s game will go a long way to deciding which of these club’s have a season to remember and which has one to forgot.