The North London derby is always a crucial fixture in the calendars of both Tottenham and Arsenal, but given their current situations, Sunday’s fixture is effectively make or break for both Champions League chasers.
From Arsenal’s perspective, the bottom has fallen out of their season in the last few weeks. Lest we forget, four games ago, the Gunners were sitting pretty at the top of the league, two points clear of both Manchester City and Chelsea. Wenger’s men are now seven points shy of league leaders Chelsea with only one game in hand, and if Man City win their two games in hand, they will go above the Gunners, leaving Wenger’s side in an all-too-familiar position of fourth. Quite simply, the title is beyond them now.
However, we have seen enough about Arsenal this season to indicate that with the right signings in the summer, they’ll have a great chance of a more sustained title challenge next season. Despite his recent detractors, the early effect that Mesut Ozil had on the side was one of the key reasons why Arsenal were the form team in the Premier League up until Christmas. A few more of these sorts of acquisitions will see Arsenal compete with even the financial might of Man City and Chelsea, and it is for this reason that the Gunners must now dedicate themselves to ensuring they qualify for the Champions League.
Without the lure of elite European football, Arsene Wenger will find it nigh on impossible to attract players of sufficient quality to challenge for the league. Given that his squad probably only needs one or two new faces to mount a serious title challenge, this is the perfect time for Wenger to spend some money and return his team to the position they were in ten years ago. But first, they must get fourth.
The side most likely to challenge them for fourth is, of course, the club just up the road, Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs currently sit six points behind Arsenal, but a home win for Tim Sherwood’s side would put them only a win behind the Gunners. With Arsenal still facing the daunting prospects of Chelsea away and Man City at home, Spurs could quite foreseeably jump above their neighbours, especially given their far easier run in.
Similarly to Arsenal, it is crucial for Tottenham to finish in the top four. Failure to qualify for the Champions League once again would represent a failure for Sherwood’s side, especially when one considers their significant outlay last summer. That Andre Villas-Boas was sacked in December because it seemed unlikely that the club would finish in the top four under his stewardship indicates the club’s desperation to play in Europe’s elite competition, and yet another failure this season would no doubt lead to a ‘where do we go from here?’ type moment.
What is absolutely certain is that Sherwood needs Champions League qualification if he wants to remain Tottenham manager. If Spurs chairman Daniel Levy was all too ready to wield the axe over Villas-Boas’s tenure, it seems certain that he would have absolutely no qualms in dismissing Sherwood if it was felt that he had failed in his objectives. The fact that Levy only granted Sherwood an 18-month contract is tantamount to an admission that unless Sherwood makes the top four, he will not be the Tottenham boss next season.
Perhaps to an even greater extent, Daniel Levy needs Spurs to finish in the top four too. The chairman shies out of the limelight as much as possible, but his propensity for sacking managers has now given him a level of notoriety, and following the termination of Villas-Boas’s contract, has seen the spotlight shine on him once more. Despite employing eight managers in his 13 years at the club, Tottenham have only twice managed to finish in the top four, and if the buck doesn’t stop with the managers because they’re never employed long enough, sooner or later it will have to stop with Levy. Failure to qualify for the Champions League with Sherwood at the helm would raise question marks over the sacking of AVB and the appointment of the ex-Spurs midfielder, with Levy the man answerable for both of those decisions.
The necessity of both of these teams qualifying for the Champions League next season sets up what is sure to be a mouthwatering contest on Sunday. Both teams need three points, and we’re sure to see a feast of attacking football at White Hart Lane. If Spurs lose, they’re as good as out of the race for the top four. If Arsenal lose, Tottenham have a chance to have the last laugh over their rivals. For Arsene Wenger, the success of his latest team more or less rests on winning this game. For Sherwood, his job could depend on it.
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