This weekend saw two emphatic performances from North London sides against Midlands opposition, and the question now is: which side has got enough to last the distance?
First Tottenham Hotpur swept to a superb 3-0 win against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Saturday, and then Arsenal hit five past struggling Aston Villa on Sunday; and with both North London clubs seemingly hitting their straps at a particularly crucial stage of the season, the race for the top four looks more competitive than ever.
For around the last 10 years, Spurs and Arsenal have been the two sides regularly competing for the fourth and final Champions League spot; but amazingly, in the decade or so during which this rivalry has been at its most acute, Arsenal have never lost out in this race.
Although Tottenham have managed to secure Champions League football once in that period, it was not at the expense of the Gunners, keeping Arsenal’s record of finishing above Spurs in every season since 1993 alive. This season, though, Mauricio Pochettino’s men may feel that they have a real chance.
In Christian Eriksen, Spurs really have unearthed one of football’s hottest young prospects, and the way the Dane has dovetailed with the free-scoring Harry Kane really has been quite remarkable. When the unpredictable but prodigious talents of Erik Lamela are added in, as well as the steel of Dembele and Stambouli in midfield, the team starts to look even more serious. And with Jan Vertonghen in defence and keeper Hugo Lloris between the sticks, Spurs genuinely now have a team capable of competing with the very best.
But are they good enough to topple Arsenal?
The answer to that one is…well, the jury is still out.
This year, Arsenal have been quietly impressive, and whilst they haven’t troubled the top three, they’ve stayed in the chasing pack long enough to allow their injured players to return. Now that they’re back, they look rather frightening.
In Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal have one of the world’s best players and certainly one of the Premier League’s finest, and with Mesut Ozil returning to form and fitness, the Gunners have two of the hottest attacking talents in world football. Add in the blistering pace of Theo Walcott and the formidable, driving runs of Aaron Ramsey, and Arsenal look better than they’ve looked in years.
So, who will finish in the top four? Seemingly the race for fourth is between Spurs, Arsenal and Southampton. Without wanting to be elitist, it seems rather unlikely that Saints will last the distance, and if this is the case, then we’re looking at a two-horse race. Past form suggests Arsenal have got more chance of clinching that spot, but Spurs’ rise seems more genuine than at almost any other time in the last few years.
In reality, only time will tell, but a great indicator of the winner of this battle will be the side that emerges victorious next Saturday in the great North London derby. Two on-form sides colliding – it promises to be quite a spectacle.