Why is the North London Derby a must-win game for Tottenham?
This Thursday, the latest iteration of the North London derby is set to unfold as Tottenham and Arsenal go head-to-head in a must-win game for the hosts.
As the season draws to a close, an air of disbelief surrounds North London. Given the start both sides made in the league, it’s remarkable a Champions League place is guaranteed to whoever prevails across the final three matchdays.
Unfortunately, at this point, it’s advantage Arsenal; following the weekend’s results, the Gunners have retained their four-point lead, meaning failure to win from Spurs on Thursday all but ends any top-four challenge.
If Antonio Conte’s side can emerge victorious, the gap will close to a single point with two games remaining. However, the psychological value of avoiding defeat at Anfield followed by victory over Arsenal cannot be understated, as momentum would surely be with Spurs going into the final two fixtures.
How can Tottenham take all three points?
When these two met earlier in the season, Arsenal ran out comfortable 3-1 winners, however, a lot has changed since then, most notably with Spurs having Conte in the dugout rather than Nuno Espirito Santos.
Arsenal will be wise to the fact that for Spurs, this is a must-win game, therefore are unlikely to come flying out the blocks as conceding an early goal represents a worst-case scenario for Mikel Arteta’s side.
Instead, the Gunners would be wise to sit deeper, as throughout the season, Spurs have had more joy when breaking from pressure as opposed to being the dominant side, as evidenced by going unbeaten against Liverpool and City but losing in both fixtures against Brighton and defeat at Burnley earlier in the season.
With home advantage, Tottenham are sure to be ushered forward by the crowd at every opportunity given what rides on the game but must be wary of Arsenal’s speed in attack.
The dream scenario is an early goal for the hosts, as this would simultaneously help settle any nerves and force Arsenal to chase a goal as they will be eager to avoid defeat which could play into Spurs’ hands.
Ultimately, until the game kick-offs, it’s anyone’s guess how the 90-minutes will unfold, as in truth, no result would be a drastic shock, however, Spurs can take confidence from their recent performances and hope that by the time we welcome Burnley on Sunday the gap to Arsenal is down to a point.
What does a Spurs win mean?
So, let’s assume the best and goals from Kane, Son, and last weekend’s hero Ben Davies cap off a convincing 3-0 victory on Thursday. What does this mean for the final two games?
It can be argued Spurs have the easier run-in, as we welcome Burnley at the weekend before facing a trip to Norwich on matchday 38. Alternatively, Arsenal travels north for a tricky game at Newcastle on Monday before ending the season by hosting a potentially must-win game for visitors Everton.
While no game is easy in the Premier League, Spurs’ two fixtures certainly look the more winnable pair. From an Arsenal perspective, the players will know any slip-ups will likely see their side lose fourth place, adding extra pressure to already tough fixtures.
Ultimately, Spurs’ best chance at finishing in the top four may lie with Newcastle, as since Eddie Howe’s appointment, the Magpies have been a force at home, tasting defeat just once in 2022 at St James Park recently to Liverpool which is a good omen for the Lilywhites.
Tottenham has another, albeit unlikely scenario for Champions League football next season. Owing to the point won at Anfield last weekend, if Spurs win one and draw one of their final two while Arsenal wins one and losses one, a superior goal difference would see Conte’s side sneak into fourth.
Undoubtedly, Spurs’ best chance of a top-four finish is to take nine points in the last three games and pray for a favour from Newcastle or Everton. Considering the form and circumstances of these sides, it certainly isn’t outside the realms of possibility that one of these two take points off Arsenal. If that is the case, Spurs must be in the position to capitalise.
Unless three points are secured on Thursday, the above scenarios are irrelevant, so Conte and the players must completely focus on the definition of a must-win North London Derby.