Arsenal vs Spurs: Who will win the crucial top-four battle for Champions League football?
The Gunners are two points clear of their city rivals with four rounds to go but they still have to play one another at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
There are four matches to go in the 2021-22 Premier League season and although the title race clearly takes narrative precedence, one could argue that the battle for the fourth Champions League spot is of greater long-term significance.
Arsenal are in their fifth consecutive season without Champions League football and desperately need the extra financial boost – and pulling power in the transfer market – for Mikel Arteta’s project to go to the next level.
Although there have been plenty of ups and downs under Arteta, the strong tactical identity he has built, coupled with his apparent command of the dressing room, suggest he could achieve something special at Arsenal with enough time – and enough forward momentum.
As for Tottenham Hotspur, it is difficult to see how Antonio Conte will be convinced to stay if the club fail to land fourth, while it may also lead to Harry Kane once again angling for a move.
Spurs forever seem to dangle on the precipice of falling out of the elite.
Financially speaking, both Arsenal and Spurs are a tier below the other four in the so-called ‘Big Six’, and the longer they spend outside the Champions League, the harder it will become to compete with the others – once Manchester United get their act together, that is.
Inevitably, attention turns shortly to the north London derby at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and yet that is not necessarily going to decide who gets fourth.
Their respective fixture lists suggest Conte’s side could have an advantage.
Arsenal are on a three-match winning run thanks largely to the influence of Mohamed Elneny, who has added a metronomic quality to central midfield alongside Granit Xhaka.
Elneny’s battling defensive qualities and his calmness under pressure is more reliable than when Xhaka was playing in front of Albert Lokonga.
Elneny and Xhaka side by side lacks the spark with which Arteta wants to play, but it is a good compromise at the moment while the squad is without Thomas Partey.
Coupled with the return of Takehiro Tomiyasu for the win at West Ham, it gives Arsenal the defensive foundation to avoid being overrun in the transition.
However, once Arsenal get past Leeds United – which they ought to, considering their pace up front makes them favourites in most end-to-end games – they may come unstuck in their final two, against Newcastle United and Everton.
Arsenal ran out 2-0 winners when they hosted the Magpies in November but a lot has changed since then.