A potentially season-defining North London derby for both clubs takes place at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Thursday night, as Spurs face off against bitter rivals Arsenal. The Gunners start the day one place and four points better off than their opponents, whose Champions League dreams will be shattered with defeat on their own turf and if Chelsea get the better of Leeds United. Much to the amusement of Arsenal fans and the chagrin of Tottenham, the Gunners’ depleted squad through injuries, the Africa Cup of Nations and COVID-19 led to the postponement of the originally scheduled North London derby on Spurs’ turf, and the Lilywhites certainly made their feelings known on the matter.
However, Antonio Conte’s side arguably prepare to welcome the Gunners to their headquarters in a better position than they were four months ago, with the club’s January arrivals beginning to flourish and the confidence in the camp slowly building up again. While dissatisfactory results in April have harmed their top-four charge, Tottenham got right back on track by beating Leicester City before managing to end Liverpool’s 12-game Premier League winning run at Anfield – only conceding to a deflected Luis Diaz effort after Son Heung-min’s opener. A penny for Conte’s thoughts on the touchline when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg tried to head the ball across for Harry Kane in the dying embers instead of going for goal himself, but Tottenham have kept their top-four dreams alive and will finish fifth at the very worst.
Conte may be slightly concerned at the fact that his side have only managed to keep one clean sheet in their last seven Premier League matches at home – shipping one goal in each of their last four – and the Italian does not have too many fond memories of meetings with Arsenal, posting just one win from eight against the Gunners as a manager. Securing Champions League football at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium does not have quite the same ring to it as winning the league at White Hart Lane, but such an achievement would mark a momentous period of progress for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, and they are only 90 minutes away from doing so.
A three-game losing run over the Easter period threatened to derail their European ambitions entirely, but responding with four consecutive wins over Chelsea, Manchester United, West Ham United and Leeds United leaves the Gunners’ top-four destiny in their own hands heading into the final straight. The Gunners made their 2-1 success over Leeds much more nervy than it should have been after Eddie Nketiah’s 10-minute brace and Luke Ayling’s red card, but they eventually got over the line and will confirm a Champions League place for the first time since finishing second in 2015-16 with victory on Thursday.
Even if Arteta’s side slump to defeat, they will still be in the driving seat before potential banana skins with Newcastle United and Everton, and failure to keep a clean sheet in seven Premier League matches is not a reassuring statistic before meeting Tottenham’s bright attacking trio. A first-half flurry saw Arsenal storm to a 3-1 win over Nuno Espirito Santo’s Tottenham back in September, but Spurs have a formula for success on their own turf, as they are unbeaten in seven home Premier League games against their North London rivals and cannot afford to let that streak end lest their Champions League dream remain just a dream.
Barring the quartet of Sergio Reguilon, Japhet Tanganga, Oliver Skipp and Matt Doherty, Tottenham should be well-stocked for the North London derby, with the former also at risk of missing the rest of the season with his groin problem. At this point, Conte’s XI picks itself, with Ryan Sessegnon and Emerson Royal holding the fort in their wing-back roles and Ben Davies continuing in the three-man rearguard after a man-of-the-match performance at Anfield.
Harry Kane heads into Thursday’s battle aiming to build on a derby record of 11 strikes in 16 games against the Gunners, although he has now failed to make the net ripple in back-to-back North London clashes. As for Arsenal, integral defender Ben White has now missed the club’s last two games with a tight hamstring, but Arteta is hopeful that the 24-year-old will shake off the issue in time to make himself available for Thursday.
Arteta also played down fears of an injury for Bukayo Saka at the weekend, but Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney will watch on from the sidelines, with Takehiro Tomiyasu likely deputising for the latter on the left once again. With Rob Holding performing well since his recall to the first XI, Arteta may be tempted to shift White over to right-back for the derby, as the prospect of Cedric Soares coming up against Son Heung-min is not a pleasant thought for Arsenal fans.
Tottenham Hotspur possible starting lineup:
Lloris; Romero, Dier, Davies; Emerson, Hojbjerg, Bentancur, Sessegnon; Kulusevski, Kane, Son
Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Ramsdale; White, Holding, Gabriel, Tomiyasu; Xhaka, Elneny; Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli; Nketiah