Ahead Of North London Derby, Top Four Looks Far Off For Arsenal And Tottenham Hotspur
This Sunday, Arsenal hosts Tottenham Hotspur in the North London derby. While the rivalry always sparks passion, supporters on both sides could be forgiven for feeling dread rather than excitement.
In April, both clubs were part of the proposed, ultimately thwarted, Super League. Now, they look far behind their four rivals that make up the league’s “big six” – and perhaps one or two others as well.
Spurs began this season brightly under new head coach Nuno Espirito Santo but has lost its last two league matches, 3-0, while offering little resistance.
Arsenal didn’t score a goal for its first three league matches, all defeats. The club has since won two in a row and sits 13th, six places behind Spurs in the early season table.
Depending on the margin of victory, Arsenal could go above its North London neighbor with a win. But even the joy of beating your bitter rival would do little to ease the concerns of both sets of supporters that their respective clubs are in for a long season.
At Arsenal, coach Mikel Arteta wants time to build his project. Appointed in December, 2019, he has already won one trophy, the FA Cup, but overseen consecutive 8th-placed finishes. Last season’s finish means Arsenal is not playing in Europe for the first time in 25 years.
For Spurs, last season was the fifth consecutive campaign the club has finished above Arsenal. But it was only by a point and a place and the dubious prize is competing in the inaugural Europa Conference League.
On current form, neither team looks likely to finish in the top four and claim a Champions League place next season. At the same time, the rest of the “big six” – Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United – all expect to be challenging for the title. A top four place is the minimum expectation. With the exception of Liverpool, those clubs all spent significant sums to strengthen their squads in the summer transfer window. But Spurs and Arsenal also brought in new players.
The gap between those four and Spurs and Arsenal seems to be growing. Other clubs, like Leicester City, now look at least as likely to break into the top four, or at least take a place in the top six. Leicester has finished above Spurs and Arsenal for the past two seasons.
The concern for Spurs and Arsenal is, should they again miss out on Champions League qualification, the gap could grow. The Champions League is where the prestige is but also, crucially, the prize money. It is comfortably the most lucrative club competition and, if they want to close the gap to the other four, Arsenal and Spurs need to be in it.
Tomorrow’s match suddenly feels even more important than a normal derby day. While they wouldn’t admit it publicly, both managers might settle for a draw. A point from this fixture, after uncertain starts to the season, would not be a disaster. A defeat, on the other hand, would be.
If there is a loser, that club will feel the top four is even further away.