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Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal Preview: Everything is on the line in the North London Derby

Tottenham will still need additional help, but nothing is more important than this derby.

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

A questionable postponement earlier this season has landed the second North London Derby at the season’s climax. Tottenham Hotspur’s hard-fought, yet ultimately disappointing draw against Liverpool on Saturday leaves Spurs four points below their rivals, meaning even a derby win would require another Arsenal stumble in order to acquire fourth place.

Arsenal have been oscillating in form since February, winning five straight, then dropping four of five, now having won the past four against decent competition. Spurs will have to hope that a Thursday win will set off another change in fortune, needing either Newcastle or Everton to earn at least a draw to let them jump back into the Champions League places.

Tottenham’s recent results have not been as pristine, but the 3-1 win over Leicester and the tough draw at Liverpool are both positives that should build some momentum. Spurs have allowed just five goals over their past eight matches and have not conceded more than one. It seems like this one will come down to the front three’s ability to score.

Tottenham Hotspur (5th, 62pts) vs. Arsenal (4th, 66pts)

Date: Thursday, May 12
Time: 2:45 pm ET, 7:45 pm UK
Location: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, England
TV: USA Network (USA), Sky Sports Main Event (UK)

Holding Liverpool to just one goal at home is quite the feat, and the Tottenham defense has twice stymied the Reds attack (1.5 and 1.2 xG). The back five was completely in sync and allowed very few significant chances. Arsenal is not close to this level of lethal and will have a hard time replicating a win like that over Nuno Espirito Santo — which only featured 0.8 xG for the home side anyway.

Despite the comments made by Jurgen Klopp, Spurs have not had to sacrifice its attacking desires to maintain a strong defense. Still, to earn the required three points from this derby, the stars are going to have to shine. Harry Kane is always up for scoring against Arsenal, but the beneficiary under Antonio Conte has been Heung-Min Son, who enters the week just two goals off the Golden Boot lead.

Both players will get looks on goal, just how many (and how good) will depend on the play of the midfield and wingbacks. Arsenal has been decent in the middle and recent Spurs struggles have come in matches where the central midfielders could not move the ball. There will be counterattack opportunities as always, but another quality team goal or two could be the difference.

Three themes

  1. Tottenham really needs to win this one in order to have an outside chance at fourth. A draw would require Arsenal faltering twice more, which is too much to ask with just two matches left. There are a million things that could have gone differently this season (including the postponement of this very fixture), but ultimately it seems like the Conte surge may end up just short without some luck.
  2. It seems pointless even referencing September’s embarrassment given all of the changes Spurs have undergone since then. If anything, Thursday can show just how much the team has improved with Cristian Romero, Dejan Kulusevski, and Rodrigo Bentancur in the side, as well as the introduction of Conte and his back three. Derbies are when players can make a name for themselves, and there are plenty of newcomers dying to be the x-factor this week.
  3. This preview’s rival watch goes in a slightly different direction, as Chelsea seemingly wants to sink back into the top four battle. The Blues visit Leeds on Wednesday and host Leicester and Watford to close out the year following this weekend’s FA Cup final. Tottenham would have to find a way to make up the five-point gap, but crazier things have happened.