The North London Derby has been on for decades. But today’s clash of Tottenham Hotspurs and Arsenal is just more than mere bragging rights for the two neighbouring clubs. It could be crucial in deciding which team qualifies for the Europa League.
It is the first North London derby for Tottenham manager, Jose Mourinho, who according, to AFP reports, has said that the Premier League is not a match that will decide “big things”, but he knows the importance of bragging rights for fans.
With Spurs in ninth place on 49 points before yesterday’s round of fixtures and Arsenal one place and one point better off, both clubs are not where they would like to be, although Europa League qualification is still possible.
Mourinho is used to battling for silverware and, while there is no medal for finishing as the top club in north London, today’s home clash could prove crucial in deciding that issue.
“This moment we are both in a very similar situation,” he said.
“It’s not that incredible emotion where we are fighting for something really big, more than just to finish above the other one.
“It’s not a match that will decide big things. Both of us, realistically, are not fighting for a Champions League position. But it’s a big match for the table, and on top of that, there is a rivalry.”
Spurs have finished above Arsenal in each of the past three seasons but it could be different this term.
With four games remaining, the Gunners have been more impressive than Tottenham since the Premier League’s restart last month following the Covid-enforced hiatus, especially in an attacking sense.
Spurs have kept three clean sheets in their last four games, but have scored only five goals in five games, compared to Arsenal’s 10.
“To defend better, to concede less, to keep some clean sheets is obviously important but we want to be attack-minded,” Mourinho said of his team, who held Bournemouth to a 0-0 draw on Thursday but did not have a single shot on target.
“We arrive in very dangerous positions, we have good percentages of ball possession, spend the majority of the time in the opponents’ half – but no sharpness, no objective, always one more touch, not clear aggressive, sharp, killer decisions to go direct to goal.”
Mourinho also said Dele Alli would miss the game, as the player is still struggling with a hamstring injury while Eric Dier is suspended.
Looking ahead, he is confident that he can deliver trophies at Spurs if he is given time like Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.
Mourinho, who took over from the sacked Mauricio Pochettino in November, pointed to Klopp – who joined Liverpool in 2015 and guided them to the Champions League, Uefa Super Cup and Club World Cup last year, before ending their 30-year wait for an English league crown this season.
Spurs have not won a trophy since the 2008 League Cup.
“How long it took for Jurgen and Liverpool? Four years, four seasons,” he insisted. “I’m focused on my three-year contract. I believe that in my three-year contract we can win trophies.”
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta also believes that Mourinho could be the right man to end Tottenham’s title drought, saying: “They have had some ups and downs, but you can clearly see what he wants to bring to the club.
“He makes sure he wins, he has won in every single club he has been, I am sure he’ll be successful.”
Arteta also said that form is irrelevant in the derby today, despite his side playing well of late.
While Spurs have eight points in five games since the season’s restart, Arsenal have won 10 points in four matches.
“A derby has a completely different context to what is happening with the current form,” he said.
“I’m expecting a really tough game. We’re going to have to do everything really, really well.”
Eddie Nketiah is suspended for today, while Pablo Mari, Gabriel Martinelli, Bernd Leno and Calum Chambers are injured.
– AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS