It would have been a hard task towards the start of this topsy-turvy season to find someone seriously suggesting it would be Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur battling it out for the final Champions League spot.
With polar opposite starts in the first three games, it was a 3-1 scoreline in Arsenal’s favour in the first north London derby of the season that sealed Nuno Espirito Santo’s fate as Spurs manager, and set Arsenal and Arteta on a path of miraculous recovery.
Antonio Conte has moved in to N17, and whilst things haven’t been completely plain sailing, has made Spurs a genuine threat again with impressive results against Manchester City and most recently Liverpool in particular.
So as it happens, the first meeting between these two managers will be one of the most important north London derbies in recent memory, with Arsenal able to guarantee Champions League football with a victory, and Spurs realistically needing one of their own to keep the pressure on their rivals.
With that being said, we thought we’d get the thoughts of our resident Arsenal and Tottenham experts to see where they think the points will be going come full time on Thursday evening.
North London derbies don’t come much bigger than this and it’s a must-win match for Antonio Conte’s Tottenham side.
As if these derbies aren’t already fractious enough, Arsenal getting the originally scheduled January match postponed with one reported Covid case irked Conte and Spurs and that bad feeling will spill into this encounter.
The Gunners will travel across north London knowing that they don’t have to take all three points but a victory would secure Champions League qualification for Mikel Arteta’s men at the home of their local rivals.
The atmosphere is set to be incredible for the first north London derby played in front of a full crowd at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Spurs showed that they could deal with the noise at Anfield on Saturday and should have come away with all three points, whatever Jurgen Klopp made of Conte’s game plan.
If Tottenham bring the same effort and desire into this derby match then it’s going to be a difficult night for Arsenal.
If Spurs revert to the lacklustre team that could not beat Brighton or Brentford last month, then the visitors will gratefully take advantage.
Conte needs his big players to step up on the night.
Harry Kane loves a derby and he needs to return to top form at just the right time, while the free-scoring Son Heung-min and creative Dejan Kulusevski must wreak the havoc they can around him.
The rest of the team just needs to replicate what they did at Anfield because defensively Spurs were magnificent against one of the best attacking units in the world.
HAVE YOUR SAY! Leave your predictions in the comments.
Thursday’s North London Derby is arguably the biggest since the ‘Lasagnagate‘ match from 2006.
Ironically, the context is similar as both teams are fighting for fourth spot and a win for Arsenal would see the Gunners secure their place in the Champions League for the first time in five years.
A tense atmosphere is evident in the build-up to the game with Spurs manager Antonio Conte referencing the originally scheduled match postponed in January, which Arsenal requested to be postponed after a covid outbreak at the training ground.
Conte’s side are an unpredictable animal right now and they showed at Anfield on Saturday that they are more than capable of securing a positive result at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Arsenal’s form of late has seen them rise up the league table and consolidate fourth spot, while the mood is positive in the camp after Mikel Arteta recently signed a new long-term contract.
Eddie Nketiah has come into form at the perfect time, while Takehiro Tomiyasu’s return to the squad gives Arsenal the extra defensive solidity that they have been crying out for.
Tottenham possess an array of elite attacking players but the Gunners know that this is their best chance to secure Champions League football – and they’re 90 minutes away from achieving it.
Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, differing opinions from our experts in house.
Both predict a tight game, and with the stakes so high, it’s sure to be a cagey affair – though that’s not in character for this London derby.
Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below as to where you think the points are destined for and who will secure that all important Champions League football come the end of this season.