This is not the first time Theo Walcott’s Arsenal (L) and Gareth Bale’s Spurs will be vying for fourth place on the last day of the campaign
Sunday will not be the first time that Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur’s fight for a place in the top four of the Barclays Premier League has gone down to the wire and the final round of matches. Arsenal are fourth, a point ahead of Spurs, and travel to Newcastle United, knowing that victory will guarantee them fourth and might even lift them up to third, should Chelsea lose at home to Everton.
Spurs know that they must beat Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland at White Hart Lane to stand a chance and hope that Newcastle can avoid defeat. Their inferior goal difference to Arsenal means that Tottenham drawing with Sunderland would not be enough no matter what happens at St James’s Park.
Seven years ago it was Spurs who had the advantage, lying fourth before the final weekend, with Arsenal a point behind. Spurs had to travel to West Ham United while Arsenal hosted Wigan Athletic in the final match to take place at their historic home of Highbury.
Martin Jol’s side were hit by illness before the match at Upton Park and things did not go well after kick-off, Spurs eventually losing 2-1. Across London, after going behind to Wigan Arsenal emerged triumphant 4-2 to snatch fourth and maintain an unbroken run of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League which has stretched to 15 years to date.
Last year Arsenal were third going into the final match, a point ahead of Spurs in fourth, but wins for both kept the Gunners in front. That proved crucial after Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, forcing Spurs into the UEFA Europa League.
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, is proud of such a run and is glad that maintaining it this season is under the control of his players, having been seven points behind Spurs after losing to them in March. “We have our destiny in our hands, our fate in our hands, and that’s what you fight for in the game,” Wenger said.
The Arsenal manager insists he will not have one ear on events at White Hart Lane. “We will not listen to (the Spurs match) at all,” he said. “Some of my staff might but I just focus on us winning the game because after you look at the results of the other teams.”
Wenger stressed the difference between finishing fourth and fifth. “What is at stake (in Champions League qualification) is the desire to play at the top and to play top-level European football,” he said. “There is a difference between the Champions League and the Europa League. Why? Because Champions League players play with the best teams in Europe. That’s what we want to do. The financial consequences are of course big, but that’s not the most important thing.
“It’s easier to attract the top players if you play in the Champions League, that’s part of the rule of the market. For us we want to be with the best. I want my club to be at the top and therefore of course it is a very important game.”
“We have a group of players that attract other players to come here”
In contrast, Andre Villas-Boas, the Spurs head coach, sought to downplay the significance of being in the top four to attract players, citing other factors.
“I’m not sure Champions League qualification is that key because Tottenham has a great tradition in football, it has conditions that other clubs don’t have but equally these facilities,” he said. “And we have a group of players that attract other players to come here. They are good-quality players and other players, in bigger or same level squads, would want to join up and play with them.”
Villas-Boas believes fourth place would demonstrate the progress the club has made since he arrived there in the summer with much change taking place, an improvement confirmed by the prospect of a record points haul of 72 in the Barclays Premier League should they beat Sunderland. Their previous best was 70 in 2009/10.
“We have to do our job and independent of results elsewhere, we want the achievement of reaching 72 points,” Villas-Boas said. “That’s important for us.