North London Derby: More than a Champions League Ticket is at Stake

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Matches involving Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspurs are always very explosive due to the bitter rivalry between the two teams.  Sunday’s North London Derby will probably be most significant because of the Gunners desperate attempt at booking UEFA Champions League ticket. More significantly is the fact that it is expected to be the last time White Hart Lane would be hosting games involving the two north London rivals

Tottenham host Arsenal on Sunday as White Hart Lane hosts what is expected to be the final north London derby at the famous ground.

Spurs’ temporary move to Wembley is expected to be confirmed in the days leading up the kick-off in what is the biggest meeting between the two sides in recent memory, perhaps longer.

Spurs look to finish above their fierce rivals for the first time since Arsene Wenger’s appointment 21 years ago, boasting a team arguably superior in most positions for the first time in decades.

A n FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City last weekend has made slight amends for Arsenal’s dire league form this season; they go into the game in fifth place and 14 points behind Spurs. It’s therefore more than pride at stake on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Arsenal legend, Thierry Henry is of the opinion that striker Alexis Sanchez is the only player in the Gunners’ team that would get into Tottenham’s starting 11.

Sanchez currently sits third in the top-flight’s goalscoring charts with 19 Premier League goals and nine assists to his name.

Despite his fine return in front of goal the Gunners still languish in sixth place in the standings – four points off fourth-placed Manchester City and 14 off their fierce north London rivals, Tottenham.

In contrast to Arsenal’s battle to secure a top-four spot this season, Spurs look set to play in the Champions League next term and will also hope to take the bragging rights when they host Arsenal at White Hart Lane on Sunday afternoon.

Ahead of the north London derby, Henry has given an assessment about his former side but believes only Sanchez was playing well enough to warrant a place in Spurs’ XI.

“It’s difficult for me as an Arsenal man at the minute but you have to be honest. I can only see right now Alexis Sanchez getting into that team without anyone saying ‘how come he’s in the team?’ All the others, I think people will argue with that… but that doesn’t mean Tottenham are going to win easily,” he told Sky Sports. 

“If I was going to the Lane the way it is at the minute and people were thinking ‘we cannot win any big games away from home’ and we can stop them winning the title, I would wake up that day thinking ‘this is my day today’.”

Henry’s views echo those of Harry Redknapp who wrote in his column for Standard Sport earlier this month that Sanchez is the only player who could justify being included in Mauricio Pochettino’s side based on his current form.

“Alexis Sanchez is the only Arsenal player who would get into Tottenham’s starting line-up,” he said. “Spurs look like they are in a different league and that’s how far the balance of power has swung after more than 20 years of the Gunners dominating north London. 

“The main reason is Arsenal have wasted millions on average players over the past few years. It was easy to see how good Sanchez was during his time at Barcelona and Wenger deserves credit for pulling that deal off but the rest of the players he has brought in over the past two or three years haven’t been good enough.”

However, Wenger has said his side know exactly what they must do in the Champions League qualification race after watching them gain a 1-0 win over Leicester City.

“We have to win our games, so that’s why we cannot be happy with a 0-0. We absolutely have to take a gamble to try and win the game at any cost. “

Interestingly, Tottenham’s eighth successive league win midweek against Crystal Palace was the perfect response after Chelsea had opened up a seven-point lead with a victory against Southampton 24 hours earlier. Keen to keep his players from getting ahead of themselves, Pochettino has told them to forget what Chelsea do and focus on their own performances.

“When we are playing we are not thinking about what happened with Chelsea or what will happen in the future. We closed the gap again. It’s not important to send a message to Chelsea. The most important is the victory builds confidence, that’s the only way to catch them,” he said.

Tottenham will be guaranteed to finish above Arsenal for the first time in 22 years if they beat their bitter rivals on Sunday.

That will be a sweet moment for Tottenham fans after so long in Arsenal’s shadow.

Pochettino isn’t concerned with the squabble for local bragging rights because he has his sights set on the far more significant target of bringing the title to White Hart Lane.

The Argentine knows emotions run high when it comes to the derby, especially in what may well be the last north London clash at White Hart Lane before the stadium is rebuilt.

Asked if the chance to ensure supremacy over Arsenal might fire up his players too much, Pochettino called for calm.

“It’s Arsenal, we know what that game means, but we are not thinking of being above them, we want to think of bigger things than that,” he said.

“It maybe the last derby at White Hart Lane, but now is important to be calm. We have to get ready for what should be a very tough match We want to close the gap on Chelsea again. We want to win big trophies achieve big things, the mentality must be thinking bigger. We can speak about finishing above Arsenal at the end of the season.”

Meanwhile, Arsenal could be without defensive kingpin, Laurent Koscielny for Sunday’s trip to North London rivals after the centre-back injured his knee in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over defending champions Leicester City.

Koscielny, who has already been sidelined with thigh and Achilles injuries this season, jarred his knee in the closing stages of the game but played on till the end after receiving treatment.

“Koscielny has a knee problem but I don’t know how bad yet. I have to check,” manager Arsene Wenger told reporters after the match.

With defender Shkodran Mustafi also doubtful due to a thigh injury, an extended absence for Koscielny would hurt Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the Champions League places for the 20th successive season.