Tottenham Hotspur: Rivalry with Arsenal on a Knife-Edge as Season End Approaches
Arsenal's 3-1 win over Norwich City last Saturday had qualities you might associate with a turning-point game. Facing defeat late in the game, the Gunners fought back in dramatic fashion, sealing a win that saw them leapfrog Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur into third place.
Their resurgence had gone somewhat unnoticed, but this fourth win in a row following their North London derby loss had left Arsene Wenger and his men in prime position to seal a 17th consecutive top-four finish.
Who will finish higher in the Premier League this season?
Tuesday night's 0-0 draw with Everton was a reminder of the challenges that still lay ahead for Arsenal. Chelsea retain the advantage of having games in hand over their fellow competitors, while hopes of furthering the gap over Tottenham have been reined in, at least temporarily.
Despite the major role Chelsea and Everton still have to play in the race for the top four, the potential implications for supremacy in North London means there is an added level of excitement about Spurs and Arsenal's finish to the season
The narrowing middle-ground between the two clubs of late has been frequently explored (here and elsewhere). Tempting as it may be to deem one as being on a better trajectory, it is just too close too call—for this campaign and beyond.
Tottenham have not finished above their despised enemy since 1995. Hopes this season might at last see them do so have cooled off in the aftermath of beating the Gunners 2-1 last month. Although the win showed their ability to get the better of Wenger's current crop, Spurs' underwhelming form since then has demonstrated turning that into a larger, more comprehensive superiority is a lot harder.
The comparatively (slightly) tougher challenge posed by their remaining fixtures ensures if Spurs do finish ahead of Arsenal it will be well-earned. Should Chelsea also pip the Gunners to a Champions League place, there is potential for a sizable (though not substantial) gap developing.
Andre Villas-Boas would head into next season with an enviable mandate to further his team's progression. Qualification for next season's Champions League would be highly valuable to Tottenham in satisfying the ambition of their current stars (namely Gareth Bale, but also others like Hugo Lloris and Jan Vertonghen), and in enticing outside talent to the cause of creating sustained success in the future.
In this scenario Spurs would be boasting relative on-field stability, at least compared to Arsenal. For the Gunners, the recriminations surrounding the cost of missing out on Europe's premier club competition would see them at the very least ceding a degree of superiority to their rivals. At most, it might prove the catalyst for major change should both the fans and board's patience with Wenger finally wear thin.
Such is the knife-edge balance at which the North London rivalry precariously stands, though, should the season's conclusion favor Arsenal (or at least not leave them worse off), they are in a position to genuinely push on.
Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are among the talented individuals that are combining to form arguably the best group the Gunners have had since Thierry Henry (initially) left. Both Wenger and the club's hierarchy have also reportedly suggested money will be spent this summer in augmenting this existing group with players capable of reaching the heights of the Frenchman's early years in charge.
Arsenal's issues (a lack of leadership, greater depth up front and in defense, uncertainty over their best goalkeeper) cannot be solved just by throwing money at them.
However, decision-making on Wenger's part akin to that with which he masterminded his previous successes could see them as legitimate title-challengers as soon as next season. That is the extent to which the "so close, but still so far" feeling permeates Arsenal right now.
All of this emphasizes why there is so much at stake in the culmination to this battle for the top four. We stand to learn so much about the current quality levels of both Tottenham and Arsenal's playing and coaching staff, what their potential is and who among them will be in a position to build on it.
Like with Manchester United and Manchester City, this rivalry has become all the more intriguing and exciting because of the proximity between the clubs. Their prospective fortunes—though in a large part dictated by significantly different circumstances—have become as entwined as they may have ever been.
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