With nine games remaining in their Premier League season, Arsenal find themselves in the familiar position of facing up to a battle to the end to secure a spot in the illustrious Champions League. The Gunners will now hope that by the time the curtain comes down on the campaign they find themselves in the even more accustomed situation of looking down on their fierce rivals Tottenham.
For all the criticism of Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, they have accumulated a remarkable record of having qualified for Europe’s glamor show for each of the past 15 years.
What’s more, in five of the past seven seasons Arsenal have finished just a single place ahead of their near neighbors Tottenham in the Premier League table. On only one of those occasions have Spurs joined Arsenal at Europe’s top table.
With Arsenal Trailing Tottenham by four points, with a game in hand, fans on both sides of the north London divide are wondering if history is about to repeat itself.
Indeed, the situation bares a close similarity to last season when Tottenham at one stage held a 10 point lead over Arsenal before eventually falling short by a single point.
The recent results of the two sides suggest a repeat could be on the cards. While Arsenal have won four games in a row in the Premier League, Tottenham have lost their last two. As much as the quality of the two sides will be important, the determining factor could be which side handles the pressure better. And Arsenal certainly have the better experience to call upon.
“We have experience of a few years,” said Wenger ahead of Arsenal’s clash with Reading on Saturday, according to the Daily Mirror. “We have a special desire to do it together.
“That’s a good opportunity for us because we are back with a very good chance to do it (finish top four). We want to grab this chance.
“We know that if we are consistent, we will do it,” he added. “We do not focus on Tottenham at all. We focus on the way we want to play and on our results. If we are consistent in the last nine games, we will do it.”
A home meeting with the league’s bottom club Reading is certainly a good place to start for what is likely to need to be a near-faultless run in to the end of the season. Indeed Arsenal’s remaining fixtures look extremely favorable. Five of their remaining nine games are at home and on paper the only match that poses an undue struggle is a meeting with Manchester United.
In contrast, Tottenham still have to face second place Manchester City (at home) and third place Chelsea (away) as well as a trip to face a Stoke City side that has only lost twice at home all season. Andre Villas-Boas’ side also have the extra complication of still being involved in the closing stages of the Europa League. With a Thursday, Sunday schedule, not only could Spurs suffer from fatigue but they could also be put under pressure by an Arsenal side playing a day earlier.
While that all looks favorable for Wenger’s men, the Arsenal manager must be desperately hoping that injuries do not undermine their challenge. Injuries have been a constant scourge at the Emirates in recent seasons and there has been more bad news this week.
Abou Diaby, almost the embodiment of Arsenal’s fitness issues, suffered the latest in a long line of serious injuries as he was ruled out for up to nine months with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Another midfielder with previous, Jack Wilshere has, worryingly, had his return from an ankle injury delayed by another two weeks. Theo Walcott also remains out with an injury suffered while on England duty.
Wilshere, in particular, and to a lesser extent Walcott, are crucial components of the Arsenal side and their absences will be keenly felt. Getting them back fit as soon as possible could be crucial to hopes of gaining the upper hand on Tottenham.
While Tottenham’s recent form intimates that another late-season collapse could be on the cards, under Villas-Boas there is a strong suggestion that the side has greater resilience and organization to see out games. And if Gareth Bale can keep performing heroics then it promises to be the most nail-biting finish yet to determine who will be scooping the Champions Leagues riches.