Tottenham Hotspur look to avoid a third loss on the bounce in Saturday’s north London derby against Arsenal at Wembley Stadium, knowing such a defeat could turn the race for the final two Champions League places into a four-team free-for-all.
In the span of four days, the Lilywhites (20-0-8) went from darkhorse Premier League title contenders to also-rans with a loss at Burnley and a 2-0 derby defeat Wednesday to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Facing a side in the throes of crisis and a second-choice keeper, Tottenham Hotspur were bossed for most of the match save a spell late in the first half in which Harry Winks was unlucky to hit the crossbar with a looping shot that had beaten Willy Caballero.
Both Ben Davies and Toby Alderweireld were bamboozled by Pedro’s darting run in the second half that led to the game’s first goal, with keeper Hugo Lloris also carrying some of the blame for failing to stop the shot. The keeper and Kieran Trippier than combined for a howler of an own goal six minutes from time, with Trippier passing the ball backwards into his own goal after failing to see Lloris had come out in support on Oliver Giroud’s flicked-on header.
“What can I say? It’s a big disappointment because there were a lot of expectations after the loss against Burnley,” Lloris lamented to Spurs’ official website. “It’s the way we conceded, the own goal… especially as we felt we could get to 1-1 at that stage, we were pushing, but from nothing it’s 2-0. To lose two games in a row leaves a bad taste and only together are we going to find the solution.”
“Whatever would have happened against Chelsea, playing Arsenal is always a big game,” the Spurs talisman added. “It’s important to win to keep the gap. They are in a good run too so they are confident. “Now it’s about bouncing back together as a team and getting back to basics, to be strong. The positive thing is that we play again in three days. That’s good for us.”
The loss left Spurs nine points adrift of Liverpool with 10 matches remaining, with manager Mauricio Pochettino conceding to BBC Sport afterwards that “tonight makes it impossible to fight Man City and Liverpool. Only they can win the league – we must fight to win games and to be fair.”
The defeat also allowed Arsenal to creep within four points for third, with Manchester United another point back and Chelsea seven off Tottenham’s 60-point pace. With another trophy avenue closed off, all that is left for Spurs is the Champions League. That resumes after this match at Borussia Dortmund, where they will try to protect a 3-0 advantage earned in the first leg.
There is a chance Pochettino may miss this match as the FA is expected to hand down a punishment for improper conduct against a referee following his post-match confrontation with Mike Dean following the loss to Burnley. Pochettino offered a contrite public apology during the build-up to the Chelsea match and could either be fined and potentially be given a touch-line ban.
Arsenal (17-5-6) make the short trip west to Wembley in good spirits, having thrashed Bournemouth 5-1 on Wednesday for their third win in the spin in all competitions and third consecutive league victory. Henrikh Mkhitaryan had a goal and two assists in just over an hour of work, and Mesut Ozil remained in Unai Emery’s good graces with a goal and an assist in the opening 27 minutes.
Laurent Koscielny, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexander Lacazette also scored for the Gunners, who have looked for more threatening with both Ozil and Mkhitaryan pulling strings in the midfield. Arsenal have scored 10 goals in their last three matches, starting with their 3-0 win over BATE to advance to the round of 16 in the Europa League.
“It would be great for the team (to finish in the top four) because we have a lot of young players who are very keen to play in the Champions League again,” defender Shkodran Mustafi told the club’s official website. “Obviously a club like Arsenal belongs in the Champions League as well. For everyone it’s going to be a big achievement.”
Mkhitaryan has had at least one goal and one assist in his last two games, and Arsenal are 4-0-1 in the five matches he has played since returning from injury. Emery has not committed to using both the Armenia international and Ozil together in this match, but the first-year manager did not rule it out following the win.
“We are speaking and we want to get our identity first, be competitive – and being competitive how? First is being organised with our quality and skills, our combinations with different players in different systems and it depends in each match,” Emery noted. “After is the intensity with the ball and without the ball.
“The last matches we are doing this. Saturday is the same, but with every player can be okay. This is what we want and I think every player is convinced to do that, and we can use different players in different matches, but the idea is that every player can play with this idea.”
Wide back Said Kolasinac is expected to play despite a knock that forced him off before the hour. Emery has used both three and four-man back lines against Tottenham this season, the latter failing him in a 2-0 home quarterfinal loss in the Carabao Cup in December.
Kane has been an absolute terror in league play against Arsenal, totaling eight goals in as many matches while scoring in seven of them. He converted from the spot in the reverse fixture in December, a 4-2 Arsenal triumph at the Emirates in which Emery’s introductions of Aaron Ramsey and Alexander Lacazette sparked a turnaround with three second-half goals in a 21-minute span.
The Gunners have not done the double over their north London rivals since 2013-14, and the sides have split the last nine meetings (3-3-3) in all competitions. Tomas Rosciky’s goal that provided Arsenal a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane in 2014 stands as their lone win in their last 10 away league matches (1-3-6) versus the Spurs.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 2, Arsenal 1.