Arsenal are four points clear of Spurs in the race to finish fourth and will secure Champions League qualification for next season with victory tonight. Tottenham know victory would increase the pressure on the Gunners ahead of the final two games of the season.
So how will the two managers approach the game tactically? How could Arsenal look to stop Harry Kane and Heung-min Son? How important is playing in the Champions League next season for the prospects of both clubs? And what’s the worst-case scenario for Spurs if they lose?
Our Tottenham and Arsenal correspondents Dan Kilpatrick and Simon Collings break down some of the main talking points ahead of the game.
What will be the key areas on Thursday night?
DK: The key to stopping Tottenham is stopping Harry Kane, which will require squeezing space in the middle of the park where the England captain likes to operate.
Likewise, Spurs – who played with virtually no midfield in the 3-1 defeat at the Emirates in September – should aim to stop Martin Odegaard, the orchestrator of many of Arsenal’s attacks. In short, control of the central pitch seems vital.
CS: For Arsenal, it’s about stopping Tottenham’s murderous front three. The absence of Kieran Tierney in defense is a blow and the absence of Ben White would also be a pain for Mikel Arteta.
Kane has caused countless problems for teams by falling deep and playing Son, so Arsenal need to devise a plan to stop that. A possible solution could be to go with a back three, so that one of the centre-backs can follow Kane when he goes down.
How will the managers approach the game tactically?
DK: Conte will be happy to hand Arsenal the lion’s share of possession and have his side attacking space with a series of fast breaks – the same approach that frustrated Jurgen Klopp so much over the weekend.
Spurs will likely try to play from the back, through the Arsenal press, and use Kane and Dejan Kulusevski as launching pads for their attacks.
CS: Arteta usually likes his teams to dominate possession and control play, but against Spurs he should really be looking to turn things around.
Conte’s side struggle when teams sit deep and frustrate them, so Arsenal should really be looking to follow suit. If Arteta is trying to get his side to dominate the game then they have to beware of being caught off guard. Over-commitment in attack could be the Gunners’ downfall.
Is either manager likely to create a surprise?
DK: Conte’s XI have more or less picked themselves since mid-February and, with full-backs Matt Doherty and Sergio Reguilon ruled out for the season, there should be no selection dilemmas for the head coach. Only an unwelcome injury before the game would force his hand.
More surprising might be Conte’s use of his subs, with Davinson Sanchez having been featured first in two of the last three games. Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura are not known.
CS: Arteta has opted for a 4-3-3 formation most weeks, but he could consider returning to a 3-4-2-1 setup if the staff allows it. Arsenal’s win over Chelsea showed the interest in matching the opposition formation and Arteta would be wise to do so now.
If White is fit, it’s easy for Arteta to go with a back three that would include him, Gabriel and Rob Holding, but if he’s out Takehiro Tomiyasu could slot in.
What would failing to qualify for the Champions League mean?
DK: The worst-case scenario is that Conte walks off at the end of the season, which would surely make Kane think hard about his future again. Admittedly, missing out would delay Spurs’ rebuilding – while speeding up Arsenal’s – by limiting their budget and the caliber of players they could target this summer.
With Manchester United unlikely to be so poor next season, anyone who misses can regret a big wasted chance.
Anyone who misses the Champions League may regret a big wasted chance
CS: It wouldn’t be the end of the world for Arsenal, but it would be a blow. At the start of the season, no one would have predicted that the Gunners would finish in the top four. However, now that they’re so close, missing out would hurt.
Qualification for the Champions League would boost Arsenal’s finances and allow them to speed up their rebuilding. They could spend more money on new signings and chase better players, with some targets keen to join if Arsenal are in the Champions League.