Arteta can take his rebuild to the next level, Conte’s future is riding on it… and Kane could be in the same boat! Tottenham and Arsenal’s Champions League showdown is the most crucial north London derby for YEARS, with so much at stake for both sides
- Tottenham and Arsenal are set for a pivotal north London derby on Thursday
- Champions League qualification is up for grabs when the two arch-rivals collide
- Arsenal sit four points clear of Spurs in fourth with three games still to play
- Getting over the line will be a huge springboard for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal project
- Spurs are in need of Champions League to keep Antonio Conte and Harry Kane
On Thursday night Tottenham and Arsenal supporters will endure exactly the type of 90 minutes which can leave the most devoted of football fans questioning why they put themselves through it.
Until the final whistle sounds and their team has got over the line, followers of the two arch-rivals will struggle to enjoy the majority of this agonisingly-crucial north London derby – simply because there is so much riding on it.
With three games to play, the glistening carrot of Champions League football is dangling in front of both sides, who are separated by four points in fourth and fifth place respectively. Thursday’s battle could therefore see Arsenal end the race once and for all with a victory, or Spurs drag themselves back into contention.
Securing qualification for Europe’s elite club tournament next season will bring huge rewards for both clubs, as well as provide damaging consequences for whoever misses out.
Ahead of the pivotal fixture, Sportsmail has taken a look at what’s at stake for Arsenal and Spurs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium…
Thursday’s north London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal is the biggest for years
Antonio Conte (L) and Mikel Arteta (R) are scrapping it out for Champions League qualification
Champions League dreams
Starting with the most obvious, the mouthwatering prospect of a £30million Champions League ticket is of course on the line in Thursday’s north London derby humdinger.
Both teams have been absent from the competition for several years; Spurs’ previous Champions League campaign was back in 2019-20, with Europa League and Europa Conference League football coming over the past two seasons, while Arsenal have spent five years away after last featuring in 2017-18.
Quite simply, any club with major ambitions needs to be playing Champions League football, locking horns with the very best sides Europe has to offer on Tuesdays and Wednesdays instead of the significantly-less appealing Thursday nights.
Both teams are desperate to be playing in Europe’s elite club competition next season
Booking a place in the continent’s biggest club tournament, and collecting the windfall that comes with it, is likely to have a seismic impact on Arsenal and Spurs’ immediate futures.
Conte’s future on the line
Arguably the most pressing concern for Spurs in their Champions League bid is the future of head coach Antonio Conte, who could well walk away from the club if they miss out on qualification.
The Italian has cut a frustrated figure at times this season, threatening to depart after a dismal 1-0 defeat at Burnley in February which left their hopes hanging by a thread, yet since that night at Turf Moor he has taken 23 points from a possible 33 and propelled them back into the top-four picture.
Considering the state they were in at that time, to still be in with a chance of snatching fourth come the end of the season is an achievement in itself. Conte has got the likes of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski firing and his team are reaping the rewards as a result.
The most pressing concern for Spurs in their top-four bid is the future of head coach Conte
Conte has performed miracles to turn their fortunes around over the past two months
But the Italian will be demanding backing from Daniel Levy in the summer transfer window
He has shown glimpses of the force Spurs could become next season with the right backing, but that likely all hinges on whether they’re in the Champions League or not.
Conte will be demanding a summer spending spree in north London if he is to stay and lead the club’s revamp, and signing high-calibre reinforcements will be a lot easier if they have Champions League football to offer.
For a start, Spurs chiefs will be able to provide their head coach with a larger transfer war-chest to satisfy his demands, but it will also make them a more attractive destination for any potential recruits.
Should they fail to beat Arsenal and ultimately finish outside the top four, Conte may well turn his nose up at the even tougher rebuild job on his hands as a Europa League club. Victory on Thursday night is therefore essential if Spurs want to keep hold of one of the top coaches in European football.
If Spurs miss out on Champions League and his transfer budget shrinks, it would not be a surprise to see him walk away
The Kane domino effect
Though Spurs are not only sweating over the future of their boss, as his potential exit could have a knock-on effect where Harry Kane is concerned.
The England captain came as close as he ever has done to leaving them last summer, when Manchester City tested Daniel Levy’s resolve with four bids worth at least £100million for their star striker.
City are no longer in the market for him after getting their hands on Erling Haaland this week, however Kane will be left contemplating his next move once more if Spurs end up without both Conte and Champions League in 2022-23.
The former staying put will probably influence his thinking most. Conte is a serial winner, proven in his successful spells with Chelsea, Juventus and Inter Milan, and if he sticks around this summer Kane may be tempted to follow suit.
There are not too many enticing options on the table for him right now, with long-term admirers Manchester United not even guaranteed to offer Europa League next season.
Nevertheless, a failed pursuit of the Champions League could trigger a domino effect if Conte throws in the towel, as Kane will surely begin to question his Spurs future once again.
Conte leaving Spurs could also have a domino effect on star striker Harry Kane this summer
Should the head coach stay put in north London, Kane will be more likely to follow suit
Springboard for the Gunners
After opening their 2021-22 account with three damaging defeats, in which they conceded nine goals against Brentford, Chelsea and Man City without scoring themselves, Arsenal would have snatched your hand off to simply be in with a shout of Europa League football come the business end of the campaign.
Instead, Mikel Arteta’s men have gone one better and left themselves in the driving seat for Champions League, following a remarkable turnaround which has seen them claim 21 wins from 32 matches.
Arteta has found more consistency at the Emirates this season after establishing a nucleus of dynamic youngsters whom he can build a team around for years to come. Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Emile Smith-Rowe and Eddie Nketiah – who they will now be desperate to tie down to a new contract amid his impressive run of four goals in as many games – are flourishing under the Spaniard and have breathed new life into his side.
Last summer’s recruitment has also worked wonders in the end; Expensive deals for Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White were mocked by rival supporters amid their disastrous start to the season, yet both men have gone on to silence the doubters and become two of the first names on the team sheet with a series of solid displays.
Arsenal have transformed their fortunes after opening the season with three damaging defeats
Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White were mocked as signings but the pair have been instrumental
Arteta’s own north London rebuild has taken its biggest step yet this term, and a return to the Champions League would be a massive springboard for his project.
Arsenal would be able to attract star quality to the Emirates in the summer transfer window, allowing Arteta to strengthen a squad which has already come on leaps and bounds in 2021-22.
They are in desperate need of a new centre-forward with Alexandre Lacazette and – as things stand – Nketiah set to depart, while midfield is another area which could be bolstered in the summer.
Adding high-end reinforcements in and around their crop of homegrown talents could take the Gunners to another level, yet being able to offer Champions League football will be key.
One target likely to be influenced in that regard is Youri Tielemans, the Leicester midfielder Arteta has identified as a top target this summer. Yet with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Spurs also circling, sealing a top-four finish is essential if they want to win the race for his signature.
But adding the likes of Youri Tielemans to their ranks this summer rests on Champions League
Pressure on Arteta
While he has undoubtedly overachieved given their nightmare start to the season, questions marks over Arteta could resurface if they blow Champions League qualification from this point.
A few months back Arsenal appeared on course to cruise back into the big time with Spurs, slumping from defeat to defeat under Conte, trailing in their wake by six points.
However, the Gunners then came crashing back down to earth in April; losing three on the spin against Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton and giving their bitter rivals hope of a fightback.
Missing out from this point will raise fresh questions over Arteta’s suitability as manager
They have since found their feet again and recorded four straight wins over Chelsea, Man United, West Ham and Leeds, ensuring the top-four race is in their hands heading into the squeaky-bum stage of the campaign.
Though should Spurs come out on top in the north London derby and go on to pip them to fourth, Arteta’s credentials as Arsenal manager will be thrown into doubt once again.
A fifth-place finish and Europa League qualification would still represent progression, yet bottling a Champions League place from this point onwards would also be an alarming collapse at the most significant stage of the season.
To prove he is the right man for Arsenal long-term, Arteta needs to finish the job.
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