Tottenham hosts fourth-place Arsenal on Thursday, four points aback their north London rivals.
Irrespective of the caliber of the previous clashes between these two heavyweights, Thursday’s fixture may be the most important yet.
It is billed as ‘the showdown’ for fourth place, one of the biggest rivalries in European football, the game the north remembers.
Anything but a win for Conte’s men would make it difficult to overhaul the current 4-point deficit, with three matches remaining. A victory for Arsenal would also see them finishing above Spurs for the first time in 5 seasons.
Given the prestigious nature of the Champions League, the net positive it does for your finances and the improved leverage for more esteemed players, it is a game neither team can afford to lose.
Needless to mention the measly £35million in monies earned for qualifying.
It sets up to be a true spectacle between the two managers.
Conte has done it all before and he’s doing it again at Spurs.
Tottenham’s defensive record has flourished under his reign. He has effectively provided a safe space for players to be more expressive, whilst still adhering to the disciplinary structure he demands of the team.
Tottenham comes into the fixture off the back of a stellar performance versus Liverpool, filled with renewed confidence of being able to outperform the most aggressive teams within the league.
Arteta, on the other hand, continues to learn and grasp the philosophies of the game on a day-to-day basis. Tonight’s game is a massive test of his development and will be a huge stepping stone for him going forward.
The sorcerer versus the apprentice! the final act.
Here’s how we assume Spurs are going to line up.
Tottenham’s projected lineup (3-4-3)
With Doherty and Reguilon still out injured, Emerson Royal and Ryan Sessegnon will continue in the wing-back roles. The front three picks themselves, with the likes of Harry Winks, Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura most likely to feature sometime off the bench in the second half.
Like most managers, Mikel Arteta will set up his team to combat the opposition to the extent of his managerial and in-game perspective. He will likely place emphasis on his team’s shape, knowing well the lethal capabilities of the Spurs’ Trident. Surely exhausting the need not to overcommit in fear of the dreadful counter.
Arteta will need to decide who plays at full-back with Kieran Tierney out for the season, as Nuno Tavares’s defensive frailties may cost them dearly.
Tomayisu could switch over to left-back, meaning Cedric will likely start at right-back. Ben White is still a huge doubt, so we can expect Rob Holding and Gabriel to pair at centre-back.
With Partey injured, the duo of Xhaka and Elneny will continue to play the holding roles in midfield. In my opinion, Arteta’s biggest decision would be whether to start Smith Rowe or Martinelli on the left (Martinelli will probably edge). Nketiah is certain to get the nod over Lacazette in the central role due to his recent form.
An injury concern for Saka may mean he will not be risked. If that’s the case, Emile Smith Rowe could start on the right with Gabriel Martinelli on the left.
I predict a 3-0 victory over the Gunners.