As Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur battle it out for Champions League qualification, a reminder that the two teams have found themselves in a similar position before
Arsenal and Spurs’ battle for fourth could go down to the wire (Image: Arsenal FC via Getty Images)ByTom Victor
- 08:30, 12 May 2022
Few North London Derbies will ever be as significant as Arsenal's trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Thursday night.
Spurs can close to within a point of their neighbours with a victory, but an away win would see Mikel Arteta's side guarantee themselves a top-four finish. If Antonio Conte's team claim the points it won't just mean revenge for the September defeat during Nuno Espirito Santo's time in charge – it will almost certainly mean things are still up for grabs on the final day of the season.
It wouldn't be the first time that's happened, either. Spurs and Arsenal have been battling it out on four occasions since the turn of the century – often at opposite ends of the country – and Mirror Football has taken a closer look at all four.
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In many ways, the 2005-06 season is very similar to this one. Both north London sides found themselves far adrift of the title race, with Chelsea champions on that occasion, and learned early on that fourth place was as good as they'd be able to get.
Arsenal had some catching up to do after a run of four points from six games in January and February. However, as they progressed towards the Champions League final, their league form picked up too and they were ready to pounce if Spurs slipped up at West Ham on the final day.
The Hammers should have had one eye on the upcoming FA Cup final. However, Spurs had issues of their own with illness sweeping through the squad and attributed at first to a hotel lasagne.
Several Tottenham players were unwell at Upton Park
"I have had two or three players go down with something before but never 10 on the same day," Spurs boss Martin Jol said. "In my heart I don't feel it is sabotage, but you never know."
Arsenal survived an on-pitch scare of their own, but a Thierry Henry hat-trick helped them come from behind to beat Wigan Athletic 4-2. Spurs were in the game until late on, but Yossi Benayoun won it for West Ham, sending Jol's men down to fifth and giving Arsenal another year of Champions League football.
Six years later, both sides were assured of a top four finish going into the final weekend. However, with sixth-placed Chelsea set to take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League final days later, there was still a chance that a win for the Blues could see the fourth-place finishers drop down to the Europa League – and so it proved.
It shouldn't even have been close between the London rivals. With 17 games to go, Spurs sat 10 points clear of Arsenal and were closer to first than fifth, but a run of dropped points – including a 5-2 defeat at the Emirates Stadium – ensured things would go down to the wire.
Arsenal came from behind to beat West Brom before celebrating with the retiring Pat Rice
Both sides had winnable games, with Harry Redknapp's Spurs hosting Fulham and Arsenal travelling to West Bromwich Albion. Redknapp's men didn't want to get their hopes up too much, but some fans dared to believe when goals from Shane Long and Graham Dorrans put Albion 2-1 up after 15 minutes.
It didn't last, though. Andre Santos equalised for Arsenal with a helping hand from future Spurs keeper Marton Fulop. Laurent Koscielny completed the turnaround early in the second half, and Spurs' comfortable 2-0 win was in vain.
"I'm proud of the season," Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said after the win. "The mental solidity, the unity and solidarity inside the club has been tested. We didn't show any weakness and kept united."
12 months later, Spurs had a new man in the dugout. Redknapp had gone, and Andre Villas-Boas had arrived in his place.
While 70 points had been enough for third place in 2012, this time it wouldn't be. Third-placed Chelsea had 72 with a game to go, with Arsenal in fourth on 70 and Spurs just behind on 69 – the same tallies the two north London clubs had finished the season with the previous year.
Spurs' march owed a lot to Gareth Bale. The Welshman had scored 20 goals in the league – including four in the last seven games as Tottenham mounted an unbeaten run before their final-day clash with Sunderland – and made it 21 with a late winner at White Hart Lane.
Bale scored on his final appearance for Tottenham, but it proved to be in vain
Sadly for Villas-Boas' side, it wouldn't be enough. Yet again, a Koscielny winner would send Arsenal into the Champions League at their expense, and Bale's winner would end up being his last goal for the club before a world record move to Real Madrid.
“We got ever so close. But they will do their job in [the] window, and we will do ours the Tottenham way, scouting properly and looking for good grabs in summer window to make it a stronger squad," Villas-Boas said.
However, after losing Bale, the summer signings failed to make the desired impact. The manager was gone midway through the following season, and Spurs wouldn't make the top four again until…
Both Arsenal and Spurs will have been disappointed approaching the final weekend of the 2015-16 season. With champions Chelsea floundering and both Manchester clubs out of contention, the title should have been up for grabs, but Leicester City had beaten them to the punch.
There was still second place to play for, though, and with it a degree of bragging rights. It wouldn't make up for failing to lift the title, but it would at least be something.
Spurs held the advantage going into the final day, when they travelled to already relegated Newcastle United. Arsenal could put the pressure on by beating another relegated side, Aston Villa, but they'd need a favour from the Magpies.
Olivier Giroud scored a hat-trick as Arsenal beat Aston Villa 4-0
Villa were never going to be a match for Wenger's men, having lost 11 of their previous 12 games, and Olivier Giroud's hat-trick set Arsenal on their way to a 4-0 win. It was a nightmare afternoon for Spurs, though.
Goals from Gini Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic gave Newcastle a 2-1 lead, only for Erik Lamela to pull one back before Mitrovic's red card gave Mauricio Pochettino's visitors hope. Somehow, though, the hosts ran riot with 10 men – Wijnaldum scored his second from the penalty spot, before goals from Rolando Aarons and Daryl Janmaat made it 5-1.
“I would like to apologise to our fans, our team was terrible for them," Pochettino said after the defeat. It was clear that, despite Spurs still finishing third, the finish to the season hurt.
"To our families, too, I apologise, it’s difficult to go back to see your kids, your wife, your girlfriends, your dad – this wasn’t the team that played all season. It’s my worst day as a manager. Not just in England, in Spain, too.”
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