Tottenham take on arch-rivals Arsenal in the North London derby on Thursday in what will go a long way in deciding who gets Champions League football next season.
Unlike this season’s earlier meeting between the two sides – which saw Arsenal comfortably beat Nuno Espirito Santo’s Spurs side 3-0 at the Emirates – there will be a lot more than bragging rights on the line this time around, given that both sides are fighting to finish in the top four.
But who will win this hugely anticipated encounter? Do any Spurs players fit into the Arsenal team and vice-versa? And what are the biggest moments from this fixture over the years?
Arsenal legend MARTIN KEOWN and Spurs hero PETER CROUCH discuss all ahead of this Thursday’s goliath Premier League showdown.
Tottenham face arch-rivals Arsenal in Thursday’s hotly-anticipated North London derby
Sportsmail’s columnists Peter Crouch (left) and Martin Keown (right) talk all things Arsenal and Spurs ahead of this huge clash at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which is key in top four race
WHAT DOES THE NORTH LONDON DERBY MEAN TO YOU?
KEOWN: This game is in my blood. I grew up at the Arsenal academy and if we were facing Tottenham, there would be an extra emphasis placed on this fixture. Our youth coaches would talk about it all week. They’d give us extra work in training.
It was ingrained into us how we had to beat Tottenham. I know how much it means to Spurs, too. I lived in digs that were closer to White Hart Lane than Highbury and my dear old landlord, Charlie Heathorne, was a huge Tottenham fan, forever telling me about their great teams of yesteryear.
I’m grateful for that because I learned from Charlie how much a supporter can truly love his club – and it made me realise how much I wanted to be a part of an Arsenal team that was more successful than those rivals down the road!
CROUCH: I’ve played in plenty of derbies and this one is right up there. The atmosphere was always electric and the one that sticks out in my mind is the 4-4 draw with that 40-yard David Bentley goal.
It was just before I arrived back at Spurs and you’re sat there going ‘wow’. It felt like there were so many great games between us back then. Some great drama. There was always something riding on them and it was a transition period in the area around then.
Arsenal had been so dominant and that spell acted as a turning point. We were reaching the Champions League and things were looking up. We felt that we had them. We were catching up.
David Bentley scored a ridiculous 40-yard goal in a 4-4 classic between Spurs and Arsenal
HOW DID YOU HANDLE THE PRESSURE AND HOW WILL THE PLAYERS BE FEELING?
KEOWN: There’s a ferocity that comes with this fixture. Like when Graham Roberts infamously barged Charlie Nicholas over the advertising boards and into the stands. That happened in my first North London derby on New Year’s Day, 1986.
The Highbury pitch was frozen because the undersoil heating wasn’t working properly. We wore special studs – resembling nails surrounded by leather bands – just to stay on our feet and drew 0-0 on that ice rink.
Coming through the Arsenal ranks, we were educated to embrace and love this fixture and not fear it – and I’ve seen first-hand how vitriolic it can get. The day Sol Campbell went back to face his former club in November 2001 was the most ferocious atmosphere I’ve ever experienced at White Hart Lane.
Keown insists Arsenal players were educated to embrace and love this fixture – not fear it
You looked in the stands and there was pure hatred there. And yet, we still left with a result, along with a few smashed windows on our team bus. Arsenal’s players need to know a white-hot atmosphere will be awaiting them and they cannot let themselves get distracted from the task at hand.
Like we did, they need to play with their hearts but most of all with their heads. Embrace it. Love it. Stick to your game plan and get what you need to finish fourth.
CROUCH: What’s so good about this one is the consequences of the result – and players have to relish that.
It’s huge, basically a shootout. What is special about this is how different it is to the other derbies… Liverpool and Everton are fighting for different things, the two Manchester clubs the same. I’ve been there.
Remember when I scored that goal against Manchester City to get Spurs into the Champions League? Honestly, there is no bigger buzz. Somebody can go and do that. I’ve never had a better feeling after scoring a goal. Go out and be that hero.
Crouch insists his header to get Spurs into the Champions League was the ‘biggest buzz’ – and the same could happen for the players out on the pitch on Thursday night
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE NORTH LONDON DERBY MEMORY?
Keown celebrates winning the Premier League title at White Hart Lane in 2003-04
KEOWN: The day Arsenal won the 2003-04 Premier League title at White Hart Lane.
Tottenham did their best to stop us, coming back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2. But that was enough to see us crowned champions and continue our Invincibles run.
I remember how we were told not to celebrate so we didn’t agitate the home crowd. But there was no stopping us. The Lane’s away dressing room wasn’t the biggest, but they could have locked us in a broom cupboard and we’d have had a party.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have a similar chance to bag the ultimate bragging rights by winning on Tottenham’s turf and securing Champions League football for themselves.
If finishing in the top four is like winning a trophy this season, then this is a North London cup final.
CROUCH: November 2010, Younes Kaboul’s winner with five minutes left of a 3-2 at the Emirates’ Stadium.
I remember that goal vividly, a deep free-kick he headed in. Never scored, Younes! We took four points off Arsenal that year but they just pipped us to the top four.
Can I have another one? I’ll take you way back here – I remember playing them as a kid, around 17. The youth league used to have a play-off between the top two and it was the derby. The first time I ever appeared on Sky Sports, by the way. Arsenal battered us 2-0 at White Hart Lane but I scored the winner in a 1-0 win at Highbury.
That was the best moment of my young life: the winner on Sky! Surely someone can find that somewhere…
Crouch’s favourite North London derby moment came when Younes Kaboul’s header completed a 3-2 comeback win for Spurs in 2010
KEOWN: I left Arsenal in ’86 and came back to the club in ’93, and you did the same with Tottenham, leaving in 2000 then returning in 2009. I’d already played in a North London derby for Arsenal’s first team before leaving, but for you, Crouchy, how much did you then relish that opportunity when it finally arrived?
CROUCH: I never thought I would be given the opportunity to play in a senior North London derby. Having been involved in those youth games – Arsene Wenger once watched one at London Colney – and then coming back to Tottenham was magic.
There was already needle in those youth matches and I never thought I’d have the chance to play in a proper one. Thankfully I came full circle, to find my old team-mate Ledley King was in exactly the same place as when I left him as a teenager!
WHO’S IT A BIGGER GAME FOR?
CROUCH: It’s definitely Arsenal’s to throwaway. They’re favourites. In pole position. It’s been so long for them, too, and this would have a huge impact for Arteta.
He’s done a very good job there but he needs this. If he can deliver that, it cements the fact he’s doing well. He’s been quite cut-throat with players and I want that from a manager.
KEOWN: I don’t think you can choose between the two clubs. It’s equal jeopardy. In the past it’s been a Tottenham team trying to sabotage a successful season for Arsenal. Like in 1971. Like in 2004. Arsenal got the job done on those two occasions, getting what they needed at White Hart Lane to be crowned champions.
But this time, both are chasing the same prize, both have watched Liverpool and Manchester City compete in special Champions League ties over the last two weeks and want that for themselves. That makes this the biggest game between Arsenal and Tottenham in living memory.
It’s Arsenal’s to throwaway, insists Crouch, but Keown says you can’t choose between them
WHAT SHOULD THE FINAL MESSAGE BE FROM THE MANAGERS?
KEOWN: The managers will have been delivering messages all week – the message that they trust their groups of players and believe they can go and do what’s necessary.
Arsenal have Newcastle and Everton after this, while Tottenham have Burnley and Norwich.
Arteta knows defeat would open the door to Antonio Conte and Tottenham. But he’ll be telling Arsenal’s players that he believes they can go get that all-important fifth consecutive win.
CROUCH: In these situations, you need to be calm. Fans want passion but in key moments you need to be ice cold. You don’t want a manager provoking any passion in the dressing room because it is so easy, when the blood is pumping, to spill over.
WHICH PLAYER WOULD YOU TAKE FROM THE OPPOSITION TEAM?
CROUCH: Bukayo Saka is the one. What a talent. There aren’t too many I would take. Saka, definitely. Kieran Tierney, or maybe I could pinch a centre half off them.
KEOWN: It would be easy for me to name Harry Kane, but as an Arsenal man, I don’t want to take anything away from my team. This close to the battle, I’m focusing on my club, so there’s not a single Tottenham player I’d take. Not Kane. Not Son Heung-min. Not any of them.
I wouldn’t want to say anything to hamper the confidence of someone like Eddie Nketiah, who’s been a revelation over the last four wins.
Keown shows his loyalty to his former club and insists he wouldn’t have Son or Kane in Arsenal’s team
WHAT’S A KEY BATTLE AND WHY?
CROUCH: Whoever is looking after Kane and Son! That is the area of the pitch where this is won and lost because those two can take a game away from anyone.
Son is criminally underrated – he’s up there with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
KEOWN: There will be key player-v-player battles all over the park, but I want to highlight a vital one between the two tacticians. Arteta uses a back four and Conte a back three.
When Arsenal beat Chelsea 4-2, they used a fluid system – one which alternated between a back four and back three mid-match. It worked, and that could be key against Tottenham.
I can’t see Arteta changing his system to merely match up to Conte’s, like other coaches have done.
Son Heung-min is on 20 goals for the season and is currently chasing the golden boot
But Arsenal will know they need to stop Son and Dejan Kulusevski.
When Tottenham have the ball, you’ll see them move into more central positions and closer to Kane, acting as inside forwards.
Without the ball, they’ll drop and be wide. How Arsenal deal with Kulusevski and Son, and of course Kane, will be key.
FINALLY, WHO WINS?
KEOWN: Tottenham are dangerous and have become so much more difficult to beat under Conte.
Their front three is different class, and I’ve been immensely impressed by their new signings, Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur. But I believe this will finish 2-1 to Arsenal, with the confident Nketiah bagging the winner.
CROUCH: I fancy Tottenham. They have more match-winners, a touch more individual quality.
Keown believes Eddie Nketiah (right) will bag the winner while Crouch is siding with Kane (left) and Co to triumph on Thursday