Arsenal face derby test with title up for grabs

LONDON: One fixture lurking like a troll in Arsenal's Premier League title run-in has probably consumed the thoughts of the club's fans more than any other – Sunday's short trip to arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Like all big city derbies, pride and bragging rights are always huge motivating factors, but the fact this one arrives with Arsenal glimpsing a first title for 20 years adds considerably more spice to the occasion.

It looks the toughest of Arsenal's final four games but they will head to Tottenham with confidence brimming after Tuesday's 5-0 mauling of Chelsea lifted them three points clear of Liverpool whose own title ambitions suffered a huge blow in defeat by Everton on Wednesday.

Manchester City cut Arsenal's lead to one point with a game in hand after Thursday's 4-0 thrashing of Brighton & Hove Albion and remain favourites to claim an unprecedented fourth successive English crown.

But unlike last season when Arsenal collapsed down the home stretch under City's relentless pressure, they seem capable of lasting the distance.

It is a long time since Arsenal faced their arch-rivals in such a position and probably the last occasion in which either had serious title chances by the time of their second meeting of the season was in 2016.

Then, it was Tottenham eyeing a long-awaited title but a 2-2 home draw damaged those ambitions and Leicester City went on a fairytale run to glory.

Arsenal re-established superiority over Tottenham last season when they were runners-up behind City, ending a streak of six seasons finishing below Tottenham in the league.

While Tottenham have shown an improvement in an encouraging first season under Ange Postecoglou and had marginally the better of a 2-2 draw at The Emirates in September, Arsenal have moved to another level entirely.

Declan Rice has given their midfield a new dimension, captain Martin Odegaard gets better and better and Kai Havertz, who looked like an expensive misfit earlier in the season, is flourishing in a free-scoring frontline that will be salivating at the prospect of facing Tottenham's leaky defence.


For all Tottenham's eye-catching football, they have conceded 49 goals – the last four in a shambolic 4-0 defeat at Newcastle United.

In stark contrast, Arsenal have kept six successive clean sheets on the road and another at Tottenham would equal a Premier League record shared by Chelsea and Manchester United.

Last season Arsenal won 2-0 at Tottenham but never in their history have they kept successive league clean sheets away to their neighbours.

Fifth-placed Tottenham's hopes of finishing in the top-four and returning to the Champions League hang by a thread and defeat on Sunday could end any realistic hopes they have, especially if fourth-placed Aston Villa beat Chelsea and move nine points clear.

Irrespective of form and league positions, however, a well-rested Tottenham will be desperate to sabotage Arsenal's quest for glory on Sunday and are quite capable of doing so.

Liverpool kick off the weekend action at West Ham United when anything other than victory could all but end their hopes of winning the title in Jurgen Klopp's farewell season.

Manchester City conclude the programme with a trip to struggling Nottingham Forest, by which time the title scenario may well have become clearer.

"All respect to Liverpool and Arsenal, they are amazing. Arsenal are doing what they need to do and we are also needing to do it," City's Kevin de Bruyne said after their win at Brighton. "Work hard and be humble enough to keep pushing."

At the other end of the table, Sheffield United will be relegated if they lose to Newcastle United while Luton Town have an opportunity to move out of the bottom three when they visit Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday. --REUTERS

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