The Mark Jones Column: Tottenham’s slip ups have Arsenal fans checking calendars
For much of the season, Arsenal fans have been living in fear of missing out on one of their favourite days of the year.
When Tottenham Hotspur beat the Gunners 2-1 in the North London derby at White Hart Lane just three-and-a-half short weeks ago, Spurs moved seven points ahead of their local rivals and looked to be sailing towards a top four place at the expense of Arsene Wenger’s side.
Plans for Arsenal supporters’ annual ‘St. Totteringham’s Day’ – a mickey-taking celebration they hold on the day that it becomes impossible for Spurs to catch and surpass the Gunners in the league table, something that they haven’t done for 18 years – were in danger of being shelved.
The repercussions of a club not just missing out on a Champions League place that they take great pride in clinging on to, but missing out on it to their biggest rivals was impossible not to discuss, but suddenly it looks a lot less certain that it will be Tottenham who finish in that all important fourth spot. Things are now a lot less clear.
That win over Arsenal represents the last points that Andre Villas-Boas’ side have picked up, given that in their following matches they threw away a lead to lose a thriller to Liverpool at Anfield and then somewhat inexplicably lost 1-0 at home to Fulham.
They are defeats which have let Arsenal – a club apparently always on the verge of a crisis – firmly back into the race for a status which they have always been able to cling on to through their past eight trophyless years.
Now four points behind Spurs with a crucial game in hand, the fixture list should also be a source of comfort of Arsenal and those supporters who are so keen to celebrate that day they hold so dear.
Tottenham go to Swansea on Saturday, whilst they also face tough matches against Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City before the end of April.
With seven of Arsenal’s nine remaining matches coming against teams in eighth place or lower, the opportunities for Wenger’s side to pick up points should be there for all to see – most notably of course Tottenham.
Already unfortunate to miss out on a return to the top European stage following Chelsea’s remarkable Champions League win last season, another narrow failure for Spurs would be tough to take for their supporters – supporters who are sick and tired of hearing the gloating coming from across North London.
The frequently thrilling performances from Gareth Bale have lit up Tottenham’s season, but even the Welshman has off days such as he did in the Fulham loss. There is an argument that Arsenal are currently the stronger outfit because they can rely upon more of their stars to perform.
The Gunners have won five of their last seven Premier League games, with that narrow loss at Spurs and a draw at home to Liverpool in which they came from two down their only failures to pick up three points.
Given that there is often so much hysteria surrounding the club it is often difficult to ascertain just when Arsenal are doing well, but they might just be coming into form at just the right time.
Of course Chelsea’s top four position isn’t set in stone just yet and so there remains a chance that both North London clubs could find themselves in the Champions League next season, but the overwhelming belief has to be that it will be the presence or not of a special day in 2013 which will determine just which of these two great rivals are smiling come the end of the season.
With Spurs stalling it could just be that Arsenal take their customary place in the top four after all, sparking St Totteringham’s Day celebrations like never before.