LONDON (AFP) – Tottenham could dream of an unlikely Premier League title challenge just a week ago but back-to-back defeats against Burnley and Chelsea mean their top-four place is in danger as they prepare to host Arsenal.
Spurs’ lead over their north London rivals is down to four points, with Manchester United and Chelsea also close behind in the race for the final two Champions League places next season.
To make matters worse, Mauricio Pochettino’s men still have to travel to title-chasing Liverpool and Manchester City in the final 10 games of the league campaign.
Pochettino has routinely hailed the incredible effort of his squad to stay in the title race as long as they have done, particularly in finding late winners to beat Fulham, Watford and Newcastle without the injured Harry Kane.
The England captain is now back in the fold but despite defying World Cup fatigue and struggling with a lengthy injury list, no new signings and having to endure another season at their temporary home of Wembley, it is possible Spurs are finally running out of steam at the wrong time.
“Now it’s about being calm. It won’t change my assessment of the players,” said Pochettino after his side failed to register a single shot on target in the Premier League for the first time in his five seasons in charge in a 2-0 loss to Chelsea on Wednesday.
“We need to support them, prepare them and lift them and help them to compete on Saturday (8.30pm Brunei time) because that is the most important thing now.”
Much of the damage done in the past week will be forgotten should Spurs bounce back in the derby and open up what ought to be a decisive seven-point advantage over Arsenal.
And Pochettino was keen to point out that there is just as much pressure on their local rivals to avoid a third season without Champions League football.
“Everyone from the beginning of the season would have signed up to be in that position before playing on Saturday,” added the Argentine.
“Everyone would have signed for that eight or 10 months ago in June or July, to be, today, with the possibility of playing against Arsenal at Wembley with the gap at four points. The pressure is on them, not only us.”
A thrilling 4-2 win over Tottenham in early December was the highlight so far of Unai Emery’s first season as Arsenal boss.
However, despite the Spaniard’s success in putting his personal stamp on the Gunners, a familiar failing from the final years of Arsene Wenger’s reign has hampered their progress.
In contrast to their stunning form at the Emirates, Arsenal have won just once on the road in the Premier League in their past seven games and that was at rock-bottom Huddersfield.
Emery’s embarrassment of riches going forward was demonstrated in a 5-1 thrashing of Bournemouth on Wednesday.
Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan both shone in their first league start together since last November, while substitute Alexandre Lacazette rounded off the scoring after top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had netted his 19th goal of the season.
However, the former Paris Saint-Germain boss has struggled to find the right balance as Arsenal have not kept a clean sheet away from home in the Premier League all season.
There would be no better way for Emery to win over a still-unconvinced fan base than by curing his side’s travel sickness today to deliver another blow to Spurs and solidify Arsenal’s own place in the top four.