Arsene Wenger has contested 47 north London derbies in all competitions since he took charge of Arsenal in 1996, but none have been bigger than the one awaiting him at White Hart Lane on Saturday afternoon.
After back-to-back losses to Manchester United and Swansea City, Wenger knows that his side cannot afford another slip-up if they are to win their first Premier League title in 12 years.
For Tottenham Hotspur, things look a great deal brighter.
A place in the top four was the stated aim ahead of the season’s start in August, but Mauricio Pochettino’s men find themselves only three points off top spot with 10 matches remaining.
Despite coming unstuck against West Ham United at Upton Park on Wednesday, a first league championship since 1961 is still on the cards.
Whenever these two sides have met at this stage of the season in recent years, it has been with a Uefa Champions League spot on the line.
That was the case in February 2012, when Tottenham went into an encounter at the Emirates Stadium 10 points clear of their rivals.
When Harry Redknapp’s side raced into a 2-0 lead after 33 minutes, it seemed certain Arsenal would finish below Tottenham for the first time in the Premier League era.
Instead, the hosts fought back, cancelling out the two-goal deficit before half time and going on to win 5-2.
Tottenham won only four of their last 12 fixtures to finish a point behind Arsenal — who were in seven of their remaining dozen matches — in the final standings.
That turnaround would prove costly for both Redknapp and his team.
Chelsea’s defeat of Bayern Munich in the Champions League final saw them take the Premier League’s fourth qualifying spot for the following year’s tournament at Tottenham’s expense, and Redknapp was sacked three-and-a-half weeks later.
It was a similar story the next year when Andre Villas-Boas’ team looked like pipping Arsenal to fourth place ahead of their meeting in March 2013.
Tottenham’s 2-1 victory moved them seven points ahead of Arsenal after 28 games.
Villas-Boas said in the aftermath that their opponents were stuck in a “negative spiral” that would be “extremely difficult” to get out of.
In the end, it was Wenger who was celebrating Champions League qualification.
Although the stakes were undeniably high on both occasions, they cannot be likened to the situation facing Arsenal and Tottenham this weekend.
Many have claimed that this is the biggest game between the duo since the FA Cup semi-finals in 1991 and 1993, but there is a strong case to be made that this is even more significant.
While Leicester City still have an excellent chance of claiming what would be the most unlikely of league titles in the history of English football, the winners of the derby at White Hart Lane would find themselves in a terrific position as Premier League clubs enter the business end of the season.
If either side were to take all three points and go on to finish top of the pile, they will look back on this victory as a key moment in the journey towards their ultimate success.
The FA Cup may have been taken more seriously in the past than it is today, but it still cannot compare to winning the league.
Thus there is far more than local bragging rights up for grabs at White Hart Lane.
Neither Tottenham nor Arsenal can win the Premier League this weekend, but both can give a huge boost to their chances while simultaneously putting a substantial dent in their rivals’.
In the world of football, there can be no bigger prize.
Ranieri’s talk not trickery
Managerial mind games have been a regular part of Premier League title races down the years.
From Kevin Keegan’s admission that he would “love it” if his Newcastle United side beat Manchester United to the crown in 1996 to Rafa Benitez’s catalogue of facts detailing Alex Ferguson’s various misdemeanours in 2008, episodes of verbal jousting between coaches have often proved more memorable than key matches or decisive goals.
It is likely that such occurrences have only ever had a negligible impact on the eventual outcome for the battle at the top — quality of players, astuteness of tactics and a team’s collective mentality are clearly of greater significance — but they have at least added to the entertainment and intrigue surrounding the on-pitch competition.
A staple of the managerial mind game is the insistence that fellow contenders are under far more pressure to win the trophy than one’s own team.
It was a claim made by Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri earlier this week, the Italian asserting that his surprise table-toppers are simply enjoying the rare experience of life at the summit.
“Everyone is speaking about Leicester but nobody about Tottenham,” he said. “Tottenham, in my opinion, are favourites. When they defend and when they attack, they know what they want.
“We are the surprise. That is fantastic, a good energy, but if we are realistic the real competitors are Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham.”
Although Ranieri was attempting to deflect attention away from his players, his statement was nevertheless true.
They may be leading the way with only 10 matches remaining, but Leicester have already achieved their pre-season objective of avoiding relegation and are therefore under the least pressure of all of the teams at the top.
From now until the end of the campaign, they have nothing to lose.
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