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Alan Smith's north London derby preview: 'Anything can happen when Tottenham face Arsenal'

Alan Smith: "Given how important it is to be in the Champions League these days for the prestige, your finances and the ability to attract players, it is a huge game"; watch Tottenham vs Arsenal live on Thursday from 7pm on Sky Sports Premier League; kick-off 7.45pm

Spurs vs Arsenal

Sky Sports' Alan Smith says 'anything can happen' when Tottenham host Arsenal in a north London derby being billed as one the biggest in recent years.

Fourth-placed Arsenal head to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium four points ahead of rivals Spurs, knowing a win would seal them a return to the Champions League.

Spurs, meanwhile, will have other ideas and Antonio Conte knows anything but a win will make their Champions League dreams difficult as they look to overturn the current four-point deficit to the Gunners in the final three games.

Here, former Gunners striker Smith discusses both sides, the managers and who needs Champions League football more as he previews Thursday's massive game...

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The showdown for fourth place...

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has described the north London derby against Tottenham on Thursday - with Champions League qualification at stake - as his most exciting game yet in charge of the club

It's billed as the showdown for fourth place. It's a huge game for both sides.

Given how important it is to be in the Champions League these days for the prestige, your finances and the ability to attract players, it is a huge game, and from Arsenal's perspective a win finishes it all off and seals fourth.

The Gunners have not got as much experience as Tottenham. Will that count on the day? You can never really say. You just do not know which individuals are going to handle the situation better until they get out on that pitch.

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It's going to be fascinating to see how things pan out.

Is the pressure on Spurs?

Tottenham's Heung-Min Son celebrates after scoring against Liverpool
Image: Tottenham's Heung-Min Son celebrates after scoring against Liverpool

You would rather be four points ahead than four points behind, that's for certain.

Arsenal are in the box seat, at the moment, but they are going away from home in front of a noisy, deafening Tottenham crowd, I would imagine.

So, Arsenal will have to handle that situation, but they are playing well enough to do it.

They are not the sort of team that are going to change their tactics and sit deeper to try and defend what they have. I don't think that will suit them at all because they have so many players, going forwards, that can cause Spurs plenty of problems.

Arsenal will play their normal game and see where it takes them.

Tottenham's remaining PL fixtures

  • May 12 - Arsenal (h), live on Sky Sports
  • May 15 - Burnley (h)
  • May 22 - Norwich (a)

Smith's north London derby memories...

Sky Sports' Alan Smith:

"As a player, it was always a big, big week, especially in the days just before the match. If you were out and about in town, doing your shopping, supporters would always remind you about the game.

"There was always a special atmosphere leading up to the derby, on the training ground and around the club.

"Thankfully, we had some good results against Spurs. I remember my first game at White Hart Lane and Arsenal won 3-2. I scored with a header at the far post and Paul Gascoigne and Chris Waddle scored for them. It was quite a match.

"The bad memory, of course, is the FA Cup semi-final defeat in 1991. Gazza scored that free kick from about 30 yards, and we didn’t perform on the day. Meanwhile, they were pumped up and Gazza was sensational all over the pitch. We could have done the double that year, which was disappointing.

"They are special days. You go out onto the pitch and straight away you notice the pace is quicker. There are one or two tackles going in that you wouldn’t normally expect. They’d be flying in and you’d be doing the same. It’s quite helter skelter for the first 10 minutes or so, and sometimes for the entire match.

"You feel that buzz from within the stadium and that sense that something is different today."

How will Arsenal set up?

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Former Arsenal and England goalkeeper David Seaman believes a draw at Tottenham in the north London on Thursday would suit his old club more and that they need Champions League qualification more than their local rivals

Like most managers, Mikel Arteta will set his team up to combat the opposition to a certain extent.

Tottenham's ability on the counter, with the likes of Kane, Son and Kulusevski, it's a prime weapon for Antonio Conte so Arsenal will not want to get caught that way.

In the final few days before the game, I am sure they will be talking about it and working on it to make sure they do not overcommit, but that has been a facet for Arsenal under Arteta. When they do lose the ball, they are not normally out of shape.

There was a time where it made them a little bit blunt going forward, but they have managed to tweak it now and they are much more of a threat going forward.

There has very much been an emphasis on team shape, being prepared for when you do lose the ball, not getting caught in possession and being out of position, and therefore not being punished for it.

Arsenal's remaining fixtures

  • Thursday - Tottenham (a), live on Sky Sports
  • May 16 - Newcastle (a), live on Sky Sports
  • May 22 - Everton (h)

Conte vs Arteta: The sorcerer vs the apprentice...

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Antonio Conte answers some of the most searched questions about himself... How many trophies has Antonio Conte won? Who was Antonio Conte's footballing idol? Is Antonio Conte strict?

It's an intriguing battle between the two managers.

Conte's done it all before and he's doing it again at Spurs.

If you look at their defensive record under Conte, it has been excellent. He has got them firing again and the players have clearly bought into what he wants.

Results do that, though. It's very hard work but if you see something at the end of all that hard work you are willing to run through those brick walls for the manager.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have got Arteta, who is just starting out in management really.

He's learning all the time and the experience of the game tomorrow night will be huge for him going forward.

It's kind of the sorcerer against the apprentice to a certain extent and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top.

Which team has the edge?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool's draw against Tottenham in the Premier League

Spurs are at home so from that point of view, you would have to imagine that's an advantage for them, especially with the home fans behind them.

Conte's side did acquit themselves really well at Liverpool. They did draw and they will be disappointed with that, and given they went ahead, they will be disappointed they did not win the game.

But it will breed confidence that they can perform and perform well against one of the best teams in the league.

Who knows what the result on Thursday night is going to be? Is it going to be a 3-3 and a wild game?

I can't see it being 0-0 but whether it is one of those hard-fought 1-1 draws, it will be interesting to see.

Arsenal would certainly take that now. Tottenham would not, but it's one of those games where anything could happen.

What are the key battles?

Sky Sports' Alan Smith:

"From Arsenal’s point of view, the two centre halves have to perform. Obviously, with Harry Kane, who is perhaps the best all-round centre forward in the world, they’ve got to be in tandem together with the full backs. There’s also Son, with the form he is in, cutting in from the left.

"Going forward for Arsenal, Bukayo Saka can give any left full back, any wing back or left centre back a tough time. He’s just had a magnificent season.

"Then there’s Martin Odegaard, who drops into pockets of space. He can make things tick for Arsenal so you can imagine Hojbjerg or Bentancur keeping more than half an eye on his positioning and trying to deny him time and space on the ball.

"It’s those little matchups that are going to be fascinating to watch."

Who needs the Champions League more?

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Tottenham manager Antonio Conte says that he wants his players to 'enjoy the moment' of the north London derby and use it as a big push to win against Arsenal.

I do not think one club needs it over the other, particularly. Perhaps one manager needs it more.

I think Conte, given the character he is and the experience and the reputation he's got, he would not be happy if they are not in the Champions League next year.

Obviously, there have been one or two noises coming from him, when they have had a poor result, as to whether he wants to stay there long term.

For Arteta, if they are not in the Champions League, they will be in the Europa League. That is still a step forward at this stage for Arsenal.

So, it is different for the two managers.

Both clubs, north London giants, big stadiums and famous histories. They both want to get into that competition. It would mean a lot to both.

Arsenal nerves vs Leeds? 'That could have happened to any team'

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win against Leeds in the Premier League

On Sunday against Leeds, I think what happened to Arsenal could have happened to any team.

You are 2-0 up, in so much control and up against 10 men and subconsciously, you take your foot off the pedal a little bit. You don't push so hard; you are cruising and you don't have to do anything spectacular.

I do not think that so much is inexperience, but whether their inexperience will play any part at Tottenham is another matter.

However, Arsenal have some good characters in the squad now. They have players who are natural leaders, even though they are young. The boys at the back in Gabriel and Ben White, who I expect to play. Martin Odegaard is possibly a future captain.

At Spurs, they will need to show some maturity, that is for certain.

'Arsenal need to seize the day'

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Arsenal's goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale describes how he is a combination of 'excited and nervous' ahead of one of the biggest north London derbies in recent history.

There could still be a few hiccups along the way, if Arsenal do not win at Spurs. You just do not know what is around the corner.

If they were to lose the game, that would be a big blow, but let's wait and see.

Having finished eighth twice on the trot, to be in this position now going for a Champions League spot is probably above expectations.

As much as they will be delighted with it, they are probably a bit ahead of the curve In terms of progress, but you cannot pick your moments.

The chance is there, and you've got to try to seize the day.

How big an achievement would Champions League qualification be for Arsenal?

Mikel Arteta
Image: Mikel Arteta punches the air following Arsenal's win against Leeds

It's huge. It's easy to forget he's already won a trophy, winning the FA Cup in his first year.

To pick up the FA Cup in the manner that they did was not easy at all, so he's got that under his belt and that credit to his name, but the Champions League means so much these days.

There will be a lot of work to do in the summer for Arsenal. There will be a lot of work to do anyway, but if they can get into the Champions League, that should give them a stronger hand in terms of attracting players.

However, they do need to strengthen that squad and strengthen the numbers because it is a small squad and once two or three players get injured, you are dicing a bit with the quality you have to field.

They need to strengthen, but first things first, they have got to try and secure that Champions League spot, and from there we will see what happens.

Watch Tottenham vs Arsenal live on Thursday from 7pm on Sky Sports Premier League; kick-off 7.45pm

Jones knows prediction...


Arsenal have the clear advantage in the top-four race but knowing they can settle for a draw in this spicy encounter might just become a problem. Tottenham have no other option. It's win or bust for them. With so many goals in their team and a manager who usually gets the job done in big games, the case for a home win at 11/10 with Sky Bet is easy to make.

Heung-Min Son rewarded our faith in the goalscorer market at Anfield as he scored his 20th goal of the Premier League season and is just two behind Mohamed Salah now in the Golden Boot race. Son is venturing into much more dangerous areas than in previous seasons as his partnership with Harry Kane continues to blossom. Arsenal have felt the force of Son's goalscoring abilities, conceding three goals to the South Korea forward in the last four Premier League meetings. Son has scored in the last two home wins over the Gunners and the 5/2 for him to repeat the trick is a bet worth following.

SCORE PREDICTION: 2-1 | BETTING ANGLE: Heung-Min Son to score and Tottenham to win (5/2 with Sky Bet - Bet Here!)

Essential Football Podcast: North London derby special - Antonio Conte exclusive & Alan Smith's preview

Ahead of Thursday's season-defining North London derby, Sky Sports digital football journalist Jack Wilkinson heads to the Tottenham training ground to speak with boss Antonio Conte, before senior football journalist Oliver Yew sits down with former Arsenal striker Alan Smith for the view from the red half of north London.

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