Are Spurs really more likely to catch Arsenal than Chelsea?
‘IF THEY are to qualify for the Champions League again this season, Tottenham will have to finish above Manchester City or Arsenal.’
That is the latest update from Harry Redknapp, with the Spurs boss declaring that the Lilywhites have little hope of overtaking Manchester United and Chelsea.
“Points-wise there’s not much between us at the moment but, looking at them, Chelsea look strong,” said Redknapp. “I wouldn’t write them off for the league title.
“If Wayne Rooney hits form then Man United will win the league and they’re red-hot favourites, but if I had to pick one team who might have a chance of catching them I’d go with Chelsea to be honest – and we’ve still got a chance of finishing above the others.
“Arsenal and Man City have done great, I couldn’t knock them. I just think that out of those four teams, if we’re going to finish above any of them, it would be one of those two.
“It’s going to be hard to make that fourth spot, but if we’re going to do it I think it’s going to be one of those two. It won’t be Man United, and I don’t think it will be Chelsea.”
That is an interesting analysis given that, following the weekend’s action, Spurs are level on points with Carlo Ancelotti’s Blues – but five points behind City (with a game in hand) and six behind Arsenal.
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Of course, it could have been so much worse. At about 4.35pm on Saturday, Tottenham were drawing a must-win home game against Bolton, while Man City were 3-0 up against West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal were still beating Newcastle.
It seemed that Spurs were about to lose further ground on their rivals in their only home game out of seven league fixtures, but 10 minutes later the entire landscape changed.
Two late goals, at St James’ Park and then White Hart Lane, suddenly produced an incredible four-point swing from Arsenal to Spurs, as the Gunners dropped two points and Tottenham grabbed another two for themselves.
So Redknapp is right, and his side really can catch their north London arch-rivals and conceivably leave them outside the top four at the end of the season?
Maybe, but a glance at the fixture list shows that four of Tottenham’s next six league matches come away from home, while Arsenal have the opposite run to look forward to.
Four of the Gunners’ next six games come at the Emirates, against Wolves, Stoke, Sunderland and Blackburn. They will be big favourites in those matches, and meanwhile their away days pit them against two of the bottom six, West Brom and Blackpool.
Tottenham may have gained two points on Saturday but the gap to Arsenal is surely likely to widen rather than close between now and April 9.
That said, fixture congestion is now going to play a major part in proceedings, with Arsenal ‘paying the price’ for remaining in all four competitions.
Wenger’s side have five games between now and the end of the month – two more than Tottenham – due to the FA Cup and the Carling Cup final.
Man City have the same problem, as they face two Europa League ties in February and an FA Cup replay, on top of their top-flight fixtures – which are encouragingly tricky.
Roberto Mancini’s side host Manchester United this weekend in the derby, before going on to visit both Chelsea and Liverpool in their upcoming run.
That clash with Ancelotti’s Blues on March 20 will be particularly interesting for Spurs, given that at least one of the two sides will drop points.
And, lest we forget, Chelsea still have to face Manchester United twice in the league, having seen their first fixture postponed by the snow in December.
Chelsea also face testing trips to a rejuvenated Fulham – who thumped Spurs 4-0 at Craven Cottage recently – and Stoke’s notoriously difficult Britannia Stadium.
Redknapp is certainly right to target Manchester City and hope for a repeat of last season’s scenario, with Spurs pipping Mancini’s side to the post, but his belief that Arsenal are more vulnerable than Chelsea is debatable.
Other than their recent spending spree, there is little to suggest that the Blues will imminently leave Tottenham in their wake – as their home defeat against Liverpool on Sunday proved.
Indeed, upcoming fixtures suggest that, come April 10, Chelsea should still be within striking range, and potentially fighting for two Champions League places along with Spurs and City – while Arsenal’s run of home games may already have put them out of reach.