It’s North London derby time as the Gunners travel to White Hart Lane in what may well prove to be a crucial encounter in the race for a Champions League berth.
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas has warned Arsenal that Gareth Bale will use Sunday’s crucial north London derby to prove he deserves to be ranked as one of the world’s top three players.
Bale will be firmly in the spotlight when Arsenal arrive at White Hart Lane for a potentially decisive moment in the battle to qualify for the Champions League.
Villas-Boas’s third placed team are already four points clear of Arsenal, who lie fifth, and a victory over their bitter rivals would be a major blow to the Gunners’ hopes of finishing in the Premier League’s top four.
If Tottenham are to add to spluttering Arsenal’s woes, they will need another dominant display from Bale, who underlined his remarkable talent by inspiring Spurs to a 3-2 win at West Ham on Monday.
Bale scored twice at Upton Park, including a sublime last-minute winner, to take his goal tally to 23 for club and country this season.
The 23-year-old’s superb form in recent months has led to claims that the Wales winger is now as influential as Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona playmaker Lionel Messi.
Villas-Boas has no doubts about Bale’s brilliance and he believes this weekend’s marquee match-up is the perfect stage for the winger to showcase the electric pace and lethal finishing that has the likes of Real and Barcelona contemplating blockbuster bids in the close-season.
“He is world class and those two players (Messi and Ronaldo) are,” Villas-Boas said.
“Gareth at the moment is showing the form to be at the level of those two players, who have won so much throughout their careers, including European trophies.
“He still has to achieve that and we hope he can achieve it with us. I think he is very down to earth.”
Although victory for Villas-Boas’s side will move them seven points ahead of Arsenal with 10 games to go, the Portuguese coach believes that will still not guarantee Champions League qualification.
“We are on a good run of form and extremely confident, but I don’t think (Champions League qualification) is going to be on whatever result happens this weekend,” said Villas-Boas, whose side are unbeaten in the league since December 9.
“Seven points is still recoverable for a team like Arsenal. It’s all very tight still, but obviously we know the importance of the fixture and the way it can impact on both clubs moving forward.”
While Bale clearly poses the greatest threat to Arsenal’s bid to win at White Hart Lane for the first time since September 2007, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger is adamant his side won’t just focus on stopping the Welshman.
Wenger, who considering buying Bale from Southampton before his eventual move to Spurs, said: “We don’t plan for anybody. It is always the same, focus on our strengths and forget about your opponent.
“There is nobody special that you least like to face. All players have different qualities.”
Wenger, whose club have gone eight years without a trophy, can ill-afford another chastening defeat on Sunday as he looks to rescue a traumatic campaign that has seen subjected to more criticism than ever before.
After crashing out of both domestic cup competitions against Bradford and Blackburn, and with their Champions League campaign all but over after a 3-1 last 16 first leg defeat against Bayern Munich, Arsenal’s only remaining goal is to finish in the top four.
In the circumstances, Wenger concedes a defeat would be a significant setback given his team’s fragile morale.
“There are still 10 games to go after Tottenham and a lot can happen,” said Wenger, whose side won 5-2 in the last north London derby in November.
“Let’s not forget Chelsea are involved as well. However, the game on Sunday will have a psychological importance for the rest of the season.”
Venue White Hart Lane, Sunday 4pm
Last season Tottenham 2 Arsenal 1
Referee Mark Clattenburg
This season’s matches 15 Y45, R6, 3.40 cards per game
Subs from Friedel, Naughton, Gallas, Dawson, Livermore, Carroll, Sigurdsson, Adebayor, Fredericks, Parrett
Doubtful Defoe (match fitness)
Injured Dempsey (calf, 10 Mar), Sandro (knee, Aug), Huddlestone (knee, unknown), Kaboul (knee, unknown)
Form guide WWWDDD
Disciplinary record Y36 R2
Leading scorer Bale 15
Subs from Mannone, Miquel, Koscielny, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaby, Podolski, Rosicky, Gervinho, Squillaci
Doubtful Diaby (calf)
Injured Sagna (knee, unknown), Gibbs (thigh, unknown)
Form guide WWWDWL
Disciplinary record Y27 R3
Leading scorers Cazorla, Walcott 11
Arsenal have won the last two meetings 5-2. On both occasions, Tottenham have had a man sent off.
There have been 33 goals in the last six meetings in all competitions. It’s the highest-scoring fixture in Premier League history with 121 goals.
Arsenal have not won on any of their last four league visits to White Hart Lane (D2, L2).
Tottenham are unbeaten in 11 league games, and have won their last three.
Spurs have lost just two matches at White Hart Lane this season, and haven’t lost there in any competition since 3
November. However, in terms of home form, they are seven points worse off than they were after 13 home games last season.
They have failed to score at home in the league just twice this season.
Gareth Bale has scored six times in Tottenham’s last four league games, and eight times in their last six games in all competitions. He has scored more Premier League goals in 2013 than any other player. Another league goal would make
Bale the highest-scoring Welshman in a Premier League season with 16.
Tottenham last finished above Arsenal in a Premier League season in 1994-95.
Like Tottenham, Arsenal come into the match looking for a fourth consecutive Premier League win. They have won four out of their last five in the league.
Arsenal have won four of their seven London league derbies this season (W4, D1, L2).
The Gunners have scored 10 goals in the final 10 minutes of Premier League games this season – only Reading (11) have netted more in this period.
Santi Cazorla is the only player to figure in all 27 of the club’s Premier League matches this season (26 starts, one as a substitute). He has scored each of the club’s last three PL goals.
Theo Walcott has scored four goals in the last four North London derby league matches.
Arsenal to win 3-2 at 22/1: Tottenham vs Arsenal Betting