It is just over a week since Antonio Conte said it would be a “miracle” if his Tottenham team finished in the Premier League’s top four and qualified for the Champions League.
On 1 April Spurs were three points behind the Gunners, having played one game more and with an inferior goal difference.
But fast forward a week and Tottenham have thrashed Newcastle 5-1 and on Saturday won 4-0 at Aston Villa, while the Gunners have suffered back-to-back defeats – the surprising 3-0 loss at Crystal Palace on Monday and Saturday’s 2-1 home reverse to a Brighton side who had not won in their previous seven matches.
Since Conte’s remarks, another of their top-four rivals, Manchester United, have picked up one point from a possible six, drawing 1-1 with Leicester last week before losing 1-0 at Everton on Saturday.
Of their rivals for the final Champions League place, only West Ham have won since the Italian’s comments, beating Everton 2-1 last weekend. They travel to Brentford on Sunday.
The past week means Tottenham, five points adrift of the top four when Conte took charge in November, must now be favourites to secure Champions League qualification.
They are fourth and three points clear of their north London rivals with a significantly better goal difference, though the Gunners do have a game in hand.
‘The club deserves much better than fighting for fifth, sixth or seventh’
Tottenham lost 2-0 in the Champions League final to Liverpool in 2019, but in 2020-21 were only in the Europa League and this season played in the newly formed third-tier competition the Europa Conference League.
Under Conte, they suffered an embarrassing 2-1 loss to Slovenian side NS Mura in November as they failed to make it out of the group, although Covid-19 cases meant Spurs could not play their final match, with Rennes awarded an automatic 3-0 victory.
In February, following a 1-0 loss at Burnley – Tottenham’s fourth defeat in five Premier League games – Conte suggested he could walk away from the club, saying: “I came here to help the club and if the problem could be the coach I’m ready to go, no problem”.
But Spurs have won six of seven league games since then, including all of the past four.
After the 4-0 victory against Aston Villa, in which Son Heung-min scored a hat-trick with Dejan Kulusevski, on loan from Juventus, also on the scoresheet, Conte said: “I’m very happy because I have a group of players who want to show me they will improve in many aspects.
“Seven games to go and we’re showing we are deserving to stay in the race for a place in the Champions League.
“We need to continue to work with this application and intensity and desire because the club deserves much better than fighting for fifth, sixth or seventh. I like to be competitive.”
‘If we play like we did, we don’t deserve it’
Tottenham played in the late game on Saturday and had been boosted by Manchester United and Arsenal’s losses respectively against Everton and Brighton earlier in the day.
Three-time European champions United are seventh, below West Ham on goal difference, a position that would only be good enough to qualify them for the Europa Conference League at best if they end the season in that spot.
Interim manager Ralf Rangnick, in the job until the end of the season, challenged United’s players to prove they deserve to be in the top competition.
“The players themselves should be eager to play international football, if possible Champions League,” said Rangnick.
“But if we play like we did here we just don’t deserve it. In order to qualify for Europe you have to be able to score in 95 minutes in a game like this.”
Arsenal have not played in the Champions League since 2016-17 and manager Mikel Arteta admitted it had been a “tough week” for the Gunners.
He added: “We wanted a reaction [to the defeat at Crystal Palace]. It came in the second half, which is too late; we have to have the courage and personality to play much better and raise the level.
“We were sloppy, we had no purpose to attack, we were really imprecise and we didn’t want to play forward. We’ve shown for many weeks how well we can play; it has been a difficult week and we’ve lost some big players.
“There are many games to play but we have to be concerned about that performance, especially first half.”