London: Just over a year ago, Tottenham Hotspur were leading Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium and were on course to open up a 13-point lead over their North London rivals in the race for a Champions League spot. But it did not quite turn out like that. Arsenal recovered to win the Premier League game 5-2 and cut Spurs' lead over them to seven points.
Tottenham led Arsenal 2-0 again on Sunday but this time held on for a 2-1 win in another thrilling derby to end the day with a seven-point lead over their arch-rivals. But the circumstances, at least for now, are very different. Whereas last year's cut lead was the result of a hugely negative defeat, the gap Spurs have opened up now followed a battling derby win that extended their unbeaten league run to 12 matches.
"Last year at this time, Arsenal were seven points behind Tottenham and we know how that finished at the end of the season," Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas told reporters. "Obviously the motivation now is different. We are confident, they are on a low at the moment and for them to jump back is going to be very difficult, but we just have to continue with our job."
After losing 5-2 at the Emirates, Spurs never really recovered and the Gunners caught and overtook them to secure a Champions League spot for a 15th successive season. Spurs finished fourth but paid a heavy price as Chelsea, who came sixth, took the final Champions League spot after winning European club soccer's most prestigious trophy.
While Villas Boas considers the possibility of Spurs returning to the Champions League for only the second time, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is considering the unpalatable thought that his side could miss out on Europe's top competition for the first time since 1996-97.
"We face a massive task," he said, "but I still believe we can do it, but it is going to be very tough. I said before this game that we could not afford to drop any more points, and it is a mystery to me how we lost. I still believe we can do it, but it is not going to be easy."
Not only do Arsenal face the prospect of no Champions League next season, but their involvement in this season's competition looks likely to end next week when they visit Bayern Munich in the second leg of their last-16 tie after losing the first game 3-1 at home. All their fans can probably hope for over the closing weeks of another trophyless campaign is that they can somehow find a way to catch Tottenham.