Yes, yes. Leicester City is putting together the most improbable season in world football (maybe even all of sport) history. Upsets occur, but sitting two points clear in first place after 26 games when the competition has spent as much as 10x more on their starting 11 alone, simply put, does not.
However, Leicester’s incredible run and, to an extent, Chelsea’s early season catastrophe have overshadowed one of the most exciting developments of 2016: A Spurs-Arsenal North London derby with championship implications for both teams. The closest these two rivals have come to a late-season title clash was during the 2011-12 season when 3rd place Tottenham were crushed 5-2 by 4th place Arsenal during matchweek 26. Still, neither squad posed a serious threat to tabletoppers Manchester United and Manchester City.
The context of this season’s matchup could not be more different. Going into match 27, Spurs and the Gunners are deadlocked at 51 points a piece in 2nd and 3rd while Leicester stubbornly sits atop the the table as if they’re mimicking Donald Trump in GOP polls. This dream match is now about to become reality thanks to Tottenham’s vanquishing of Man City, the only other legitimate title contender, and Arsenal’s victory over Leicester to pull them back into the thick of the race. Man City now sits 4 points behind the North London duo and have their own problems to sort out after consecutive home losses.
Each club will play two league games before meeting for their 29th, and their schedules are surprisingly similar. Both will host Swansea City and travel to face upper mid-table sides. Spurs will partake in another North London derby with West Ham and Arsenal will face Man United at Old Trafford. Swansea should be easy customers for both sides, but the away fixtures will provide a needed test before the most important game of the season.
It is important to note that matches 27 and 28 will take place within a week of the March 5 clash. Spurs will also be playing their tougher game 3 days before the crucial date with Arsenal. This will only add to the importance of the contest at White Hart Lane. Tottenham now have a deep roster that has avoided injuries, save Jan Vertonghen, but is young and inexperienced in this sort of situation. Arsenal, on the other hand, are just now getting key players Danny Welbeck, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin back from serious injuries and will need to find a way to assimilate them into the lineup without disrupting the team’s current chemistry.
A victorious result in Tottenham vs. Arsenal will undoubtedly propel one club to become the favorite to win the league during the final stretch. A draw should be enough to keep Man City at bay temporarily but will likely lead to an unparalleled four-horse race going into the final week. Pundits have been predicting the fall of Leicester all season, but the Foxes now enjoy the easiest remaining schedule of the four title contenders.
Either way, this season’s meeting between the North London clubs could turn out to be the most consequential episode in the storied rivalry’s history. That is, once Leicester start dropping points, which, you know, they definitely will do, right.?