Sunday 18 February 2018

Why will Tottenham fans be supporting Arsenal this weekend?

Tomas Rosicky, centre, scored a stunning opening goal against Spurs this season
Tomas Rosicky, centre, scored a stunning opening goal against Spurs this season

James Mariner

The rivalry between the teams dates back over a century, but Tottenham Hotspur fans could be forgiven for supporting Arsenal in this weekend’s FA Cup final.

The Gunners’ nine-year wait for a trophy has long been a source of hilarity for their Spurs-supporting neighbours, but victory for Arsene Wenger’s side against Hull at Wembley would have a positive knock-on effect for the managerless side.

The three Europa League positions in England traditionally go the fifth-place side in the Premier League (who would enter the following season’s Europa in the play-off stages), the winners of the FA Cup (entering at the group stage) and the winners of the League Cup (entering at the third qualifying round).

Because the League Cup was won by Manchester City - who had long secured a top four finish, and consequent Champions League qualification, which takes precedent – that Europa placing drops down to the League, meaning sixth place in this year’s Premier League qualifies for next year’s Europa.

Hull winning the FA Cup would take them straight into the Europa League group stages, leaving fifth-place (Everton) to go into the play-offs and sixth place (Tottenham) to start in the third qualifying round.

Should Arsenal win this year’s tournament, however, they too would already have qualified for the Champions League place, leaving the FA Cup Europa place to go to Hull, as runners-up. This is where it gets complicated.

Because Hull would have qualified for the Europa through ‘lesser’ means, they would enter at the third qualifying stage instead of the group stages.

That would push the sixth place Prem side (Tottenham) into entering at the play-off round, with the fifth place Prem side (Everton) going straight into the group stages. Still with us? Well done. Buy yourself a drink.

Entering at the third round stage would leave Tottenham contending with 19 matches should they reach the final in Warsaw next May – and a 10-month campaign.

Should Tottenham enter a round later, in the play-offs, they would enjoy two weeks more preparation time for the season, and two less matches in Europe’s more maligned European competition.

Swansea City, League Cup winners last season, entered the competition at the same stage in this campaign, with their results tailing off severely towards the end of the campaign as the number of matches took its toll.

Tottenham have enjoyed something of a love affair with the Europa League (or it’s Uefa Cup predecessor) in recent seasons, competing in the competition in five of the last seven campaigns.

Their taking part in the competition – and it’s seemingly relentless slog of Thursday night matches - has often been blamed for Tottenham’s lack of consistency in the latter stages of the season.

Spurs have continually struggled to achieve the required results in the Premier League to finish in the holy grail of the top four and the Champions League positions, and were beaten to qualification by Arsenal last season, finishing behind Everton and down in sixth place this time around.

One added carrot for next year’s Europa League is that the winners earn a place in the Champions League the following season. But do not be too surprised to see Tottenham fans smirking should Per Mertesacker lift the trophy on Saturday evening.

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