Will Tottenham stop Man City and boost Arsenal’s title hopes?

Tottenham Hotspur have a title decider. The only problem for Spurs is that it isn’t their title on the line, but that of Arsenal — their most bitter rivals and a team none of their supporters would ever want to help in any way whatsoever.

Arsenal forward Kai Havertz joked on Sunday, after the Gunners reclaimed top spot in the Premier League with a 1-0 win at Manchester United, that he would be the “biggest Tottenham fan ever” when they host Manchester City on Tuesday. If Havertz were bold enough to turn up at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, he might find himself to be the only person inside the ground wanting to see a home win.

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Ange Postecoglou’s team need only draw against City for the pendulum to swing firmly in Arsenal’s favour going into the final day of the season on Sunday, and that’s why there’s now so much focus on how Spurs approach the game.

Arsenal need Spurs to help them out by halting City’s seven-game winning streak. If City draw, Arsenal will be top and at home to Everton with, to a large extent, their destiny in their own hands. Arsenal would be the leaders by plus-3 goals, so Man City (who are at home to West Ham) could still outscore them in their final game to take the title. If City lose on Tuesday, it’s completely in the Gunners’ control.

Social media is an unreliable gauge of true fan opinion, but it offers some insight and it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that many Spurs supporters want their team to lose against City; the last thing they want to do is help Arsenal end their 20-year title drought and herald in an open-top bus tour around north London.

That’s the inexplicable reality of sporting rivalry. As unpalatable as it might seem, there really are times when the positives of seeing your team lose outweigh the negatives. This is one of those occasions when many Spurs fans will be happier with a defeat than a win.

The good news for those without a vested interest in the title race, though, is that the game is not played or coached by fans. For a professional footballer, there is so much more at stake than local bragging rights.

And for the Premier League, that really matters. At a time when City’s successes remain under a cloud of suspicion over 115 charges related to the league’s financial rules, further damage to the competition’s integrity caused by a team perceived to have rolled over simply because fans don’t want its rivals to win the title would inflict a heavy dent to the league’s reputation. City were charged in February 2023 and the hearing is not expected to take place until later this year.

For those out on the pitch, and the coaches on the sidelines, winning matters. Contracts throughout the game are heavily incentivised based on wins, appearances, league placing, European qualification, trophies and even goals.

Tottenham go into Tuesday’s game in fifth position, but could yet fall out of the European qualification spots with Newcastle United and Chelsea both able to overtake them this week — though seventh will qualify for the Europa Conference League if Man City beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final on May 25 (stream live on ESPN+, U.S. only). The fans might not care if that means no European football next season, but everyone paid to represent Spurs will benefit from finishing as high up the table as possible. Some players’ futures might even depend on it.

The Premier League has seen the situation arise before, with the fate of one team in the hands of their rivals.

In 1995, Manchester United needed Liverpool to beat Blackburn Rovers at Anfield on the final day for Sir Alex Ferguson’s team to have a chance of winning the title. Blackburn were managed by Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, but despite the overwhelming desire of Liverpool fans to see their team falter to deny Man United, the home side won 2-1. But Man United threw away the title that day by failing to win at West Ham, so the integrity of the competition was in no doubt on that occasion.

Four years later, Arsenal needed Spurs to avoid defeat at Man United for Arsene Wenger’s team to win the title. It was an identical scenario to the one being played out between Tottenham and Man City this week, but even though Spurs lost 2-1 at Old Trafford, they took an early lead to prove their determination to blank out the external noise and once again show that players think differently to supporters.

Yet no matter how committed and determined Postecoglou and his players are against City, the reality is that Guardiola’s team go into the game as strong favourites.

This stage of the season is when City traditionally put their foot on the pedal and race to the title. They are on course for an unprecedented fourth successive title for that reason.

But they don’t enjoy their trips to Tottenham. Their last four league visits have ended in defeat without scoring — 1-0, 1-0, 2-0, 2-0 — so Spurs have a proud recent record to uphold.

That run might end on Tuesday, but as long as Spurs make City earn whatever they get, the title race will not be compromised.

And if Spurs leave the field unbeaten and Arsenal go on to win the title, they can always claim to have an outstanding debt owing from their north London rivals.