On the latest Gary Neville Podcast, the Sky Sports pundit says he would put money on Tottenham reaching the top four over Arsenal after a huge win in the North London derby.
A victory for Mikel Arteta’s side on Thursday would have seen them secure Champions League football over their nearest rivals, but some rash decisions early on ultimately cost them the game.
Cedric Soares’ foul on Heung-Min Son inside the area saw Harry Kane convert from the penalty spot. The Spurs striker scored his second after Rob Holding had been sent off for two yellow cards.
Son then added a Tottenham third shortly after the break, taking the hosts to within one point of Arsenal with two Premier League games to play and fourth spot very much up for grabs.
Reflecting on the game, Neville described it as one of the best atmospheres he has commentated on with plenty on the line at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – and gave his prediction on who will finish in fourth.
He told the Gary Neville podcast: “After 1-0, this crowd were all over the place – it was mayhem after the first goal. At that point, Arsenal did wilt. They capitulated in that part of the game.
“Once you create that carnival atmosphere in a ground like this, and I think calling it a hostile and fierce atmosphere is fair, it was testing tonight. I always felt like this would be a special game because of what’s on it, why it was cancelled earlier in the season and then what’s at stake.
“You never want to create a cliff edge but Champions League football or no Champions League football for Arteta and Conte, for Tottenham and Arsenal from an economic point of view is just off the scale. It’s huge and the drop is so big. Then you’ve got the way the game was cancelled earlier in the season… It was all a little bit messy. They should have been made to play it, in my opinion.
Neville: It was like lightweight against the middleweight
“Conte is the type of manager that he would have looked at Arteta tonight, and I think Arteta was right in that you don’t drop your principles.
“He’s come out of the Pep Guardiola school of ‘we play our way’ and he’s not going to go back to own his box and defend with 10 outfield players behind the ball and say ‘we’re just going to counter-attack’. They try and push up the pitch and at least keep the mid-line.
“Conte will ruthlessly go back to the edge of his own box. At the start of the game, and I think it was a tactic, to pass slowly along the back, almost trying to draw Arsenal out, knowing that would lead the space.
“It was a clever play by Conte, he’s a clever manager who knows the game inside-out. He’s methodical in his thinking and the patterns of play are there. Arsenal came out in that first five minutes almost like the lightweight against the middleweight whereby they were quicker and sharper, but then the powerhouse of Tottenham gradually started to come.”
“So there was a little bit of needle coming into this game on three fronts… and it being a Thursday night game just adds to it. You don’t ordinally get that, they’ve usually been Sunday afternoon fixtures. It was red hot in here in terms of the atmosphere and it got to Arsenal and those young players. They looked mentally weaker in that period of the game from 10 minutes to 35 minutes, it just got to them. It can happen.
“You’d want Tottenham’s games – Burnley at home and Norwich away. Newcastle away [for Arsenal] on Monday Night Football, that’s going to be really tough, especially if Spurs have won on the Sunday… Everton at home on the last day, if Everton need points, then they’ve got two really tough games.
“I think Tottenham will beat Burnley and Arsenal will have to win their last two matches – but I’m not sure they will. Tonight was a really big blow – I might be wrong and I’m neutral between these two clubs – but I do feel now if I had to put money on it, it would be on Tottenham.”
Neville also had his say on a number of other big talking points from the game on his latest podcast…
‘A big moment for Arteta – it could shape his career’
“It’s a big moment for Mikel Arteta. There is a lot of pressure on these young managers. I know he [Arteta] takes the job, and he is paid handsomely for it. But how he is viewed is dependent on the sending off tonight and then what happens at Newcastle on Monday.
“It almost shapes his career and determines whether he is a success or not, but I think Mikel Arteta has done a very good job for Arsenal. Getting a Champions League place would mean he has won the FA Cup and taken them into the top four – he’s starting to build a successful CV. If he doesn’t get top four and Conte does, it will start to come down on him a little bit.
“I think he has a long career in the game, so it’s not going to be dependent on what happens on Monday. But these steps up the ladder and these leg-ups that you need as a manager and these little bits of luck… We will see if Lady Luck will be on his side next week.”
Holding red card, Cedric penalty
“The big determining factor was the red card for Holding, but it did take away from the game a little bit. It’s disappointing in some ways because it would have been great to see Arsenal with 11 men, trying to come back from 2-0 down at half time, or even 1-0 down.
“It took away from the game a little bit, slowed it down because the first 20 or 25 minutes was really intriguing and had a lot about it. It was quite frantic and fast at times.
“I was watching the run of Son [before the red card], I always watch those inside runs of the strikers to see what’s coming, particularly when there’s a ball there… I think if he leans, then he’s OK and he doesn’t get booked. But I think there’s a little bit of elbow in it and the VAR replays we saw straight away just confirmed that.
“It was absolute madness from Holding, it really was, and I do put that down to Son. Sometimes when you’re playing against a world-class player and you’ve got yourself in that state of ‘I’ve got to do this, I’ve got mark him’, you’ve probably watched too many videos of him. You watched him play last week against Liverpool and you’re thinking about how to deal with him.
“The worst thing was for me is if you’re playing against a player who is quicker than you, people tell you to drop off. So you do and then he’s good enough to beat you with the ball at his feet and go either way, and that when you’ve got a real top-class player, only the very best can do that.
“He’s absolutely outstanding, we mentioned he doesn’t get the recognition and I think that’s got into Holding’s head. So I’ve got some sympathy for him, it’s just sometimes you’re playing against a great player and it just gets the better of you.
“I’ve given penalties away, I’ve been sent off, I’ve done what Holding’s done two or three times in my career. But what Cedric did, I used to do pretty well, which is, as the ball’s arriving, he can’t make the contact with the man that you’re blocking before the ball arrives.
“He can do it after, but then it’s a waste of time because the ball has gone past you, but it’s that timing of when you bump the striker so it looks like you’re trying to play the ball at the same time. He got it really badly wrong, his timing. He did it too early, it was too obvious.
“It’s rash, it’s a lack of composure and a bit of a panic. Maybe he’s not read the flight of the ball – sometimes you think the striker is going to get there so you panic a little bit. I felt for him, but it was lacking in composure and there was something starting to happen down the right-hand side.
“I think it was the mixture of Holding and Cedric being very nervous of Son’s pace in behind them or letting him turn and run at them… I think it’s probably contributed to that nervousness an that anxiety that’s created these moments in the first part of the game.
Gary Neville on Heung-Min Son…
“Son, a special word. He was gutted when he came off. He told us he did not care about the golden boot and then just completely blew that out of the water with the fact that he went on a massive rant at his manager, in a nice way but it was a rant.
“I think I was reading his lips on the bench at one point and he was like, ‘Why didn’t you take Harry off and not me?’ He was absolutely fuming.
“But it is a compliment for him to be taken off because he has got that energy and imagine if something had happened in the last 10 minutes or one of the Arsenal players takes him out.
“He is big for the last two games. But he wants that 22nd goal, he wants to be level with Mo Salah, he smelt it. He had missed a big chance on the pull back.
“But it was nice to see him like that because he is so placid. He is a dream. Harry Kane is gold and Son is a dream of a player. Has he ever done anything wrong?”
‘No brainer for Conte to stay with Champions League’
“What is happening with Conte at the end of the season? Tonight, there are not going to be many clubs in Europe that Conte is going to be able to go to. This is the league at the moment. I have been critical of this league four or five years ago when it was underperforming in Europe but this is a great league at this moment in time with great managers. It is where I think you want to be a manager in terms of showcasing yourself.
“Actually, what he saw tonight was pretty special. In fact, it was very special what he saw tonight. That atmosphere, I have not seen in a stadium in this country this season. And I think this has been one of the highest standard Premier Leagues that I have seen, if not the highest, that is a pretty high compliment.
“I think for Conte, that was big tonight. Champions League? No brainer, he stays. The only problem is that he wants to be in the Champions League, he needs to be in the Champions League. So, I do think it is a big night. But irrespective of whether they get into the Champions League, this must have an impact on Conte. I know he is quite ruthless about where he wants to be and what he wants to do. But that must have had an impact on him.
“Those players out there will see something building if they get in this Champions League. It is going to do unbelievable things for Spurs. They look a bit more experienced, more composed, more mature and in order. Arsenal look more fragile. In the last week of the season, you want that reliability. I do see Spurs being favourites now.
“I know Arsenal have that point [advantage]. If they win the two games, if they go to Newcastle and win and then beat Everton on the last day of the season, then brilliant by Arsenal. Mikel Arteta has done a great job this season. But I do think it is tough.”
‘Kane the only person I’ve ever seen like Shearer’
“Harry Kane tonight had one touch in the first 15 or 20 minutes of the match. I think the eager, immature centre-forward does what the opposition want him to do and starts to drift wide or drop deep. I remember Sir Alex always used to say to be patient. Hold your position between the two centre-halves. Stay there. Eventually the moment will come.
“Harry really did show some patience in that first 20 minutes. He could have got eager. He could have started moving in, going wide to get the ball and involve himself in the game, but he didn’t do. He held that central position. Elneny was blocking him off brilliantly, it was good from Arteta. But eventually the game started to come to him.
“He is playing at this really high level. Earlier in the season, there was this feeling that his time was up, he wasn’t happy, his form had gone, what has happened to Harry Kane?
“Sometimes it can be a bit embarrassing when you think back to the conversations you were having about the same player six months ago. But I have always said this is gold, Harry Kane. This is the most reliable thing you can invest in.
“I had him for four years as an assistant coach to Roy Hodgson. He is unbreakable up here. He is Alan Shearer-like. He is the only person I have ever seen who is like Shearer. He has emotion, of course. But he is completely sober in every part of his life, in his preparation, he will get the chances, the repetition of the strike into the far corner, Shearer was exactly the same.
“Tonight, what we have seen, I thought his performance last week at Anfield was special. It is difficult to play well against Van Dijk’s back four, that pressing midfield, that aggressive small pitch, that Anfield atmosphere, what was on the game. For him to do what he did last week at Anfield was really special, it was a top performance from a centre-forward, and he has done it again here tonight.”