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Friday, December 3, 2021

Why Spurs’ European hopes are real

ART GALLERY

It was a sign of the progress made by Tottenham in the Women’s Super League that Saturday’s draw against north London rivals Arsenal felt like two points dropped rather than one gained.

Rehanne Skinner’s side, competing in just their third season in the WSL, almost stunned the league leaders as they led 1-0 through Rachel Williams’ goal until a 92nd-minute equaliser from Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema.

They remain in third place in the table following back-to-back draws against Manchester United and the Gunners – so is it time people considered them as genuine Champions League qualification contenders?

“We’re in there and people will always talk because we’re up there,” said Tottenham forward Williams. “But we’re not getting carried away with it. We’re enjoying our football and enjoying learning.

“Our attitude is that we want to be a top club. I have been in this league for a long time and I’m getting sick of it always being the same teams at the top. I want to be up there.

“We’re here to make everyone’s life hard when we step out on to that pitch and we’re having a good time doing it.”

Williams’ attitude echoes that of her manager Rehanne Skinner, who continues to insist Spurs are a work in progress.

But Williams says Spurs are becoming a team who will be “feared” by others in the WSL – their recent results, as well as the stunning victory over Manchester City earlier in the season, back that up.

It is only four years ago that Arsenal knocked Tottenham out of the FA Cup with a 10-0 mauling.

Seven weeks ago, Spurs were thumped 5-1 by their rivals in the quarter-finals of the same competition.

However, the north London derby shot into life on Saturday and, when Spurs became the first team to take the lead against the WSL leaders all season, they threatened to end their rivals’ dominance of this particular fixture.

In the end, they fell just short of recording a first WSL victory over the Gunners.

“Since [the FA Cup defeat in September] we have grown in confidence, had some positive results and we want to make these north London derbies really competitive,” said Skinner.

“It all boils down to positivity, confidence and belief. I have a team of good footballers and bit by bit they are starting to believe in themselves and the team more and more.

“When I came in I said I wanted to play a style of football which attracts people to the club. That’s what we’re trying to achieve. I think it’s important to keep working on those principles and we will continue to do that.”

So what next?

Tottenham will need to fight off competition from Hope Powell’s Brighton, who sit just two points below them in the table and could break into the top three with victory over bottom side Leicester City on Sunday.

Manchester United are also just three points below and were one of the pre-season favourites to mount a challenge on the WSL’s top three.

But with West Ham, Aston Villa and Everton up next for Spurs in the league, they will not face top-five opposition again until travelling to Chelsea on 9 January.

The last time a team other than Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester City – widely referred to as the “traditional top three” – finished in one of those spots was Birmingham City in 2014.

Should Spurs pip the likes of Manchester City, Everton and Manchester United to the third Champions League qualification spot, it would be considered a remarkable feat for a side who only gained promotion to the top flight in 2019.

“We know that we’re aiming for Champions League, but when that arrives? We don’t know the answer to that right now,” added Skinner.

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