It was a “difficult and emotional” day, said Tottenham interim boss Vicky Jepson, when Rehanne Skinner was sacked on the back of nine consecutive losses in the Women’s Super League.

In just over two years, Skinner had taken Spurs from a relegation battle to dreaming of Europe, and then all the way back again. It felt as if the club had little choice but to relieve the popular head coach of her duties before hosting the WSL’s basement club. Under Jepson, and thanks to another Beth England goal, Spurs edged fellow strugglers Leicester City 1-0.

If that result offered some light relief at Brisbane Road, there is a risk it will disappear in Saturday’s north London derby against Arsenal.

Jonas Eidevall’s side sit fourth, five points off league-leaders Chelsea, but are not being discounted for a first title since 2019.

“I’d love to see them win it,” says former Arsenal striker Kelly Smith. “They are outsiders in fourth, but the good thing about it is all those top four teams have to play each other, so it could well go down to the end of the season.

“Arsenal have really kicked on since the Conti Cup final [which they won 3-1]. It’s given them a lot of belief, the way they dominated Chelsea for large periods of that game. I saw a new-found confidence [in the 4-0 win] against Reading.”

Eidevall has since brought in 36-year-old former England international Jodie Taylor, who was a free agent after leaving San Diego Wave earlier this year.

An unconventional fix, admittedly, for an attack that has been decimated by the losses of Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema to ACL tears, but Arsenal had few other options after two world-record bids for Alessia Russo were rejected by Manchester United on deadline day.

“It’s always tough when you lose world-class players,” Smith says, “but Chelsea haven’t had Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder for a large chunk of the season and they’re still managing to pick up points.

“Their squad is probably a bit stronger in terms of depth but when you miss players like that it does take a team a while to adjust to being without them.”

Still, they have not been short of goals, putting nine past Leeds in the FA Cup and only failing to score in one league game since the winter break.

While the Gunners have been quietly plugging away, balancing a Champions League run (losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich in the first leg of the quarter-final) with a fight to ensure they are in the competition next season, Chelsea went down swinging after that Conti Cup final.

When Emma Hayes described Arsenal as “a team who haven’t won a lot” in recent years, it did not go down well – but she was right. “It could help Arsenal because they’d not won a trophy in four years and that hurts,” Smith points out.

“Their mentality now has shifted to give them more belief and confidence moving forward. That could help Arsenal but it could help Chelsea [in the title race], because they’re upset and angry that they’ve missed out on silverware, and they’re renowned for winning trophies.”

In that light, contenders Arsenal and Spurs, fighting for survival, would be worthy of the big stage even if it were not one of the most significant derbies in WSL history.

Yet while the derby has been previously been played at the men’s stadia of both clubs – twice smashing the WSL’s record attendance – this time it will remain at Spurs’ usual home of Leyton Orient’s Brisbane Road, in part because the 62,850 capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is hosting Saracens vs Harlequins.

Wherever it has been played, this fixture has not typically been kind to Spurs. They have never beaten their rivals, denied a famous victory in November 2021 by a stoppage-time equaliser from Miedema.

Few would bet on that changing. Despite scoring five goals since joining from Chelsea in January, Spurs are not as reliant on England as is sometimes made out, but the Lionesses forward remains their best hope of a shock result.

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