The bizarre reason why Spurs fans need to support bitter rivals Arsenal against Bayern Munich

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As Arsenal prepare to face Bayern Munich, they may have some unlikely supporters - because Spurs fans need them to win in the Champions League.

Once upon a time, a slightly unconvincing pastiche of a medieval Mongolian warrior asked Arnold Schwarzenegger, dressed in an even less convincing wig and nearly nothing else, what was best in life.

His answer, presumably in character as Conan the Barbarian – it can be hard to tell with Early Arnie – has gone down in cinematic history: “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women.”

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Which is, more or less, the way that most football fans feel. Watching your fiercest rivals bottle a big match is almost as satisfying as your own team winning one. But tonight, for one night only, Tottenham Hotspur fans must politely disagree with Conan and his tiny leather thong – because they all need to get behind Arsenal for the evening. The lamentation of their womenfolk should be the last thing on their minds.

That’s because of the rather convoluted new coefficient system which will see two extra Champions League places awarded to the leagues whose sides perform best in Europe each year. As it stands, Spurs’ own chance of qualifying for a shot at the continent’s biggest prize may rest squarely in Arsenal’s hands.

Here’s how it works – in brief, at least, because a full explanation of the rules would take all day. With the Champions League expanding to 36 teams each year, UEFA decided to offer an extra place to two leagues. The lucky leagues would be decided based on their performance in the various European competitions – with points awarded for wins and draws and extra points for each round through which those sides progress. You get the same points regardless of the competition, so a win in the Champions League is worth just the same as a win in the Europa Conference League, and so on.

At the end of the season, the total points racked up by the teams from every country are totted up and then divided by the number of participants each country has, and the final number reached determines each leagues’ ranking. And right now, England are not in the top two.

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Italy are all but assured of getting one of the remaining places, while Germany sit in second, with a slender lead over England. France, back in fourth, could theoretically still make it, but that’s already a vanishingly slim possibility. Barring some very improbable outcomes, this is a strictly Anglo-German showdown.

And of course, with Spurs battling for a spot in the top four – a battle they are currently losing to Aston Villa, although it’s obviously still in the balance – that means that a fifth spot in the Champions League would come in very handy, as it would guarantee them a place in Europe’s biggest competition (and the associated riches) barring a truly catastrophic late-season collapse under Ange Postecoglou.

The chances of that happening will hinge in no small part on the outcome of the two European quarter-finals between English and German sides. West Ham United will have their work cut out – they not only need to beat Bayer Leverkusen in the second leg, something no team managed all season, but to do it by three clear goals. That’s pretty unlikely, so the chances are that Spurs are heavily reliant on their hated rivals to do them a favour.

If Bayern Munich beat Arsenal in Bavaria tonight, then the odds are that only four English teams will make the Champions League, especially with Borussia Dortmund making the semi-finals with a stunning victory over Atlético Madrid. It wouldn’t be impossible for Spurs fans to have the best of both worlds and qualify in fifth despite Arsenal crashing out, but they would likely need Manchester City to win the Champions League again and perhaps Aston Villa to win the Europa Conference League too. It could happen, but Arsenal beating Bayern swings the odds massively in favour of England.

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And so, Spurs fans, just for one evening, it will serve you well to hope that your enemies aren’t crushed, that they aren’t driven before Harry Kane and his comrades, and that women in the Highbury & Islington area have a happy and fulfilling evening. Well, that last part should be the case anyway, but you take the point.

For one Wednesday of your lives, your best bet is to curse Kane’s name, quietly cheer the Gunners on under your breath, and to pretend that Sol Campbell never happened. Or just hope like hell that you win more games than Villa, of course. That one still works either way.

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