LONDON — On the final day of last season, Arsenal narrowly held off fierce rival Tottenham to claim third place in the Premier League — which proved more important than either team knew at the time.
A year later, with the title fight decided and the three relegation spots already settled, the two North London neighbors are fighting it out again for a place in the top four and lucrative Champions League qualification.
Tottenham squandered a 10-point lead over Arsenal last year to drop to fourth, which ended up costing Tottenham a place in Europe's premier tournament because Chelsea grabbed England's fourth spot as defending champion.
Now, with one match left to play, Tottenham is facing the same scenario.
After beating Arsenal 2-1 at the beginning of March, Tottenham held a seven-point lead over its closest rival with only nine games remaining.
This Sunday however, it is Arsenal which is in control.
Since its defeat to Tottenham, an unbeaten run of seven wins in nine matches has Arsenal in fourth place, one point ahead of Tottenham and knowing a win away to Newcastle will guarantee a top-four finish.
Tottenham's goal difference is significantly worse than Arsenal's, which means to finish fourth, Spurs has to beat Sunderland and hope Arsenal drops points.
"I know for a long time that for us, when we were seven points behind, we would all be happy that it goes to the last day," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "We are in a position where nobody expected us to be. We have our destiny in our hands, our fate in our hands and that's what you fight for in the game. It is a game that we will now want to win, but at least we fought back to be in a position where we master our own fate."
If Tottenham beats Sunderland it will finish on 72 points and could miss out on the Champions League despite recording its highest total in the Premier League era.
"In the past it would have been enough to make it," Tottenham head coach Andre Villas-Boas said. "It would have been enough apart from the 2007-08 season when the fourth-placed team finished with 76 points."
Sunderland and Newcastle both avoided relegation last weekend but Tottenham is relying on Newcastle to keep focus and continue a strong record, which has seen it lose only once at home to Arsenal in the last ten league matches.
Missing out on the Champions League for a third consecutive season would be a major blow for Tottenham, which is desperate to use the competition and its huge financial benefits to keep its best players and attract new signings in the summer.
Gareth Bale has been Tottenham's stand-out player this season, scoring 25 goals for the team, and while Tottenham hopes the Wales winger will stay even without Champions League football, qualification may prove decisive.
"Whatever is happening, the idea is for the player to be here next season," Villas-Boas said. "I have said this numerous times. We are pretty confident we will be able to keep him."
Europa League champion Chelsea all but guaranteed its place in the top four by beating Aston Villa, but is still playing to secure third place, which means a direct berth in the Champions League group stage without qualifying.
Chelsea is two points ahead of Arsenal, but should Arsenal win and Chelsea lose at home to Everton, Arsenal would finish third. If Chelsea draws, Arsenal must win by at least a two-goal margin.
The statistics are so close however, that an unprecedented playoff match may be needed to separate the teams if Chelsea draw and Arsenal win by a single goal while also scoring two more than Chelsea.
"I would fancy a playoff," said Wenger. "A playoff exists only if we win the game at Newcastle, so let's win the game and see what happens."
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson will lead his team out for the last time after announcing his retirement from football.
The Premier League champions are away to West Bromwich Albion, which will be Ferguson's 1,500th game in charge of the team.
Manchester City, which lost to Wigan in the FA Cup final last weekend, will be hoping to end a disappointing season on a high note when it hosts Norwich.
Liverpool will finish sixth regardless of its result against bottom-place QPR while Wigan, relegated after losing to Arsenal on Tuesday, plays Aston Villa.
Southampton is at home to Stoke, Swansea plays Fulham and West Ham hosts Reading.