The Big Match

Football: Arsene Wenger: Arsenal don't fear Tottenham

Arsene Wenger, watching Theo Walcott take a throw-in against Red Star Belgrade, needs his side to catch up with rivals Tottenham Hotspur. They trail Mauricio Pochettino's side by four points after 11 games this season.
Arsene Wenger, watching Theo Walcott take a throw-in against Red Star Belgrade, needs his side to catch up with rivals Tottenham Hotspur. They trail Mauricio Pochettino's side by four points after 11 games this season.PHOTO: REUTERS

Wenger says his side are strong at home as he vows to fix north London balance of power

LONDON • Arsene Wenger insists his Arsenal side "have no fear" going into today's north London derby at the Emirates Stadium, despite finishing behind Tottenham for the first time in his 21 years at the club last season.

Arsenal finished 11 points behind Spurs last term and missed out on Champions League qualification.

With 11 games of this season gone, they trail Mauricio Pochettino's side by four points but Wenger denies his team are the underdogs.

"The derby is one of the fixtures that are very important in the season but one that we also want to win to make ground up in the table with the top teams," said the 68-year-old Frenchman, who confirmed striker Olivier Giroud will miss the derby with a minor injury.

"At home, we have been strong, and our home strengths will be vital in deciding where we finish at the end of the season.

"We have no fear, we are focused on nullifying their strengths and expressing ours. Tottenham are a good side but we have the quality to win the game.

HOME SWEET HOME

At home, we have been strong, and our home strengths will be vital in deciding where we finish at the end of the season. We have no fear...

ARSENE WENGER, remaining upbeat about Arsenal's chances.

"We don't see ourselves as the underdogs at all. I think the question about the balance of power in north London is a question we have to answer and the only way to answer is on the pitch. The comparison will be between the two performances on Saturday and we have a good opportunity to show we are strongest, so let's do it."

One thing Wenger does undoubtedly have over his rival manager is trophies in the cabinet.

Arsenal have won the FA Cup twice in the three years Pochettino has been in charge at Spurs, while the Argentinian is yet to win a trophy there.

"It is always difficult to finish a job," said Wenger of the qualities necessary to claim silverware. "You need to keep your nerves and get the players to focus. At some stages, you must also fight a little bit against your inhibitions - the fear that you won't get over the line.

"Basically you need to focus on what is important and not focus on the trophy too much."

Wenger also responded to remarks made by former Arsenal fullback Lee Dixon that the present side are not tough enough to succeed.

Reinforcing a complaint made regularly by supporters in recent years, Dixon told TalkSport that "the balance and mentality of the team is all wrong ".

"That's the kind of remarks I have got for 20 years," Wenger said.

"I remember many people asked me (in the 2002-03 season): 'Will (Robert) Pires be tough enough to play in the derby?'. He's the guy who scored more goals than anyone else in the derby.

"We have to agree what is tough and not tough. I believe players have to be efficient, I believe that counts the most.

"As a defender, efficiency is to not make mistakes, as a striker, it's to put the ball in the net. Tough or not tough doesn't matter."

Tottenham, without a win at the Emirates since 2010, must win today to keep in touch with Manchester City, who are eight points clear.

Despite their superiority over Arsenal in recent seasons, Pochettino believes it would be foolish to take victory for granted.

"We need to show massive respect to them," Pochettino said.

"In the last 22 years, we finished above Arsenal only one time. That does not mean today we are better than Arsenal.

"Now we need to believe we do not deserve too much praise or credit. We need to build our project, our era too."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2017, with the headline 'Arsenal 'not underdogs''. Print Edition | Subscribe