Arsene Wenger has pointedly reminded fans of both Arsenal and Tottenham that his team spent 20 years as the dominant north London club and dismissed the suggestion that they will now be “underdogs” in Saturday’s derby.
Having won the FA Cup and registered 75 points in finishing fifth, Wenger also argued that last season had generally been “quite positive” despite acknowledging the “big disappointment” of not finishing in the top four.
Tottenham finished second last season and, having just beaten Real Madrid in the Champions League, there is a perception that they have now overtaken Arsenal.
Wenger, though, said that Arsenal would not be the underdogs when the two teams meet at lunchtime on Saturday.
“No, not at all,” he said. “Tottenham are a good side but we have the quality to win this game and that is what we want to show. One way to answer is on the pitch. We have no fear; we are focused on nullifying their strong points and expressing our strong points.
“It is a good opportunity to show we are the strongest. We’ll see at the end of the season. The real motivation is to do as well as our potential. The target is not to compare to Tottenham.”
Asked about last season and how Tottenham finished above them, Wenger said: “It was a big disappointment to finish outside the top four. It was the first time in the history of the Premier League that a team with 75 points finished outside of top four. I still feel it was very harsh on us. People forget we won the FA Cup in a very stylish way against City in the semi and Chelsea in the final.
“The overall achievement was quite positive, even if there was disappointment not to finish in the Champions League for the first time in 20 years.”
Of Mauricio Pochettino, he said: “He has done an exceptional job, he is a good manager. He has all the ingredients to go a long way but it is very difficult to know and predict what will happen.”
Wenger also dismissed recent criticism of his team lacking “toughness” and said that other qualities would be more important on Saturday. “It’s the kind of remarks you get for 20 years,” he said. “In 2002 and 2003, it was, ‘Will Robert Pires be tough enough?’ He scored most goals in London derbies. It is down to the quality of the game.
“We have to agree what is tough and not tough. A football player has to be efficient. Tough or not tough doesn’t matter.”
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