LONDON – Arsene Wenger has warned Tottenham that Arsenal will use Saturday’s derby showdown to prove the balance of power in north London hasn’t shifted permanently.
After decades of lording it over their neighbours from the other end of the Seven Sisters Road, Wenger’s side have found themselves in the unpleasant position of playing second fiddle to Tottenham over the last year.
Tottenham will arrive at the Emirates Stadium sitting four points above the Gunners in the Premier League and still basking in the afterglow of their memorable victory over European champions Real Madrid earlier this month.
While Mauricio Pochettino’s team harbour ambitions of winning both the Premier League and Champions League, Arsenal are living in reduced circumstances.
Having finished below Tottenham last season for the first time in 22 years, a black cloud hangs over the Gunners, who appear destined for a grim fight for a top-four finish.
Many Arsenal fans have grown tired of Wenger’s excuses after 13 years without a title triumph and the indignity of missing out on a Champions League berth last term was the final straw for many.
Arsenal haven’t beaten Tottenham in the league since March 2014, a barren streak stretching to six matches.
But despite a damaging defeat at leaders Manchester City in their last league game, Wenger is adamant his team are primed to end their frustrating run against Tottenham.
Asked if Arsenal were underdogs in the derby, Wenger said: “No, not at all.
“I think Tottenham are a good side but we have the quality to win this game and that’s what we want to show.
“The conclusion of people will be the comparison of the two performances on Saturday. We have a good opportunity to show we are the strongest, so let’s do it.
“It’s one of the fixtures that is very important for us and that we want to win, basically as well because in the table we have to make some ground up with the top teams.
“Our home strength will certainly be vital to decide where we finish at the end of the season.”
Wenger’s hopes of a much-needed victory weren’t helped by the injury suffered by France striker Olivier Giroud during the international break.
Giroud will be sidelined on Saturday, meaning Wenger may have to start erratic forward Alexandre Lacazette who was left out of previous marquee match-ups with Liverpool and City.
“He didn’t play away from home at City, I think that’s the only game he didn’t start (along with Liverpool). I trust him completely,” Wenger said of his pre-season signing from Lyon.
Tottenham, without a win at the Emirates since 2010, must win on Saturday to keep in touch with City, who are eight points clear of Pochettino’s club.
Despite Arsenal’s plight, Pochettino believes it would be foolish to take victory for granted against wounded opponents.
“We need to show massive respect to them,” Pochettino said.
“Before in the last 22 years only we finish above Arsenal 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.”
Pochettino expressed sympathy for the abuse Wenger has endured recently, insisting the Frenchman remains the right man for the job.
“He is a fantastic manager. I respect him a lot and admire him,” he said.
“To stay in a club for five years, it because you are a good manager, 10 years it is because you must be very good. For more than 20 years, it is because you are special.”
Pochettino will be without injured defender Toby Alderweireld, while goalkeeper Hugo Lloris may not be fit to return from a groin problem.
Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Harry Winks could feature after missing England’s friendlies against Germany and Brazil. — AFP