What is perhaps the biggest derby in English football will once again be witnessed this weekend as TottenhamÂ Hot Spurs host bitter rivals, Arsenal in the North London derby. Aside from the pride as to who really owns London between the two clubs, the bigger stake is the top four ticket of the Premier League. A win by any of the sides would boost their chances for next seasonâ€™s Champions League spot
Arsenal head to Wembley to face Spurs having not beaten their rivals in the Premier League at White Hart Lane since 2014. The Gunners are four points and one place adrift of their neighbours as they sit sixth heading into the north London derby.
But Wenger’s men have won their last nine games at the national stadium, including a penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea in this season’s Community Shield and the Frenchman is pleased to be back at Wembley.
Asked if he preferred the game to be at Wembley, Wenger said: “Yes, because we have a positive history there.
“Of course Wembley is a pitch that is quality, a stadium with a big crowd and it is always a special day in your mind so overall, yes. At Wembley you play special games where you are under pressure to perform and we responded well to it every time.”
Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech is a doubt having been forced off with a calf injury in the win over Everton last week.
Tottenham are unbeaten in their last eight league games, and boss Mauricio Pochettino has not given up hope of pipping Manchester United to second place.
Defeating Arsenal would help that ambition, while carrying the added bonus of derailing Arsenal.
“I believe we can finish second. Of course we’re going to fight for that to happen,” Pochettino said.
“The gap is not massive but it will be tough. It’s keyÂ on SaturdayÂ to win the game, to be in the race for the top four.”
Pochettino believes former Paris Saint Germain winger Lucas Moura, who arrived last month, is ready to make his debut, possibly as a substitute.
“I think he will be ready to be in contention forÂ Saturday,” Pochettino said.
“He is starting to feel the legs. We need to assess him, but after the last session I hope we can put him in contention.”
Meanwhile, Wenger has warned his Arsenal stars to keep their cool when they face bitter rivals Tottenham as the heated north London derby returns to Wembley for the first time in 25 years.
Languishing in sixth place in the Premier League, Wenger’s side are however just four points behind fifth placed Tottenham.
With their hopes of a top four place and qualification for the Champions League hanging in the balance, the Gunners can ill-afford a damaging defeat at the hands of their hated neighbours today, while Tottenham are also a point adrift of the top four and desperate to avoid defeat.
Given the high stakes amid the fight for local bragging rights, the crowd of over 80 000 are certain to make it a frenzied occasion.
Wenger knows players can lose their composure if they get swept up by the derby atmosphere.
And, with new boys Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan making their maiden north London derby appearances and Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli in the midst of a diving storm, the Arsenal manager cautioned his players to stay focused.
“There is always huge passion before the game and the emotion at stake that becomes a bit more agitated. It is always a game that is charged emotionally. For us, it is an opportunity to come back closer to the Champions League places, which is a priority,” he said.
Although Arsenal beat Tottenham 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium in November, they haven’t won an away league game against their rivals since 2014.
Fortunately, for Wenger’s men, with Tottenham playing their home games at Wembley this season while White Hart Lane is rebuilt, it will be the first north London derby at the national stadium since 1993.
Meanwhile, Manchester City will attempt to get back to winning ways in the Premier League when welcoming Leicester City to the Etihad Stadium this evening.
The Foxes have already tasted defeat in this fixture twice this season, though the most recent of those came via penalties following a hard-fought EFL Cup tie in the East Midlands.
Man City have since defeated Bristol City over two legs in the EFL Cup to remain on course for silverware on four fronts, but the gruelling nature of the Citizens’ non-stop campaign is beginning to take its toll on their players.
Key playmaker Kevin De Bruyne admitted after the 1-1 draw with Burnley last weekend in a match the league leaders really should have put to bed before being pegged back late on – that he and his teammates were “feeling rubbish” and in need of a rest.
Pep Guardiola’s decision to send his players away for four days this week came at the perfect time, then, in what has been a rare midweek off for City. Where they went did not matter to Guardiola – he simply wanted them to stay away from the club’s training base.
Even if the two-time Premier winners have stuttered somewhat on their travels of late, failing to win away from the Etihad Stadium in the league since a 1-0 win at Newcastle United at Christmas time, they still have a healthy lead at the top of the division and are fast closing in on another top-flight crown.
Thirteen points is the current gap on closest challengers Manchester United, whom they face for a second time in early April, but Guardiola is adamant that the title race is not a formality with so many games still to come.
Being held by Burnley was certainly not in the script, coming after defeat to Liverpool and a goalless draw at Crystal Palace in their previous away outings, and City must also face Arsenal and Chelsea in quick successionÂ in three weeks‘ time.
With fatigue creeping in, now may well be the perfect time to face the champions-elect as they also have to prepare for a double-header against Basel in the Champions League, a trip to Wigan Athletic in the last 16 of the FA Cup, as well as the small matter of an EFL Cup final date with Arsenal in the space of a month.
Defeating Guardiola’s men is a mighty ask for Leicester, though, particularly on the Citizens’ home patch following an unbeaten league run stretching 25 matches, 20 of which have ended in victory. Not quite invincible, but very, very close.
The biggest challenge for Leicester boss Claude Puel in the remaining months of the Premier League campaign may well be motivating his players, with seventh place surely the best the Foxes can hope for.
Arsenal in sixth are 10 points better off, meaning that holding off a cluster of teams in hot pursuit and overhauling Burnley is effectively the target for City in the coming weeks.
Leicester were disappointingly held to a 1-1 draw by Swansea City in their most recent match, coming on the back of a 2-1 loss away to Everton as their away-day struggles continued at Goodison Park.
After going seven unbeaten on their travels, the Foxes have now claimed just one point from the last 12 on offer, losing to Watford Liverpool and Everton, but holding Chelsea to a goalless draw in a match that they probably should have won.
Two wins from nine certainly suggests that momentum is a big issue, yet away from the Premier League the 2015-16 champions are into the last 16 of the FA Cup and have a favourable tie at home to Sheffield United up next.
Whether or not Riyad Mahrez will be available for that match next weekend is a different question, as the Algeria international continues to remain AWOL and will definitely sit out this trip to Man City – the team tipped to sign him on deadline day.
Without Mahrez in the side Leicester are desperately relying on Jamie Vardy for some inspiration, with the Englishman boasting an impressive record against top-six sides, though all three of his previous league goals against Man City came in one game.
That 4-2 triumph in December 2016 was the last time the Foxes trumped the Citizens, however, and to make matters worse for Puel’s men, they have failed to collect a single point in any of their last nine outings against a team that started the day top of the division.