By Chris Harris
There were more than 60,000 people at Emirates Stadium on Sunday and most of them left with the same nagging feeling: that's that for the title race.
Not so Arsene Wenger.
His frustration was clear at the final whistle as he remonstrated with the officials and his opposite number Kenny Dalglish after Liverpool had snatched a point from the penalty spot with the last kick of the game. The prospect of clawing back six points on Manchester United in the space of six games seemed a remote one at that moment and yet, in this of all title races, Wenger knew it was too early to call time on his team's chances.
Sure enough, United were held at Newcastle on Tuesday night to leave a chink of light for the Frenchman and his players. Ultimately, a win at Tottenham would leave them where they wanted to be after the weekend - four points off the leaders with a home game against Sir Alex Ferguson's side looming large.
Wenger was still smarting from the manner of his team's late slip against Liverpool when he sat down to speak to Arsenal TV Online a day before the North London derby but his determination was as steely as ever.
"It’s difficult to swallow the equaliser [that Liverpool scored] but you look forward and you want to put it right again in the next game. That’s what our job is about," he told Arsenal.com.
"When you play at Arsenal Football Club you need to have the mental dimension to deal with that. We are on a 15-game unbeaten run and we want to continue that. Maybe, you never know, it will be a point that will be helpful at the end of the season.
"Mentally it’s important to get over the disappointment we had on Sunday. It is a big test of character, of course, but I have had a few tests - in 15 years you go through a few tests. We lacked a little change of pace against Liverpool but sometimes that can come back quickly and hopefully we can find that on Wednesday.
"We want to get close to Manchester United to still have a chance to win this Premier League. I still believe it’s absolutely important, essential that we give absolutely every drop of blood to do it."
It's easy to make a case for United dropping more points on the run-in - they face Chelsea as well as Arsenal - but on recent evidence it's hard to be so sure that Arsenal will reel off the six wins they need to pile the pressure on the leaders. For now Wenger just wants the derby to act as a springboard.
"It’s realistic to have an approach to win the next one and the next one is a big one," he said. "Let’s give absolutely everything to win this one.
"We are not in a period where we can calculate, I believe it is important that we give absolutely everything to win our next game. It’s not about hoping for anything from others. I feel the team has been hard done by recently but has kept going and fighting. You want that away from home, we feel strong away from home so let’s do it again on Wednesday."
It's worth noting that United have actually dropped more points than Arsenal from winning positions this season but it's fair to say that Wenger's side have perhaps suffered more dramatic implosions. Four up at Newcastle, they could only muster a draw. Asked to hold out for two minutes against Liverpool, they failed to win. And no Arsenal fan will forget how the joy of a two-goal lead against Tottenham in November was replaced by the despair of a 3-2 home derby defeat - their first since Jack Wilshere was in nappies.
"I felt we did very well against Spurs in the first half in the Premier League game," recalled Wenger. "We lost our shape a little bit in the second half and we were caught on a set-piece.
"But we always play good games against Spurs and we played very well in September in the Carling Cup."
Spurs have seen the best and the worst of Arsenal this season and that 4-1 win at the Lane in September will give Wenger cause for optimism tonight, as will the latest injury bulletin. Bacary Sagna's knee problem has cleared up so he could replace Emmanuel Eboue at right back while Alex Song is fit to start despite sporting a huge strapping on his leg when he emerged from the bench on Sunday.
Lukasz Fabianski (shoulder) is now a lone presence in the treatment room so Wenger will travel to White Hart Lane with considerably more resources than he did last April when a depleted Arsenal side saw their title bid ended in a 2-1 defeat made famous by Danny Rose's once-in-a-lifetime-strike.
Tottenham have improved since then and, after a eye-opening debut campaign in the Champions League, are chasing the top-four finish that will buy them another ticket for the best ride in Europe. Harry Redknapp will parade the newly-crowned PFA Player of the Year but, while Wenger admires Gareth Bale, he believes that the signing of Rafael van der Vaart has given Spurs "something extra in the final third".
That said, the Arsenal manager is not expecting any more Rose-like pyrotechnics this evening.
"You do not learn [from that]," he said. "A player who never played put it in the top of the net, you can never learn from that because that can happen any day in football. The good thing is that it doesn’t always happen.
"It is a derby and it is a big game for us. It is a game where a lot is at stake and last year it was the same.
"Tottenham have had a good season. Yes, they have come up in the last two years and they have moved forward. The competition always becomes harder and harder for everybody at the top. But we will not go with any fear into that game. We have to go with the desire to win it and play. We will not stand at the back and wait for Spurs to play, we will try to play.
"Don’t worry, we want to show we have the mental dimension to play for this Club. The players want to show that and there is no better way to do that than against Spurs. The derby can make you a man because you have to show you can deal with it and you can grow."
Wenger has won a title at White Hart Lane. He's lost one there too. Tonight will tell us if his players have it in them to take this year's race to the wire.
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