Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Preview

THE QUOTE

"You enjoy it after the game if you win. Before you have the tension and you have the focus to prepare and to give your team the best chance to win the game. That’s what you focus on."

THE SET-UP

Arsene Wenger has presided over 43 north London derbies in nearly 18 years at Arsenal. He has an enviable record - winning 21 and losing just six of those local scraps for supremacy. But he knows that counts for nothing when another derby day looms large.

06:37

Wenger pre-Tottenham

The red and white halves of north London have been reasonably well matched in recent years. Indeed, Tottenham came as close as any club to breaking Arsenal's proud record of 17 consecutive top-four finishes in 2006, 2012 and 2013.

Wenger's side just kept their noses in front in those seasons and enjoyed the better of last term's trilogy - doing the double in the Premier League and knocking Spurs out of the FA Cup, all without conceding a goal.

Arsenal fans have fond memories of those twin 5-2 triumphs at Emirates Stadium - within seven months of each other in 2012 - but those same fans will wake up with that familiar feeling in their gut on Saturday. A win would be great, but just don't lose.

"You enjoy it after the game if you win," said Wenger, responding to a question about whether he actually enjoys these taught, tense fixtures.

"You feel suddenly on the Monday before the game that something has changed and you wonder first of all what has changed. Of course it's the tension before the derby.

"Before you have the tension and you have the focus to prepare and to give your team the best chances to win the game. That’s what you focus on. Satisfaction comes with the feeling that you have done a good job so let’s do a good job first."

ARSENAL

Arsenal could have three derby debutants in action on Saturday - Calum Chambers, Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez. All three are in fine fettle.

Wenger praised Chambers again ahead of this weekend's game after the 19-year-old handled his midweek Southampton reunion with his now customary calmness. Welbeck broke his duck in his last appearance and is gradually finding the rhythm of Arsenal's game.

As for Alexis, he looks more and more like Arsenal's trump card. Their game-changer. The club's marquee summer signing scores vital goals - the winner against Besiktas - and spectacular ones - see Manchester City at home.

 

Alexis Sanchez scoring against Manchester City

Alexis Sanchez scoring against Manchester City

 

 

Tuesday night's unstoppable free-kick, albeit in a losing cause, showcased Alexis' ability to make the difference and Wenger thinks he will get better and better.

"His free-kick was fantastic and he will be of course an important asset offensively once he has adapted to our game," said the manager.

"I still think he's in an adaptation period at the moment but once he has adapted to the way we want to play he will be a fantastic asset for us."

With Theo Walcott not due back until after the international break, Alexis could start on the right against Tottenham. Mathieu Flamini is also in contention after shrugging off a leg problem, but Nacho Monreal (back) is not ready to return.

THE OPPOSITION

Tottenham made a raft of new signings last year but this summer their most significant addition was new manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Before he joined Southampton, the Argentine was best known to English football fans as the man who brought down Michael Owen to concede a penalty in the 1998 World Cup.

Pochettino punched well above his weight on the south coast and Tottenham believe he is the man to get the most out of an expensively-assembled squad at White Hart Lane.

The Spurs manager is a former team-mate of Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta at Paris Saint-Germain and Wenger is a fan.

"It was not easy for him [at Southampton] because [Nigel] Adkins had done a great job," said the Frenchman. "He came on and he did a great job as well.

"Now he's at Spurs and it's another level, another demand and the expectation level is higher. It's a new experience for him but he's shown at Southampton that he can cope with the pressure."

Tottenham have made additions to their playing squad - Ben Davies, Eric Dier and Federico Fazio among them - but Pochettino's main concern will be to coax the best out of the likes of Erik Lamela, who struggled to impose himself in his first season in the Premier League.

SUMMING UP

Arsenal are unbeaten in the Premier League season but Wenger is the first to admit that they have only shown their best form in patches.

"It is a bit to do with the World Cup, post-World Cup, but I believe we had a tricky start to the season," he explained. "Overall we have played five games, three away games, and three tricky games because Villa, Leicester and Everton are always difficult for anybody in this league.

"Last year nobody expected us to win that game and we did it. From then on we were quite strong."

"At home we played Man City and Crystal Palace so we've been given difficult games but once again we come back to last season - it is, in the Premier League, difficult to beat anybody, and the quicker we understand that, the better off we will be.

"We have been consistent, we have qualified for the Champions League, let's move on and go back into our real rhythm. I think the first half at Villa was very positive and we have to take encouragement from that."

There have certainly been glimpses of that 'real rhythm', and what better time to sustain it than a north London derby.

Optimists will say Arsenal are the form horse - unbeaten this season, having negotiated tricky fixtures against Everton and Man City, while Tottenham have failed to win their last three in the league.

Pessimists will wheel out the cliche that form counts for nothing in a derby. Indeed, they will talk of that form book being thrown out of the window.

But Wenger knows how to beat Tottenham and he will be confident of engineering a victory over a 10th different Spurs manager.

Arsene Wenger and Calum Chambers

Arsene Wenger and Calum Chambers

"Last year nobody expected us to win that game and we did it. From then on we were quite strong," he said.

"It's one of those weeks, I'm confident we will be ready to do it and to have a positive week. Let's start well on Saturday, let's be pragmatic and focused and determined to win the first one."

Wenger will relish it. But he won't enjoy the derby until it's over.

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