By Chris Harris
"These games are high intensity and high intensity is dictated by how well you prepare mentally and how well you’re ready physically. I believe that on both sides that we will be ready." - Arsene Wenger
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Arsenal supporters have plenty to thank Arsene Wenger for, and his record against Tottenham is right up there.
If you subscribe to the view that 'you don't have to win the derby, just don't lose it', Wenger has spared Gunners fans their fair share of sheepish moments when they face Spurs-supporting friends after another local flare-up.
Those who followed Arsenal between March 19, 2000 and January 22, 2008 revelled in a record 21-match unbeaten run against Tottenham. And you need to be well into your twenties to recall the last time Spurs finished above Arsenal - way back in 1995.
So many derby stats make for happy reading from an Arsenal perspective. But they won't matter come 12.45pm on Saturday.
Every new derby day is a clean slate for players and fans alike. And even the most begrudging Gooner will accept that - on the pitch - Spurs have closed the gap in recent years.
Wenger's 45th north London scrap happens to be his 700th Premier League game as Arsenal manager, and he thinks the derby is as compelling as ever.
"It's the special attention, the special tension, the special importance and the historic rivalry between the two teams - that makes the derby highlighted and everybody is focused on it," said Wenger.
Don't believe that stuff about the form book 'going out of the window' on derby day. It helps if you're in fine fettle - and Arsenal are.
A 5-0 victory over Aston Villa stretched their winning run to five and Wenger attributes his team's resurgence to a freshness in the squad as players return from injury.
"Especially offensively, it’s very important sometimes to get somebody in who is completely refreshed," he said. "It also gives you many more opportunities to adapt to the difficulties that you meet in each game, to change that."
"He has a good balance between playing collectively and when something individual is needed, he has it in the locker as well"
No one looks fresher than Arsenal's creative thirty-somethings. Santi Cazorla has been crowned Player of the Month again while Tomas Rosicky's form provoked a memorable quote from Wenger - "If you love football, you love Rosicky".
"I just think it looks a natural sentence," said the manager. "It came to me because it’s just so natural for him to play the game. He has a good balance between playing collectively and when something individual is needed, he has it in the locker as well and he uses it very well.
"I believe what has changed in [Santi] is that he’s a very good player now offensively and defensively. Since he has moved into the middle he can bring these qualities to the team and of course his technical ability always helps you to get out of pressure.
"Santi knows he’s an important player as well - that helps you gain confidence. What people forget is that there’s a huge passion for him about the game. You feel that he’s happy on the pitch and that he wants to play, he wants the ball no matter what. I always like the player who wants the ball when it’s 0-0 in the first 10 minutes, as much as when you win 3-0."
Rosicky, an emphatic matchwinner at White Hart Lane last season, will vie for a starting place with Cazorla and Mesut Ozil. Further forward, Danny Welbeck is back in contention after a thigh injury, but Alexis is still recovering from a hamstring problem.
Spurs have blown hot and cold in recent weeks - putting five past Chelsea before losing at home to Leicester - but they do have a Premier League revelation in their forward line.
Homegrown star Harry Kane has exploded on to the scene with 20 goals this term - including nine in his last 13 games. The 21-year-old is an instinctive finisher and Wenger is a fan.
"He has blossomed well, he has power and it will be important for us to keep him quiet on Saturday," said the Arsenal manager. "It’s impressive the way he has made his way through and his personality shows on the pitch.
"He’s one of the players that since the start of the season has made a big impact in the Premier League. When the players have the quality, they play, no matter where they are from. That’s why we have to support that.
"It makes the game interesting as Spurs are in good form as well in the Premier League," added Wenger. "They had some good games at home but for us it’s another opportunity to show that we can deal well with the big games."
Arsenal dealt particularly well with their last big game on the road - that 2-0 win at Manchester City.
"That certainly has increased our belief," said Wenger. "There was a big question mark above the team, about our ability to do it in the big games.
"We knew we could do it in the Champions League but to do it as well in the Premier League certainly was a big hurdle for us. I’m confident it will help us to deal well with the rest of the season’s big games."
"When you don’t concede goals you want to keep it like that and the more you can do it, the more you’re encouraged to do it"
Arsenal have been searching for consistency all season, and recent results suggest they have found it. Fifteen goals in five games is the headline figure but Arsenal's defensive stability is the rock on which the winning run was built.
It was noticeable in the Villa game how much pride Arsenal took in shutting out their beaten opponents. Per Mertesacker didn't give Christian Benteke an inch, while David Ospina pulled off a fine save in stoppage time to preserve the clean sheet.
"When you don’t concede goals you want to keep it like that and the more you can do it, the more you’re encouraged to do it," said Wenger. "It’s a good way to deal with the situation - let’s keep a clean sheet and if you can manage to do it, it incites you to do it again.
"Our defensive stability has been tested and it has been our resolve to defend well together. We had a few wake-up calls and I just think that we are focused on defending well together. Maybe there’s more urgency [now] in the way we defend."
Urgency will be required at White Hart Lane on Saturday, the scene of a siege last season as Arsenal withstood wave after wave of attack following Rosicky's early goal. Wenger wants his players to be ready for another high-tempo, high-octane encounter.
"These games are high intensity and high intensity is dictated by how well you prepare mentally and how well you’re ready physically," he said. "I believe that on both sides that we will be ready. It can be a spectacular game."
It could be spectacular. It could be deadly dull. Arsenal fans won't really mind what Saturday's derby looks like - as long as north London is red at the end of it.
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