Tottenham adjusting to change of status in north London
It was a 24-hour period at the start of November that really drove home the reality that Tottenham, after decades of playing second fiddle to Arsenal, was the new dominant force in north London.
A day after Tottenham achieved a coming-of-age 3-1 win over European champion Real Madrid in the Champions League in front of more than 80,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium, Arsenal was laboring to a 0-0 draw at home to Red Star Belgrade in the oft-maligned Europa League.
Spurs, with a coveted manager and young, exciting team, were suddenly the talk of European soccer. That used to be the case at Arsenal, but no more.
It’s why the two rivals find themselves in an unusual position heading into the north London derby on Saturday. For what seems like the first time in decades, Tottenham is widely regarded as a clear favorite even though the match is taking place at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
Tottenham finished above Arsenal in the Premier League last season — the first time that had happened since Wenger took charge of Arsenal in 1996 — and is three places and four points ahead of Arsenal after 11 games of this season.
Throw in Tottenham’s progress in the Champions League, and the shift in power is clear.
Wenger won’t accept it, however.
“No, not at all,” he said, when asked if he thought Arsenal will be the underdog on Saturday. “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.”
Moments earlier at the news conference Thursday, Wenger had interrupted a reporter who pointed out that Arsenal had dominated Tottenham for a “long time.”
“For 20 years,” Wenger said, before smiling.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that it was Arsenal which ended last season with a trophy — the FA Cup — and Tottenham’s critics argue that Mauricio Pochettino’s team need to win silverware as a form of validation of its progress. That might not happen this season.
Tottenham, which finished third and second in the last two seasons of the Premier League, is already eight points behind first-place Manchester City and is out of the English League Cup.
Pochettino, who hasn’t been on the losing side in six meetings with Arsenal as Tottenham manager, accepted that history does count when assessing the relative merits of the sides.
“In the last 22, 23 years, we have only finished above Arsenal one time,” Pochettino said Thursday. “So that does not mean today we are above Arsenal. We must respect them. They were great (in the) Arsene Wenger era, and I think for us it’s a massive challenge to stay there and to be competitive against a team that, in the last 20 years, wins more trophies than us.”
Pochettino had mixed news on the injury front, saying that Toby Alderweireld might be out until January because of a hamstring problem but that Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Harry Winks and Hugo Lloris had returned to training after injury.
Kane has scored in his last five games against Arsenal.
Arsenal will be without injured striker Olivier Giroud, while Wenger has to decide whether to recall Alexandre Lacazette to the team after leaving the France international out of two big games this season already, at Liverpool and Man City.
Lacazette has only completed 90 minutes once since his summer arrival from Lyon.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80