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By James Cunliffe
Saturday, March 15, 2014
Manager Arsene Wenger says that his Arsenal side won’t be concerned with trying to get Tottenham fans to turn on their own manager and misfiring team in Sunday’s north London derby.
Spurs’ top four hopes hang in the balance after three Premier League defeats in a row, while a 3-1 midweek home defeat to Benfica has left them staring at a Europa League exit.
The focus is on Lilywhites head coach Tim Sherwood after he publicly criticised his men follwing last weekend’s 4-0 capitulation to Premier League leaders Chelsea.
The Stamford Bridge side, seven points clear at the summit, are the team that title-chasing Arsenal are hoping to catch as they look to change their luck at a White Hart Lane ground where they have not tasted victory in the league since 2007.
However, doing so could have the added impetus of delivering a killer blow to the Champions League dreams of their bitter rivals.
“We have not so much to speculate that Tottenham fans will turn against their team,” Wenger said.
“I think we have to turn up with a performance. It’s a derby, a special atmosphere, always. The two crowds support their team no matter what happens and we have just to focus on us.
“It’s exciting to play big games and Tottenham-Arsenal is a big game.”
Sherwood’s fledgling managerial career has not been helped by persistant rumours that he will be replaced in the summer, despite signing an 18-month contract in January.
Wenger, who is the longest serving boss in English football and is a week away from celebrating his 1,000th game in charge of Arsenal, insisted his Spurs counterpart should be given time.
“I’m always pleading for stability,” the Frenchman said. “Maybe you can say I preach for myself but I think technical stability is important.
“It will become more and more difficult because in every single game there is a trial happening now on what has the manager done wrong and right.
“Certainly, the stability will be much more difficult.”
He added: “I like the fact that he’s [Sherwood] earned his job and gets a chance.
“In England you complain, rightly so, that young managers don’t get a chance. When they get one you have to support them.”
The last time Arsenal faced Tottenham was in the FA Cup. A 2-0 victory for the red half of north London was the prize that day but it came at a price as Theo Walcott injured his knee and was ruled out for the rest of the season and this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
The striker caused a stir as he was stretchered off injured, by gesturing the score to the Tottenham fans as a minority pelted the striker with coins.
“I never tell them to provoke,” said Wenger when asked if he’ll have a special calming message for his players this time.
“You know Theo, it was not done in a bad spirit. He got some coins [thrown at him] so he responded to it like that.
“Unfortunately, the bad news on that night was his injury.”
The Gunners’ growing list of crocks is a current worry for their manager as he revealed yesterday that record signing Mesut Ozil could be out for up to six weeks with a grade two hamstring tear.
The German international joins Jack Wilshere (foot), Aaron Ramsey (thigh), Kieran Gibbs (calf), Walcott and Abou Diaby (both knee) in the treatment room, though January loan signing Kim Kallstrom could be in contention for Sunday’s squad and his debut after arriving with a back problem.
Wenger admitted the club will have to look at every possible reason for why so many of his top stars a suffering serious problems but he added: “It’s very difficult to find an obvious reason why.
“For example, a player like Ozil, he was rested against Stoke, he was on the bench.
“He goes to Germany [on international duty], they train differently and sometimes it’s a different ground, different training session.
“He played the whole game for Germany against Chile. After [that] he played the whole game for us against Everton on Saturday.
“He produced on that day above what he is usually doing and he paid for it on Tuesday. Why? I don’t know.
“It’s not obvious to find the reason.”
But even missing an array of absent stars, Wenger insists his side go into the derby in good spirits, after drawing 1-1 at Bayern Munich in midweek, although it was not enough to prevent a Champions League exit at the hands of the Germans for the second consecutive season.
“We should take confidence from our last two performances and we have to make sure that, commitment-wise, at the same level [as Spurs],” the Gunners boss said, adding: “We know that the end of season we have in front of us, every game is a final for us.
“We are in a position where we can do well in the league; we can do well in the FA Cup. That demands confidence and confidence is linked with results.”