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AVB hits back at Arsenal star ahead of crucial Chelsea clash

Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham Hotspur manager. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham Hotspur manager. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Tuesday, May 7, 2013
3:57 PM

Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas today insisted criticism by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will have no impact on his side’s quest for Champions League football, which continues at Chelsea tomorrow.

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All three London clubs are locked in a battle to finish in the top four of the Premier League, with tomorrow’s showdown at Stamford Bridge set to play a key part in the final outcome.

Following the Gunners’ 1-0 win at QPR on Saturday, which followed on from Spurs victory over Southampton, goalkeeper Szczesny claimed their bitter rivals “do not have enough quality” to finish ahead of them.

Villas-Boas, though, insisted those comments were misplaced - and questioned the status of the 23-year-old, who has been at Arsenal since 2008, to make such bold remarks.

“He is entitled to his opinion. It is absolutely fine. You don’t expect love from an Arsenal player to Tottenham player. If it touches a bit lack of respect, it is normal in a rivalry,” the Portuguese said.

“I think it would have been a little more tolerable if it had come from a genuine Arsenal fan.

“Coming from an Arsenal player, he is an Arsenal player who is probably only passing by to another club, or who is not going to stay there for life. In the end if he means exactly those words from the heart.. he doesn’t, for sure.

“I wouldn’t say that an Arsenal fan (player) that has just arrived in that club for the last couple of years is entitled to so much hatred towards Tottenham like he seems to have.”

Spurs head to Stamford Bridge in fifth place, but just two points behind Arsenal and three from Chelsea.

Villas-Boas, 35, was sacked by Chelsea in March 2012 only nine months after they had paid Porto some £13million compensation to bring him back to the club where he worked as part of Jose Mourinho’s coaching team.

The Portuguese, however, insists there will be nothing “special” about the return tomorrow which will be the first since his departure.

“It is a club which I have gone past,” said the 35-year-old, who was appointed by Spurs last July as Harry Redknapp’s successor.

“I have good and bad memories like everyone else, but it was a period which did not finish the way I would have liked.

“Before I was manager there I was in Jose’s team and I had some wonderful years there. Probably the ones that I have spent there as a manager aren’t that special, so in that sense, as I have said previously, it doesn’t have that kind of effect on me.

“It is not very, very special.”

Villas-Boas added: “I have made it public several times, that I have done things a bit differently (here) based on experiences of the past, and they include good and bad experiences.”

Villas-Boas’ replacement Roberto di Matteo was also dismissed, despite guiding the club to FA Cup and Champions League glory.

Interim manager Rafael Benitez has endured his fare share of testing times this season, but has managed to move Chelsea back up into third place and into the final of the Europa League.

Villas-Boas has some sympathy for the Spaniard.

“He made his frustrations public, which probably gave him an edge to work more comfortably, because people in the end understood their behaviour was also threatening the team’s balance,” the Tottenham boss said.

“For any manager who has to go past those frustrations for the fans, it is difficult, so I have great respect for that.”

Blues owner Roman Abramovich pulled the plug on Villas-Boas’ ambitious three-year “project” early, as the young manager’s plans to start phasing out the likes of Frank Lampard and John Terry played a part in his downfall.

It remains to be seen how the Chelsea support - so vocal in their criticism of Benitez - will react to his return in the visitors’ dugout.

Villas-Boas said: “Whatever reception I will get, it comes from their hearts, so I respect that, and it is absolutely fine.”

Spurs head to Stoke at the weekend, and then finish the campaign off at home against Sunderland.

Villas-Boas challenged his team to keep Champions League qualification in their own hands.

“At the moment all of us feel the pressure in some way to try to achieve our results,” he said.

“Our drive is to set out to win, so that we will depend on ourselves for the remaining fixtures.”

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