English Premiership

Wenger rallies his troops

2014-03-15 09:21
Arsene Wenger (AFP)

London - Arsene Wenger has challenged Arsenal to revive their English Premiership title challenge by adding to the troubles of their bitter rivals Tottenham in a vital north London derby on Sunday.

Wenger's side will be 10 points behind leaders Chelsea by the time they kick off at White Hart Lane if Jose Mourinho's men win at Aston Villa on Saturday.

But Wenger is convinced his team can still overhaul their title rivals and the Gunners manager believes the short trip down the Seven Sisters Road to face beleaguered Tottenham is the ideal place to start.

After leading the top-flight table for a long period, Arsenal have surrendered the initiative with just one win in their last four league matches.

Yet Arsenal's wobble pales in comparison to the problems across north London, where Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood is engaged in a battle to save his job three months after taking over from Andre Villas-Boas.

Sherwood's surprise appointment looked like a masterstroke by chairman Daniel Levy when Spurs won five of their first six matches under the former Blackburn midfielder.

But Sherwood has seemed increasingly uncomfortable in recent weeks as Tottenham's form has dipped, culminating in his stinging criticism of his players' lack of character following last weekend's 4-0 thrashing at Chelsea.

With reports claiming Levy is already sounding out potential replacements, Sherwood desperately needed to restore morale in Thursday's Europa League tie against Benfica.

Instead, his players hardly looked like they had taken their manager's words to heart as they slumped to a lacklustre 3-1 defeat which was most memorable for Sherwood adding to the impression of a man feeling the heat as he became embroiled in a touchline spat with Benfica coach Jorge Jesus.

In the circumstances, Wenger knows Sherwood can ill-afford to lose Sunday's derby showdown and he hopes the pressure on Spurs will aid his team's bid to get back on track after their midweek exit from the Champions League against Bayern Munich.

"It has always been difficult at White Hart Lane, but we are in a position where of course we want to win the game, because after losing at Stoke, it is very important," Wenger said.

"We had a good result against Everton in the FA Cup, we had a good result even at Bayern, but we must continue and have no more weak moments before the end of the season."

The Gunners have already beaten Spurs twice this season, but Wenger's team are unlikely to be overconfident after losing their previous two visits to White Hart Lane.

Their cause isn't helped by the absence of Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil, who will be sidelined for several weeks with a grade two hamstring tear suffered against Bayern.

Even so, Wenger is confident the loss of Ozil won't prevent Arsenal getting their title challenge back on course.

"It is a blow of course, but I am confident we have the quality to deal without him during that period," he said.

"We have many creative players in our squad who can take over and produce quality performances.

"I am convinced that the team is ready, even without Ozil, to go for the challenge."

Fifth placed Tottenham still have more than just north London pride to play for as they try to close the gap on fourth placed Manchester City in the race to qualify for the Champions League.

Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen is adamant his team-mates shouldn't let Sherwood take the blame for the club's current woes and he made it clear they need to raise their game this weekend.

"I have only been here for a few months but I still know how a derby is," Eriksen said.

"Now it is at home and I am looking forward to it. I think a positive result will give everything and everybody a big boost.

"Hopefully we will be way better on Sunday than what we were against Benfica.

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16 August 2014
Manchester United v Swansea City, Old Trafford 13:45
West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur, Boleyn Ground 16:00
Stoke City v Aston Villa, Britannia Stadium 16:00
Leicester City v Everton, King Power Stadium 16:00
Queens Park Rangers v Hull City, Loftus Road Stadium 16:00
West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland, The Hawthorns 16:00
Arsenal v Crystal Palace, Emirates Stadium 18:30
17 August 2014
Liverpool v Southampton, Anfield 14:30
Newcastle United v Manchester City, St. James' Park 17:00
18 August 2014
Burnley v Chelsea, Turf Moor 21:00
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