LONDON. — Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino has warned Arsene Wenger that Arsenal’s wealth of experience will count for nothing in the pressure-packed English Premier League soccer title race.
Pochettino’s side host the Gunners today in one of the most eagerly anticipated showdowns between these bitter north London rivals for decades.
With second-placed Tottenham, currently three points behind shock leaders Leicester City and three ahead of third-placed Arsenal, the latest battle for north London supremacy will have a significant influence on the outcome of both teams’ title bids.
After finishing below Arsenal for the last 20 years, Tottenham are finally in position to turn the tables as they look to win the English title for the first time since 1961 and such is the clamour to see the fixture that tickets are changing hands for up to £800 ($1 135) — nearly 10 times the most expensive face-value price.
Arsenal, who last lifted the English Premier League trophy in 2004, are the only side in the top three to have gone through the highs and lows of a title race in recent seasons.
But Pochettino, whose side saw their six-match winning run ended in a 1-0 loss at West Ham United on Wednesday, dismissed the theory that experience could be decisive as he pointed to Arsenal’s successive defeats against Manchester United and Swansea City this week.
“It’s difficult to know. If they have players that have the advantage to win the title, what happened against Manchester United or Swansea?,” Pochettino said.
“Different clubs sometimes sign a player or a manager with a big background or big trophies behind them. Sometimes they have success and sometimes not.
“You never know. Football is not an ordinary business. Anything can happen.”
Arsenal appear more vulnerable than ever and the absence of injured duo Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny will strengthen Tottenham’s belief that the balance of power in north London is about to change.
In fact, Arsenal’s hopes of capturing their first Premier League title in 12 years took a huge hit yesterday when it was revealed that goalkeeper Cech faces up to a month out injured.
The Czech Republic international suffered a muscular problem at the end of Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Swansea City.
That reverse left the Gunners six points behind Premier League leaders Leicester City in third place, ahead of today’s trip to second-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
Cech’s absence, confirmed by manager Arsene Wenger at a press conference yesterday, thrusts Colombian World Cup goalkeeper David Ospina into the spotlight.
Former Chelsea star Cech injured his calf as he raced back towards his own penalty area after coming up for a corner against Swansea.
Wenger said yesterday: “Cech is out. I have complete confidence in (David) Ospina, I don’t worry about that.”
The Frenchman defended his decision to play Cech amid claims the stopper was already carrying a minor groin injury.
He added: “Cech had a little groin problem but declared himself 100% fit. You trust the player. He is 33 years of age.”
Alexis Sanchez hardly helped Arsenal’s predicament when the Gunners winger publicly questioned his teammates’ hunger for success following the dismal Swansea defeat.
“I think we can win the Premier League with the players we have. That said, we lack a certain hunger,” Sanchez said.
“We need to step out onto the pitch as if we’re already 1-0 up. We lack self-belief, that we can actually be champions.”
Following a week of contrasting emotions, Leicester head for Watford today back in the driving seat in the title race.
The disappointment of a 2-2 draw at home to West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday was followed by the welcome bonus of seeing title rivals Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City all lose 24 hours later.
The upshot was that the Foxes travel to Vicarage Road with only 10 games standing between them and the completion of arguably the most unlikely title triumph in English football history.
“It is a going to be a really tough place to go,” Leicester winger Marc Albrighton said of facing Watford.
“They have got some great players, some firepower up top, but we will be confident as ever.
“The season we have had is fantastic. We are not going to let a point at home dampen our confidence.”
Manuel Pellegrini has warned his City stars there can be no repeat of their woeful defeat at Liverpool if they are to revive their slender title hopes against Aston Villa.
City’s 3-0 loss was their third league defeat in a row and even though the League Cup winners have a game in a hand, bridging a 10-point gap between themselves and Leicester will be a monumental task.
“Of course, we cannot play in the way we did. Not only did we concede three goals but we didn’t shoot once,” Pellegrini said.
“The most important thing is to recover our level of performance in the Premier League because we have lost the last three.”
Manchester United, level on points with City in the race for a top-four finish, travel to West Brom tomorrow.
“We are showing passion,” United midfielder Ander Herrera said. “I’m optimistic because we can still fight for everything. We want to be in the top four.”
Fixtures (all 5pm unless stated)
Today: Chelsea v Stoke, Everton v West Ham, Manchester City v Aston Villa, Newcastle v Bournemouth, Southampton v Sunderland, Swansea v Norwich, Tottenham v Arsenal (2:45pm), Watford v Leicester (7:30pm)
Tomorrow: Crystal Palace v Liverpool (3:30pm), West Brom v Manchester United (6pm). — AFP.