Arsenal meet Tottenham in the first north London derby of the season. The Gunners have won just of their last eight Premier League matches against their north London rivals. Spurs have won their last six matches in a row in all competitions and ended Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season with a 3-1 victory last weekend.
Ahead of the Sunday’s game, Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino has faced the press.
Spurs and Arsenal both come into the game in good form, what must give?
I think it will be tough the game, first of all. It will be an exciting game with two very good teams. We have to hope that in the end we can have very good performance and can win the game. That’s our objective.
What’s the difference since Wenger has gone?
Of course after Wenger era always when this situation happens with a new manager arriving things change in the club. I have a very good relationship with Unai, he is a great manager, he’s doing a fantastic job there. Of course, Arsenal have always been a good team with very good players and unbelievable management from one of the greatest managers ever. Now it is a completely different culture with a manager who is Spanish. It will be tough because they are doing a good job at the beginning of the season and signed very good players too. I think the squad has very good quality and it will be tough.
He recommended you for the Valencia job back in 2012, can you talk us through what happened?
I think it’s so clear. I saw an interview in a newspaper in Spain, that was true and I called him to say thank you and of course I am so grateful and of course, it made me feel happy that one of your colleagues, like Unai, recommends you to another team. Of course, we face each other in Spain, when we were there, we built a very good personal relationship.
He looks at opponents more than other managers, does that make your job more difficult?
Of course, he is for me an unbelievable manager, he showed at different clubs in Europe It will be tough to play against him, against teams managed by him and Arsenal have very good players and of course it is a derby, an exciting game which means a lot for the fans. It’s an emotional component, which makes it more difficult to play these type of games.
Are you confident your players have the mentality to change their history at the Emirates?
Yes, I think the mentality so far is so good. I think now it is about delivering the job. We have the belief which is most important in football. The belief and faith that you can beat any team away from home or at home and I think today the squad have that belief and that is the most important. Then the performance can be good or not so good. Then you have some luck or not in different games, but with the right mentality, all is possible.
Is it a relief to play away from the Wembley pitch?
I don’t know what they say but only I am so happy to play at Wembley. Of course, the pitch is not the best but that circumstance we knew that maybe that moment arrives and we maybe struggle with the pitch at Wembley but it is not Wembley’s fault, it is the circumstance that we need to take. When you play, against Chelsea or Inter, the situation is the same for both teams. Of course, you want to play on a better pitch but the circumstance is not Wembley’s fault and I think that it is just the circumstance that our stadium is not ready.
What do you put the improvement in Moussa Sissoko down to?
For me, we can not underestimate the platform that Tottenham offer for all players to improve. Not only him; Kieran Trippier, Dele Alli, Eric Dier or full-backs that became internationals like Danny Rose, Kyle Walker… or Harry Kane. In this case, you ask about Moussa Sissoko, the platform Tottenham provide is a massive opportunity for all the players to improve, that is important to recognise and not underestimate that situation. In the last four and a half years how the players improve is amazing and massive and that is a big credit to the platform Tottenham provide for the players.
You’re only five points off the top, are you title challengers?
We’re in a very good position in the table. If you consider last season at this moment I think we had six points less and we improve a lot from last season. We are closer than last season to the top. I cannot say we’re a contender for the title. I think Manchester City is in a different level and of course clubs like Liverpool, Chelsea, the same, Manchester United and Arsenal. They make more investment than us and in a different level. I think they need to show or be the contenders – or they are the contenders, more than us. But we’re there. If we’re capable in the last few months of the season to be in a good position in the table we’re going to try. But football is a belief, faith in your quality and then it’s approaching the game in the right attitude and the right way, and all is possible.
What do you make of the upcoming event at the new stadium?
It makes me feel very, very happy because it makes me feel we are close to competing there. I think it’s an important thing for the fans, for the club, to start to show our new home and it makes me very, very excited.
Is the top four battle stronger this season?
Yes, I think it’s tougher than last season because with the same points as this season last season I think we would be second. I think yes, to be in the top four this season will be tougher than the previous season. Yes, I agree. But we have the belief that we can do it and deliver a very good job and that’s the most important thing because we have the quality.
You know Emery well, what’s changed at Arsenal under him?
He is a very different manager and cultural person if you compare to Wenger. Wenger did a great job and was one of the best managers in history but now they have started a new era at Arsenal. Of course when a new manager arrives always arrive new ideas and different ways to do things. He is doing a very good job, they’ve made a good start in the Premier League and they’ve signed very good players. They had in the past a very good team. Of course, he is doing a fantastic job and is going to do a fantastic job because he is a great manager.
You’ve been involved in derbies around the world, how does the north London derby compare?
It’s difficult to compare and it’s not fair to compare. I was involved when I was a player in Newell’s Old Boys against Rosario Central or Espanyol against Barcelona or PSG against Marseille. Now as a manager it’s special, a special game. Always it’s tough to play this kind of game because it means more than other games. We know very well what this game means for our fans. Of course, but in the last few years, Arsenal, like different teams Chelsea and West Ham it is a derby and a special game and it means a lot for the fans. Every season we add one team more like Palace or Watford or now Fulham, another club in the Premier League.
Does it mean as much to the players?
Of course, the players feel that. The players are aware of what the game means. We have a lot of players who through the academy arrive in the first team. They know very well what it means to play Arsenal.
What are your thoughts on moving the Copa Libertadores second leg to the Bernabeu?
Still, we don’t know. It is still rumoured, many people say they confirm the game but in Argentina, they are still fighting to play there. I don’t know what they are going to say. Waiting for the official confirmed and we’ll see what happens but for me, it’s a sad moment. I think the Clasico is to play in Argentina. It’s completely different to play in Madrid if it’s true. Now it’s not important who is going to win or lose. I think what happened in Buenos Aires before the game, it’s not important the game, or the title, or who is going to win the Copa Libertadores.
Can the likes of Dele Alli, Sissoko and Ben Davies play three games in eight days?
We are assessing them, maybe yes, maybe no. We have tomorrow to decide. If we feel the player is going to take some risk then, of course, we are going to rest. It is not important the name. If we believe we need to rest some player we are going to rest, we are not going to take a risk. We are going to put a player that we believe can cope with 90 minutes of effort. We know you cannot 100 per cent avoid the risk on the player but we need to be sure the players that are going to play are ready to compete.
Do you have a tough decision in central defence, with Juan Foyth coming back and in form and Jan Vertonghen fit?
It’s easier when you don’t have options you need to play with the players you have. When you have options and all the players in the last few weeks are performing in a very good way if you take one decision or the other then you are right and that is the most important.