LONDON, April 28 (Reuters) - Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal will remain the major force in north London even if Tottenham Hotspur overturn decades of dominance to finish above the Gunners in the Premier League this season.
Arsenal have never ended below Tottenham in Wenger’s 21 years at the club although the gap has been narrowing, and last season they only leapfrogged Spurs into second spot on the final day of the season.
Victory at White Hart Lane on Sunday would almost certainly ensure that second-placed Spurs finish above Arsenal for the first time since 1995, but Wenger said a one-off achievement could not outweigh a long run of success.
”Let’s be honest, I’ve answered that question about a shift in power over (many) ...years,“ he told British media on Friday. ”Nothing changes in that.
”Do Spurs have to do more over a long period of time? I think so. You cannot say that the weight of one year has the weight of 20....
“For the pride and the continuity or our achievements, yes we want to fight to be in front of Spurs. (But) we have to focus on what is really important to us at this moment, which is to finish in the top four.”
The Tottenham-Arsenal derby is one of fiercest in English football with less than five miles separating the clubs who first played each other in 1887. Arsenal have posted 80 victories to Tottenham’s 61, with 51 matches drawn.
Wenger suggested another victory for his team on Sunday might even kick-start a winning run towards a third-placed finish in the league.
But he acknowledged that Spurs, 14 points and four places above his side, would start as favourites as they seek a ninth successive league win.
Victory would also silence talk among Arsenal supporters of St Totteringham’s Day, the moment each season when they celebrate the mathematical certainty of finishing above Spurs.
“It is certainly one of the few times where, if you look at people’s opinions, Spurs are favourites,” said Wenger.
“I think we have shown persistence, tenacity and desire to win and keep going at any cost. You could see what it means to the squad when we scored against Leicester (in midweek). These qualities will of course be very important.”
Wenger reported positive injury news on Friday with defender Laurent Koscielny likely to return and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who missed the midweek 1-0 victory, definitely fit.
“He will be fit enough to start because it was more precautionary to leave him on the bench (against Leicester),” said Wenger. “I didn’t want to take the gamble with him.”
Reporting by Neil Robinson; editing by John Stonestreet