London (AFP) – Tottenham Hotspur can end 22 years of mockery from the supporters of arch rivals Arsenal on Sunday, but for their ambitious manager Mauricio Pochettino it is a minor concern.
Arsenal have finished above Spurs every season since 1994-95 and their fans have taken to calling the day when they can no longer be overtaken by their local foes ‘St Totteringham’s Day’.
Spurs will finish above Arsenal if they beat them at White Hart Lane, but with Premier League leaders Chelsea currently just four points above them, Pochettino has weightier objectives in mind.
“My challenge and my aim is not to be above Arsenal,” Pochettino said in Friday’s pre-game press conference at the Spurs training ground in Enfield, north London.
“My challenge and my aim is to be above 19 teams and be on the top. That is my challenge, my aim, my dream.
“I don’t care what happens with Arsenal, with all my respect. What I care is what happens with us. That’s our big, big challenge at Tottenham.”
St Totteringham’s Day arrived in cruel fashion last season, after Spurs had emerged as the closest rivals to eventual champions Leicester City.
They needed victory at relegated Newcastle United on the final day to secure second place, but capitulated to a humiliating 5-1 defeat, enabling Arsenal to pip them after a 4-0 home win over Aston Villa.
Sunday’s game will be especially poignant for the home fans as it is due to be the final north London derby played at White Hart Lane.
Spurs will play their home games at Wembley next season before moving into their new home, which is being built on the site of their current stadium, in August 2018.
“Maybe it will be the last derby, but we are playing from the beginning of the season as if it’s the last game at White Hart Lane,” said Pochettino.
“Everyone behaves with an energy that is amazing and you can be sure Sunday is a special game and we will try altogether to win.”
It could also, potentially, be Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s final derby, amid ongoing uncertainty about his future at the club.
– Power shift –
The Frenchman has previously overseen 49 derbies, winning 22 and losing only seven.
Arsenal have been buoyed by victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals last weekend and a late 1-0 win at home to Leicester in mid-week.
They lie five points off the Champions League places in sixth place, but with a game in hand, and their cause was helped by Thursday’s 0-0 draw between Manchester City and Manchester United.
Spurs are 14 points ahead of them, having played a game more, but Wenger gave short shrift to talk of a power shift.
“You cannot say that the weight of one year has the weight of 20,” he said.
“The priority for us is to finish in the top four. After that, for the pride and the continuity or our achievements, yes we want to fight to be in front of Spurs.
“We have to focus on what is really important to us at this moment, which is to finish in the top four.
“Let’s be honest, I’ve answered that question about a shift in power over 18 consecutive years. Nothing changes in that.”
Wenger has indicated he could persevere with the three-man defence he has been using of late, despite having jettisoned it during the second half of Wednesday’s win against Leicester.
Arsenal are certain to be without Shkodran Mustafi due to a thigh injury and his central defensive partner Laurent Koscielny is a doubt with a knee problem.
Spurs midfielder Mousa Dembele faces a race against time to be fit after sustaining an ankle injury.
Left-back Danny Rose is unlikely to feature despite having resumed training following a three-month lay-off with a knee problem, so Ben Davies could continue to deputise.
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