Friday 23 March 2018

Wenger urges team not to be distracted by Spurs form

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger kicks a ball during a team training session in London Colney November 22. Photo: PA
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger kicks a ball during a team training session in London Colney November 22. Photo: PA

Jim van Wijk

Arsene Wenger has warned Arsenal to concentrate on getting themselves into the knockout stages of the Champions League with victory over Borussia Dortmund tonight rather than worry about the form of arch-rivals Tottenham.

The Gunners head into tonight's European tie at Emirates Stadium having recorded a fifth straight Barclays Premier League win when they beat Norwich 2-1 away on Saturday to move within striking distance of the top four.

It is some turnaround in fortunes following an appalling start to the season, which saw the Gunners slump to 17th.

However, with Chelsea struggling for consistency, Tottenham have found themselves London's leading challengers to the Manchester duo following their impressive Monday night win over Aston Villa which leaves them third with a game in hand.

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere, currently out injured, has vowed to donate £3,000 to charity should the Gunners finish behind their north-London rivals in May.

While Wenger agrees with Spurs manager Harry Redknapp that, mathematically at least, it is not impossible for them - or indeed half-a-dozen sides - to eventually go on to win the league, the Arsenal manager wants his squad to focus on themselves rather than any bragging rights.

"At the moment Spurs are fighting for the top four like we do. At the end we can both be in the top four, and we will try everything possible to be in front of them, but that is not enough for me," said Wenger, whose side were beaten 2-1 at White Hart Lane in October.

"With or without Tottenham what we want is to be in the top four, that is our target."

Wenger added: "It is a long way to go. I don't believe we have to focus on Spurs, we have to focus on us improving.

"It is important that we don't get confused about what we want to achieve. What we want to do is improve and play better.

"We have come from far. You could see the game at Chelsea has helped the team to improve.

"Our consistency has helped the team improve, and qualifying from the Champions League group will give us a lift again."

Victory tonight would see Arsenal qualify to the knockout stages - for the 12 season in a row - with a match to spare, although not necessarily at the top of Group F.

Much like the Gunners, Dortmund have found their form in recent weeks, although they still face a struggle to avoid elimination.

Wenger knows just what a "big test" is ahead, given Dortmund's 1-0 win at Bayern Munich which saw Jurgen Kopp's side cut the deficit on the Bundesliga leaders down to two points.

"It is another big test for our solidity and we will go into the game with that attitude, concentration and desire to win the game," said Wenger, whose side drew 1-1 in Germany on Matchday One.

"We feel strong enough to be at home and finish the job."

Mario Gotze is Dortmund's flare player, having scored the winner at Bayern Munich and the young midfielder continues to attract reports of a big-money move - with Arsenal a possible destination.

Wenger, though, played down suggestions he was set to make a £30million swoop for the 19-year-old when the transfer window reopens in January.

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