Arsene Wenger has dismissed suggestions Arsenal have already fallen behind Tottenham in North London’s balance of power and believes his young team will improve next season.
They remain six points behind second-placed Spurs, albeit with a game in hand, and are widely considered to be out of the race for this season’s Premier League title.
The possibility of Spurs finishing higher than them in the league for the first time since Wenger’s appointment in 1996 is distinct.
And given Spurs’ youth and the likelihood they will be strengthened further by qualifying for the Champions League, indications are that Wenger’s Arsenal may have finally fallen behind their bitter rivals.
Wenger insisted he remains hopeful of catching them during their final six league fixtures of the season, however, and also implied that their respective records during the past 18 years mean one superior league campaign changes little.
“First of all, we are not behind yet,” said the 66-year-old, whose team host Crystal Palace tomorrow. “Tottenham has been 18 years behind us, they survived you know, so let’s be realistic.
“If Leicester win on Sunday, it doesn’t change the fact that we have absolutely to win our game. Let’s prepare for that, no matter what the result of Leicester is. Leicester can still drop points on Sunday (at home to West Ham).”
During a disappointing second half of the season, Arsenal have been eliminated from the FA Cup and Champions League and fallen 13 points behind Leicester.
Alex Iwobi and January signing Mohamed Elneny have impressed in that time and Wenger revealed he expects his side to continue to develop.
The manager believes strengthening his present squad will prove difficult and — despite being criticised for signing only Petr Cech last summer and reports he intends to overhaul his team — he plans to retain Arsenal’s present core.
“You cannot dismiss the players,” said Wenger, who is expected to recall Cech against Palace but remains without Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky, despite their recent appearances for Arsenal’s under-21s.
“We spoke about Iwobi, he’s 19 years of age, Elneny 23, (Francis) Coquelin 24 — they will be stronger.
“You need to keep a core of players and strengthen where we can, but the team is going the right way. It’s difficult for us to accept we’re not completely there, but you have to accept that.
“If you look at the top three, you’ll see that the teams have not changed a lot.
“We have to strengthen, but it is not obvious, despite the money the English clubs will have, to find the players who will strengthen your squad. We will of course work very hard to do that and we are already working, but we have to find the players. It’s not easy.”
Meanwhile Palace boss Alan Pardew believes target men Emmanuel Adebayor and Connor Wickham can put the squeeze on Arsenal.
“Players of that size, power and pace can terrorise defences,” said Pardew, with Palace again without the injured Dwight Gayle.
“And that’s what we want Connor (Wickham) and Ade (Adebayor) to do for us.”
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