Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has warned his side to concentrate on their own performance against Tottenham tomorrow, rather than worrying about what Gareth Bale might produce at White Hart Lane.
Wales international Bale scored his 15th Premier League goal with a superb last-minute winner to beat West Ham 3-2 on Monday night, which lifted Spurs up to third in the table.
The 23-year-old — once scouted by Arsenal when a youngster at Southampton — is being heralded as one of the best in Europe, up alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Wenger, though, maintains he has made no specifics tactics to try to shackle Bale, and instead expects his players to deliver their own A-game in what is expected to be a fiercely-contested north London derby as the duo battle for Champions League qualification.
“We don’t plan for anybody. It is always the same — focus on our strengths and forget about your opponent,” said Wenger, who will be without right-back Bacary Sagna once again because of an ankle problem.
“There is nobody special that you least like to face. All players have different qualities. What is important when you are a manager is that you are focused, that hasn’t changed over the last 15 years, you always make sure your team is at its best, prepares well and focuses on playing the football that we love.
“What is important before a game like that is just to focus on our game and forget all the rest.”
Despite their recent disappointments of being dumped out of the FA Cup against npower Championship Blackburn and being handed a European masterclass at home by Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash, Arsenal have found some form in the Premier League, where they are unbeaten in five games winning the past three.
Indeed, should Arsenal — who are now only two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea — secure victory on enemy territory this weekend, the gap on Spurs would be reduced to just one.
“We are confident and we are on a good run in the Premier League,” said Wenger.
“It is an interesting game because there is something at stake and the outcome will give a big boost to the team who wins it.”
Wenger, though, believes the result will not be decisive in the race for a top-four finish.
“There are still 10 games to go (after Tottenham). In 10 games, a lot can happen,” he said.
“Let’s not forget Chelsea are involved as well, they are not too far ahead. Man City are maybe a little bit too far away in second, but you never know.
“However, the game on Sunday will have a psychological importance for the rest of the season.”
Tottenham have not finished above Arsenal for the best part of 20 years, but look in good shape to do so under Andre-Villas Boas.
Wenger said: “Since I am here, Tottenham are a club that always had a huge potential, but it is all down to the results on the football pitch, so the quality of our displays will decide that.
“Spurs have always had good teams since I came here, but we just focus on us and trying to win the game. That is all you can do.”
For his part, Villas-Boas does not think Bale needs to go to Real Madrid to fulfil his potential.
The Wales forward has been linked with Real and Barcelona after a stunning season that has seen him fire in 23 goals for club and country.
Madrid are thought to have made the 23-year-old their number one transfer target, and Bale would no doubt be tempted by a move to the nine-times European champions should they come calling this summer.
Villas-Boas remains confident of hanging on to his man, however. The Tottenham manager yesterday warned Real president Fiorentino Perez he would find it extremely hard to deal with his opposite number Daniel Levy, and believes Bale can realise his aims with Spurs.
“I think for a player to develop to his full potential, it can be done perfectly in this league,” Villas-Boas said.
“I think Gareth has that in mind, not only regarding Spurs but regarding this league too.
“We have the best league in the world in my opinion. The best clubs are continuing to attract the best players over.
“We don’t want Gareth to go by any circumstances. We will try to hold on to our assets. We believe we have to hold on to the best players in order to achieve our objectives.”
Like Wenger, Villas-Boas feels tomorrow’s game will not be decisive.
“We are on a good run of form and extremely confident, but I don’t think (Champions League qualification) is going to be on whatever result happens this weekend,” said Villas-Boas,
“Seven points is still recoverable for a team like Arsenal.
“It’s all very tight still, but obviously we know the importance of the fixture and the way it can impact on both clubs moving forward.”
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