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POST TIME: 10 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Wenger calls for cool heads as Arsenal face Spurs test
AFP

Wenger calls for cool heads as Arsenal face Spurs test

AFP, LONDON: Arsene Wenger has warned his Arsenal stars to keep their cool when they face bitter rivals Tottenham as the heated north London derby returns to Wembley for the first time in 25 years.

Languishing in sixth place in the Premier League, Wenger's side are however just four points behind fifth placed Tottenham.

With their hopes of a top four place and qualification for the Champions Leahue hanging in the balance, the Gunners can ill-afford a damaging defeat at the hands of their hated neighbours on Saturday, while Tottenham are also a point adrift of the top four and desperate to avoid defeat.

Given the high stakes amid the fight for local bragging rights, the crowd of over 80,000 are certain to make it a frenzied occasion.

Wenger knows players can lose their composure if they get swept up by the derby atmosphere.

And, with new boys Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan making their maiden north London derby appearances and Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli in the midst of a diving storm, the Arsenal manager cautioned his players to stay focused.

“There is always huge passion before the game and the emotion at stake that becomes a bit more agitated,” he said. “It is always a game that is charged emotionally.

“For us, it is an opportunity to come back closer to the Champions League places, which is a priority.” Although Arsenal beat Tottenham 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium in November, they haven't won an away league game against their rivals since 2014.

Fortunately, for Wenger's men, with Tottenham playing their home games at Wembley this season while White Hart Lane is rebuilt, it will be the first north London derby at the national stadium since 1993.

Arsenal won 1-0 on that occasion in the FA Cup semi-finals, avenging a 3-1 loss to Tottenham at the same stage of that competition two years earlier. Wembley is a happy hunting ground for Arsenal's current generation as well.

They have won their last nine games at the national stadium, including a penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea in this season's Community Shield.

Asked if he preferred the game to be at Wembley, Wenger said: “Yes, because we have a positive history there.

“Of course Wembley is a pitch that is quality, a stadium with a big crowd and it is always a special day in your mind so overall, yes.