x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Arsene Wenger's day of reckoning

Arsenal have claimed bragging rights over Tottenham, who they play on Sunday, as the best north London side for the past 15 years under the Frenchman's management. But that could change by the end of this season.

Tottenham Hotspur's Togolese player Emmanuel Adebayor attempts a shot  during an English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa at White Hart Lane in London, England, on November 21, 2011. AFP PHOTO/IAN KINGTON

RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or “live” services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
 *** Local Caption ***  318619-01-08.jpg
Tottenham Hotspur's Togolese player Emmanuel Adebayor attempts a shot during an English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa at White Hart Lane in London, England, on November 21, 2011. AFP PHOTO/IAN KINGTON RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or “live” services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. *** Local Caption *** 318619-01-08.jpg

Arsene Wenger has always possessed a talent for the cutting put-down. Evicted from FA Cup and Champions League in the last two matches, entering a North London derby an unheard of 10 points astern of Tottenham Hotspur, the query on capital-city supremacy was inevitable, Wenger's response classically acerbic.

"You judge at the end of the season," said the Arsenal manager. "The only thing you can say is that in the last 15 years Spurs have finished behind Arsenal."

After a week when old Arsenal names have jostled to offer their critiques of Arsenal's uneasy state of affairs, in which Emmanuel Petit, the former France midfielder, has employed recent access to the dressing room to question the motivation and belief of players he accuses of acting like "peacocks in a farmyard", Wenger badly needs a result to match the riposte.

It is not so much the value to a shell-shocked squad and an affronted support that defeating Tottenham would hold, but the importance of three points in the vicious scrap for fourth place.

Finishing a Premier League season below the club Arsenal fans love to belittle and bait would be painful; watching them enjoy Champions League nights with no place in the competition of their own would be grounds for divorce.

Fail to win on Sunday – and Arsenal have done exactly that in six of their last seven league meetings with Tottenham - and the last Champions League place is all the club can realistically attain.

The competition is a Liverpool side rediscovering form with a rehabilitated Steven Gerrard and the shot of confidence a likely Carling Cup final win today will bring, a doggedly efficient Newcastle United, and a Chelsea squad that remains the strongest of the four and may soon benefit from a new manager.

Missing out on Europe's elite competition would not be the financial catastrophe faced by Chelsea. Arsenal are so conservatively run, Wenger has been so careful in his net expenditure, that the club accounts could accommodate the £30 million (Dh172.6m) hit for non-qualification and still offer some funding for new purchases.

It would, though, multiply the pressure on Wenger to step away from a position where his wisdom is now constantly questioned.

Though Tottenham appear to be passing Arsenal on their way down, there remains no guarantee they will build upon such unaccustomed Premier League success. Or even retain it.

Their two most valuable assets – Luka Modric and Gareth Bale – are both significantly underpaid by current standards, admired around Europe, and actively working to improve their lots. Their manager, Harry Redknapp, will leave at the end of the season when England come calling.

How Daniel Levy handles the entry to next season will be telling. Tottenham's chairman is a prickly character with an obsessive desire to strike the best bargain, but his stewardship of the club has swung towards the upside the longer he has been in position.

Stymied on a move to London's Olympic Stadium, Levy has kept capital rivals West Ham United from benefiting from the post-Games site, then wrung concessions from the English government that will significantly reduce the cost of rebuilding White Hart Lane.

Combine that with Champions League football and the ultimate goal of selling the club for £300m-plus turns viable again.

The preparations to replace Redknapp have been worked on for months. Carlo Ancelotti was primed to take over until Paris Saint-Germain stepped in with a more appealing project, so Levy is aiming still higher.

Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho knows the Tottenham job is his if he deems it the best venue for his return to the Premier League, and is considering the idea. Levy has been trying to employ Mourinho since the day Roman Abramovich sacked him. Make it happen this time and Arsenal will have to get used to the sight of Tottenham's rear.

sports@thenational.ae