Arsenal cannot completely focus on in-form Bale ahead of North London derby says manager.
Arsenal have more important things to worry about than the form of Tottenham Hotspur’s Gareth Bale as they prepare for Sunday’s north London derby at White Hart Lane, manager Arsene Wenger said Friday.
Wales winger Bale scored his 15th Premier League goal of the season with a brilliant last-minute winner as Tottenham saw off West Ham 3-2 on Monday.
That victory lifted Spurs into third place in the table, four points in front of fifth-placed Arsenal with the arch-rivals involved in a three-way London fight for a top four finish and a place in next season’s Champions League also featuring Chelsea.
The latest ‘wonder goal’ by the 23-year-old Bale, scouted by Arsenal when he was a teenager at Southampton even before the Gunners signed Theo Walcott from the south coast club, has seen the Spurs star compared to Europe’s best players in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But Wenger, who has previously said such comparisons were premature, insisted Friday he had no specific plans for Bale and what mattered most to him was how Arsenal played after making the short journey to White Hart Lane.
“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 regular 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 before a game like that is just to focus on our game and forget all the rest,” the Frenchman, in charge of Arsenal since 1996, added.
For all Arsenal, without a major trophy in eight years, were knocked out of the FA Cup by second-tier Blackburn Rovers and given a football lesson by German giants Bayern Munich in the first leg of their last 16 Champions League tie, their recent league form has been sound.
The Gunners are unbeaten in five league games, winning three, and victory on Sunday would see them move to within a point of Spurs.
“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.”
But not a decisive boost, he added.
“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,” added Wenger, looking to complete a derby league double this season after Arsenal’s 5-2 win over Tottenham at the Emirates in November, a match where they were 1-0 down before Spurs striker Emmanuel Adebayor was sent off against his former club.