Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino has fanned the flames of Saturday’s north London derby by questioning whether title rivals Arsenal have the credentials to be crowned Premier League champions.
Defeat at high-flying West Ham on Wednesday robbed second-placed Spurs of the chance to overtake leaders Leicester and hit top spot, although they remain firmly ensconced in the title race, three points adrift of the Foxes.
Arsenal, who are a further three points behind, are the sole team in the top three to be a regular presence in the league’s upper echelons, something which Pochettino has dismissed as irrelevant.
“If they [Arsenal] have players that have the advantage to win the title, what happened against Manchester United or Swansea?” said Pochettino.
“We are capable of beating Manchester City away. West Ham was difficult but sometimes we use a lot of topics in football. Football is simple, not too complicated.
“Different clubs sometimes sign a player or a manager with a big background or big trophies behind them. Sometimes they have success and sometimes not. You never know. Football is not an ordinary business. Anything can happen.”
Despite their unfamiliarity with the rough and tumble of a title race, Pochettino insists their setback against the Hammers was not the result of jitters in the face of unaccustomed pressure.
“It was not nerves. The squad is confident. It was only one game, our fourth defeat of the season,” added Pochettino. “It’s not pressure, it’s just sometimes it’s impossible to play the wat we played against Swansea of Fiorentina.”
Pochettino opted to name midfielder Dele Alli amongst his substitutes against West Ham after the teenager sustained an ankle injury during the warm-up of his side’s previous clash against Swansea before playing the full 90 minutes.
Alli is set to return to the starting line-up against the Gunners, while Mousa Dembele could come into contention as he continues his recovery from a groin problem.
“Maybe yes. He [Alli] played 30 minutes [against West Ham]. He is good but still we need to assess him,” said Pochettino. “We need to assess Mousa in the last training session [on Friday]. Maybe it is possible he will be selected.”
Opponents Arsenal have their own injury worries as their own stuttering title challenge slumped to a new low on Wednesday with a 2-1 home defeat to struggling Swansea.
Goalkeeper Petr Cech and centre-half Laurent Koscielny are both expected to miss the derby, and Pochettino has urged his players to adopt a single-minded approach to the potentially pivotal showdown.
“For us it is important not to focus on our opponent. We focus on us,” he added. “On Saturday, we want the three points for us, not to damage our opponent.
“The more exciting thing is we are capable to win the game, and then maybe we will be in a good position.”