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Final weekend shootout for Arsenal & Spurs

ESPN staff
May 17, 2013
Press Pass Extra: Gunners seek CL spot

Arsene Wenger says he is "convinced" his players will be rewarded for their end-of-season rally by securing Champions League qualification, and insisted he will not listen for Tottenham's score this weekend.

The Arsenal manager also said that he would "fancy" a play-off for third with Chelsea, but acknowledges that scenario can only become reality by the Gunners first securing a top-four finish.

Wenger's side are currently a point ahead of Spurs, before their trip to Newcastle United, with Andre Villas-Boas's team hosting Sunderland. With their fate in their own hands, the French manager believes Arsenal will get the win they need.

"It's always down to mental strength in our job and the quality and we maybe for some period had negative results but we responded. That shows we had mental strength and that we came back," he said.

"Overall, the attitude, the focus, I'm convinced that my players will be rewarded because they have shown that mental strength through the difficult periods of the season and I must give my players huge credit because when we were under severe pressure they didn't talk and worked very hard together, in a united way and that's why I want them to be rewarded for that.

"We know how to behave to win the games. So it's to get that certainty from our long [unbeaten] run and bring that into our next game. It's as simple as that. It's a football match and recently we have shown we can win with games just continue to do what we did until now.

"I had the feeling it could go to the last day. I know for a long time that, for us, when you are seven points behind, we would all be happy that it goes to the last day so we are positioned where nobody expected us to be. We have our destiny in our hands, our fate in our hands and that's what you fight for in the game. It's a game that, of course, we will now want to win but at least we fought back to be in a position where we master our own fate."

That, of course, may yet lead to a decider with Chelsea for third, depending on whether results leave their numbers equal.

"I would fancy [a play-off]. But, anyway, if there is a play-off, it exists only if we win the game," he said. "Let us win the game and after that we see what happens. The biggest task for us is to win the game and not speculate what happens after."

Wenger, meanwhile, will not be worried about events at White Hart Lane: "We will not listen to that at all. Certainly, some members of my staff, I cannot control everybody but I will just focus on us winning the game."

The Arsenal boss also stated that he revels in the tension of games like this.

"The pressure is big of course but I always said that the worst in my job is to play games without pressure, it's the worst," he said. "Sometimes you think it would be nice to have no pressure. When you have one, you think let's get it back because it's so boring. What would be terrible is we go to Newcastle with nothing at stake for us. We have what we wanted so let's just finish the job."

Form

Arsenal are unbeaten in ten games in all competitions, since they lost 2-1 to Spurs at White Hart Lane. Of the five away games played since then, they have won all five and conceded just one goal in the process. Should they extend such a run at Newcastle, the Champions League spot will belong to them.

Tottenham have not lost any of their last nine since what might prove to be the most costly defeat of the season at home to Fulham. However, they have only won one of their last 12 by more than the odd goal, so Spurs fans should prepare for a nervy afternoon at White Hart Lane against Sunderland.

Team news

Wenger's major decision surrounds the centre-forward position, with Olivier Giroud returning from suspension at St James' Park. Lukas Podolski netted twice against Wigan but is likely to make way for a man who can bring the likes of Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott into play. Elsewhere, the Gunners have a settled squad to choose from.

Tottenham should also be in a healthy state as they welcome Sunderland, with Mousa Dembele expected to play despite recent injury problems. Benoit Assou-Ekotto is also an option at left-back, while Villas-Boas must choose between Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor up front.

Ones to watch

Santi Cazorla: Created all four goals for Arsenal in their midweek win over Wigan, and tends to set the tone for his side's performance. Walcott's pace will also be crucial against a penetrable Newcastle backline, but if things get tight nobody has more quality at unlocking defences than Cazorla.

Gareth Bale: For Tottenham it always comes down to their main man. Bale has saved Spurs on so many occasions this season, and if the clock ticks into the last five minutes with the scores level at The Lane, you can expect every pass to be aimed in the Welshman's direction.

Head-to-head battles

  • Olivier Giroud v Fabricio Coloccini

    Frenchman must front up physically

  • Kyle Naughton v Adam Johnson

    Sunderland man's skills need to be nullified

  • Gareth Bale v Phil Bardsley

    Can the Welshman be the hero again?

Prediction and bet

It seems highly unlikely that Sunday will pass without any drama at St James' Park and White Hart Lane. With no other issue to settle in the league, a straight-forward Arsenal win in which they lead from the fifth minute onwards just does not adhere to the script that Premier League final days tend to follow.

For a start, Spurs are the type of team who make life difficult for themselves so back them to win from behind at 11/2 with Bet365.

Arsenal too, have scraped many a match in this excellent run of theirs, claiming three of their last five victories by a one-goal margin. An agonising wait, eventually culminating in the winning goal for a 1-0 triumph, seems likely as the Gunners go back to the old days at 17/2 with Bet365.

Prediction: Arsenal to qualify at Spurs' expense

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