Andre Villas-Boas believes Tottenham Hotspur need to finish above Arsenal for the first time since 1995 to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League. The Spurs boss expects the title to be fought out between Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, leaving the two capital clubs competing for the remaining place in the top four of the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger’s side host Spurs in a North London derby today, with one point separating the teams as there was at the end of last season when Arsenal pipped their rivals to a Champions League place.
Villas-Boas, when asked if Spurs can finish above Arsenal, said: “We have to. It’s obvious that Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea are into a big run-in towards the title.”
“We want to be able to bring one of those spots nearer to us, but it’s difficult. They have other resources, but we are looking at trying to shorten the gap and not let it grow. To play for that fourth spot, Champions League qualification, I think it’s difficult bearing in mind the amount of competition that you have to beat,” he said.
At the moment there are three clubs above Spurs and Arsenal in the race for fourth, with Everton, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United exploiting the London clubs’ patchy form, which has seen both go two league games without a win.
“Both teams have been where they want to be, now the position in the league doesn’t suit both teams, but both have shown that they can do better,” Villas-Boas said.
The Portuguese, sacked by Chelsea before they won the Champions League last season, is well aware that more than three points are at stake today, with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy reminding him of the importance of the derby.
“He keeps on mentioning it, but it’s normal, we really have to embrace it because it’s part of the great English culture of this game,” Villas-Boas said. “Against Arsenal, for both team it means a lot. You can’t wear red in our training ground. The meaning of it is quite special and all of us embrace it. This is a game where passion is extremely high. It represents three points, but it means more.”
Spurs have concerns over Aaron Lennon, Jermain Defoe and Kyle Walker, who missed England duty with hamstring problems, while Mousa Dembele is ruled out with a hip problem.
Arsenal are without Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, Kieran Gibbs and Gervinho, but Wojciech Szczesny could return after recovering from his ankle complaint and playing in Arsenal’s under-21 team last week.
Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain need tests on respective muscle and hip injuries, as will Bacary Sagna after tiredness.
France fullback Sagna has been linked with a move to Italy’s Inter, but insists he is happy at Arsenal.
“I’ve enjoyed playing for Arsenal and I still love it,” Sagna said. “Every time I go to the pitch, I just give 100 percent for the team. [The club] is like my family. My personal family is in France, but I feel at home here, I feel happy to come training and I feel relaxed. There are not many big clubs where you feel that confident. I think I have progressed a lot — that was my target, to come to such a big club and improve. I am very calm compared to when I came, I used to be a bit stressed before games, but now I am totally relaxed because of my teammates and the manager.”