Arsène Wenger may not welcome kind words from the Tottenham Hotspur manager on the eve of a north London derby but Andre Villas-Boas has, nonetheless, expressed his admiration for his opposite number and warned the dissenters at the Emirates Stadium to be careful what they wish for.
Wenger has faced growing criticism from those sections of the Arsenal support who see no end to a seven-year wait for silverware and who fail to share the manager's view that Champions League qualification should be viewed in the same terms as a trophy.
Those frustrations were audible during last weekend's 3-3 draw against Fulham, when Wenger's side squandered a two-goal lead for the second successive game. The Arsenal manager conceded his team has looked too fragile too often this season – they have won just one of their last seven games – and Villas-Boas admitted Spurs will seek to exploit the Gunners' anxiety.
The Tottenham manager will, of course, be more than happy to capitalise on any friction and uncertainty at the Emirates but, taking a longer view, he believes Arsenal's interests would be best served by keeping Wenger at the helm. "It's the nature of humans," Villas-Boas said. "When you are in one place you always are willing for a change or prepared to change to something positive. When change happens, you see what you were missing at first. I don't know if that will be the case or not. I certainly feel he [Wenger] has delivered what Arsenal want for the last few years and continues to be one of the great managers.
"Last year was the same. He has raised the expectations by being a winner in the past and what people expect from Arsenal, and what Arsenal fans expect, is seeing trophies and seeing them back where Wenger put them in the past. Certainly he might be paying the price for the expectations that he rose. But I think he continues to be one of the greatest managers of all time and continues to have success."
With Tottenham having lost three of their last four Premier League games, Villas-Boas faces his own doubters. He saw promising signs, though, in last Sunday's defeat at Manchester City and with Fulham having demonstrated the value of playing on the front foot at the Emirates, is hoping to take advantage of Arsenal's current problems.
"You try [to exploit a nervous crowd]," he said. "You saw that at Man City when we scored and up to the moment they equalised… but as soon as they equalised the environment turned. You can benefit from the buzz that's around people."