Wenger ready to put down revolution

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The Independent Online

In the week that has seen British tennis' reigning king usurped by a young pretender, there has been a growing feeling that north London is witnessing something similar between its dominant football teams. Are Arsenal about to be deposed by Tottenham?

Not quite yet, says Arsène Wenger, with the Gunners manager feeling increasingly bullish about his side's prospects before the north London derby today and for the season in general.

And not content with putting Spurs in their place before the 1pm fixture at White Hart Lane, Wenger has also seen a chink in Chelsea's armour, with the Premiership champions faltering against Everton last Sunday and then losing in the Carling Cup in midweek.

With Spurs lying third in the Premiership and Arsenal eighth, the Frenchman feels some perspective is needed. Roughly nine years of the stuff.

In that amount of time in charge at Highbury Wenger has taken his side to three League titles and four FA Cups while Spurs have picked up one League Cup.

"You cannot come to any conclusions after nine games," he said. "You can recognise Tottenham have made a step forward, but I feel to ignore what we have done in the last nine years is too much. We are coming back. We had an unlucky start away from home but I feel now we are on the right track.

"Winning trophies is the bottom line but in England people forget facts. People are carried on a media wave and they ignore facts. Everybody expects an interesting derby. It will be I'm sure. Tottenham are on a high."

Furthermore with talk of a post-Patrick Vieira inspired decline at Arsenal, Wenger, who will also be without the injured Thierry Henry, took a perverse delight in being second favourites today.

"What is good is that everyone expects a good derby. We are expected to be underdogs and we accept that," he said. "It's very exciting right now with people saying we are in decline. People expect us not to do well. I know the character in my team and how strong we are.

"People jump to quick conclusions but I don't feel that is the case. This team is as strong as last year, if not stronger. It's a good opportunity to show how good we are. That's what you want in football. It's a big game and I believe we can win it without Thierry. I have a strong belief in my squad and I am confident we will surprise many people at the end of the season."

Wenger also believes that Arsenal can claw back the points and places in an instant. Although five places separate the two clubs they are only three points in arrears with a game in hand. "It's a pack there between second and 12th. You cannot say one team has the upper hand. Win one game you're second, lose one you're 12th. You cannot come to any conclusions after nine games. You can say a lot more after 10 more games."

Wenger can also say a lot after all the trophies he has collected for Arsenal. "Spurs might have to wait a bit longer to start [winning trophies]," he says. "It is very difficult. You have to be able to beat Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal and that's very difficult.

"You need the quality first and then have to overcome a psychological barrier. And only time will tell whether they have that quality. I suppose many Tottenham supporters expect this game to show their potential. Our supporters may be worried by that. That is why it is so interesting."

In the meantime, Wenger took a look at Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Everton last weekend and defeat on penalties at home to Charlton in the Carling Cup and drew some comfort.

"The whole Premier League needs that hope [from those results]. The big belief has gone because they could not win those two games so there is a little hope there."

And in a reference to Jose Mourinho's claim Chelsea had drawn and not lost on Wednesday, he added pithily: "When you are out of the Cup you lose. You can say you didn't actually lose but you are out and the train goes on without you."

Which north London team is on the right track will become a little clearer today.

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