London - Robin van Persie has heaped more pressure on his own team
ahead of their Premier League derby clash with Tottenham by insisting it
is a game Arsenal simply cannot afford to lose.
With a 10-point gap between
Arsene Wenger's men and third-placed Spurs, and Chelsea, Newcastle and
Liverpool all challenging strongly for fourth, van Persie knows there is
no margin for error.
'They're above us for the first time in many
years but it's in our hands to change the way things are going, win the
game and start moving closer to them,' said the Gunners' captain. 'A
draw will not be a good result for us, either in our bid to catch Spurs
or in our efforts to fight off our other challengers for a Champions
Wenger also challenged his team
to respond to a miserable fortnight that saw their realistic chances of
ending a seven-year trophy drought disappear following a 0-4 defeat at
AC Milan in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie and
their exit from the FA Cup.
'We have a big game in front of us. To feel sorry for ourselves would be criminal,' he said.
'We have a good opportunity to show that we
have character, that we have the mental qualities to play for this club
and so let's go for it.'
Now that a top-four finish - and with it a
place in next season's Champions League - is Arsenal's only way of
salvaging something from this season, Wenger could hardly play down the
significance of today's clash.
'I don't know if this is my most important
derby. It is the most important game because it is the next one. For us
it is important because we have an opportunity to strengthen our
position in fourth place, which is a very important target,' said the
Frenchman, who has come under increasing pressure over the course of the
Recent results have led to widespread
criticism of Wenger, including ex-manager George Graham's assessment
that the Gunners were 'in crisis' and former midfielder Emmanuel Petit's
verdict that the players lacked motivation and appeared to have lost
faith in their manager.
But, even as Harry Redknapp plots to heap more
misery on Wenger, the Spurs manager has warned the Arsenal faithful to
be careful of what they wish for. 'Who are they going to get who can do a
better job than him?' he told the Guardian. 'Look at his record. What
he has done at Arsenal has been incredible. Getting to the Champions
League for 14 years in a row is an amazing achievement.'
Yet, Spurs could go a long way in breaking
that streak, as well as putting an end to the unwanted statistic of
finishing behind Arsenal in the last 15 years.
How Redknapp would relish that. 'Champions
League qualification and finishing the top club in London, they were the
most important things for me this year,' said the Englishman, who
should be able to welcome Luka Modric back from illness and Benoit
Assou-Ekotto, Emmanuel Adebayor and Rafael van der Vaart from injury.
But, given the healthy lead that Tottenham
have over their rivals, Redknapp has warned his side about complacency.
'It can all change very quickly, so we have got to keep it going,' he
said. 'We have a nice cushion but we've all seen 10 points eroded before
and things could change very quickly. After Arsenal, we've got
Manchester United and Everton, so it's a difficult period for us.'