Gareth Bale believes that Arsenal no longer spread fear among their rivals following the summer departures of Cesc Fábregas and Samir Nasri, and he is confident that Tottenham Hotspur can overhaul their neighbours this season, which could also set them fair for Champions League qualification.
The Wales winger was one of the Tottenham stars in Sunday's 2-1 north London derby win at White Hart Lane, a result that lifted them to sixth, three points behind fourth-placed Newcastle United with a game in hand. Spurs are five points clear of Arsenal, over whom they also have the game in hand and for whom Sunday's defeat raised further questions about their brittleness and confidence. Arsène Wenger must assimilate a clutch of new signings but it is the loss of two leading players during the close season that represents the biggest problem.
Fábregas completed his protracted move to Barcelona and Nasri, having refused to extend his contract, which had 12 months to run, was lured away by Manchester City. Tottenham, by contrast, managed to ward off Chelsea's interest in their key player, Luka Modric.
"They have lost a few players, which has made them more beatable of late and we definitely came out and exposed that," Bale said. "Keeping your best players is a massive thing. They are used to how you play and what you do and I think it is vitally important that you do that and build a team around them.
"I am sure Arsenal will build and be just as good in the future. They are still a great team. They have not had a great start, they have had a hard start, but I am sure they will improve. They have got a lot of young players who are going to improve in the next year or two and learn a lot.
"Our target is to finish as high as we can and if we can finish above Arsenal then that's great. They are always up there so if we finish above them we are going to be right up there. We have been playing well of late and they have had a few players who have gone and that has damaged the way they play."
There has been much discussion about a shift in the balance of power in north London, with Tottenham hoping to finish above Arsenal for the first time since 1994-95. Wojciech Szczesny, the Arsenal goalkeeper, though, gave the notion short shrift"You can't make such a statement after a couple of months, after our poor start to the season and after just one derby," the Arsenal goalkeeper he said. "I think Spurs are a great club, they showed that they can play really good football but are they better than Arsenal? I don't really think so.
"We are behind in the [title] race but I believe that every single team will have some period of time where they play poorly. We need to focus on winning every single game. Game by game, we have to stick together and improve. We want to give ourselves the best chance of finishing high in the table, getting into the top four and possibly competing for the championship. I'm an Arsenal fan and, whatever happens, I will believe in this club."
Szczesny,who blamed himself for Kyle Walker's winning goal for Tottenham, has become the latest player at his club to succumb to injury. He has withdrawn with a back problem from the Poland squad that faces South Korea and Belarus. Arsenal have confirmed that Bacary Sagna will need surgery to repair his fractured fibula and he will be out until January.
Bale described the derby victory as "massive" and he feels that Tottenham can turn White Hart Lane into a fortress. "If you look at any team, the main thing is their home form," he said. "Take Man United, they haven't lost at home for God knows how many games. We want to make this a place where teams fear to come. As long as our home form is good, we will be right up there."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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