Spurs team news: Bentaleb’s back for ‘special’ north London derby against Arsenal
14:43 05 February 2015
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino says Nabil Bentaleb is available for Saturday’s “special” north London derby against Arsenal after the Algerian international returned from the African Cup of Nations on Tuesday.
Indeed, Spurs’ head coach reports he has a full-fit squad and that he has a selection dilemma for the showdown with the Gunners at White Hart Lane.
“Nabil arrived on Tuesday, the first day of the week for training, and he’s in a very good condition,” said Pochettino. “He’s 100 per cent and we have no doubts about his condition. It’s just my decision whether he’s included or not in the squad.
“All the players are available and it’s a big problem for me now.”
Bentaleb has missed Spurs’ last eight games due to international duty, last appearing in the 5-3 home win over Chelsea on New Year’s Day, and Pochettino admits the African Cup of Nations is poorly placed in the calendar.
“It’s not in a good moment, the timing is bad,” he said. “It’s not good for the competition, the players, not for anybody. I think this is something to change for the future but it’s difficult.”
Pochettino’s focus is on Saturday’s match against Arsenal though, as Spurs bid to overtake their arch-rivals, strike a big blow in the top-four battle and, of course, earn the bragging rights in north London.
“I think it’s a special game,” he said. “It’s a special game because we speak about emotion. For our supporters it’s a very special game, and for us it’s the same. This is the type of game where you need to put your heart onto the pitch and we are ready for that.
“This week we can feel that it’s a special game for our players, and then it’s football, it’s a game. But the feeling is good and this is the most important thing – that we believe in our way and we’re ready.”
The two sides drew 1-1 at the Emirates in September – Pochettino’s first north London derby – and he said: “I think we’ve improved [since then], I think we’re in a good way and a good process now.”
The Gunners are expected to be without their star man Alexis Sanchez, but Pochettino believes Arsene Wenger has a number of worthy replacements.
“Alexis is a very good players but Arsenal have other players like [Danny] Welbeck, [Olivier] Giroud, [Theo] Walcott, [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain and [Mesut] Ozil - a lot of names, a lot of players,” he said. “Alexis is a very good player but Arsenal have players to replace him.”
Pochettino also expressed his respect for his opposing manager, Wenger, stating: “I admire him, we have a good relationship – a polite relationship.
“He’s not my friend, that’s true, but I admire him because it’s not easy to stay at the same club for 18 years and he’s one of the best managers in the world.”
Tottenham fans will be dreaming of a repeat of last month’s victory over another big London rival, Chelsea.
Pochettino said: “They’re different teams and different styles and it’s a different way that we’ll play our opponents now that it’s Arsenal. But we need to keep the same feeling, to believe in our way and fight in every action and for every ball.
“This is the way we want to play, and to reproduce the same performance against Chelsea, but we know Chelsea are different to Arsenal.”
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