Wenger: We need to block out tension
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has called on his players to rise above any tension from nervous home supporters when they take on north London rivals Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
The Gunners host their neighbours in need of a confidence boost following a dip in form which has seen only two wins from the previous seven Barclays Premier League games, leaving them languishing in eighth place, as well as causing tense atmospheres in the stands.
Wenger, though, insists his team must block everything out as they look to retain bragging rights for their supporters. "We cannot say were are professional if we are affected by any reaction of the crowd. We have to deal with that," the Frenchman said.
Arsenal drew their last home game 3-3 with Fulham, having looked comfortable when 2-0 ahead midway through the first half. The atmosphere in the stands grew tense as soon as Dimitar Berbatov had got the Cottagers back into the match, with that concern appearing to leak through to the pitch as the Gunners were pegged back before the break.
Wenger added: "If you want to be a top-level professional you have to understand the crowd wants you to win and you have to deal with the fact that they are not always happy. That is where you see the personality and the sense of responsibility of the player.
"It doesn't stop me from doing what I do on the football pitch. But if you ask me, my biggest desire is to see our fans happy - like the players as well. That is not an excuse not to play and to play your game. I believe that our fans will be behind us without any problem."
Arsenal have finished above Tottenham for 17 consecutive campaign, and overhauled a 10-point deficit to claim third last season in a run which was kickstarted by the dramatic 5-2 victory over their arch rivals when they had trailed 2-0.
"To be in the top four it is important to beat Tottenham and it has well an emotional impact," Wenger said. "But the target of the season is not to finish above Tottenham - it's to finish in the top four and other teams can also be in front of us."
Arsenal hope to have combative midfielder Abou Diaby available from his latest injury setback in time for the hectic festive schedule. Theo Walcott could be fit for tomorrow's match after a buttock muscle injury ruled him out of the midweek England friendly in Sweden.
The forward has yet to pen a contract extension, and so could leave as a free agent in the summer. Wenger said: "It is always important to keep your best players, but if that should happen we will replace him with someone - another big name or make another big name. You think I am not fed up (with the continuing saga)? I want him to stay."