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Friday, March 1, 2013
Wenger: Gareth Bale can't be the focus

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has warned his side to concentrate on their own performance against Tottenham on Sunday, rather than worrying about what Gareth Bale might produce at White Hart Lane.

Bale scored his 15th Premier League goal with a superb last-minute winner to beat West Ham 3-2 on Monday night and lift Spurs to third place in the table.

Wenger, though, maintains he has made no specifics tactics to try to shackle Bale, and instead expects his players to deliver their own A-game in what is expected to be a fiercely contested north London derby as the two teams battle for Champions League qualification.

"We don't plan for anybody. It is always the same -- focus on our strengths and forget about your opponent," said Wenger, who will be without regular right back Bacary Sagna once again because of an ankle problem. "There is nobody special that you least like to face. All players have different qualities.

"What is important when you are a manager is that you are focused. That hasn't changed over the last 15 years. You always make sure your team is at its best, prepares well and focuses on playing the football that we love. What is important before a game like that is just to focus on our game and forget all the rest."

Bale -- once scouted by Arsenal when a youngster at Southampton -- is being heralded as one of the best in Europe, up alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas has no problem with such comparisons.

"He is world class and those two players are," the Portuguese said. "Gareth at the moment is showing that level of form to be at the level of those two players, who have won so much throughout their careers, including European trophies. He still has to achieve that and we hope he can achieve it with us."

Former England captain Gary Lineker said Friday he believes Bale is the best British player around at the moment -- but he's not quite on Messi and Ronaldo's level yet.

"You know what we're like in this country -- we'll build Bale up, build him up and then if he has a bad spell of three games we'll be saying, 'he's no Ronaldo, he's no Messi,' when no one ever really should have said it in the first place. If we look back in three or four years' time and he's performing like he is now. ... He's performing like Messi and Ronaldo do every week at the moment, but can he sustain that? It's a big ask."

Tottenham, meanwhile, must be worried about losing Bale to an elite club. Real Madrid is thought to have made Bale its number one transfer target, and Bale would no doubt be tempted by a move to the nine-times European champion should they come calling this summer.

Manager Andre Villas-Boas does not think Bale needs to leave the Premier League to fulfil his potential.

"I think for a player to develop to his full potential, it can be done perfectly in this league," Villas-Boas said. "I think Gareth has that in mind, not only regarding Spurs but regarding this league too. We have the best league in the world in my opinion. The best clubs are continuing to attract the best players over."

Villas-Boas warned Real president Fiorentino Perez he would find it extremely hard to deal with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy.

"We don't want Gareth to go by any circumstances. I have told you in the past that our chairman is very, very difficult to deal with," Villas-Boas said. "We will try to hold on to our assets. We believe that we have to hold on to the best players in order to achieve our objectives."

Arsenal, despite recent disappointments of being dumped out of the FA Cup and the Champions League, has found some form in the Premier League, where it is unbeaten in five games winning the past three.

Should Arsenal -- which is only two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea -- win on enemy territory this weekend, the gap on Spurs would be reduced to just one.

"We are confident and we are on a good run in the Premier League," said Wenger. "It is an interesting game because there is something at stake and the outcome will give a big boost to the team who wins it."

Wenger, though, believes the result on Sunday will not be decisive in the race for a top-four finish.

"There are still 10 games to go (after Tottenham). In 10 games, a lot can happen," he said. "Let's not forget Chelsea are involved as well, they are not too far [ahead]. Man City are maybe a little bit too far away in second, but you never know. However, the game on Sunday will have a psychological importance for the rest of the season."

Information from Press Association was used in this report.




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