Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte believes the Premier League title race is between Sunday’s opponents Arsenal and current champions Manchester City, but has challenged Mikel Arteta’s young side to show they can cope with the pressure of being favourites.
Arsenal are five points clear of second-placed City, who face Manchester United this weekend, ahead of the north London derby at Spurs on Sunday.
Arteta’s side have the youngest average age of a starting line-up in the top-flight this season and Conte, who won the Premier League with Chelsea in 2016-17, has piled the pressure on Arsenal, saying they must show they can handle the situation.
“When you are at the top of the league the perception of your opponents change totally,” Conte said. “You are in that moment the best team in the league. For this reason, everybody wants to try to beat you.
“For sure, Arsenal has to face this situation of being favourites to win the league at this moment because they are top of the table. They have to show they are good to face this type of situation.
“In the last 10 years it was always the same, between City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Maybe Leicester. Now Arsenal have a great opportunity. They are working for many years in a project. They are doing very well. They sent away a lot of players, and bring in many players and they spend money to do it. I think they are doing very well.
“Now they have to show they can stay there until the end of the season because I’m sure Manchester City doesn’t agree and will feel the real possibility to win again, especially because Liverpool already lost a lot of points. The same for Chelsea and United.
“I think [the title] is a battle between Arsenal and Manchester City.”
Arsenal have been fined £40,000 by the Football Association for failing to control their players in the goalless draw with Newcastle last weekend, while they were hit with the same charge following the FA Cup win at League One Oxford on Monday.
Conte said he did not like to see referees being intimidated or disrespected by players, and insisted he always respects the on-field officials.
“Honestly, in England it’s difficult to see this type of situation – to put pressure or try to create an intimidating atmosphere around the referee,” the Italian said.
“The referee has to be free to make the best decisions. I always respect the referee’s decision. I am really upset when the VAR made a mistake. But with the referee’s decisions … they can be positive or negative for you but we are human and we can make mistakes.
“I don’t like to put pressure to the referee or to create an intimidating atmosphere around them. We have to show respect and never forget that it’s a game of football.”