On the eve of one of the biggest north London derbies in years, Arsene Wenger has warned that Tottenham may struggle to keep their best players if they continue to lag behind the Premier League’s financial elite.
Victory for Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Sunday will guarantee that they finish above Arsenal in the league table for the first time in 22 years, but Wenger believes that Spurs’ relatively small budget means maintaining that threat over several seasons will be exceptionally difficult.
“For a longer time, if the budget is too much different, it’s impossible,” he said. “When you get to a level, at some stage the best players want to be paid like the other players at that level. If the differential is too big, you’re never able to keep your best players.”
Although many of Tottenham's best young players - Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier among them - have committed to long-term deals, Spurs remain vulnerable to a big-money offer from one of European football's giants, with Kyle Walker’s future particularly in doubt.
Wenger speaks from experience, having seen many of Arsenal’s top players leave the club between 2009 and 2012, as the club laboured under the financial burden of their new stadium and the emergence of financial powerhouses like Manchester City.
And while he praised his opposite number Mauricio Pochettino - “I like him, he’s done extremely well” - the Frenchman has also warned that Tottenham’s impending departure from White Hart Lane at the end of this season will also affect their chances of success, claiming it will take two years in the club’s new stadium - which they hope to move into for the 2018/19 season - before it feels like their own ground.
"First of all, you face financial restrictions, which we did," he said. "Secondly, you don't feel at home like you were before. It can take two years."
Harry Kane, though, is adamant pipping Chelsea to the title is far greater motivation for Tottenham than finishing above Arsenal.
If Chelsea lose at Everton this afternoon and Tottenham win the derby then Pochettino’s side will be just a point behind the leaders, and Kane believes a title challenge is far more important than bragging rights.
“There’s a bigger picture,” said Kane. “For the fans, it would be a great moment. To do it by winning against Arsenal - that would be fantastic. But we’ve got bigger things to look forward to. It shows how far we’ve come in this short amount of time. Over the last few years, since the gaffer has been here, he’s changed everything. You see the belief in the squad, you see the way we play.”
Kane also believes Tottenham need to win their final five games to have a chance of winning the title but says they are a more mature side than last season, when they failed to win any of the final four matches.
“I feel like we are,” he said. “But until we finish the last five games and see where we end up, we won't really know. We want to obviously win all five. I think, from our point of view, that we're going to have to do that if we're going to have a chance.”