Postecoglou confirms Tottenham defender will start vs Arsenal and makes Harry Kane admission

Ange Postecoglou admits he has been hard on his Tottenham Hotspur players after having to make sure they did not see any panic over Harry Kane's exit on the eve of this season.

The Australian lost Kane to Bayern Munich just a day or two before Spurs were due to open their campaign at Brentford. Many pundits and fans predicted that Tottenham would splutter and fall down the table without the talismanic club record goalscorer up front but going into Sunday's north London derby Postecoglou's fifth-placed side have scored more goals than at this stage last season and have the same amount of points as the previous campaign with six games remaining.

The Tottenham head coach was asked what he said to his players in the wake of Kane's departure with the striker having been such a huge figure at the club.

"I think that was sort of the starting point for us, because I was literally sitting in here [for my press conference] the day before the Brentford game and he’d just left. So you’re starting a season and the most significant person at this football club, maybe ever, has just left on the eve of the first game," he said.

"I remember making a real conscious effort of... it's the old duck just looking really graceful above the water and if there's any panicking happening, make sure it's under the water where nobody can see, particularly the players. And the players never batted an eyelid - which they could have. Especially when you look at what Harry has done this year. It has been unbelievable.

"You just go 'gee, that’s a significant player that has left this football club and yet he hasn’t been mentioned as much as he would have been had we not been scoring goals'. His name would have come up a lot more. That’s credit to the group. The playing group, they have embraced that challenge.

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"I think these things we have been through this year will help us in the medium or long term. Even the disrupted season, because it kind of removes any excuse we have for next year.

"We are not going to lose another Harry Kane next year. We are not going to have a disrupted season. We are going to have - with a bit of luck - fewer injuries - next year, so there’s nothing to clutch on to there. We’ve already done that. We’ve been through that. We’ve come out the other side. Not too badly. We are not where we want to be. So I still think that will help us, but it's not nice when you go through it still."

On losing Kane, he added: "That was going to be a big challenge for us because Harry is the best number nine in the world at the moment and he was a consistent goalscorer for this football club in the Premier League. Irrespective of the club’s fluctuations, he always scored goals.

"You take that out and you’ve got to fill that breach. We were never going to fill that breach with like for like, it was going to have to be a bit of a spread. I think the lads have done a decent job of covering that spread. We had to and have, but I still feel that is the area of the park where we need our biggest amount of improvement, in that front third.

"I think there’s a long way for us to go to bridge that gap with the top sides. It’s the area of the park where we need to have a lot of growth, but in the absence of such a key player as Harry for us, to still be in the position we are and to have scored the goals we have, I think is a credit to the group."

Postecoglou is proud of his players' response across a season when he has been tough on them with his demands despite their youth and inexperience on the whole.

"I am proud because to be honest I am pretty hard on them. People ask whether I'd have taken fifth at the start of the year. A lot of people would have, and when I think of the challenges I’ve put to this group of players - a lot of them in the Premier League for the first time or still very young in age or not having that sort of hard experience that we lost at the start of the year - I haven’t wavered in not making excuses for them," he said.

"I love the fact that they haven’t sought that and never felt sorry for themselves. So on my side I am purposely being hard on them because some of the potential in this group is pretty exciting and I don’t want to limit that. I don’t want them to limit themselves. I want them to embrace it and be disappointed with where we are at. Be disappointed that we haven’t been successful this year, even though its our first year, because that’s the kind of attitude I have had in my whole career.

"I don't want to waste a year. I don't want to waste a season on something that might come in years to come. The opportunities are here and now. So I have been proud of the way that, mostly the young players but even the more experienced players like Sonny and the others have also embraced the challenge.

"They’ve said 'okay, we are a new group, it could be so easy to say that this is a new five year project' but we want to be better than that. We want to get in quicker than that. So from that perspective I am proud. Yes."

Starting on Sunday with the visit of Mikel Arteta's Gunners to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Spurs will play all three of the Premier League title hopefuls and Postecoglou admits that it is the driving force for him to be in the same position as those three clubs in 12 months' time.

"Yeah, absolutely. That’s what I’ve been saying all along. That’s where I want us to be. When it gets to this time of the year, I want us to be one of the ones fighting for that ultimate prize," said the 58-year-old. "Right now we are 10-15 points behind that. That’s your measure.

"We can win on Sunday but it doesn't mean we are title contenders this year. To be title contenders you've got to do it over the course of the whole year. That’s how I’m measuring ourselves. So we know we’ve still got some work to do. At the same time, we’re in a better position than we were 12 months ago to build on that.

“That has to be our aim, that in 12 months’ time we’re in a position where we are one of the contenders rather than trying to disrupt them."

Tottenham will be without Destiny Udogie this weekend against Arsenal with the young left-back having undergone surgery to his left quadriceps after a freak injury while taking a shot in training last week. Postecoglou confirmed that "Ben [Davies] will start" in the Italian's place this weekend.

Both Pedro Porro and Richarlison are back fit after training all week and the Spurs boss is looking forward to having the very different threat of the latter as an option up front.

"He's another one who has had a disrupted season. When he's been in, he's been really good for us but then had two injuries and started the season with an injury. Great to have him back and it does gives us other options in that front third," he said. "We're kind of really fortunate that he was at his best when Sonny was away and he filled that breach.

"We're talking about how we're going to cover the goals with the loss of Harry and at different times they both have stood up, but we've rarely had them together in great physical shape. He's looked good in training this week, which is good and he's obviously ready to go. We're going to need him over the last six games and it does give us another good option in that front third."

Postecoglou was also asked about Yves Bissouma's patchy form after an excellent start to the season. The Mali international was one of Tottenham's best players in the 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium earlier in this campaign but after a string of suspensions and his time at the Africa Cup of Nations, he has been unable to reproduce that form.

"It’s a similar narrative for all the parts of our game. There have been parts this year in the midfield, with Yves, with Pape Sarr, with Madders, where we’ve had some really strong performances and then we’ve had disruption for one reason or another," said the Australian.

"Some of it is because form has dipped but some is because of absences, whether that’s Madders with injury, or Pape and Biss going away with the AFCON, and Biss being suspended for a few games. If I had to broad-stroke a narrative for us as a club this year, it’s just been a really stop-start year. It’s felt that way. Even our fixturing has been similar.

"Apart from those first ten games, we haven’t really had any really rhythm or consistency in performance or consistency in gaining some traction into how we’re going to play our football. Whether that’s Biss, or Bentancur is another one who missed the first part of the year, came back, got injured, came back… there hasn’t been any real, for want of a better word, consistency in what we’ve done.

"It just feels like a real disrupted season. I know that’s how I feel internally where it’s the hardest part for me to assess because there’s no real chunk of work, apart from the first ten games and that’s not enough of a sample to get a great measure of individual or collective performances. It feels like I’m taking little samples from everywhere. But it is what it is and whether it’s Biss or any of the other guys, we have six games where we can firm up a sense in some of these things of where we’re at."

On Sunday Postecoglou will go head to head against a manager in Arteta who has rewarded the patience of the Arsenal hierarchy after inconsistent early seasons with title challenges in the past two campaigns. So is it important that Tottenham show similar patience as their own head coach builds his team?

"I'm reticent to say there has to be patience, I've never felt there has to be patience. What there has to be is belief in something. I think the reason Arsenal were probably patient is they saw they had an outstanding manager, this was his first job and he was going to get better and if they supported him they could see beyond just the obvious, which is results and the table, and think 'actually we've got a chance here if we stick to this process'," said Postecoglou.

"But I don't think you should do it blindly and say 'let's just wait two years and see'. If I'd said at the start of the year, some of our key players would be a first-year goalkeeper, a central defender who only had one year in the Bundesliga, a left-back in his first year in the Premier League... A lot of these things you have to keep in the context of saying, 'There's going to be growth in these guys and that's worth persevering with'.

"If you don't feel that, there's no need for patience just for patience's sake. The patience comes in when there's belief there and then you realise you're not actually being patient, you're just believing in something. That's the key component."

It was put to the Tottenham boss that he was at a club that is more desperate for trophies after so long without one, which might make patience harder to find among the fanbase.

"That's a good point because as I said before every club is unique in how they go about rebuilds, how patient they are prepared to be and how much belief they have in the project and what's the objective," he said. "I'm trying to steer the club away from being desperate for just anything. There's some recent examples of clubs who have won cups and it provides no solace really if you're not performing in the league consistently and challenging for the main honour.

"But I'm not in charge of that [how fans feel]. What I'm in charge of is trying to build a team that I believe can succeed and succeed in a sustainable manner, but also understanding that this club has unique factors around it which means at times that belief may waver and we can stay on track."

As part of that Postecoglou does not use sabotaging Arsenal's title hopes as a motivation to win on Sunday even if that is something the Spurs fans would love to see. The Tottenham head coach is no stranger to fierce rivalries following his two years north of the border in Scotland.

"I want to win and I understand the importance of winning against your traditional rival. I’ve just come down from Glasgow. I’ve got a fair idea about what derbies mean to supporters," he said. "I never believe your motivation should revolve around the demise of somebody else. Your motivation should be about yourself.

"I want to win because I want us to achieve something. I want us to progress. I want us to be in a position fighting for the title. That’s what drives me not the demise. If that’s your kind of measure, always peering over the back fence to see what your neighbour is building you could both have the worst houses in the street because everyone else is building beautiful places and you're looking over the back fence."

When asked whether he would like to see Tottenham competing with Arsenal next season for the Premier League title, he replied simply: "Mate, it’d be nice to have us contesting with anybody. I don’t care who it is as long as we’re in there and that’s hopefully the plan."

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