LONDON — Arsene Wenger has warned Tottenham that they could take several years to adjust to their new stadium on and off the pitch, as the Arsenal boss prepares for his last visit to White Hart Lane.
Arsenal travel across North London on Sunday for the last derby at their rivals’ current ground, which will be torn down to make way for a new state-of-the-art stadium after this campaign. Tottenham will play at Wembley next season while their new stadium is finished being built.
This weekend’s game takes place amid talk of a power shift between the two rivals, with Tottenham set to finish above Arsenal for the first time since Wenger took charge in 1996. But Wenger told a news conference it will be “very difficult” for Tottenham to deal with their move — and the financial burden of building a stadium — without being affected.
“Much more [difficult] than you imagine it,” said Wenger, who oversaw Arsenal’s move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006. “First of all because you face financial restrictions, like we did. Although it might be less in the future because we have more income.
“Secondly as well because you don’t feel at home like you were before. And you need to recreate a kind of history to feel comfortable and to feel that you play at home. I would say [it takes] two years.”
Arsenal were restricted financially for several years after moving into the Emirates Stadium, while most fans feel the atmosphere inside the ground still does not rival that of Highbury.
Wenger said Tottenham supporters may notice the same thing when they start playing in their new stadium.
“The more comfortable you are [as fans], the less supportive you are. That means, when you stand up, you support better than when you sit,” Wenger said. “So if you imagine that you lie down in your chair, you’re less supportive. So the vocal aspect of the game is linked with the position of the supporter.”
Wenger had to deflect repeated questions about a North London power shift on Friday, pointing out that 20 years of supremacy would not be undone even if Tottenham finish higher than Arsenal this season.But he acknowledged that for the fans and players, bragging rights are at stake.
“It’s pride, of course it’s pride,” he said. “But when you finish 20 years above them it was not important. And suddenly now it becomes important. I think yes, it matters. Of course we want to be stronger than Spurs, we want to be stronger than anybody.”
One sign of how public perception is shifting in favour of Tottenham came this week when Arsenal legend Thierry Henry — now a Sky Sports pundit — said that Alexis Sanchez was the only Arsenal player good enough to make a combined XI for the two teams.
Wenger, however, disagreed with his former player.
“Football is about opinions. This one I don’t share at all,” he said when asked about Henry’s selection.
Wenger has plenty of memories from his previous trips to White Hart Lane, with the highlight being clinching the Premier League title there with the “Invincibles” in 2004 after a 2-2 draw.
“But it was good and bad that season because we got equalised in the last minute, and we nearly had a fight in the dressing room between Sol Campbell and Jens Lehmann,” Wenger said. “Because Jens gave away a penalty that was not a penalty, honestly. It was a nice gift.”
After more than 20 visits to White Hart Lane — including cup games — the Arsenal boss knows exactly what to expect when he walks through the tunnel one last time.
“Geographically I know our fans are here on the right,” Wenger said, gesturing as if he was picturing White Hart Lane in his mind. “That’s the reference point. Then you know that the pitch is a bit smaller, like Highbury, and that you expect huge commitment, frenetic pace and a very high vocal game. So of course, it makes the day special.”
While Wenger’s own future is in doubt, he could still be around for Arsenal’s first game at Tottenham’s new ground if he decides to sign a new contract with the club.
As for White Hart Lane, Wenger will not be sad to see it go, saying: “I personally will not miss it. But what I like is the atmosphere.”