LONDON (Reuters) - Arsene Wenger is a “special manager” and one of the greatest innovators in English football, Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino said on Thursday ahead of this weekend’s north London derby against Arsenal.
Argentine Pochettino is unbeaten in six Premier League meetings with Wenger’s Arsenal since arriving from Southampton in 2014, and last season Tottenham finished above Arsenal in the league for the first time in 22 years.
Third-placed Tottenham are already four points above the Gunners this season, but Pochettino gave short shrift to the criticism the Frenchman has faced already in the current campaign.
“In football history he’s one of the great managers, the same level as (former Manchester United manager Alex) Ferguson,” Pochettino told reporters.
“He will always be a special manager. To keep motivation more than three years is difficult. Five years, you must be very good, very good if you’re 10 years.
“When you talk about 20 years it’s amazing. Everyone who talks about him needs to show respect. Some days you’re good, some days not so good. But show respect.”
Pochettino is yet to win a trophy for Tottenham whereas Wenger has three Premier League titles, the most recent in 2004, and seven FA Cups with Arsenal, although they missed out on this season’s Champions League.
Pochettino said Wenger was one of the managers he admired when he was making his way into coaching at Espanyol.
“Wenger was an innovator, ahead of everyone, like Ferguson,” said Pochettino, who has masterminded Tottenham to third- and second-placed finishes in the last two seasons.
“That’s why my respect and admiration is high.”
While Tottenham have begin to redress the balance in north London after years of Arsenal domination, they are without a victory at the Emirates for seven years. The last three league games there between the sides have ended in 1-1 draws.
Tottenham are hoping that striker Harry Kane, who has a remarkable record of scoring against Arsenal, is fit after a hamstring problem meant he missed international friendlies for England against Germany and Brazil.
Dele Alli and Harry Winks, who also sat out England duty, will be assessed, along with Kane, on Friday.
Should they all return it would make Tottenham favourites, but Pochettino was cautious.
“Arsenal are a great team and I don’t think there is a favourite in a game like this,” Pochettino said.
“It is a massive challenge to ...be competitive against a team that in last 20 years won more trophies than us... Now we need to believe we are there and build our project and our era too.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by John Stonestreet