It’s safe to say Ange Postecoglou understands the significance of Sunday’s away North London Derby, but he’s unlikely to let the spectacle of the match phase him, or change what he’s already doing with Tottenham Hotspur. In comments given to the Evening Standard yesterday, Big Ange said he has no intention of changing the way Spurs play when his new team heads to the Emirates to play Arsenal.
“In terms of the way we play, we’re not changing, mate. We’ll go out and scare the life out of them.”
Postecoglou expounded on that brief comment today in his pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s NLD.
“Well, there is no other reason that we play this football than to be successful, so if I didn’t think we would be successful I wouldn’t play it. From my perspective, I have often said I don’t set up my teams to play football that is nice to watch. I set up my team to play football that will win. You have to believe in that against all oppositions, in all kinds of circumstances. There are always tweaks that happen because the opposition will force you to adjust certain parts of your game, but the underlying principles of the kind of team we want to be, no I will not shy away from it now because we’re facing a good team. We have to go out there and challenge ourselves to play the football we have so far against one of the teams that will be challenging for the title.”
Arsenal represents by far the stiffest test this new-look Spurs team will have thus far in the Premier League season. Spurs are unbeaten in their first five games, with an opening day draw to Brentford their only dropped points, but they’re going up against an Arsenal side that challenged for a title last season before falling away, has equalled them in results thus far in the current campaign, and has played an arguably tougher schedule. Spurs haven’t won at the Emirates since 2010, a statistic that hangs like a weight over the match and the good vibes that have permeated North London since Ange’s appointment.
In his press conference, Ange didn’t seem awed by the occasion, saying he understands rivalries and what they mean, both to supporters and the players.
“Fair to say people have given me an indication about how they feel about this game and that’s great. I’ve been involved in derbies, one very significant one [The Old Firm] and you understand what it means to supporters for both clubs and the significance in terms of the general mood around the place. All these things add significance to the future and on top of that they are also a very, very good football side. They had an outstanding season last season, they’ve strengthened this year and they’re a group that for the most part has grown together and you can see that there’s a real belief within them. Playing at their place will be a hell of a challenge for us.
“We’re going to have a quite a few [players] who aren’t going to have played in this fixture and away from home. It’s not just that it’s a derby and away from home, it’s the challenge of overcoming a really strong opponent away from home. Irrespective, Arsenal are a very, very good side. Again, with these things, it’s the experience that makes you grow.
“I’ve always felt with these kinds of fixtures, you allow the players to go out there and hopefully try to get them to express themselves in the best possible way and not put too many restrictions around them or try to guide them too much on what to expect or how they should react to it. It’s much better they go through the experience & they can reflect on it than you offer advice.
“From our perspective, we’ve tried to create an environment where we train really hard every day, preparing for a really difficult game at the end of the week. And hopefully that constant day-to-day conditioning of the boys, their physical being, their mental being, means every week they feel like it’s a big game. So when they do get into a game of more significance from a public perspective like this one, it hopefully doesn’t change them too much.”
Postecoglou shared a brief injury update ahead of the match, with the biggest news that Giovani Lo Celso is still injured, and may be out for a few weeks yet. This is contrary to the reporting ahead of last weekend’s match against Sheffield United, when it was suggested that Gio might be back in time to feature in the NLD.
“No [Gio will not feature]. Apart from Ivan [Perisic, now out for the season], everyone from last week is in a good space. In terms of the longer term ones, we’ve still got two or three weeks away — Bryan Gil, Lo Celso, Bentancur, those kind of guys. Hopefully over the next few weeks they will slowly get involved in training.”
Ange also gave a brief update on Alejo Veliz, the young Argentine striker who joined over the summer. Veliz joined the club nursing an injury and only recently started full training, but Ange suggested that while he sees a pathway to first team minutes this season, the club will take its time bringing him through.
“To be fair to [Alejo] he’s only had one week of training, had two sessions last week. We gave him game time for the U21s and now he’s had a full week of training. It’s great to have him on board but again no expectations around his contribution.
“Obviously being in the attacking third I think he will get some opportunities for some game time but we still need to let him settle and get him involved in training more consistently over the next two or three weeks and get him a game or two more for U21s, because he’s missed a lot of football, but we’ve been really encouraged with the way he’s has gone about things and adjusted to life here. He’s only a young man coming from the other side of the world. The dressing room environment is great and watching him other night, he is showing the attributes, he has got great movement and he is a real number nine in terms of how he attacks the box and really looking forward to getting him up to speed.”
The North London Derby kicks off on Sunday, Sept. 24. Match time is 9 a.m. ET / 2 p.m. UK.