Spurs boss anoints Chelsea favourite in juicy FA Cup semifinal
Chelsea are favourites to win this weekend's FA Cup semifinal despite their recent stutter and Tottenham Hotspur's irresistible form, Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino insists.
Their juicy clash at Wembley (Sunday NZ time) creates a diversion from the duo's Premier League title race, which has burst to life after Tottenham sliced Chelsea's lead to four points with six games remaining.
Arsenal and Manchester City meet in the other heavyweight FA Cup semifinal a day later.
While Antonio Conte's Chelsea side, who were 13 points clear a few weeks ago, have looked vulnerable in defeats by Crystal Palace and Manchester United, Tottenham have built up a head of steam with seven consecutive league wins.
"I think if there is one favourite it's Chelsea because they are top of the table, because of the experienced players and the manager that they have," Pochettino said.
"We are talking about one of the best teams in Europe. Players that in the past five years have won European competitions and World Cups, a manager who won the league in Italy. They are more experienced than us.
"But we are in a good moment, too, and we are hungry to challenge this type of team. We are happy to fight with the best team in England for the Premier League and Cup."
Former Espanyol and Southampton manager Pochettino, in his third season in north London, is yet to win any silverware with Tottenham but if trophies were awarded for progress the Argentine would be ahead of his rivals.
Since the start of last season they have won 141 Premier League points - 11 more than the second-best team, Manchester City, and 16 more than Chelsea.
A late collapse last season meant they finished third despite being the only club to push Leicester City for the title, and they are poised to improve on that.
"I remember three years ago when we signed here the first few press conferences and I was asked how we can reduce the gap to the top four," he said.
"That was the main problem that Tottenham had. Now after three years not only have we reduced the gap to the top four we are fighting for the Premier League and to win titles.
"With six games to go we have 71 points. Last season we finished with 70. We have improved - that is a reality. The team is playing in a good way, exciting football, scoring goals and not conceding too many chances.
"We have great momentum and that is the most important because that can change very quickly."
Meanwhile, struggling Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was playing down the significance of the cup semifinal against Manchester City in terms of his own future.
There is growing pressure for the veteran Frenchman to be replaced at the glamour London club.
A chance at some silverware will ease that weight but Wenger said his own thoughts on his future wouldn't be influence by this match.
"It doesn't play any part in that," he said. "My commitment is total and I am only focused on Arsenal. The FA Cup is a very important game."
Amidst so much uncertainty at Arsenal, the Telegraph reported that Wenger will offer Jack Wilshere a new contract even after his latest injury setback but has admitted that so many missed games could prevent him from fulfilling his potential.
Wilshere's season and loan spell at Bournemouth are over after scans confirmed that he suffered a hairline fracture to his left fibula against Tottenham last Saturday but no surgery is planned and he will report back to Arsenal next week.
Wenger hopes that Wilshere will recover for a full pre-season schedule that includes games this July in Australia and China.
"This injury is nothing to do with the extension of Jack's contract. We think it's a very simple fracture that doesn't need any surgery at all. We need patience," Wenger said.
"Jack is a great football player with a great football brain. His career has been stopped by many injuries. Today, at the top level, the most important thing is the consistency of the presence. When a player's been out for a while, the game is of such an intensity that it always takes you a while to get your confidence back.
"I believe, overall, Jack had a positive season and it is purely accidental. It was a tackle. It could have happened even if he had no problem ever before."