Arsene Wenger conceded Arsenal’s hopes of ending their Champions League exile are in severe danger after Harry Kane condemned them to a damaging 1-0 defeat against bitter rivals Tottenham.
Kane’s second half header at Wembley on Saturday left Wenger’s sixth placed side languishing six points adrift of the Premier League’s top four.
Worryingly for Wenger, that gap could grow even bigger on Sunday when fourth placed Liverpool play their game in hand at Southampton.
Failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League via a top four finish would be another hammer blow for beleaguered Arsenal boss Wenger, whose team had to settle for a berth in the far less attractive Europa League this term.
Wenger acknowledged that depressing fate is staring Arsenal in the face again following Kane’s latest act of vengeance against the club that rejected him as a youngster.
“It’s a game we couldn’t afford to lose, it makes it much more difficult,” Wenger said.
“We have to fight, there was more at stake than just the derby, that’s why it’s so disappointing.
“It’s very disappointing because the priority is to be in the Champions League via the top four.
“I’m not a big fan of the Europa League winner getting into the Champions League. It’s not right, but if it is an opportunity we have to take it.”
It was a frustrating afternoon for Wenger, whose side were out-played for long periods as new signings Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan failed to shine in their first taste of the north London derby.
Arsenal’s wretched away record against teams in the top five – they haven’t won their last 16 of those fixtures – left Wenger cursing a lack of cutting edge and a defence that wilted when Kane rose to head home from Christian Eriksen’s cross.
“We missed chances on the counter attack that are not acceptable at this level. Then at the start of the second half we should have lost the game by more,” he said.
“At the top level you have to be mentally strong enough to take the chances.
“We can only look at ourselves at the goal, but I don’t think we lack hunger in defence.
“We were caught by a super striker, he is one of the best in the world. he scores against everyone.
“The away record is very poor. we don’t score enough goals away from home.”
In contrast to Wenger’s woes, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino was searching for fresh ways to praise Kane.
The England star’s 32nd club goal of the season means he has now scored seven times in seven leagues games against Arsenal.
Not for the first time, Pochettino made it clear Kane deserves to be ranked among the world’s best strikers.
“Of course Harry is one of the best in the world. I have repeated that for the last few years,” he said.
“Sometimes you believe that he is my player and I try to boost him. I’m telling you and I tell again, in my experience in football, he is one of the best.
“He deserves to be one of the best. It’s so good to have him in our side. Harry every game he has the same energy.”
In the first north London derby at Wembley for 25 years, Tottenham extended their recent mastery over Arsenal, who have won only once in the last eight league meetings with their hated neighbours.
Tottenham are unbeaten in their last nine league matches and remain in a good position to qualify for the Champions League.
Damaging Arsenal’s hopes was an added bonus and Pochettino added: “If you analyse the game, we created many chances.
“My players were fantastic, they deserve the full credit, now keep going.
“We are doing a fantastic job. It’s important for the belief of the team and confidence.”