Arsenal have to accept that Tottenham Hotspur have been better than them in recent years, Unai Emery has said, as he hailed his friend Mauricio Pochettino as among the best managers in the world.

Ahead of the north London derby, one of three big derby matches on Sunday with Liverpool facing Everton and Chelsea at home to relegation-threatened Fulham, the Arsenal head coach even ranked the Spurs manager alongside Pep Guardiola and Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone.

Emery shares a special bond with Pochettino with the pair having first met a decade ago as they spent three days together watching the Chile national team train in Spain under their then coach Marcelo Biesla. Emery also eventually recommended Pochettino to succeed him as Valencia coach.

Both Pochettino and Guardiola have previously described Bielsa as “the best coach in the world” and Emery is also something of a disciple of the quixotic Argentinean who is now Leeds United’s manager.

Emery is similar to Pochettino with an emphasis on hard work, organisation, tactical innovation, a commitment to youth and a passionate desire to succeed.

If Arsenal Win at Emirates, in the first derby match in more than two decades not involving Arsene Wenger, it will not just extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to 20 matches but would actually see them overtake Spurs on goal difference. However, Emery conceded that there is ground to make up.

“At this moment, Tottenham are better than us in the table and better than us also last year,” he said. “But in history Arsenal is better at another moment than Tottenham. There will be two groups of supporters making a very good atmosphere. The first (derby) match is in our stadium with our supporters and we want Sunday to give them the best performance, and our energy, and to feel them pushing us.”

Emery praised the impressive work Pochettino has done at Spurs. “His career is very consistent,” he said of the former defender. “His structure in every team is very clear, with good performances. He has worked in Spain, then here with Southampton and Tottenham, with young players, and every young player usually improves with him and his staff. I think he deserves, because of his career, to be considered with the best coaches like Guardiola and Simeone.”

That is high praise, indeed, with Pochettino having been similarly effusive about Emery’s work since he succeeded Wenger.

“I was the coach in Valencia and this was when Pochettino was finishing his playing career,” Emery explained. “And we met in Valencia watching the Chile training sessions. And a few months later he took over as coach of Espanyol. We were learning with Bielsa in this moment. But Pochettino wanted to be a coach. And since then his career has grown.”

The two sat with Bielsa after every training session to discuss football. “I respect Bielsa a lot,” Emery said. “For me he is a special coach. I think the best coaches in the world work in different things and a lot of coaches we cannot train like Bielsa. It’s difficult to train like Bielsa. But every coach can learn from different coaches. But with Bielsa I think all coaches learn something from him.”