Arsenal prepared for the test of the mettle of the title at Spurs

Arsenal prepared for the test of the mettle of the title at Spurs

Mikel Arteta urged Arsenal to show they learned their lessons from last season’s disastrous defeat at Tottenham when the Premier League leaders visit their north London rivals on Sunday.

Although Arsenal managed a 3-1 derby victory in October, making it three wins in the last four games, it is the painful memory of his most recent trip to Tottenham that remains etched in the minds of Arteta’s players.

With just three games remaining last season, Arsenal would be guaranteed a Champions League qualification if they beat Tottenham, another of the top four contenders, in May.

Instead, they collapsed in a regrettable 3-0 defeat, then lost the next game at Newcastle to allow Tottenham to take them down to fourth in a collapse that drew furious criticism of Arteta from frustrated fans.

It was a debacle that could have proved fatal for Arteta’s Arsenal project, but the Spaniard has impressively made amends with his shrewd leadership during a campaign that has exceeded all expectations.

Arteta believes the bitter taste of last season’s surrender at Tottenham has played a big part in propelling Arsenal to the title.

“That was the result and the performance. There were many things to learn and take advantage of,” said Arteta.

“We’re in a different place now and we have to show that we can play the way we want to.”

Unbeaten in their last 11 league games, the Gunners find themselves with a golden opportunity to win the title for the first time since Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles reigned in 2004.

With champions Manchester City looking more vulnerable than usual and Liverpool struggling to shake off their season-long fear, Arsenal have seized the lead in the title race with a remarkable 14 wins from their 17 games.

Arteta’s side are five points clear of second-placed City, who can expect a severe test from in-form Manchester United on Saturday.

A City slip at Old Trafford would open the door for Arsenal to increase their lead over Pep Guardiola’s men.

– ‘Emotional accessory’ –

The next fortnight is shaping up to be a decisive period for Arsenal, with the Tottenham clash followed by a visit on January 22 by Manchester United, who are the only team to have beaten the Gunners in the league this season.

If Arteta’s side can emerge with wins in those key matches, they will be in pole position to withstand a challenge from City, who have yet to play Arsenal twice in the league.

Tottenham trail Arsenal by 11 points but their luxurious new stadium has been a house of horrors for the Gunners, who have lost all three games there since it opened in 2019.

“It’s an emotional game, you feel the tension and the atmosphere,” Arteta said of the hostile reception that awaited his team.

“It’s one of the most important games of our season. We haven’t won there yet and that’s the challenge.”

Fifth-placed Tottenham, who have not lost at home to Arsenal since 2015, are desperate to win as they chase a top-four finish.

Antonio Conte’s side have the added threat of Harry Kane looking for the goal that would equal him with Jimmy Greaves’ Tottenham record of 266.

With a North London derby record 14 goals in 18 appearances against Arsenal, it would come as no surprise if Sunday’s clash was a milestone for Kane, who is also two shy of reaching 200 Premier League goals.

“We are talking about a world-class striker and he is going to break all records for sure. He is doing something incredible,” Conte said.

Aware of how much is at stake in the latest battle between these eternal rivals, Conte added: “We know very well the importance of this game. I remember last season a fantastic atmosphere in this game and I expect the same again.”

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