Mikel Arteta will win three points and local bragging rights if Arsenal beat Tottenham in the north London derby… but sealing a Champions League return would also bring the prize of vindication after two-and-a-half years of major calls
- There is so much at stake ahead of Arsenal’s clash with fierce rivals Tottenham
- A Champions League place, three points and bragging rights are on the line
- Grabbing fourth spot would also be a vindication of boss Mikel Arteta’s methods
There is so much at stake for Arsenal and Tottenham: a Champions League place and all the benefits that come with it, three Premier League points and local bragging rights.
For Mikel Arteta there is the additional prize of vindication as he bids to steer Arsenal back into Europe’s top club competition, a coveted reward that will be the culmination of two and a half years full of major calls.
He controversially ostracized highest earners Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng, among others, for falling foul of his non-negotiable rules.
There is lots on the line for Arsenal in their north London derby against Tottenham on Thursday
Other senior figures were eased out for Arteta’s youth revolution. His decision to trust his small squad, make no January additions and complete the campaign with just two strikers was also bold.
There have been results-related storms for Arteta to ride out too during his rollercoaster Arsenal reign but he is so close to being able to argue he was right. ‘The perception probably will be that,’ he said.
‘But we just try to make decisions for the best interest of the club, the team and trying to be consistent with the things we want to achieve and how we are going to evolve and the vision that we have for the club.
‘Then results will dictate, more likely, whether you are right or wrong.’
Arsenal will kick off with a four-point advantage, reducing the pressure on Arteta’s side and their need for victory. They will also have chances against Newcastle and Everton to collect the points they require.
Still, there is no thought of playing for a draw, keeping Spurs at arms’ length and getting the job done later.
‘We always play to win and that’s the way we will prepare this game,’ said Arteta.
Having maximized the advantage of not having the workload of European football this season and fought their way into fourth place — after being bottom, pointless and goalless after three games — there is a sense this a ‘seize the moment’ opportunity.
Taking Champions League qualification with a win would vindicate Mikel Arteta’s methods
‘We are in a position that probably we didn’t expect to be in this moment,’ said Arteta.
Now there, it is a chance Arsenal need to take. Five years out of the competition have seen their finances take a major hit — compounded by the impact of the pandemic — their status toothed and spark significant changes on and off the pitch.
Arteta said: ‘It’s had big consequences for the club in the atmosphere and environment around it, financially. We want to put that right.’
That is underlined by the likelihood of this being one of the special occasions when Arteta will use a long-serving staff member, as he has in the past, to give a talk reiterating to his players the significance of what lies ahead.
His controversial ostracising of highest earners Mesut Ozil (centre) and Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng (right) was criticized by many but he is so close to being able to say he was right
He also has technical director Edu to call on if need be, the Brazilian being a member of the Arsenal Invincibles squad that won the league at Tottenham in 2004.
Up for grabs tonight is not silverware but something Arsene Wenger famously once said should now be considered an equivalent.
Arteta added: ‘When you have the opportunity to achieve one of your objectives in the season, you just cannot wait to play the game because this is a job and the work you have done throughout the season to try to earn it.
‘I’m excited about it. It’s a game that can help us move forwards quicker than expected.’