Ahead of the last North London derby, Mikel Arteta asked a long-standing member of staff to hammer home the importance of the north London derby to his players.
We can only speculate as to who that person was and what they said, but we like to imagine the players were left in a trance, continuously reciting “What do we think of Tottnum? Sh*t. What do we think of sh*t? Tottnum” until they were frothing at the mouth.
Whatever happened. It certainly worked. Arsenal were rampant when our neighbours visited Emirates Stadium, scoring three times in the first half before (mostly)coasting through the second. It was a memorable day and helped kick-start the season after a torried opening month or so.
“We try to approach every game emotionally in the best way,” said Arteta when asked about September’s special pep talk.
“There are moments and people that can describe what a game is better than I do. Or in a different way than I do. We always try to find the right way to get the players in the right mindset to play the game that they have to that day.
On whether he has anything special planned this time around, he added: “Whatever we do, it’s with the door closed. We’ll continue to do that.”
Of course, the stakes could not be higher tomorrow night. There are not just bragging rights up for grabs but also, with a Gunners win, the chance to secure Champions League football. On the other hand, a defeat could see Antonio Conte’s players wrestle control of momentum heading into the final week of the season.
Victory is going to be easier said than done, Arsenal haven’t won away at Sp*rs in seven matches (at three venues), a run that is our worst since the 1960s. Arteta insists his players know exactly what’s at stake.
“The message is clear,” he said. “If we win against them, we’re in the Champions League next season. You don’t need anymore motivation than that.
“The opportunity is there and we’re going to play and go for it as we always do. It’s how we came to this position and it’s how we’re going to approach it.
“We all know about the history of the north London derby and what it means to our fans. After that, it’s a football pitch with a lot of noise and crowd that will be excited to support their team and we’ll have our fans as well, for sure, 100 per cent behind the team.”
While defeat for Sp*rs would kill off their top four ambitions, the same can’t be said for Arsenal. There would still be a one-point advantage heading into the final two games of the season against Newcastle and Everton.
Arteta was asked if that means the pressure is slightly off his stars.
“For me, it’s not about the pressure,” he said. “It’s about having the inner belief that tomorrow is the day and that tomorrow we want to achieve what we’ve earned.
“We always try to explain to the players what they should expect. How they can handle certain situations, how they can visualise the game before they play it and it won’t be different for this game.”