Mikel Arteta has challenged his Arsenal squad to prove they are streetwise enough for a title challenge ahead of a mouthwatering clash with Manchester United.
Last weekend, the Gunners opened up an eight-point lead at the top of the table but with matches coming thick and fast there’s a high chance the advantage over Manchester City, who beat Sp*rs in midweek and face Wolves at 2pm, could be down to two points by the time things kick off at the Emirates this afternoon.
Arteta’s youngsters haven’t experienced this level of pressure before and the manager continues to hammer home the need to face each challenge as it comes. Just like successful Arsenal sides of the past, balancing physical and mental strength to keep opponents at arm’s length will be vital.
“Having that balance and having those qualities in the squad is necessary. To have the mentality and capacity to control emotions that is required to play on big stages is very necessary,” he told his pre-game press conference.
“The physical aspect is necessary – without that you cannot compete over 11 months in the conditions in which we work. We have tried to build a team that has everything.”
The Spaniard is clearly happy with the way his side are performing at the moment and the fact they are in with a shout of ending a Premier League title drought that stretches back to 2004. That the supporters are also energised by what’s going on is something he wants to capitalise on.
“Absolutely, I feel the excitement around the players and our supporters. I’m talking to the boys about what we’re going to experience on Sunday because for us it’s very meaningful, for our fans it’s very meaningful and we are creating a special atmosphere in the stadium and we have to take advantage of that.
He added: “We haven’t done it in the last many years. To be in the title race, it’s something that we have to show we can do. Words mean nothing, we have to do it on the pitch.”
In his programme notes, Captain Martin Odegaard reiterated the message following a couple of weeks on the road. Having guided Arsenal to a 2-0 win over Sp*rs last time out, he knows the terraces will be buouyant.
“The atmosphere could make a big difference for us again,” he said. “We know what the stadium will be like today, it will be amazing for sure, and I’m sure you can all help us a lot, give us energy and lift the team again.”
He’s also called on his teammates to learn from the mistakes made at Old Trafford in September. The Gunners went down 3-1 to Erik Ten Hag’s side despite dominating proceedings and know they can’t afford a similar result this time around.
“We must also remember the match at Old Trafford earlier in the season. I felt that day we controlled most of the game and I felt we deserved a better result in the end.
“This time we want to show some more discipline, to control the game for 90 minutes and not just small periods. It will be a tough game but we’re ready for it and we are feeling confident.”