Mikel Arteta says Arsenal will go for the three points that would secure Champions League football when they make the short journey to Tottenham on Thursday night, even though a draw would ensure they remain overwhelming favourites to take fourth spot.
Arsenal can arguably afford a cagey approach given that, if they restrict Antonio Conte’s team to a draw, they would stay four points in front of Spurs with two games remaining. But the prize that a win would bring is irresistible and Arteta was in no mood to play down the significance when it was put to him that pragmatism could serve Arsenal perfectly well.
“We always play to win and that’s the way we will prepare this game,” he said. “I’m sure [Spurs] will try to do the same. That’s why hopefully it’s a really spectacular game.
“It’s the opportunity to achieve something we haven’t achieved for many years. It’s the game that will decide it. Normally you don’t play games like that in the league unless you are competing for the trophy but we know that, at our level, what this game can deliver to us is really important.”
Arsenal have won their past four games with a patched-up side, sometimes making life difficult for themselves in the process, and Arteta hopes Ben White will be fit to add defensive stability after missing the victories over West Ham and Leeds with a hamstring injury. He also suggested he was waiting on the fitness of Bukayo Saka, who has sustained several knocks recently and came off towards the end of the Leeds game, although it would be a surprise if the winger did not start.
Arteta will urge his players to master the intensity of the occasion, which is the first derby to be played in front of fans at Spurs’ new home. “The expectation is huge,” he said. “This is an opportunity for one of the clubs to achieve what we are looking for, and on top of that is the emotion and the passion that the derby brings with it. We need to be away from that and focusing on what we have to do. To win the match we are going to have to be at our very best.”
As a player Arteta helped Arsenal over the line to Champions League qualification several times, not least in 2013 when Laurent Koscielny scored a winner against Newcastle on the final day to ensure they pipped Spurs to fourth. That guaranteed Arsenal’s 16th consecutive presence at the top table but, given they have spent five years away from Europe’s biggest competition, he knows this achievement would take on a new significance.
“At the time the club was very consistent achieving a Champions League spot so it was almost a must,” he said. “Now the perception is a little bit different because we haven’t been able to do that, so we didn’t have expectations to be where we are. It’s a game that can help us move forwards quicker than expected.”