Arteta calls on Arsenal to seize the day in 'defining' derby against Tottenham
Mikel Arteta called on Arsenal to make Thursday’s north London derby against Tottenham the “defining moment” of their season with his side on the brink of Champions League qualification thanks to a 2-1 win over Leeds.
The Gunners had surged into a 2-0 lead inside 10 minutes on Sunday thanks to Eddie Nketiah’s brace and things got even worse for Leeds when they were reduced to 10 men following Luke Ayling’s dismissal for a two-footed challenge on Gabriel Martinelli.
Diego Llorente scored from the visitors’ first corner of the afternoon to ensure a nervy finish but Arsenal held on to ensure they can clinch a top-four spot later this week against rivals Spurs.
“We are going to go for that match with the same enthusiasm that we always do but knowing that this can be a defining moment,” Arteta said.
“It can be another layer of motivation for us to really go for it. I can’t wait for the game.
“We have earned the right to play that game in that context. We started the season with nine or 10 players out and playing the best two teams in Europe.”
Arsenal were bottom of the Premier League after the first three matches of the season but they will guarantee a seat at Europe’s top table if they beat Tottenham, who drew 1-1 with Liverpool on Saturday.
The weekend’s results leave Arsenal four points clear, so a draw in the derby would mean Champions League qualification would not be decided.
If Tottenham win, they will still need Arsenal to drop points in at least one of their final matches of the season against Newcastle and Everton. If Arsenal draw with Newcastle and Tottenham beat Burnley on Sunday, Spurs will be one point clear in fourth going into the final day of the season.
Arsenal have not qualified for the Champions League for five years.
Arteta also insisted his side didn’t “take our foot off the gas” despite struggling to kill off Leeds in the second half.
“It was just to try to play the game that we have to in that phase,” he said. “We showed a lot of maturity not to rush things and concede breaks. But we didn’t find the net in key moments to have a different last 20 minutes.
“After that the red card presented a different match. They completely changed their behaviour and how they were set up and we had to manage that in a different way.
“For a lot of phases we did well but we needed to score the third goal and we had the chances to do that. Then the accident happened when we conceded a set-piece goal and then some nerves had to be handled.”