‘You have to live it’: Arteta ready to plunge derby debutants into deep end

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Tony Obrien/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Tony Obrien/Reuters

Mikel Arteta admits there is no adequate preparation for the atmosphere several of his players will be plunged into for the first time on Sunday, when they face Spurs in the north London derby.

Five of Arsenal’s six summer signings – all 23 or under – are new to the fixture. Of that quintet it is likely Ben White, Takahiro Tomiyasu and Aaron Ramsdale will start, with Albert Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares expected to be among the substitutes.

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Arteta plans to ensure his players are under no illusions as to how much the game means but accepts the best way to make the point hit home will be to pitch them into the fray.

“It’s pretty tough to put him in the right situation,” he said when asked whether a player can be pre-equipped for a derby. “You can show him images, you can talk to him about that, and then you have to experience it, like any other game. You have to live it and go there with the determination and passion to enjoy a big game and do what you are able to do, and control the things you do on the pitch.”

Arteta played an Old Firm derby for Rangers in October 2002 at the age of 20, scoring in the sixth minute of a 3-3 draw. He described that experience as “a different beast” but expressed confidence his players will cope against Spurs. Last Saturday Arsenal pulled through an exacting test at Burnley, winning 1-0 despite being subjected to the usual physical examination from Sean Dyche’s side. He expects to see a similar fighting spirit at the Emirates against their fiercest rivals and wants it to become a hallmark.

“Every time we are on the pitch we have to do it for ourselves because we know it’s a basic principle to compete in any game in the Premier League and get the results we want,” he said. “Hopefully afterwards people will be convinced we are able to do that. We’ve done it in the past, since I’ve been here and in previous years with other managers, and kept that belief we are able to do it and [for it to] become something normal.”

In a development unprecedented during his reign, Arteta can call on a fully available squad. His biggest decision will be whether Granit Xhaka, back from a three-match suspension, should return to a side that won all of the games he missed. Should Xhaka be selected he will partner Thomas Partey in midfield with one of Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka missing out.

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Arteta spoke warmly of Saka, who is still to hit his stride this season after a summer of extraordinary highs and lows with England at Euro 2020. “It was an incredible experience for him and he made the most out of it,” he said.

“He’s in a good place, he was catching up physically because he didn’t have a pre-season. He’s in really good condition right now. He’s such a happy, humble and lovable boy that we want to help him as much as possible.”

Arsenal do not expect a repeat of the issues outside the Emirates that dogged Wednesday’s League Cup win over AFC Wimbledon. Thousands of fans were still waiting to enter the stadium at kick-off and there was gridlock around some of the entrance gates.

While a full house of 60,000 is expected, the club believe the situations are different: for the Wimbledon tie, more than 20,000 tickets were sold on general sale and 8,000 away supporters were present, while the derby will primarily be attended by season ticket holders familiar with the matchday layout. Midweek games also tend to see a higher number of late arrivals.

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