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Opinion

The game Arteta had to win

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16th March, 2021
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Mikel Arteta has just done the non-negotiable, that is to win the North London Derby on his third attempt.

No Arsenal manager since Billy Wright in 1963 has failed to win their first three Derbies. Bertie Mee delivered a 4-0 victory after losing his first two, Terry Neill won his first, while both Don Howe and George Graham won their second game against Spurs. Bruce Ricoh lost his first, drew his second and never got a chance for a third, while more recently Unai Emery delivered a wonderful 4-2 win in his first confrontation with the side from ‘The Lane’.

Arsene Wenger also famously won his first NLD by a two-goal margin, albeit only achieved by two injury time goals by Tony Adams and Dennis Bergkamp, but nonetheless a win that set the scene for most of the Frenchman’s reign.

This all means that none of the seven managers who preceded Arteta saw three strikes in this fixture and that if the Spaniard had done so on Monday morning, he would have been sitting on a very unwelcome record.

His first Derby in July 2020 was a disappointing 2-1 loss, while his second, last December, saw an even less favourable outcome, as, despite lots of possession, his side conceded twice without reply. Thus a third loss on the bounce against Mourinho’s men would have been inexplicable.

After 33 minutes it was not looking good, as despite creating chance after chance and having almost all of the ball, a ‘Rabona’ goal from Erik Lamela had given the away side the lead. This despite their player of the season Heung Min Son going off with a tweaked hamstring with less than twenty minutes played. Ten minutes after Lamela’s strike, Martin Odegaard was able to draw Arsenal level to restore parity.

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The second half saw Arsenal get awarded a questionable penalty, gain a man advantage and Harry Kane hit the post before putting the ball in the net only to see the flag. After Spurs put up a late fight, the stats show a relatively even game with 53:47 per cent possession in Arsenals favour and three shots apiece on target. However, anything other than an Arsenal win would have been a travesty.

Arteta acknowledged that his side should have managed their lead better in the final stages, but truth be told he won’t care as they got the job done. He knows what it is to beat Tottenham as it was his cross that delivered one of the greatest derby comebacks of all time when he floated a ball onto Bacary Sagna’s head in a 5-2 victory at the Emirates almost nine years ago to the day.

He knows that he needed this win and that it is a rite of passage to continue managing this great football club. North London is painted red, at least for the next week or so. But with both sides looking like progressing into the quarter-finals of the Europa League, who would bet against another meeting before the seasons out. If that happens, and Arteta could inflict more pain on Mourinho, he really would write himself into Arsenal folklore.

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