Mikel Arteta’s most important skill faces its biggest as Arsenal fear Champions League heartbreak

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 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

Mikel Arteta has become an expert in crisis management since taking charge at Arsenal, but this now feels like his biggest challenge yet.

Throughout Arteta’s time at Arsenal there have been moments where the wheels have threatened to come off, however the Spaniard has always found a way to steady the ship.

This feels like another one of those situations, but the stakes are higher than they have ever been before.

Crucially for Arsenal their destiny is still in their own hands, but the momentum in the race to qualify for the Champions League is most certainly not.

Tottenham are now the team in form and the fact they play Burnley on Sunday, before Arsenal head to Newcastle on Monday, only strengthens it. If Antonio Conte’s side win at the weekend, they’ll finish it in fourth.

That would feel decisive and undoubtedly ramp up the pressure as Arsenal head into their final two games. Two wins against Newcastle and Everton will guarantee them Champions League qualification, but Arteta will surely have to work hard to pick his side up from Thursday’s north London derby defeat.

So much went wrong for Arsenal on a night where they knew victory would have ended the top-four race. A 50-50 penalty call went against them as Cedric barged into Son Heung-min going for a header, and then Rob Holding was sent off for two yellow cards in seven minutes.

By the time 47 minutes had been played, Spurs were 3-0 up and the game was as good as over.

Holding is now suspended for Monday’s trip to Newcastle and fellow centre-back Gabriel limped off 15 minutes before the end with a muscular issue. Suddenly, Ben White could be the only fit centre-back - and even he was only able to make the bench last night after being out with a hamstring strain.

Arsenal have been here before, where a storm is brewing, and they have always bounced back. Nowhere was that more evident than at the start of the season, when Arsenal lost their opening three Premier League games on the spin. When you think about that, it’s remarkable they are even this close to qualifying for the Champions League.

Arteta came out fighting last night, firing shots at the officials, and it is clear to see he is trying to create an ‘us against them’ mentality for the final push. It is a tactic many managers have used in the past, including the likes of Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson, while there were shades of Pep Guardiola as Arteta voiced his frustration.

“You can ask the referee if he wants to come and give an assessment of the match,” said Arteta.

“I can do it but I have two options, I can lie to you, which I don’t do, or if not I will be suspended and I really want to be on the touchline against Newcastle.”

After staying tight-lipped, Arteta will be on the touchline at Newcastle. He and his team need to do their talking on the pitch.

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