Ten years ago, Arsenal were top of the league. 26 games had been played before they visited St. Andrew’s and Birmingham. Eduardo broke his leg, the momentum was lost and they haven’t been near the title since.
In the decade following that frigid afternoon in February, Arsenal’s ambitions have been downgraded.Champions League football is the aim these days but Arsene Wenger’s side have endured another frustrating campaign that sees them risk a second successive year outside the competition.
They go into Saturday’s North London derby four points behind rivals Tottenham in 5th and a further point behind Antonio Conte’s Chelsea. He might have an impressive record at Wembley Stadium but Arsene Wenger knows he must win to keep his European hopes alive.
To do that, he needs to do the following five things.
1 Protect David Ospina
With Petr Cech likely to miss out through injury, Wenger will field reserve goalkeeper David Ospina on Saturday.
The Colombian is a talented shot-stopper but he endured a horrible end to 2017 that saw him commit several errors in World Cup qualifying.
The former Nice man is notoriously bad at defending crosses, so Wenger should look to deploy Rob Holding alongside Laurent Koscielny.
Any deliveries that the 1.89m Englishman fails to clear must be swept up by his defensive partner before Harry Kane can pounce.
2 Press high and fast
One of Arsenal’s chief weaknesses is their inability to deliver an organised press.
When these sides met back at the Emirates Stadium in October, however, the Gunners ran their opponents ragged in a comprehensive 2-0 victory.
The key to that performance was the constant harrying of Mauricio Pochettino’s side, with even Mesut Ozil contributing some lung-busting charges.
Arsenal must repeat the tactic on Saturday to have any hope of a similar result.
3 Drop Granit Xhaka
Moussa Dembélé will have Granit Xhaka for breakfast.
The Belgian was totally dominant against Manchester United last week, with his trademark footwork and bursts of acceleration helping his teammates to overrun Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic in their midfield.
Xhaka, who already has five yellow cards to his name this season, lacks the positional and tactical discipline required to outsmart a player of Dembélé’s calibre.
The narrative surrounding the Swiss has changed noticeably in recent weeks, with sections of the Gunners’ support rounding on his abject defensive performance against Swansea.
Xhaka is a liability who, in a game of such magnitude, cannot be indulged.
4 Exploit Spurs' wingback weaknesses
Hector Bellerin has been much-maligned this season but what the Spaniard lacks in defensive capability he more than recoups in enterprise.
Alongside Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi, he will be essential if Arsenal are to put pressure on Spurs’ weakened wingbacks.
At home and with a chance to solidify his own European hopes, Pochettino will likely deploy Serge Aurier and Danny Rose either side of the Tottenham defence.
Both will look to push on. Arsenal should funnel the play into the channels in response, keeping the pair pinned back successfully into their own half.
5 Play Pierre from the Start
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang performed brilliantly on his Arsenal debut.
The Gabonese ripped Everton apart with his pace and movement but, even then, it seemed like he was operating on reduced capacity.
Wenger has been reluctant to start his other mega-money forward this season, with Alexandre Lacazette often relegated to the substitutes bench for high-profile games.
The Gunners’ coach should be more trusting with the former Dortmund man though because he, more than anyone, will be giving Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez nightmares.
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