Arsenal’s abject performance at home to Wolves was emblematic of the struggles Mikel Arteta is experiencing in his first full season as manager.
Arsenal are currently incapable of being able to apply persistent pressure, possess a midfield that passes the ball sideways instead of progressing it and have become utterly predictable in their patterns of play.
These tactical problems seem familiar because it is where Arsenal were at towards the tail end of the Unai Emery era. Following their latest loss to Wolves, the North London Derby will serve as an important litmus test for Arteta’s Arsenal.
In contrast to Arsenal, Tottenham were dogged, disciplined and determined in their quest not to lose at Chelsea on Sunday. Contrast that to the events in north London, where the Gunners looked flat, listless and lost for ideas against a typically well-drilled Wolves side.
After such an impressive showing at Old Trafford to kick off November, Arsenal have endured a wretched run of form since. In three games against Aston Villa, Leeds United and Wolves, they have scored one goal. Their failure to find the back of the net must be fixed because Arsenal will not start winning matches until they can score consistently.
The North London Derby will be a tell-all tale of whether Arteta is capable of improving Arsenal and, importantly, an examination of the players’ commitment to the cause. Playing against a Spurs side who sit top of the table, a colossal weight will be lifted from Arteta’s shoulders if he can somehow steer his side to victory. However, if Arsenal have to trudge back down the Seven Sisters Road after a heavy defeat, Arteta will face an uncomfortable inquisition from the hierarchy and supporters alike.
There is good reason to believe it may be the latter, too.
Spurs have scored 21 goals in ten league games, going unbeaten since the opening day of the season. Tottenham also boast the best defensive record, having conceded only nine times. They have also passed two tough tests with flying colours, beating Manchester City
2-0 before managing to escape Stamford Bridge with a point.
The two teams were separated by one point before their last meeting in July. Since then, all the progress Arteta made by winning the FA Cup has been lost in recent weeks, thanks to an inability to play football with any kind of fluidity. Contrast that to how Jose Mourinho has got the best out of Harry Kane and Heung-min Son, with the fact that he has never lost a home game against the Gunners, and it makes for ominous reading ahead of Arsenal’s trip to White Hart Lane.
As a result, this is as good a chance as the players will get to make amends for another poor performance. Indeed, Arteta has often got the best out of his squad when Arsenal have been billed as pre-match underdogs. This was the case in victories against Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea at the end of last season, so coming into the game as
second-favourites could actually suit the Spaniard’s tactical preparations.
Arteta himself must respond, too.
Whilst he was given some grace with regards to league positions thanks to an excellent FA Cup run, it is up to him to arrest Arsenal’s slide into mid-table mediocrity and push them back into contention for European football. A win against their arch-rivals would do just that, lifting Arsenal back into the top half and on the tail of the top six.
Problems and progress have emerged almost in equal measures since Arteta took charge, but the honeymoon period is over. In order to prove he is the right man for the job, it is time to start winning games.
Approaching his first anniversary as Arsenal manager, nothing would be more valuable to Arteta’s Arsenal than a victory in this vital North London derby.