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Arsenal must break old habits on crucial night after Spurs disaster

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Arsenal must break old habits on crucial night after Spurs disaster

I

t is a case of want versus need for the two turnaround clubs of this Premier League season, as Newcastle and Arsenal prepare to meet at St James’ Park tonight.

Newly-moneyed Newcastle, transformed by a mid-term change in ownership and a January spending spree, are in the former category, seeking to end what will inevitably come to be seen as a seismic season in the history of both the club and English football on a high in front of a home crowd.

For Arsenal, who began the campaign in disarray with three straight defeats but are now within touching distance of Champions League qualification, only three points and an immediate response to Thursday’s damaging derby defeat at Tottenham will be enough keep their top-four fate in their own hands heading into the final day of the season.

Immediate responses, however, have not been a common feature of the Gunners’ campaign, where bad results have tended to come in a cluster.

As well as those season-opening losses, there were three in four games in late November and early December, a January in which they did not win a game and were knocked out of both domestic cups, and the recent run of successive defeats by Brighton, Southampton and Crystal Palace, without which the top-four debate might already have been settled.

It is testament to the spirit fostered within Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal squad that each of those spells of crisis has been followed by a winning streak, but it has tended to take backs being not merely up against the wall, but red-raw from the friction of grating against it for so long for them to respond.

Then again, such was the timing and calamity involved in last week’s defeat, in setback terms it may just be worth three on the bounce alone.

Arteta must hope so, because although patience and process has been the mantra of his reign, time is not something the Spaniard has right now. He also has a crisis in central defence. Rob Holding is suspended after his red card against Spurs, while the uncertainty around the fitness of Ben White and Gabriel are of as much concern as the possible psychological damage of defeat at their bitter rivals.

The spotlight is shining bright on the Gunners boss, turned so by veteran Antonio Conte in the aftermath of a derby meeting he got badly wrong, sending out a team too caught up in the emotion of the occasion, even if he could hardly legislate for Holding’s uncharacteristically shambolic 33-minute performance.

Where Arteta did not falter, even if it was the thing with which Conte and many pundits found most grievance, was in his post-match protestations.

The 40-year-old was painted as a delusional whiner for his complaints about Paul Tierney’s refereeing. However, a more sober and objective analysis could only have led to a public coating for some of his own players which, at this stage of the season, would have done no one any favours.

The Spaniard is making all the right noises ahead of the trip to Tyneside, talking of moving swiftly on and pointing out that this is still very much a position the Gunners would have taken gladly back in August, even more so when they were still without a point going into September. There is no hint of hiding behind the fact that finishing fifth and returning to Europe, albeit in UEFA’s secondary club competition, would have been deemed a success at the start of the campaign, either.

To stay on track, Arsenal must break with the habit of a season and immediately put Thursday’s disaster behind them

“We want to be playing in the Champions League and that’s the end,” he said. “We’ve come so far, it’s in our hands and we want to now capitalise on that, and the excitement and the opportunities there. We really want to go for it.”

Want, however, is one thing, and need very much another. To stay on track, Arsenal must break with the habit of a season and immediately put Thursday’s disaster behind them.

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