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Arsenal primed for test of mettle

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Mikel Arteta has urged Arsenal to prove they have learned the lessons of last season's disastrous defeat at Tottenham when the Premier League leaders visit their north London rivals on Sunday.

Although Arsenal powered to a 3-1 victory in the derby in October – making it three wins in the last four meetings – it is the painful memory of their most recent trip to Tottenham that remains etched in the minds of Arteta's players.

With just three games remaining last season, Arsenal would have been guaranteed to qualify for the Champions League if they won at fellow top four contenders Tottenham in May.

Instead, they crumbled to a woeful 3-0 defeat, then lost the next match at Newcastle to allow Tottenham to pip them to fourth place in a collapse that sparked furious criticism of Arteta from frustrated fans.

It was a debacle that could have proved fatal to Arteta's Arsenal project, but the Spaniard has impressively made amends with his astute leadership during a campaign that has exceeded all expectations.

Arteta believes the bitter taste from last season's surrender at Tottenham has played a significant role in fuelling Arsenal's title push.

"That was the result and the performance. There was a lot of things to learn and take from it," Arteta said.

"We are in a different place now and we have to show we can play the way we want."

Unbeaten in their last 11 league games, the Gunners find themselves with a golden opportunity to win the title for the first time since Arsene Wenger's Invincibles reigned supreme in 2004.

With champions Manchester City looking more vulnerable than usual and Liverpool struggling to shake off a season-long funk, Arsenal have seized the initiative in the title race with a remarkable 14 wins from their 17 games.

Arteta's side are five points clear of second placed City, who can expect a stern test from in-form Manchester United on Saturday.

A City slip at Old Trafford would open the door for Arsenal to increase their lead over Pep Guardiola's men.

The next fortnight is shaping up to be a defining period for Arsenal, with the Tottenham clash followed by a January 22 visit from Manchester United, who are the only team to beat the Gunners in the league this season.

If Arteta's team can emerge with victories from those key fixtures, they will be in pole position to hold off the challenge from City, who still have to play Arsenal twice in the league.

Tottenham are 11 points behind Arsenal, but their plush new stadium has been a house of horrors for the Gunners, who have lost all three games there since it opened in 2019.

"It's an emotional fixture, you feel the tension and the atmosphere," Arteta said of the hostile reception awaiting his team.

"It's one of the biggest games of our season. We have not won there yet and that's the challenge."

Fifth-placed Tottenham, who haven't lost at home to Arsenal since 2015, are desperate for a win themselves as they chase a top-four finish.

Antonio Conte's side have the added threat of Harry Kane looking for the goal that would move him level with Jimmy Greaves' Tottenham record of 266.

With a north London derby record of 14 goals in 18 appearances against Arsenal, it would be little surprise if Sunday's showdown proves a milestone moment for Kane, who is also two short of reaching 200 Premier League goals.

"We are talking about a world-class striker and for sure he is going to beat every record. He is doing something incredible," Conte said.

Well aware of the high stakes in the latest battle between these eternal rivals, Conte added: "We know very well the importance of this game. I remember last season a fantastic atmosphere in this game and I expect the same again."

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