Arsenal’s 3-0 loss to Spurs last season was the catalyst for title charge – this win would be most significant so far

    FOOTBALL managers often talk about learning more from the agony of defeat than the glory of victory.

    They will tell you the most painful setbacks can inspire magnificent achievements. That the darkest hour comes just before dawn. 

    Mikel Arteta have taken Arsenal to the top of the league as we reach the halfway point of the season

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    Mikel Arteta have taken Arsenal to the top of the league as we reach the halfway point of the seasonCredit: Getty

    And most of the time their words are a bloody great pile of horse manure, spoken in vain hope rather than expectation. 

    But when Arsenal capitulated at Tottenham last May – a 3-0 drubbing which eventually saw them surrender fourth place, and Champions League football, to their bitter rivals – it truly was a catalyst for this season’s title charge. 

    Mikel Arteta has frequently used memories of that night – as well as a second limp surrender at Newcastle four days later – to motivate his side for this season’s extraordinary title bid. 

    Arteta’s side had arrived for the North London Derby on the back of four straight wins and were four points clear of Spurs with three games to go. 

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    Victory would have sealed their return to the European elite, a draw would have kept the Gunners as white-hot favourites, but what followed was not just a costly defeat but a total embarrassment.  

    Rob Holding suffered a personal meltdown – sent off after 33 minutes for a string of cynical fouls on Son Heung-Min and Spurs rattled up a three-goal lead two minutes into the second half. 

    In public, Arteta defended his troops, laughably claiming he was ‘proud’ of them and that he could not give an honest opinion on the match for fear of a massive suspension. 

    That was supposed to lay the blame with ref Paul Tierney but it fooled nobody – Holding could have been sent off even earlier than he was and Arsenal had completely failed to show up for their biggest derby in years. 

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    Antonio Conte recently claimed it was a ‘miracle’ that he led Spurs to fourth last season but in truth it was an Arsenal disaster-class which gifted them Champions League football.

    Yet today, Arsenal return to the scene of the crime at the top of the Premier League – dreaming of a first title since the Invincibles almost two decades ago and looking nailed-on certainties to finish above Tottenham for the first time in seven years.    

    But Arsenal have failed to win on their last eight visits to Spurs – at three different stadiums, the old White Hart Lane, Wembley and the new Lane – losing six of them.

    So today represents the stiffest test yet of their mettle and stamina. The Lane will be a bearpit, as it was in May, when Son produced his last great performance in a Spurs shirt before this season’s slump.  

    A fesity game last may saw Tottenham take the last Champions League place beating Arsenal 3-0 in the process

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    A fesity game last may saw Tottenham take the last Champions League place beating Arsenal 3-0 in the processCredit: AP

    Since then Arsenal have made a couple of decent signings and recalled William Saliba from a loan in France.

    But with Gabriel Jesus injured and Eddie Nketiah standing in, at least seven of those who started at Spurs last season will line up again today. 

    The true difference has been in attitude rather than personnel. 

    Last season, Arsenal were exceeding expectations by reaching fourth but then the naivety and inconsistency of youth struck them down in the final straight. 

    William Saliba has been a key player for the Gunners this season

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    William Saliba has been a key player for the Gunners this seasonCredit: Getty

    This term, Arteta’s men look the real deal. In the space of eight months, Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli – who all started last May – seem to have matured from youngsters with huge potential to senior men who can handle expectation. 

    Arsenal have already overcome some serious obstacles – winning their home North London Derby, pipping Liverpool in a classic and winning at Chelsea.

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    But victory at the Lane would be the most significant to date – especially after last season’s humiliation.    

    And if Arteta speaks of that painful night providing the fuel for this title challenge, then this time you’d better believe him.

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