By Babalola Seyi
Mikel Arteta said the north London derby cannot be the same game without fans.
Arsenal travel to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday, aiming to extend a four-match unbeaten run in the Premier League.
Arteta is a veteran of nine north London derbies from his playing days at Emirates Stadium and remembers the encounters with a particular fondness.
“You could sense days before the game that the energy was rising, the expectations – how much it means for the people to defend the badge and the shirt that we are wearing and representing,” he said.
“It’s a rivalry but a very respectful rivalry and that created a very special atmosphere at the grounds. There wasn’t big collisions and hate, but respect and will to win, which is a beautiful thing in sport.
“I was involved in some really good ones, there were a lot of goals and a lot of excitement. The players need to understand how much it means to people. If we win, we are going to make a lot of people happy.”
As such, even though he has enjoyed the Premier League’s emergence from lockdown, Arteta feels he and Jose Mourinho will tackle an altogether different encounter this weekend.
“It’s going to be a completely different game,” he said. “We are delighted we are back playing football but it’s not the same experience, it’s not the same memory and it cannot be the same game.
“The conditions, the context and the feeling that the players are going to have on that pitch is another story.”
Arsenal are eighth in the Premier League table, a point and a place above Spurs, who have struggled for convincing form under Mourinho.
Arteta declared his opposite number to still be a “world-class” coach and reflected fondly upon their time together at Barcelona in his youth when Mourinho took charge of B team training sessions.
“He was great. He used to coach us with Barcelona B,” he said.
“He had incredible energy with young players. He was always very supportive and they all liked him.”
Shkodran Mustafi appears to have responded with similar enthusiasm to Arteta’s methods.
The Germany international was increasingly confined to the margins after a string of error-strewn displays under Unai Emery but he has featured in every gunner match since the resumption – raising the prospect of a contract extension beyond the end of his current terms in June 2021.
“I’m really happy with him, as you clearly can see. The way he is playing, how committed he is with what we’re trying to do, the level that he is showing in his performance every three or four days,” Arteta added.
“That [a new contract] is something that the club has to address, but he knows my opinion on that.”