MARTIN KEOWN cannot remember a more important North London derby than tomorrow’s because he never expected to see Arsenal so low.
The former Invincible warns patience is beginning to wear thin at the Emirates and believes a massive spending spree is required this summer to stop the rot.
Martin Keown believes Sunday’s derby is huge for Arsenal as they’ve fallen so far behindCredit: PA:Press Association
But he believes that Mikel Arteta is the right man to turn things around even if results have not been anything to get too excited about.
Keown made 449 appearances for the Gunners and won three League titles and three FA Cups during a Highbury career which spanned 21 years.
So it pains him to see the team currently languishing tenth in the Premier League table and seven points adrift of bitter rivals Spurs.
Keown cannot even contemplate the prospect of defeat by Jose Mourinho’s team at the Emirates tomorrow and admits: “I don’t know if I can remember a more important derby game.
“Nobody expected Arsenal to be this low because they are the third most successful club in England and steeped in history.
“There has to be a level of patience with Arteta and they have to back him in the summer to let him put more pieces into the jigsaw puzzle.
“But they won’t wait forever because there are too many good teams ahead of them and I can’t see them making it into the top four this season.
“They are seven points behind Spurs so this is a huge part of the season for them and they have got to win these games.
Keown is an ambassador for the FA and McDonald’s Grassroots Football AwardsCredit: Jed Leicester for The FA
“Arteta is in a results business and when you lose to Spurs the fans are on your back so this weekend it’s all about beating the rivals to keep people on board and look to the future.”
Keown compares the current situation to Arsenal to the one which Arsene Wenger inherited when he took over from Bruce Rioch back in 1996.
He says: “That first big summer under Arsene when he brought in Marc Overmas, Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Nicolas Anelka made a massive difference.
“Those arrivals gave a real boost to the core group of players who were already there and had won trophies in the past.
“Now we are looking at a parallel situation and this summer is going to be huge because they’ve got a lot of work to do to bring in the calibre of player they need to make the team competitive in the Premier League again.
“Ten senior players have left the club this season which has been quite a turnaround.
“He’s cleared out a lot of baggage from the Wenger and Unai Emery eras because Ozil, Mustafi and Sokratis have gone and Toreira, Guendouzi and Kolasinac have gone out on loan.
“That’s a lot for a young manager to take on board and he’s been quite direct in making those big decisions.
“But now he’s freed up the space in his squad and he can’t make any mistakes in the transfer market. He needs to bring in four of five this summer and the quality of player has to be absolutely top-drawer.”
Yet Keown insists it is not all doom and gloom at the club which remains so close to his heart.
Speaking as an ambassador for the FA and McDonald’s Grassroots Football Awards, he says: “The young players are the strength of this team. Smith Rowe and Saka have been outstanding and Tierney looks nailed on.
“I like Gabriel and Partey because they are more physical so one by one the pieces are very slowly dropping into place.
“Arteta is a supremely intelligent coach and he has that innovation on the pitch, but I’d like to see things go a bit quicker.
“I don’t like to see Smith Rowe’s pathway being blocked because I thought he was magnificent in that central position and then suddenly Odegaard came in and I didn’t want to see that.
Keown knows what it takes to succeed in a clash against SpursCredit: Reuters
“I also feel a bit annoyed that we’ve not seen much of Gabriel Martinelli because I think he’s an immense talent and if he’s fit enough to sit on the bench I’d like to see more of him on match days.”
Keown participated in many stormy North London derbies and was even sent-off during a fiery 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane in 1999.
So it really hurts him to look at the current table, even if Spurs aren’t exactly setting the Premier League alight either.
He says: “Tottenham have gone above Arsenal in terms of consistency and they reached the Champions League final.
“But they’ve started to fall away in the past year or so and nowe the two teams are in this arm wrestle.
“No-one is disputing the size of Spurs or the quality of their group but if you want to be a big club you’ve got to win trophies and they haven’t done that since 2008.
“So it will be interesting to see what Mourinho offers tactically on Sunday because he wants to sit deep and beat teams on the break but he’s almost been forced to become more creative because people have been so critical of his approach.”
Nothing gave Keown greater pleasure than beating Tottenham and there were plenty of occasions when he silenced the noisy neighbours.
He recalls: “We beat Tottenham 9-0 when I was in the youth team and 6-0 when we won the Combination League.
“Those results resonated around the whole club because everyone was so worked up about beating them and those results were a statement for the future.
“When I was an apprentice during the 1980 we all got fed up hearing about Tottenham and the magnificent football they played with Glenn Hoddle.
“At the time it was always ‘boring Arsenal’ but then Arsere Wenger came in and suddenly everything changed.
“We took away their style and we were winning trophies and I’ve never seen anything like Sol Campbell’s first game for us back at White Hart Lane because suddenly we had everything the Spurs fans wanted.
“My first derby was in 1985 when every other match was called off because of the weather and the undersoil heating at Highbury wasn’t working.
A win for Arsenal will be huge to revive their European hopesCredit: Reuters
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“I’d waited all this time to play in front of 54,000 people but the pitch was like an ice rink and all I could think about was not slipping over.
“I think it ended as a draw because no-one could stay on their feet long enough to put the ball in the net.
“I didn’t actually get onto the pitch in my final derby when we won the League at White Hart Lane in 2004.
“I was just about to go on as sub when Robbie Keane scored a 90th minute penalty to make it 2-2 and the boss said ‘Martin, let’s leave it’.
“That was a pity because I was 37 at the time and it would have been nice to do a little victory jig at White Hart Lane.”
Arsenal legend Martin Keown is launching nominations for the 2021 FA & McDonald’s Grassroots Football Awards. To nominate your grassroots hero, go to www.mcdonalds.co.uk/awards