Arsenal’s leadership problems have been exposed by Tottenham and could cost them a Champions League spot

LONDON – The only good news for Arsenal after their humiliating 3-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur in the north London derby was that Champions League qualification remains in the hands of Mikel Arteta, despite scenes of celebration among home fans at the end of the game and his team.

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It probably didn’t feel like it as Gunners captain Martin Odegaard led his humbled team-mates to their supporters to offer an apologetic thank you to those who stuck around to the end, but the math is clear – if Arsenal have their last two on Monday Matches wins against Newcastle United and six days later at home to Everton, the Emirates Stadium will host Champions League football again next season for the first time since 2017, regardless of what Spurs do in their home final against Burnley and the final game in Norwich City to do.

“The disappointment shouldn’t ruin the great chance of the two games we have ahead of us,” said Arteta after Thursday’s defeat. “We can’t wait to play on Monday, that’s how I feel and that’s all I have to say.”

But if Arsenal are to beat Spurs to the finish line in the race for fourth place, they’ll need to pass a test of nerve and character to achieve their goal and we still don’t know if this Arsenal side have the qualities to do it. And with centre-back Rob Holding set to miss the game against Newcastle through suspension after being sent off for two yellow cards – both for fouls on Son Heung-min – Gabriel will almost certainly be sidelined with a hamstring injury sustained in the final stages against the Spurs have Arsenal to solve crucial defensive problems.

However, Arteta can improve his defense. The Arsenal manager can field Granit Xhaka in the middle and hope Ben White’s hamstring injury has recovered sufficiently for him to start at Newcastle. The former Brighton defender was benched at Spurs but Arteta chose not to risk his fitness as the game was lost at half-time. But while Arteta can rearrange his squad, this season’s results suggest he will travel to St James’ Park, unaware of whether his players will rise to the challenge against Newcastle and then Everton.

Will they do what they have done at Chelsea and West Ham United in recent weeks by responding to the pressure with a confident, attacking performance that delivers three points, or will they return to the panicked side who have played back-to-back games against Crystal Palace, Brighton and lost? Southampton last month?

In short, this question has been Arsenal’s problem for too long and predates Arteta’s arrival as manager following the sacking of Unai Emery in December 2019. They blow hot and cold and their inconsistency and fragility is why they are now a must for Newcastle go and win. Those three defeats to Palace, Brighton and Southampton – games Arsenal should have won – could see them missing out on Champions League football again.

Odegaard’s selection as captain in recent weeks, with regular skipper Alexandre Lacazette absent from the starting line-up, underscores the obvious flaws in Arteta’s side – a lack of seasoned experience in key areas. Arsenal are still missing one or more players who sense danger in games and know when to adjust the pace to their own goals. Xhaka has proven too many times too ruthless to properly lead the team, while when Lacazette is playing, he’s too focused on his game to lead others.

The captaincy has thus fallen onto Odegaard’s talented shoulders, despite the fact that the ex-Real Madrid midfielder is only 23 and still holding his own in the upper echelons of the game. The Norway international is a very good player, someone who will be a central figure in Arsenal’s future, but he doesn’t yet have the experience to lead a club like Arsenal.

Yet Arteta will have looked around his squad and seen that he had few other options for the captaincy, and that was confirmed during the performance against Spurs, where the likes of Holding, Gabriel Martinelli, Cedric Soares, Bukayo Saka and Odegaard showed up needed. older head to guide them through a difficult experience against a team that had far more experience at the highest level.

In contrast, Spurs were packed with players who had been playing at the highest level for years – Son, Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Eric Dier all showed their experience in the game, as did coach Antonio Conte far more often Block as Arteta.

Arsenal’s problem isn’t unique – Manchester United are another big club struggling to find the right characters to bond the team together – but Arteta has a promising group of up-and-coming players who just need some on-pitch guidance to make it happen to help them take the club back to where it needs to be. But missing out on Europe’s top club competition could send Arsenal through their vicious cycle for another spin. It would deny them the opportunity to recruit top players with Champions League funds – a potential move for City’s Gabriel Jesus could be met if they end up in the Europa League – while players like Saka and Martinelli attracted interest from players like Saka and Martinelli could awaken Liverpool and City who could offer elite-level football and the financial boost that comes with it.

So it’s a big week for Arsenal. They are in a better position than a year ago when they finished eighth and missed out on the European Cup, but their return to the Champions League after defeat at Spurs is now in the balance. The odds are still slightly in Arsenal’s favor, however, so now is the time to silence the doubters by proving they can deliver when things heat up.

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