‘Next two games key to see direction we’re taking’ – Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta

Mikel Arteta has talked up the importance of Arsenal’s next two games and called on his squad to make the Emirates a fortress again.

The Gunners needed extra time to progress past Newcastle into the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday, but made it four consecutive wins and two in a row at home.

Crystal Palace are the next visitors to the Emirates on Thursday before the Magpies return on Monday and the Spaniard is aware they must keep up their form if they are to be serious contenders for a European spot.

“I think the next two games are crucial to see the direction that we are taking and to reinforce all the things that we have improved on and the results that we are having recently,” Arteta said.

“There’s a lot of games coming up now, some important ones as well. We need to get our home form established. We’ve had some issues there and now it’s time to get some wins.

“We’ve got two at home right now that are going to be key for the future of our season in the Premier League and the team is in great spirits. Obviously, after four wins everything looks better.”

Arteta has only faced Palace once since he took over at Arsenal in December 2019 and that ended in a 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park a year ago.

Palace and Arsenal drew 1-1 at Selhurst Park in January 2020 (Tess Derry/PA)
Palace and Arsenal drew 1-1 at Selhurst Park in January 2020 (Tess Derry/PA)

The Eagles have proved to be a bogey team in recent seasons with the Gunners failing to win any of their last four matches against Roy Hodgson’s side.

The Arsenal manager added: “They are a really dangerous side and they have shown that against big teams. They are a really compact and organised team and you know what you’re going to expect against Roy.

“They have players with a big individual talent that just need moments to win games, to create actions that can unbalance the game so we have to be very careful with that. Then, we have to play to be dominant again in the game.”

Palace winger Wilfried Zaha revealed earlier this month he came close to signing for Arsenal in the summer of 2019, but the club instead decided to buy Nicolas Pepe from Lille.

After a goal return of only four last season, the Ivory Coast international has already found the net eight times during the current campaign having been deployed in a more central role by boss Hodgson.

“Undoubtedly he’s a player who has done exceptionally well in the Premier League,” Arteta said of Zaha.

“He has created a big name because of what he’s been able to do – sometimes on his own with some individual actions. That is what the people highlight most of the time.”

Arteta is the youngest manager in the top flight at 38 while Thursday’s opponent Hodgson is the oldest at 73.

The Palace boss started his managerial career in 1976 – before the Spaniard had even been born – and, while the Gunners chief is not sure whether he will coach for so long, he admitted he has become addicted to it.

Roy Hodgson's managerial career started before Mikel Arteta was born (Michael Regan/PA)
Roy Hodgson's managerial career started before Mikel Arteta was born (Michael Regan/PA)

“It is a difficult drug to take out of your system,” Arteta said.

“If I could do it, that would be exceptional and that is the word I would use to describe what Roy has done in the game and the way he has done it.

“His charisma, his personality, the way he approaches people, the way he is as a person and what he has achieved as a coach, is just exceptional.

“I have been doing it for a short period, but I can only imagine to do it that long. It is an incredible achievement so my hat is off.”