Arsenal return to action on Thursday night with a chance to guarantee Champions League qualification with victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the North London Derby.
Whilst it’s not on the same level of clinching a Premier League title at the ground of their biggest rivals, Gunners manager Mikel Arteta is relishing the challenge of confirming his side’s return to Europe’s top table after a near six-year absence by claiming all three points at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
“It’s the most exciting one, probably. But we had others when we played finals against Chelsea and Liverpool in the FA Cup and the Community Shield, it was the same,” Arteta said in his pre-match press conference. “When you have the opportunity to achieve one of your objectives in the season, you just cannot wait to play the game because this is a job, and the work you have done throughout the season to try to earn it.
READ MORE: Tottenham vs Arsenal: North London Derby provides epic showdown for Champions League football
“The message is clear, if we win against them we are in the Champions League next season. You don’t need any motivation or to tell them anything more than that. The opportunity is there, we are going to play and go for it like we always do. It’s how we have got into this position, and it’s how we are going to approach it.”
Ahead of the big game, Arteta and his coaching staff put the Gunners squad through their paces during a training session at London Colney on Wednesday afternoon and after going through the media footage, here’s what we spotted ahead of the game against Spurs on Friday night.
Lacazette sets Lokonga’s forfeit
Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe and Albert Sambi Lokonga were involved in a shooting practice drill in training ahead of the Tottenham clash – which is somewhat interesting given none of the trio are expected to start the game – but it’s important they remain sharp.
Despite not scoring from open play in 2022, the Frenchman was able to find the back of the net with ease and the same can be said about Pepe, who appeared to even surprise himself with a looping header.
However, for Lokonga, things didn’t exactly go his way. Though he managed to keep up with the two attackers for the most part, it was ruled that the Belgian international had lost the mini-game between the trio with his forfeit – as revealed by Lacazette – being to pay for dinner.
Thomas Partey is back in training. The Ghana international has been sidelined with a thigh injury sustained during last month’s 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace but football.londonunderstands he is taking part in daily personal training sessions as he continues his recovery.
Now the target for the midfielder is to rejoin the first-team squad within the “next few weeks” and the best case scenario is that the returns to action for the final game of the season against Everton on May 22. However, it should be noted that Arsenal’s medical staff are keen not to rush him back and complicate his recovery.
With that said, Partey’s presence was definitely felt in this training session as at around the 2.04-minute mark – off camera – someone shouts “hey Tom!, Tommy Partey”. Maybe the 28-year-old had been spotted and those were words of encouragement.
Alongside Arthur Okonkwo, the goalkeeper tasked with facing Lacazette, Lokonga and Pepe’s shots was youngster Karl Hein. This was somewhat of a surprise – and welcome – inclusion given his loan spell with Reading was cut short earlier in the year because of a finger injury.
The fact he is training with the first-team again shows he has made a full recovery and his attention will now turn towards hopefully impressing Arteta in pre-season with the view of potentially being the third-choice goalkeeper behind Aaron Ramsdale and Matt Turner in the 2022/23 campaign.
Source by Football London