For Mikel Arteta, any game against Liverpool stirs the juices. ‘Once a blue, always a blue,’ a mantra those with deep-rooted Everton connections live their life by.
Having spent six years on Merseyside, Arteta is familiar with the sentiment. He knows what it’s like to exist in the shadow of the red half across Stanley Park. He’s lived and breathed the rivalry.
Of course, Arteta’s allegiances are very much of the red persuasion at the moment. But it’s the reds of north London who have stolen his heart.
Yet some things never change; again it is Liverpool who are threatening to ruin his party.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are top of the Premier League, five points clear of fourth-placed Arsenal.
Mikel Arteta has claimed Sunday’s FA Cup clash against Liverpool will be a ‘special game’
Arteta played for Liverpool’s city rivals Everton before moving to Arsenal and added he had ‘so many memories from playing against them’
The Arsenal boss also called on their home fans to make a ‘hostile’ atmosphere at the Emirates for the match
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And then there’s the small matter of Sunday. The Emirates Stadium. FA Cup third round. Liverpool.
Arteta is fully Arsenal. But does the Evertonian in him come out to play on such occasions?
‘It is special for me and I have so many memories from playing against them [Liverpool],’ explained Arteta, who revealed Thomas Partey is still ‘weeks’ away from making a first team return.
‘They are a top side and it requires a big operation. A lot of preparation and that’s what we have to do.
‘That was proved again a week or two ago when we played them at Anfield – it was an incredible match. I hope it will be a very good match again.
‘We are really happy with the atmosphere that we have created at the Emirates. It has been really supportive.
‘Can we tweak it and make it even more hostile? I think we can. That’s the next step in my opinion.
‘We have to be so grateful for what we’re achieving in our home ground. Sunday is going to be another big one.’
Liverpool come into the tie having gone unbeaten in their last five games across all competitions
Jurgen Klopp’s side sit five points clear of Arsenal at the top of the Premier League standings
Arsenal versus Liverpool could well develop into becoming the narrative that defines the season.
There’s every chance the two clubs will be go head-to-head for the title as we enter the business end of the campaign.
So, with that in mind, Sunday’s cup tie represents an opportunity to strike a pertinent blow.
Perhaps not one that will have a direct consequence on the destination of the Premier League trophy – but one that could inflict pangs of doubt for the loser.
And while Arteta tried his best to play down the psychological impact Sunday’s result will have on the rest of the season, he’ll know more than most what victory over Liverpool will represent psychologically for his squad.
Or, more pertinently, what impact it may have on Liverpool’s mindset moving forward.
‘We have been sending very strong performances in the last two years for everyone to understand where we are and where we want to be,’ said Arteta.
‘We have another opportunity to win a game and go to the next round and that’s the only thing we have to think of.’
Arteta lumped praise on Sunday’s opposition before urging his players to be more consistent
A sequence of one victory in six matches – including defeats in their previous two versus West Ham and Fulham – has thrust the merits of Arsenal trophy tilt under the microscope.
An early exit from the cup will serve to amplify emerging reservations about a team that has – by and large – been so impressive.
But even then, you get the impression Arteta won’t be throwing the baby out with the bath water.
‘It (the poor run) affects momentum because we were top at Christmas and now we are fourth,’ said the Spaniard.
‘You can be very tempted to look with the microscope or with the telescope and have a bit more perspective.
‘My job, big time, is to look with the telescope and have perspective and analyse things in the broader way and not get affected by one performance.
‘All I have done is to reinforce and tell them how good they are, accept there were periods in the game against Fulham where we didn’t hit the levels that we wanted to earn the right to win a football match.
‘We accepted that and we move on. We need to believe again in what we do and be consistent.
‘We want to continue on that road that has taken us so far, much further than a lot of people expected or imagined and we need to continue to do that.
Arsenal suffered another blow to their title hopes at the weekend after they were beaten 2-1 by Fulham at Craven Cottage
The Gunners have not won in their last three matches, but Arteta was aware of the psychological impact a win against Liverpool could have on the rest of their season
‘The thing is I don’t know where that confidence is, we can’t measure it. We can imagine how they feel like.
‘It is something that is there and we believe that we understand it but is actually not a fact.
‘It is more a perception and that confidence can change after the first minute if we have a great delivery and they score a great goal. The confidence changes immediately.
‘Let’s try to give them a lot of love and confidence and positive reassurance to make sure that they know how good they are.’