Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi appear to have been “ousted from the core group” at Arsenal, says Alan Smith, with Mikel Arteta displaying the kind of decisive leadership that north London rivals Tottenham are lacking ahead of a derby date on Sunday.
The Gunners are set to lock horns with Spurs with just one place and a solitary point separating them in the Premier League standings.
Arsenal just about have bragging rights with four games of the 2019-20 campaign left to take in.
They limped out of the blocks when competitive action resumed in June, but have since hit their stride to take five wins and a draw from their last six games in all competitions.
Smith believes contrasting moods at two close neighbours could work in Arsenal’s favour when a fierce rivalry is rekindled, with Arteta making the kind of bold decisions – such as dropping those not pulling their weight – that have the Gunners moving forward and “nobody doubting” their manager.
“If we’re going on momentum, there’s only one winner on Sunday,” ex-Gunners frontman Smith said in the Evening Standard.
“Arsenal, with all their challenges and shortcomings, are at least enjoying a bit of optimism. Under Mikel Arteta, they are looking up as an improving outfit, hoping to close the gap on the top teams.
“To give the situation some context, Spurs are 18 points worse off than at this stage last season. That’s the biggest drop of any Premier League team. Admittedly, the side was gradually deteriorating under Mauricio Pochettino, and getting to the Champions League final only masked those problems.
“But to fall so far so quickly? These are worrying times down Tottenham High Road. And there must be serious doubts as to whether Mourinho is the right man to turn the ship around.
“Meanwhile, up the Seven Sisters Road, nobody is doubting Arteta’s ability. The Spaniard has laid out a clear path towards improvement that most of the players are prepared to follow.
“Those not on board with the project, such as Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi, get quickly ousted from the core group.
“I think that’s the big difference between the teams at the moment — the message is clear at the Emirates, while the thinking looks muddled across north London.
“From that point of view, Arsenal go into this derby, set to be the strangest on record, in a better frame of mind. That doesn’t mean, of course, that my old club will win. But it should lend an advantage in this joust for local pride and a Europa League slot.”
Arsenal are only a point behind Sheffield United as things stand, and two adrift of Wolves, with European qualification still very much there to be shot at by a side that are also through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup.