Rafael van der Vaart has spelled out the importance of tonight’s North London derby – billing it as ‘one of the biggest games of the year’.
The Dutchman knows this is the business end of the season now, with seven games remaining as we aim to secure a top four Premier League finish.
Arsenal have their own battle on their hands to keep leaders Manchester United within their reach, making it a must-win for both sides.
It will be only Rafa’s second North London derby since arriving from Real Madrid last summer, and he has fond memories of his first – the famous 3-2 comeback win at the Emirates in November.
So he is relishing another encounter with the Gunners, saying: “We are coming to the end of season and we want to be in the top four. It is quite close so we have to win our games and this is one of the biggest of the year.
“When I arrived, the people spoke to me and said that Arsenal is the biggest game of the year. I obviously have good contact with Robin van Persie and he told me that these are the biggest games but winning at the Emirates after being 2-0 down was a great start for me.
“Arsenal want to be the champions this year so they need to win but we also need to win. I think it will be an open game with hopefully some great goals. We are looking forward to the game.”
It will be our first outing since our Champions League exit at the hands of Real last week – but Rafa insists that has not dented our confidence and only made us more determined for the rest of the season.
He added: “We are in good shape. It is a long season but we have to work hard now. We want to be back playing in the Champions League next year, which is why we need to win tonight.
“We have got some hard games to come with Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea away. It is not going to be easy but we will fight until the last minute.”