It is more than 18 years since Arsenal finally broke ground in the building of the Emirates Stadium. But it is only on Saturday against Tottenham that Martin Keown believes the final piece will be cemented in place. Then, and only then, will Arsenal have their home back.
His own time at the club came in successful spells based just up the road at Highbury – his last appearance there as a sub when Arsenal finally lifted the Premier League trophy at the end of their Invincible season.
The move to the Emirates two years ago marked a change of fortunes as the trophies dried up – and it is only this season under Mikel Arteta that Arsenal have looked like they have finally settled there.
It just needs a north London derby win finally to make it home sweet home. “Spurs players will walk out into a very different Emirates this time around,” he said. “The atmosphere, the unity – I have not seen anything like it for a number of years.
“Probably I have never seen it in that stadium. It is now Arsenal’s proper home – maybe it did not feel like that before. But it does now. And if they can beat Spurs, it will make it feel even more like home. Really cement it as home.
“The delightful thing for the Arsenal fans is that they now know they have a team that they know can compete. That is why they have been so vociferous. They are a developing team now – a great young side.
“They’ll know where they can exploit Tottenham. It is about Arsenal not losing the game – winning it might be a problem. But the character is getting better, the quality is getting better and all that together is vital.
“We had that in abundance at Highbury – the crowd could win us games. And there is an energy now about the club again.” The building process on the pitch has taken just as long, as laying the same solid back-four foundation that Arsenal enjoyed at Highbury proving particularly problematic.
Coincidentally, Keown – the “fifth Beatle” in Arsenal’s legendary Dixon-Adams-Bould-Winterburn back-four, feels the current crop are once again worthy of being mentioned in the same sort of breath. This time, 21-year-old centre-back William Saliba seems to have been the missing piece.
“Of course you want senior players around, but he seems a very measured, very calm individual,” Keown said. “Arsenal have got themselves an outstanding player here. “There are times when you have to have young players together starting out, but why can’t Saliba be the leader?
“We could be looking at a real character there. He and Gabriel are a partnership that is going to be there for a number of years. Ben White has been shunted out to wide right, but he has responded well.
“And at times it can be a back three. And I am a big fan of Kieren Tierney – I can see a captain in him.” Keown’s only fear is the three-pronged Tottenham wrecking ball that will be reporting for duty this weekend.
“The thing about Arsenal is that they have to be secure,” he said. “They want to keep clean sheets. And Tottenham is the ultimate challenge now, really, when you think about their three front players. This a game where they can cement their reputation as a growing back-four for Arsenal.”
Watch Arsenal v Spurs live on BT Sport 1 from 11.30am on Saturday 1st October. For more info, visit btsport.com