So after an interminable week of internationals and other dullery it all kicks off again with a bang this morning.
The North London derby has thrown up some … er … interesting games in the recent past. Trying to predict what might happen today is as difficult as throwing a handful of coins and getting heads and tails right on all of them. What could happen? Anything, that’s what. And that’s because of us, it’s because of them, it’s because of this game, but mostly it’s down to us.
We are a team that is as capable of a great win as we are of a head-scratching defeat and the manager today will be looking for his team to be a bit more solid than they were against Fulham. It looks as if the players having tests have all come through them, and that should mean a return between the sticks for Wojciech Szczesny. Vito Mannone has had a good run in the team but despite that has not done enough to convince anyone he’s the man for the job on a long-term basis, so it’s good to get the Pole back in the goal.
I suspect we’ll see this team: Szczesny – Sagna – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Arteta – Wilshere – Cazorla – Podolski – Walcott – Giroud
Which, on paper, is about as strong as we get minus a natural left back, but in terms of who we have available it certainly is. And it’s a team good enough to win this game, provided we cut out the silly stuff. That, for me, is the main worry today. We know Sp*rs have players who can hurt us, if we let them, but it’s our tendency to self-harm that’s the bigger concern.
In a game like today the players need to be switched on fully from the start. No goalkeeping blunders, no defensive errors, everyone working hard to ensure that the team maintains shape when we don’t have the ball and, of course, to get it back. The old cliche about form going out the window for a derby game often rings true. And in some ways that might be a good thing for an Arsenal side whose form hasn’t been stellar in recent weeks. Captain Thomas Vermaelen says:
This isn’t a normal game – it’s a special one. We need to get three points on the board, but I think it would give both the fans and the team a massive boost if we won.
While a man who loved a goal or two against Sp*rs, Robert Pires, sums it up perfectly:
It’s always a tough game with a cracking atmosphere. But above all it’s a match you can’t afford to lose, plain and simple.
And that should be the starting point for today, the minimum requirement. While it’s clear we’ll have higher ambitions than that, and we have the players to hurt them at the attacking end of the pitch, it’s got to be built on a solid defensive platform. I’m sure they’ll have looked at our left hand side, seen how vulnerable we are there, and will look to try and exploit that again today. Which means we need to tighten up. Not just the left back, not just Podolski who has to provide some cover, but the whole team who can make it difficult for Sp*rs to do what they want.
As discussed on the Arsecast yesterday, opponents will always think they’ve got a chance with Arsenal. Going two goals down doesn’t mean game over the way it used to, but I thought Gunnerblog made a good point. Sometimes we talk of a striker needing a goal to go in off his arse to break a lean spell, perhaps we need a dodgy clean sheet to instill some kind of belief again. I think we’d all prefer if it were an accomplished defensive performance, but beggars, choosers and all that.
Whatever happens at the back though, I think we’ve got enough from an attacking point of view to win this game. Jack Wilshere’s return in midfield adds some bite and drive, not to mention quality on the ball, and I’m hopeful that his presence will result in more from Arteta and Cazorla who have struggled a bit in recent games. As the link in midfield between the two he’s got the vision and ability to make more happen than others whose displays haven’t really been good enough lately.
Cazorla, in particular, needs to rediscover his early season form, and although I suspect he’ll be well marshalled throughout he’s good enough to impose himself on the game. His goal against United is forgotten because of the result and the drama that followed but it ought not to be overlooked when assessing recent form. Podolski has a goal and an assist in his last two games, Olivier Giroud is really finding some form (6 goals in his last 8 games), while Theo Walcott, although still confusing and frustrating, it’s a statistical wet dream this season.
So we have what it takes to take three points today, from a footballing perspective. It requires improvement but that’s not an impossible task by any means. The players need to remember that they’re in the famous red and white, they need to give everything they’ve got. When legs and lungs are burning, giving that little bit extra could be the difference between winning and losing. Margins are that tight.
Desire, heart, spirit, character, will to win, all those things sound cliched but they’ll be important today. Stand up and be counted, give your all, play for the shirt. Make sure you don’t lack a little bit the sharpness and, for fucks sake, make sure the handbrake, the pesky, irritating, annoying, pain in the arse, handbrake is off. This is the Arsenal you’re playing for, at home, against them. Nothing less than everything is acceptable. Give that and we win.
Come. On. You. Reds.
There’ll be full North London derby live blog coverage, starting around midday. That means up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. It’s newly optimised for mobile too, so check back shortly for another post with all the information and team news, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.
We’ll also be sending important updates, goals, red cards, half-time etc, directly to Twitter from inside the live blog.
And remember, if you fancy betting on the game, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register.
Right, time for breakfast, clear the head, walk the dog, then beat that lot. I think that’s only reasonable.