North London derby day.
After wins over Only Norwich and Only Burnley, we now have to contend with this lot with their snide faces and overly-hairless legs. The good news for Mikel Arteta is that he basically has a full squad to choose from. No injuries, no suspensions, and that means he has some decisions to make.
At the back, I don’t expect anything different from Burnley, with that new look unit given another game to help them gel and understand each other as the season goes on. Last week, Ben White and Gabriel had to deal with big lumpy Burnley forwards who are tough to play against but not a hugely complicated proposition. You know what kind of a threat they’ll pose and how. Today will be different though, with Kane dropping off and Son looking to run in behind. How we deal with that will be key, and part of that will need to come from midfield if Kane sits deep. Who follows him? Who deals with him when he goes in there?
I wrote yesterday about Granit Xhaka, and to be honest it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he started today. I know there are reservations about him, and I understand why, but today I have to go into this one believing that he can not do something stupid. Today is not about bemoaning our own team selection pre-game, but concentrating on how much we need to win this game at the cost to them. The Thomas Partey/Xhaka partnership has worked before, and given the way Sp*rs are likely to set up, we might need that extra man in midfield anyway.
However, his return means that someone else has to sit out. If we assume that Martin Odegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are going to start, it’s one of Emile Smith Rowe, Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka. Smith Rowe started this game on the left last season and was really good, so maybe it’s down to the other two. If you were going on just this season, you’d have to think Saka is the one is most danger of missing out because he really hasn’t got going yet. Understandably, there’s a bit of a post-Euro’s hangover, perhaps coupled with a young player hitting a bit of a plateau as they often do before they kick on again. It’s a tough decision for Arteta though, but I think Pepe will probably sneak it.
Last weekend, we should have scored more, but lacked the final pass and the final touch, that would have created some moments of real danger. If you’re looking for encouragement, that’s certainly better than not creating at all, but we need to see improvement today. Chances will be at a premium in a game like this, and we have to make them count when we make them.
With a lot of new players in the side, Arteta was asked if they understood the significance of this particular fixture. He said:
They know, and I will make sure that they understand what it means: the history between the two clubs and where this rivalry comes from and what it means emotionally to all of our supporters.
You have to play this game with a slightly different skin because there is a little bit more at stake. It is a north London derby, and emotionally it is a different one to play and we know how much it means for our supporters as well.
I always find it a bit funny when it’s assumed that footballers, because they might be new arrivals or from abroad, can’t grasp the concept of a derby being especially important. It’s not like this is unique to us, at every level of the game local rivalries exist, so I don’t worry that anyone will take it for granted. All the same, there is a level of performance expected, that extra bit of effort which is always appreciated – something which can lift a partisan crowd and maybe produce some positive energy. The manager has played in this game (among other big derbies), he also knows how important it is for him, so I suspect he’ll have had some words about what he expects from them.
I have no doubt the players will be up for it, and while how hard we work can have an impact on how we play, it’ll be more down to how effective we can be going forward, and how well we deal with their threat. The old cliche about form going out the window in the derby has a ring of truth to it, and for this one neither side is exactly flying. We’re still trying to recover from a dreadful start to the season, they’re reeling from some recent defeats, so hopefully our trajectory is sufficient to win out today.
With a raucous crowd right behind the team (get there early if you’re going!), it’d be great to take another little step forward, especially at their expense. For all the frustration that exists around what’s going on in recent times, let’s remember that on a day like this, the guns should be pointed outwards – as a dear departed friend of ours used to say – aiming directly at a load of chickens on basketballs.
COME ON YOU REDS!
Catch you later!