We’re back in action tonight after what seems like an eternity, when Arsenal take on Crystal Palace and also Mikel Arteta takes on Patrick Vieira (or vice versa).
Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t ignore that aspect of tonight’s encounter, not least because it was brought up time and time again in the pre-game press conference. It’s easy to understand why, to be fair. Two former Arsenal captains, in charge of Premier League clubs. The more successful of them returning as boss of Palace, while Arteta is still scrambling in some ways after the opening three games of the season caused a bit of a meltdown.
To add to that dynamic, it was barely a few months ago when Vieira – along with Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp – was revealed to be involved with Daniel Ek’s unsuccessful bid to buy the club. Quite what his role might have been had it gone through is unclear, and given Thierry’s stated desire to manage Arsenal, it might even have been a bit awkward. Ahead of this fixture though, Vieira said:
“I was just expressing myself as Patrick, ex-Arsenal football player. I am in a different position than a couple of months ago. So I’m not going to express myself in the same way than when I was just an ex-Arsenal football player.”
Both managers spent time under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger, and comparisons to him are inevitable. If we’ve spent a long time looking for the next Vieira in midfield, it’d be natural to think that the next Wenger (certainly the first period of his time in charge) would be a lovely thing to have. Like I said previously though, sometimes you have a player, a captain, or even a manager who is basically unique, so you have to find a different way. On those comparisons, Arteta said:
“You have no choice [but to accept it]. You have the choice to say, ‘No, I won’t take that job because they are going to compare me’ but if you love what you do and feel capable of achieving what you think you can achieve for that club and what they are demanding you to do overall, then it’s your decision to take it on.
“I think we were all guided and in a way, as well, feel in a different way about the game because we had Arsene as a manager. He started the fire in us to become a coach, and not just me or probably Patrick, but many others, in his way of treating everybody at the club with how he felt about the game.”
Of course, the managers are an interesting sidebar to the main event, which is Arsenal versus Palace and the three Premier League points on offer. We know Vieira has had an impact on how they play, he does things differently to Roy Hodgson, and they’ve added some good, young attacking talent to their squad which helps them play that way. They’re more open, more expressive, want the ball more, and that’s what we’re going to have to deal with later on.
From our perspective, the team more or less picks itself. The keeper and the back four are practically set in stone now; we know Thomas Partey, Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will start if available, and the only real question is how to set up – which then leaves the last piece of the puzzle. Will it be Albert Sambi Lokonga in midfield, or Thomas Partey sitting deep in the 4-3-3 we saw at Burnley, leaving room for an extra attacking player like Nicolas Pepe? I suspect it will probably be the former.
It didn’t quite work against Brighton, although I don’t think that’s a reflection on Sambi at all. There were too many players off their game that day, and Brighton were good. Whatever the plan was for that game, it was difficult to get it right when the spine of our side was sub-par, so maybe it’s a case of better execution today. Three points this evening would lift us into the top 10, and home games like this are so important to maintaining the improved trajectory we’ve been on since the opening three games of the season.
Against Sp*rs we had a fast start, and that played a big part in the performance, the way it connected with the fans, the atmosphere, and a very successful day. Hopefully that’s something we can replicate today. No doubt Patrick Vieira will get a warm welcome from all sides of the ground, but once that whistle goes, let’s do everything we can to make sure he goes home unhappy. That’s football!
Catch you later for the game.