Monday, December 11, 2023

North London derby preview + Mudryk deal off

It’s North London derby day. Whatever else is going on, or not going on, this is the main focus for today.

After a 3-1 win at our place back in early October, we’re looking for a derby double for the first time since 2013/14. At White Hart Lane, an early Tomas Rosicky rocket gave us a 1-0 win, and that was the last time we took three points there. To say we’re overdue is understating it by some distance.

There is always plenty riding on this game, plenty of history and all the rest, but I hope that last May is fresh in the minds of this Arsenal side. The dodgy penalty, the red card, the pain of what that defeat was likely to mean in the chase for the top four. It’s one I’d put in a heavily-sealed box in my mind, but thinking about it now is annoying and I hope we’re out for revenge today.

To be fair, the team we sent out back then was not anywhere near as settled as the one that will play today. Cedric at right back, Rob Holding at centre-half, a half-fit Takehiro Tomiyasu at left back. There was no Thomas Partey in midfield. White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko as a back four today is much more assured and capable. Beyond that, the Arsenal team picks itself. The only difference from that team that won in October is Eddie Nketiah in place of Gabriel Jesus, all the other parts are the same.

It will be interesting to see how the teams start this one. Spurs have been routinely poor in the first halves of games this season. Will that be something Antonio Conte is keen to address in the red hot atmosphere of the derby? We’ve seen Arsenal start games very well this season too. Will that make Conte sit in? Will he have looked at how Newcastle frustrated us and try and do something similar, banking on their quality up front and the inevitable penalty they’ll be awarded?

Asked what he’s expecting from Spurs, Arteta said:

I don’t know. Sometimes they approach games in different ways. Sometimes they are very aggressive from the beginning and sometimes they allow you to make the game and they have a lot of tools to use to cause you problems. Let’s see how the game develops. We’ll prepare for any occasion in the best possible way and then it will be left to the players to do what they have to do on the pitch.

The return of Emile Smith Rowe is a timely boost for us, giving us a little more off the bench than we’ve had for most of the season. We saw in the Newcastle game that Mikel Arteta didn’t feel he had the right player to bring on. And to be honest, I can understand why he didn’t turn to Fabio Vieira in the context of that particular game, but Smith Rowe has scored goals from the bench and could be a very useful weapon today.

Yesterday’s result in the Manchester derby adds a little extra to proceedings too. If we win, we go eight points clear of them. Don’t be fooled by Pep Guardiola conceding the title, nobody’s foolish enough to buy that – especially when we have to play City twice. But it is a huge opportunity today.

I have the Liverpool game in mind going into this one. It had been such a long time since we beat them properly, and we did it. This feels similar. Arteta says:

In the last few years there were places we haven’t won for 15, 17 or 20 years. I would like to do it all at once. We haven’t been able to do that, so we have a great challenge and opportunity on Sunday to get that done.

Any derby win is always welcome, but today’s would be extra special. Not just because it’s at their place, but what it could mean for our title push. Fingers crossed.

There’s a preview podcast over on Patreon now if you’re looking for some Sunday listening to keep you in the mood.

The other big news this morning is Chelsea hijacking the Mykhaylo Mudryk deal, because of course. That’s what they do.

From an Arsenal perspective, it’s disappointing because it looked like he was going to come, having spent months twerking for a move to North London. Instead the Ukraine international has chosen to join a shambolic club where the fans still routinely sing the name of one of Vladimir Putin’s cronies whose companies help build the weapons of war that are turned on his country. Money talks, eh?

I’ve seen it reported that Arsenal’s bid was near to €95m for him, and Chelsea’s was €100 so why didn’t we go the extra €5m? To be honest, I don’t think our bid was that high. I just can’t see it, and so much of the reporting around this transfer has been laced with misinformation and shenanigans, I find it hard to substantiate that kind of figure. Clearly we wanted him, but Shakhtar got their €100m from a club that doesn’t really care how it spends money. I also think the package Mudryk is on, with a seven+ year contract will add tens of millions to the deal as well.

As I said, I liked the idea of him, but there’s still an awful lot you can do with the money we have available to us in this market. The question now is how many of Arsenal’s eggs were in this basket. My feeling is quite a lot, if not all of them, but that doesn’t change the fact we still need additions this January. Mudryk is far from the only player out there. The club have recruited well in the last few windows, and now they have to demonstrate they can do it again. Pivot to something and someone else. And quickly.

No doubt there will be names floated, rumour started and all the rest, but having been involved in such a public pursuit and having missed out/chosen not to push for the player, we need to see what the plan B is. The manager has been consistently vocal about what he wants, and while this might be a blow to the plans, it’s up to Edu and the club to give him what he needs. The opportunity we have this season is so high, to go through another January without making the most of it would be verging on disaster. So, let’s see what happens, and how fast we can pivot to someone else.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. We’ll have all the usual live blog and post-game coverage on Arseblog News.

Come on you reds!

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