It was the pivotal moment of last season, Bacary Sagna’s header hit the back of the net with Arsenal two goals and at that moment, thirteen points behind today’s visitors, Tottenham Hotspur. Four further goals and the combination of a relentless pursuit by Arsenal along with Harry Redknapp’s doomed bid to become England manager, buried their confidence in the coffin marked “Here Lies Another Attempt By Tottenham To Finish Above Arsenal“.
Neither side comes into the 255th meeting between the two sides in form but the repeated message is that form goes out of the window in these games. It doesn’t but never deride a football cliché. Which Arsenal will turn up? Who knows and frankly so long as it is a winning one, I don’t care. There is an element of bragging rights involved but more crucially, a season which started off in a promising manner has faltered and is danger of spiralling downwards. By equal measure, a win today might reinforce the belief in the squad, proving that the spirit which the manager asserted yesterday was so ‘tremendous’.
The manager bemoans international football and the usual gripes have emerged since the final whistles blew on Wednesday evening. Cazorla is tired, Giroud has returned with hamstring twang whilst Arteta is so hip it hurts. Well, the last obviously never went anywhere last week nor did the other players subjected to fitness tests yesterday. So the internationals weren’t actually that bad. With Villas-Boas reporting a similar level of injuries, this has all the hallmarks of an Under-21 fixture.
Arsène spoke of recent problems,
[Our attacking fluidity] has been there because in some games we had that very well at the start of the season. We lost it a little bit at Norwich, against Schalke at home where we were a bit flat and against Manchester United. Of course, then you wonder is it down to our potential. Is that down to the fact that we are just flat at the moment, physically? That’s what we want to show now; that maybe we have come through a difficult patch, physically.
Recent years have shown more than ever not to take his comments at face value since it would drive you to distraction to think that professional athletes are tired a quarter of the way through the season. I guess it’s easier that saying the complacency displayed at Carrow Road got its due reward and since then, well, we’ve been a bit rubbish and I don’t know why because they are training well.
He knows exactly what is wrong with them, why they are under-performing. Resolving those issues is a tougher job, something which the manager has experience of doing; delivery of those solutions swiftly can return the ship to the course it was steering prior to the trip to Norwich. Will it happen today? Proving that it will is difficult, the current run is not offering evidence of a quick return to winning ways. I guess that establishing two-goal leads offers the view that the attack is sorting itself out, the dropping of those leads supports the opposite; the Arsenal quandary. Winning today will not only keep the supporters happy but offer a genuine hope for the remainder of the season. There are crucial games ahead with tricky away games at Villa and Everton following the coming pair of home matches. Swift wins would make all the difference.
All of which adds to the intensity of the fixture. The changing nature of football, its globalisation, has altered bragging rights. Years ago, we could live for weeks or months on the back of a derby win. Years of differing fortunes have diminished that to an extent with more emphasis on results against title rivals. With such heights not being afforded Arsenal in recent years, the intensity of the match is returning; perhaps because Tottenham are considered a genuine rival for the top four. The fates and self-inflicted wounds denied them a place at Europe’s top table last season, surely something they will want to put right.
It’s a strange one for me this year, I don’t have any Spurs fans at work to banter with – a first for a number of years – but there has been no shortage of evidence of the meaning of the match for players; Lee Dixon told of how Adams & Co told the outsider what was expected through to Jack Wilshere’s DNA apparently having the Arsenal gene firmly embedded. Amy Lawrence captured the spirit of the occasion with the phrase, “seething and prolonged emnity“. Circumstances never undermine the local rivalry, even with the diminished status of the neighbours from Middlesex.
The team I expect Arsène to field is:
Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere; Walcott, Giroud, Podolski
This is fifth time the two sides have met on 17th November, a win apiece and two draws in the previous four. Adding to Arsenal’s tally of 101 in this fixture would set the weekend up rather nicely.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.