Speaking after the World Cup draw, Gareth Southgate reflected on a comment about wallcharts. It was a time of the “purity” of football. League ladders, stickers, cards from bubble gum packs; you think of all those things and then find, as Isaac wrote yesterday, that the press room teaboy had a brain fart moment and declared tonight’s game, the ‘Billion-dollar Match”.
The Championship Playoff Final is the ‘£100m match’ with hyperbole playing its’ role. This is ten times that, but only in the most irrelevant way.
Surprisingly, no-one linked it to the managers; it’s ripe for the label ‘Mouger’ or ‘Wenrinho’ derby. Or with Mourinho involved, perhaps the ‘Monger’ derby is a better sobriquet?
Football’s obsession with pigeonholing everything surely reached the nadir when Wednesday’s meeting with Huddersfield became the ‘Chapman derby’?
Perhaps the press can just leave labels to supporters; we managed to categorise these games for years before the cathode ray tube products needed selling.
If we hated a team – and even during their lean years, there was plenty of that for United – their geography came into play. United were ‘northern c*nts’. It suited Manchester’s geography and most of their supporters lived in the northern home counties. Or the south west of England. Anywhere but Manchester.
But football has changed. The cult of the manager always existed but Don Revie is the only one I remember as being genuinely despised. David Pleat found himself on the wrong end of Arsenal wit, found in what is best described as the wrong place at any time. Clough, you either loved or hated but either way, his achievements and the manner in which his sides played football, demanded respect.
Mourinho? He plumbs the well of hatred deeper than anyone else and in United, found his perfect club.
You Got a Police Record, Son?
For Arsenal, the game changed when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drilled home the winner in the 2015 Community Shield. A high-profile friendly but it eroded Mourinho’s mental grip over Wenger. Last season’s league win made the stat irrelevant; it’s no longer a mental failure, just a bad record; a ‘Zenyatta Mondatta’ if you like.
For the two clubs, the backdrop to the game could hardly be more different. United are ready to sign everyone, and a pulse is considered an optional extra. Arsenal can’t even get their best two players to sign new deals. Mesut Özil wants to go and “revealed he is still in contact with a European manager”.
It’s Zinedine Zidane before you ask, not Arsène at training. The German is the focal point of today. Injuries bit on Wednesday; Alexis appears to be recovered from his hamstring twang but Alexandre Lacazette’s groin-gah is set to keep him out until Liverpool.
The question for Wenger is who replaces the club record signing. Would Lacazette have played anyway? I think so; the starting XI against Tottenham is the one Arsène has his faith in and it’s why he didn’t rotate the side as expected on Wednesday.
Giroud with two goals against Huddersfield might expect to be the man. It’s the least disruptive change, leaving Alexis in the freer role of supporting striker. However, Danny Welbeck’s return to the matchday squad offers an alternative vision.
To be honest, I’m struggling with that one. The former United striker isn’t, in my view, an ideal central striker and while he is quicker than Giroud, he lacks the predatory instincts or rather, the finishing we need.
With Alex Iwobi doubtful, Wenger’s options are limited on the left. Alexis moving into the centre will bring either Wilshere or Welbeck into the XI. As much as I’d like to see Jack back in the team, that switch will only result in Welbeck starting.
We’re football fans though, and we do like to cling onto moments in matches, extrapolating them across a career. Welbeck in our eyes has the ‘Indian sign’ over United. A couple of goals makes it that way, especially the one which confirmed their FA Cup exit at Old Trafford. You can never get enough of those moments from players.
Welbeck in United eyes might not be such an issue as Giroud. Bailly, their most impressive defender, is out and to be honest, seeing the way United wobbled at Vicarage Road, the more robust Giroud can unsettle them.
In midfield though, it’s Aaron Ramsey who is in the limelight. His form has been excellent in recent weeks and like Özil, the performance against Tottenham brings with it hope. While you can’t ignore the performances against Huddersfield, I expect good games from that calibre of player against smaller clubs.
Today is the match where they earn their corn as far as reputations are concerned. The pair lead the stats with 5 assists each – Sead Kolasinac is third with four – and the attacking freedom is paying dividends for the Welshman. However, the concern is Granit Xhaka’s habit of dropping a ricket into (almost) calamitous situations. The Switzerland international needs to dig deep and rediscover the consistency which made Arsenal sign him in the first place.
A Traditional Four-Pointer
It’s a match we can’t afford to lose. While a win brings us a point closer and gives us an immeasurable confidence boost, it also keeps the gap to Spurs at four points at least. They can win but every week that gap remains four points, they know their wobble costs them dearly. Who knows, they might even fall foul of Watford today. I doubt it; that’s our preserve.
Finally, as you limber up for the evening’s offerings, there’s a new post on Dad’s Jukebox which takes us back to 2010.