I’ve been waiting for this weekend, probably more than any other in the football calendar. A pity Chelsea don’t visit The Emirates but whatever, I trust that it will be moment when everyone gets the Cesc-love out of their systems. Not those who think we should have signed him because Fábregas is a better option in midfield than those we already have but the ones who prostrate themselves at the altar of unrequited love. This morning’s playlist, Too Cescy, will help you move along. You can listen to it here in your browser or if you have the Spotify client, the playlist is in the right sidebar under Dad’s Jukebox. Older playlists are on the page of the same name, which is in the menu bar at the top or here.
Of course it is going to be hard to escape the ‘love’, emotions which conveniently forget the manner of his departure, the shadow of which hangs like a pall over his Arsenal career. It was incredible to watch his journey from youth to exceptional talent but the knowledge he was always going to go home somehow stopped me thinking of him as an Arsenal legend. Remaining at the club would have sealed that but as Arseblogger points out in The Guardian, the Spaniard remains, “An icon of the very best of what Wenger wanted to achieve with youth, and a doleful example of how it didn’t happen.”
And that relationship overshadows what is a pivotal match for both sides this season. For Chelsea, it is the chance to put some distance between themselves and the team expected to occupy third or fourth place. If they win, the manner of victory will tell themselves – and the rest of football if you can read that much into one performance – about their real title credentials. Mourinho played down talk of going the season unbeaten, something which would, I think, be more galling their Champions League victory in Munich and without the John Terry comedy value as well. There is no denying though, Chelsea have been the most impressive team so far and deserve to occupy their perch at the top of the table. It is up to Arsenal to puncture the belief that this is the beginning of the procession to next May.
Once you get past Cesc and Mourinho knew exactly which buttons to push to continue to rankle with supporters on that subject, reference to last season’s mauling is inevitable. And needs to be so as well. This, like the trips to Anfield and Eastlands, is a match where determination to put right that wrong is an overpowering emotion. You know last season cannot be changed but to prove it a glitch, a one-off, is going to be hard because, whilst the results were unusual, losing these matches is familiar territory for Arsenal for longer than it should have been.
Wenger hit the nail on the head with respect to the difference between last season’s drubbings and Old Trafford,
“It was the lowest point of the season. When we lost 8-2 at Old Trafford [on Aug 28, 2011] we had no team on the day. We had nobody at the back so that was explainable [the back four was Carl Jenkinson, Johan Djourou, Laurent Koscielny and Armand Traoré]. The players will want to put things right after last season and will be up for it on the day.“
Mourinho has certainly pegged Arsène’s tactics, more readily than Ferguson or any other manager has been able to. Even Guardiola’s Barcelona succumbed – Arsenal’s home win and draw in those Champions League ties remain excellent results – but the Portuguese manager has got into Wenger’s footballing mind. I think he has got under Arsène’s skin on a personal level as well, hardly surprising given some of the insults. How much that has interfered with planning for matches against Chelsea is something only Arsène knows but it is hard to believe there hasn’t been some impact.
He denies it, of course. To admit that would weaken his hand with not just Mourinho but the players as well,
“No, why? In life you must always think you are there to change what happened before, or you are fatalistic. A competitive guy is somebody who wants to make history and change what happened before. Football is not made of history, it is made of performance.“
It’s this aspect that makes tomorrow so important for Arsenal. To win, to beat Mourinho’s Chelsea is crucial. It removes a lingering psychological barrier and would give a season a massive boost, particularly since the international break is upon us. Fourteen days until the next match means tomorrow’s result will be staring us in the face until the re-run of last season’s FA Cup Final at The Emirates when Hull City visit in the next Premier League fixture. It’s a long time in football, almost as long as that last sentence is in blogging terms. And as meandering as well, this time Euro2016 qualifiers take place but the games hardly whet the appetite. In short, there is precious little to distract from the world of Arsenal which in victory is no bad thing, allowing a feelgood factor to bed in. In defeat…
There is plenty for the manager to consider, especially given there is little change to the squad available to him. His media briefing yesterday made it clear that there was no immediacy in Theo Walcott’s return, only Nacho Monreal has recovered to strengthen the numbers. It could of course be a charade, Wenger keeping his cards close to his chest, to have one element of surprise to spring. The rest is relatively predictable. We will look to keep the ball, Chelsea will soak up that pressure and hit a defence susceptible to counter-attack where it hurts. It was the pattern of last season and the years before that.
Time for a change, I think.