The north London derby moved front and centre yesterday with Arsène’s press conference delivering the team news:
We have still some uncertainties at the moment because Kieran Gibbs has been touched on his shoulder and I don’t know how will respond to that. I will see today [Thursday]. After, the players who did not travel like Cazorla, Monreal, Walcott – there is still some uncertainty today. The closest to coming back looks to be Walcott. We will have a test with him.
The last time an Arsenal player was touched on his shoulder, Ray Parlour quipped to Eileen Drury that he wanted a “short back and sides”, a jest which cost him his England career.
Wenger went on to say that Nacho and Santi both had fitness tests yesterday and today but of concern is that neither has trained since suffering their injuries. It could be that they will pass with flying colours and we’ll be back to the strongest XI we have.
The right side of midfield / attack is one of the two key questions for Arsène to consider. The other is attack but the manager was quick to point out that he doesn’t consider any player in the squad a ‘Plan B’.
There is no Plan B in any squad, I never thought about my players like that. The team who is the most effective for the next game, that’s what you pick and I consider everyone as a regular player.
It’s interesting that only Giroud is talked about when Plan B surfaces but there are a number of Plan B’s in the squad. With the likes of Ox and Theo, fundamentally you are talking about two versions of the same type of player. In their ‘simplest’ form, both are wingers; fast, direct, an eye for goal thrown in.
When you look at playing Aaron Ramsey on the right, that’s a different kind of right midfielder: Plan B because Plan A is not going to work against a particular opponent. Of course, Arsène wouldn’t admit to thinking like that in public. All of his players are Plan A, they are just version A.1, A.2…
He went on to explain that in his mind, it’s a squad game:
That is basically what a manager thinks, what is [best] for the next game. If he is involved in the next game in your mind, he plays. If not then he doesn’t start. He [Giroud] has shown he is a huge asset for the club and I have always supported him.
No matter who plays [against Tottenham] I have a squad of 25 players who are all top class and I think this game, a game of that stature, is not about 11 – it’s about 25.
Everybody is focused, everybody is ready to contribute and everybody’s contribution will count on Sunday. We have show that recently in the games, the players we have just spoken about, Giroud for example, he came on against Sunderland and made the difference. It just shows that everybody’s contribution will be absolutely vital.
He made a difference because his place in the team is under threat. Spurs present a different problem to Ludogorets and Sunderland. A different answer might be needed and it’s noticeable that whilst they have height in their defence, the Bayer team as well as pressing them high up the pitch, did not have the tallest forwards in the world. A strong case for Alexis’ inclusion as lead striker?
Possibly and quite a strong one if we’re honest. Both sides allowed their opponents time and space on the ball and the Bulgarians punished our sloppy defending more harshly Bayer did at Wembley. Despite that, we played better than Spurs on that occasion. Indeed, suggesting Spurs played at all is being generous.
It is an interesting clash. For us it is a very important game because we are in a strong position in the league that we want to strengthen. Overall Tottenham [are in a good position] as well, so it is very tight at the top of the league. We are more focused that it is a home game, and whether it is Tottenham or somebody else, we want to win our home games because our position in the league is very important. We go into a period where we play big games and we want to win the big games.
It’s a big game because it’s the derby match. Everyone wants to win, nobody wants to lose and specious trade-offs – do you want to finish higher than Spurs or win the derby – don’t matter. It’s about winning tomorrow and keeping their inferiority complex going.
Everyone knows that there are two generations since they last won the league but they are close to a generation not knowing what it’s like to finish above Arsenal in the league. Doing so on a regular basis? You have to go back close to forty years. It’s that kind of knowledge – useless for all except those involved this weekend – which underpins this weekend’s match.
Plan A or Plan B? Let’s just have the winning one.