Mike Dean’s appointment vexes many with his open bias in favour of Tottenham prepped as a reason for defeat. We’re unbeaten in the last three derbies he’s officiated; he isn’t getting enough credit for those results, is he? Of course not. Dean may impact the game but we won’t be the reason lose.
It’s not even the biggest problem facing Unai Emery. That is what to do with Mesut Özil. Last weekend, he wasn’t robust enough to deal with Bournemouth; God knows how he will cope with the North London derby.
Özil is one of English football’s most gifted technicians and ought to be an automatic choice. Unai Emery’s lack of ‘favourites’ is to be applauded; the team is selected for the job in hand and reputations count for nought. However, Özil is surely a player whose ability the team should be built around?
When you questioned Özil’s commitment previously, a slew of stats appeared showing how far he ran. For Unai Emery, this isn’t enough. It’s where you run and what contribution that makes to the cause. Özil is learning some painful lessons in that respect.
But this is a match which cries out for his talent but he must turn up in the same way Henry, Pires and Nicholas did. To produce the performances of a lifetime and make fools of Tottenham. Winning a derby is satisfying enough but to do so with one play running rings around them is even better.
Does Özil fit that bill? He can do if he’s in the mood. There’s something of a flat-track bully in him which is no bad thing but today needs more than that. This is an occasion, beyond a mere football match. It’s a time when the result matters and winning is the only result in town.
A Quiet Jens Lehmann
Whether Özil plays depends more on the formation than anything else, however. He doesn’t fit with the back three we saw employed at Bournemouth. Given our propensity for defensive cock-ups, Emery may decide the best way to deal with Kane, Eriksen and co is to employ three centre-backs.
With Iwobi on the left ahead of Torreira and Xhaka, that leaves the right-side to be filled. Iwobi on the right, Özil on the left is possible given Mkhitaryan’s form. A partnership of Ramsey and Iwobi on the flanks seems unlikely but more probable than a narrow midfield which offers little protection to Kolasinac on the left.
The one thing which is apparent is that Emery possesses plenty of options and isn’t afraid to use them. At what point, however, does thinking too much about the opposition overrun your own game plan. It must an integral part of it, that’s for sure, but too much thinking causes more than just brainache.
While attention focuses on the outfield players, David Seaman is impressed with Bernd Leno:
So far he has been brilliant. I don’t know
what footedhe is because he is that good with both. The only way you can tell is if he takes a goal‑kick. I am impressed by his shot-stopping ability and the other thing I like about him is he gets on with the save. He doesn’t try to make it look flash.
A quiet Jens Lehmann? Like Cech, Leno is busier than he expected but he is going about his business quietly and efficiently.
And this is a back three/four which needs a confident goalkeeper behind it. Cech took time to adapt to Emery’s methods and his uncertainty undermined an already unsure defence. Who, it must be said, undermined Cech with their harum-scarum defending.
Things are, however, coming together. You don’t get to 18 games unbeaten by fluke. One or two games, yes, but double-digits? Not having it. While the eulogies fly around the back pages, there’s a sense that Emery’s work is being undervalued.
Tottenham can buy into that all they want but in their golden age, they only have a half-finished metal toilet bowl to show for it. And a three-point gap this morning which means nothing at this stage of the season.
If you believe the reports, all the swamp dwellers have to do is turn up today. Phrases like “I genuinely fear for Arsenal” are great soundbites but in the good old days, were pinned to the dressing room wall for inspiration. Forget psychologists, the only thing needed after words like that is the whistle for kick-off.
Which players will cross that line? I’m guessing we’ll revert to a back four:
Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Sokratis, Kolasinac; Torreira, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Özil, Iwobi; Aubameyang
Lacazette from the bench to preserve Aubameyang for Wednesday night in a week where the fixture computer had a brainfart much to the delight of the television companies. Three derbies on the same weekend featuring teams in the top six? What are the odds of a random fixture generator coming up with that? Almost as much as a draw in a heavyweight title fight being seen as an honest assessment of the 12 rounds.
It’s the sort of coincidence which makes you wonder if we’ll draw Tottenham in the third round of the FA Cup later today…
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.