Who said that romance in football is dead? Carl Jenkinson brings his travelling band of Championship misfits to the Emirates for the third round of the Carabao Cup. He’ll be eagerly scanning the teamsheet for names he recognises among all the reserves. And that of Shkodran Mustafi, just to give Nottingham Forest that extra edge in the clash.
As per usual, however, the real world interrupts those thoughts. The North London Derby is upon us and positive thoughts fill the air.
It feels like a ‘do or die’ match, more so than just a derby. Maybe that’s because of the imminent arrival of the international break. Just as you get into the rhythm of the season, the internationals come along and we’re left reflecting on Mr Bang Average’s England team.
Some of us are anyway. Others have their Mr Bang Average or worse – occasionally better – to worry about.
For Arsenal and Tottenham, it’s about the top-four finish. A quick glance at the Premier League table sees them on four points and us on six. Both sides come into the game off the back of a defeat. Both want a win to put a bit of pep into their strides to build momentum for the autumn fixtures.
Neither side wants to lose for obvious reasons. The youngsters coming through on our side certainly add some zest to the fixture. In the car yesterday, my youngest voiced his fear that the players didn’t understand the meaning of the match. They ‘get’ the local derby element, that no-one wants to lose, he said. But do they really understand what it means?
He felt they can insert any teams names into the conversation and have it the world over without skipping a beat. But that doesn’t mean they ‘get it’.
Which is, indeed, a fair point.
However, those who played in the game before, certainly at the Emirates now understand what it means. There is a frisson in the air at the derby which no other match generates.
Tottenham’s brief stay in the top four promotes that. Previously, it was just about bragging rights; now there’s an edge to the outcome.
That’s before you even think about the animosity toward them.
For the new faces, certainly Nicolas Pepe, it’s going to be something different. Is the match against Lens as intense for Lille? Maybe, I don’t know. There’s an undercurrent in this derby, however, of hatred. I genuinely don’t have any Tottenham supporting friends. None and never have in the past, to the best of my recollections.
Worked with a few in the past but they were generally wrong ‘uns. The sort who kiss backsides to climb the corporate ladder. The sort you wouldn’t even give a sponge to because you know they’d try and stab you in the back with it. You know the sort.
It’s a big weekend on the pitch as well. For several players, it’s the ideal time to score their first goal or play their best game for the club.
David Luiz talks a good game but delivered his speech at Anfield in his Sideshow Bob Sunday best. “We’ve got to improve defensively,” he suggested, “if we want to compete for the title.”
He’s taken to the role of club comedian like a duck to water. Most of all, we need to cut out the stupid mistakes. You know, the shirt tugs in the penalty area, that sort of thing.
He knows that but can’t help himself. We need more of the Burnley performances than Anfield repeats. Otherwise, we’ve just bought an £8m Brazilian Mustafi.
Young at Heart
Yet the hope comes in Willock, Pepe and Reiss Nelson. The latter spoke positively about this is his “time”. It’s a testing time for him. A year in the Bundesliga went well for him, probably better than he expected. For us, he’s made a decent start; not pulling up trees but steady.
I thought it harsh when he got hooked against Burnley but that was more to do with giving Pepe 45 minutes than anything else. He certainly is complimentary about the manager, suggesting he was told well in advance what would happen.
Nelson is certain this season is a launchpad for his career:
I need to just keep training hard and getting all the information from the coaches and the players. If I do that, I’m going to have a big, big shout this season.Reiss Nelson’s on a mission
With Euro2020 around the corner, it’s probably too soon to have ambitions for England. More likely is the World Cup qualifiers which follow on from that tournament.
He’s more likely to get there than Joe Willock although I think the centre of England’s midfield is the weak spot. OK, so it’s the weakest of the weak spots. Willock is certainly as good as any of the youngsters in the Premier League so far this season; a lack of experience counts against him.
After Pepe’s miss at Anfield, he could do with a goal to settle himself into the team. Unlucky with an effort which curled past the post, he should have scored when one-on-one with Adrian; it was a bad miss and you know he knows it.
Put him in that situation again with a couple of goals under his belt and this time he scores. Football is all about ifs, buts and maybes.
Nelson knows that and is saying, as well as doing, the right things:
It’s about taking those steps, doing the easy thing and getting the basics right first. Once I do that, I think I will get chances. Then it’s up to me to perform and do well for the team.The world, young man, is your oyster
If you can oblige on Sunday, so too can we. Who put the ball in Tottenham’s net, Nelson, Nelson…
Yeah, OK, it doesn’t scan the same way that it did for Charlie Nicholas but if he scores, who cares!