The players get a quick shot at redemption following last weekend’s defeat at Anfield and a chance to make the international break seem a lot shorter.
Defeat is unthinkable but not unimaginable. We improved our year-on-year performances on Merseyside but the bar was set so low, being worse would almost have been impressive.
This weekend, defeat cannot easily be laughed off. At stake, there are bragging rights for those who need them, coupled with points to capitalise on Chelsea and United’s bad results.
We’ll know how bad those results were once we’ve faced Sheffield United and Southampton at home and away respectively.
Nonetheless, winning today opens an early advantage over both of them and Tottenham as well. Instead of seeing broken cannons in the back pages, it will be devils with broken forks, lions laying at the feet of American dentists and chicken in a basket.
It seems Spurs are enjoying a similar season to us following defeat in the Champions League final. Been there, done that, suffered for a decade after. Had they won it…well, that’s nightmare scenario we will never face. I’ll never see them crowned champions in my lifetime either.
So, to this afternoon. Victory will be underpinned by a solid performance; everyone must turn up and leave their mistake-riven boots at home. Yes, Sideshow Bob, I’m looking at you.
And young Matteo. Don’t do as he does just because of the striking similarities of your hairdos. Is it just me who thinks Bob and Matteo have a Carry on Screaming thing going? An Oddbod and Oddbod Junior scenario where Matteo was created from Bob’s DNA in a dingy laboratory somewhere?
Concentration is the name of the game. Not life as Brucie insisted but there is a Generation Game at play.
Good Game, Good Game
There are some big decisions for Unai Emery to make. The back four will only change with Sead Kolasinac taking the dearly-departed Nacho Monreal’s place. I say dearly-departed but Sociedad got him on the cheap. Too cheap if you ask me but then, no-one did.
However, in midfield, there were several aspects of last weekend’s performance which need rectifying if we’re not to suffer the mother of all hangovers next week and the one following.
The relative inexperience of Ceballos and Willock needs someone to guide them at times in the game. In all honesty, I think Xhaka’s performances suffer when he has responsibility.
He gets ponderous and more concerned about others than his own game. Unai and Arsene before him like the Swiss so he will play. But they play in an ‘unnatural’ position; he isn’t the defensive midfielder our back four is crying out for.
That player sits on the bench. Lucas Torreira’s natural game is to snap at ankles and break up play. He does it very well in my view and in doing so, frees Ceballos and Willock to do their jobs.
I make no bones about believing Lucas Torreira is a better defensive midfielder. With Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang being unleashed on a waiting world, I do believe that is a key role in the side today.
If Unai is persisting with Willock (I don’t think so) and Ceballos (probably), then the back four needs not only protecting but the ball needs recycling quickly. Torreira is a more efficient player in that sense, quicker to shift the ball to a teammate.
Will Emery make that change? I don’t think so.
However, it’s not as big as the decision over Mesut Ozil.
What’s The Time? It’s Time To Get Ill
Nobody seriously expected either Kolasinac or Ozil to be match-fit whilst the dreadful violence engulfed their lives.
Subsequently, illness interfered with the German’s preparations for the visit to Anfield. A full week to prepare for this game? I will be surprised if he starts but not if he is used as a substitute.
But does Unai Emery really rate Ozil? Not as a player, per se but as a member of his own squad? Whenever the Spaniard speaks of him, there’s always a feeling that the midfielder is being damned by faint praise.
When he spoke to the press, the headlines were generally positive about Ozil from Emery’s perspective. “We need him” was the catchphrase they picked up on, hoping to provoke some sense of panic.
But in context, it wasn’t that. It was almost exasperation on the coach’s part. “We need him and [need] him first to be consistent in training, to be available in each match.”
In other words, sickly ickle Mesut is useless to us; he needs to be stronger with a sense that applies mentally and physically. That’s not Emery being harsh over current circumstances; it’s a roll-on from last season.
Dani Ceballos is the one whose place is under pressure if Ozil returns. Joe Willock is likely to lose out to Matteo Guendouzi which I understand if we’re going with 4 – 3 – 3.
A year’s more experience for Bob Jr gets him the nod although you could argue that a partnership of Bob Jr and Willock may be more suited to this afternoon. However, there is more guile with Ceballos or Ozil.
Nice to See You, To See You…NICE!
However, the Spaniard was close to anonymous at Anfield as the home side pressed us incessantly. Tottenham will do the same to a degree but Ceballos needs to show in these matches why there is a fuss about him.
Hector Bellerin added to that when he claimed Ceballos was “one of the best players I’ve seen in my career”. High praise but raising hopes and expectations.
Ceballos has the talent to dominate the game; he needs support with Guendouzi and Torreira backing him up. It’s no good expecting one player to win the game if others don’t perform.
Ahead of them will be Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang. It’s time to unleash the beasts. No more 15 minutes here or there; be brave, Unai, or they are wasted on you.
The Ivorian has plenty to build on from last week. Put him clean through, one-on-one with Hugo Lloris and he scores. That’s after an effort which curls into the top corner and leaves everyone swooning in the aisles.
With that trio, we ought to win. Tottenham’s defence wobbles in a similar manner to ours when pressurised; let’s keep our heads while they lose theirs.
Somewhere along the line, Rob Holding will come into contention but it seems his return is being closely managed. A local derby is an intense game in which to make your comeback, especially as a centre-back.
Which leaves the line-up:
Leno; Maitland-Niles, Luiz, Sokratis, Kolasinac; Xhaka, Ceballos, Guendouzi; Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang
It’s a good enough line-up to win and put us onto the path for six points for the first time in a while when it comes to the season’s North London Derbies.
Bragging rights are more than just verbal sparring this time, however. Bragging rights show progress. We’re making tiny bits of progress this season. Over time they will become bigger steps; wouldn’t it be nice to get one of those leaps this afternoon?
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.