That’s who we are facing tonight, the enemy. Enemy for generations and as well, enemy for the Champions League spots. While their rise is hard to stomach, it makes the rivalry better and bigger. Our previous superiority over them brings much pleasure but intense harder competition does make for better viewing. For the first time in a long while, both squads looks about as equal as it can be. Though the bias in me is desperate to say otherwise. The North London Derby, always an occasion to savour.
4 points separates us and them in the league table. A win tonight won’t elevate us above them but it will bring the gap down and put increased pressure on them. A loss tonight and it becomes 7 points, not unassailable as history has proved but does revert the pressure back on our team and manager. With Chelsea and Everton winning their respective matches yesterday, neither teams can ill afford to drop points tonight.
Tonight’s match bring an element of pride to it. Like I said earlier, for the first time since Arsene Wenger took over, I’m not of the opinion that a huge gap exist between both sides. Perhaps (unwanted) commendation to the way they have risen up but also another (sad) indication of our decline. Result tonight will go some way to prove who is the top dog in North London. Doing the double over a team so clearly loved by the media would certainly be the abiding memory of this season.
Unbeaten in 5 league matches and winning 4 of those, we are on much better league form than our overall form suggests. They are not on bad form themselves, only winning one match less (draw in that one) in the same number of recent matches. So, both teams go into the match on slightly positive form and hoping to knock the wind out of each other’s sails, that will derail their season. Which I’m very much hoping to be on still with wind on our side, come the end of the match.
The big obvious danger to look out for is Gareth Bale. The speedy primate has been exceptional this season. I like Theo Walcott but it would be foolish to compare their progression since their days together at Southampton. Speed isn’t Bale’s only ability and back-up right back in Carl Jenkinson will have to be wary of his dribbling. In the absence of Bacary Sagna, there’s a lot of pressure on Jenkinson’s shoulder to deny a player most likely to be in the top 3 PFA player of the season. Stay close but not too close that allows him to spin away with less diving in recklessly for a challenge, and I’m sure Jenkinson will be able to cope.
The big question will be whether Lukas Podolski plays from the start or not. Unless he’s used centrally or Jack Wilshere gets dropped back into the midfield fulcrum with Mikel Arteta, the German looks likely to start from the bench. This, despite his supposedly spending a lot of personal time looking at videos of the opposition (probably not under any orders from the management). Whatever Podolski managed to find from those viewings, I hope he shares them with Wenger (unlikely to listen anyway).
One thing that we definitely cannot do, is use Walcott through the middle. We saw how little he affected play when he last played there against Bayern Munich. That’s not to say that Sp*rs are the same quality of the Bundesliga side but they are definitely stronger than Reading or Newcastle. I want to see Olivier Giroud play there and hopefully this time, he brings along his shooting boots.
It’s up to the boys. That is what makes it hard to call this match. If we turn up and fully prepared to give it everything, then we will turn them over. If we turn up half-arsed, then we are the likelier of the two to walk away with embarrassment. Our players would have seen how they drop mind-game-quotes all over the place. About how this season being the one where they overtakes us and how we’re quivering in our boots with Bale’s strike on Monday. Wouldn’t be the hardest thing in the world to soak up each and every one of those words and use it as motivation.
About time we shut them up. Up The Arsenal.