It’s the North London derby day and, despite losing just two weeks ago, I can’t help but feel optimistic regarding our chances.
In part this optimism is down to a good recent home record. The Gunners have won 10 league games in a row at the Emirates – setting a personal record in the process. We are also undefeated in the last 16 games both in the league and the cup – don’t look up which was the last home game we lost!
Finally, while Pochettino is an uncomfortable foe for Arsene Wenger, he is yet to best the Frenchman at the Emirates in charge of Spurs. Interestingly enough, Pochettino’s away record against the top six is woeful: in 16 games he presided over just one win, losing 9 in the process. But you don’t see shiny graphs on Sky Sports berating him for that, do you?
Rather, we get “expert” conclusions from Matthew Upson and Darren Bent on how wide the gap between Arsenal and Spurs is. And yes, “expert” is in inverted commas. It’s bad enough to use it in the same sentence with those two.
Finally-finally, we got this little bit from Arsene Wenger which I quite enjoyed:
“We have no fear, we are just focused on nullifying their strong points and expressing our strong points.”
It does sound like we have a plan in the works, one I’m sure quite different from our default approach of playing our football regardless of the opposition in the hope we will be good enough to prevail. I like that.
With all this in mind, let’s jump to team news.
Team news update
I am not quite comfortable with regards to the update provided on dot com, so I’m going to go with the ever-reliable Ben Dinnery, who only lists three injured Arsenal players at the moment: Giroud, Iwobi and poor old Santi. Giroud has a slight injury according to Arsene Wenger and should rejoin the group on Monday. I’m not quite clear what’s up with Iwobi, but it appears to be just a late check-up, because he is returning from international later than others.
Laurent Koscielny had an Achilles scare during the break, but came back fine, as Deschamps demonstrated some common sense unusual for a national team manager and rested our centre-back against Germany. Some more common sense was showcased by Chris Coleman, who is no longer the manager of Wales, unfortunately. He resigned yesterday and word has it he will be unveiled as the Sunderland manager on Sunday. I can only wish him the best of luck with those near-hopeless tossers.
But anyway, he rested Ramsey against Panama. Actually, Coleman went even further, and just dismissed Ramsey after the first game, allowing him to return to Colney ahead of the derby. What a lad. Why is he going to Sunderland again? Hope those rumours are false.
Finally, there are some question marks hanging over Danny Welbeck, Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding, you know, but all were pictured in training, so I’m assuming all will be involved, maybe just not from the off. Wenger was somewhat coy on the former two, can we be in for a surprise here?
Got to say it’s becoming really hard to second-guess Wenger. I was widely off the mark for the City game, let’s see just how wrong can I get this time around, shall we?
I think we will try matching Spurs for shape (a trick which worked brilliantly against Chelsea in the cup final), so that means Kolasinac and Bellerin as wing-backs, with Monreal and Kos two of the central three. As for third, well, I’d put my money on Mertesacker. The German has been grand since coming into the side. I have a feeling Wenger has become protective of Holding after the traumatising first weeks for the Englishman, so it’s a coin toss between the two Germans really. Mustafi has been out for a while though, which has to inform Wenger’s decision-making.
I will be surprised to see anyone new coming into central midfield. We are likely in for another Xhaka-Ramsey duo, not that it’s a bad thing. They are probably the best pairing we have. I’d be really tempted to squeeze Jack Wilshere in somewhere, but I don’t think the Englishman will get the nod this time.
Finally, I’d really like to see Sanchez benched. I’m almost positive it’s going to be Ozil and Lacazette up front and I wouldn’t mind Welbeck to join this proverbial front three. I’m up to my eyeballs with Sanchez’ antics, and his behavior is not mitigated by his output at all lately. Wenger was brave enough to drop the Chilean in favour of Welbeck early on and, if you ask me, he can do it again. Welbz is going to be the surprise package for Poch to chew on.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Koscielny – Mertesacker – Monreal – Bellerin – Ramsey – Xhaka – Kolasinac – Ozil – Welbeck – Lacazette
Spurs have recently lost to Man United away, and will be keen to avoid successive defeats on the road, especially successive defeats against the fellow top 6 clubs. They will be at almost full strength too, because Poch didn’t send any of Lloris, Vertonghen, Winks, Kane or Alli to the national team. The only absentees will be reserve keeper Vorm and Toby Alderweireld, whose injury is likely to keep him until the new year.
If there’s any divine justine in this world, at least a couple from the list above will suffer last-minute injuries, maybe serious enough for Poch to learn not to cry wolf. I never wish injuries on footballers, but this whole situation disgusts me. It was clear from the start Pochettino was protecting his players and that no injury was involved in any of the cases. He shouldn’t get away with stuff like this when we lost Giroud this break, Mustafi before that and had endless injury scares even in the last fortnight.
But back to matters more related to this game, I sincerely believe we are good enough to finally get a win against that lot at the Emirates. We have showed some resolve and tactical maturity just two weeks ago and I see no reason why we can’t do it again. Spurs are nowhere near as good as City and, with a bit more palatable refereeing we can actually win this. No guarantees with the refereeing though, Mike Dean’s in charge.
Still, come on you Gunners. Today and always. Show them up.
And I’ll be back here with a review.