It’s not war, it just feels like it. Yes, it’s the latest North London Derby.
When they first moved, facing the Gooners at the Emirates used to be an intimidating prospect. So many sides have won there now though, so many times have the stands emptied well before the end, so often has the final whistle been accompanied by boos and howls of discontent from the home supporters that whilst it’s not, in terms of results, a Happy Hunting Ground for us, it’s now just testing rather than scary.
This weekend our expensive and new look squad will attempt to replicate Aston Villa’s efforts on the opening day and become the latest visiting team to send the home fans back to the wine bars of Maidstone, Guildford and Berkhamsted wondering why they bother. There are a lot of them of course (fans, not wine bars). The new Library is a soulless cake-tin, but it’s a money making cake-tin so as such represents a glimpse into our future, one to learn from though rather than ape. And talking of simians, one of the many things we’ll miss about gorgeous Gareth is his ability to end up on the scoresheet just about whenever he played in this fixture, it’s a shame we couldn’t get one more game out of him before the window closes, ah yes, but he’s injured, I forgot.
Both sides strengths lie in midfield, ours more literally than theirs. In Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla, Walcott and whoever takes the place of Podolski/Oxlade-Chamberlain they have creativity and energy in no small amounts. Paulinho, Capoue and (probably) Dembélé will have their work cut out as they attempt to impose themselves and provide a platform for Chadli and the currently irrepressible Townsend to supply the bullets for Soldado.
The popular belief is that Arsenal’s defence is their major weak point and whilst it’s had its moments, by my reckoning only Villa have scored more than once against them in the last 15 games which isn’t too bad. Talking of tight defences though, we’ve yet to concede a goal this season. Our major weakness last year was at corners and set-pieces and Mertesacker for one will need to be dealt with far more efficiently than he was last campaign. Danny Rose will have his first big test of the season when he comes up against Walcott. Here’s an excerpt from a player ratings piece after Sunderland’s home game against the gooners last season “Rose – Completely failed to stop Walcott throughout and it was only a combination of poor finishing and poor luck from the England man that didn’t see him punished.“ Oh dear. Nacer Chadli may find that his contributions in his own third are just as important as those in the opposition’s.
I hate these games, they’re an endurance test preceded by hours of nervous, stomach churning angst. The optimism imbued by the revolution that is taking place at White Hart Lane is helping reduce the need for Milk of Magnesia though, whatever happens we know the team will get better as the season goes on, whether that be due to more additions or AVB finding the best way to fit them together. Having said all that, there’s been a strength and quality in our performances against Palace and Swansea that suggests we can justifiably hope for a good feeling come 6pm on Sunday. All the new players will know by now how important this game is and will do their best to put their mark upon it.
Michael Oliver is the referee. COYS.
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