Happy Saturday people, hope you’re enjoying yours thus-far. With the big game not until tomorrow, I’m using today to do lots of non-football related things because if you’re anything like me, you’ll be rendered completely ineffective tomorrow as you prepare for what is seen as another massive hurdle to overcome.
It is a massive hurdle, make no mistake about it, despite how many of us are laughing and joking about a ‘mid-table’ team. Much like any team that has new staff that join, United had a sluggish start, but there is still a wealth of experience and ability and they are playing on their home turf. I don’t want to go into too much of a match preview today, as I’d prefer to save it for tomorrow, but such is the gravity of this match that I think I could probably write so much on this game that it spans the whole weekend.
For one thing I don’t like how people are suddenly backing us to win matches! I preferred it when we were underdogs, floating just below the surface like a freshwater croc, with only Mesut Ozil’s eyes visible from dry land. I know we’ve all moaned about media bias, about ‘them versus us’ and how nobody is recognising our form and all of the ‘tests’ that we’ve overcome, but deep down I actually like it. It’s fun to prove to idiots that they are, well, idiots. We’ve certainly done that to date. But now I flick on to Sky Sports’ website and see the pundits picking Arsenal for a win, or on the BBC website where some pundits think we won’t go there and lose. I don’t think for a second that the players and manager believe in some of the hype and will underestimate United, but it still has me worried. Even now as I type this I’ve got a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach – lord knows what I’ll be like tomorrow. But my point is that we have done well to date just getting wins under our belts and letting everyone talk about the other rivals and I’ve naively hoped that nobody would pay attention until after Christmas when suddenly, before everyone’s eyes, we’d amassed a ten point lead and were on our way to a league title. A foolish dream I know, but whilst the team keep getting knocked, they keep responding, which is what I want to see.
The other final element of this ‘big test’ mantra that has been perpetuated by the media is that we haven’t beaten a ‘big’ team away from home. That theory was expunged against Dortmund and the only final credential that we need to demonstrate is to do the same in the league. We’ve turned over the Spuds, Napoli and Liverpool, but it has all been at home, so a win tomorrow would go far in showing that this Arsenal team can win against the big teams. It’s not the be-all and end-all if we lose – we’ll still be top going into the internal break – but it will be a final marker in my opinion. Hey, even if we can’t beat the big teams away from home that doesn’t really matter either, as United have won titles whilst still finishing towards the bottom of the ‘big team’ mini-leagues over recent seasons past. So I wonder if the game this weekend is such that it is a statement of intent rather than an absolute necessity like it is with Man United. We shall see on Sunday afternoon.
Le Boss gave his usual pre-match presser and was asked all kinds of questions about the history of the game, the absence of Fergie, the form of United, Ramsey and others. He also spoke about the defensive teams he’s had of the past, citing what he believed to be a lack of credit given to that back four because of the back four he inherited in 1996. I have to say I don’t think people do underestimate the ability of that back four. Certainly not within the circles I talk football about. But then again, that is all Arsenal fans and we knew exactly how powerful, dominant and strong that team was defensively. They were able to soak up pressure from any team and when needed, counter attack with lightning efficiency. We’ve started to see glimpses of that from this current team – fresh in our minds after the Dortmund result. I don’t think this Arsenal side has the same raw power and strength as the Invincibles back line, but they have forged a defensive unit that has certainly demonstrated its unity in the last couple of games, so hopefully it is a continuing sign of things to come.
I thought it was really interesting what Arsene said when he was asked about That Dutch Bloke as well. He was talking about Fergie and how he won’t be in the dugout, then the conversation moved across to Fergie’s book and how the self-inflated Scotsman stated that he convinced Arsene to sell him who shall not be named to United, to which Arsene gave a slightly veiled comment about the player. Certainly, when I read between the lines (“it was conversations I had with van Persie that convinced me to sell him”) I start to see the pattern of the character we lost, and if I’m honest I’m starting to think that I’m glad he went. Two seasons ago everything went through him and he reveled in the attention. So much so, I think, that it was to the detriment of the team. Now we have a team ethos, we have no need for an ego like this and perhaps Arsene even thought this. I don’t know that for fact and certainly don’t want to be pushing a line that it was all part of an Arsene Wenger ‘master plan’, but we all know that That Dutch Bloke had a change of heart after some of the signings, but by then the decision was already made in Arsene’s mind and he was being shunted out the door. Who knows, perhaps Arsene saw a side of Him that he didn’t like, so thought that the long term benefit of the team without Him would be the best option? One thing for sure that I don’t agree with, and I’m sure you’ll agree, is that He is ‘An Arsenal man’. I’m afraid Arsene, he certainly is not.
If I may, I’d also like to talk about something non-Arsenal related for a moment. Arsene was asked about the fact that Riehter from Fulham was retrospectively punished for a stamp on Januzaj last week and said that he is most certainly in favour of retrospective punishment. Of course you’d expect him to say this, but in my opinion this retrospective punishment is an easy one to deal with and the real problem is upping the punishment when a player has already been booked for a challenge or bit of unsporting play. The farcical rules that state that because the player has been booked that the referee has ‘seen’ the incident is something that has to be stopped. Referees are humans and react on split-second instinct at times, so there must be an acknowledgement by the football authorities that when a decision is incorrect it can be changed, regardless of whether the referee has seen the incident or not. Until that stupid ruling is amended, we’re going to continue to get injustice in some incidents. That’s what Arsene said and he’s 100% bang on the money there.
Anyway, that’s enough of my rantings for one day. Back tomorrow with a bit more of a match preview. Adios Amigos.