Morning folks. Hope you’re all fine and dandy. I was woken up at 5am thanks to the Velux windows in the bedroom and the incessant rain that was smashing down. So I thought I might as well get up. I was in a bit of a daze for five minutes and almost forgot that there was even a game on today, then I started to remember what game it was, so now I have that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I don’t begrudge that though. In October and November that feeling was just of sadness and despair of the negative spiral that felt like it would go on forever with Arsenal. But at Christmas that turned and now the nervous feeling I have in the pit of my stomach is also that of somebody feeling excited at the possibility of winning another football match today and doing it against a very good and very in form Man United team.
And they are in form. They may have lost to Sheffield United on Wednesday, but that feels more like an outlier than anything else, so I’m expecting nothing more than a good side to rock up at The Emirates later. They usually are. Even when they’ve been terrible they’ve troubled us and despite the fact that we beat them at home last season, drew with them away, then beat them away in October, my nervous excitement is equally mixed with fear of what a bad result could do to our confidence as a team.
Will it see us crumble? Will we start back down a dark path from which we’ve already trodden once this season? Will this finally put pay to the faint hopes of a successful Premier League season for Arsenal? After all, after United lost to us they went on a long unbeaten run in the Premier League that saw them top the table just a couple of weeks ago.
No Chris, don’t allow yourself to dream, you can’t…Arsenal can’t….can they?
No, I suspect that even a top four spot is a little bit of a stretch. Not mathematically or given the points that the teams above us have, but more in the fact that there are so many teams to leap frog and there seem to be so many teams who have games in hand over us, it does feel like there is a little too much for us to do to start talking about Champions League. Or even thinking about it for that matter.
So today is the focus and a win is the aim, but I’ll level with you, I’d probably take a dull 0-0 draw if I’m honest. A draw wouldn’t exactly help the ascent up the table but it might keep confidence in tact for the team and then we go away to Wolves, Villa, then Leeds at home and if we can pick up a few points in those games then you’d look back at this United one and say that’s fair enough if we can grab ourselves a draw. The confidence that we have built on this run is fragile and Mikel Arteta will know that.
That’s why I think he’ll be very cautious in his approach this evening. I hope he is anyway. United are too good in attack and they hit you on the counter too well. So don’t give them the space to counter Arsenal. Remain compact, be solid defensively as we have been at times this season (we have the joint second fewest goals conceded along with the Scummers down the road), then use that as a platform to draw United out and beat them. We don’t need to go hell for leather. We don’t need to take them apart. They believe they are in a title fight and so they might feel that they have to prove something, especially after defeat to the bottom club in the league, which I hope plays in to our hands if they try to force it too much and commit bodies forward.
In the game in October we controlled the possession, we looked more composed on the ball than United, we sprung our chances when we could but the emphasis was on not leaving space for Greenwood and Rashford to exploit. I really hope Mikel is going to try to reproduce that blueprint today. Why not? There is no difference between home and away in this season so there won’t be a vociferous home crowd demanding that we ‘attack! attack! attack!’ so I say let’s try to rope a dope on the counter.
In terms of team news it feels all up in the air a bit. Partey has a fitness test I believe, Tierney has a fitness test, it doesn’t sound like Auba is ready, plus Smith-Rowe came off with a problem, so we are missing a few ingredients from our perfect Arsenal cake. But if Partey is fit then I’d expect him to start and I wonder if Mikel will go similar to the side that won at Southampton. The only question marks are on Tierney’s availability but if Cedric can reproduce his form from Tuesday night then that’d be a-ok with me. The other question Mikel will wrestle with will be with that attacking quartet. No Auba means Lacazette will start up top and with the form Saka is in you simply have to have him in the side. If Emile is fit then happy days – he goes straight in to the team – but if he’s not then the question is whether Odegaard is match fit having spent a lot of the season on the bench and only having had two training sessions at Arsenal. Personally I’d chuck him in if Emile isn’t ready because the last thing we all want to see is Willian stinking up the joint in the middle of the park. That left hand side is intriguing. Pepe was great against Southampton but his form is patchy. Gabby Martinelli would be the natural replacement there but I wonder if Mikel is easing him in and I wonder if he would fancy giving the opportunity for Martinelli to run at some potentially tired United legs in the second half?
The good thing is that at least the manager has options. That is something we didn’t seem to have earlier in the season and whilst I’m never overly confident in a game like this, I am hoping that a confident Arsenal side will be a better match for United than we would have been two months ago.
Let’s hope that we can bag ourselves another win tonight. I have everything crossed that we can.
Catch you tomorrow with a (delete as appropriate) deliriously happy match review / post mortem on the game.