I’ve got to be completely frank with you, I absolutely cannot stand the North London Derby. There are people that say they look forward to it, that it is a great opportunity to do one over the old enemy and when it comes to the post match bliss after a win I can totally understand it. But in the lead up to any NLD I utterly detest it all. I am a bag of nerves, fraught with worry of what might unfold, which is magnified when we play away from home at their ground because we have such a shocking record there too in recent years (no win in the league for almost a decade).
But usually the NLD doesn’t happen at this time of the season and the build up has not as much riding on it as this one this week feels like it has. Usually it’s in a September or an October, or maybe we play them in a January or a February, by which time nothing is decided and there are plenty of games still to play. But this week it really does feel – like I’ve said once or twice already over the last couple of days – like a massive ‘winner takes all’ match. Regardless of home many points ahead we are, if the Scum win, they have the morale-boosting victory to drive them on and they will certainly win their two games, whereas we have to go to an in form Newcastle away from home and get a win. The next seven days will, in all likelihood, determine our season.
And that is horrible when you factor in that it involves them. Any other team in the league and it feels like it would have me with a nervous pit in my stomach basically since Sunday evening. My usual feelings in the wake of an Arsenal win are jubilation and happiness which usually last from the day of the game. The day after the game is ‘basking day’ in which you get to have the warm and fuzzies about the fact the team picked up three points/progressed to the next round of the cup, etc. Then on day three after a game the feeling is only there slightly in the background before your mind starts to slowly turn to what is coming up. Day four is usually when you are thinking about your next opponent. Day five you start to think about the outcomes of the next match and usually by day six you’ve got the press conference and you’re wondering what team comes up and what happens if we win, lose or draw. Then on day seven (the assumption of course is that we play once a week and of course these stages get concertinaed based on the time between games) you are back to the pre match nerves.
This NLD has been different to any other feeling I’ve had. As soon as the win against Leeds was confirmed I felt jubilant and happy that we’d stretched out the lead in points to four points. It gave us the ‘buffer’ we all craved going in to the North London Derby and that was a good feeling. But I was expecting that initial dopamine hit that you get from a win to last longer. On Sunday evening it had worn off by the time I was having dinner. I can’t remember if that has ever happened to me before but I didn’t like it. My mind immediately flicked to the ‘what ifs’ that are the staple of any football fan when his/her team are involved in fighting for something right at the end of the season.
“What if we lose on Thursday and then draw or lose on Monday night?”
Suddenly that four point cushion, the buffer that we all prayed for and now have, felt decidedly more precarious than it was supposed to. Going in to the NLD being able to be defeated and still finish top four was beyond comprehension just a few short weeks ago, but now we all have exactly what we want and some of us like me are still not 100% happy. What’s all that about?
I guess it is because we have been punched in the gut a few times already this season by this Arsenal team. We’ve seen the dodgy start and being bottom of the league after three games, wondering what on earth is happening to the team. We’ve witnessed a poor Everton and United team beat us in back-to-back defeats. We’ve witnessed the collapse of the team at a crunch time in what felt like the end of our top four hopes against sides in mid table and pretty much just seeing out the season. Those painful memories have been etched in to our recent Arsenal watching memories. Yet here the team stand, on the precipice of being able to achieve something none of us thought likely for 75% of this season so far. These players have managed to step up and it feels within touching distance of that promised land that we thought was probably at least another season away. Yet as close as it feels, it also feels so far away. Back-to-back defeats in the next week and it will all be over. It’ll feel like a tennis game in which the player is on advantage and playing for match point with a set at 6-5 to said player in t he fifth set, only to lose three points in a row and the game, which takes the set in to a tie break in which the tennis player loses. I am acutely aware that we are ‘advantage up’ to drag out the tennis metaphor, but until we physically get over the line and secure what we need to, this advantage is built on the most shakiest of foundations.
So when you pile all of that stuff going on in my head, with the fact that it is an NLD away from home this Thursday, it compounds the ‘seven stages’ of nerves that I get in between Arsenal matches. It magnifies the stress and the worry and makes me hate the NLD even more. I will absolutely take any happy and positive potential ending on Thursday this week, for sure, but as it stands on this slightly grey Thursday morning as I tap away at my keyboard, I am not feeling anything near excitement for what lies ahead in just over two days time.
With that in mind I think I’ll stop the rambling for today. Try to do your best not to think of the NLD. I know I’m going to be doing that for as long as is possible.
It won’t work though.
Catch you all tomorrow.