Here we are. The second worst fixture of the football calendar, from my perspective, with the away North London Derby easily being the worst.
Despite the fact we have a good record at home, despite the fact some of my best memories are from NLD’s of years gone by, I still hate the tension ahead of each of these. I feel more nervous than normal, my heart rate is more elevated than normal, I am generally a bit of an anxious wreck and as I type today’s match preview I feel like the build up is getting even more tense in my own brain.
Under Arteta last season and so far this season we are in good form. We missed out on a first league title in 19 years just a few short months ago, we did the double over the Scum last season, they have lost their all-time top goalscorer and a man in Harry Kane who was almost 100% guaranteed to score against us every time he played, or so it seemed. Half of his goals felt like penalties too. So if anything I should be going in to this game with confidence and hope that we can maintain our good record against them.
And yet……It is the North London Derby. I’ve seen us many a time be better than them in terms of the quality of our players, but they have somehow got a result or a draw. To be fair that is usually at the Toilet Bowl Stadium, but there has still been some surprises on our patch over the years and we should be mindful of that possibility this season and this game too. It is 11v11 and anything can happening in this game, usually goals too. Under Ange Postecoglou the Scum have been playing expansive and open football. They have been attacking teams and have utilised the space on the field to their advantage. The style has been more swashbuckling than we’ve seen for many a year at The Scum and that represents a danger to us that we must snuff out if we’re going to win this game. We have to be mindful of how they will come at us; Postecoglou has already said they won’t change their game and whilst I’m sure he will want to be as expansive as he has for a lot of this season, I do think he will adapt slightly. I can’t see why he wouldn’t; if he leaves his side open defensively like he did against Man United in the first half, then we will create a hatful of chances. Sure, they’ll also create chances and so our back line needs to be rock solid because the one thing the Scum have been good at this season is taking their chances. That’s evidenced by the fact that their xG is currently on 9.4 against actual goal contributions of 13, meaning they should have scored nine goals this season but in fact have four more. Conversely for us, our xG is similar on 9.3, only we have scored nine in total. So don’t be surprised if the Scum take whatever chances they get on the counter and in transition.
It will be interesting to see how they go about today, because they are currently leading the league for progressive carries, second only to us with progressive passes, so although we are early days in the season, you can see what they want to do and it is similar to us; they are inverting their full backs, they try to build out from the back, they rely on the likes of Bissouma and Maddison to get on the ball in midfield and the midfielders he’s been using this season have been playing very well, it has to be said.
But this match needs to be about how Arsenal impose ourselves on the game and I think there are some key battles that need to be won today for us. Firstly, Saliba or Gabriel have to keep Son from transition running in behind. Secondly, I think the Scum will look to get Maddison on the ball as much as possible, because he is the man from which everything seems to flow through, so Rice will need to be on him and make sure he doesn’t have time and space to either pass or shoot from distance. Thirdly, I think they’ll know how Zinchenko vacates the left back spot and they will look to get Kulusevski into space to get in behind, so Gabriel might need to do a fair bit of covering. Then it all flips to us in attack. Saka, Odegaard and Gabriel Jesus need to be a nuisance to the Scum back line of Romero and Van den Ven. Then on the wings we could see Porro against Trossard and Udogie against Saka and I am hoping Saka gets a lot of joy today, although apparently he’s been quite impressive since joining, so perhaps Saka might have his work cut out for him.
This does feel a lot tighter to call than i thought it might today. This was a game that at the start of the season I thought should be a lot easier for us; I thought it would take them a lot longer to embed a new style and without Kane they might struggle for goals, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. So we need to be on it today. No silly red cards for starters; this fixture on both grounds is littered with them so we need to make sure that the emotion of the game and day doesn’t spill over.
We are the favourites, we are at home, we are the ones that are expected to show the impetus, so the pressure is on this Arsenal team. But if you want to challenge for the title then you have to win these crunch derby games. We have a tough few weeks coming up and Arteta needs to see things clicking. It felt like it was clicking against PSV but today will be a very different game to that one. The emotions will be riding higher and the players know they have to deliver in one of the toughest fixtures of the season.
I haven’t really talked through all of the team news so I’ll quickly run through that, although I suspect most of us could probably pick the starting XI for this I reckon. Raya will come in, White, Saliba, Gabriel and Zinchenko will make up the back line, Rice anchors the midfield with Odegaard on the right along with Saka. On the left I suspect Martinelli isn’t ready so it’ll be Trossard and I think through the centre of our attack has to be Gabriel Jesus. The only question then becomes what happens to that left eight spot, which I think will be occupied by Havertz. Personally I’d go Vieira, but I think Arteta wants to give him a show of faith and so what better game to do that than one of the biggest ones of the season.
Fingers crossed for the result. I’ll be podding with Amanda and Albert later on the Same Old Arsenal podcast from probably around 5.30pm depending on the time I get back from the stadium, so you’ll get the raw emotion from the game then. Hopefully it isn’t a bit of catharsis and is a joyous one. We’ll know in about seven hours.
Catch you all later or tomorrow.