It’s never easy to bounce back after losing points that could have been easily taken if not for those few stupid mistakes, especially when those kind of mistakes happen twice in a row. No doubt bouncing back could be even harder when you have to make things up against your bitter rival.
We are approaching the end of the first third of the season and in order to keep our Top 4 ambitions alive, we will have to do much better than we have been ever since the international break in October with injuries to Kieran Gibbs and Abou Diaby crushing our rhytm. This mini-break might do well for us. If it does, this is the right time to do it. In three matches against teams that look like realistic contenders for the title we have won just one point so far, meaning the home match against the Spuds is the one we must win. They are one point above us at the moment but their form isn’t worth of Top 4 (as well as ours, truth to be told) and our victory would restore some order for a while.
Our previous match at Emirates against the same opponent brings us only nice memories. We won 5-2 despite being two goals behind after unlucky deflection and the disgraceful Bale’s dive for a penalty that Adebawhore converted. We were 10 points behind the Spuds back then and we were shaken after going out in FA Cup against Sunderland coupled with a Champions’ League defeat against the magnificent Zlatan Ibrahimović’s AC Milan. Still, we looked like a team that would overturn the deficit and when Bacary Sagna scored a header after brilliant cross from Arteta, I knew we would beat the Spuds. What I didn’t see coming was red’n’white storm that gave the Spuds 5 good reasons to worry about and it was probably one of those matches that saved the bench of the English national team from Harry Redknapp’s behind.
It’s a similar mood this season like it was before last season’s match, but there are certain things that are different. After Wenger expressed certain doubts regarding Sagna’s and Walcott’s fitness, it might happen that none of our scorers from last season’s thrashing of the Spuds will start at Saturday with Rosicky still injured and Verrader leaving the Emirates. Gibbs is out, while Sczszesny is doubtful along with Sagna and Walcott. Song left us for Barcelona while Benayoun returned to Chelsea from loan which means that in worst case scenario, if late fitness tests don’t go well for aforementioned trio, we will have only Vermaelen and Arteta from the last season’s starting 11. The balance of the team will remain a problem as long as we don’t have either Gibbs or a proper full-back to play there. Vermaelen is a good cover but his primary position is as a central defender.
There are some positives as well. First of all, we will have our Jack back. We missed him badly against Fulham given that both Ramsey and Coquelin performed below par. With Wilshere our midfield will have some sharpness but let’s hope this time he will be more careful with tackling. Wilshere’s Spanish partners in the midfield will have to rise above their performances from the last week and show the Spuds why the Arsenal midfield should be regarded as one of the best in England. Giroud and Walcott have formed a pretty good partnership so far and that would be the only thing I would take from last week draw with Fulham, while Lukas Podolski should show that he can score against our rivals for the Top 4 spot as well. If Walcott’s injury forces him out of first team on Saturday, the return of Oxlade-Chamberlain will be even more important thing for us than it is right now. The Ox gives us additional options in midfield and attack but he will have to play much better than he has been this season. I wrote once that I expect AOC to produce a similar influence on our game like Wayne Rooney has had on FAnchester United’s and both sides – rest of the team and AOC – should help each other in order to make my wishful thinking true.
The Spuds are not in the same shape like they were last season either. They lost Modrić to Real Madrid, Van der Vaart to HSV and Redknapp was replaced with poor man’s Mourinho, Andres Villas-Boas. Last season AVB managed Chelsea and in his only match against Arsenal and Arsene Wenger he lost 3-5 thriller at Stamford Bridge. They’ve signed our long-term target Hugo Lloris, an excellent French goalkeeper that didn’t get too many chances this season, while they’ve also snatched Vertonghen. It’s very hard to predict what we can expect from them apart from Bale’s dives. They won at Old Trafford after 23 years only to lose against Wigan at home. If Lloris is going to start for them, I hope he won’t perform as good as our other summer goalkeeper-target Julio Cesar, who nearly won a point to QPR with his flurry of saves at the Emirates three weeks ago.
Injuries are obviously feeling at home at North London as the Spuds are in injury crisis as well with Dembele, Assou-Ekotto, Parker and Kaboul out for Saturday while Walker, Defoe and Lennon are also doubtful for the clash. It could be, however, that both managers are hiding their cards before the match and that all doubtful players will feature in the North London derby.
Victory against the Spuds would be a huge boost for both players and the fans while our league position would look much better. If we draw or, by any chance, lose to the Spuds, that would mean we won just 4 out of 12 matches (33,3 percents). We must make Emirates our fortress and it must start on Saturday.
Spirits of St Totteringham’s Day ask for that from our players!