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North London Derby Preview

“This is the game of our season because it’s a derby,” Sagna told Arsenal Player. “I think we’re going to have a big atmosphere so everybody is looking forward to it.

“It’s just massive. You can feel the pressure around the stadium. You can feel the pressure on the pitch. We can’t lose that game.
Bacary Sagna

I’m always excited for the weekend. Whether it’s away at Wigan or hosting Manchester United, I’m there, up at some unholy time, cheering on the Arsenal. Come this Saturday at 7:30, I’ll be doing what I always do, Podolski jersey on my back, Sportsnet turned up full blast. This time, we gear up for the North London Derby, one of the most anticipated matches of the year. As always, we go up against the annoying little brothers of our football world, Tottenham Hotspur. Normally, I’d be fired up to squash the scum like bugs, but this time I’m not so sure. No, I’m not scared of losing to the minnows, but a there’s a slightly bad taste in my mouth before this match that I’m not quite accustomed to. There isn’t that level of intense build up that I’ve grown so used to in my short time supporting the Arsenal. Don’t get me wrong, the NLD is always a great fixture to look forward to, but it isn’t exactly the battle for supremacy that most Spurs fans believe it to be. It’s not quite so heated when your teams are in 7th and 8th place respectively, and haven’t exactly been in sparkling form, plagued with injuries. This ain’t your dad’s NLD, so don’t expect another 7 goal riot. That’s not to say that I’m not optimistic, but even if the result goes our way, it’s still a long way to the top.

Let’s say we do win, and by a ridiculous a margin as last year. Walcott grabs two, Podolski hammers home a free kick, Giroud gets his head on a perfectly square ball in the six yard box, and Cazorla scores a screamer. Everything’s good in the hood, and the Arsenal are firmly back in their rightful place once again, right? Not really, I’m afraid. I hate to be that guy, but should we run out victors on Saturday, that would be our third win in 7 matches; is that really good enough? If we were to win against anybody but Spurs tomorrow, and move up one place in the standings to 7th place, would you really be happy with that?

No matter the result tomorrow, we need to realize the NLD isn’t as important as it was perceived to be, at least not at this point in the season. Many will point to last year’s reverse fixture that spurred us into finishing 3rd in the table, after a calamitous start. That’s all well and good, but it’s often forgotten that we had lost to them before that, and it’s within reason to argue that Spurs were a weaker side at the time. Not only will tomorrow’s game be challenging, but ultimately insignificant if we carry on wearing rose tinted glasses just because we’ve beaten our shadow dwelling “rivals”.

I doubt it’ll be a match for the history books either, with both teams on playing on decidedly average, and worryingly similar form. Both teams are winless in their last two matches, both teams are struggling to create chances, and both have key players injured. Neithe team averages over 2 shots per game over the 11 they’ve both played, and both have scored the same amount of goals (18). It has draw written all over it. Obviously, a match on paper almost never pans out, so there is potential for a spectacular display of attacking football from both sides, but the numbers are heavily stacked against it.

With Kieran Gibbs still out, and many of our key players either “facing late tests” (mind games) or still out, Arsène might have to stray from this season’s familiar model of the team ever so slightly. Giroud has been in training despite a reported back injury, but if AW decides he shouldn’t play, then Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski should start in a two striker system. It get’s the best out of both of them, and gives us room to experiment with a tweaked midfield, reminiscent of the glory days, with narrow wingers and to combative central midfielders. If I had my way with the team, I’d have the lineup looking like this.

While it may not compare to the Invincibles, some of the tactics remain. Two midfielders who will bite your ankles off for the ball, wide players that dazzle with skill, and fullbacks who will kick the shit out of you. Not to mention the most important part, two brilliant strikers who have no trouble slotting it home.

With this lineup, hope for goals. Despite our recent attacking difficulties, I hope the players are ready to take their game to another level on Saturday. While a win tomorrow may be the confidence boost we so desperately need, I doubt it will inspire the same amount of confidence in the squad as it did last year. While the magnitude of the match may have been diminished slightly this time around, the sentiment remains the same: crush the Spuds.

Anders

Last but not least, take a look at the brilliant infographic on the NLD by @Dorkkly . Make sure to follow her on Twitter, she’s the best Gooner graphic designer around!

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