By Richard Clarke
When you have been at Arsenal for as long as Arsène Wenger, it is inevitable that the past will catch up with you now and then.
The prelude to games is often viewed through the lens of history, when a manager/player said/did something famous/infamous in a game you won/lost/drew. Just take Saturday's trip to a West Ham side managed by Sam Allardyce. Echoes of hard-fought and sometimes fractious games at Bolton the best part of a decade ago are both understandable and inevitable.
However sometimes the tone is different.
Consider, for example, the story of Guy Demel.
The Frenchman signed for Arsenal as an 18-year-old back in 2000 on the strength of one appearance for Nimes. The tall, powerful midfielder was immediately anchored with the tag of the ‘new Patrick Vieira' and handed the task of ousting the original version from the side.
As many players found, that was a pretty impossible task. In the end Demel's Arsenal career consisted of 13 Reserve games and one goal in one season. He joined Borussia Dortmund's B team before progressing to the first-team and moving on to Hamburg. Now 31 and re-invented as a full-back, he joined West Ham in August 2011. Demel has also represented Ivory Coast at two World Cups and the African Cup of Nations.
For Wenger, such redemption is not only gratifying on a personal level, it also proves that he was right to persuade the youngster to leave one life for the hope of another at Arsenal. For every foreign fledgling who makes it at Arsenal there are two whose career revives via Demel's route - but another eight to ten who drop down or even drop out of the professional game. That is why a genuine paternal smile broke out on Wenger's face when asked about West Ham's full back this Saturday.
"It will be nice to see him because he had a good career," said the manager. "I remember traveling down to Nimes to meet him at the airport the first time when he came here. He was a little boy still, and a bit lost at the start of course as he was confronted with so many big stars. But you could feel the potential and he went after that to Dortmund then went on to have a great career overall.
"I am happy that he came back to London, a place where it did not work for him before, because it shows what a good player he has become."
Demel is part of West Ham defence that has thrived this season; only leaders Chelsea, Arsenal and Sunderland have conceded fewer goals. Meanwhile Monday night's high-pressure win at QPR lifted them above Wenger's men into seventh.
"They've had a good start simply because they have good players," said Wenger. "They've come out of a very good game at QPR and of course they are a threat. They have Andy Carroll back and they are a bit more aerial for sure. But they mix it well, I must say.
"On Monday night I felt they had a good combination between playing on the ground and playing for Carlton Cole or Carroll. In midfield they were quite impressive too.
"Mohamed Diame can make a difference, Kevin Nolan is always dangerous on the second ball and Matt Jarvis is a technical player.
"So it's a concentration challenge as well."
Arsenal are waiting on the fitness of Per Mertesacker, who is recovering from flu. Otherwise Wenger can draw from the same squad that saw off Olympiacos on Wednesday.
Five of the seven goals Arsenal have conceded this season have come from dead-ball situations and, with Carroll available, you sense the visitors will need the German - for this form as much as his 6ft 7ins frame.
"Per has made a big leap this season," said Wenger. "He came back very fit and has improved his fitness and his mobility a lot. He looked very sharp on the first day that he came back. He lost some weight and that helps of course."
At the other end of the pitch, and the body mass scale for that matter, Gervinho has five goals in five games since becoming a centre forward. It seems, like Demel all those years ago, this was an Arsène Wenger hunch; an educated guess based on experience, technical knowledge and a little inspiration.
"Honestly, no, I did not always think he could play this role when I bought him," said Wenger. "I thought he was a wide player but I discovered using him in training sometimes through the middle. His runs and his movement were interesting.
"Of course there was a big question mark about his finishing, but he has improved on that front.
"Sometimes the players create their own obstacle in their head and when they start to score, they think ‘oh I can score as well'. It becomes natural for them."
You could argue there are similarities with Robin van Persie, who took time to learn to play effectively as an isolated, central striker. But once he had, the goals soon followed.
"Let's say at the start it was not obvious," said Wenger. "If you look at their frame, at their kind of play - it's not obvious that they will be comfortable up there.
"We have all the idea of a central striker to be strong, tall, combative. To put a player in like van Persie, who was a more technical player or a player like Gervinho is a more mobile player, you are always a bit ‘oh that doesn't work' when confronted with the image we have of a real centre forward. But you can only try and let the efficiency decide that."
For teams, however, tables are determinant and eighth place is somewhat at odds with the optimism around the Club before Saturday's defeat.
"We feel [we can grind out results] but we have to show it on Saturday," concluded Wenger. "We lost a game against Chelsea that we feel we should not have lost. The focus in the team is good. The quality is there.
"And this game is a good way to show it."
Arsenal: Mertesacker (doubt - flu), Fabianski (back), Rosicky (tendon), Sagna (broken leg), Szczesny (ankle), Diaby (thigh)
West Ham: Diarra (thigh), Collison (knee)Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source