By Chris Harris
“When the game comes, everyone inside the club is a bit more on alert.” - Arsene Wenger
If the result of the north London derby dictates your mood, the tone for this Sunday will be set pretty early.
Local pride and joy will be at stake from noon, a kick-off time that we’ve shared with Tottenham just once before in the Premier League.
That game was one of north London’s most ludicrous spectacles, a 5-4 win at White Hart Lane in 2004 which ebbed and flowed and defied footballing logic.
OP = Outfield PlayersGK = Goal Keepers
A goal every 10 minutes is all well and good but, frankly, Arsenal fans would take any sort of win this Sunday, and they’d put up with anything except a defeat.
That’s basically the mantra for these games: win if you can, just don’t lose.
Arsene Wenger understands that as well as anyone, and he thinks it explains why the team that scores first in the derby has failed to win 23 times - a Premier League record.
“Maybe subconsciously sometimes when the team comes back to draw, both teams subconsciously say ‘OK at least it is a result we can live with’,” the boss told Arsenal.com.
“But we play at home on Sunday, and we want to win the game. It is an important fixture, yes, but for us overall in the situation we are in it’s a big game that we need to win and we will absolutely focus on that.
“We are in a strong position in the league and we want to strengthen this position. It’s a derby and before a derby you need to prepare mentally as well to be at your best, to fight no matter what happens and as well to be effective. That means mastering every situation we face on the day. You prepare mentally for that.”
|Arsenal: Lucas (ankle), Mertesacker, Welbeck (both knee), Akpom (back), Cazorla (Achilles - doubt), Gibbs (shoulder - doubt), Walcott (hamstring - doubt), Monreal (muscle - doubt) Tottenham: Dembele (ankle), Pamela (hip - doubt), Kane (ankle - doubt), Alderweireld (knee - doubt)|
The derby has lost none of its intensity and the final day of last season - when Spurs capitulated to hand us second place - has taken it up another notch.
The manager knew all about the rivalry before he moved to England in 1996 but the ferocity still shocked him.
“I think even when you come from the outside, you’re surprised by the passion people have for their club,” said Wenger. “During the game this passion becomes even more exacerbated and it takes you by surprise.
“I think it’s like culture. You get it at every single club slowly, on a daily basis. People speak about the history of the club and what always comes in then is the derby with Spurs. It’s a slow process but you get there on a daily basis.
“When the game comes, everyone inside the club is a bit more on alert. I’ve noticed very quickly that that’s what has changed here this week. It’s because it’s a special game.”
ONE TO WATCH
Aaron Ramsey’s patience has been tested this season.
The Euro 2016 semi-finalist came down from the high of his international summer with Wales when a hamstring problem sidelined him in August.
But the man who had a say in the last north London with an impudent, flicked finish is back in time for the next local squabble after two appearances in a week - and two assists.
“I’ve never met a football player who is patient - they all think when they come back that they are 100 per cent there,” said Wenger.
“After, with retrospective analysis, they know. [Impatience] is normal, that’s what you want them to be. He’s ready to play, he’s ready to fight. Of course it’s not magic, it’s a slow process to come back to your best as well.
“Aaron has his specific qualities - going into the box, playing forward, having the drive to push the team forward. He has interesting qualities and has a big engine as well. That’s vital in modern sport.”
Ramsey’s stock rose with Wales’ stirring run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals and his club manager has seen a difference.
“I’m certain that mentally he feels stronger [after Euro 2016],” said Wenger. “Tuesday was his first start since August 13, that’s 11 weeks, so it will take him some time to come back to his best. Mentally he certainly feels stronger and he’ll have a big impact once he’s fully back.”
We’ve lost just one of our last 20 Premier League games but won none of our last four league derbies with Spurs.
Mauricio Pochettino deserves credit for that with a pressing gameplan that at its best can squeeze the life out of an opponent. Tottenham have conceded a league-low five goals this season and the smart money might be on a low-scoring Sunday at the Emirates.
“I think they have a dynamic team that is physically strong, so they try to play at a high intensity to close you down,” said Wenger. “But that is one aspect of the game and we have still to play and get out of pressure and play our football. And the quality and intelligence of our passing has to be dominant on the day.
“Spurs always had good teams and it has always been a special battle. Last year when it was nearly desperate for us to get in front of them, we managed to do it. It was always very tight and that makes it interesting as well.
“Overall, I think we have a bit more to focus on ourselves than on what Spurs do well.”
After 10 games, Tottenham are the only Premier League side protecting an unbeaten record. But it’s far too soon to talk about a repeat of the Invincibles.
As Wenger always says, the next game is the most important. And for many of us, no game is as important as this one.
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