With three games in seven days – Montpellier at home, Aston Villa and Everton away – coming up, Arsenal cannot afford to indulge too long in the sweetest of aftertastes from our glorious trashing of the Spuds.
Derbies stand on their own: they are performed outside of time and are hardly affected by recent form or future prospects. They are all about the here and now: you cannot get more carpe diem in football than during a Derby.
We will always enter this sort of games with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension. The rewards of a win are so high and the pain of a loss goes bone-deep; and it all lingers on for a long time.
However, Arsenal cannot get carried away with our fine trashing of the Spuds. Without any doubt, it has lifted the spirit of the players and improved the togetherness within the team significantly, but all can be easily undone again with a rubbish performance against Montpellier on Wednesday.
Arsenal are often prone to a collective underperformance in the games that follow a comprehensive and well-lauded win; especially when the next opponent is regarded as ‘inferior’. This is exactly the risk we run against last season’s French champions in two days from now.
Montpellier cannot qualify for the CL anymore and they have only a small chance to qualify for the UEFA league, and they could approach this game in two ways. They could field a weakened team with the aim of ‘damage limitation’, or they could approach the game with a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude – similar to the way they went about in our first encounter.
Montpellier are a good team, who currently simply lack the experience and the associated confidence of playing in the Champions League. A more established CL team would not have allowed us to get away with our disorganised, messy, second half performance against them in September.
When they come to the Emirates, they are likely to play with wings of freedom: expectations are low, the stadium is fantastic, the spot light is on them, and the night is young. I expect Montpellier to go out there and give a very good performance, and Arsenal need to be fully focussed to get all three points from this game. If we take this game for granted, we’ll end up with a blooded nose; just like Schalke did against the French champions.
As per my previous blog, there are still areas of concern that need addressing when we play a better side than Spurs on Wednesday: the solidity and cooperation of our defence, and the protection of our back-four from midfield. I am particularly concerned about Arteta and Wilshere’s ability to shield our defence effectively; especially towards the latter stages of the game.
For different reasons they seem to tire towards the end, and it leaves our defence vulnerable; especially in the area in front of the D. Let’s see how Arsene is going to resolve this. Coquelin offers fresh legs and plenty of ability, but lacks the experience to play in such an important role and in such an important game for us; so I guess it is Arteta and Wilshere to start again in the ‘2’ of our 4-2-1-3 (4-3-3).
I also expect no other changes to our starting eleven against Spuds, as this is simply a must win for Arsenal; and why change a winning team?
But the game on Wednesday is not so much about the technical/tactical qualities of the players on the field – it is all about playing with focus and bags of energy and simply treating it like a must win cup-final, or if you want; a do or die derby.
The team now has to quickly forget about our glorious victory on Saturday, and get back to reality: not winning against Montpellier would have very dire consequences, and instantly turn our well-deserved feelings of euphoria once more into despair and anger.