None of the BBC pundits – 20 in total – predicted that either Arsenal or Spuds would finish in the top four at the start of the season. Well they were wrong. I am still amazed that Arsenal are so close to a top four finish given the huge transformation project Arteta is making the team go through. I have no doubt that the extra money and prestige will help Arteta significantly in speeding the whole process up, and getting some CL experience into our young players will be good too.
Arsenal have a great opportunity to achieve both CL football and St Totteringham’s Day simultaneously by winning the NLD. Now that would be special. Spuds have an experienced squad and manager and we kind of have the opposite. They were in a CL final only three years ago and the likes of Winks, Lloris, Son and Kane are still strutting their stuff for our bitter rivals. But rather than build on that successful squad (and manager) they have chopped and changed far too much, and to me they look like a bunch of headless chickens in a shiny and new, restless chicken pen. Conte seems the most restless cockerel of them all and rumours continue of him jumping the pen at the end of the season.
But this is not about having a go at our neighbours. We want to beat them and have the bragging rights, but the thing that matters most is that we finish above them come the end of the season. It really would be a great achievement given the youthfulness and big change process the team is currently going through.
This will be all about whether Arteta wants us to play our usual game – which may leave too much space behind our defenders – or whether he will adjust the team to be compact and play on the counter. The Spuddies need to win. They need to attack for this and their passing game is less developed compared to ours. Conte, as all Italian managers, loves it when teams come and attack them and leave space behind (results agains Citeh and Pool prove this). But we do not have to do this and can do a Spurs on them instead on Thursday. Let’s give the likes of Son and Kane no space and no time.
Who should play? I am inclined to put Holding, ESR and Laca into the starting 11. They know about the passion of the NLD and have the fight AND calmness about them that can make all the difference. Eddie has been brilliant recently but I think that Laca is the sort of forward warrior we need tomorrow, especially if we sit a bit deeper and need a CF to disturb the high-line of the Spuds’ defence. If White is available I would play him as right back; if not, let’s play Soares.
This would be my starting-11 (apologies for the cultural stereotype):
Ramsdale (loves his spuds boiled, crushed and roasted)
White (loves his spuds deep-fried in beef dripping)
Holding (loves his spuds as jacket potatoes with chilly con carne)
Gabriel (loves his spuds spiced and skewered)
Tomiyasu (loves his spuds with soy sauce, white wine and brown sugar)
Xhaka (loves his spuds fondue-smothered in gruyere)
Elneny (loves his spuds in a colourful casserole)
Saka (loves his spuds thoroughly mashed with pie)
Odedgaard (loves his spuds as dumplings)
ESR (loves his spuds as patatas bravas)
Laca (loves his spuds chopped up in a green salad).
Come on You Rip Roaring Gunners!!!! Make North London Red!