Arsenal travel to Wembley this weekend to face Tottenham and I can’t remember the last time I felt this excited before a north London derby. It’s got to the point where my partner is beginning to wonder whether I’m undertaking a liaison dangereuse with Arsenal’s new attacking lineup.
Two months is a long time in football. There are no combined Arsenal-Spurs XIs containing only Lilywhites this time around.
Prior to the reverse fixture earlier in the season, Arsenal were done.
They were dead in a ditch and Tottenham were getting ready to piss all over them at the Emirates. The power-shift was in full swing, and even though Arsenal had more FA Cup wins in the last few seasons than Spurs have managed in the last two decades, finishing above their north London rivals once made up for it all.
It was not a good time to be an Arsenal fan back then. Wenger was staying, Arsenal weren’t changing and Spurs only seemed to be going from strength-to-strength.
But just two months on, with Tottenham still hailed as a wonder team and Arsenal considered the flaked excrement on everybody’s shoe, a win for the Gunners at their second home, Wembley, will leave them just one point behind Spurs.
Arsenal have handed Tottenham chance after chance to stretch their lead and finally prove that they aren’t a bunch of bottlers who just got lucky last season. Yet, here we are, right up their arse with a little under a third of the season to go.
As a Wenger-lover who thinks he should go anyway, this is all very confusing. For so long, many of us wanted nothing more than him to prove his haters wrong. At times, though, he seemed more concerned with turning us all into haters instead.
Now, we sit with hope in our cursed hearts once again.
We believe that the manager who has humiliated Spurs like it is his own personal hobby might do it again this weekend.
And he might, too.
The media are starting to wise up to the average Tottenham player’s gravity-allergy when they get in the box. And in Anthony Taylor Arsenal have a referee they often do well under. Wenger planted a seed by highlighting how the English have becomes masters of diving. Tick, tick, tick.
Pochettino’s admission that diving is just like a stepover was a foolish one. He might think it and it might be true (it isn’t) but the English press don’t like that sort of thing, especially not from an Argentinian. He’d have been better off talking about breaking legs, something else his Spurs players aren’t above trying to do when things don’t go their way.
It’s no wonder he’s concerned about “pushing the sport we love now – a passionate sport that people love to watch around the world – into a very rigid structure. With VAR, with focusing too much on small actions like this.”
By ‘this’ he means Dele Alli’s repeated cheating and bad temper.
For Poch, “Football is about trying to trick your opponent – yes or no? Tactics – what does ‘tactic’ mean? When you do tactics, it is to try to trick the opponent. Twenty years ago, thirty years ago, we all congratulated a player when he tricks the referee like this. That is the football that I was in love with when I was a child. Yes, in Argentina, but in England too.”
If anyone cared to listen, he was laying out his football philosophy for all to see.
His own playing record of 93 yellows and nine reds pads out the story. He was a cheat and a thug and his Tottenham side are made in his own image. But that’s not how he has been treated by the media to this point.
At his press conference ahead of the game, a journalist asked Wenger, who has won three league titles and 10 FA Cups, if he was surprised at how ‘successful’ Mauricio Pochettino, a man who has won zero trophies, has been since he arrived in England as an unknown just like Arsene Wenger in 1996. To his credit, Wenger resisted the urge to wet himself laughing at the question.
For Arsenal, success is nothing more than a league title win. Even three FA Cups in four years is not enough to stem the tide of bile aimed in the club’s direction. Plucky little Spurs, however, need only ‘apply pressure’ once every 30 years or so to see their manager hailed as a success.
It is perhaps apt that this game takes place at Wembley.
It is, after all, Tottenham’s cup final every year. That’s understandable given they haven’t reached a real one since 1991 (only Spurs and Jose Mourinho count the League Cup as a real trophy) and they have a yearly DVD quota to meet.
No matter the result, the powershift conversation will linger but on the day it all comes down to whose swan is the strongest – Arsene Wenger’s dying swan song led by Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Ozil or Tottenham’s diving swan brigade led by Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Lamella on the Wembley floor.
With just eight defeats in 51 games against Spurs, I know who my money’s on.