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Monday 11 March 2019

Tottenham Hotspur We're Coming For You!

"Miss this one mate & you ain't getting out of here alive"
          While most Gooners would’ve bitten your hand off for a draw in advance of last Saturday’s North London Derby, there was no escaping the sense of disappointment, coming away from Wembley having failed to capitalise on such a prime opportunity to silence our increasingly noisy neighbours.

          Yet far more foreboding was the fear of the possible recriminations of Torreira’s needless last-minute red card and the potential significant impact of the absence of our Uruguayan pocket-rocket to patrol the middle of the park on Sunday & snuff out Man Utd’s rampant goal threat.

          Although in recent weeks Torreira’s struggled to exert the sort of influence that we witnessed early in the season and instead of Emery focusing on trying to compensate for our porous defence and thwarting Man Utd, there was an almost tangible elevation of the mood of positivity around the Emirates with the announcement of the team news an hour before KO, with this rare instance of Unai having the cojones to select his best available XI.

          There was always the hope that Man Utd might arrive at our place suffering from a hangover, following the emotional toll of their triumph against PSG and it was a relief that Herrera remained unfit, considering how the midfield triumvirate of Herrera, Matic & Pogba have swept all before them since Solskjaer rocked up.

          However, with Chelsea joining Spurs in wasting precious points in advance of Sunday’s KO, in some respect this seemed to take some of the pressure off. Aided by Unai’s offensive team selection, it felt as if this damage limitation insurance provided us with the liberating confidence to take the handbrake off and go toe-to-toe with our guests, in a concerted effort to put a spoke in the Solskjaer bandwagon.

          You can’t have watched the Gunners over the past few decades, live or on the box, without having heard Maria’s cacophonous “come on you Gunners”. It was fitting that the club made a presentation to one of our most devoted fans, in celebration of her 80th birthday and it would’ve been downright embarrassing if the Gunners had gone on to poop Maria’s party, by failing to replicate the same undaunting vigour at the start of this encounter, evidenced in the octogenarian’s pre-match pep talk.

          Sure, we gifted Man Utd with a few glaring opportunities, during a fairly even first-half, as has been our most problematic failing, all season long. Yet there was a most pleasing determination to our last-ditch defending and it’s this evidence of a concerted team spirit, an unrelenting will to win that we’ve been waiting to see made manifest (on a more consistent basis!) under our new management.

          Deprived of any real threat down our right flank, with the lumbering Mustafi in this role in recent weeks, it was a massive relief to see Emery give Maitland-Niles a rare run out. Where in the past Ainsley hasn’t exactly performed as if he truly relished being asked to do a job at full-back, against Man Utd it appeared as if the penny had dropped. In producing what was arguably a man of the match performance, perhaps for the first time it felt as if the youngster had grasped the nettle to make the most of his opportunity to nail down a first-team berth.

          Doubtless Man Utd fans will moan about the contentious penalty decision, but no one was more surprised than us to get anything out of ref Jon Moss. Following the fortuitous turn of events in Paris in midweek, surely they have to accept the rough with the smooth? Credit to Aubameyang for having the courage to step up against a keeper of De Gea’s calibre, after his miserable failure last week.

          In the past we’ve grown so accustomed to drawing a blank against De Gea that we all stood gawping at the replays of Granit Xhaka’s first-half strike on the big screens to try and comprehend how De Gea had been undone.

          Although our attacking triumvirate of Ozil, Aubameyang and Lacazette failed to truly click on Sunday, I pray that Emery persists with starting all three of them in the remaining matches as they’ll only improve with more game time and it should make for a highly entertaining climax to such an unpredictable contest.

          Hard to believe it was only 16 days ago that we were 10 points behind Spurs, without a hope. “Tottenham Hotspur we’re coming for you”!
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