From international indifference to the white hot intensity of Manchester United v Arsenal.
It seems like a sick joke, doesn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to the resumption of Premier League hostilities. It’s just that I feel we could have done with being eased back to normality. A trip to Old Trafford is, for Arsenal, about as far from being ‘eased back’ as it’s possible to get.
That being said, describing this fixture as one of white hot intensity is an act of mis-selling akin to the great PPI scandal. It is now over ten years since Arsenal last took three points at Old Trafford. Indeed, we’ve only Danny Welbeck’s hilarious winner in 2015’s FA Cup to keep us warm in the interim. For their part, United have usually only been required to turn up to beat us.
Inevitably then, what Helen referred to last week as the “Nineties Derby” has lost a little of its lustre.
It’s a little like the rivalry between Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams the whole world knows is not a rivalry because the Russian seems totally incapable of beating Williams. A fact Williams’ coach was sufficiently relaxed about to publicly acknowledge last year.
It got to the point, a few years ago, that I watched Robin van Persie celebrate a winning goal against us with total apathy. People seemed to get overly exercised about the celebration which followed his header. A lack of respect etc… as if he had shown any respect to Arsenal in engineering a move to United in the first place. He scored a goal for United, he celebrated. Good, I wanted him to celebrate it, underline the fact that he was no longer one of us. None of this faux humility we all know he never really felt anyway.
And, as we staggered towards the end of the Arsenal austerity era, our antipathy towards United felt like a historical conceit.
Like Spurs antipathy towards us.
Now, Arsenal have emerged, blinking, into the floodlights.
Cazorla, Özil, Alexis, Cech, Xhaka have all followed in successive seasons.
In the process turning a team of also rans into a more serious proposition, as evidenced by a recent upturn in big match results. At the same time, United’s star has been on the wane for the last three years. In the summer, they employed a man whom they had little interest in when the time came to replace Alex Ferguson.
Jose Mourinho, with his classless, bully boy mentality was always a perfect match for Chelsea in my opinion. Now, having been sacked by the south west London club twice, he is undeniably damaged goods. A perfect match, perhaps, for a club still recovering from the end of the Ferguson era. His brand of football, however, possibly not.
Of course, our history with Jose Mourinho, who is undefeated in I don’t know how many Premier League matches with Arsenal*, adds some much needed spice to this weekend.
My hope is that Arsenal are finally in a position to be able to overcome whatever is blocking them at Old Trafford. If you need any evidence of a block, beyond our failure to win there in over ten years, can I just point you at last season’s game? I hope, also, that we are now better equipped to cope with Mourinho’s approach.
This may be the first occasion in Mourinho’s time in England, except perhaps his first season, that I genuinely feel we have better players at our disposal than he does. Clearly, we’re missing a few key men, like Cazorla, Bellerin and possibly Alexis (still got his legs, but a lunchtime kick off in Manchester?). However, we do have enough players, particularly in midfield, to allow us to go and play a different game to our usual expansive one, if we want to.
Personally, I wouldn’t be averse to a midfield of Coquelin and Elneny, sitting right in front of our defence and parking a yellow and blue bus. I’m serious. Let them park their bus; we’ll park ours, leave the ball in the centre circle and take a point back to London.
Now, clearly, it’s not going to happen like that.
Even if it did, I remain sceptical of our ability to see out 90 minutes in Manchester without somebody doing something stupid. I include the referee in that. So, if we don’t have to go gung ho, we might as well show some intent. Try and banish the bad memories from last season, the last decade…
I’ve just finished reading Ray Parlour’s excellent book, The Romford Pele. He reminded me of the night Arsenal sealed the 2002 double. At Old Trafford, just in case you’d forgotten, we won – comfortably.
We did so without Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Tony Adams. Why? Because we had options. Because we had a winning mentality. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that our options are just as good now. However, if we show some of the fight of 2002 (and September ’03) we might have half a chance.
Helen closed her article by wondering what it would feel like to hand United and Mourinho a footballing lesson. I’m totally down with that, it would be wonderful to do it. Basically, though, I just want us to win.
I think, after dropping yet more home points against, of all teams Spurs, that is the most important thing.
*I couldn’t be bothered to look it up. Fair play to you, if you can, you’re a better person than me.