The North London Derby! It comes at least twice a year, sometimes more, and is considered one of the most heated rivalries in English football. I think it's charitable to say that the fans of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal don't like each other that much.
Funny thing about rivalries, and people. I'd be willing to bet good money that at the micro-level, Spuds and Gooners probably get along more or less swimmingly. That is to say, I have a number of Gooner friends, and we like each other just fine. I'm guessing that most Gooners have a couple of mates who are Spurs fans, too. But fan bases on the macro-level? Wankers. And who doesn't like to beat the crap out of a group of wankers, because tribalism?
But this is the micro-level, and the guys down the hall at The Short Fuse are people we get along with pretty darn well, thank you. And it is in the spirit of the micro-level that I reached out to pdb, Arsenal blogger extraordinaire, to get a sense of the State of the Derby. In exchange, I answered some questions for him, too.
Because it's the North London Derby, and that's what mates do.
Cartilage Free Captain: Arsenal's going into this match with a strong offense and a lot of weaponry, but some major holes, particularly in defense, with only six first team defenders. How confident are you in the currently-available defensive players, and are you worried about the defense ahead of the NLD?
The Short Fuse: I am...not unconfident. I'm not naive enough to think that Arsenal have a deep well of defenders at the moment, but the defenders they do have I like for the most part - the Mertescielny partnership is one of the best in the league, with the outside backs being a little less awesome. But so far this season has been an exercise in watching the defenders while saying DONTGETHURTDONTGETHURTPLEASEDONTGETHURT, which is a suboptimal way to watch a game. So while I'm not worried about the defenders as they currently exist, I'm worried that not enough of them exist.
CFC: Danny Welbeck's deadline-day purchase for £16m had just a whiff of "panic buy" to it. Does he really have a long-term future at Arsenal, or is he destined for back-bench status once Walcott and Giroud get healthy?
TSF: I kinda disagree with this. Yes, Giroud's injury changed things, but I think Welbeck's purchase was more "oh hey look this guy's available and cheapish, let's get him" rather than "OH MY GOD WE NEED TO SIGN SOMEONE NOW WHERE'S THE DARTBOARD LET'S GET TO THROWING DARTS AT A LIST OF NAMES". I think Welbeck gives Arsenal's attack a slightly different look than Giroud; they're similar players, but Welbeck is just a little more direct. Welbz has some finishing issues, as we saw in his first couple games, but he converted a good chance on Saturday at Villa and I'm confident he'll come good. I see a solid future for both of them, with Walcott pulling the strings from midfield. Arsenal play enough games that it shouldn't be a problem finding them both minutes.
CFC: There has been... well, discontent about Arsene's stubborn use of the 4-1-4-1 formation thus far this year, especially with Arteta as a DM. What the heck is Arsene thinking, or is this part of some heretofore inconceivable tactical master plan?
TSF: Lots to unpack here. First, asking the "What the heck is Arsene thinking" question is as futile as asking "how long is a piece of string". Arsene is a very bright man with a very large distaste for directly sharing his thought process - this is, after all, a guy who claimed to have never heard of Santi Cazorla about two weeks before signing him. It was clear to most every outside observer at the club that the 4-1-4-1 was a disaster, particularly for Mesut Özil - about whom more later - but he stuck with it for a few games. There are theories that he was doing it to get more out of Jack Wilshere, but why would you build a team around Jack Wilshere? My personal thought is that the 4-1-4-1 was used to get as many creative players on the pitch as possible in the absence of Theo "Two-Nil" Walcott, but we'll never really know. Fortunately, that shape seems to be gone now - Arsenal went back to a 4-2-3-1 against Villa and it worked a treat. I love Mikel Arteta, he was a huge get for Arsenal for his first couple years, but he's rapidly losing pace and it makes me sad.
CFC: The trophy drought is finally over, and now Spurs fans can't make fun of you anymore (about that anyway)! How has winning the FA Cup changed the mood of the Arsenal fan base?
TSF: "The Arsenal Fan Base" assumes we were all of one mind about the "trophy drought". Arsenal's fan base was pretty deeply divided on this - I was and will always be in the camp that thinks expecting trophies is stupid, because winning trophies is really damn hard. I expect my favorite teams to always be in position to win trophies, and always be trying to improve in order to try to win trophies, but I refuse to believe that a season without a shiny tin pot is a failure (ask me about the 2001 Mariners someday). There was a large portion of the fan base - we'll call them the Piers Morganites - who were braying for Arsene's blood with every successive trophyless year, though, and the fortuitous timing combination of an Arsenal FA Cup win and the presence of three World Cup winners from the summer in the squad calmed those voices down a bit. No matter which side of that debate one was on, though, we all agree that Arsenal should push on from there and not be content with only an FA Cup.
CFC: Despite the obvious animosity between the two clubs and its fans, everybody looks forward to the NLD. How confident are you going into this match, and what's Arsene's tactical game plan against Spurs?
TSF: I'm always confident, because in my lifetime as an Arsenal fan the record is Arsenal W18 L7 D18. Arsenal just don't lose this game that often. Which of course means they'll lose this one because I'm saying they won't. As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn't begin to guess at what Arsene will do; I can only hope that he keeps Özil in the middle.
CFC: Meszut Özil hasn't had the best of times with the Gunners when he's been shunted out wide, but contributed to two goals when he was utilized as a #10 against Aston Villa. Is he coming back into form? Does he just need to be in the hole? How confident are you in him against Spurs?
TSF: Mesut Özil is one of those players that you don't appreciate until you watch closely. On the surface, he doesn't seem to do much - he doesn't score a ton, and as you say lately he has just looked ineffective. But if you spend any time watching him play, and focusing on him, you'll see what he does. He creates space; he's a dangerous player so other teams keep more of an eye on him than on most midfielders. What Özil does to exploit that is understand how to drag defenders out of position - he'll get the ball, move it along, then run like he's going to get the ball back, forcing defenders to follow - only for the ball to go to the player who now has acres of room, thanks to what Özil just did.
Playing him out of position, as Wenger has done recently, removes his ability to do that; neutralize Özil and Arsenal's attack is much weaker. He has had a rough patch recently, but I think the combination of putting him back in the middle and Arsenal playing better overall will be a huge boost for him, and I'm very confident he'll play well this weekend.
CFC: It's a year after Spurs "did a Spurs" in the transfer window. Are you more or less worried about the players Spurs purchased with the Bale money last season? Which Spurs player is the most likely to go nuts and put three past Szczesny on Saturday?
TSF: From an outside perspective, last year's Spurs transfer window looked like one of those game show booth things where they blow a fan up from the bottom and $100 bills fly around, and you get to keep as many as you can grab in 30 seconds. A lot of Arsenal fans were sad that Arsenal didn't make a run at Etienne Capoue; I like Erik Lamela pretty well and wouldn't be surprised if he had a big game this weekend.
As for a score prediction? I'm crap at these, but it's at the Emirates so I gotta go 3-2 Arsenal.
Thanks to pdb for taking the time to talk Derby! Check out The Short Fuse (no, really!) for more information on the Derby from a Gooner perspective, or if you just wanna see how the other half lives. But don't troll, please, we're all mates here at the micro-level, right? Follow pdb on Twitter: @misterpdb