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Know Your Opponent: North London Derby edition

Our north London neighbors come calling Sunday.

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Four points.

That’s what separates Tottenham Hotspur from league leaders Chelsea with five matches to play. Both clubs have less-than-easy fixtures this weekend that may very well decide the title. Chelsea will take on Everton and Golden Boot leader Romelu Lukaku. Spurs, as well all know, will entertain bitter rivals Arsenal in the final North London Derby at White Hart Lane. There’s also the bonus of this match officially ending St. Totteringham’s Day.

So, yeah, just a little bit is at stake here.

Joining me this week for Know Your Opponent is pdb from our friends over at The Short Fuse. We spend the interview talking about hypothetical rocket rides for Piers Morgan, where Alexis Sanchez will take a permanent vacation this summer, and how Arsenal might fare in the Europa League.

CFC: So Arsenal have made the FA Cup final, which seems to be the honor of getting steamrolled by Chelsea. How you feeling ahead of that final?

TSF: Never underestimate Arsenal in an FA Cup final. Wenger is 6 for 7 in them - annoyingly, the one he lost is the one I actually went to - and he's well known for loving this competition almost more than the league. So I'm actually feeling pretty good about it. I don't know if the reality of Arsenal can live up to the idealized Cup Final Narrative of Arsenal, but I think if anyone can beat Chelsea in a final, it's Arsenal.

Building upon that, let's do a hypothetical: I give you two buttons. If you push the left button, Arsenal wins the FA Cup but Wenger gets a three year extension. If you push the right button, Arsenal loses the FA Cup but Wenger leaves the club. Which button are you pressing?

Reluctantly, #2. I think everyone's ideal scenario would be button #3, where Arsenal win the cup and it turns into Wenger's exiting on the high note that he richly deserves, but honestly, it's just time for a change right now so if those are my two choices, I take the Cup loss and the Wenger exit.

Be honest with me: You guys are looking forward to Europa League next season, aren't you? In our many appearances in Europa, we learned about such beautiful places like Tromso, Norway, where they don't have sunlight for three months out of the year... (Seriously, look it up.)

I am of mixed emotions about the Europa League, to be honest. I have been following Arsenal since before Wenger was the manager, so I am not of the opinion that the Champions League is a birthright, nor do I believe it's the be-all and end-all of soccer (I much prefer the FA Cup, even though I know that puts me in a very, very small minority). That said, I'd rather be in it than not; my only concern with being in the Europa League is that Arsene Wenger has never been much for squad rotation, and with regular Thursday/Sunday games he might kill someone.

CFC: Let's assume that Alexis does f*ck off this summer to somewhere named Chelsea or Paris. What will you do to rationalize to yourselves the fact that he just wasn't all that into you?

Sigh heavily and move on to the next thing. I love Alexis, but the old "nobody is bigger than the club" cliché applies here - if he goes, he'll go for money that Arsenal can then use on the next version of Alexis, whatever shape that takes.

CFC: Wenger seems to have jumped on the three-in-the-back bandwagon lately. What are your thoughts on seeing Arsenal running that formation?

I like it, if for no other reason than that Arsene Wenger is notorious for never actually changing formations or strategy or anything like that. He hasn't used a three man backline in about 19 years, and it's refreshing to see him try it. Especially as it seems to be working (for now, anyway.)

Who has been the more infuriating signing this season: Xhaka or Mustafi?

To be honest, neither have been infuriating. They've both, over the season, been used (or, in Xhaka's case, misused/not used) in infuriating ways, but that's on Wenger, not on the players. Mustafi's been anonymous-to-OK, which is fine, and my one nit to pick with Xhaka is his habit of clumsy fouling, but overall I like them both.

6) Who had the bright idea of putting that damn Top Four bot on Slack and what is their mailing address? I have something of a gift for them that has "C-4" on the side of it...

(Author’s note: After TSF Takeover 2, saying “Top Four” in SBN Slack results in this image:)


Guilty! Although the humor of it is lessened now that top four's a virtual certainty, it's still hilarious. And given some of the other bots on Slack, is that one really that bad? (this answer brought to you by my new podcast, Talkin' Inside Baseball. You're welcome, readers who aren't on our Slack!)

Here's another hypothetical for you: I give you the option of shooting any member of Arsenal Fan TV out of a cannon into the Sun itself...or Piers Morgan, the same treatment. Who you got and why did you select Piers?

That's not even a question I need to ponder. I picked Piers because I can, and do, easily ignore Arsenal Fan TV - I can honestly say I've never seen an episode, or more than about an eight second clip, ever. Most rational Arsenal fans are the same - AFTV is just not on the radar at all. Piers Morgan, though, he's like mold. He creeps in and he's really hard to get rid of, and I think he probably smells. And you definitely don't want him in your bathroom.

With a Spurs victory on Sunday, St. Totteringham's Day will not come this season for the first time in 21 years. Thoughts?

In one of my other lives, I spent time doing pretty serious dives into baseball analytics. In my years of engaging with that pursuit, I learned the value of the concept of sample size.

How does Arsenal line up on Sunday?

I think we'll probably see three at the back again, but with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returning to the side (which is good), and without Laurent Koscielny, who went down untouched on Wednesday and is probably dealing with a knee problem. So:

Cech; Monreal, Gabriel, Holding; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Xhaka, Walcott; Özil, Alexis; Giroud


I'm terrified. I want to be all bantery and post the picture of Walcott getting stretchered off while holding up 2-0, but the way Arsenal and Spurs are both playing lately, this could be a bloodbath. I'm hoping for a super stressful 2-2 draw, but I could easily see Spurs steamrolling Arsenal in the last derby at the Lane.

We want to thank pdb for joining us for Know Your Opponent. I sat down with him over on The Short Fuse for some questions there, so check it out over there when you get a chance!