The North London Derby is a date that gets circled on the calendar first thing for both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal fans. This year we get three — the two Premier League fixture and the Carabao Cup quarterfinal match. Unfortunately for Spurs, Saturday’s edition of the NLD is of utmost importance, as Spurs are currently riding a two match losing streak. Lose this weekend and they’ll be just one point ahead of the Gunners in the table. That would’ve been an unthinkable scenario just a couple of weeks ago.
Ahead of the Derby, it’s time to check in with our friends (and yes, they are our friends) at The Short Fuse, SB Nation’s Arsenal blog. We hate their team, but we like them. Managing Editor pdb was kind enough to answer our questions, and I did the same in a return interview over there.
So tell me how Arsenal under-utilized Aaron Ramsey all these years because Juventus apparently thinks he’s worth infinity billion dollars (citation needed).
I love Aaron Ramsey, and I wish that Arsenal were going to be holding on to him. That said, though, I don’t think he’s worth the infinity billion dollars (it should be noted that Italian wages are quoted post-tax, so it’s more like infinity-plus-forty-percent billion) that Juventus is going to be paying him. While not as snakebit as some, Ramsey has a problem staying healthy, and that’s held him back over the years. He’s a very good player, but he wanted to be paid like one of the most elite players in England, and Arsenal weren’t willing to do that. Juventus was, so off he goes.
Unai Emery’s first year is almost complete. What’s your overall thoughts about his tenure so far?
When I was a kid, I kept hearing from my dad that Chinese food was the best food I’d ever have in my life. I heard this for a long time, and then one day, finally, he took me and my sister for our first Chinese food dinner. And you know what? It was...fine. It didn’t change my life, nor did it ruin it. And honestly, I feel that way about Unai Emery. I was very much ready for Wenger to be gone (about which more later), but I was also under no illusions that Emery would take the squad he inherited - which has a whole lot of issues - and make it into a title contender or Champions League powerhouse overnight.
My main hope for Emery’s first season was that it wouldn’t be a step backwards while a rebuild started to happen, and while it has been many things, it most certainly has not been that. Despite some frankly headscratching decisions - some unknown beef with Mesut Özil, a refusal to play Alexandre Lacazette in his correct position, an insistence on playing cutbacks at all times despite the fact Arsenal aren’t good at them - Arsenal have more points and a better GD this year than they did at the same point last year (56 points, +22 GD this year, 45 and +12 last year).
I don’t think Emery has a lot of wiggle room, though - losing the first leg against BATE Borisov got the knives out after a winter of stumbling around a bit. People don’t seem inclined to give him the patience that a rebuilding project the size of this one requires, and while the noise around Emery is nowhere near the volume it was in the late Wenger years, people are not happy with Emery at the moment and there is a non-zero portion of the fan base that wants to see him Moyesed ASAP. I am not one of those people. I want to give him this summer and see who he brings in and what that does. If I’m still feeling as uneasy this time next year as I was a month ago, my thoughts will change, but for me, he’s earning another season at least.
Do you miss the constant “Wenger In/Wenger Out” topic at all?
Does someone who just retired from the Washington Generals miss getting their ass handed to them on the basketball court every day?
Watching Arsenal over the last three seasons was tiring. It was an exercise in compartmentalization - could I enjoy the games themselves, and tune out the incessant, unchanging, unshifting noise from both sides that surrounded every single game? That got harder and harder as Arsenal kept getting more and more repetitive in their seasons. Over the last three seasons, with Arsenal doing the same thing every season, it was not fun watching the games because most of that watching came with bracing oneself for the aforementioned blathering.
That’s gone now, and while Arsenal are still not as good a team as Arsenal fans want them to be, at least the conversations and arguments are different now, so, um, yay?
When’s the last time you thought about ArsenalFanTV and do you miss their usual hijinks as much as we do?
I am one of those rare Arsenal people you’ll encounter online that has never watched more than 10 seconds of AFTV. I try, in all facets of my life, to limit my exposure to things that make me actively angry, and I quickly realized that AFTV would be a match on my personal pile of gas-soaked rags if I let it be, so I don’t. As for missing it, If Emery stumbles his way through the rest of this season, don’t worry, AFTV will be there doing what they do.
What do you think of Arsenal’s chances at Top 4 and Europa League?
I think they have a good chance at one of the two. Doing both is incredibly hard - as Spurs fans well know, Thursday/Sunday turnarounds aren’t ideal, so at some point, a choice needs to be made about which competition to prioritize. Particularly this season, when Arsenal’s squad isn’t as deep as it should be. I have a feeling if Arsenal get past Stade Rennes, all the chips get pushed onto the square that says EUROPA LEAGUE, but that was also the case last season, and that didn’t work out, so.
What does Arsenal need in the summer window?
Defenders, defenders, defenders. Larent Koscielny is great, but he’s 276. Stephan Lichtsteiner, also old, came on a free last summer and someone still owes Arsenal money for how bad he’s been. Hector Bellerin is Arsenal’s best defender, and he’s out long-term, probably until mid-fall, and there’s not an astounding well of talent at the back right now, so Arsenal desperately need to shore up a defense that is on pace to allow 51 Premier League goals for the second consecutive season.
How do you expect Arsenal to line up on Saturday?
Emery’s probably going to use a 4-2-3-1, but I don’t think we’ll see Mesut Özil this weekend - Ramsey will probably get the nod in midfield since he did well there in the first NLD this season. Alexandre Lacazette will start, because his red card in the Europa League means he won’t be eligible to play on Thursday. Should be something like
Kolasinac-Sokratis-Koscielny-Maitland-Niles (Maitland-Niles being one person, not a case of Arsenal trying to sneak an extra defender out)
A month ago, I would have said 3-1 Spurs. Now, though? I think 2-2 is a reasonable outcome and I can even see a world where Arsenal sneak a 3-2 win.
Many thanks to pdb at The Short Fuse for taking the time to chat! We don’t like Arsenal, but we quite like the folks over at The Short Fuse. Best of luck, y’all!