Dust off the overalls. Off we go again.

Open season on Arsenal, I see. Albeit self-induced. “Fancy a pop? I tell you what then, here’s a penalty and a 101st minute equaliser to chew on. Pop away, interwebs”.

And pop away they have. Former Arsenal players have had their tupp’orth, and now Cesc has opened up a bit too. Have his words been misconstrued? They seem very reasoned to me, and, well, they are hard to disagree with, aren’t they?

In my new found spirit of optimism – ha! – I didn’t fancy murdering our performance against Liverpool here on the blog.

But suffice to say, Arsenal just now remind me of the little girl in the children’s poem:

‘When she was good she was very, very good but when she was bad she was horrid.’

Anyways, two observations:

– We are too easy to defend against when not purring along. Mix things up, go on. And when I suggest mixing things up, I don’t mean ‘put Bendtner on the wing’. At least tonight we know that the Spuds will smell blood and come at us. That might open things up.

– We look tired, collectively. The only remedy for fatigue at this stage of the season though is winning. Ya hear me?

Utd’s draw last night re-opens the rusty door of hope but I for one am not fooled. You’ll have to get up early in the morning to catch me using the t-word.

Put no pressure on and maybe we can play a little bit with the handbrake off.

Right, well I’m off to the beach. I might just bury my head in the sand. Tweet me in the morning.

An Arsenal-heavy interlull delays my derby nerves

Before we can all properly address the tightening stomach muscles associated with Saturday’s derby showdown, we have for once got an interlull containing no little Arsenal interest to contend with this evening.

Not only has that serial ignorer and arch hater of English talent, Arsene Wenger, gone and quietly provided England with three players – Gibbs, Walcott and Wilshere, the latter since withdrawn through injury – but the opposition is France and one thing we haven’t got at the club is a deficiency of Frenchmen. The French national side even trained at London Colney, and as far as I can ascertain, they didn’t go on strike or have a strop.

I’m not quite sure how many of our French boys will start tonight but I’ll pop a guess that we’ll see all three of Clichy, Nasri and Sagna begin the game.

Looking forward to it as I am, it also has a rather combustible air to it and with five Arsenal players on the same pitch, the miserable sod in me has started panicking about injuries. We are told that Gibbs will start, which is fantastic news. To be honest, in his case it is a much needed game. He’s had a miserable run of injuries since having his foot broken almost exactly a year ago. By my money playing for England tonight will be his third comeback from injury this season, so of all our players on view tonight, he is the one for whom I will be clutching the lucky rabbit’s foot.

Across London, Chelsea appear to have been Arsenalled somewhat, with their first-choice centre-half pairing both now crocked long-term. Seemingly untouchable this season, Chelsea have in recent weeks wobbled somewhat and Arsenal’s two excellent consecutive away wins mean we have capitalised on it. However, we have had a dismal run of injuries at Arsenal for several seasons now, so you won’t catch me ner-nerring in the general direction of Fulham Broadway. Although many of our walking wounded are back in action, we’re still missing our best centre-half.

Koscielny has had a steep learning curve since he joined, and on current form you’d have to say our first-choice centre-back pairing is Djourou and Squillaci. The lofty Swiss had in recent games found his football boots after an absurdly long absence and is being talked of as another Arsenal renaissance man.

If talk in August had been of potential renaissances, who’d have put their money on Fabianski and Djourou?

For what it’s worth I reserve judgement – principally because he’s only been back a few games and he seems to be clad in various bandages every time he steps out onto the pitch.

As an appendix, my players of the season so far are Nasri (up a massive notch), Fabianski (purely for rising from the ashes), Chamakh (better than Bendtner) and Wilshere (staggering talent coming of age).

Right, I shall enjoy tonight. Tomorrow I might get in there early and endulge myself with a few pre-derby nerves.

Few links here I couldn’t be bothered to shoe-horn in:

Blanc’s new French revolution
Ashley Young to Arsenal [believe that when I see it]
Manu Petit on football life in London [in French]

Wonderful Wilshere takes control

Tottenham 1-4 Arsenal


There’s nothing quite like thumping the old enemy in their own back yard, as Liam Brady will tell you.

The argument for playing rookies in this competition is a strong one, but the alternate view – that winning breeds winning – has been gathering strength and last night Wenger clearly took that line with the team he picked.

Last season, this team struggled to get back on track after defeats. This year’s start has been strong and Wenger clearly didn’t want to risk a damaging defeat by playing an XI largely plucked from the reserves.

It worked.

There’s no doubt it was the strongest Milk Cup lineup in ages, with Rosicky, Nasri and Eboue starting, and Arshavin and Chamakh coming on later in the game.

But perhaps the most pleasing thing, if you think about it, is the amount of other players who played last night that had made their names in this competition and have since cemented their places in the first team squad. Home-grown, but no longer rookies – Wilshere, Djourou, Gibbs, Denilson, Vela. Only Lansbury – and on the bench, Eastmond and Emmanuel-Thomas – have not yet made that progression to first team regulars.

We were utterly dominant in the first half, but with just Lansbury’s goal to show for it, there was always the danger of parity and so it came to pass. What a terrible goal to concede though – Keane was offside (a poor decision by the lino compounded by a similar decision in the first half when Gibbs was clean through, but was wrongly called offside). Nevertheless, his shot should have been saved by Fabianski but the hapless Pole wasn’t able to push it away. Enough said about him the better I think. Almunia will not be losing much sleep.

So extra time it was, and a lethal 15-minute spell sent the travelling hordes into raptures. Nasri took both penalties with aplomb, and the icing on the cake came from Arshavin, put through by the quick-thinking Wilshere.

A word about our 18-year-old Englishman. He has been simply sensational this season and last night he absolutely ran the show, despite some rough-house treatment. As Wenger admitted, he’s far ahead of where people expected him to be and there’s no doubt that already, he’s a huge asset.

Koscielny too deserves what I believe young people refer to as a ‘shout out’ for his all-action performance. I love his energy and commitment.

The only dampener of course is Gibbs’ injury – a potential metatarsal that would be a huge blow if confirmed. He must rue the gods of ill-timing, poor bloke. Last season he had just broken into the first team – and may well have made the first-team squad – when he had his metatarsal broken. This season, he must have scented a chance with Clichy wobbling slightly. Fingers crossed it’s not broken.

Overall, much fun and a lovely performance.

And the sun is out. It’s all good.

Shall we make a DVD?

Match preview: Something for everyone

I’m keeping this one brief.

There’s a bit of something for everyone tonight. For starters, we’ve got two clubs who don’t much care for one another. Any north London derby will be fiery, anytime, without any additional ingredients thrown in.

Tonight though, we have extra ingredients.

Both sides are bruised after cup defeats. One side has not lost to the other in 20 league matches – and extending that tonight would be a club record. The other side will not much want that to happen.

Both sides still have something huge to play for. Losing – and probably even drawing – would possibly mean the end of both clubs’ ambitions for another season.

A current employee of one club is a former employee of the other. He is adored by the former for leaving the latter for the former, and despised by the latter for leaving the latter for the former.

And he’s playing tonight.

Both clubs are missing key players, but welcome back a talismanic player apiece.

You won’t have seen any schadenfreude over the Spuds’ cup exit from me on Twitter over the last few days, for the simple reason that I don’t want to jinx anything.

Makes no bones, this one’s a biggie.

Come on you rip-roarers.

BBC match preview