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Arsene Wenger, gone and quietly provided England with three players – Gibbs, Walcott and Wilshere, the latter since withdrawn through injury – but the opposition is France and one thing we haven’t got at the club is a deficiency of Frenchmen.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]

Parlez-vous français, Manuel?

What’s the state of the defence? I was asked that question on today’s round-table arsecast, in which the ‘Holic, Goodplaya, Gunnerblog and I were participating.

Overall, I think, the additions of Koscielny and Squillaci are good ones. Yes, we have lost experience in Gallas and Campbell, but Squillaci is no rookie and Koscielny, for me, has great energy and is at an age when a) he’s ready to play and b) he can still learn. We shouldn’t forget though that he needs time to settle in and should allow him some leeway as a result.

I read somewhere (wish I could find it but can’t) that since 1996 Wenger has signed 26 French players. Clearly, many of those have been staggering successes. Petit, Vieira, Henry, Pires were all world class, to name but four. We made £23m in profit from Anelka – kapow. Wiltord, Flamini, Grimandi; I’m plucking names out of thin air now, we’ve had a lot of decent players from over the channel. The success to failure ratio has been heavily weighted in Arsenal’s favour (the Guillaume ‘Willy’ Warmuz of this world have thankfully been few and far between) – France has been a fertile hunting ground.

The trend continues today, with Nasri and Diaby in the middle (Song too speaks French) and Chamakh bedding in up front. But it’s our defence where the French speakers are packed these days.

Both of our new centre-halves are French, of course, plucked from the country Wenger knows best. Our first-choice left and right-backs are French, and Vermaelen, though Flemish, is a Belgian and it must be safe to assume he parleys a bit of the français himself. Djourou is a French-speaking Swiss, Eboue is a French-speaker from the Côte d’Ivoire, leaving us just with the firmly English Kieran Gibbs, the indubitably Spanish Manuel Almunia and the unquestionably Polish Lukasz Fabianski.

So what, I hear you say? So what indeed – this is a moot point of Interlull proportions and I’m not entirely sure I know where I’m going with this myself.

Of course, on the pitch English is the lingua franca and so it should be in a polyglot side drawn from all four corners of the globe.

But when the frites are down, it must be tempting for our defence to give it both barrels in French, mustn’t it?

With this in mind, and given one of the criticisms of our number one is that he doesn’t engender the full trust of the defence ahead of him, it might be a good idea for Manuel to swot up on a bit of French invective. It would be especially useful when responding discourteously to a referee – I can’t imagine there are that many English referees fluent in French spoken with a Spanish accent.

Either that, or he could just adopt the approach to speaking French that generations of English have adopted in the past – talk slowly, and loudly… in English.

Vive la difference, Manuel – here’s to a commanding season.