This article was going to start “I don’t hate Arsenal. I don’t really hate any Premier League sides”. But as I typed, I realised that time and progress has caught up with me and I now have a distinct animosity towards at least three of the current batch. I’ve joked in the past about how the Premier League had started to a look a little bit familiar but all we need now is Preston to get promoted and we’d have one big (un)happy family thing going on.
So anyway, I don’t hate Arsenal, but I dislike them. Despite a boyhood affinity for their North London rivals, it’s quite a recent thing. It’s grown out of the Wenger years, the arrogance of them, their tendency towards pouting sulky players and, above the media feeding frenzy that made them the Crewe of the top flight. It’s even more annoying that, unlike with Dario’s boys or our previous opponents, much of the praise thrown Arsenal’s way is justified, but praise is one thing sycophancy is another.
My dislike of Arsenal makes it even more pleasurable that they’re the one of the “top four” that we’ve come closest to beating, think Landzaat wonder goal and Heskey non-penalties (gawd bless Phil Dowd). Of course, that’s in the league of course, it seems to have been conveniently forgotten that we’ve beaten the Gunners, and in the time that Keyes-y and his boys have bothered to take notice of our existence as well.
That night at Highbury was brilliant, not so much for the fact we got to our first major final as the way we stuffed it to Arsenal. The smugness of their players, the ole-ing of their fans, the pack up and go home of the media all wiped off with a last minute “oh sh*t, away goals count!”. But that night at Highbury tends to over-ride the first leg, a game where, for large parts out-played Arsenal and got the lead we needed to hang on to.
So, whilst there’s hope, the million and one previews pointing out that we’ve never beaten Arsenal are right in one respect. You’ll need to look very hard for a positive Latics prediction on this one and that’s for one reason. Latics might be going to Arsenal after two cutting defeats and a sapping European tie, but they’re Arsenal all the same and they’re better than us.
Not better because they’re Arsenal, but because they’ve got better players, their grip on that top four place might have been loosening in recent times, but they’re still in the reckoning. You might have forgotten their mauling of Everton on the first weekend, but it doesn’t take it away. It’s going to take a great deal of effort to beat them and, to be frank, it’s probably going to prove a bridge too far at this point in time.
Not least because Latics are likely to play them at their own game. Alongside Pep Guardiola, Wenger is painted as a role model for our Bobby and whilst that might be good for the fans in the long term, we’re far from seeing the fruits of his imagination just yet. Put two things that look the same together and more often than not the quality one stands out.
Arsenal v Latics the Pepsi Challenge of Premier League football (with Latics as the “other leading brand” in case you were wondering).
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