Tonight’s game against Manchester United at Old Trafford is not about the three points on offer. Just as winning it will not give us the title, losing it will not take it away.
No, tonight’s game is not about the points. It is about belief.
It is about taking the opportunity to put the bed the notion that this current crop of Arsenal footballers simply cannot hack it in the big games. It is about taking the opportunity to show our collective ability at the right time and break the psychological advantage that the this Manchester United side — inferior in quality to ours, in my humble opinion — has over us.
Last season we outplayed Manchester United at Old Trafford and lost. Later on in the season at The Emirates Arsene Wenger’s tactical abilities were severely questioned as United destroyed us on the counter.
The Champions League semi-final the season was a similar story. After outplaying us 1-0 at Old Trafford in the first leg, a slip and a speculative free-kick was all it took for United to end our chances at The Emirates.
In fact, since Samir Nasri scored twice to beat United at The Emirates two seasons ago, they have beaten us three two out of three times in the league (drawing the other to win the 2008/09 Premiership), twice in the Champions League and once in the FA Cup. We have just a draw to show for those six encounters.
For me tonight is not about who is starting for Arsenal. It is not about Cesc Fabregas being fit or whether Wenger goes for Johan Djourou or Laurent Koscielny at the back. At the end of the day we have a team good enough to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and it is down to whether the boys can handle the mental side of things and play to the best of their ability.
Will we see the Andrey Arshavin who tore Aston Villa apart or the one that fumbled and bumbled against Partizan Belgrade? Will we see the Theo Walcott that runs into blind corners or the one who finishes like Thierry Henry? Will we see the Laurent Koscielny who anticipates and tackles as well as anyone in the Premiership or the one who gets caught out of position? Will we see the Lukasz Fabianski that won us the game at Wolves or the one that fumbled against Newcastle?
I could go on but you get my point.
This team, whoever it is that gets the nod from our manager, is good enough to beat Manchester United. Repeat: we are good enough to beat Manchester United. What matters is that we turn up with right attitude, with the right levels of concentration and handle the mental test of the cauldron that is Old Trafford. It is a big challenge but if this group of players want to become winners then it is the sort of challenge that we need to attack with quality and intelligence. It is the sort of opportunity that we need to take.
A three-point lead at the top of the table and an immeasurable, invaluable injection of self-belief is what is on offer for our boys in tonight’s game. Will we be ready to take it?
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