Arsenal have carried a very heavy piece of baggage into this season. The knowledge that they lost their nerve last spring.
I’m sorry, but you can’t dress up what happened to their last Premier League campaign any other way. They were in the box seat heading into the home stretch of the season and they didn’t perform.
That little seed in their heads will be there until they win that competition. But I like the Arsenal squad I see — and although it doesn’t always follow that they will get better year on year, they’re a group of young men who should do exactly that.
We’ll have a far better picture about Arsenal and Tottenham by 5pm on Sunday. The intensity of a huge north London derby and two teams playing with great confidence adds up to the first proper test that either of the clubs have faced this season.
They’ve each played only one team in the top 10, so far — and given Manchester United’s early season form, we really can’t read too much into the fact that both teams have beaten them.
David Raya, left, and Aaron Ramsdale, right, are both competing to be Arsenal’s No 1
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has built an impressive side but fell short in the title race last season
But the jury remains out on Arteta’s decision to spend £65million this summer on Kai Havertz
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I like the fact that David Raya and Aaron Ramsdale are competing for the goalkeeper’s jersey and certainly do not subscribe to this modern view that you ‘make the goalkeepers nervous’ by having them vying for the spot.
Nervous? Oh diddums! Are you seriously going to tell me next that Ramsdale, who’s missed out in the past two matches, should be heading straight to Arsenal’s HR department? If someone challenges the established goalkeeper, then so much the better.
Not all of Arsenal’s spending makes sense to me. They’ve laid out £65million on Kai Havertz. Surely you’re not spending that kind of money on what he’s shown at Chelsea in the past three seasons? They’ve shelled out in the hope that Mikel Arteta can get a very, very different tune out of him than Frank Lampard, Thomas Tuchel or Graham Potter ever did. Good luck with that one, Mikel.
We live in a world where stats have become a very popular part of the game for the anoraks. But historically only two stats provide a judgment in black and white terms. For a goalkeeper: how many games have you played and how many clean sheets did you keep? And for a striker: how many games have you played and how many goals did you score? Havertz has scored 19 Premier League goals across the entirety of three seasons for Chelsea. Please draw your own conclusions.
Arsenal do have some very good players in their team. Gabriel Jesus, back after two knee operations in 12 months, who is lively, aggressive, brave and can hopefully now just get on with his career. I really like Bukayo Saka — who is going to be a top player in our football for a decade, barring injury — and Martin Odegaard, who seems to be getting better and better.
There’s also evidence that Declan Rice is becoming more adventurous and more of a goal threat this season. I have offered my own observations of how he can make himself better, which I would hope is viewed as a good thing. I’m sure Arteta felt that productivity at the top end of the pitch was an area where he could help Declan improve. I hope he goes on to score 10 goals a season regularly in the Premier League.
Bukayo Saka looks like he going to be a top player for a decade in the Premier League
Declan Rice is becoming more adventurous since joining but can still add goals to his game
Tottenham boss Ange Postecoglou has enjoyed a good start and his team will test Arsenal
I’m pleased to see that Ange Postecoglou has had a super start and won over supporters after a season that Tottenham will want to forget. But Spurs are more of an unknown quantity than Arsenal this weekend. They’re the team with a new manager, being asked to play a slightly different way in an away fixture they’ve won only twice in the past 30 years. For me, Arsenal look the stronger, despite Spurs’ position at second in the table.
Arsenal are operating intelligently. The most important thing at any football club is recruitment and their performance in that department since Arteta took over is up there with Manchester City, Liverpool and Brighton. The Premier League needs a strong Arsenal, one of the great institutions of our football, to be challenging for the Premier League. They also have the demands of the Champions League to deal with this season, which is why I don’t see them winning the Premier League. I do see them finishing in the top three.
No one will be thinking about title ambitions this weekend, though. Victory in one of the most keenly anticipated fixtures on the calendar will be enough.
Time will tell if Harry Kane has made the right move
It was a very poor Bayern Munich team I watched play Manchester United this week in the Champions League. They have some exciting young players up front but it was an ordinary performance.
The Germany team are also the most modest group of players that country has fielded in my lifetime. Are Bayern a reflection of the state of the Bundesliga, the national team and German football right now?
Harry Kane had five touches in the United area and two shots on goal on Wednesday night.
If that’s Bayern’s normal level, he might soon be questioning whether he’s made the right move.
Harry Kane scored against Man United but Bayern Munich looked an ordinary side in their win
My double bubbly reward from a grateful Fergie
I received a case of champagne from Sir Alex Ferguson a few months before the game between his team and Arsenal 20 years ago, remembered as the Battle of Old Trafford.
They were the two best teams by a country mile at the time and United always started out with one idea in their heads: ‘We’re going to be super aggressive against this team and see how they deal with it.’
I’m sure those would have been the last words from Fergie, ringing in their ears when they went out the dressing room door. His United team set about Arsenal every time they played them. It’s how it should be.
United got the better of Arsenal the previous season and that’s where the champagne from Fergie came in. I was manager of Blackburn Rovers in 2003 and the case was awaiting me when I arrived at the training ground one morning in May that year.
We’d done the double over Arsenal — beating them 2-1 at Highbury and 2-0 in our stadium — on the way to a sixth-place finish.
Those wins were obviously an enormous help to United clinching the league title that year, because they won it by five points. Fergie made sure I knew.
The 20th anniversary of Man United and Arsenal’s Battle of Old Trafford was marked this week
Sir Alex Ferguson sent Graeme Souness champagne after his Blackburn side beat Arsenal twice
Long live Henry the first
I inadvertently uttered the words ‘Thierry Henry’ at a Q&A in Dublin last week. That’s been a blasphemy in those parts ever since his handball deprived the Republic of Ireland of a place in the 2010 World Cup!
But what a player he was. During my time as Blackburn manager, when we had a corner against Arsenal and sent our centre backs up, he would be standing on the half-way line, always on the right-hand side, waiting for the ball to be cleared to him.
I asked Lucas Neill, our quickest defender, to stand on Thierry’s toes on that half-way line. I would tell him: ‘Ignore our corner and just concentrate on Thierry. Get touch-tight to him, even if the ball is nowhere near you. And if the ball comes your way, don’t, whatever you do, let him turn with the ball and get in a race with you.’
We had a good record against Arsenal but for a couple of years Thierry was the best player in the world, no question.
For a couple of years Thierry Henry should have been seen as the best player in the world