Sunday 10 November 2013

For once, we visit Old Trafford with genuine hope

It’s been a good few years – about 10, actually – since Arsenal last travelled to Old Trafford and I didn’t fear the worst.

Of course I always have hope that we’ll pull something unexpected out of the bag but usually those feelings are overwhelmed by the thought of us getting, well, overwhelmed by Man U.

How refreshing then that this morning there isn’t a gnawing fear in my stomach about what trauma the boys might suffer this afternoon but instead an anticipation of us going toe-to-toe with them.

Creating a combined form XI at the moment would see a pretty even combination of players selected, probably weighted Arsenal’s way, and that reflects the excellent start to our campaign and the pretty mediocre one they have made.

What’s happened since my last post to bring us to this position? We drew at West Brom in a match we would have lost last year but which it felt like title-winners would have scraped a win; we hammered Norwich with a collection of four sublime goals that made things look a lot more one-sided than they were; we lost to Dortmund after a pretty patchy performance but one that probably deserved a point; we avoided a banana skin at Palace with a professional display; we worked very hard to beat an in-form Liverpool; we rode a bit of a storm in Dortmund to claim three terrific points.

In all, the results have been a lot more impressive than most of our performances over the past few weeks. That sounds curmudgeonly, I know, but there is no shame in not being scintillating every match and it’s also heartening to think that there is room for improvement even when we sit atop the league table.

And improvement is what we will need today. Even though we have just won at the home of last season’s Champions League runners-up – becoming the first English team to do so – it was a low quality game overall and a repeat performance wouldn’t get the same outcome in Manchester.

For Man U, this will feel like a chance for David Moyes to make his mark and I expect he will have his players more fired up than at any other point in his short reign. Ferguson may have left but his ethos of intimidation will return for these 90 minutes.

We need to be ready for that and match it but there is a confidence and serenity about this team at the minute which suggests they can. They’re assured in knowing they are very good players, they have proved they can beat very good opponents, they don’t panic if things don’t go their way.

I’ve said from the start of this season that Arsenal will remain a work in progress for a while and regardless of what happens this afternoon it will still feel like there is more to come. Which means this match doesn’t feel so ‘make or break’ for Arsenal as it does for Man U – but what an impact a win would have.