16th February 2011. Summon the spirit!


Can someone please make sure this man is in attendance?

I want you to come with me on a journey through space and time and dimensions to revisit a heady era when a young Arsenal squad, full of stars in the making but none of them established, went toe-to-toe with one of the best squads money could buy. In their prime, there was Valdes, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Xavi, Villa, Iniesta, Mascherano, and, of course, Messi. Messi scored only 53 goals in 55 appearances that season. At the helm, of course, was none other than Pep Guardiola. Against this formidable squad, we sent out an XI that averaged all of 23.6 years of age. Everyone had predicted that this Barcelona side to not only win the Champions League as well as La Liga (which they would end up doing), but no one could have predicted that an Arsenal side full of youngsters and starlets would deliver as they did. It’s that spirit that we must summon.

All the ingredients are there. Guardiola in charge of one of the best clubs money can buy, prohibitive favourites. An Arsenal side full of young, promising talents eager to prove themselves. A two-legged playoff for supremacy (albeit somewhat different from the Champions League format). A home-crowd in full-throated support of its side. It’s all on the table. 

Guardiola has been effusive in his praise of this current Arsenal side, saying the following:

So far, they are the best team in the Premier League. They played an incredible first round of fixtures. We felt it, when we played them a few weeks ago, how committed and how sharp they are. We have to try to read the game and it will be a big, big battle. In every department you have to be ready.

Of course, one always has to be wary of Guardiola’s praise, especially as it concerns Arteta. After all, the narcissist in him can always claim credit for anything Arteta achieves. He is Corax to Arteta’s Tysias in a way.  

The thread that unites these two matches is almost a direct line, a line made somewhat straighter, in fact, by our own recent wobbles. Had we thrashed Everton and Brentford as expected, the questions would have forced us to prove that we could handlt the pressure of being favourites, and that’s a position we haven’t been in for quite some time. Dropping those points, while far from ideal, changes the narrative just a enough to work in our favour. We’re no longer the precocious potential pretenders to the Prem title. We’re simply succumbing to the bland inevitability that is more silverware for City. Shorn of our (apparently unearned) frontrunner status, we can play with greater freedom, greater abandon, even greater passion.

That’s where you come in, those of you who can attend the match by dint of proximity or paycheck or simple ability to navigate the byzantine process for getting tickets online. Roar down these jaded, bloated City fans; show them the meaning of passion and purpose; prove to them that simply purchasing players at a premium is not the only path to silverware. There’s been a lot of chatter about City’s alleged improprieties, and Guardiola has found himself in the unfamiliar position of having to actually defend the massive spending that fuels his gluttonous appetite for silverware.

If you find yourself lucky enough to be inside the Emirates on this day, make it a day to remember. Make it a day not unlike that 16th of February 2011, when we humbled that balding Fraudiola and his expensive baubles with our rag-tag squad of soon-to-be’s, almost-were’s, and could’ve-beens. Make your voices echo and resound and reverberate; make the Emirates itself tremble with our passion and purpose; show those noisome nuisances that there’s more than one way to assemble a title-winning squad.

With a win, we can stake a claim to winning the Prem. Along the way, we can drive a stake through the cold, lifeless, cheating heart of the club that has dominated the Prem for most of the last decade. We can set things right. It’s just one day shy of the anniversary of that momentous result. What better way to mark the occasion than by reprising it?

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