THE FIGHT TO SEE WHO'S THE TALLEST PYGMY IN THE NORTH LONDON VILLAGE
"I like to get up in the morning and play football," says Arsene Wenger. "The earlier the better." And tomorrow he'll only have to wait until lunchtime before Tottenham arrive at the Emirates for this season's first north London ceremonial ding-dong. Vital Statistical Marker dept: the last time Tottenham beat Arsenal at the Emirates, they did it despite falling 2-0 behind in the first half. And the last time Arsenal beat Tottenham at the Emirates, they did it despite falling 2-0 behind in the first half. The only reasonable conclusion – and this is the kind of tactical acuity for which the Fiver is quite rightly famed – is that the side which defends most ludicrously in the crucial opening half-hour will have victory very much in the bag.
As tactics go, it has the great advantage that it should at least come naturally to both sides. Articles considering the extent to which Steve Bould is clearly the greatest defensive coaching genius in the entire history of ball-whacking seem to have petered out since Arsenal's opening-of-the-season run of three clean sheets was followed by the shipment of 23 goals in 14, including a torrent of 12 in their last four. Meanwhile the only top-flight side to have kept fewer clean sheets than Tottenham's one is Southampton. This seems to be deliberate: Brad Friedel played their first six league games but failed to register a single shut-out, at which point Hugo Lloris came in, got one at his first attempt and hasn't been seen since.
Arsene Wenger is clearly feeling confident, given the dangerous amount of trash-talk he has been indulging in this week. "To me, they look like a team that has lost two creative players," he nose-thumbed earlier today, basically calling Spurs sterile and dull. And to be fair, Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart did indeed depart White Hart Lane just last summer, a state of affairs that might explain why the cockerel-crested club have scored just 18 goals in their 11 league games so far this season. Arsenal, by contrast, have notched an impressive … um … hang on, this can't be right … no, it's definitely … just double-check … actually also 18 goals.
"They are more robust physically, and stronger in the impact and contacts. They are quite physical," Wenger added, basically calling Spurs a bunch of big bruisers. And to be fair, few could have forgotten the eye-watering tackle on Norwich's Jonny Howson that earned Tom Huddlestone Tottenham's single red card of the season back in September. Arsenal, by contrast, have yet to be … um … hang on, there's another problem here … surely a mistake … we'll just make sure this is … in fact Arsenal have also had someone sent off this season. Wait a minute … what the … you've got to be … actually Huddlestone's red card was rescinded.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"[Suso's] played some games and done very, very well. I've asked him to play in that false winger, that seven-and-a-half role, where he's more on the inside" - using the kind of jargon even acclaimed tactics nerd Jonathan Wilson hasn't yet had the nerve to trot out in public, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers gives another masterclass in the art of blinding people with science so they'll think you know what you're talking about.
QUOTE OF THE DAY TWO
"I'm a real believer in mind-setting. It's a technique in which you 'play' little bits of games before you even step on to the pitch. You recognise certain situations you will have to deal with during a game and you play them out in your mind" – Aston Villa defender and mystic, Ron Vlaar, steps into his pentangle, arranges his runes and prepares himself for the disappointment of being outjumped by Man City substitute Edin Dzeko during his side's last-minute 2-1 defeat at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow afternoon.
QUOTE OF THE DAY THREE
"Arsenal are the club I love. I like their philosophy of selecting young players and besides, they had Thierry Henry. For me he is the best player in the world and was my boyhood idol. I'm not afraid of making enemies at Villa by saying I love Arsenal. When I joined Villa I didn't know where they played. I thought they were a London club" – after spending all of five minutes in Birmingham Christian Benteke buys a Collins Road Atlas and figures out where it is he'd actually like to be.
"Given the amazing increase in the number of letters received by the Fiver since the competition was re-introduced, perhaps it would be worth mentioning to your desperate colleagues who look after Soulmates that such an incentive might prove as fruitful. If the prospect of meeting one's soulmate is not enough, a free copy of Call of Duty Black Ops 2 should do it" - David Walker.
"I've noticed that letters commencing 'I've noticed' do not get awarded a prize in your letters section . Time to address the situation methinks" - Markie Robbo.
"What I found quite amusing about ITV's commentary on the Sweden v England game this week is imagining the massive spoonfuls of humble pie that Andy Townsend must have been wolfing down with every moment of Ibrahimovic brilliance, having previously said that he 'can't perform on the biggest stage' and 'flatters to deceive'. I could practically hear the squirming as, not for the first time in his far from illustrious broadcasting career, one of his ill-informed declarations proved to be cobblers of the highest order. I also once saw him miss and open goal for Norwich from about a yard in the late eighties (Townsend, that is ... not Ibrahimovic)" - Matt Leuw.
"We shouldn't be surprised by the result in Stockholm because if anyone is used to getting something from a poorly assembled selection of lightweight planks it's the Swedes" - Matt Shelton.
• Competition: After this afternoon, we're no longer giving away a copy of Football Manager 2013 (given a five-star rating by no lesser a source than Big Paper) for the letter of the day. But feel free to keep writing in, mind. It might be the weekend, but seeing as you're a Fiver-reader, it's not like you've anything better to do. Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you've nothing better to do you can also tweet the Fiver. Today's winner: Matt Shelton.
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BITS AND BOBS
Liverpool have parted company with their public relations officer, Jen Chang, who has left the club by mutual consent and gone back to the USA for "family reasons" that have nothing to do with that peculiar meeting he had with a non-existent "perspiring football journo".
In the kind of other good news that doesn't prompt Liverpool fans to accuse those peddling it of trying to undermine their club, Lucas has resumed full training in the wake of the post knee-knack thigh-gah that's kept him sidelined since August.
The Fiver's nagging suspicion that Plain Old John Terry is a Skynet-controlled mimetic poly-alloy footballing machine sent from the future has not been allayed by the news that Roberto Di Matteo expects him to have recovered from his knee-knack in just three weeks.
And Roberto Mancini prompted no end of slightly forced and excessively loud laughter from Manchester-based football writers at Carrington this morning by turning up for his Friday press briefing wearing a David Platt mask.
STILL WANT MORE?
An impertinent young John O'Shea making Luis Figo look a complete eejit features prominently The Joy of Six: Nutmegs. No, really.
Holding a dusty old manuscript with a story about Ged Houllier's famous spat with David Ginola and a cage containing a dead canary, Paul Campbell emerged coughing and spluttering from the Guardian archives so you could read From the Vault: The cross that cost France and started a 19-year feud.
At the start of the season, West Brom boss Steve Clarke was second favourite for the sack race. Where has it all gone right for the Baggies boss, wonders Stuart James.
Want to read a column in which Barney Ronay likens Marouane Fellaini to a beautiful peasant daughter in some seigneurial mediaeval fiefdom and Andy Carroll to a giant doomed woodlouse? Of course you do.
And David Lacey idly muses that Zlatan's goal against England wasn't the best ever scored ... so take heed, because he's forgotten more about football than you'll ever know.
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