At last it’s back, and boy do we love it. No, not the action on the pitch…the managers sniping at each other in an attempt to gain some mental advantage over their opponents ahead of the big games. There wasn’t too much hostile banter doing the rounds last week as the genial whipping boy Ian Holloway turned up at the Emirates with a spirited yet useless Blackpool who were shown no mercy by the Gunners.
This week, the proceedings are a little different in that the key protagonist is the whale-like anti-football and all-round enemy Fat Sam. The lardy loudmouth has taken a few minutes off from stuffing pasties into his giant gob to deliver his pearls of wisdom ahead of today’s Premier League clash at Ewood Park.
As we know, size-of-a-house Sam drills his teams with bully-boy tactics and has done all of his career (except at Newcastle where he was a total flop and was duly given the bullet in no time at all) and today he tries to justify his approach by taking a swipe at AW as the verbal jousting begins in earnest.
He said: “If I have to remind Arsene about his own team that used to win the league – it was also the dirtiest team. They had more sendings off and bookings than anyone else ever before. Arsenal had players like Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Kevin Campbell and Martin Keown and they would mix it anyway you wanted to.
“Arsene’s change of tactics are remarkable. He has gone from that team and changed it into a side bred on getting the ball down and passing and moving. But it is still not as good as that team he used to have because they could do it any way you wanted to win the league and the cup.
“It caused anyone huge fear whenever you faced them because you wondered what way can we play to beat them. Now there is a way to beat them because I’ve done that many times. They are not without players that aren’t physically capable. Don’t worry about that.
“Don’t be sucked in by Arsene’s talk that they’re a nice, pretty team. If Arsene is saying something now it means he is worried. Last season we managed to beat them within the rules, contrary to what he says, otherwise the ref would have given free-kicks against us. I’m surprised he bites so easily. It’s not just this next game coming up, it’s been over a period of years with me.
“We’ve found a niche, an opportunity and way to beat Arsenal. We should never beat them, but do. We never get the credit we deserve for our technical and tactical work – me as a coach and boss, as well as the players. It’s not rugby tactics as they are illegal in the game of football. The physical side is an important part though.”
What a bitter man. Lord I hope we do this lot over. For his part AW has had his say on the strongarm tactics that have left us vulnerable in the past. You only have to look at the game at Blackburn last season when Lukasz Fabianski was roughed up.
AW said: “We have a good opportunity to send a strong message. We have more steel because a few years ago we were a bit too immature for this kind of game. I don’t feel any more that we are.
“I always tell my players to be committed – that means to deal with every single challenge. It will be important that we are strong in the air. They have some players who are good in the air and they favour that style. They have Paul Robinson who kicks the ball very long, they have long throws – it’s important in England if you want to win the championship you have to deal with that.
“It is important that you’re strong away from home. We had our first difficult game at Liverpool, we have second at Blackburn and it’s important we deal with their strengths. But we must not forget to play our game. It will be a little bit of a confrontation between two styles, it’s important that we dictate our style.
“In these kind of games you have to deal with the problems you face, but you want your goalkeepers to get the right protection,” he added. The rules are the same for everybody and every manager is free to play the style he wants and I don’t have a problem with that – it’s just the rules have to be respected.”
As for team news, Cesc could return to the front eleven with the boss facing a tough choice on whether to go with both Robin van Persie and Marouane Chamakh in a 4-4-2 formation.
AW said: “You cannot play 4-4-2 with Arshavin, Walcott, van Persie, Fabregas, Chamakh – that is not a system, that is suicide. We have a number of games in front of us, two strikers of that calibre and Nicklas Bendtner coming back from injury. Carlos Vela can play right and left. It’s not a luxury, you have to rotate.
“Kieran Gibbs has had some niggling problems with his groin that we tried to heal completely before throwing him in. He can play as well left-midfield and left-back. He will have his amount of games for me, no doubt about that.”