Any result would be magnificent
By Matt Rowson
Watford beat Chelsea. Who drew with Milan. Watford are the best team in the world.
Watford lose to Wigan. Watford are the worst team in the world.
Which Watford will travel to Highbury on Saturday?
Episode 3 of our ever-so-tricky little run against last season's top five, and it's already apparent that the timing of this sequence might not have been such a bad thing after all. Chelsea wander up to the Vic dreaming of Milan, thinking of Berlin (and another defeat - snigger) and get caned. We meet the Arse off the back of a far from comfortable win over AIK Solna the weekend before a midweek trip to the Nou Camp. Ain't life a bitch sometimes?
That's not to say that we should expect to give the Gunners the same treatment that we gave the Blues at the weekend... apart from anything else, Saturday's result alone will have been enough to dismiss any hope that Arsenal approach the game with Chelsea's ludicrous complacency. But we know from our experience on Tuesday evening, it's one thing to be aware that a slippery road is dangerous, it's quite another to make the effort to slow the car down accordingly and drive carefully.
Just as our first leg tie with Wigan fell nicely in that we remembered how to score goals in time to face Chelsea, the second leg serves as a stark reminder not to take anything for granted. We have come an awfully long way in a short time... it wasn't long ago that losing at Wigan was merely a bit of a disappointment rather than an embarrassment. As for Highbury....
Much of the Arse's success over the past decade has been attributed to the famous (back) five, due to be reunited on Saturday following David Seaman's return to the reserves in midweek. In fact, it's only (only!) six years since Martin Keown returned to Highbury from Everton, ultimately to replace Steve Bould. They say he's almost as good a man-marker as Steve Palmer.
Signs are, however, that this famous rearguard's days may be numbered. In former Dynamo Kiev captain Oleg Luzhny and Brazilian Silvinho, Wenger has purchased replacements for either flank, and even the younger pair in the middle (Adams and Keown are both 32) will face pressure from England U21 former Luton centreback Matthew Upson. The cracks are beginning to appear also... the unthinkable on Wednesday evening, as a bungled offside trap let in Solna to score. Inevitably a bit of pace is likely to cause more problems than aimless crosses into the box, so let's hope that Mr.Wooter - who former team-mate Overmars will know a bit about - makes a return.
You don't need me to namecheck Arsenal's cavalcade of stars for you - but here's something to think about. Arsène Wenger has signed many players since his arrival at Highbury. The likes of Suker and Overmars were household names when they arrived... others, like Vieira and to a lesser extent Petit, have emerged into international players in their time at Highbury. But for every Suker or Overmars there's been an Alberto Mendez, a Daniel Grondin, a Kaba Diawara. Less than successful, and stifling the Arsenal reserve side with nonsense.
Wouldn't it be a laugh if the mooted rules restricting non-natives in starting teams were introduced tomorrow? Imagine the Gunners and Chelsea floundering in panic trying to find British players in their squads. John Lukic might even get a game up front.
Then again, the Red Filth really would win everything again. Scrub that idea.
They don't come much tougher than Saturday's game. Any result would be magnificent, realistically... but equally we can't enter the fray expecting to be beaten. We have earned the right to compete at this level, to go into matches with the likes of Arsenal on level ground. As we showed last weekend, that's more than enough.
Leaving the JJB Stadium on Tuesday, a herd of locals poured concise scorn on our Premiership status, and chances of survival. That rubbed me up the wrong way, and wasn't what I needed before a long drive home. But I needn't have worried. Fact is, this is what last season's endeavours were all about, games like this. Because of all we've achieved in the last two years, we're beating Chelsea (did I mention that already?) and playing at Highbury on Saturday.
Not Ninian Park.