Tim Stannard looks at six storylines that could unfold in Saturday's clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Will Messi break Zarra's La Liga record?
It's not all about Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, you know. We're talking about the pressure on Iker Casillas, Luis Suarez debuting in the big one and Isco's big chance...
Neutrality is very important. For diarists like us, our neutrality and good looks are what set us apart from the moiling masses of fitba opinionistas, all of whom are crippled by their own partisan fitba opinions. Being neutral, being handsome, and being high-ranking Freemasons are the most important things in football diary-writing, and we tick those boxes so hard that our pen goes right through the paper and ticks all of the boxes, all of the way down. Does this make us superb lovers too? You can only speculate in the comments section.
But neutrality has its own set of problems. We, like everybody, have our own preferences and prejudices (though unlike everybody else ours are entirely correct). One of us, for example, has Phil Brown's face tattooed over his own, while the other has Jack Wilshere's face tattooed around his [bad word deleted - Editor In Charge Of Removing The Word Penis From F365 Articles]. And more generally, how does one maintain one's careful disinterest when Arsenal are so determined to have the entire world point and laugh at them?
Arsene Wenger has become a master of making and remaking essentially the same comedy, known as the Simon Pegg school of management. Against Aston Villa, after a competent and confident start, we were treated to another fine slice of farce de l'Arse: the same events, shuffled into a slightly different order, peopled by a familiar cast. It's a bit like watching a Woody Allen film, except always funny. High-ish and low culture references suitably crowbarred into the intro, we present the Arsenal Comedy Checklist...
Comedy goalkeeping? Check! In some ways, Wojciech Szczêsny's affection for the football is endearing. He loves it. He cherishes it. He wants it for his own. And he will come charging out towards it at a moment's notice, regardless of such trifling concerns as Gabby Agbonlahor, the limits of his own penalty area, and whether he'll end up looking like a berk.
Erratic defending? Check! While Laurent Koscielny's red card might not have been entirely justified, on which more below, Arsenal's defensive problems are bigger than just an unhappy knack for picking up bookings. Nor is it just as simple as 'lol, Kosc/Mert/Verm is rubbish'. To watch Arsenal is to watch a team that has heard of defending, that quite likes the idea of defending, but that hasn't managed to work out that this means they need to stand in the right sort of places most of the time. That goes for you midfielders especially. Yes, we know running forward with the ball is fun, but come on.
A lingering sense of injustice? Checkity-check! There are replays and screenshots circling this here internet that suggest that the second penalty might not have been quite as terrible a decision as it first seemed, but even so, there's an over-long advantage, a harsh second yellow, and a number of other outrages for Arsenal fans to get their teeth into. Does this matter? Or does this simply bring out the glorious flavours of the hilarity? We're going with the latter.
An almost palpable sense of deep and abiding frustration, of anger, of barely-suppressed disgust with the iniquity of the world, which manifests itself on the pitch with rushes of blood and, in the case of Jack Wilshere, a yellow card for being a bit of a dick, and which manifests itself in the crowd with strife, with factionalism, with booing, with counter-booing, with grumbling and impatience, with suspicion, with pieces of A4 paper imploring the manager to spend, spend, spend all this rumoured money on somebody, on anybody, on everybody, because it's starting to look like either a collection of very clever football people have forgotten how to do their jobs, or that somebody, somewhere, isn't being entirely honest with the fans? Yeah, that.
A gift for dominating the headlines to such an extent that causes everybody to completely forget their opponents, Aston Villa, who looked really quite good? Er. Um. Well, this is awkward.
Adding yet more injuries ahead of a Fenerbahce-sized Champions League qualification round, on top of a comically long pre-existing injury list that existed in the past, exists now, and will always, always, exist unless Arsene Wenger actually chooses to address it? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain says yes! Who will join him next week?
We don't mean to have a go at Arsenal in particular, fun though it is. But there are two reasons we bring all this up. First, well, nothing much else happened. Even Manchester United refused to play ball with the tricky-start narrative, meaning we have to keep that entry under wraps until they cock up at Anfield. Yes, Everton drew 2-2 with Norwich, but let's be honest with ourselves: nobody was watching. Not even the defenders - hence the four goals.
The second reason, though, is important. Almost all of the very, very serious things that happen on a football pitch are, with the obvious exception of things like grave injuries and racial abuse, very funny. When Rooney swore at a camera? Funny. When Suarez bit Ivanovic? Funny. The 8-2? The 6-1? The 5-2? Funny, funny, funny. Not for everyone, but hey, them's the breaks, and that's the price you pay. Yet none of the ultra-serious analyses of where Arsenal are going wrong, on and off the pitch, are going to take the time to remember this. So that's why we're here. It's important that even if you don't think our jokes are funny, you snivelling ingrate, you take the time to laugh at Arsenal's. After all, the alternative is pity, and nobody wants that.
Andi Thomas and Alexander Netherton