Every single game counts for a lot more in the current incarnation of the domestic game. With one position shift up or down in the final Premier League standings meaning millions for the club in question, it means a snatch-and-grab point from the jaws of defeat could end up making the difference next season.
With every club watching the pennies after zero gate receipts, the opportunity to earn more millions for the coffers and perhaps to reinvest is the pressure on every clubs’ shoulders. But despite every game mattering that much more, there are always those games that you look for first when the fixture list for the coming season is announced. Those matches that have repercussions for victory or loss, they cascade ripples throughout the rivalry – they are far from a simple win.
The North London Derby Is one of those for us Gooners. The matches against United too. The opportunity to beat Chelsea is one we always look for and tussles with Liverpool always hold a special significance. All too often, these games underwhelm and fizzle out in a bore draw, with both teams averse to taking any risks and the conclusion is a tense but ultimately boring stalemate.
And when that does happen, it cries out for a gamechanger. A player who can take the game whether it is willing or not, and transform it into something truly watchable. It can be by sheer force or will, it can be through artistry or a combo of both but those players are not content with sitting back and let the procession play out. They want to engrave their name into the history books.
And by scoring or being MotM, these big-game players do exactly that. Some players become synonymous with a certain game, or opponent. For instance, Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane will always be remembered as huge thorns in our side, the alacrity they score against us has meant that they always get mentioned when the two respective sides clash.
And with Alex Lacazette, he is building a reputation for delivering in the big games. The Frenchman scored again in an NLD with his penalty in our 2-1 win at The Emirates, and he has a good scoring record against our hated rivals, but he hasn’t stopped there. He has also scored against Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United in his time in red and white – and has also scored in some big Europa League moments, like knockout ties against Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Napoli.
Lacazette has shown we can rely on him when moments of high pressure materialise. He has a hunger to make the difference when it matters most, and these players will always write their names in the folklore of the club. Aaron Ramsey was another who loved the big occasion – and Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka are going a long way to showing the same mentality.
Smith-Rowe arguably put in a MotM performance against Spurs in what was the youngsters first ever NLD. He continually tormented Jose Mourinho’s team and his positional play and link-ups with Kieran Tierney down the left meant Matt Doherty will not have had many more difficult matches than that one. The kid showed up when he had to and was unlucky not to score, but it wasn’t the fact he smacked the post with a fierce drive.
It was the fact that even with the high stakes, it didn’t faze him. ESR wanted the ball continuously and wanted to be that player to make things happen.
Ditto Bukayo Saka all season. Stepping up when we have been mediocre, enabling us to save a modicum of embarrassment in a season of transition. All this from a teenage – which bodes well for the rest of his career.
When it comes to crunch time, the players with the right mentality will either take the game and change it, or they will put in an almighty shift. It is these players that are the elite, these players that will help Arsenal recover to where they once were.
The likes of Tierney deserves a special mention, but just watch the next big game we have. When a player elevates himself and gives us the advantage, it means that he isn’t content with sitting back and letting things pass him by.
Arsenal have plenty on their books. Now it’s just time for consistency.
Next season will be the litmus test for Arteta. He has shown he can set his team right for the big ones – can we make it count?