Last seasons derby match at the Emirates proved to be pivotal. Had we won the match, we'd have probably continued on with our march to consolidating 3rd spot and travelling the London Underground would not be littered with constant reminders of our implosion. Instead the day served to illustrate that not all was well and that tactically we lacked any shrewdness and astuteness and invited Arsenal to rejuvenate a season that some of their fans had already given up on, leaving long before half time.
The game was a catalyst. It sent them one way and us in the opposite direction. Self belief and confidence is the fuel that drives hope forward.
Saturday's game is not on the same level of melodrama. It shouldn't be this early in the season. And yet I feel the narrative will retain heavy influence post-match. For them, a defeat would be deemed disastrous. They can never quite make up their minds if they're in crisis or not, although I think a fair percentage of the football and Premier league wouldn't mind having Arsenal's problems.
For us, we are in crisis, according to some. Lacking direction and identity thanks to the much publicised and maligned injury issues (on the one hand) and despondency on the other that our coach doesn't match up to the tactical knowledge the several thousand social media football managers posses. We have key players unavailable and that old familiar sting is rearing it's ugly excuse of a head. No strength in the middle with pace required on the flanks so how does a side compensate without weakening itself further? They might suffer from inconsistency but they are not missing much in team selection. I'm not sure I'm fond being the underdog again.
Both sides, erratic. Suffering from in-game lulls and lapses. But both still capable of producing quality football. Which means this might be the best worst derby game for a while. Completely open for both to attack. It's not a game most would dare to predict. I'm sure there are fans on both sides concerned about the possibility of defeat, wallowing in self-pity.
Aside from last seasons embarrassment and a league cup home defeat, we've had it good against them. It's not been one sided for a fair while now. We've got better and they've regressed. At least based on expectations relevant to each club. But we're both suffering a little at the moment, not at the peak of our powers.
Saturday's game is not season defining but it could impact either side in similar fashion to last seasons occasion. With all this narrative dominating, some might have forgotten that beyond league placements, form and points...it's the derby. It's the derby, the one solely about football away from politics and religion and social class. Two warring neighbours. Here's to some old fashion blood and thunder.
Even though all eyes will be on the pitch for 90 or so minutes, when it's over, it's what happens in the stands at the final whistle and in the aftermath that will be most telling.
This is going to get very messy.