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I heard you all. You were saying “I wish Arsene would sign a central defender”. There were doubters amongst you, I know. “He won’t open his piggy bank. Come back in Ten Years Time.”

Le Boss heard the debate and understood. “Sometimes it isn’t easy to get the deal done, but if I can find a player of super quality, I will buy him. Give me a little more time.”

All along the Arsenal manager had someone in mind, but his current club insisted he was Out of Reach. Then it dawned on him. That chat with Joel Campbell when the diminutive forward had said to him “If You Really Cared you would let me go and find regular football”.

The following morning Arsene suggested the deal. He was staggered to get agreement. “Dreams can come true. Thank you. That is a super super transaction.”

So eventually we arrive at today and Arsene greeting the new boy to Shenley. “I didn’t expect you to come here. I am very happy today Because of You.”

Why?” asked the rugged looking Brazilian, “I Don’t Need the Sun to Shine. Now I’m here I’m Going Nowhere else. I am Gooner.”

A thought too for Joel Campbell, after all Nothing Hurts Like Goodbye, but he may return after Picking Up The Pieces of his career in Villarreal, particularly having signed a contract extension with us shortly before heading for Spain.

Last word with Arsene, I think. “We are delighted to have got Closure on our man. Things are a little bit on the Rise at Arsenal, I think you will agree.”

Welcome to Arsenal to the well-known spelling mistake, Gabriel. We wish you every success in your stay with us.

89 seconds. That is how long it took for Arsenal to calm any nerves that yesterday’s upsets might have caused. Calum Chambers spectacular foray down the right flank set up Theo Walcott for a first goal in over a year. A much changed Gunners had side grabbed the initiative from the start.

Missing David Ospina, Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Alexis Sanchez from the starting line-up at Eastlands last weekend, the Gunners nonetheless dominated the opening half.

At the heart of an impressive start was Mesut Ozil. He created opportunities for Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud as Arsenal looked to capitalise on their good form. Ahead of him Walcott was playing closer to Giroud than we might have thought beforehand. Twice he broke at pace but failed to find the final ball and the chances were lost.

Midway through the half the advantage was doubled. The also-excellent Tomas Rosicky freed Ozil in the box and a classy left foot finish gave us breathing space. We would be grateful for that later. Rosicky was starting to catch the eye with a typical energetic display. He set up Giroud but the shot was blocked.

Finally some forward progress from Brighton but not one of a flurry of efforts from them was on target. The recalled Wojciech Szczesny wasn’t called on to make a save as Arsenal completed a very dominant first-half performance.

What happened after the break is hard to understand. Some will say it was ‘the magic of the cup’. Whatever was said at half-time Arsenal came out a different team, and four minutes into the second-half Brighton halved the deficit. There was something of a combined defensive calamity, too many to name and shame, and O’Grady was allowed a free shot into the bottom corner.

That seemed to spread uncertainty through the team. Brighton had their tails up and the home crowd started to feature for the first time in the match. We needed that two goal cushion again and it was no surprise that little Mozart was the man who provided it, winning the ball back on the edge of the box and trading passes with Giroud before unleashing a spectacular right foot strike.

Half an hour to go, two goals to the good, and it seemed as though the handbrake was being slowly applied. That is understandable to a degree. Ozil and Walcott are still coming back to match fitness and both faded, but will be better for the experience today. Theo was the first to be substituted, along with Olivier Giroud. Chuba Akpom and Alexis came on. The latter as energetic as ever went close with a trio of free-kicks around the edge of the box.

A nervous ending was assured when Holla put Baldock in through the heart of the defence and the Brighton striker lifted the ball over Szczesny’s outstretched arm. It was a good finish but a very disappointing goal to concede again. 3-2

Five minutes later Ozil too was hooked, and Coquelin came on to help Flamini. That gave us a more solid platform from which to play out the closing minutes. Indeed we may have had a fourth when man-of-the-match Rosicky picked out Ramsey at the far post but the Welshman’s volley bounced to safety.

Arsene Wenger will feel that he got his selection spot on, and with players returning from injury there is a little more depth to the squad. The impending arrival of Gabriel Paulista should help, and the boss was unusually open about the likely signing. As for the match itself he avoided the problems of the second-half, as you might expect.

“Overall what you want first is the quality of the performance and to go through. They had two shots on target. When you play away from home and the other team had two shots on target, overall I think we produced the performance I expected.”

Still, after a weekend of upsets we have reached the last sixteen in our quest to retain the FA Cup. With four of the current top six in the Premiership already out of the competition we have been installed as favourites, but we need four more wins to hand Arsene a record sixth FA Cup as a manager in modern times. It’s a bit early to be dreaming of that just yet, as this weekend clearly demonstrated.

As Saturday afternoons go that was a rather good one. Chelsea, Manchester City, Southampton, and the shadow-dwellers all knocked out at home. Enjoyable as those results were they will mean nothing if we don’t grab our opportunity at Brighton to advance into the last sixteen of the FA Cup.

Some degree of rotation from the team that won at the Etihad last weekend is expected. Perhaps the most interesting selection will be the goalkeeper. Will Wojciech Szczesny be selected as the ‘cup-tie’ ‘keeper? With Hector Bellerin needing a fitness test the back four too may have been decided relatively late. He was pictured at training today so perm any four from him, Calum Chambers, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, and Kieran Gibbs. It is rumoured that we are nursing Kos through matches, so this will be clearer if he starts on the bench.

In midfield Francis Coquelin surely doesn’t need a rest, but Le Boss may decide that Mathieu Flamini needs a game. Mesut Ozil is due a start but will that allow a rest for the in-form Santi Cazorla, or will the German return to the left flank? On the right side could Theo Walcott return, allowing Alexis Sanchez a breather?

The hosts seemed League One bound under Sami Hyypia in the first half of the season, but since his departure and Chris Hughton’s arrival the Seagulls have started making progress up the Championship table. The former Tottenham defender knows what his team must do to cause an upset.

“It is our responsibility to try and do the best we can and nullify periods of their play when they can really hurt us.”

The word ‘nullify’ is open to interpretation. When we went to Gus Poyet’s Brighton two years ago the game was open and flowed. We edged a five goal thriller, but they are likely to want less flow to the match this time around. We shall see. Arsene acknowledged his opposite number in his pre-match presser.

“Chris Hughton will give them his experience and his competence, of course. He knows how to prepare a team for a challenge like this. For us the challenge is to turn up with the same spirit and show that we can be consistent with our attitude game by game.”

As Saturday’s results show we will need to carry forward the discipline and effort that brought us the points at City.

The ‘holic pound

In a moment of rashness last night I wrote in the drinks I would tip the scoreline most predicted by you. Blame Oskar and GSD therefore for a 0-4 away win. I wouldn’t go overboard on that in all honesty. Paddy Power offer that outcome at 20/1 so I will have just the pound on it, with a back-up pound on 1-3 at 11/1.

Welcome Gabriel Paulista?

As I type Villarreal have seemingly confirmed (but not yet on their website) that a deal has been agreed ‘in principle’ for Brazilian central defender Gabriel Paulista, with Joel Campbell heading in the opposite direction on loan. It is likely that the ‘in principle’ qualification refers to the need to secure a work permit for the player. Let’s hope that does not prove to be an issue. We need quality additions to the defence and he would appear to fit the bill.

Have a good one ‘holics.

I have to say I am indebted to our very own North Bank Ned for tonight’s guest post. Ned looks back to Arsenal’s first golden era and our first ever meeting with Brighton and Hove Albion. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. I know ‘holicdad would have approved too. He may well have been there that day. Anyway, thank you so much Ned. 

The mighty Arsenal, en route to a third league title in three seasons and fourth in five (those were the days!), headed to the South Coast for a January cup-tie against the then Division Three (South) Seagulls.

It was the first competitive encounter between the two clubs. As unimaginable as it is today, the sides trained together in the week leading up to the game, though in the 1930s Arsenal often trained at Brighton’s old Goldstone Ground in Hove ahead of Cup games.

Brighton had beaten Folkestone of the Southern League 3-1 at home in the First Round, and fellow Third Division (South) side QPR 2-1 away in the Second. Goals by Joe Hulme just before half time and Ted Drake near the end ensured that there would be no giant-killing in the third round however. The final result was Brighton & Hove Albion 0-2 Arsenal.

Here are some grainy black and white highlights of the game. Brighton’s goalkeeper takes quite a battering.

Arsenal would go on to beat Leicester City in the Fourth Round and then Reading in the Fifth. Both games were 1-0 away wins. The cup run came to its end in the quarter-finals, a 2-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, the eventual winners at Wembley.

The following season, Arsenal would go all the way to Wembley again, winning the Cup they had only first won in 1930. Ted Drake turned in a cross from Cliff Bastin in the 74th minute to sink Second Division Sheffield United 1-0 before a crowd of more than 93,000.

‘Arsenal legend’ is an overused term, but the side that faced Brighton in 1935 was full of the genuine article, even though it was missing two of the greatest stars of the Chapman-era side. David Jack, the first footballer to command a £10,000 transfer fee (doubling the previous record), had recently retired; Alex James was out injured. At the end of the season, four of the squad, including three who played against Brighton, would need surgery. Injury crisis? It was ever so.

The team that faced Brighton:

Frank Moss (Goalkeeper) – England international and ‘keeper for the Chapman-era championship teams in the first half of the 1930s until a shoulder dislocation in 1935 ended his keeping career. He played on the left wing until retiring at end of season.

George Male (Right Back) – Chapman took a promising young left-half, played him at right back, and saw him blossom into the best full back in England and an Arsenal legend. He was the first footballer to play in six league title-winning teams (1931, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1938 and 1948).

Eddie Hapgood  (Left Back) – Arguably the second best full-back in the country after George Male and another Arsenal legend with five league titles and two FA Cup winner’s medals to his name, as well as captaining club and country.

Jack Crayston (Right Half) – “Gentleman Jack” Crayston was a hard-tackling but skillful midfielder good enough to win eight caps for England. Came into the side in 1934, winning the league that year as an ever-present and again in 1938, as well as the FA Cup in 1936.

Herbie Roberts (Centre Half) – The fulcrum of the Arsenal defence in Chapman’s revolutionary WM formation (3-2-2-3 for younger ‘holics). A four-time league title winner, he was denied a fifth championship in 1937-38 when an injury early in the season before he had played the 13 games then necessary to qualify for a medal led to a premature retirement.

Wilf Copping (Left Half) – An ex-Yorkshire miner and a ferocious wee ball winner whose motto was “the first man in a tackle never gets hurt.” ‘The Iron Man’ was another England international and Arsenal great who would later manage the Belgium national team.

Joe Hulme (Outside Right) – Yet another Arsenal legend and England international, with three league titles and two FA Cups to his name. He was blisteringly fast, a great crosser of the ball and could score goals, though by 1935 injury was limiting his appearances.

Ray Bowden (Inside Right) – A stylish inside forward who got less recognition and fewer England caps than other members of Chapman’s star-studded forward line, but the Cornishman was an integral part of Arsenal’s success in the mid-1930s after taking over the playmaking from David Jack.

Ted Drake (Centre Forward) – Big, strong and fearless No 9 for both Arsenal and England. Newly arrived from Southampton the previous March, Drake enjoyed a golden full debut season: setting the still standing club record for goals scored in a season in both all competitions (44) and the league (42 in 41 games). He became the first person to win the league both as a player and a manager when his Chelsea team was crowned champions in 1954-55. (Editor’s note – Ned, how could you!)

Bob John (Inside Left) – The Welsh international had been a regular at left-back or left-half in the late 1920s and early ’30s sides, but was at the tail end of his career by 1935 having lost his place to Copping. He came into the side for the Brighton game in the absence of Alex James. John held the club record for league appearances (470) until George Armstrong passed that number in 1974.

Cliff Bastin (Outside Left) – Cliff ‘Boy’ Bastin was more a modern striker than a 1930s winger, fast and with a liking for cutting inside. Cool, clinical finishing made him a goal-scoring machine. His career haul of 178 goals in 395 games stood as the club record until Ian Wright bested it in 1997. Five league titles and two FA Cups solidify his status as an Arsenal legend.

Injury crisis, pacy, direct wingers, players switched from one position to become stars in another, players bought from Southampton, revolutionary tactics? There is nothing new under the sun. Let’s hope that’s true for the result on Sunday, too.

A jaunty Santi Cazorla with the celebrating faithful behind him

A simply superb team performance by Arsenal at the Etihad saw them comfortably defeat the reigning champions. The post-match glow is one we have been awaiting for a long time, but that makes it all the sweeter. This team now will surely have the belief that they can replicate this determined and disciplined display against quality opposition?

I wondered beforehand if Arsene might start the match with a pairing of Francis Coquelin and Mathieu Flamini. Instead Aaron Ramsey got the nod over the latter which was a bold move and enabled us to do what we do so well when the opposition is set-up to attack. We sat back, soaked up pressure, and countered imaginatively, and often with pace.

Unbeaten in twelve league matches, City started on the front foot, but could not find spaces as the Gunners often had ten men between the ball and David Ospina. The Columbian goalkeeper was not required to do much in the opening half, so solid was the yellow and blue wall in front of him. When Arsenal broke there was a hint of menace and from an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cross Olivier Giroud’s header deflected off Kompany, a player destined to enjoy mixed fortunes minutes later.

Arsenal broke again with Nacho Monreal joining the attack and attempting a one-two with Giroud, The aforementioned Kompany, clearly a bit rusty after his recent absence, brought the left-back down. So clear a penalty was it that even Mike Dean felt compelled to award the spot-kick. Yes, it was that blatant, Neil Ashton. The City skipper can consider himself fortunate not to receive a yellow card under the circumstances. He would have cause to be grateful.

The resulting penalty was hit with sufficient venom by the outstanding Santi Cazorla, and it needed to be as Joe Hart guessed the right direction to dive. The first goal is so important in the big matches. We now had three points rather than one to protect.

As the half wound down Kompany brought down Giroud, at last drawing a yellow card, and then embarked on a rant that brought what surely was a final warning from Dean.

Beforehand, let’s be honest, we wondered if we could keep the trio of Navas, Silva, and Aguero at bay. The perhaps surprising ease with which we did just that meant somebody had to go and wake David Ospina from a forty-six minute siesta as the whistle blew for half-time.

The anonymous Milner was hooked at half-time so Jovetic could be sent on as a second striker, and at last the champions looked like a team that had something to play for. In truth the Gunners survived the opening minutes of the half more by luck than judgement, and finally Ospina had some work to do, sprawling to save from Aguero less than two minutes in, then batting away a Navas drive three minutes later.

Arsenal, suitably warned, regrouped and returned to doing the things that had served them so well earlier. Sanchez was involved in the move that saw Ramsey just miss the target, and the Chilean appeared to be caught late by Kompany, who else, but Mr Dean chose instead to caution Hector Bellerin for an incident shortly beforehand.

City tried to add to their attacking options by sending on Lampard for Fernandinho, but Arsenal, prompted by the mercurial Cazorla, got a second. The scorer of the first goal chipped a free-kick on to the head of Giroud who beat Hart comfortably from close range.

It was typical of the day that the visitors comfortably saw out the closing minutes, denied a third themselves when late substitute Flamini found himself in nose-bleed territory. Then the whistle, and cue wild celebrations in the visitors section. The traveling faithful have waited long and hard for a victory in a big away Premier League game. They deserved their moment.

It seems unfair to pick out individuals in what was clearly a massive team performance, but the decision to pick Cazorla ahead of the returning Ozil was a huge one. He has been impressive all season, but was just outstanding today. 101 passes, all but 9 finding their target, and with a workrate that must have made even the astonishing Alexis jealous. That Neil Ashton, yes him again, could only give him a rating of 7 after that display is frankly risible.

Behind him though the not so unsung hero. Twitter has been drooling over the stats posted of Coquelin’s performance. He was immense, plugging gaps, getting in blocks, winning every tackle and all but one header. There is something of the Ashley Cole story repeating itself perhaps. He was loaned out to Palace and circumstances saw him surprisingly find form and favour on his return. Could the same be happening for the Frenchman after he was recalled from his loan at Charlton. He is grabbing his chance for sure.

So there we are. One of the good days. One in which hopefully the various factions can unite for a while. With the prospect of a fun day to come at Brighton a week today too. Let this be the day that the Arsenal learned again how to be truly competitive with the other big guns, for that is what all of us want.

Well played Arsenal.

Well that wasn’t quite what we had hoped for from our Saturday, was it. Wins for Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, and Liverpool. As I type only Southampton above us might drop points. By the time I finish this blog they may have added to our woes. Not just our woes though. Tomorrow’s opponents will also be aware that not securing the three points will result in going backwards over the course of the weekend.

Of course Manchester City can afford that a little more than us, being within five points of leaders Chelsea. For us, an away fixture at the reigning champions merely provides a vehicle with which to bring up our repeated failings against those we desire to be our rivals for major honours. Could this be the match where finally we break the mental shackles that such clashes seem to create?

Those of you who have listened to this week’s Arsecast will already have heard the thoughts of the man from East Lower, Arseblog himself, and yours truly ahead of the match.

Of course we will have to start without Mathieu Debuchy following the assault on him by Arnautovic last week, but Calum Chambers is fit again and it will be interesting to see if he or Hector Bellerin, impressive last week, gets the right-back berth. On the other flank this supporter hopes that the improving Nacho Monreal gets the nod over Kieran Gibbs if the latter passes a late fitness test.

The shape of the midfield could change. The possibility of starting with a defensive duo of Francis Coquelin and Mathieu Flamini must be strong given the form of David Silva this season. However the absence of Yaya Toure (at the African Cup of Nations) and Samir Nasri (old splinter wounds flared up in his postérieure) may persuade Le Boss to go with Aaron Ramsey alongside one of the aforementioned pair. Santi Cazorla will surely remain in the playmaker role despite the return of Mesut Ozil.

Ozil remains an option for the left sided role but Alex-Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky, and the man of the moment, Alexis Sanchez are all in contention to start out wide too. It is quite interesting that we could have options on the bench including Ramsey, Ozil, Rosicky, and Walcott if we need to change things at any stage of the match.

Olivier Giroud is a shoe-in to start up front given the injury to Danny Welbeck, and the recent departures of Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo on loan. His task will be made no easier by the return of Vincent Kompany, the spiritual leader and talisman of the City defence. At the other end of the pitch Sergio Aguero is back for City ensuring a busy afternoon for Laurent Koscielny and the BFG.

Those who focus on our record against the big clubs ignore the fact that we are unbeaten in two meetings with the champions this season, having battered them 3-0 at Wembley to lift the FA Community Shield before a late Demichelis header earned City a 2-2 draw at the Grove in September. The ‘holic pound is guided by a strange feeling I have that this might be our day. Totally illogical that, I know, but my glass is definitely half full ahead of this one.

The ‘holic Pound

On the evidence of last season we will have to outscore City in their own fortress, and we have a decent scoring record against them, so I am am looking at 2-3. Paddy Power offers 25/1 against that so if it comes in there may well be some bubbles with supper after the match.

Price Freeze Announced

Yesterday (Friday) the club announced a ticket price freeze for next season. There is no doubt that something of an own-goal was scored with the three percent hike for this season following the huge increase in income from television and commercial deals.

Whatever the reason for the cautious approach it is to be applauded on the face of it. Prices remain high, beyond the reach of some, and although one cannot guarantee success it will be interesting to see the approach next January should we appear to go backwards this season.

There is a strain on the family budget that supporters will deal with if a sense of value for money is being provided. Rightly or wrongly success is linked to that for many. The elephant in the room, failure to claim even a Champions League qualifier, would test the limits of many a long-standing Gunner. Here’s hoping we don’t face that situation when the renewal notices are posted.

Not Only, But Also

Oh, and a warm welcome to Krystian Bielik. At £2million let’s hope not too much pressure is heaped on the seventeen year old as he settles into a new life, in a strange country (can I say that?). Good luck , young man. Let’s hope he develops into a real asset in the coming years.

Oh, Southampton have just completed a clean sweep by winning at Newcastle. Hey ho.

That’s enough for now. I have another bottle of ESB calling out to me, so I shall finish by wishing the traveling support a great day in Manchester.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Cheers.

Last week saw a Football League club close to signing a convicted rapist, out on licence so not having completed his time contrary to popular misrepresentation of the facts. A good friend of a friend, Malin, some of you will have met her before and after matches, asked to produce a guest post on the subject. That she is a Gooner entitles her to have her views aired on this medium before anyone makes a snap judgement to the contrary. That I agree with every word makes it compulsory for me. Thank you Malin.

A few days have passed since Oldham released the statement that they were no longer considering signing convicted rapist Ched Evans.

A correct decision, and yet which still leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. It was the right decision, as it was when Sheffield United decided not to let the striker train with his old club, but a right decision made for all the wrong reasons.

The level of naivety with which the clubs, their representatives and other prominent names within the football community have approached this subject is staggering.

Football prides itself on being a vital part of any local community. Footballers are the number one source of male role models in the United Kingdom (and many other parts of the world as well). This means that, whether they want it to be the case or not, they have a certain responsibility.

Evans is not the first footballer to be convicted of a crime and I am fairly sure he won’t be the last.

The fact that there aren’t any guidelines when it comes to situations like these is, frankly, crazy. It’s as if everyone in the football world thought this wasn’t going to be a big deal.

I’m happy that the general public proved them wrong.

But I’m disappointed that football failed to realise this. Being a female football supporter I am very aware that football, in many ways, is still a boys-only club. Even though things are improving, we have a long way to go, and this case only emphasises that fact.

I have seen endless comments trying to play down what Evans did as “not real rape”, stating that the girl was drunk and knew what she was getting into when she decided to take the taxi back to the hotel together with Evans’ mate. This is not only a horrific case of victim blaming, it’s also incredibly disrespectful to the girl.

Before Evans can even consider going back to playing professional football, he needs to show he’s understood what it is he’s done and take responsibility for his actions.

Step number one would be to close down his website which proclaims Evans to be “wrongly convicted of rape” and tell his fiancée’s father, Karl Massey, to back off. Right now the businessman is doing more to harm than to help his future son-in-law.

The website has, besides other things, published CCTV footage showing the victim entering the hotel together with Evans’ mate and encouraging people to “make up your own mind” as to whether or not the girl was too drunk to consent.

With friends like Karl Massey, and the Internet followers who tirelessly harass the victim, Evans doesn’t need enemies.

I’m also terribly disappointed in the statements coming out in Evans’ defence from the likes of Steve Bruce and Harry Redknapp. About as disappointed as I am in the lack of big names taking a stand for the victim in all of this, in fact.

So many big names within football are expressing concerns about Evans’ well being and his right to get on with his life. But I have seen few mentions of the girl in question.

Not many talk about her right to get on with her life. Something she cannot do considering she’s been forced to change her identity five times, according to her father, because Evans’ supporters continue to hunt her down and expose her.

Some people seem to claim that Evans only did what any other 20-something young man would do in that same situation.

And this is the main problem.

Those who are defending Evans are shouting themselves hoarse pointing at how much the victim had to drink, that she knew what she was getting into, that she has herself to blame – but they all miss the point.

Nothing about her behaviour should matter.

The natural response to meeting a too-drunk girl on the street after a late night shouldn’t be to bring her back to your hotel room, all the while texting your mate about how you “got a bird”.

The natural response is never ever to take advantage of someone.

Pretending that what Evans and his friend did is normal, or simply is what to be expected, should offend any other man out there who knows they would never do the same thing.

This isn’t only football’s problem. It’s society’s problem. The way that some men keep saying that we can’t know if Evans actually is guilty seem to conveniently forget that a jury, with access to the full details, thought that he was. The court that denied Evans his appeal agreed.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission has agreed to review his conviction, but this doesn’t mean he’s innocent. It doesn’t even mean that the CCRC will actually find enough to warrant an appeal.

But still – the footballing world is full with men who weren’t present and are sure that they know better than the witnesses, the jury or the judge. With men who claim it isn’t really rape. Who claim Evans really isn’t that kind of guy.

Evans has every right to play football, but he has no undisputed right to do it professionally. And he definitely has no right to doing so without any criticism going his way.

The situation he is in now is a direct result of the choices he made that night in Rhyl. What happened afterwards didn’t happen to him – it happened as a consequence of his actions and the choices he made.

Football needs to take responsibility and show that it is an inclusive sport for everyone – and not a boys-only-club where men of different ages only look out for themselves and each other.

They owe that much to all their female supporters, all the young boys and girls who are looking up to these players and above all everyone who has ever been the victim of something like what happened to the girl in Rhyl.

I believe Evans can play football professionally again, but I believe that the club who decides to sign him must realise what it means to be a part of his rehabilitation. Oldham, it would appear, thought they could get a talented footballer at a bargain price because of his conviction, but without accepting any of the responsibility. This is insultingly arrogant.

Evans is not helped by people telling him he has done nothing wrong. He is helped by people holding him accountable for his actions.

If football is serious in its claims to be a sport open to everyone, this could have been a great time to show it. Instead we are left with a shambolic mess that very few, least of all those representing the beautiful game that is football, come out of with any shred of dignity.

This IS important because we, the wider population that football has fought to court in recent years, feel strongly about it.

Those representing football today owes it to the supporters to take it seriously.

One Of The Good Days

Yes it was one of the good days. Early doors at the Pins followed by cake and ale in the Tollie. So many friendly faces too. When the team news arrived the selection of David Ospina made Wojciech Szczesny’s current plight clear.

From the off we clicked into gear with Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, and Alexis Sanchez to the fore. That trio impressed throughout throughout, but behind them it has to be said that Francis Coquelin again performed the holding role with some distinction.

It didn’t take us long to turn pressure into the lead. Laurent Koscielny was involved in the build-up and applied the finishing touch, a glorious header from seven yards out, to an Alexis cross. The vociferous crowd clearly enjoyed the opening phase but joy turned to understandable anger when Arnautovic pushed Mathieu Debuchy into the hoardings on the perimeter and escaped censure from referee Moss. Another spell on the treatment table follows for Mathieu with a dislocated shoulder as a result of the assault.

Despite Hector Bellerin’s hasty introduction the Gunners remained on the front foot and were rewarded further when Alexis refused to go down under a scything lunge from N’Zonzi, jinked into the box and nutmegged the odious Shawcross with a right footer inside the near post.

The officials eyesight again proved unsatisfactory when Crouch elbowed Nacho Monreal and left the Gunners left-back needing lengthy treatment on a cut by his eye. Quite how they missed it was a frustration for most in the crowd who jeered the officials off at the end of each half.

The feelgood factor returned within three minutes of the restart. Stoke had brought on Steve Sidwell at half-time and he felled Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the edge of the box. Alexis, who else, fired the resulting free-kick through the wall and Begovic could only help it over the line, via his own goalpost.

Around this point Mr Moss must have had a bang to the head which resolved his temporary blindness. Within twelve minutes there were yellow cards for Wollscheid, Cameron, and the aforementioned Crouch, lucky to be on the pitch still. There was still time for Shawcross to draw a rebuke from Olivier Giroud, a growing physical presence for the Arsenal, and who sensibly kept his head under severe provocation. Our old friend presumably thought he would test the striker’s temperament, and looked foolish when his attempts failed.

There were huge roars to greet first Theo Walcott, and later Mesut Ozil, both of whom needed the minutes afforded them as they look to return to full match fitness. As last week Theo missed a great opportunity, but that art will come back. The prospect of him and Alexis going at defences is an attractive one. Another week of training before they head for Manchester City, who will obviously provide a sterner test, will do them no harm.

All of which brings up the inevitable question. Was this match a case of us returning to form or was it more that Stoke were poor. A little bit of both perhaps, but how good it was to see numerous injections of pace into attacks in the style that we have attempted to perfect in recent years. That and the imminent return of some quality players, plus the opportunity to further strengthen the squad this month, means the second half of the season offers much promise.

A point behind Manchester United, and within three of Southampton, currently in third place, there is still much for this Arsenal side to play for.

The weekend, a welcome distraction in this of all weeks. Though hardly a lip smacking prospect we have the visit of Stoke City to look forward to. They have had a special dislike of us since we denied them successive FA Cup Final appearances in 1971 and 1972. It has been returned in full since 2010 and that tackle.

To be fair it is now proven that you can polish a turd. Under Mark Hughes they now have found a passing element to their game that Tony Pulis used to coach out of them. They retain a love of the physical and the option of route one rather than it’s exclusive use, and it is a combination we have found difficult to deal with in the Potteries where we were beaten just five weeks ago. Hughes himself proudly proclaims,

“We are competitive in this league, but we look to get the ball down and play. We have a Plan A and a Plan B, depending on the circumstances of the game. We can go more direct if it’s the right thing to do and we can see weaknesses in the other team.”

At home though we have seemingly dealt with them rather better, winning the last twelve encounters in North London. We also see some strength returning to the squad, with Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny, and Olivier Giroud all back in the fold. In addition Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Osil, and  Mathieu Flamini returned to training this week, so expect to see a much stronger bench than of late. Le Boss is in no doubt about the value of the returning players, as he told Arsenal Player.

“We could benefit from that because these are players who are not overloaded with games. Some of our players have played 26 or 27 games, whereas some have played four or five. These players coming back can give us some impact for the coming months.”

The most interesting decision for Arsene Wenger is who to play in goal. In public Arsene has stated that Wojciech has apologised but in the past he has frozen out players who have displeased him for long periods. David Ospina had a good World Cup and has done little wrong in his three appearances thus far, but Stoke will provide a real test of any goalkeeper in the air. Thankfully it isn’t my decision.

The return of Giroud should give us more shape and allow Alexis Sanchez to return to a supporting role in which he has been outstanding this season. Another hour or so against combative opponents would do Theo Walcott’s match-fitness and confidence no harm either.

The ‘holic pound

If we can maintain discipline and inject some pace into our attacking play then it should be lucky thirteen in a row. The last four home matches against Stoke have ended 1-0, 3-1, 1-0, and 3-1, so what odds on another 1-0? Paddy Power offer 6/1 and so that is where the ‘holic pound is invested this week.

I’m looking forward to seeing a few of you in the usual place pre-match. Whatever you are doing, and wherever you will be, have a good one, ‘holics.

 

The night after the day before. I think it’s fair to say yesterday was a day for gut reactions, anger, and sorrow. That it came out on a football blog wasn’t popular with some. I make no apologies though for making the point that with everything else that happened yesterday it was embarrassing to see petty football squabbles on social media sites. Sometimes, contrary to what Bill Shankly once said, football is not more important than life or death.

That said it’s time to refocus on Arsenal matters on here whilst addressing the wider issues elsewhere. Not being a lover of idle speculation, as regulars will know, I have no new Arsenal signings to opine about. We are a couple players lighter this week however, most notably Lukas Podolski.

German national manager Joachim Low was widely reported in November to have told Poldi to quit Arsenal in order to get playing time to keep his place in the national team. The player himself confirmed this week that it was that advice that had been taken on board.

“I spoke with Joachim Low about my move to Inter and we think it could help my job for the national team.”

The arrivals of Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck pushed Podolski down the pecking order at Arsenal with the result that he got very little football this season. Whilst one cannot argue with his finishing ability (31 goals in 82 appearances for the Gunners isn’t shabby) the fact that he regarded defensive duties as an optional extra probably did for him.

Of course he is only on loan until the end of the season but the manner in which he has forced his departure makes any potential return highly unlikely. His £100k a week wages will be better spent on another talent. Having said all that I couldn’t help but like him and the public respect he had for Arsenal. Good luck Lukas.

Also today it was reported that young goalkeeper Matt Macey was joining Accrington Stanley (Who? Exactly! – older readers will know what that means) on a one month loan deal. It is an interesting one that given the situation that Wojciech Szczesny is reported to be in at the moment. Having said that Macey is also behind David Ospina and Emiliano Martinez in order of preference right now. Good luck to the lad. I hope he impresses.

That’s enough from me for now. No outburst tonight. Have a great Friday if you can ‘holics, and the Stoke City preview will appear at some point on Saturday so please come back then.

Cheers.

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