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The latest batch of television picks have been announced and as you might have expected there has been scant consideration for the supporters when these have been decided.

For us the most notable change is the moving of the Manchester City home match to an 8pm kick-off on Monday 21st December. It’s not only City who will have supporters unable to get home by public transport just four days before Christmas.

What a Christmas it will be for the Gooner faithful. The Southampton away game on Boxing Day (when there is no rail service) has been switched to a 7.45pm kick-off. The knock-on effect of that means another delayed kick-off for the visit of Bournemouth to the Grove two days later.

The other change affecting us is perhaps not as bad for the travelling faithful. The trip to Villa has become a Sunday lunchtime kick-off on 13th December.

It’s not just us. I cannot imagine that Palace or Chelsea fans will be impressed with a Monday night fixture on Merseyside. Some of Manchester United’s supporters will struggle to get home from Bournemouth on a Saturday night. How many Geordies will make the journey back from Tottenham on a Sunday night? Liverpool’s faithful face an away fixture at Sunderland the night before New Year’s Eve.

The clubs of course will trot out the pre-ordained response about whoever pays the piper calling the tune, whilst not so secretly relishing the huge revenues that the televised games bring these days. But are the television companies paying the piper? From  where I am sitting that is you and I, not them.

Who is paying the increased television subscriptions over which we have little say? That’s right, you and I. At the end of the day if we keep paying ever-increasing sums to the television then there will be no thought given to our preferences. We are effectively a captive market.

The television companies are not the only ones milking the situation. The clubs too haven’t cut their prices to supporters despite the increased revenue from television. To be fair Arsenal do offer some assistance with travel and ticket discounts to the travelling Gooners, and that is to be applauded.

What of the home supporters though? An expensive grade A match on a Monday night four days before Christmas. Some season-ticket holders won’t be able to get home by public transport afterwards, and others will not be able to justify the expense in the festive week. If there are empty seats as a result the club won’t be affected. They have their money.

So what can be done? Well, simply, unless supporters realise that we are ultimately paying that sodding piper, and rebel against the system currently in place, then nothing. That means large numbers of supporters of all clubs, not just Gooners. Is the collective will there to stop paying for the sports packages that have slowly taken over the most popular events? Is there a combined will to boycott matches and demonstrate for change?

I suspect we know the answer to that. Those who are grabbing ever greater chunks of our cash will continue to take advantage of our apathy and/or sense of helplessness. It’s hard to see any large scale reduction in subscribers to television sport. There will be people, devoted to Arsenal, who will vote with their feet, but there are plenty waiting in the wings to take their place in the stadium.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

Some seriously good food in great company. Roy Keane may not agree, but this is the way to start a matchday. Vocal chords lubricated by polar opposites of red it was time to take a pew. Could we follow up last seasons improved performances against big rivals on the road and record a rare home success against the red half of Manchester?

Twenty minutes in we had our answer. The three goals that made up half of the ‘holic pound prediction arrived in that astonishing opening burst as Arsenal reponded to their midweek debacle.

Few had seen that coming and United certainly didn’t. Pressured from the first whistle they were a pale shadow of the teams of the Ferguson years. Make no mistake though, we exposed their weakness with as good a performance as we have mustered this term.

A horrible week was cast aside in just six minutes when Alexis manufactured a magical finish to Mesut Ozil’s cross. Still reeling from that blow United found the deficit doubled a minute later when Ozil turned goalscorer from Theo Walcott’s set up.

It was heady stuff and the home support roared their approval. It seems a while since the atmosphere at the Grove was as good as that.

When United ventured forward they invariably found themselves foundering on the rock that was Francis Coquelin. Lacking in ideas they were a third strike behind in less than a quarter of the match when the impressive Alexis engineered his own opening before smashing the ball beyond the despairing dive of De Gea from fully twenty yards out.

It might have got even better but Aaron Ramsey volleyed high and wide from an Alexis cross. United attempted to respond as the half drew to a close but Petr Cech denied Martial, the one United player who emerged with any credit on the day.

The first half may have been a demonstration of what can be achieved when we hit the heights, but the second showed that we can adopt the pragmatic approach too. A disciplined defensive display closed out the match.

United threatened just the once more. Cech was quick to deny Schweinsteiger. With a quarter of an hour remaining Walcott and Ozil made way for Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arsenal got on the front foot again. Both substitutes went close to adding to the scoreline, but the former shot straight at De Gea while the Ox saw his glorious chip bounce back off the crossbar.

The only negative on the day came when Alexis departed the action with what appeared to be a groin strain. As Arsene Wenger said later we couldn’t stop him joining up with the Chilean squad for the upcoming international break. Please send him back in one piece, thank you.

At the whistle most of the team quite rightly milked the euphoric applause with an impromptu lap of honour. It was that sort of a day and a positive response to the negativity of the preceding few days. Arsene summed it up perfectly.

“Everyone had an outstanding performance and a convincing one. You go through disappointments in the season and the way we responded was very convincing.”

Now if we could just find some consistency…

Manchester United came into the weekend on top of the Premier League, and will have to win at the Grove on Sunday to overtake neighbours City after Saturday’s results. Arsenal need to win to pull level on points with United. This weekend will not decide who wins the title, but the pressure on both sides ahead of this six-pointer is palpable.

After opening the season with two far from convincing 1-0 wins United stumbled with a draw at home to Newcastle and a defeat at Swansea. Successive victories against Liverpool, Southampton, and Sunderland saw them sneak almost un-noticed to the top of the table. Louis van Gaal’s management style has prompted a raft of articles, and he has reacted spikily on occasion as indeed did Arsene Wenger this week.

I watched the edited version of his pre-match press conference and questions about the upcoming fixture were kept to a minimum as agenda driven halfwits kept trying to restart the post-Olympiacos presser. Maddened that he was again quizzed about leaving out Petr Cech on Tuesday, and goaded for a headline-making comment on Mourinho, he returned fire. However justified he may have been in his confrontational exchanges the episode revealed the strain he has been under in the wake of a performance in which his selections had backfired on him.

Let’s hope whatever team he puts out is as passionate and aggressive against United. The bad news is that Laurent Koscielny has joined Thomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, and Danny Welbeck in the already overcrowded treatment room. Olivier Giroud is available again after suspension and would be in my starting line-up with Theo Walcott switching to the right flank. I think that is unlikely however.

Last season we ground out victories in Manchester with a much more measured approach to the big fixtures and if we are going to attempt something similar then it is likely that Aaron Ramsey will return to the right hand side with instructions to provide additional protection for Hector Bellerin. Francis Coquelin will be a key figure shielding the new pairing of Per Mertesacker and Gabriel in the centre of defence. Nacho Monreal must surely return in place of Kieran Gibbs.

What? You are asking who will be in goal? Do you work for Sky by any chance? Cech will be back for this Premier League fixture unless Ospina takes a lump hammer to his knees in the warm-up.

If we are to match United at their own game and sit back looking to counter with pace then the key will be the decision making of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez, along with Ramsey, behind Walcott. United’s defence surely will not make the mistake of defending with a high line like Leicester last week and giving Walcott room to run in behind. It’s the biggest question mark about his ambition to play centrally. If he can find the answers, starting this weekend, then he will on his way to proving his many doubters wrong.

United’s revival has coincided with the arrival of Anthony Martial for a mind-boggling reported transfer fee. The youngster has already notched four goals for his new club, surprising many with his apparently quick transition to English football. How he and Rooney perform will be something to watch over the coming weeks.

The ‘holic pound

The bookmakers are hesitantly siding with us. Paddy Power go 11/10 Arsenal and 5/2 United and the draw. You can understand how difficult this one is to price up. Frankly I would have United as slight favourites given their recent history at our place. Sometimes though a match that should be close throws up an unexpected result, and I am somewhat irrationally drawn by the 17/1 on offer at one bookie against a 3-1 home win. (Checks outside window for men in white coats.) Don’t ask me why. It’s clearly a gut feeling, a triumph of hope over probability. I just think we are due ‘one of those days’, and rarely has it been so needed.

So that’s it. I have to say Im looking forward to pre-match lunch and a glass or several of Nero d’Avola in the company of some venerable ‘holics. Hopefully I will get to say hello to one or two more as the post-mortem and post-match supping gets underway. Here’s to that unlikely comfortable win.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

The aftermath of Tuesday night’s performance has generated quite a mixed reaction, not surprisingly. I wondered if a positive look at how we can recover from such a poor start to our Champions League might be an idea for tonight, but then realised that is likely to involve taking points off Bayern Munich, and what a reaction that suggestion would provoke right now.

Then I ventured onto Arsenal.com to see what was happening. The headline story is the 19th anniversary of Arsene becoming Arsenal manager, congratulations boss. Regardless of your current view it is impossible to deny that he gave us some incredible moments.

He grafted the talent of Vieira, Petit, Overmans, and Anelka onto the no small amount of quality he inherited and turned us back into double winners. He bought Thierry Henry and Bobby Pires. He replaced the legendary back five, signed the Tottenham captain on a free in the process, and delivered a second double and the Invincibles. After what are now being called the years of austerity following the stadium move his latest team finally landed the FA Cup not once, but twice.

With every bad defeat the clamour for a change gets louder. I understand that more than most would expect. The FA Cups, and the new money from sponsors and huge television deals, were viewed by many as a platform from which we should be able to launch serious assaults on the two major prizes on offer, the Premier and Champions Leagues.

It is mystifying that, having only improved the squad to the tune of one top-class goalkeeper in the summer, that said player has not been involved in our opening European fixtures.   It is not a reason for some of the stuff I have seen written about him, but it is an open goal for people who question his judgement to attack. It’s no more than that though.

We are three points behind the current leaders of the Premier League and nobody will know more than Arsene that the outcome of Sunday’s meeting with them will be crucial. Last season we beat both Manchester clubs in their own back yard. Now it is time to show we have learned the lessons of those wins and can kick on and beat them at home too.

Whatever happens I have remained constant in my view over the last couple of years, when the money has been available, that as long as we are making progress then Arsene deserves the chance to take advantage of the money he didn’t have for so long. The Champions League campaign could not have got off to a worse start, but that Premier League challenge is still alive courtesy of Manchester City’s recent stumbles.

It’s time the players Arsene has spoken so highly of started to consistently deliver for him as a team. Occasional brilliance is not enough. They need to start turning the losses into draws and the draws into wins. They need to start justifying the faith and loyalty he has shown them. If we are to achieve the ambitions the club claims for competing with the best then it is time to demonstrate, on and off the pitch, that we can make that leap from being just a cup team again.

With that it is time to turn our thoughts to other things ahead of the visit of United.

Amputee Football – The Arsenal London Amps

Staying with the official site I turned to page 2 of the news section to find a good news story that may have been overlooked in the wake of the Olympiacos defeat. Petr Cech, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey paid a recent visit to an amputee football session at the Arsenal Hub – Home of Arsenal in the Community.

I have had some experience of assisting at a golf tournament for amputees and disabled players. It is very humbling let me assure you. Few sportsmen show such determination to not just play sport for fun, but to genuinely improve and compete. That Arsenal are involved in providing another sporting outlet for amputees is quite rightly a matter of some pride for the Arsenal in the Community staff.

Good on the three players for getting involved for a day too.

Arsene Wenger made five changes for the visit of Olympiacos. In came David Ospina, Gabriel, Kieran Gibbs, Francis Coquelin, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Petr Cech, Per Mertesacker, Nacho Monreal, and Aaron Ramsey started on the bench and Mathieu Flamini was ruled out by injury.

Arsene had said beforehand that his selection would be influenced more by recent matches, and in the case of Mertesacker and Ramsey that made perfect sense. Cech was said to have a slight calf problem (before Leicester?) and Gibbo for Monreal was perhaps the only tactical decision. If Cech wasn’t injured it was a baffling selection by the boss.

A solid start would be required to settle any nerves both on the pitch and in the crowd. In the tenth minute a breathtaking counter attack ended with the Ox shooting into the side-netting and a shortly afterwards Theo Walcott shot at the ‘keeper at the end of another quick break from deep. The pressure wasn’t sustained.

Midway through the half Fortounis shot narrowly wide from the edge of the box as Olympiacos attempted to capitalise on an encouraging start of their own. Arsenal were increasingly being forced on the back foot by the technically savvy Greeks.

From nothing the match then exploded into life. In the 32nd minute there was another warning shot as Fortounis’ deflected effort just cleared the bar. From the corner Pardo’s shot was deflected by the Ox beyond the reach of Ospina, his second own-goal in the competition.

Arsenal responded immediately. Ozil passed to Alexis who played in Theo for a typical right foot into the far corner strike. That would steady the ship, surely?

Wrong. Having got straight back into the match Arsenal soon found themselves behind again, courtesy of an awful blunder by the unfortunate Ospina who dropped a Fortounis corner under the bar, and according to the fifth official over the line. Goal-line technology is only allowed in the Premier League so once again that row will rumble on.

At the whistle there could be no denying that the visitors were good value for their lead. After promising a high pace attacking game early on Arsenal had too easily lapsed into a cautious and predictable approach that has plagued much of their early season.

Early in the second-half Hector Bellerin lifted the crowd, breaking a couple of challenges to reach the line and cut the ball back for Theo, but the ball was whipped off his toe and the chance was gone.

The visitors had not changed tack though, and Kasami warmed Ospina’s palms in the 54th minute. Moments later the night took another turn for the worse when Laurent Koscielny departed with a suspected hamstring strain. Per Mertesacker’s rest was at an end.

As the hour mark loomed Aaron Ramsey was introduced for Coquelin, a risky switch. Immediately Ramsey picked out Alexis in the box but not only was he denied, but also Mertesacker and Cazorla in a frenetic goalmouth scramble.

The next corner found its way to Cazorla on the edge of the box but his fierce drive was parried clear by Roberto. Alexis curled the next effort wide, but found a glorious position on the penalty spot to head home Walcott’s cross. 2-2 and hope restored – for all of 59 seconds.

The kamikaze Gunners turned off at the back and second-half substitute Finnbogason turned in Pardo’s cross under little pressure. Arsenal’s defence was exposed without Coquelin providing a shield.

Ozil’s accurate free-kick was superbly saved by Roberto as the hosts tried to resurrect their challenge, but the Greek’s increasing and clever use of spoiling tactics was denying Arsenal any momentum.

Joel Campbell was sent on for the final five minutes, a desperate attempt to break down a resolute defence. A string of corners were comfortably dealt with. Arsenal’s embarrassment was complete.

At the final whistle I am struggling to find anything positive to say about what was a shocking failure to take any points off supposedly the two weakest teams in the group. The table doesn’t lie. Right now that is us.

If we can reverse the results against both in the return fixtures and take four points out of six off Bayern then we would sneak through, but that seems hugely unlikely at this moment.

There were some huge questions raised tonight for Arsene himself. When we have worked so hard to qualify for a competition that remains something of a holy grail (for him as well as us) it is so frustrating to see us not go into such an important match without our strongest eleven.

Credit too though to Olympiacos. We had no divine right to beat them, and they were adventurous when they needed to be, and very solid when they had their backs to the wall. They deserved their win.

Now let the inquest begin.

We welcome our friends from Olympiacos for what has become a critical night for the Gunners. Defeat in Zagreb, and the fact that our next two Group F fixtures are against Bayern Munich, make the three points a must for the hosts, a point not lost on Arsene Wenger in his pre-match press conference.

“You have to win your home games if you want to qualify from the group stage, it is simple as that. We cannot afford to drop points now against anyone at home.”

Is it really three years since last we faced Olympiacos in the Champions League? I had to double check when I started this preview. Three times we drew them between 2009 and 2012. All six matches between us have been won by the home team. That in itself adds to the pressure on Tuesday night. Our final fixture in the group stage is in Greece in December. If our bid for the top two places goes down to the wire we will have to overturn that record.

There has been much discussion of the fact that both Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini have been ruled out with “slight muscular problems”, and Francis Coquelin required strapping on his recently injured knee when returning to training today. Should all fail to make it we may see a pairing of Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla in front of the back four. I think both are sufficiently experienced to make that work, if necessary.

Further forward the options appear even more sparse. With Olivier Giroud suspended for his foolish red card in Zagreb we will start with Theo Walcott up front. Should Ramsey drop in alongside Cazorla then Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will presumably slot in on the right flank, although he may be considered for the deeper role too.

There could be one change to the back four also. Per Mertesacker played two tough away matches in less than three days after a five week absence and may make way for the return of Gabriel. Asked who would be in goal the boss answered a little curtly “I have not decided yet”. Respectfully I say to thee, as Diana Ross once sang, if Petr Cech doesn’t start it will be a major surprise. I feel sorry for David Ospina, who did little wrong last season, but Cech’s Champions League pedigree should guarantee him the job.

Alongside his manager at the press conference was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, an articulate young man indeed. Asked about what we could draw from our performance at the weekend he gave an honest and open opinion.

“Obviously the result at the weekend could do no harm to that. The confidence has always been there in the team and sometimes you can’t put your finger on why things don’t go well, but you have to stick together in those periods and results like the weekend always help. The whole team played well as well, from the back to the front. It does stand you in good stead, results like that where you score that many goals can only help the team. We need to build on that now and we look to do that tomorrow night.

As for Olympiacos, midfielder Luka Milivojevic is suspended and defender Manuel da Costa is also out with a knee injury. Otherwise the team that has lifted five consecutive Greek titles will be at full strength. They have a 100% record domestically this season but, as is so often said of them, they do not historically travel well in Europe, and particularly here. Olympiacos have played twelve, lost twelve, in England, scoring only three goals and shipping thirty seven.

The ‘holic pound

On paper everything points to a comfortable win for the Arsenal. There is a nagging doubt however that the bench will be thin, particularly in the attacking department. The options as legs tire, or (whisper it) if we pick up another injury or two during the contest, are making me err on the side of caution.  2-0 to the good guys is not overwhelming value at around 13/2, and what looks like a very attack-minded starting eleven could run riot in the opening hour. I hope they do, but suspect Olympiacos will look to keep things very tight throughout.

As usual I wish those who are going an enjoyable night. To the rest of you wherever you are, I hope you get the opportunity to watch and enjoy the match in comfort. It seems a little early to be playing a critical Champions League fixture, but that is what losing the first match does to you. Please let’s keep all those Greek tragedy puns under lock and key, at least until December.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

As some had hoped beforehand Arsene retained Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Flamini, and Aaron Ramsey from the squad team that won at the other end of Seven Sisters Road on Wednesday. We started with our attacking set-up. Flamini holding with Santi Cazorla in the box to box role, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis right and left, with Mesut Ozil playmaking behind Theo Walcott.

Arsenal must have been boosted by Manchester City’s second consecutive defeat in the lunchtime match. It gave us another opportunity to close the gap on the title favourites.

In the fifth minute Drinkwater got clear down Leicester’s right flank but his cross was diverted for a corner which the Gunners dealt with comfortably. Arsenal’s response came when Ozil and Alexis combined to set up Cazorla who saw his effort cleared off the line. Five minutes later we had a double let-off as Petr Cech made an excellent diving save to his left from Schlupp before Vardy drove against the foot of a post.

It was a temporary reprieve, Leicester broke from box to box with Drinkwater freeing the dangerous Vardy on the left flank. With Bellerin still up front the Leicester man outpaced Per Mertesacker before curling the ball beyond Cech’s left hand and inside the far post.

Alexis and Cazorla fashioned a response of sorts at the other end as both sides went for it, but the Spaniard’s effort was comfortably saved. Again the inevitable had only been delayed as Cazorla fed Walcott with a slide-rule pass and the England forward finally got his goal tally for the season back on track with an inch-perfect sidefoot in off the far post.

With little more than twenty minutes on the clock the up and down nature of football struck when Flamini was substituted by Mikel Arteta. The end to end nature of the contest had done for Wednesday’s hero, one way or another.

Just over halfway through the half Theo again burst clear down the left. He opted to cut in and feed Rambo but the Welshman’s first touch enabled the Leicester defenders to block his shot. By now it was clear that Ramsey was cutting inside more often leaving Hector Bellerin a long touchline to patrol in both attack and defence.

Having denied Vardy on another lightning break Arsenal responded in like again. Bellerin got to the touchline and crossed on the slide, Theo helped it on at the near post and presented Alexis with a tap in to an unguarded net at the back stick. Astonishing stuff.

Walcott was denied by a well-timed last ditch tackle, and Morgan just failed to get on the end of a dangerous free-kick. The game was remaining an open affair, somewhat surprisingly. Arsene must have been thinking long and hard about what to say at the break. The Foxes had shown just why they were top four material in these opening weeks of the season.

As the second-half got under way we wondered if the two would continue to slug it out toe to toe, or would Arsenal be a little more conservative in their approach, covering up to protect their lead and hitting with short, sharp counters. Certainly we looked as though we were trying to take the sting out of the match in the opening minutes of the half.

Having said that Walcott and Ozil constructed a double opening for Alexis, but the mass ranks of blue shirts were able to snuff out the attack. A couple of minutes later the Chilean was denied again by a desperate Huth block. Next up he was picked out at the far post but his header was deflected wide for a corner.

Mahrez, so impressive this season, galloped past Monreal but was dispossessed by the industrious Ozil. A tame potshot from distance by Schlupp was Leicester’s first effort of note after the break. Straight down the other end and Ozil produced an astonishing chip onto the head of Alexis who made no mistake. 1-3, and the travelling faithful in euphoria.

Ozil himself would get the chance to bury the ‘holic pound, now a possibility, but another last-ditch block kept the gap at two goals. At the other end King fired wide when set up by the substitute, Ulloa. Ozil once again turned creator, feeding Theo for another shot that Schmeichel was equal too. Then the ‘keeper saved comfortably from Rambo, surprisingly given time and space on the edge of the box by a tiring Foxes back line.

Arsenal were protecting the football much better than we have seen of late, cherishing it’s possession. Undeterred, Rambo tried another shot from outside the box, only to see Theo divert it wide of the near post.

Ranieri made his last throw of the dice, sending on Kramaric for Drinkwater. It enabled their first spell of sustained pressure of the half. That was the signal for Olivier Giroud to be sent on for the excellent Walcott. A different type of outlet for a defence facing it’s sternest test of the half.

Again though Arsenal’s response was breathtaking, Alexis completing his hat-trick in quite astonishing fashion, powering in a right foot drive from distance, just as I checked to see if my cash-out option had reached three figures! I’d far sooner have had the 1-4 frankly. Goal difference may yet prove to be huge at the season’s end.

Cech showed his powers of concentration with a string of brave saves with five minutes left, then got a break as Mertesacker cleared after the ‘keeper had mishandled. With two minutes left, after Cech had pulled off an unbelievable stop from Kramaric, Vardy was free to place the ball in the far corner. “We support our local team” howled what was left of the home support, clearly unfamiliar with the business of Estate Agency and the freedom of movement they should be enjoying.

Giroud’s first opportunity came and went. This match was far from fizzling out like a damp squib. The added minutes were frantic, and Giroud claimed his third goal with a superb finish to Monreal’s cut back, thus doubling Arsenal’s Premier League goalscoring output for the season.  You couldn’t have wished for more at the start of the afternoon. 2-5.


Mathieu Flamini’s two strikes on Wednesday night means we go into the match at unbeaten Leicester City with spirits raised. Matty will not be the only one of the ten players who came in for the win at the swamp to hope to be retained at the King Power stadium. A point acknowledged by Arsene.

“The players who have not played recently, like Flamini, came in with a fantastic spirit. That is very pleasing.”

With Gabriel picking up a one match ban for refusing to depart the pitch in a timely fashion following a sending-off that was proven to be erroneous, Per Mertesacker will surely start alongside Laurent Koscielny. In reality unless Arsene decides to rest Aaron Ramsey the only other survivor from Wednesday will be either Flamini or Mikel Arteta, one of whom will have to stand in again for the injured Francis Coquelin. It would be cruel if that were not Flamini.

Whoever gets the nod will have a key role to play if we are to shake off the lethargy that has plagued us in the early weeks of the season. Quite apart from improving in the finishing department we will have to be defensively organised to resist the efforts of the surprise package in the top flight. As Arsene observed,

“It is not the Leicester that you would visit four or five years ago. It is the Leicester who has the quality”

The only unbeaten team in the division, Leicester have beaten Sunderland and Aston Villa at home although those performances sandwiched a 1-1 draw with the team our squad eleven knocked out of the COCup. On the road they notably defeated West Ham, some performance given the Hammers form, before drawing at Bournemouth and Stoke. They currently occupy a top four berth, three points behind leaders Manchester City and two ahead of us.

Claudio Ranieri, one of the more acceptable managers at the bus stop in Fulham in recent years, has got his team organised and playing with flair and confidence. He is without Nathan Dyer and Matty James for this match, but otherwise has a full squad to pick from. In a modest appraisal he said in his presser,

“We must concentrate and be more careful because I think to beat Arsenal we must play the perfect match, and also have some very good luck. Arsene Wenger can put Alexis Sanchez in goal and Petr Cech up front and Arsenal will still have a great team.”

Don’t you just hate it when someone who used to manage Chelsea makes you smile?

The ‘holic pound

Is this the week that the real Arsenal returns? I hope so in as much as we could do with taking some of the pressure off a back four shorn of Coquelin’s covering. I have to assume that we will. Last season the fixture ended in a 1-1 draw with Alexis scoring first. He is due a goal or two, as is Theo Walcott. I’m gambling on them doing just that, and the visitors to win 3-1, which is priced at anything from 11/1 to 14/1.

As usual, if you are going have a wonderful day. Think of those of us hunting streams at 3pm.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

Arsene made ten changes from the side that started at the bus stop in Fulham but the side was packed with experience. Per Mertesacker was joined by Calum Chambers in the middle of the back four, protected by Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini.

The early jousting went to and fro with Joel Campbell featuring on the right hand side of the visitors attack on his first competitive start for the club. It was a remarkably low-key opening lacking in the urgency and occasional spite normally associated with the North London derby.

The first meaningful opportunity fell Campbell’s way in the thirteenth minute but his header from Aaron Ramsey’s deflected cross was just over. Thirteen minutes later however we got the breakthrough from an unlikely source. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s long range effort was parried by Vorm only as far as Mathieu Flamini, and the experienced midfielder lashed it high into the net with his left foot before celebrating with the home support behind the goal. Good lad!

Tottenham’ response saw Rose cut inside and shoot wide on the half-hour.The left-back was the most likely to equalise at this point, and Ospina had to be quick and brave to foil him once more. The Columbian ‘keeper looked in good nick despite his recent inactivity.

A thrilling solo effort from the Ox six minutes before the break finished with him curling his effort wide of the far post. Rose again galloped forward and was upended by Mathieu Debuchy who followed Mikel Arteta and Flamini into the book for minor offences. As the half drew to a close Kane and Eriksen were denied by a resolute Gunners defence.

Spurs were quickest out of the blocks in the second-half and when Ospina superbly turned an Eriksen drive onto the post Kane put the ball in the net, fortunately for us from a clear offside position. Ten minutes after the break Chadli drove in a cross from the left which the unfortunate Chambers deflected in at the near post. Given the hosts remarkably poor finishing it was an extraordinary act of charity and neighbourliness by the Gunners.

The equaliser lifted the home team who pinned Arsenal into their own half and Kane was again denied by a magnificent goal-line header by Keiran Gibbs. It was the trigger for a key substitution. Alexis was introduced for Campbell who will consider himself unlucky given the lack of service to him after the break. The Chilean almost immediately galloped clear in the inside-left channel but hit a tame effort straight at Vorm.

Ramsey slotted Olivier Giroud in and the Frenchman was denied at the near post by Vorm as the Gunners sought to get back into the game. In our next break Ramsey just failed to pick out the Ox beyond the far post, but in the middle we had a reasonable penalty appeal denied as Alexis was bundled to the ground. It mattered little when man-of-the-match Flamini smashed a remarkable volley from twenty yards for a second of the night for him and Arsenal with just thirteen minutes remaining.

The Ox was next to try his luck again but fired wide of the far post from the right hand side of the box. To help the clock tick down we sent on Theo Walcott for the Ox. He fired narrowly wide in the last of the three added minutes.

The magnificent travelling faithful roared out their songs of triumph. Then it was done.

A solid performance, and a sensational display from the sometimes-maligned Flamini.

Have it!

Well, I certainly didn’t anticipate starting a NLD preview with news of an unprecedented burst of common sense being shown by the Football Association, but the news that Gabriel’s sending off at the bus stop in Fulham has been overturned is jaw-dropping. Particularly in as much as the incompetent Mike Dean is now likely to be demoted from the Premier League list as a result, according to David Hytner in the Guardian.

The authorities have also handed out a retrospective three match ban to the loathsome Costa for his assaults on Laurent Koscielny, thus hanging Dean out to dry for getting all the major calls wrong. Chelsea will sulk, but at the end of the day they will be happier at the outcome as they have the three points for the win Dean’s erroneous judgment calls enabled.

It means that that Gabriel is available for the COCup visit to the marshlands of N17, and although Arsene may have prepared for the tie without him I hope that he will rethink in the light of a remarkable decision. The Brazilian is establishing himself as something of a minder of his colleagues, and that could be invaluable in the white hot heat of the fiercest derby.

The selection will indeed be an interesting one. Arsene went with a youthful line-up for our last CoCup visit to the same venue five years ago and we triumphed 1-4 after extra-time. With Tottenham expected to start with a strong line-up, and us looking not to extend a two match losing streak, Arsene hinted at an experienced side earlier today.

“We go game by game so I will make changes, for sure. How many? I’ve not decided yet. It will be quite an experienced squad with one or two younger players.”

The hosts are without Bentaleb, Dembélé and Mason, but Arsenal too will be missing Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, and the suspended Santi Cazorla. Despite this both midfields look strong, and it will be interesting to see if we can get back to a fast accurate passing game, so lacking in recent weeks.

The other deciding factor could be which of the out-of-touch strikers finds their scoring boots. Kane is without a goal for the hosts this season and Olivier Giroud has been far from convincing, although he has struck a couple of times.

The ‘holic pound

So many variables make a call on the ‘holic pound trickier than most. Paddy Power have an interesting best price on Mikel Arteta to score at any time at 13/2. With Santi suspended and Coquelin ruled out he seems assured of a start and will probably be the penalty taker. Move quickly if you agree. I doubt those odds will last.

To those travelling to the match allow plenty of time for your trip as there is also World Cup rugby on at Stratford. Here’s to a safe and successful trip for you all.

Cheers, ‘holics.

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