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There’s a lot to get through this morning, courtesy of being one of the fortunate invitees to Arsenal’s Cup Final media day. A handful of bloggers have been invited to ‘observe’ proceedings in the last couple of seasons. There were three survivors from last year on hand to guide Dave Seager, author of the wonderful ‘Geordie Armstrong on the wing’, popular Arsenal historian Andy Kelly, and Gunners Town columnist Darren Berry, through the day.

Arsene was fashionably ten minutes late and polite as ever. First up was the subject of injuries and he had to reveal that not only would Danny Welbeck not be fit for the Cup Final, but he would also not be available for England’s upcoming fixtures. That drew the query about whether Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott would start, and indeed did he know what his team would be, and not surprisingly the boss avoided the direct answer.

” I will not tell you anything today, and I just think it is important that we focus as a squad on winning the trophy.”

There followed a similar line of enquiry about the goalkeeper’s before the first attempt to draw the boss on the potential availability of Karim Benzema. That drew the expected reminder that we are focused on the Cup Final and “not in transfer mode”. If that was a polite put-down he was more brusque when asked somewhat tactlessly and mischievously about Jose Mourinho’s recent comments. A sign perhaps of the nervous tension he must be feeling ahead of another big day on Saturday.

The breaking news from Zurich proved irresistible, and Arsene avoided a snap judgement as the story was still unfolding.

“You want justice to be done and as well not to convict too quickly the people who have been taken away by the police. There’s an enquiry, sometimes I think we are too quick to convict people who have not been proven guilty.”

Then at last the inquisitors returned to the subject of Aston Villa and the FA Cup Final. Arsene singled out Christian Benteke, Jack Grealish, and his opposite number, Tim Sherwood, for praise, as well as emphasising his awareness of the task facing us.

“If you analyse their individual quality, they are a strong team. They had a great semi-final and of course they are a quality Premier League team who have a lot of strengths. They are a strong opponent.”

The presser concluded with an amusing exchange with a Chilean cameraman/reporter who followed up the obligatory Alexis Sanchez question with a very guarded attempt to draw some comment on the rumours linking Arturo Vidal to the Gunners. It ensured everyone went to watch the start of the morning training session with a smile on their face.

The Gunners training session gets underway

After training it was the turn of Mathieu Flamini to be the first player to be interviewed. Relaxed and confident, he impressed I must say. A recurring theme was that he feels that we have been able to build on last season and are therefore better prepared for what lies ahead on Saturday rather than perhaps we were last season.

“This team now has more experience. We won the FA Cup last year, so for us to go another year to Wembley and to have the possibility to win it again, of course, it’s a lot of pleasure. Hopefully we will win it for the fans, and for him (Arsene Wenger) too.”

Quizzed on the depth at the club and how difficult it is to make the squad Mathieu is honest. He has to be as injury has limited his opportunities in the second half of the season.

“I think it’s part of the game. Obviously you want to play in the top teams. There is a big effect with a lot of quality but you have to fight to find your place. It’s a part of the game. You have to accept the competition and I believe it makes you better.”

Mathieu waxed lyrical about Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, and of his latest rival for a start in front of the back four, Francis Coquelin.

“We all knew Francis was a great player, and I’m really pleased for him because he had the chance to prove it. I’m not surprised because I have got the chance to play with him every day.”

Mathieu confirmed that he has one more year at the club and is happy to remain. His experience and attitude may make him a desirable squad member but that could well depend on who comes in when the window opens. In his two spells at the club though few could argue with his desire and workrate. Surely nobody would begrudge him that third FA Cup winners medal on Saturday.

Cheers, ‘holics.

It is a joy to put Ned’s late offering in front of you. He looks back to an astonishing season when Arsenal, yet to win a major trophy, came closer than most in the twentieth century at that point to a double. Certainly it was closer than any southern team had come, and we would come even more agonisingly close six years later, having won both competitions for the first time in the two preceding seasons. Thank you so much Ned. Enjoy all.

Apologies to all in this estimable establishment if the fascination at Castle Ned with Arsenal’s rise between the world wars is becoming an obsession. Please indulge me one last time (for this season!) ahead of an FA Cup tie, one we all hope will be record setting (the tie, not the indulgence).

Aston Villa had won the FA Cup even before Woolwich Arsenal first entered the competition in 1889. They would win the trophy five more times before the two clubs were first drawn together in the Cup. Twenty-eight league meetings in the meantime had brought us little success — just six wins.

That first FA Cup meeting was in the Fifth Round on February 20th, 1926 at Villa Park. Arsenal were in transition. It was Herbert Chapman’s first season as manager. However, this was the tie of the round. Both teams were flying high in the old Division One. We were third, having topped the table throughout January, and would finish as runners-up, the highest place yet achieved by a London club. Villa lay sixth, which would also be their final position.

January and February had been unusually mild and wet interspersed with cold snaps. Villa Park was muddy that day. One of several early chance for the visitors went begging when inside right Jimmy Brain slipped in front of goal. We had started fast and furiously, but Villa gradually blunted the threat. The first half ended goalless.

Six minutes into the second period Chapman’s newly bought skipper, Charlie Buchan, headed home a cross from Bert Lawson. Lawson was a promising young winger who’d just got into the first team. He would lose his place when Joe Hulme, another of Chapman’s early big-name signings, arrived that very month from Blackburn Rovers. Lawson moved on to Brentford at the end of the season having played just 16 games. ’Twas ever hard for youngsters to break through.

The lead lasted three minutes. Keeper Bill Harper fumbled a Kirton cross, and the equaliser spun off a post into the net. There was plenty more excitement to thrill the 73,000 crowd, but no more goals, and 1-1 was the final score.

Four days later, we won the replay 2-0 in front of 71,000 at Highbury. One report said that Arsenal “had been rarely seen to play better”. Click here to see rare video coverage.

After four minutes, London-born Scottish outside left Dr. Jimmy Patterson, filling in for the cup-tied Hulme, drove home a pass from Brain from 12 yards out. Brain, the first player to notch 100 league goals for Arsenal, doubled the score 10 minutes later with a tap-in after Villa’s keeper Cyril Spiers spilled a Buchan pile driver.

The Patterson goal was rarer than a can’t-be-arsed paragraph. Dr Patterson, as he was known even in newspapers’ match reports, had served gallantly during the First World War as a medical officer with the London Scottish Regiment. After the war he played 73 games for the club as an amateur before retiring at the end of the 1923-24 season to concentrate on the medical practice he shared with his brother-in-law, John Scott, who was also the club’s doctor.

Dr. Patterson was good enough to have won the Scottish league title, playing on the right wing for Rangers when he was a medical student in Glasgow before the war. He won a second title in the first season after the war having switched to the opposite wing. Yet, after moving south, despite holding down as regular a place in the Arsenal forward line as a working doctor could expect to manage, and being picked for the Football League representative XI, he didn’t once score a goal in our colours before hanging up his boots.

Facing a chronic injury crisis, again nothing new under the sun, Chapman persuaded the good doctor to turn out for four games between mid-February and early March, 1926. Dr. Patterson not only broke his Arsenal duck but scored twice, the goal against Villa in the Cup and another against Newcastle in the League.

Hopes were high after the Villa game of a first Arsenal Cup Final. Four of the big guns of the 1925-26 season, Huddersfield, Bury, Sheffield United and Liverpool, had been knocked out in the previous round. Two more, Villa and Sunderland, were now gone. That left us and Bolton Wanderers as the two best teams still in.

However, we would fall at the last eight. Second Division Swansea Town caused a 2-1 upset at Vetch Field in the Quarters. Click here to see some amazing footage of the shock defeat.

Patterson played his fourth and final post-retirement game but couldn’t find a third career goal to keep us in it. Northern Irish international right back John ‘Alex’ Mackie got our goal, the only one he scored in 118 games for Arsenal. He would soon lose his place to Tom Parker, another of Chapman’s pivotal signings, but went on to a successful career at Portsmouth.

We’ve played ten FA Cup ties in all against Aston Villa, half of them crammed into an eight-season stretch between 1926 and 1934. We prevailed in seven of the ten, twice after replays, and lost three, once after a replay.  Two ties were in the 3rd round, four in the 4th round, and one in the 5th round. Three were quarter-finals. The two clubs have never met beyond that stage before now.

Villa last won the Cup in 1957, a 2-1 win over Manchester United that gave them the Cup for a then record seventh time. They have made the Final only once since, losing 1-0 to that lot from the bus stop in Fulham in 2000. It was the first final Villa had played against a team from south of Aston.

Victory at Wembley on May 30 will bring us a record-setting 12th FA Cup. It will also neatly tie another historical knot. It would give Arsene Wenger his sixth FA Cup, tying the record of George Ramsey. Ramsey managed Aston Villa to their first six trophies between 1887 and 1920 and was still in charge, aged 71, when the two teams first met in the Cup in February 1926.

Eight o’clock on a Sunday morning. The predicted rain hasn’t arrived. A replacement rail journey coach pulls up on the station concourse.  It quickly fills. Swindon are off to Wembley along with Chelsea and Arsenal supporters, cricket lovers heading to Lords, and it seems there is a running event in London as well. So begins the final journey of the season to the new home of football.

Beating the rush gets me to Arsenal station an hour before the pubs open, so a trip down memory lane is in order. Take a look at @TheGoonerholic on Twitter for the snaps of Highbury and assorted watering holes on the east side of our spiritual home. The Guinness is soon flowing as friends old and new exchange stories and enjoy moments of the cricket and grand prix on the televisions.

It’s a good day made better by Arsenal coming out to play with that swagger they have not turned on in recent home matches, and West Brom seemingly, and surprisingly, with their thoughts already turning to their summer holidays. Within seventeen minutes the game is effectively over.

Arsene rested Olivier Giroud and gave Theo Walcott a start up front, a move that yielded rich rewards in the opening quarter of an hour. First Theo hit a crisp rising drive inside Myhill’s far post, then he sniffed out a chance to pinch the simplest of second goals. The home support had something to cheer about again, and cheer they did.

Shortly afterwards Jack Wilshere conjured up what would later land him a second consecutive goal of the season award from Match of the Day viewers. I preferred last season’s wonderful team effort, but his astonishing thump from the edge of the box drew gasps from the crowd.

West Brom were unable to stem the tide and the only surprise was that we had to wait until the 37th minute for Theo to complete his hat-trick. Four nil at the half, it was not too surprising that we coasted little through the second-half. On a rare foray forward the Baggies earned a corner from which Mcauley got ahead of David Ospina to head home a consolation.

The selection of Ospina was an interesting one. With Fabianski’s appearance at Norwich on the closing day last season in mind considered opinion was that Szczesny would get the nod yesterday. That now raises the question of who will keep goal at Wembley. That will not be the only selection poser facing Arsene after Theo’s hat-trick.

League season over, players applauded on the start of their lap of honour, it was time to head back for the traditional sausage and chips in the Tollie (thank you Martin, Lou and team for another fabulous year of hospitality).

Third place, and therefore automatic Champions League group stage qualification is a degree of improvement. Our best finish in three seasons. The FA Cup needs to be retained for the season to be considered progress, perhaps? Arsene himself doesn’t agree.

“If you look at the start of the season, we had too many injuries in the first part of the season. Since January we haven’t lost any points compared to all our opponents. We have made progress and we had our players back as well.”

Let’s see what we think after this coming Saturday. Have a good week, ‘holics.

A league season that seems to have raced by draws to a close on Sunday, and Arsenal seem to be limping into a third place finish. Without a goal in the last three home matches, the Gunners face a West Brom who have become much more accomplished defensively under the management of Tony Pulis.

The Baggies are unbeaten in five, and those include impressive victories over Chelsea (3-0) and Manchester United at Old Trafford (1-0). Under Pulis they have kept ten clean sheets in seventeen matches. We’re not likely to see an expansive game from the visitors, so it is up to us to show we have learned the lessons of those last three homes. Arsene acknowledged as much in his press conference before the match.

“You want to go out of the season on a high and not feel miserable after a game. You want to feel that we have done our job well and that we have finished on a strong performance. We want to send our fans home happy on the last game of the season.”

On the last day of the season it would take a home defeat for us, a United win against Hull, and a seven goal swing to deny us the automatic Champions League berth. Arsene has his sights set firmly on a morale boosting win ahead of the FA Cup Final.

“We were many times under pressure when we absolutely had to win the game. We always delivered. This time we want to continue our tradition and do it again.”

He also hinted at a degree of rotation. Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez looked a little flat in the week and could be candidates for a rest before Wembley. Francis Coquelin could be in line for a return and Theo Walcott may be in line for rare start? Also expect a recall for Wojciech Szczesny with one eye on next week.

The Baggies have only Ben Foster ruled out by injury, so could Boaz Myhill have the game of his life at the Grove!

The ‘holic pound

I am hoping, rather than expecting, than we will find the fluency and creativity somewhat lacking of late. I also expect the visitors to put up a fight, so I am going for another 2-1 home win, available from Paddy Power at 7/1.

Thank you

It’s hard to believe this is the last match at the Grove this season. It seems like yesterday we gathered at the pub for the opener against Palace. A lot of Guinness has been sunk since. Maybe that is why it has seemed so short.

Tomorrow we’ll assemble, some for one last time this season due to the absurd ticket distribution for the FA Cup Final (and yes, if you have one spare let me know, thanks). I would like to thank those I have spent time with this season. The social side of the game is often more enjoyable than the game, and the reason I have renewed the season ticket again after much soul-searching for the second year running.

Thank you also to those who read my rambling throughout the season, whether or not you contribute to ‘the drinks’. Lastly thank you to those who have contributed guest posts, most of which have raised the bar around here.

Have a good one ‘holics.

 

 

The early evening often revolves around the email accounts associated with the blog. Like the posts you don’t read in the drinks, there is a healthy spam content involved. So if you are after any particular dodgy medications or would like to share the wealth of Iraqi looters and Nigerian princes just drop me a line at mugpunter@plummail.con. The spam filter on the blog is considerably more aggressive then that on the mail account, so fortunately involves less furious bashing of the delete key.

Then occasionally the Arsenal drop you some morsels, and not just the football-related information. That’s the stuff you might read on the website after three goalless home performances in a row. It’s what Arsenal are good at ‘doing’, but they tend not to blow their own trumpet enough. For example, the Arsenal Gap programme.

The Arsenal Gap programme is now seeking applications for the 2015/16 intake, starting in August this year.

Participants learn to coach with the Arsenal in the Community team in north London before having the opportunity to travel abroad. Gappers are trained to coach football and teach English in local schools and projects, before being given the opportunity to apply their new skills to community programmes around the world. Over the past nine years, participants have contributed to projects in 19 different countries. Coaches are currently based in Italy, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, Bahrain, Greece and in destinations across Africa, with more exciting locations planned for 2015/16.

Applications for the August 2015 intake are open until the end of June. It is expected that places will fill quickly, so aspiring coaches should submit their application forms as soon as possible. The scheme attracts school leavers in the main but is open to everyone over the age of 18.

For more information and details on how to apply click here.

The Arsenal Charity Shield

Then there is the good work undertaken by the Arsenal in the Community team. As part of their charity fundraising they are hosting a charity football tournament at London Colney on Saturday 6 June.

Eleven-a-side teams of all levels are invited to apply to take part. Entry per 15-player squad is £750, so £50 a head. All money raised goes to the Arsenal Foundation. More info here.

The Clare Balding Show

It isn’t just Arsenal who get in touch. BT Sport are offering readers the chance to apply for tickets to the live recording of Clare Balding’s FA Cup Final Special next week, Wednesday 27th May at 7PM.

They would love as many Arsenal fans to be in the crowd wearing their Arsenal shirts as they can fit in the studio. If you are around London next Wednesday then check out the details on the link here.

If you go do let us have your best pic from the evening to share with all of the other ‘holics here.

Thanks all.

For the visit of Sunderland Arsene shuffled his pack a little, bringing in Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere for Nacho Monreal and Francis Coquelin. It made for a very attack-minded line-up for a team requiring a win to take the battle for second place to the final Sunday of the season.

In the opening minute David Ospina had to be quick to sweep clear as Graham advanced and we wondered if Sunderland were going to be more adventurous than predicted pre-match. We needn’t have worried. Needing a point for survival it soon became clear that the Mackems would keep ten players behind the ball wherever possible.

Arsenal responded with a dangerous cross from Hector Bellerin which was cleared somewhat desperately by Coates. The right-back got another opportunity to cross five minutes later but just failed to pick out Olivier Giroud.

On fourteen minutes Jack Wilshere, guilty of a heavy touch in the box, went down under the challenge of Pantilimon. Controversial referee Anthony Taylor saw nothing wrong in it. Just a minute later we had a reminder that Sunderland would break if encouraged and Ospina once again had to be quick to beat the onrushing Defoe to a through ball.

In the nineteenth minute Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, and Wilshere combined superbly but the latter blazed over on the volley. Four minutes later Alexis Sanchez’ volley was cleared only as far as Santi Cazorla who drove into the ‘keepers arms. An attempt on target. We were getting closer.

Kieran Gibbs blasted one high, wide and handsomely. Did I say we were getting closer?  A minute later Rambo looked to have been impeded in the box as he went for a return pass from Giroud. Again Mr Taylor saw nothing wrong.

On the half hour Rambo played a superb chip to pick out Ozil who also cleared the bar. Fast forward a minute and Giroud fired just wide of the far post from an excellent Wilshere through ball. Next  to miss the target was Ozil as the contest lapsed into a highly paid game of attack versus defence. Next up to try his luck, Alexis drove straight at Pantilimon. Another one on target at least.

There was a rare break and a warning shot for what might come later from Johnson as the half drew to a close. Goalless at half-time, but Sunderland acted, sending on Rodwell and Fletcher in a bid to have more presence on the break.

That could have proved a masterstroke. Four minutes after the break Ospina was twice forced into vital saves from Fletcher, then van Aanholt. Arsenal set about regaining the initiative and enjoyed ten strong minutes. Giroud chipped an effort from the left onto the crossbar before his superb near post flick brought out the best of Pantilimon. The ball was only half-cleared to Ramsey who just missed the target.

Gibbs, rarely needed defensively, was next to test the big ‘keeper with a near post header. Then came an astonishing passage of play as Ozil teed up Sanchez but Coates block broke for Fletcher who found the goalkeeper at the other end also showing his best form. Ospina must have regained his confidence tonight.

Just after the hour Arsene decided to unleash the pace of Theo Walcott, but before he had time to settle we came close to going behind. Fletcher, not flagged offside, skied his effort from van Aanholt’s cross in behind the defence. It would be Sunderland’s last big chance as they again dropped ten men back.

In the 72nd minute Theo broke through for the first time and beat Pantilimon but Coates cleared off the line. Ironically we came closest to winning when Sunderland’s Jones deflected a bouncing ball onto the frame of the goal.

For the last ten minutes Tomas Rosicky was introduced and almost immediately Theo put him in on goal. Tom’s effort flashed across goal and just cleared the far post. Then Giroud was again denied by the overworked Pantilimon and just failed to latch on to the rebound.

Rambo hit the target again but was foiled by the man of the match. The same player also just failed to cash in on the rebound when the Mackems ‘keeper again denied a lively Theo.

After what appeared a far from generous three added minutes the final whistle brought a mixed reaction from a thin home crowd, clearly nowhere near the reported 59,897. The visitors celebrated their safety, and why not. It may not have been pretty, but to be fair they did not resort to the sort of physical contest some had anticipated. They ground out the result they so desperately needed, and the point we got will secure automatic Champions League qualification unless a freak couple of results happen on Sunday.

What is a concern is that in the last three home games, against teams who got numbers back behind the ball and denied us space in the final third, we have failed to score. Tim Sherwood will have seen them all and could well be preparing to kill the Cup Final as a spectacle. You could not blame him if he did. We have Sunday left to show we have the guile, desire, and finishing ability to overcome such tactics, if indeed the Baggies come with a similar gameplan.

It’s a big ten days coming up for Arsenal’s season.

The penultimate fixture of an eventful season sees Sunderland visiting the Grove seeking a point to ensure Premiership survival, while the Gunners require all three to keep the remote possibility of second place alive and mathematically secure their hold on third place at least. It is probably fair to expect a very defensive set-up to start for the visitors.

We will certainly need to be more incisive and ruthless than we were in last Monday’s match against Swansea, who arrived with similar priorities to those which we can anticipate from the Mackems, and who pinched the points against the run of play.

Arsenal are still without Mathieu Debuchy, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Danny Welbeck. Worse still is that Laurent Koscielny will be monitored on the day as he is recovering from flu-like symptoms. If he is ruled out Gabriel should be promoted from the bench, but could there perhaps be another change or two from the starting line-up for our last six Premier League fixtures?

It would not be a surprise to see Santi Cazorla rested, so off colour was he at Old Trafford on Sunday. Aaron Ramsey showed his quality in that role in the closing twenty minutes of that match. That would free up a right wing slot for Theo Walcott to fill? With Lee Cattermole a booking away from a record fifteen yellow cards in a Premier League season I would expect Francis Coquelin to hold his starting place ahead of Jack Wilshere. Arsene assessed what lies ahead perfectly.

“I expect them to be well organised defensively, sound at the back, and to try to use all the counter-attacks they can. We have to put a high rhythm into this game and play with a high level of energy to win.”

The visitors have Bridcutt, Gomez, and Brown missing, but Rodwell is back after recovering from a hamstring problem. They close their Premier League season at the bus stop in Fulham on Sunday, so that point is a tough ask, although they may be encouraged by Chelsea’s performance at West Brom on Monday night. Be warned though, they have been involved in eight scoreless draws in the League this season, and won their last away fixture at Everton.

The ‘holic pound

Last season’s corresponding fixture ended in a 4-1 triumph for the Arsenal with Olivier Giroud bagging a brace of goals. I have a sneaking fancy he may repeat that, and Arsenal enjoy a similar winning margin, although the pound this time is ventured on 3-0, available from Paddy Power at a market leading 8/1.

As usual I wish those of you going a performance to savour, and for those confined to television or stream coverage a decent reception.

Have a good one ‘holics.

I saw talk before the match of Arsene setting up to go with an attacking gameplay having secured victories at City and United this season playing a much more compact game than usual. It was no surprise, given those two results, that once again we set our stall at Old Trafford to defend first and foremost, and look to hit the home side on the counter.

That approach requires more accurate passing than we could muster in the opening half. As early as the third minute Alexis overhit a ball for Olivier Giroud as we sought to pinch a lead. Then the Chilean broke clear himself only to be hustled off the ball by Blind, but these were rare forays into the attacking third by the visitors.

Surrendering territory and possession meant that United would fashion half-chances. Young blazed one over and Laurent Koscielny had to be alert to block an effort from Falcao, starting in preference to van Stapleton. When Mata hit a weak free-kick that David Ospina dealt with comfortably one wondered if they had any cutting edge in the absence of Rooney.

The answer came in the thirtieth minute when Young got the better of Hector Bellerin and crossed to the far post for Herrera to volley past Ospina at his near post, with Nacho Monreal drawn into a central covering role. The full-backs were otherwise excellent, and Ospina wasn’t unduly troubled again, but the damage had been done.

The problem with going behind when playing rope-a-dope is how and when to change things. Clearly either side of half-time the instruction appeared to be stick with it, and see if we can pinch an equaliser. Sadly though with the midfield collectively unable to string together the sort of passing moves that are their trademark, we found ourselves in the position of hoping not to concede a second goal.

Eight minutes shy of the hour we had our first shot of the match. Giroud set up Alexis but his effort was high and wide, much to the derision of the home support at the old scoreboard end. That could not be described as the turning point, which was surely reached twenty minutes later with a double substitution, but slowly Arsenal found a way into the game.

Giroud did well to hold off Rojo but couldn’t get sufficient power or direction to beat De Gea, then the increasingly influential Aaron Ramsey chipped the United goalkeeper only for Rojo to clear. The chances were coming, and Arsene decided to change our shape somewhat. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott came on for Bellerin and the unusually ineffective Santi Cazorla. Francis Coquelin was switched to right-back, behind Theo, while Jack joined Rambo in a new look central midfield.

Ramsey in particular, back in his favoured role, took the game by the scruff of the neck, and ten minutes after the double substitution we were level. There is no denying a slice of good fortune was involved as Rambo picked out Theo with a magnificent forty yard pass and the latter’s attempted cross was deflected in by Blackett. It was an equaliser we had undoubtedly threatened, and the Gunners went in search of a dramatic winner.

A minute later Giroud was inches wide with a near post flick into the side-netting, and the same player couldn’t quite find his touch when another chance came his way. At the other end United fashioned a last opportunity for their Dutch substitute, but Van Stapleton cleared the bar comfortably to the delight of the again-magnificent traveling faithful.

The final whistle left Arsenal considerably happier with the point than their hosts, although credit to van Gaal who said this afterwards,

“I believe that Arsenal are maybe the best team in the league but Chelsea can finish a game. We were better than our opponents for one hour, and we led one-zero, but we have to finish the game.”

For me the best team in the League is the one that finishes first, but every non-Chelsea fan knew exactly what he meant by that. Arsene too conceded that we had to come back from a difficult start to the match.

“The only regret I have is that we didn’t take the three points in the second half. We started the first half slowly, Manchester United were sharper at the beginning, and we were a bit stretched as well width and length-wise. The second half we were more compact and we took over. We showed a great response and got a deserved point.”

The result means that effectively a point from our two remaining home games should seal automatic Champions League group phase qualification, but to finish as runners up we need to win both and hope that Southampton can win at City next Sunday. Never say never, but that appears a tall order right now.

In the meantime let’s just enjoy our ‘unbeaten in Manchester’ season. They don’t come along too often.

Manchester United versus Arsenal, and neither side can win the title. Those are words that have not applied to this fixture too many times over the last twenty years. Not that this match is insignificant at all. The runners-up spot in the League will almost certainly be Manchester City’s if they can beat Swansea away tomorrow, and Southampton at home next Sunday. Should they falter then Arsenal are likeliest to overhaul them.

Then there is a separate battle to avoid fourth place in the table, and a Champions League qualifier in August. Victory at Old Trafford would cement at least third place for Arsenal and condemn United to that play-off. Even were the home team to triumph then Arsenal could keep them in the last qualifying place in our final two home games against Sunderland and West Brom.

This is the pointed end of the season, and the FA Cup Finalists will be looking to regain form and confidence quickly after Monday night’s surprise reverse at home to Swansea. We looked at the injury list on Thursday, and we still have a very strong squad to pick from, but after fielding an unchanged starting line-up for five consecutive Premier League fixtures the boss hinted at some changes.

“We have three games to finish the season and it’s important that everybody contributes until the end. It’s important that at some stage you freshen up.”

Freshening up could take many forms. Caution could mean that those who have not put in a full week at Shenley, Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck, getting a rest until Sunderland visit the Grove on Wednesday. Theo Walcott has been clicking his heels on the bench lately and could replace Aaron on the right. Jack Wilshere and Gabriel may also come into the picture. I hope the full-back positions are not tinkered with.

For the hosts Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, and Luke Shaw will not feature, and defender Jonny Evans is a doubt, but Angel Di Maria, Robin van Stapleton and Marcos Rojo are available again. One would assume that van Stapleton and Falcao will be the candidates to replace Rooney, with Jones coming in for Shaw as the only changes from the United side that won at Crystal Palace last week. That result was perhaps made all the more impressive by Palace’s 1-3 win at Anfield this weekend?

The ‘holic pound

Dat guy scores at Old Trafford

Now we did win an FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford 1-2 just ten short weeks ago, but our rare-of-late recent League triumphs on United soil have been by that famous ‘one-nil to the Arsenal’ margin, and that is the choice for the destination of the ‘holic pound. The market is surprisingly generous about this outcome, Paddy Power for example offering nines against it coming to fruition. That suggests my confidence could be misplaced. We’ll see.

As usual I look forward to hearing the traveling faithful loud and clear on the match broadcast, and I wish you all a wonderful day/weekend out in the north-west. As for the rest of us let’s hope for a good signal, and three crucial points to ensure that Champions League group phase place.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

This has been a strange day for Arsenal news wise. Most amusing is the story that we are set to profit by around £3m if Barcelona beat Juventus in the Champions League Final as a result of a clause in the Thomas Vermaelen deal.

Of course that is made more remarkable by the fact that the former Gunners skipper has yet to kick a ball in anger for his new employers, having only just returned from a long term hamstring injury. Sorry Juve fans, but I’ll be rooting for Barca in that Final.

There is the usual range of transfer rumours which suggest that nothing much else is happening. Speculation, regulars will tell you, is not really my bag, but one potential move reported by the Star caught my eye. Tomas Rosicky, out of contract in the summer, could be set to return to his former club, Sparta Prague.

At 34 he isn’t likely to secure a regular starting place at the Grove, but in 2013, and 2014, I thought him one of the key players, a positive driving force from midfield in the second-half of both seasons. It would be a shame to lose that gift.

I know he has spent long periods out through injury since joining us nine years ago. His 28 goals and 244 appearances should ensure him a wonderful ovation at the end of the season if it is to be his last in an Arsenal shirt.

Hopefully Tomas will be in the squad to face Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. Arsene revealed today that Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will not. Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey will face late tests before that squad is finalised.

Should Rambo be fit I wonder what the odds are that we might have the same starting line-up for the sixth Premier League match in succession?

Although still ruled out the Ox has spoken to Arsenal Player about the match on Sunday.

“You can definitely take confidence from any win at Old Trafford. It’s a hard place to go and win, especially against a good Manchester United side. It will be a tough game but we can take positives from our last trip there in the FA Cup and the win that we managed to come away with.”

A third win in Manchester in a season? That would be something. Come back on Saturday evening for a preview and the ‘holic pound.

Cheers ‘holics.

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