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We took to the pitch at the Liberty with Gabriel switched to right-back, in the absence of Hector Bellerin, and the rest of our first choice back five in situ again. Olivier Giroud was retained up front with Alexis and Alex Iwobi notionally occupying the flanks.

To say the match started slowly is a huge understatement. It didn’t really get going until the 28th minute when Iwobi found Sanchez at inside-left and the Chilean’s drive drew a smart save from our old friend Lukasz Fabianski at his near post.

Eight minutes later a swift break saw us take the lead. Aaron Ramsey’s cross from the right missed all but Alexis on the left hand side of the box, and from his chip Ozil’s header was deflected into the path of Giroud who finished from point-blank range.

Swansea 0-1 Arsenal

The scorer signalled to the bench that he was injured following a coming together with Fabianski in the build-up and confusion reigned temporarily as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain prepared to come on, only for the Frenchman to change his mind. A scorer in his last five appearances and his last nine starts, his fitness is very important to us right now.

Ki-sung Yeung’s dramatic tumble when Laurent Koscielny withdrew from a challenge in the box earned a yellow card for simulation from referee Mike Jones. Replays confirmed the official made the correct call. The home fans, not having the benefit of those replays, booed loudly as the half-time whistle mercifully ended an awful half of football.

We were so close to a second goal when Ramsey accepted a defence-splitting pass from Alexis but Fabianski was equal to his effort. Our former goalkeeper was left helpless a minute later. Iwobi was the beneficiary of some smart work by Nacho Montreal and his deflected drive looped over Fabianski and dropped just inside the far post.

Swansea 0-2 Arsenal

On the hour the change hinted at earlier finally happened as Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for a still-struggling Giroud. Let’s hope the injury to his left ankle is not a serious one. Colin Lewin got to work on the offending joint on the substitutes bench.

Swansea were trying to make a fist of it but their finishing was poor, as happens to a team devoid of confidence and inspiration. Another deflected Iwobi effort in the 67th minute will have to go down as an own-goal by Naughton as the Arsenal turned the screw on deflated opponents.

Swansea 0-3 Arsenal

It got worse for the Swans when Iwobi’s cross was deflected into the path of the unmarked Alexis near the penalty spot and he volleyed home.

Swansea 0-4 Arsenal

Four could, perhaps should, have been five when Iwobi teed up Alexis again but the Chilean’s first touch let him down. It was his last act as he and Mesut Ozil made way for Danny Welbeck and Lucas. Alexis looked far from happy at the perfectly sensible decision. We’ll need him to be fresh for much sterner opposition than Swansea. The tabloids will doubtless make more of his show of petulance than may have been intended.

On the pitch Granit Xhaka fired one effort wide before drawing a good diving save from Fabianski. Sigurdsson’s tame effort in response was typical of Swansea’s afternoon. Xhaka, taking complete control of the second-half, fired another long-range effort at Fabianski.

In time added on Borja came as close as anyone to scoring for the Swans but his flying header cleared the bar. More worryingly Skhodran Mustafi limped off the pitch as a result of his challenge. Fingers are firmly crossed that he, as well as Giroud, recovers fully before next week’s meeting with Burnley.

In summary you can only beat what is in front of you. When Arsenal did find some semblance of form in the second-half we were worthy winners but that first-half performance, and it’s not for the first time in recent weeks, is a cause for concern.

Introspection complete, we have a Saturday 3pm kick-off to look forward to, and an opportunity to reclaim a place or two, or maybe even three, at the top of the table. Such is the nature of the pile-up behind Chelsea at the head of affairs that the fixture computer has offered up an intriguing weekend of fixtures.

We can only do what we have to do, and that is win at Swansea. It’s not a point lost on Arsene Wenger pre-match, and expressed by him in a wider contest on Arsenal.com. We are reaching what I love to call the pointed end of the season. Sorry if that aggravates, but it is absolutely the case. You can only lose the title in the first half of the season, but equally you can only win it in the second.

“You will always feel that it’s down to us not failing. Let’s focus on the process. We have five months in front of us and it’s very important that we feel like we’ve given absolutely everything to finish at the top. It’s very important that we focus on the process, what we can improve, how much better we can play in the next game and how we can win the game.”

The team news is once again a bit of a mixed bag. Petr Cech and Alexis are back after being rested for the FA Cup tie at Preston. Laurent Koscielny is recovered sufficiently from his injury and Mesut Ozil is over the virus that floored him. Sadly Hector Bellerin, Francis Coquelin, and Theo Walcott remain short term absentees.

We have options in most positions but the make-up of the back four will be a cause for much thought. Is Ashley Maitland-Niles up to a Premier League away fixture at right-back? If Gabriel is switched to that flank who will partner Skhodran Mustafi in the centre? Rob Holding and Per Mertesacker will be hoping for the call-up. Other than in Arsene’s mind there is no obvious selection.

Of course Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey are certain to occupy the positions at the base of the midfield, and it is a fair bet that Mesut Ozil will be recalled in the chief creating role in the side. That leaves the flanks and the leader of the attack. Last week Lucas and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played out wide but one will surely make way this week. If Olivier Giroud is retained up top then expect Alexis to play on the left. Should Alexis be preferred to the Frenchman then Alex Iwobi or Danny Welbeck will also be hoping for a start on the left.

From a distance one might consider the forward selection problems Wenger faces are positive ones, and the defensive options less so. Perhaps that is being harsh. What of the hosts?

Once again, and funnily enough for the second time this season against Swansea, we face the new manager effect. This is Paul Clement’s first league game in charge, with Arsenal providing the opposition, as we did when Bob Bradley’s ill feted reign commenced in October. We broke the Swans hoodoo with a 3-2 win that day.

They will be without new signing Narsingh from PSV, and the experienced Taylor. Swansea have won three of their last five games against Arsenal, although interestingly we have won on three of our last four visits to the Liberty. There’s lovely.

The ‘holic pound

I have to be positive. Although Tottenham host West Brom at lunchtime we have a head start on Chelsea, away to Leicester in the evening. Then on Sunday Manchester City visit Everton before Manchester United host Liverpool. What are the odds on London clubs occupying the top three places after those fixtures? Revert to the Arsene quote above!

I’m throwing a hail Mary at this one, as I am inclined to on occasion. I see that a 2-4 away win is a staggering 45/1 with one major High Street bookie. I cannot resist that. Cashout could get very interesting if the goals start to flow.

Classic Shirts

Our partners have now called time on their sale but plenty of bargains remain on their website which can be reached by clicking here. My meagre post-Christmas funds were directed at my recent birthday bash, but some of next week’s salary may well be ‘invested’ in one or two beauties there. Obviously we have a vested interest in getting you to consider what they have to offer, but there is some seriously good kit on there. Check them out.

Take care if you’re going

The weather isn’t great out west at the moment. Be ready for a damp and chilly day in South Wales. I’ll resist the obvious, ‘isn’t it always’ there. What? Oh! Also Great Western are making the train journey more painful than it would normally be, with a bus replacement service from Port Talbot. All of which will surely make you more belligerent and loud during the match.

As always ‘holics, wherever you are watching, have a great one.

Clearing The Bar

The evening after the day before has arrived and the thundersnow has not made it anywhere remotely close to ‘holic Towers. The predictive text really wanted ‘colic to appear there which is particularly apt today given that so many babies on social media are suffering with it.

If you will forgive the me, me, me nature of this post I would be obliged. I remember taking good advice from a top man about blogging. Never say stuff like “I think we should, or I would do this. Nobody gives a shit what you think!” I try to remember that every time I type a piece. Sorry for the times I forgot it because he was right.

The problem is I have done a lot of thinking this week. The older drinkers in the bar have indignantly denied me my new found seniority. I am apparently still a pup. But sixty human years equates to, well a number of dog years in which puppydom has long since been confined to memory. Sixty years of watching the Arsenal, although only 54 of which I can recall with any clarity.

I’ve become the bloke that clears any bar in seconds. When I was at primary school we played every week, even in the middle of August, in thick, clawing mud, and it was cold so the lace on the leather football would leave an imprint on your forehead, and would cause irreparable damage to your orchestras if you were unfortunate enough to be struck amidships. (Actually they may have been right about the latter point!)

I was a right-half, and the right-back was not allowed to overtake me. His job was to lie in wait for the left-winger and kick him as far over the touchline as possible. When he did I had to recover the ball quickly and throw it to our right-winger who would have to use all manner of trickery to avoid a similar fate and cross a sodden ten stone lump of leather at a similarly sodden ten stone slip of a lad who played at centre-forward and was expected to head the ball, laces and all, in a downward direction without concussing himself.

It helped that down the years the equipment, if not the grassless pitches, improved. Football boots lost the over the ankle models I was still expected to wear on the rugby pitch. The revolution in plastics gave us balls without laces that were also water-resistant. Thanks to being at a rugby-playing grammar school I had to start in mens football at the age of 15. No problem. I went to watch Arsenal, and had even learnt some pretty handy tactics to employ when my football skills weren’t enough.

Any relationship between Sunday League football and the professional game was entirely coincidental. At fifteen I found myself watching Charlie George and George Armstrong on Saturday afternoons, but relying on a basic appreciation of Peter Storey as a fledgling left-back on Sunday morning’s tasked with hoofing hungover overweight wingers, double my age, as far over the touchline as possible.

By that time the Arsenal had ended seventeen barren years by claiming our first European trophy, followed a year later with the double at White Hart Lane and Wembley. I can have some sympathy with the teens either side of the millennium who must have thought Arsenal were entering another period of world domination. Our ninth championship would take another eighteen years to materialise.

In that time Terry Neill and Don Howe threatened to make us a power again. With Liam Brady, David O’Leary, and even (spits) Frank Stapleton, we should have been. One FA Cup win, albeit an unforgettable one, was scant reward for the years of torture we endured in the mid-seventies and mid-eighties. Now I can piss off the young ‘guns by recanting tales of how more than once we almost went down. Actually the likes of Manchester United, City, Tottenham Hotspur (oh how we roared!), and Chelsea did.

For along with the likes of the Irish geniuses we had to endure the likes of Hankin, Hawley, Meade, Kosmina (the sub who had to go for a piss before coming on). The defeats were legendary. Walsall, York, Oxford, Rotherham, Wrexham. There were others. George took over, cleared out the has-beens and never-quite-weres, and promoted the kids as had Bertie Mee before him.

The kids became winners in the League Cup Final against a monumental Liverpool team. They would humble the same great side two years later in the closing seconds of the most eventful of all seasons in front of Anfield’s grieving Kop. I pretty much gave up playing then. At 32 I figured George wouldn’t be calling. So I enjoyed watching him land another title, the domestic cup Double, and on a memorable night in Copenhagen the European Cup-Winners Cup.

Say what you like about George’s downfall in the season that followed. From 87-94 we were usually in contention for something and he left as his legacy his back four. Admittedly he also left us with the worst midfield we’ve ever seen. Rioch tried his best to whip them into shape, but the Arsenal didn’t need or respond to a regimental disciplinarian.

This funny French bloke came in. Glenn Hoddle rated him so that was ok, wasn’t it? He didn’t rule the squad through fear, but rather by educating them, and buying examples to demonstrate what he was asking of them. Vieira, Petit, Gimandi, Garde. They were versatile and trained more on the technical aspects of the game, ate strange but healthy food. His imaginative ways didn’t stop with the players. Anelka arrived, and left again for the cost of a new, dedicated training complex next door to the old one.

There was a double again, then a couple of barren years before Wengerball2 was released. Cup, Double, Cup, Invincible season, Champions League Final, and off the pitch a move to a brand new dedicated stadium almost next to the old one. Again, despite what followed, Arsene deserves to be measured against the great Arsenal managers who preceded him. Chapman, Allison, Mee, and yes, Graham. Not now perhaps. That divide is still too deep.

Sixty years though of down, then up, then down, then… you get my drift, I’m sure.

What have I learned. Well at every game we can help the team by screaming things like “MAN ON”, “SHOOT”, and of course “HEAD IT DOWN FFS” at the top of our voices. Some of you have been lacking in that department lately. Maybe that was the problem of the last decade all along?

The Thursday preview nailed ten of the starting eleven at Preston but missed the replacement of Hector Bellerin by Ainsley Maitland-Niles (conservative! © @yellowbootson). Olivier Giroud was a surprising choice to captain the side. At kick-off fog was swirling around Deepdale but the visibility was perfectly ok.

On our last FA Cup visit to Deepdale we went two down, and in the seventh minute we were behind again when Nacho Montreal was caught the wrong side of Hugill and Gabriel’s attempt at a clearance fell to Robinson to tap home. We had dominated the early possession but Preston’s front two had started brightly and were quick to close down the visitors back four.

Preston 1-0 Arsenal

The Gunners showed little urgency in seeking a response and Mustafi saved a second goal when he blocked Robinson’s far post header from a Hugill cross. Moments later Gabriel’s attempt to play another offside went horribly wrong and Robinson slid his cross just too far ahead of Hugill for what should have been another tap-in. A cross from the left evaded Monreal at the far post and Vermijl mercifully volleyed wide.

Finally we conjured up an attempt but Giroud’s header from Maitland-Niles’ cross, under pressure from his marker, drifted wide. Then Ramsey wriggled his way through on to a Giroud pass but couldn’t sort out his feet and the close-range chance was gone. When Giroud sent another effort drifting wide of the far post we at least looked as though we were getting back into the game.

At the other end though ten minutes before half-time some poor defending by Mustafi wasn’t punished by Gallacher thanks to Monreal’s clearance. Preston had the ball in the net after Ospina was cleaned out by a flying elbow from Huntington. Next to feel the force of an elbow, by Cunningham, was Lucas in the Preston box. The referee adjudged it to be accidental coming together. A third elbow by Hugill left Gabriel with blood streaming from a head wound. Mr Madley finally drew his yellow card out of his pocket. The Gunners were temporarily down to ten men as Gabriel was taken away to be stitched up.

Whatever Arsene said at half-time had the desired effect. Less than a minute in Iwobi wriggled clear when surrounded by defenders and set up Aaron Ramsey for a thumping drive from the edge of the box. That was more like it. The travelling Gooners, relieved as well as delighted, roared their approval.

Preston 1-1 Arsenal

Twice in the following minutes Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had long-range shots charged down. Could they maintain the pressure? Pearson avoided a yellow card despite twice clattering into the back of the goalscorer. The little bit of niggle that had crept into the game following the assault on Gabriel was bringing an appropriate response from Arsenal as if to silence the ‘they don’t like it up them’ clowns.

The key to our second-half improvement was getting bodies forward more quickly to support Giroud. This noticeable increase in effort made the lack of commitment in the first-half all the more strange. The experienced Gallacher was replaced by Browne just before the hour was up as Preston sought to turn the tide. Cunningham’s reckless challenge from behind on Lucas brought the second yellow.

The Arsenal were denied a penalty when Giroud was first held, then grabbed as he battled for a cross. Gabriel’s revenge on Hugill was somehow inevitable, as was the ensuing yellow for a clattering from behind. The biters clearly didn’t enjoy being bit! His partner, Mustafi, then drew a smart save from Maxwell when he was first to a near-post corner.

Pearson earned his tenth yellow of the season and a two match suspension for a Xhaka-esque trip on Xhaka. Granit remains the only player to have been sent-off for such a soft offence. The giant Makienok came on for Hugill who had a mixed evening.

Giroud sparked premature celebrations behind the goal when he put the ball in the net from Lucas’ chip but from an offside position. Preston’s final substitution saw Horgan replace Johnson, and shortly afterwards Danny Welbeck made a welcome return to action in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain. Iwobi again wriggled around the massed ranks of the Preston defence to create a shooting opportunity which Maxwell was equal to.

With ninety seconds of the ninety minutes remaining we made the pressure tell, quite brilliantly. Lucas chased what appeared to be a lost cause in the box but his back heel found Giroud who finished clinically under real pressure.

Preston 1-2 Arsenal

Arsene attempted to take time out with a double substitution of Rob Holding and Jeff Reine-Adelaide for Maitland-Niles and Lucas. There was still enough time left for Ospina to claim a cross at one end, and Welbeck force a tip over from Maxwell.

Yet another game of two halves then. Not for the first time of late the Arsenal just didn’t turn up in the first-half, but came back strongly to earn a result. I’m sure at Shenley in the week the squad will be made to appreciate we remain in the Cup mainly because of Preston’s profligacy in the first-half. This lack of fight early on has to be rectified.

None of which alters the fact a makeshift side responded well to a tough challenge from spirited opponents. We are showing a lot of character some of the time.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, all.

So last night I suggested we may go to Preston for Saturday evening’s FA Cup third round tie with a starting line-up not too far from what follows. Ospina; Bellerin, Mustafi, Gabriel, Monreal; Xhaka, Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Lucas or Reine-Adelaide; Giroud.

If they all turn up they should provide a stern test for fellow Invincibles (although a very long time ago!) Preston North End. It was suggested to Arsene Wenger in his press conference yesterday that Preston against West Ham at Wembley in 1964 was the first FA Cup Final he had seen on television. Given that it is the first one I clearly recall I would suggest the boss might well have caught a few before that one.

Preston were relegated from the top flight for the last time in the truly forgettable year of 1961. They were founder members of the Football League and earned their ‘invincibles’ tag in the inaugural season before going on to win the FA Cup and completing the first double. They retained their title in 1890, and won the FA Cup for a second time in 1938. Since then their honours have been won in the lower divisions.

They no longer boast of players like the great Tom Finney, a favourite player of ‘holicdad. The modern Proud Preston will come into this match with a full squad barring Calum Woods (knee), John Welsh (calf) and Jermaine Beckford (suspended). Everton’s on-loan winger Aiden McGeady, and journeyman midfielder Paul Gallagher, will be familiar to most Gooners.

With only three defeats in their last 17 league games Preston will not be lacking confidence ahead of the match. Manager Simon Grayson is happy with his charges recent form which has seen them climb into the top half of the Championship.

“We have been playing well recently. Arsenal is a free game for us in a way. No one outside of Preston expects us to win. I want the players to go out and express themselves, enjoy the occasion, see where that takes us. There is often a surprise in the third round of the FA Cup. Hopefully it is us causing it. We have got a 6ft 7ins centre-forward, so that might help.”

The latter point is a reference to Simon Makienok, the Danish striker on loan from Palermo, who is expected to ‘put himself about’. Given our recent performances against Andy Carroll the big lad may well be the one to watch. He has six goals to his credit this season from 20 starts and 11 appearances from the bench.

The ‘holic pound

They sound up for it. We are looking potentially vulnerable if you are of the glass half-full variety. After just a couple of pints of Guinness this evening I am relatively mellow and positive. If I have got the team almost right then Hector Bellerin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could give them a real problem down the right, with Aaron Ramsey popping up in attacking areas looking to feed off Olivier Giroud. I’m having some of the 21/2 against a 1-3 Gunners triumph and may have a small back-up on 0-3 at the same price if we do have a relatively strong team out.

Advice to away supporters from Preston Police

To those making the trip the @PNEPolice twitter account has posted some tips, for example Gooners travelling to Preston by car will find limited parking & refreshments at The Sumners a mere 5 minutes from the stadium. Also you will find additional parking at Moor Park, Brookfield Street and local on street parking. Those travelling by rail will find refreshments @ The Vic near to the train station 30 minutes walk to the stadium. If you want to break that journey up The Adelphi is a pub 10 minutes from the train station and stadium.

So that’s it. Have a wonderful, if bitterly cold, trip and don’t get too despondent if we slip two down as we did on our last FA Cup trip to Deepdale 17 years ago. We came back to win that tie 2-4. Let’s hope this match is as exciting as that.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

Arsene Wenger’s press conference this morning (do watch it on arsenal.com) was interesting to the extent at the strength of the team he hinted might play before going on to list a veritable who’s who of top players that will not be playing on the day. It meandered a little so I’ve done my best to work out who will start on Saturday evening, a full seven days before we go to Swansea for our next League fixture.

Defensively Petr Cech will hand the gloves to the cup-tie goalkeeper, David Ospina. The Columbian has not let us down in the Champions League this season and deserves the opportunity to impress again. On the basis that we have nobody coming back Per Mertesacker and Kieran Gibbs are out, as is Laurent Koscielny who was struggling when substituted against Bournemouth. That suggests we will perm two from Skhodran Mustafi, Gabriel, or Rob Holding to play in between Hector Bellerin and Nacho Montreal.

The midfield pairing in front of them probably picks itself. Mohamed Elneny has jetted off to the African Cup of Nations, Santi Cazorla is not close to returning, and Francis Coquelin’s injury at Bournemouth is expected to keep him out for three to four weeks at this stage. That leaves Granit Xhaka plus probably Aaron Ramsey to start.

The front four will give Arsene a couple of sleepless nights. He wants to rest Alexis, and Danny Welbeck is probably only ready to start on the bench. Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil won’t be ready and then there is the possibility that Lucas is ruled out by an ankle knock he received at Bournemouth. Olivier Giroud has made so few starts he must surely lead the line. Alex Iwobi could get the nod to start behind him, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on one wing, and if Lucas fails to recover in time there may be an opportunity for Jeff Reine-Adelaide on the other.

The bench may be packed with young talent around Welbeck unless Alexis is taken ‘just in case’. Should Iwobi not last the distance again we will need someone to step into Ramsey’s shoes so he can play further forward. An opportunity perhaps for Rob Holding, if not starting, to get some match fitness?

I’ve seen suggestions that we may go with a much weaker starting eleven than that I have guessed above. Arsene’s insistence that he will go with his best available eleven, bar two or three, is taken as gospel by this trusting old soul.

Pop back tomorrow evening for the rest of the preview, and of course the ‘holic pound.

Classic Football Shirts

You will recall I mentioned we have a partnership agreement with @ClassicShirts starting this year. Today the January SALE started at midday, and it runs until Tuesday 10th January. You simply need to use CFS2017 at the checkout to get 20% OFF. There are already some cracking deals on here. Do check them out, thank you.

 

The Arsenal recalled Skhodran Mustafi, Francis Coquelin, and Aaron Ramsey to the starting eleven at Bournemouth. Gabriel, Lucas, and the absent Mohamed Elneny made way. In the opening minutes Alex Iwobi was on the right flank enabling Ramsey to operate behind Olivier Giroud. They would rotate as the match developed.

We made a bright enough start but it proved to be something of a false dawn. The first half turned into a nightmare. As both managers pointed out afterwards Bournemouth, with an extra day to recover from their last fixture, ripped into the visitors who without doubt were not at the same level.

We survived the first scream from the hosts for a penalty when Michael Oliver rightly saw Cech’s superb save from the tumbling Wilson. Referees are a hot topic right now but I’ll say again, Oliver is the pick of a poor group and showed it last night.

We fell behind when Hector Bellerin got sucked in from his wing and Ramsey, momentarily the right-sided midfielder, failed to cover. Daniels took advantage of oceans of space and a poor attempt to hold him up by Bellerin before finding the gap that Cech invariably leaves at his near post.

Bournemouth 1-0 Arsenal

One became two when Xhaka got suckered into a rash challenge in the box on Fraser. The Bournemouth man was looking for contact and made sure he drew the foul but was heading away from goal.

Wilson rolled his spot-kick barely left of centre. Will any goalkeeper just stand up to the kick given how many are now hit so close to the centre of the goal?

Bournemouth 2-0 Arsenal

Six minutes later Coquelin was seated holding his hamstring and was unable to continue.  Arsenal were forced into a reshuffle that the manager may well have been thinking about anyway. Ramsey dropped in alongside Xhaka and substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went to the right flank.

Thirteen minutes after the break all seemed lost as Fraser was allowed to shove Bellerin to the floor and cut in to nutmeg Cech for a third. It felt like the season was caving in on us just as it had along the road at Southampton a year ago.

Bournemouth 3-0 Arsenal

I have said before that this squad has something about it that we have lacked for some years. I’m loathe to call it Arsene’s fabled ‘mental strength’, but that surely is what it is. What followed was testament to that.

Arsene made his final two changes sending on Lucas for Iwobi, who cannot last ninety minutes even if he only plays once a week, and Gabriel for Laurent Koscielny. The skipper looked barely able to walk, let alone run.

We scored what appeared to be a consolation goal when Alexis, by far our most mobile threat to this point, dived to head home Olivier Giroud’s set-up at the far post.

Bournemouth 3-1 Arsenal

With a quarter of an hour to go we were back in the contest when Lucas hit a sensational left foot volley from another Giroud assist to reduce the deficit to one. Surely we couldn’t?

Bournemouth 3-2 Arsenal

Eight minutes from time the scales were tipped in the Arsenal’s favour when the Cherries skipper Francis lunged in at Ramsey. Mercifully the Welshman’s leg wasn’t planted so he was able to ride the assault, but Oliver correctly showed the assailant the red card.

At that moment it felt we would surely grab at least a point, and we did when Giroud capped his magnificent second-half performance by heading home a Xhaka cross two minutes into injury time.

Bournemouth 3-3 Arsenal

With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to be critical of the overall performance and full of praise for the spirited fightback. I have no doubt the Arsenal of recent years would have been well and truly beaten here. That we got a point is praiseworthy.

That we lost two though is equally undeniable. Our performance for seventy minutes was frustrating to say the least. Individuals were called out on social media. One in particular. Some should think back to the shift Bellerin put in on Sunday before rounding on him little more than 48 hours later.

Then there is the nagging doubt about Alexis. He is our metronome, his enthusiasm for the game and his efforts so appreciated. So why does he spend so much time berating those around him? And why snub the very supporters he praised in the press recently at the end of the match, not for the first time?

Why does it feel this morning as though only Arsenal could leave one with such conflicting thoughts and emotions.

Football, eh?

We played yesterday, and we play tomorrow. Chelsea and Tottenham are not being similarly tested, but hey, television is allowed to dictate such things. All we can do is knuckle down, rotate a little maybe, and dig out a result at Bournemouth.

The potential effects of playing twice in 48 hours could be seen at Sunderland today where Liverpool were held to a draw. We should draw motivation instead from the wins for Manchester City and United, and be grateful that Mike Dean is not refereeing.

In the absence of solid team news we have to make some assumptions about the likely starting eleven. A single change to the back five looks possible, with Shkodran Mustafi ready to step up for a first appearance after injury. Hopefully Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal will have fully recovered from their attacking performances against Palace.

We have to make a change ahead of them as Mohamed Elneny has departed for the African Cup of Nations. Francis Coquelin is likely to be preferred?

What of the front four? Alexis looked on his knees at the end of the Palace game. Lucas could switch to the left with Aaron Ramsey or the Ox getting a start on the right? The Welshman may also come in for Alex Iwobi if Mesut Ozil is still suffering from the effects of flu. Olivier Giroud will want to make a third consecutive goalscoring start, and deserves to.

Bournemouth are no pushovers at their own compact ground. In their last three home games they came from behind to stun Liverpool 4-3 and defeated champions Leicester 1-0 before suffering defeat to Southampton in the local derby.

There is no doubt they will miss our very own Jack Wilshere who I’m told has been in excellent form for them. It is important to remember that five weeks ago without him at our place they produced a very robust display and it was only with virtually the last kick that we finished them off 3-1.

The ‘holic pound

I have to believe we will put out an eleven that will be both fit enough and technically superior to the hosts. That said a war of attrition seems a real possibility and I am tempted by the 8/1 offered against a good old “one nil to the Arsenal“.

The bookies disagree, and have a 1-1 draw as favourite. If that happens let’s hope it is not the result of a refereeing blunder such as that which gave Bournemouth their penalty at the Grove.

The time has surely come to consider using the money that funds PGMOL and the current group of professional officials and divert it into technological assistance for a new group of younger referees and assistants alongside Michael Oliver, the only one worth keeping in the Premier League? Ironically Oliver is in charge for this one. Don’t prove me wrong, please!

Rant over. Have a good one, ‘holics.

The pre-match fears about the flu were well founded. Mesut Ozil was ruled out and Francis Coquelin was relegated to the bench. Nacho Monreal came in for Kieran Gibbs as expected while Mohamed Elneny and Lucas also came into the starting line-up.

As early as the sixth minute we should have taken the lead. Xhaka found Monreal who played a ball across the face of the goal that just eluded Olivier Giroud and Lucas. Xhaka was again the provider for Alexis who lined up a right footed blast just wide of the far post.

Alex Iwobi took time to settle into the number ten role but forced Hennessey into a diving save in the sixteenth minute, then a minute later we went ahead with one of the finest goals of all time.

Arsenal broke from defence to attack with the pace and power we know we have. Bellerin found Giroud who would be on the end of the move after  Xhaka, Iwobi, and Alexis had combined to set-up Giroud’s barely believable scorpion kick finish. Unlike Mkhitaryan who netted in similar fashion last week the Frenchman was onside.

Arsenal 1-0 Crystal Palace

Elneny threatened a second but saw his drive pass the wrong side of the post. In a rare break out from their own half Palace had their first effort on target from Cabaye but it was straight at Petr Cech who saved comfortably.

As the half drew to a close Alexis found half a yard of space on the edge of the box but he too drove his effort straight at the goalkeeper, and Hennessey denied him again just seconds later after Iwobi had blocked an attempted clearance.

Palace started the second-half more brightly but Benteke headed wide of the far post from Townsend’s cross. That just made the Arsenal angry. Monreal and Alexis combined to set up Lucas who saw his effort deflected for a corner. In the resulting goalmouth scramble Iwobi and Alexis both had goalbound efforts blocked.

Alexis again put Lucas clear but the Spaniard’s effort with his swinger cleared the bar. The second goal we so richly deserved arrived via a rare Iwobi header after Monreal’s cross was only partially blocked. Palace were staring at a tough final half an hour.

Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace

The award of a disputed corner saw Palace thrice thwarted by Cech, most spectacularly with a full length dive to deny Cabaye. The ‘keeper had to be alert again to deal with a curling Townsend effort.

Xhaka saw two efforts deflected wide of the target as the Gunners once again got on the front foot before the boss made two substitutions. Elneny and Lucas made way for Coquelin and Arron Ramsey. Six minutes later the Ox came on for a tiring Iwobi.

Monreal, excellent in attacking areas on the day, took a yellow card for the team when he tugged down Zaha as Palace attempted to salvage something from the final ten minutes.

Oxlade-Chamberlain put Ramsey through for a shot that went agonisingly wide of the post. The provider was then teed up himself by Alexis but Hennessey dived to his right to save.

It was the last chance to secure the first ‘holic pound of the new year. I should have factored the Tuesday night fixture into the equation. The Gunners clearly applied the infamous handbrake to preserve something for Bournemouth.

The win took us back above Tottenham and Manchester City into third place at the halfway stage of the season. The nine point gap to Chelsea remains so we need to keep this run going to keep some pressure on those above and just behind us.

Roll on Tuesday.

A New Year = New Hope

A decent pub lunch with friends, now a refreshing bottle or two of lager (I’ve changed!), and a brief preview of tomorrow before retiring into the now traditional musical New Year’s Eve.

What follows tomorrow is a testing day on many levels. For the Arsenal there is the small matter of facing a Crystal Palace team that could be lifted by the appointment of Sam Allardyce, or then again they may not.

There is mixed team news for the Gunners. Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs are almost certainly out, but Shkodran Mustafi and Danny Welbeck are in contention. More worrying was an aside from Arsene Wenger that “We have a few with flu, but everybody else should be available.”

Palace will be without defender Damien Delaney as he is serving a one-match suspension, but James McArthur, Joe Ledley and James Tomkins have an outside chance of being fit.

Providing none of these are flu-bound we can probably expect Hector Bellerin, Gabriel, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal to start in front of Petr Cech, with Mustafi ready to make a late cameo from the bench if required.

Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka have been developing a greater understanding of late although the boss may prefer the attacking instincts of Aaron Ramsey at home to a team likely to sit deep and look to attack on the break?

It would be something of a surprise to see any change to the front four that eventually found a way past West Brom with Olivier Giroud’s late header. Having said that Ramsey for Alex Iwobi will surely be a variation that will be considered? Danny Welbeck is an interesting option from the bench.

The ‘holic pound

Results from this afternoon require us to take three points. The twelve points gap to Chelsea is looking like a chasm that needs bridging. The early game tomorrow may also see Tottenham claim our top four berth, if only temporarily. I’m discounting the unknown effects of the flu bug, and looking at a rejuvenated Gunners to win comfortably, eventually.

We may need some patience again in the opening hour or so, but the 9/1 against a 3-0 home win is looking very attractive. We do have the squad to overpower a tiring Palace in the latter stages.

For a bit of perspective, should  the Arsenal win we will reach 40 points at the halfway stage of the season. We have achieved this only once in the last six campaigns – 42 points in 2013-14. It isn’t over yet.

Last, but not least

It being New Year’s Eve let me take this opportunity to thank you all for your support in the past year, and wish you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2017.

I don’t think many will be sorry to see the passing of 2016. We will make the coming twelve months better, won’t we?

Have a great one, ‘holics.

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