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Once again I thank our very own TTG for a much-needed contribution to this never ending (not complaining!) summer heatwave. TTG has a nostalgic (or not so nostalgic) look at his favourite, and least favourite, Gunners goalkeepers. We start today with his five worst, and I have to confess he names at least one I would heartily concur with. I still have nightmares about ‘Fingers’. This will spark some debate among the older Gooners, I have no doubt, and I thank the author for that. Cheers TTG.

It was interesting to watch the World Cup but even I as a football nutcase found it dragging at times. The end result was a respectable if flattering fourth place for England. Whilst Tottenham, who at one stage looked like possible saviours of the nation, were ultimately exposed as just as ‘Spursy’ when their players represent their countries rather than the club itself. Lloris may have lifted the trophy but not before he made a prime chump of himself taking a leaf out of the Karius school of goalkeeping handbook.

His error and my interest in goalkeeping as a key part of the game prompted me to consider who in my sixty years of supporting the Gunners have been the best goalkeepers we have had. I don’t want to imitate the weaker clickbait blogs too much but I would like to inform some interesting pre-season pub debates. In this two-part article I will be giving my five best and five worst Arsenal goalkeepers.

I will begin with the zeroes, those keepers who gave me a serious case of the heebie-jeebies when they were in goal. In order of awfulness my worst was :

1. George Wood

George’s awfulness was particularly irritating because I had seen him come to Highbury as an Everton player and play out of his skin. Sadly that was the best performance, by a country mile, I ever saw from him. For us he was indecisive shaky and made many handling errors. So George goes into my bin of awfulness at the bottom.

2. Malcolm Webster

Webster let in the most pathetic goal I’ve ever seen when playing at Highbury against Manchester United. We were leading 2-0 ( it was that game where Sammels scored with a low, swerving, drive from about forty yards) when George Best jinked through the middle but underhit his shot so badly that you could literally have thrown your cap on it, had you been wearing one. Unfortunately Webster in only his second game fluffed it and only half-saved a ball that trickled beyond him into the net. He left us to spend most of his career at Southend. That was probably a more realistic level for him.

3. Jim ‘ Fingers’ Furnell

Furnell was bought from Liverpool in 1963 when we had umpteen goalkeepers on the books already. He was big by goalkeeping standards then but he never inspired confidence in me and never played again after making a late error to let Birmingham back into an FA Cup fifth-round tie at Highbury that we had all but won. His advent into the first team coincided with the targeting of goalkeepers at corners by teams like Leeds. Look at the 1968 League Cup Final for evidence of how jittery this made ‘Fingers’! Jim looked the part until someone shot at him.

4. Manuel Almunia

This is quite harsh in a way because Almunia did make some very good saves in his time but he also made some catastrophic errors. His highest profile bloopers were in our only Champions League Final in Paris against Barcelona but I can remember horror shows at the Grove against Manchester United (in the CL again) and West Brom. Oddly he could save penalties but he never gave me that reassuring feeling when I saw him in goal. In fact completely the opposite !

5. David Ospina

I’m exaggerating for effect here but I’ve never trusted Ospina as a goalkeeper. He is pathetic at taking crosses as we regularly see at the Grove. Remember him dropping the Olympiakos corner into his net? And I remember McCauley heading in through Ospina’s hands in one game at home to West Brom. Similarly though he had a reasonable Cup Final in 2017, his attempt to save Costa’s second half effort looked like Wayne Sleep hailing a taxi. Being fifth worst is damning him with faint praise but it’s the only praise I can muster for him. I hope he finds a new club where he can be happy and fulfilled, but it won’t be Arsenal.

None of  those goalkeepers was , in my view good enough to represent Arsenal. Do come back early next week to find out who I thought most definitely was.

Thank you, ‘holics.

When Mark Andrews, Andy Kelly, and Tim Stillman announced this book I have to confess I couldn’t wait to read it. I have been familiar with Mark and Andy’s forensic analysis of the early days of the club and once more they highlight that fake news is not such a modern phenomenon.

What renders their investigations so important is the fact that the Arsenal Football club have next to no records of the founding of the club and subsequent history books have had to lean on the often shaky memories of those involved many years after the event.

This book therefore pulls together not only work that the authors have already shared through a variety of means but also includes further evidence of important events in the early years of what has become the giant club of today.

I will not share the detail here and deny them the opportunity of every last sale they deserve. Suffice it to say the book takes us on a journey in the late nineteenth century from the founding of a football club by the members of the Dial Square cricket club, to the antagonistic change of home in 1893 and surrounding skullduggery which contributed to the change of name to Woolwich Arsenal Football Club.

There is, necessarily, a chronological timetable of events for Royal Arsenal Football Club, but the book then excellently veers into discussion of the crowd, the grounds, the players, and the executives including the likely founders, during this period. Needless to say there were some scoundrels on and off the pitch!

The reporting of the change of grounds and the attempts to destabilise the club at this time is fascinating.  Similarly the process of the club turning professional is thoroughly covered. Even now the fact that so much had been discovered by the authors about a relatively short timeframe, under seven years, is astounding. However, but for Royal Arsenal turning professional we might all be supporting a different club today.

If, like I, you are fascinated by the origins of the club and have a number of the key histories of the club which this tome ‘corrects’ then you simply have to buy it. Many of you have seen some of my historical work and will be aware that by and large I have avoided these earliest days purely because of the work of Mark, Andy, and others in digging deeply into our past. I will make no apology, but will acknowledge borrowing from their research in the future!

Royal Arsenal – Champions of the South is available from Legends Publishing here. It is required reading for all lovers of the club.

Gunners Back With Aubang

There is nothing like that apparently meaningless first friendly of pre-season to wake up the ‘Come on The Arsenal’ gene in most of us. The side that started, or indeed finished, the match at Boreham Wood is unlikely to feature in anything other than a Europa League or League cup fixture but we got a first look at the new boss and a couple of his new signings.

Other Premier League managers will surely be taking a look at Unai Emery’s first match in charge looking for clues as to any significant tactical switches, but with a number of the World Cup players still absent maybe the flexible 4-3-3 seemingly employed today was a smokescreen to suit the blend of experience and youth he had available this afternoon.

The player to most catch the eye in the first half, or perhaps I should say the first seventeen minutes, was Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang. Seven minutes in he engineered an opening in the inside-left channel on the edge of the box and curled a right foot beauty inside the join of crossbar and far post. Two minutes later he headed home an Ainsley Maitland-Niles cross from close range to double our advantage.

His ten minute hat-trick was completed when the lively Reiss Nelson was brought down in the box. Looking at the screen I would guess that Alexandre Lacazette was the nominated penalty taker, but he appeared to gesture ‘you can have it’ to his strike partner who duly smashed his effort high to the goalkeeper’s left.

Three-nil so early on would suggest a horrible mismatch, but it was anything but. Nobody should judge players on the first pre-season match as part of the reason for it is to shake off the rustiness after a couple of months of inaction. The experienced pairing of Hector Bellerin and new boy Sokratis Papastathopoulos (of course I cut and pasted it!) were caught out more than once and the hosts can feel a little unlucky not to have snatched a goal or two on the break themselves.

As the half wore on though the Gunners really started to click going forward with Emile Smith-Rowe impressing on the left side of midfield. A fourth goal was set up by Lacazette and impressively chested down and volleyed home by Nelson, a young man with great potential entering the final year of his contract. A worry it has to be said.

Lacazette finally he got his reward for a cracking half of intelligent football when set up by Smith-Rowe and Aubamayang to finish calmly and give us a five goal margin at the break. This was obviously the cue for wholesale changes as Emery chose to get a look at those packing the benches before half-time.

Just eight minutes had passed when Eddie N’ketieh served further notice of his potential with a beautiful near post flick from a Lucas Perez (remember him?) cross. Six became seven when another returnee, Jeff Reine-Adalaide hammered home a twenty yard drive with authority. Having made his point the young Frenchman made way for his distinctive fellow countryman, Mattéo Guendouzi.

His arrival heralded the final strike of an eight goal canter when N’ketiah cleverly back-heeled into the path of Henrikh Mkhitaryan who finished with aplomb.

Did we learn a lot from today? Probably not. Stiffer opposition lies in wait in the shape of Atletico Madrid (yes, them again!) and PSG in Singapore. Now those two will give us a clue as to what lies in store for us in the early days of this season.

As all that was going on England’s World Cup ended with a second defeat against a very good Belgium team. I’m sure most England fans would have snatched your hand off for a fourth place finish before the tournament started. In the end that was probably about the best we could have expected, even if briefly hope sprung eternal.

Enjoy the World Cup Final, ‘holics, if you can.

And then there were two. The final pairings for the last weekend of the 2018 World Cup are known, and if you are French or a Croat you will still be buzzing. Those of a Belgian or English persuasion are probably anticipating the third/fourth place play-off with little relish.

The only vague Arsenal interest in the first semi-final came in the shape of old boy Olivier Giroud, not a goalscorer on the night but giving a hardworking display and contributing possibly more in the French half of the pitch than at the attacking end.

That fact goes a long way to describing the nature of the contest which was, the experts told us, going to be an attacking feast. On that basis I had a sneaky punt on Belgium to win an open match 3-2. That probably sealed their fate.

Instead France adopted a safety first approach and throttled the life out of the Hazard, de Bruyne, Lukaku axis. Samuel Umtiti’s deflected header six minutes after the break was sufficient to take Les Bleus into a second consecutive major Final.

There they will meet Croatia who managed to restrict England to a solitary set-piece strike from Kieran Trippier in a first half that England completely dominated. The Three Lions best chance to add a deserved second was lost when Harry Kane refused to pass the ball square to an unmarked Raheem Sterling and saw his own double attempt scrambled to safety. That moment also did for the ‘holic pound punted on England to win 2-1.

It was to prove a costly error. 22 minutes from a place in the World Cup dream a much improved Croatia were level thanks to a flick of his flying boot by Ivan Perisic. Extra-time was no more than the Croats deserved for a second-half display that gave the lie to their showing in the opening half.

In extra-time the comeback was complete when Mario Mandzukic beat a tiring England defence to a Perisic flick-on to break the hearts of a nation.

Rather than criticise the players who might have been said to let him down last night it is preferable to praise Gareth Southgate for how far he took his England team in the tournament. His approach was a breath of fresh air for a team that had not played in a major tournament semi-final for 22 years, or a World Cup semi-final for 28.

The last mention in an Arsenal blog has to be reserved for Danny Welbeck, only a squad player this time around who hopefully will get an appearance on Saturday. He faces a real battle for a place in the Arsenal team this season as we have strengthened considerably during his enforced absence this summer.

More on the new players in the days to come, as well as another book review.  Here is hoping for an entertaining big match on Saturday. We start our new campaign at Boreham Wood and if you are not going we can follow the match on Arsenal Player.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Good morning all, which may or may not be true depending on whether or not you are English or Croatian and currently experiencing the mother of all hangovers. My apologies for the blank week. I have spent it in the garden bar an evening at Lord’s. There is much to catch up on.

On Tuesday three Gunners departed the World Cup. Stephan Lichsteiner and Granit Xhaka began their summer vacation early after Sweden scored the only goal of the match against Switzerland. That evening England sent David Ospina off into the sunset but not before his save from a Henderson penalty had threatened our progress. The only Gunner to remain employed at the tournament was now Danny Welbeck who may or may not have a small part to play in the event that Jamie Vardy does not recover from being gone in the fetlock.

The quarter-finals have taken place over the course of the last 48 hours and have cemented this as one of the best World Cups seen in many a year. France looked to be improving at just the right time as they saw off Uruguay 2-0 with relative comfort. Watching Olivier Giroud’s blossoming partnership with Killian Mbappe just fuels the regret that we didn’t unite them two summers ago.

They will now face their toughest test in the shape of Belgium who saw off Brazil rather more confidently than the 2-1 scoreline would suggest. There is no doubt that the winner of that first semi-final will be the favourite to lift the golden globe next Sunday, but is there to be a sting in the tail?

Forgive me, but for obvious reasons I have to wax lyrical about England’s performance in beating a decent Sweden team 2-0. The first goal was the key. Had Maguire not come up with that commanding header on the half hour, and had Sweden taken the deadlock into the final half an hour, we might have seen a very different ending.

Instead we conjured up a second header from the otherwise anonymous Alli, while at the other end Pickford thoroughly confirmed his manager’s faith in promoting him to England’s number one with a trio of excellent saves. The only regrets on the day were the numerous reports of young drunks, unable to cope with strong sunshine and alcohol, causing criminal damage in an Ikea store, jumping up and down on various vehicles including an ambulance. and generally alienating people here and overseas who may think they are representative of English football supporters today. They are not and we apologise for their stupidity.

Rant over, and we settled down to see if Russia’s dream could lead them to a Moscow semi-final against England. They too struck the first blow when Cheryshev struck home one of the goals of the tournament just past the half hour mark. Unfortunately the lead lasted just eight minutes, Kramaric heading the equaliser from close range.

The second-half stalemate hinted at another potential penalty shoot out, but that seemed to be slipping from the hosts grasp when Vida put the Croatians ahead in the first period of extra time. The Brazilian Russian Fernandes restored the status quo and so the contest would be decided from the penalty spot. What a shame that the man who had earned Russia the opportunity enabled their unfortunate departure by dragging his spot-kick wide of the post.

So it’s France v Belgium on Tuesday, and England v Croatia on Wednesday, to determine the 2018 World Cup finalists. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have fallen out of love with England’s national team in this century, but have to say that this team of largely workmanlike players with few ‘star’ names has come together under Gareth Southgate, a surprisingly good leader, and have restored a lot of my faith in international football. Forgive me if I don’t give a threepenny bit about who they play for at club level for the next week. Good luck to them in their commendable efforts to bring ‘it’ home, however they fare.

I type after the first two matches of the knock out phase have been played. Before we come to them a brief review of the third round of group stage matches is probably in order.

Mohamed Elneny became the first Gunner to crash out of the tournament when Egypt fell to a 1-2 defeat at the hands, or rather feet, of Saudi Arabia. Uruguay completed the group stage without conceding a goal and inflicted the first defeat on hosts Russia, and more to come about the South Americans later. Surprisingly in Group B both Portugal and Spain were held to draws by Iran and Morocco respectively but both European teams progressed.

Come Tuesday and with France and Denmark sure to qualify with a draw guess what the result of that match was! Peru’s 2-0 defeat of Australia was insignificant. A second Gunner departed the tournament. Alex Iwobi was a last minute substitute as Nigeria fell 1-2 to Argentina. Croatia continued their one hundred percent record with a 2-1 win over the unlucky Icelandics.

Good news for Stephan Lichsteiner and Granit Xhaka came in the shape of a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica which sent Switzerland through and man of the match Joel Campbell on holiday. Brazil defeated Serbia to clinch the group on a day they could have made a shock exit from the tournament. Group F saw the astonishing late, late defeat of Germany by South Korea. With the holders out in the group phase for the first time in eighty years Mesut Ozil will be placing his towel at the poolside before breakfast next week. Sweden clinched the group with a 3-0 defeat of Mexico.

On Thursday the first phase was completed. David Ospina’s Colombia clinched the top spot with a single goal triumph over Senegal. Poland earned their only three points of the competition against Japan who will also appear in the last sixteen. The big match in Group G was between the already qualified England and Belgium. Both sides were heavily rotated and the Belgians won the group with the only goal of the game. Danny Welbeck saw his first minutes of World Cup action as a 79th minute substitute. The wooden spoon was claimed by Panama, beaten 2-1 by Tunisia.

After a day of rest today (Saturday) saw the opening knock-out fixtures. Four years ago these were largely tedious affairs with teams scared to lose. Today has set a marker for what is to follow. France and Argentina delivered a wonderful display of committed attacking football. The French dominated early proceedings and when Mbappe scared Rojo into bringing him down in the box, and Griezmann netted from the spot, it was difficult to see a way back for Argentina.

Against the run of play Di Maria conjured up an equaliser before half-time and shortly after the break Mercado diverted a Messi effort beyond Lloris to give the South Americans a 2-1 lead. One of the goals of the season, never mind the tournament, saw Pavard equalise for France. It was time for Mbappe (oh why didn’t we sign him two summers ago!) to light up the tournament with two goals in four minutes to send the French into ecstasy.

There was, however, a sting in the tail. Aguero’s header from a sublime Messi delivery made for an uncomfortable last two minutes for the French, and a chance to equalise did materialise, but went begging. Will Messi be back for one last tilt at the empty entry in his cv? He’ll be 35 when Qatar 22 comes around.

Uruguay and Portugal may not have reached such heady heights but the bloodbath that was anticipated failed to materialise. There was not a single yellow card issued until Ronaldo was booked for dissent in time added on. Uruguay led early doors through a sublime goal set up for Cavani by Suarez, but Pepe’s header in the second-half made for an intriguing end to the match. Cavani provided the coup de grace before departing with what appeared to be a muscular injury. A word for Lucas Torreira, who again looked the type of player we definitely need. He was again superb tonight. Please let us get this one over the line.

So France will meet Uruguay in the quarter-final and if Cavani is fully recovered it could be a difficult match for the French, but Mbappe offers them hope. Damn it, why didn’t we buy him two years ago?

I have to come clean at the start and say I am in a very small way a part of this book having been asked by Dan to answer a question for his final chapter. That in itself obviously makes this an excellent purchase! I will try to be as objective as possible in what follows.

The subject matter is the 1990/91 season in which the Arsenal came within an equaliser at Stamford Bridge of beating the 2003/04 vintage to the soubriquet ‘Invincibles’.

However this team was not the clean-cut, chicken and salad eating, non-drinking, technically coached, super fit class of 2004. That was a team with expensively acquired internationals, World Cup winners even, playing a brand of attacking football that was technically superior to their rivals.

In 1991 we had a squad of young home-grown players supplemented with clever purchases by George Graham and drilled relentlessly in the art of safety first football built on the foundation of a solid defence. The squad was packed with characters who liked a pint or several, stood up for each other to the detriment of their points tally that season, and one of whom fell foul of the law in that season.

All of the detail of that you will find in this book to which a number of the squad contributed. David Seaman, Lee Dixon, and Alan Smith and others tell their own recollections of that close to momentous season. Indeed Smudger sets the tone with his foreword to the book highlighting how the arrivals of David Seaman, Anders Limpar, and to a lesser extent Andy Linighan lifted a ‘stale’ squad.

In the pages that follow Dan steers us through the breakup up of the 89 title winners after a disappointing follow up campaign, and how this squad approached the new campaign full of desire and determination. My first thought when reading what is essentially an historical account is will everybody who reads it feel as enthused by it as those fortunate to live through this remarkable season? Effectively only those in their thirties or older will have memories of it. You probably are in you forties at lest, like me (ahem!), if you were going to matches that season. Yes, the younger readers will get a real flavour of our players and that season from this.

There are references to the challenges we would face that season, from strong defending champions Liverpool (they’re still waiting to follow up their 1990 title success), a rampant Tottenham of the Lineker and Gascoigne vintage, and of course Manchester United with whom we seemed to have developed a very real feud. Indeed there is a chapter dedicated to our October visit to Old Trafford. Allow me to pick the salient moments from it’s pages.

“The game exploded…with about 25 minutes left… As Anders Limpar collected the ball, Denis Irwin attempted to tackle the Swese from behind. Nigel Winterburn steamed in to aid his team-mate, and his sliding challenge went in hard on the United man. The fuse had been lit, and within seconds every home player and ten of Arsenal’s eleven were embroiled.”

The consequences of that day were a deduction of two points for us, and one for United, punishments not repeated to this day for on-field behaviour. As an aside it became obligatory for the Gooners to chant at every match that remained that season “You can stick your ****ing two points up your arse!”

We were indeed unbeaten pacesetters up until the year end, but the captain, Mr Arsenal, Tony Adams, would see the inside of a cell after being convicted of driving under the influence. That issue is dealt with sensitively, and how this band of brothers dealt with it as their friend learned a hard lesson. They continued unbeaten until an ill-fated day in February when a Gunners defence denied Adams and the experienced David O’Leary took on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge  with Steve Bould and Linighan the only fit central defenders.

Chelsea’s sanded mud bath of a pitch blunted our most potent creators, Limpar and Paul Merson. 0-0 at half-time, the match ignited early in the second half and Dan shares with us,

“Gareth Hall…flew into Bould with reckless abandon. It saw Bould take no further part in the game, and his replacement was fresh-faced David Hillier. “

For my younger readers David was a diminutive midfielder and admitted himself afterwards that the Chelsea strikers, Dixon and Stuart “dragged me and Andy round a bit”. Chelsea grabbed a two goal advantage against hampered opponents before the Arsenal’s last gasp response from Smith. Little could we have imagined at the time as we streamed out of the Bridge, bristling and angry, that would be the only defeat of our Football League campaign. Hence the idea, or perhaps even more the need, for this book.

For my contribution to the book head to the chapter titled, Would Football Be The Same? My contribution isn’t why I recommend the book to you. It is pieced together with no little skill and offers an authentic account of what might have become the most significant season in the history of the Arsenal.

The book can be bought from Legends Publishing here for £19.99 plus P&P. It would make welcome reading in the barren (Arsenal-wise anyway) summer months. Good luck with it Dan, it deserves to reach a wider market.

The second round of fixtures in the group stage of the World Cup has most certainly been a mixed bag for the Gooners present. Mohamed Elneny was substituted early as hosts Russia defeated Egypt 3-1 to qualify for the knock out phase with a match to spare.

Alex Iwobi was dropped for Nigeria’s 2-0 win over Iceland, although he clocked up another appearance as a last minute substitute. Joel Campbell was an unused substitute in Costa Rica’s 0-2 defeat to Brazil.

Friday saw Switzerland defeat Serbia 2-1 with Granit Xhaka scoring the equaliser. The celebrations of the last gasp winner by Shaqiri may yet have consequences for the goalscorers, both with links to Kosovo that had to be separated from Serbia, and Stephan Lichsteiner who joined in with the ‘eagle’ hand signals to celebrate the Kosovan flag. The trio face potentially a two match ban. Hopefully FIFA will settle for fines in the circumstances.

Yesterday’s dramatic last kick win for Germany over Sweden was the first major tournament match which has seen Mesut Ozil relegated to the bench. The defending champions were that one shot away from being out of the tournament, but they should qualify now with a victory against Serbia in their group finale. Will Mesut get a recall, or is he still perhaps suffering back problems? We will find out more on Wednesday afternoon.

Today (Sunday) has seen some cracking entertainment and setting the tone were England. Again Danny Welbeck didn’t feature but we can no longer claim he is the highest international goalscorer in the squad. Harry Kane’s hat-trick took him past Danny’s total. The match against Panama had got off to a worrying start with the underdogs trying to intimidate England out of their stride.

John Stones eighth minute header settled the nerves and set up a first-half onslaught. Kane’s well taken penalty doubled England’s advantage midway through the half and the three points were all but secured when Jesse Lingard curled in a beauty nine minutes before the break, and Stones became the scorer of an unlikely pair with another header four minutes later. Kane’s identical second penalty made it 5-0 as the opening half drew to a close.

Not surprisingly the intensity dropped after the break, but Kane did complete his unique hat-trick when Loftus-Cheek’s shot deflected off his ankle and left the Panamanian goalkeeper stranded. Panama got some consolation when Baloy took advantage of a sleeping defence to score at the far post. That goal could have consequences as it levelled England and Belgium’s identical points and goals for and against. A draw when those two sides will be sufficient to earn England the top spot in the group as long as they retain the better disciplinary record in the tournament.

As I type I am watching David Ospina’s Colombia leading Poland in the ‘loser goes home’ fixture. Our old boy Wojciech Szczesny failed to claim a first-half cross and Mina headed the South Americans in front. Live update, Falcao has just been put clean through to double the Columbian advantage with the outside of his right foot. Live update two, Cuadrado has just raced clear to make it 3-0, and Poland are on their way home after their final fixture against Japan on Thursday.

Come back on Tuesday for the first of a pair of upcoming book reviews.

Forgive what will be largely an England biased post even though our lone three lions representative, Danny Welbeck, wasn’t in the starting line-up against Tunisia.

Yesterday’s matches ended in mixed blessings for the Gunners. Mesut Ozil posted some impressive stats but a very ordinary Germany were deservedly beaten by Mexico. Joel Campbell, still technically a Gunner, was also on the wrong end of a defeat as his Costa Rica succumbed to Serbia by the only goal of the game. Happier were Granit Xhaka and Stephan Lichsteiner who both had to put in a shift as Switzerland held fancied Brazil to a 1-1 draw.

And so to tonight, a match that started and ended well for England against a toothless Tunisia.

With barely two minutes on the clock Jesse Lingard was denied an opening goal by the sprawling Tunisian goalkeeper, Hassen. It was a golden opportunity to settle the nerves. It appeared to be a matter of time before the nervous Tunisians cracked. An eleventh minute corner was headed goalwards by Stones, Hassen saved superbly but Harry Kane was left to tap the ball into the gaping goal. The unlucky goalkeeper departed the contest with a shoulder injury.

Coasting through the opening half an hour, England were then rocked when the brainless Kyle Walker swung an arm at a Tunisian attacker in the box and the Colombian referee, Wilmar Roldan, rightly awarded the penalty and booked the City man. Sassi’s excellent spot-kick beat the dive of Jordan Pickford and Tunisia were level against the run of play. Sitting by a window open to the north I’m sure I heard laughter on the wind from 300 miles away.

At the other end it was somewhat surprising that the rugby tackle on Kane didn’t result in a second blatant penalty. As half-time was arriving Lingard had another great chance but his toe poke struck the outside of the post. Gareth Southgate’s half-time talk had probably been changed by that foolishly conceded spot-kick. As the second-half bubbled gently into life Kane was again wrestled to the floor at a corner, again our Columbian friend didn’t see it. Nothing suspicious at all about that.

Midway through the half Southgate sent on his first substitute, Marcus Rashford, for the extremely disappointing Raheem Sterling. Quite how the invisible Dele Alli was still on the pitch at this time was a mystery. He finally made way for Loftus-Cheek with eleven minutes remaining of a tedious second-half.

At least Tunisia’s lack of ambition was penalised in the first of four added minutes by who else but Harry Kane with an unchallenged far post header. For the next few weeks he is an England player, not a Tottenham one. For the next few weeks we will remember he was once one of our own.

Off to suck a lemon.

As I type this latest offering I also have one eye on Alex Iwobi’s performance for the Super Eagles against Croatia. He’s the second Arsenal player to have started a match in this tournament.

Mohamed Elneny was the first and he, by all accounts, had a very good game against Uruguay. Sadly I missed it as I was hacking several little balls round some fields in the North Wilts Gooners Golf Day. A thoroughly pleasant day despite my complete and utter failure to master the swing. I digress. The player ratings on the BBC website showed Elneny to be second only to El-Shenawy in the player ratings for Egypt, cruelly beaten by a Gimenez header in the last of the ninety minutes.

I was back in time to see the wonderful match between Spain and Portugal, although disappointed that Nacho Monreal didn’t get a start for the former. Perhaps Spain’s inability to protect a come from behind twice 3-2 lead will see them call for the outstanding Monreal in their next match against Iran on Wednesday?

In the last minute of the first half this evening (Saturday) Iwobi had a controlled drive blocked by Lovren as Nigeria sought to recover the own goal conceded by Stoke City’s new signing, Etebo. Six minutes into the second-half he engineered another shooting opportunity for himself, wriggling in from the left hand side only to see his effort blocked again. His 61st minute substitution was something of a surprise, but look on the bright side, if he isn’t on the pitch he can’t get injured.

In terms of potential transfer news the Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper, Berndt Leno, is strongly linked with the Arsenal. He doesn’t seem to be of the quality to be a replacement for Petr Cech, more David Ospina. Perhaps a signing for the future? Paying more than double what we received for Wojciech Szczesny would raise questions about the value of both deals. Or perhaps I am reading the wrong newspapers? Question the source, always.

That’s enough for today. I intend to update every two or three days during the World Cup and obviously will look to have a comment on England’s opening match against Tunisia on Monday night.

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