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Football books sell. It is why we have such a choice of Arsenal titles in recent months. Books about your favourite clubs, players even, have a magnetic attraction. More people, it seems, write about the Arsenal than any other club and so there should be no surprise at the number of books about the Gunners that have hit the shelves in recent months. There have been some crackers too, from Arseblog’s Together through to Dave Seager’s much anticipated Geordie Armstrong On The Wing in tandem with Geordie’s daughter, Jill.

The former is a celebration of Arsenal’s undefeated Premier League season from the supporters viewpoint, and today (Thursday as I write) saw the release of Amy Lawrence’s excellent view of that same historic campaign through the eyes of those who planned, directed, and delivered an unequalled achievement in modern football at the highest level.

In fourteen gripping chapters Invincible, well what else would you call it, relives an historic season through interviews, match reports of the day, and a subtle guiding hand from the rather less than impartial, but always objective, Amy. Her access to the characters involved enables this season to be relived by those of us fortunate to have witnessed it, but reveals the things we didn’t know, or have since forgotten.

The perfect foreword is provided by Arsene Wenger. Under pressure, certainly, at present, but the man who put together the squad that would fulfil what seemed an absurd target.

“I knew I had a special team in 2003-04 at Arsenal. It had always been my dream to go through a season without losing, even though it is not a normal ambition.”

And so to part one of the book, although the temptation to jump to and fro to capture special memories is great. I wanted to get to Liverpool at home and Totttenham away as soon as possible. Try instead though to follow it as written because the introductory chapter introduces the rivalry that existed between Manchester United and us, and puts into context that infamous Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty miss, and the subsequent events. Read Martin Keown proclaiming himself as Patrick Vieira’s minder. That speaks volumes about Martin, and the sheer physical presence of that team. This is not a strictly chronological account, but a well constructed appreciation of the characters and events that impacted so many of us for life.

Again by means of setting the scene David Dein waxes lyrical about the decision, not taken when George Graham left in 1995 but when his successor Bruce Rioch departed little more than a year later, to appoint Arsene Wenger to the post of Arsenal manager. Regardless of what has happened since, Dein’s recollections and his role in the appointment warrant an acknowledgement of his vision at that time.

The characters introduced, and the context set, let yourself follow the unfolding drama through the words of Sol Campbell (re Thierry Henry) “He was very delicate sometimes, like an artist. I’m sure he would be like some kind of Picasso.” Or perhaps Freddie Ljungberg, “I didn’t understand a word Ray Parlour in his cockney accent was trying to say when I first got there, but I learned, because everybody tried to interact with each other in their language.”

Before long you will find yourself at the pivotal part of the season, and the author rebuilds the feelings when successive cup defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea were followed by a half-time deficit to Liverpool in the Premier League. No quotes about this, you will have to buy the book, but I feel a chill down my spine one more time. Will anybody who witnessed the events of that week ever forget what was arguably Thierry’s finest half in an Arsenal shirt?

I cautioned against jumping ahead of yourself earlier, but if you cannot resist then you might care to read the early chapters and then leapfrog to chapter ten. Here the capture of the ultimate prize in English football is also set in context. Be prepared to join Pat Rice on a journey from 1971 to 2004. For this old boy it evokes wonderful memories of a night spent on the Shelf watching us secure the title for the first time in my life. Who then would have dared to dream we would repeat the achievement?

And that is the essence of the book. No matter your age in 2004, prepare to have deep rooted memories brought back to the forefront of the mind. I sat reading my idols words as they would have spoken them. Skillfully strung together, and still provoking the odd emotion that no man should admit to.

If you were there in 71 and/or 2004, buy the book. If only now do you appreciate that we probably had four of the six best payers on the planet back then, buy the book and read their words. Let me make it simple. If you are an Arsenal supporter, buy the book.

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Thanks all. Sunderland preview to follow on Friday. Have a good end of week, ‘holics.

What looked like being a humiliating evening was turned on it’s head in the last two minutes in Brussels as Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski turned a single goal deficit around in remarkable fashion. A sluggish (Alexis Sanchez aside) Arsenal found two moments of inspiration after a very pedestrian performance to that point.

In the early stages the first chance was created by Alexis with a glorious cut-back into the path of Santi Cazorla who was unfortunately high, wide, and handsome with his shinned effort. As early as the eighth minute Nacho Monreal was yellow-carded for a body check on Cryiac, which put the stand-in central defender on a tightrope for the rest of the match. On eleven minutes Santi was presented with another chance when Danny Welbeck was upended on the edge of the box, but the free-kick hit the wall.

On fifteen minutes Alexis again crossed from the right and a stretching Welbeck just failed to get enough on the header. That miss heralded a sloppy phase with players on both sides lucky not to join Nacho in the referee’s notebook. Emiliano Martinez made his first save fom Praet’s deflected effort. As the half drew to a close Per Mertesacker headed Santi’s corner over the top at the near post. In truth it was soporific stuff.

The opening minute of the second-half saw Welbeck come close to wriggling free along the goal-line but a ricocheted clearance found the Anderlecht ‘keeper. After Conte’s effort was deflected wide it was Arsenal who came close again. Alexis’ flicked ‘shoulder’ from nigh on point-blank range once again nestled in Proto’s arms. Ten minutes into the half and fit-again Aaron Ramsey scuffed an efort wide with that man Alexis once more the provider.

The 58th minute saw Martinez called on to produce another save and momentarily the home crowd were lifted. Four minutes later Praet blazed one high over the top and that was repeated by Alexis at the other end after Cazorla was denied by Proto. Welbeck’s night was summed up by a booking minutes later as he chased back in the centre circle. His work rate is second to none, but with the supply scarce he cut a frustrated figure.

So did 1100 visiting supporters on 71 minutes when Najar was left free to head home after Monreal and Mertesacker were dragged out of the centre to cover Kieran Gibbs flank to no avail. One could be forgiven for thinking Monreal’s poor attempt to cut out the cross owed a lot to his early booking. Cue a double substitution of Oxlade-Chamberlain for Flamini, and Campbell for Welbeck. I don’t mind I was scratching my head at the choice of the two players hooked. With Flamini missing we miraculously avoided having the deficit doubled on the break when Vanden Borre’s effort hit the woodwork and Najar fired into the side netting.

Into the final ten minutes Deschacht was the first home player into the book for a foul on Jack Wilshere, and the Alexis free-kick was desperately close, but not close enough. At the other end young Martinez kept Arsenal’s hopes alive as the defence in front of him crumbled. Then astonishingly the full-backs, struggling defensively, combined for a spectacular equaliser with just two minutes left on the clock. Kieran Gibbs finish was exquisite.

Unbelievably as the clock passed ninety minutes Lukas Podolski, brought on late for Jack Wilshere was the beneficiary of another Sanchez set-up and stole the three points for the visitors, and doubtless left sub-editors scrambling to change the crisis headlines and remove the broken cannons from the back pages. In truth though there was no doubt that this was pure smash and grab by the visitors. Struggling for form, ravaged by injuries, could the club now draw strength and confidence from that final telling two minutes?

Happy birthday Arsene. Here is hoping this is a turning point.

PS, Invincible out now

As I type you can now buy Amy Lawrence’s excellent book Invincible, packed with the recollections of those who engineered and achieved the unbeaten Premier League season in 2003/4. A fuller review will be the next post on Goonerholic. For now the easiest way for UK subscribers to buy is to click on the Amazon ad in the sidebar of this blog. Trust me, it will be money well spent.

Well, those who traveled to Brussels by air today must have been cursing the weather gods. As I write their day hasn’t improved a great deal since returning to terra firma as thunderstorms rumble around the city. Back at home the storms gathering in the atmosphere and on the internet are gathering pace.

With Wojciech Szczesny ruled out by suspension Arsene confirmed today that his back-up, David Ospina, had aggravated a thigh injury in his first appearance for the club and would be out for two to three months. Emiliano Martinez, as he is now known, will don the gloves in the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. I saw Emiliano under his previous alter ego, Damian, concede five in a League Cup tie on a crazy night at the Mad Stad when we hit seven.

There is some better news in the shape of Calum Chambers returning after his suspension. That means an interesting decision for Arsene whether to play him instead of Nacho Monreal in the centre of the defence or put him in for the ‘not much but still’ less-experienced Hector Bellerin at right-back. Mikel Arteta has traveled and may be in line for a recall at the expense of Mathieu Flamini. Photographs of training showed both Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott are again involved but surely they will grace the bench at best?

The hosts will have been boosted by their victory in this evening’s U-19 match, a seven goal thriller. Surely though they will be less than confident following their 0-3 beating by Dortmund in their previous home match in the group. This folllowed a 1-1 draw away to Galatasaray on matchday one which gave both sides their only point to date.

Anderlecht’s manager, Besnik Hasi, has warned his team not to be fooled by Arsenal’s injury list prior to the critical third match in the group.

“We are a very young, talented team and will get better with these type of games… for us it will be a mistake if we are thinking because Arsenal are missing some players, and have not been at their top level in their competition, that they will not be difficult opponents tomorrow. Arsenal have dropped some points in their own championship and are less confident at the moment, but we have to be realistic and focus on ourselves, to keep the ball because we will be playing against a top team in Europe.”

His opposite number celebrates his 65th birthday on matchday three and will be hoping that his charges are ready to secure a victory. Arsene is already under pressure after Chelsea have taken an eleven points advantage in the opening weeks of the Premier League. Progress to the knock-out phase of the Champions League is expected but preferably as group winners. Anything less than a win here would be a severe blow to that possibility.

The ‘holic pound is persuaded that we have enough in the squad to get the result we need to keep the pressure on Dortmund, three points ahead of us already. I know I thought the same against Hull at the weekend, and I am hoping that disappointment will have focused minds on a much-needed improvement on Wednesday night. I’m having the 14/1 on offer against a 1-3 away win if you shop around.

Here’s hoping the 1100 or so lucky traveling Gooners who snapped up our measly allocation will get better weather, and a decent performance to cheer.

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Have a great Wednesday, ‘holics.

Where does one start after yet another performance in which Arsenal frustrated more than they delighted? The day started well enough, a fabulous lunch in equally fabulous company. Asked outside how confident I was I had to respond with “Don’t tell anyone, but not very.”

That said we made a bright and confident start with Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, and Alexis all having opportunities before Santi Cazorla drew a fantastic save from Harper. An opening goal was surely coming, and duly arrived, an Alexis special, and not the only reason he was Arsenal’s man of the match.

When we are in such cavalier mode we are a joy to watch, but as so many sides have now shown, easy to counter-attack. Diame’s rampaging run appeared to have been ended by Mathieu Flamini’s intervention, but the Frenchman was manhandled out of the way and the Hull man went on to finish with Arsenal players berating the hapless referee, Roger East. Arsene wasn’t slow in letting the fourth official and the assistant referee know his take on the incident.

One of many breaks in play

Let’s make it clear that the referee was dreadful throughout, worse even than Anthony Taylor against Villa last season, and his non-decision here did affect the result, but let’s not allow that to blind us to the fact that Arsenal should still have had enough talent on the pitch yesterday to beat a mid-table team. For all that Hull did what the lesser clubs have frequently found fruitful against us, the unchecked time-wasting, the rarely punished rotational fouling. You can call out the official for a woefully sub-standard performance without it being the main reason why we took one point instead of three. The main reason was us.

We didn’t pick up from where we had started after that equaliser. When we experienced similar performances at the back end of last season we used our lack of pace and creativity due to the absences of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, and Theo Walcott. That isn’t the case now. We have bought pace aplenty. Alexis has it, Welbeck has it (and both of those players put in a full shift yesterday), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has it, although this was an off day for the Ox.

That we fell behind at the start of the second-half was all of our own making. Jack allowed Huddlestone unfettered passage down the right flank and his cross was headed home by Hernandez who caught the BFG on his heels. We awaited a response. Hull had their third choice goalkeeper on as a substitute. Surely we would pepper the goal now, but no. He wasn’t required to make a save until the final five minutes as we continually sought to weave our way through the backline with one pass too many time and again.

That tactic may have been understandable. Although the excellent premier League debutant, Hector Bellerin, and Kieran Gibbs ruled the flanks, crosses into the box were meat and drink for Hull’s battallion of big men. There has to come a point, however, when someone takes responsibility and gets the shot away at the end of these intricate exchanges.

In the six minutes added on, although most thought it should have been more, we got the equaliser when finally Alexis threaded the ball through for Danny Welbeck to apply a clever finish. We nearly snatched the points at the death but the chance fell to Gibbs, not Sanchez or Welbeck, and the ‘keeper saved.

So to another inquest in the pub of choice. Good people lifted each other. I’d like to say that this was just one of those days and in the words of D:Ream ‘Things can only get better’, and doubtless they will, but there have been too many of these careless draws already this season. Five in eight starts should be something of a wake up call. Yes, we may point at the ludicrously long injury list, but that eleven that started yesterday should have had too much quality and technical ability for a workmanlike Hull. The supposed weak links, Bellerin and Monreal, had excellent games I thought. Jack and Santi, dominant in the opening spell, lost their control of the midfield a little too easily thereafter.

The manager and his staff need to lift and inspire their troops for a batch of winnable fixtures, but yesterday was the first of those and we came up short again. It’s true that the title is won after Christmas, but equally true that it can be lost beforehand. The gap between Chelsea and us looks worryingly large right now.

The Thin Red Line Returns

At last, following an unusual international break in which we provided five players for England and I enjoyed watching Scotland in Poland, we are back to real football. The stuff that matters, if you will.

There is, however, no getting away from the fact that we are down to the bare bones for the visit of Hull City, smarting for revenge after their FA Cup Final defeat in May. Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil have joined the lengthy list of those ruled out by injury, and Calum Chambers is suspended. Mikel Arteta is fit to return and it is likely that Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck will be available despite picking up knocks playing for their respective countries.

Most expect Nacho Monreal to switch into the centre of the defence alongside Per Mertesacker, and Hector Bellerin to get his Premier League debut at right back. How much cover we will have on the bench to cover that experimental line-up will be interesting.

Arteta’s return could see him paired with Jack Wilshere at the base of a fluid midfield behind Santi Cazorla, and flanked by any two of Alexis, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, and Lukas Podolski. Danny Welbeck, pictured in training on Friday, should be fit to lead the attack.

That looks like a side capable of creating plenty, and we may need to given the nature of our back four, and the fact that Hull have strengthened wisely since we overturned a two goal deficit at Wembley. Hernandez, Ben Arfa, Ramirez, Diame and Ince were shrewd acquisitions for the team now lying just a point behind us after the opening seven fixtures. They have scored twice in each of their last five fixtures which included a 2-4 defeat against Manchester City. Their only other trip to London this season saw them depart with all three points from Queens Park Rangers on the opening day.

All of the above should point to a high scoring contest, but as a result the odds on offer for a cautious 2-1 home win look very tidy, particularly the 17/2 from one bookie. That is the destination of the ‘holic pound, but if you fancy a repeat of the 3-2 we saw in May then 25/1 is widely available.

Geordie Armstrong On The Wing

Older Gooners will be interested I’m sure in the book signing taking place in the Tollington tomorrow. Dave Seager and George’s daughter, Jill, are being joined by some Gunners legends to sign copies of the new book about the 1971 double winner.

I’m looking forward to reading about the perpetual motion man who gave his all for Arsenal as player and coach until his untimely death.

Dave and Jill, I know you’ll have a great day.

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Whatever you are doing, have a great weekend ‘holics.

Once again I am indebted to our very own resident sports physiotherapist, Trev, for his professional view on a topical subject. We have players out for a variety of reasons, and it would take a series of articles to cover them all. Trev looks at one area this week as an example. Do you think you could persuade him to cover a different part of the body in each international break in the drinks? Thanks Trev.

Mark Verstegen – Shad Forsythe’s mentor,

 “If we are screening every athlete and we see something that might take someone out of games, we want to address those inefficient movement patterns up front,” he says.

As injuries are once again taking their toll on our season and speculation mounts as to why, it might be interesting to get an overview of how problems can progress through the body.

Bearing the quote at the top of the piece in mind, I thought I might combine Verstegen’s words and one of my own personal experiences of The Arsenal.  Everyone is clearly hoping that Shad Forsythe, the new Head of Athletic Performance Enhancement, is going to bring a new approach to avoiding injuries at the club.

One very good place to start, with any sports person and especially footballers, is with foot mechanics. I am not suggesting that the club has not addressed this issue now, but it does illustrate well how injuries can progress.

A number of years ago, fairly soon after the Shenley training and medical centre opened, I had a private tour of the facilities which included everything from the laundry and changing rooms to the coaches offices. It was fascinating and, at the same time, quite surprising stuff.  One thing that has stuck in my mind since that day, and I promise you there is nothing weird or fetishy about it, is Robert Pires’ boots !

Robert Pires was clearly a quite brilliant footballer, but also a very flat footed one – if the indications from his gait were anything to go by.

Between the changing room and the training pitches was a room where each player had a peg with six pairs of boots on it.  I was amazed to see that, in an elite team containing  stars like Vieira, Bergkamp, Henry and Sir Bob, that for all his apparent flat footedness, Pires had no arch support built into any of his boots.

The foot is a three arch structure which should provide spring and balance points.
The main arch runs under and along the instep and is supported by the plantar ligament.
The second arch is formed along the length of the toes, and the third, or transverse arch, runs across the instep.
The balance points are at the heel, big toe and on the outside of the foot just behind the fifth toe.

If the main (plantar) arch of the foot drops – due to genetics or overuse – the centre of the foot rolls inwards ( hyper-pronates) and the person’s weight and main balance point drops back onto the inside part of the heel, leading to strains and inflammation of the ankle ligaments and Achilles Tendon, which is the amalgamated tendons of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the rear calf.

This makes an athlete slower off the mark as the weight has to be shifted further forwards to get moving, but also creates a whole chain of events that can cause a succession of injuries.

As the foot continues to pronate, it drags the tibia (shin bone) into an inwards rotation too. That eventually causes the tibia to become misaligned which distorts the joint spaces up in the knee, leading to pinching and wear of the fibro-cartilages, strain and inflammation of the tendons and ligaments, and wear and inflammation of the patella (kneecap).

The rotation continues through the thigh into the hip causing misalignments of the pelvis, inflammation and even tearing of ligaments in the groin, and protective contractions in muscles around the pelvic girdle.

That, in turn, results in the spine not rising straight from the pelvic girdle, inflammation of the sacro-iliac joints, lumbar strains, misalignments and other back problems.
If the bottom end of the spine is not straight, the head, at the top end, will not be straight either. But the spine requires the eyes and ears to be level in order to be able to balance and coordinate efficiently.

Consequently, the brain causes the spine to compensate for this leaning to one side by bending back the other way, generally in the lower half of the thoracic spine (bottom half of the rib cage). A final compensation is then needed at neck level.

These compensations are achieved, at each point, by contracting the. muscles on one side of the spine to pull it back over. This can lead to pain in the shoulders, neck, headaches and migraines.

Hopefully, all this detail won’t have sent everyone to sleep.
The idea was to show how a simple mechanical failure in the foot can cause postural change in the body, and a whole set of related conditions.
It might put a bit of meat on the bones of Mark Verstegen’s quote at the top of the piece.

Whether it makes anyone feel better about our overcrowded treatment room is another matter entirely.

20% Off Campo Retro Legend Shirts

Don’t forget, during the month of October you can get a generous 20% off a classic Campo Retro legend shirt by entering the code GH20 at the checkout. Click here to check out the range and order your favourite.

Anybody who wondered if the international break had come at a good time for Arsenal has probably had their answer now. The feeling that most of the squad would spend time away forgetting the Chelsea defeat and return ready to start all over again against Hull has been replaced by yet another massive inquest.

It all started on Wednesday when the German FA announced to the world that Mesut Ozil would be out for 10-12 weeks with a ‘partial lateral collateral ligament tear’ in the left knee. Immediately it sunk in that once again he and Aaron Ramsey, so crucially missing for a vital part of the title run-in earlier in the year, are out together again.

Twenty-four hours on and Laurent Koscielny was sent back to Arsenal by France with chronic tendonitis of both ankles. With Mathieu Debuchy already ruled out by injury and Calum Chambers suspended for the next fixture at home to Hull the last thing we needed was another scare involving a back four player.

The reference to the tail end of last season may be unfair. Theo Walcott is close to a return, and his absence was another contributory feature of our spring collapse. The cover for Mesut is there. Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, and more than ever Jack Wilshere, are all capable of fitting into the number ten role. They have not only the returning Theo to work with. In spring we didn’t have Alexis or Danny Welbeck. The forward options are starting to look attractive.

The potential early derailing of another title challenge won’t be down to any attacking weakness. We are, however very much down to the bare bones defensively. All together now. “We knew that. We told you so in August.” Hindsight favours those of a pessimistic hue, as it so often does. They aren’t wrong though. Going into a season with so few acknowledged defensive-minded players was likely to provoke a response if we picked up injuries and suspensions, and we have.

Having said all of that I think it wise to wait and see what happens in the coming weeks before going overboard with any assessment of where we are. Following, lest we forget, only our first Premier League defeat of the season, we have a string of fixtures which should yield enough points to keep us in relative touch with the leaders until the transfer window opens again in the new year. Without doubt we have the cash to buy should quality be available in that window.

Let’s assume we have the desire too, to strengthen further.

Campo Retro Arsenal Shirts

Look, as Arsene would say, the good folk at Campo Retro have offered Goonerholic readers a massive 20% discount off their superb range of shirts in October. You can check them out here. Pick your shirt or shirts of choice and when you checkout enter the code GH20 to secure your discount.

I’m tempted by the 1979 Cup Final shirt. What’s your favourite? Let me know in the drinks.

Taking the day after the match off was a good idea. Leaving the post until the morning after equally so. A strange day ended with us nine points, but not light years, behind Chelsea. You have seen the match, and read other match reports. I’ll give an impression of the day from one perspective rather than add to those.

It turned into a strange day. My inability to read a ticket, and my assumption about the size of the fixture, meant I planned for a 4pm kick-off, only to be told by text that it was the early match while I made a tortuous journey to south-west London. The anticipated sightseeing and lunchtime session turned into a hurried couple of pints before joining the queues to get into the Shed. We were held outside for what stewards advised was an ‘incident’. Once inside all became clear, or rather not. A hint of red in the air, acrid smoke. Some thoughtless plum who presumably knows nobody with COPD or asthma thought it fun to let off a flare in a confined space by the bar.

The resulting shut down of the refreshment facilities meant an early ascent of the upper tier steps to a cramped seat. You can’t all sit at Chelsea, even if you wanted to, and so stand and sing we did. You will have your own take on how it all unfolded, and I will not change entrenched views. Suffice it to say this was far from the embarrassing surrender of last season. We were encouraged early on, but that is to be expected, I suppose. Mourinho has his way of playing big clubs, which involves having all eleven players in their own half for large swathes of the contest, and breaking with lung-bursting pace.

It isn’t pretty, as a million tweeters confirmed, but I can’t help to think back to the latter years of the George Graham reign, when we would do the same to the big sides we faced. Once again the tactic worked, and until Arsene registers a win away to a rival it will continue to be a stick to beat him with. The spat with his irksome opposite number, amusing at the time, is a sign of the tensions he still feels on such occasions, and totally understandable too.

The incident that sparked that confrontation was a vile lunge on Alexis by Cahill. A clear red card offence to all but the hapless official. I’ll be quick to point out others should have followed and he was totally incompetent for both sides. It was a day Atkinson will want to forget, although hopefully his bosses will not let him do so when assessing his performance. That was however a game-changing moment, whereas Welbeck’s equally poor challenge at the end of the match wasn’t.

We had looked more likely to score in the opening 27 minutes but our failure to do so handed Chelsea the opportunity to succeed with their rope-a-dope tactics. Creating little, it was not a surprise they got the advantage with a penalty, when Hazard was alllowed far too easily to make a mazy run into the box and square up Koscielny, drawing the inevitable clumsy challenge. It was a clear penalty from over a hundred yards away on a narrow perch in the gods. Another decision for St Francis of Assisi to duck.

In the aftermath Jack Wishere was quoted on www.arsenal.com thus…

“We are playing against teams who, when you are on top, you have to make it count or they will punish you. That is what they did.”

A perfect summation of the day, and so many recent awaydays against good sides. Had we scored first Chelsea would have faced a decision about when to open up in search of an equaliser and present us with an opportunity to double our advantage. They didn’t need to, and the second-half followed a similar pattern to what had gone before. Jack himself missed the clearest opportunity to level matters, but a rare heavy touch at the wrong moment cost us dearly.

Yet more controversy after the break when Cesc Fabregas batted away Jack’s drive with a flailing arm. That would be a penalty nine times out of ten. This was the tenth. Calum Chambers let fly but cleared the crossbar. It wasn’t our day, a fact confirmed when Costa lobbed the hesitant Szczesny. Presumably the ‘keeper feared another red card situation?

That there were frustrations among some of the traveling faithful can’t be denied. To an extent that is understandable, although the abuse dished out by a very few to our own is not. As stated earlier, until we beat a title rival on the road the undercurrent of dissatisfaction will continue to flow unabated. So huge and diverse is the fanbase it would be remarkable in the extreme if we all largely agreed about the state of the club, at any given point in time.

So once more we ventured out onto Fulham Road, a little despondent rather than distraught. A couple of pints of HSB at Paddington cheered briefly. Match of the Day highlighted Chelsea’s disruptive rotational fouling, and although that is a valid point, we have to learn to deal with it because they are not the only team to engage us so.

There will be better days to come at the Bridge, for sure. I hope I am there then.

My Hornbyesque upbringing in the Thames Valley means Chelsea versus Arsenal was always a much-anticipated fixture. Cheap train travel and cheap admission on the day meant schoolboys could afford the day on pocket money, and join in the great adventures that an ‘away’ game provided. My first was in 1969. Tomorrow’s combined match ticket and coach/train travel far exceed what would be considered pocket money today.

So many have advised I am in for a bad day, and there is no denying that Chelsea have made a very fast start to their Premiership campaign. Only Manchester City, at home, have taken a point against them. On the road Chelsea have beaten Burnley and Everton, whilst at this weekend’s venue they have seen off Leicester (2-0), Swansea (4-2), and Aston Villa (3-0). They have strengthened shrewdly, including Cesc Fabregas of course, but most significant would appear to be the purchase of Diego Costa who already has eight goals to his credit.

You cannot escape mention of last season’s horror story for us, a six goal drubbing on what should have been a happier day for the boss, celebrating a thousand matches in charge of the Arsenal. Our performances away from home against our main rivals have for too long now been a cause for concern. This is an opportunity to show that we have addressed that. Once a fixture we approached with relish, we have now won just twice at the Bridge in the last decade. I get it. We are underdogs.

I also get we were underdogs the last time we won there on a day when the lasting image will be of John Terry chewing the cud as we clinched a remarkable 3-5 triumph three years ago. The team news remains a worry. Only Nacho Monreal is likely to return to the squad that saw off Galatasaray in midweek. Should there be any change to the eleven that started that fixture? Having Santi Cazorla in a deeper central role seemed to work on Tuesday and the attacking trio of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez provided the bullets for Danny Welbeck to fire.

Obviously Chelsea on their own patch are far more formidable than the Turks, and we will have to be far more alert defensively to the sort of counter-attacking game that the loathesome Mourinho so likes to play against us. Having the Ox and Alexis on the flanks provides hard-working cover to full backs who will be sorely tested. If they can do that well, and we can fashion opportunities for Danny at the other end then that is the recipe for pulling off the unexpected, or at least securing the point that will keep the gap between us and the leaders to six points.

As for the ‘holic pound, I was hoping for better than 9/2 for an away win. That looks a little short to me. I’m going instead for what does look super value. Two bookies offer Laurent Koscielny to score anytime at 20/1. I’m on the big man to strike from a set piece.

Engineering works make for an awful journey by taxi, replacement bus, train, and tube. I’m hoping against hope, it would seem, that all will be worthwhile when we depart West London with something from the match. Let’s hope it isn’t just a hangover.

Welbeck In Contention

Happy eighteenth anniversary, Arsene. A potential banana skin of a night became a celebration not just because Galatasaray lined up with an untested formation, but also because those in red and white displayed a sense of purpose and commitment. Almost down to the bare bones, we shall worry tomorrow morning about Alexis’ ankle. His contribution tonight, alongside Mesut Ozil, gave us hints of what lies in store in the coming months. A new team is coming together, slowly but most definitely.

However, it wasn’t Ozil or Alexis who claimed the man of the match plaudits. Danny Welbeck has divided opinion since his deadline day capture for £16m. That looks absurdly good value for an English international striker when you look at the fees paid for one or two other young English players (Luke Shaw *cough*). Manchester United fans must have loved sitting in their front rooms watching their old boy playing in Europe tonight and doing so well.

As a contest it was over by half-time, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a game to raise the blood pressure. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla to the fore in the opening exchanges we showed an appetite sometimes lacking on our frustrating days. Gala threatened on the break, but in truth looked a little lightweight with little support for the experienced Pandev up front. The difference in attacking options were demonstrated little more than twenty minutes in. Alexis played Welbeck in and a toe poke before Melo could intervene put us ahead.

On the half hour he doubled his productivity for the night, shrugging aside Melo again to finish in a style compared to a Highbury legend. Let’s take it easy on that front for his next hundred, or maybe two hundred goals for Arsenal, eh? The name Melo is cropping up time and again. Remember some berating Arsene for not signing him a couple of years back? He should have walked tonight for a savage two footed lunge on Alexis. Quite how he got away with only a yellow card was a mystery to all who witnessed it. Alexis was withdrawn in the second-half and  shown with a precautionary, hopefully, ice pack on his ankle. We’ll need him on Sunday.

Before the half-time cuppas’ were served (ok, it is specially prepared energy drinks now) we had a third. Alexis was played in by Ozil (I thought they couldn’t play together?) and for the third time the ball was slotted inside the far post. The ‘holic pound would have rewarded handsomely at 45 minutes. It was fatally holed just seven minutes into the second-half when Welbeck started and finished the flowing move that saw us four to the good. It was Danny’s first hat-trick in senior football, but all the signs are that more will follow. His speed of thought and foot were impressive tonight. Repeat that on Sunday please, young man.

Of course on an evening when an opponent should have walked for a savage foul, we were bound to lose our Wojciech for another ill-judged but not not malicious challenge. Let me say here I have no problem with the red card he received under the present guidance to referees, but it is ludicrous that Melo should have stayed on the pitch tonight when Szczesny was sent off for a challenge that did not threaten serious damage to a fellow professional. These inconsistent and incompetent referees need highlighting too.

The result of the Pole’s rashness was an appearance from the bench for David Ospina. Beaten from the spot he may have been, but as the nine men ahead of him regrouped he gave a solid display and even produced one save ‘for the cameras’ as the old ‘keepers would say. He will have another opportunity to impress now at Anderlecht in three weeks. Could we be witnessing the arrival of a new number one? We shall see, but not at the bus stop in Fulham on Sunday, I suspect. Nor should we.

So, let’s take a deep breath and think what this means. We have a home win in the Champions League, and so we should. Two more and a performance in Belgium or Turkey (or both) and we are last sixteen material again. I mentioned bare bones earlier, and certainly we are not far from that, but Tomas Rosicky was a second-half substitute tonight, and impressed. Jack Wilshere too. The earlier summons for Ospina probably denied Lukas Podolski a run out. First impressions tonight are, should Alexis not be ruled out, that we have a starting eleven that can give it a go at the bus stop on Sunday. Confident? Not particularly, but the Arsenal have given me some unexpected boosts down the years, and this weekend provides yet another opportunity for them to surprise and delight.

What say you?

 

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