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Somewhat surprisingly Skhodran Mustafi was the only central defender recalled to the back three for the trip to Stoke, and he replaced the only central defender who played against Leicester. Left-backs Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac were retained. The only other change was in midfield where Aaron Ramsey was preferred to Mohamed Elneny.

Mark Hughes gave a debut to new signing Jese, an expensive capture by PSG from Real Madrid two summers back. It was the Spaniard who had the first big chance in only the third minute. Petr Cech spread himself at the near post to deny him.

Ten minutes in Danny Welbeck screamed for a penalty when Pieters clearly handled a header back across the goal. Andre Marriner was blindsided and not helped out by his assistant referee. At the other end Welbeck made the clearing header from the first set piece of the match.

An intricate Arsenal counter attack ended with Hector Bellerin driving the ball across goal but the hosts were able to hoof it clear. We came much closer when Alexandre Lacazette sent Aaron Ramsey clear. The Welshman was charged to the floor by Diouf as he got his shot away and Butland saved comfortably. For the second time the Arsenal players were asking for a spot-kick.

In the nineteenth minute Welbeck fired straight at Butland following a superb Ramsey chip, and then we were denied a third appeal for a penalty when Diouf clearly sent the adventurous Bellerin to ground by clipping his standing leg as he bore down on goal.

On a rapid counter attack Jese pulled clear and cut the ball back only for another new boy, Cameroon’s Choupo-Moting, to undercut his effort straight at Cech. The opening quarter of the match had been a very open affair, and a bit too quick for Shaqiri who had to be substituted by Berahino when his hamstring gave way.

Not for the first time the busy Butland had to be quick to clear when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain threatened to put Ramsey in again. At the other end we didn’t deal well with a long throw (at Stoke, eh?) and Shawcross headed over the bar. The Gunners response was a Mesut Ozil pass to Bellerin on the edge of the box but he sliced his drive high and wide.

As a downpour turned the conditions less than pleasant Oxlade-Chamberlain galloped clear and cut in from the right flank only to shoot wide of the far post. Perhaps a cross into the path of Lacazette might have yielded more? Another promising attack came to nought when Monreal put the ball out of play, much to Arsene Wenger’s fury, to allow Diouf to be treated for a mystery injury.

The last action before the break saw Butland make yet another quick clearance to deny Ramsey an opportunity, and win a mystifying free-kick in the process.Whisper it softly, but both sides had contributed to an entertaining opening half. Quite how it was still goal-less was something of a mystery. The Gunners in particular would be disappointed not to have converted their attacking superiority into a numerical advantage.

Arsenal paid the penalty for not gaining that advantage in under two minutes of the second-half. Xhaka misplaced a pass which sparked a counter-attack. Berahino played in Jese who slid the ball wide of Cech as the makeshift back three again fell apart. We badly need Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker back.

Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal

A fourth call for a penalty when Zouma was adjudged to have accidentally handled as Lacazette closed in. Butland again saved his side when claiming a Welbeck-bound cross from Oxlade-Chamberlain. The keeper was less impressive when parrying a Bellerin effort as Stoke came under pressure once more. Ozil’s glorious chip gave Welback a great opportunity in  front of goal but he shouldered the ball onto the top of the net.

Mustafi storming forward became un unlikely creator of a chance for Ramsey but he snatched at the effort and Butland saved comfortably. He was busier a minute later when Berahino’s header was touched over by an alert Cech, and we sleeping at the back again when Choupo-Moting slammed an attempt into the side netting at the near post.

Stoke’s determination to hang on meant they dropped deeper and deeper inviting pressure for Arsenal who had dropped their pace of play. On 66 minutes Olivier Giroud was predictably sent on for Sead Kolasinac and he immediately created a chance for Welbeck, only for the Gunners man to be crowded out.

Two strikes from Ozil followed, the first of which was blocked by Fletcher and the second was wide of the far post. Stoke’s goalscorer departed to a standing ovation to be replaced by the Egyptian winger, Sobhi.

Lacazette thought he had smashed in the equaliser with 18 minutes remaining but the linesman saw what the BT commentary described as Ramseys right foot in an offside position. The BBC live text didn’t think it was that much.  “There’s just a pair of laces in that. But it’s the right call.”

The Gunners made their final changes, sending Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi for Lacazette and Welbeck. The siege of the home goal continued but the massed ranks of the Stoke defence were proving difficult to breach. We were running out of ideas, it seemed.

A succession of balls aimed at Giroud were anticipated by Stoke’s growing rearguard. Diouf was close to conceding another penalty with a lunatic lunge at Bellerin, and when Giroud finally got on the end of a cross he thumped his header wide of the target.

The hosts may have killed the second-half as a spectacle but we should be used to that and have the answers. It would be unfair to give a snap judgement on what the defeat means for the Arsenal. Next week we should have a back three made up of experienced central defenders, but they won’t solve the problems we had with creativity this evening.

It’s been a busy week speculation wise with regard to potential departures as well as arrivals. It’s fair to say that the second actual Premier League football match of the season, despite it’s location, will provide (hopefully) a welcome distraction.

Hopefully the string of poor performances at the Britannia/Bet365 Stadium came to an end with our wonderful 1-4 triumph there in May. Last week Stoke opened the season with a single goal defeat at Everton. It’s too early to know what we will see from them this season.

The Gunners welcome back Skhodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker who should make a difference to what we saw in our free-scoring opener against Leicester City. Rob Holding or Nacho Monreal are the likeliest options to be the third defender. Nacho’s experience may be decisive in what is usually a difficult away day. Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac look set to be the wing-backs and it will be interesting to see the latter in this most venomous of fixtures.

Although Francis Coquelin also returns to the squad this week it is likely that Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey will operate behind Mesut Ozil in the midfield. As ever if they are able to impose themselves we have a very good chance of proving too strong for our opponents.

Where Arsene Wenger has a real decision to make is up front. Alexandre Lacazette is a given to start but will it be alongside Danny Welbeck, very mobile and one who works hard to press the defenders where they don’t want to be pressed? Could this be a fixture in which the former United man makes way for Olivier Giroud who could not only form a very good ‘little and large’ partnership with his French national team-mate, but also provide much needed height in defensive situations.

Mark Hughes line-up at Everton could be bolstered by forward Jese Rodriguez, signed on loan from Paris St Germain this week. Kurt Zouma looks a typical Stoke acquisition, a no-nonsense central defender. Did they really need another of those? Darren Fletcher adds to their succession of ageing midfielders, but we should not be surprised at the quality of his passing on occasion. Lest we forget, the highly regarded Jack Butland is back between the sticks for them.

The ‘holic pound

You listened to Monday’s ABW podcast, right? You know then that I am on the Gunners 1-3 away win with a second successive Alexandre Lacazette strike at any time. Obviously Stoke’s sponsors are obliged to offer the best odds of 14/1 against that scoreline. I’ve checked their website and doubling that with Boom Xhaka Laca (just Laca really) to score at any time gets you a disappointing 18/1. Both are done, however.

Have a great one ‘holics.

It’s Tuesday evening and I am watching my second Champions League match of the day. It’s a very strange feeling to say the least. Casually, I wonder if Ivan and Arsene are watching and have the same feeling? After nineteen consecutive campaigns we are the little boy with his face pressed up against the sweet shop window.

It doesn’t help that Serge Gnabry is playing for Hoffenheim and looking a threat in the opening minutes. Not that he would have been playing much first-team football for us yet had he stayed, and knowing that he made the perfectly reasonable decision to go where he would. Oh, as I typed that he won a penalty, but Mignolet has saved an awful spot-kick.

Earlier I saw a very lifeless FC Copenhagen lose by the only goal to Qarabag (yes, that’s only the second time I’ve heard of them too!). Perhaps we should consider switching to the Danish Superliga? I jest, obviously.

Meanwhile we have to settle for the Europa League. I’m not contemplating Thursday night football with any great fervour, but there is a chance we could use the competition to keep our squad players and most promising youngsters up to speed in case they are needed later in the season.

Talking of the youngsters I got to watch most of the U23s fixture away to Derby last night while recording A Bergkamp Wonderland podcast (see below). Kieran Gibbs, Francis Coquelin, and Jack Wilshere started as the over-age players. Was this a shop window opportunity for Gibbs and Wilshere, rumoured to have been given the option to move on?

Jack was noticeably moving the ball very quickly, often one or two touch, and very accurately. It did appear though that he was running with a slight limp as the second-half progressed and he (like Gibbs who was substituted at half-time) did not complete the ninety minutes.

The young man who did catch the eye was Reiss Nelson, so impressive in pre-season. He scored the goals that saw us recover from 0-2 down to level, and if you get a chance do watch his finish for the equaliser, do it. Eddie Nketiah completed the comeback to seal the 3-2 win. The highlights can be found on Arsenal Player here.

All of which leads to the aforementioned ABW podcast. Danny, Gimli, and I were joined by Chas Newkey-Burden. I have been looking forward to talking with him for some time and he is everything I expected. Interesting, intelligent, and very amiable. We chatted about the obvious things really. The Leicester match, the Alexis situation, will the Ox be off to the bus stop in Fulham? Have a listen if you have a couple of hours to spare (yes, I know!).

Mesut Ozil’s recovery saw the only change to the line-up suggested in the preview as he replaced Alex Iwobi in the advanced midfield role. That team started in impressive fashion and Alexandre Lacazette’s Premier League debut was only two minutes old when he he grabbed his first competitive goal for the Arsenal with a perfect header from Mohamed Elneny’s first-time cross. In the build-up the premeditated felling of Welbeck by Morgan surprisingly avoided censure.

Arsenal 1-0 Leicester City

Sadly the Gunners were pegged back less than three minutes later by a header from an offside-looking Okazaki when Petr Cech was lured beyond his far post to a ball he couldn’t reach. Cech wasn’t helped by Kolasinac deserting his post. Former Hull defender Maguire provided the assist with a header back across an unguarded goal.

Arsenal 1-1 Leicester City

The crazy end to end feel continued and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain flashed a long range effort which narrowly avoided the target with Schmeichel scrambling to reach it. On the quarter of an hour mark the Leicester goalkeeper was called upon again and this time was equal to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s effort.

When Maguire sent Lacazette crashing to earth to end a promising break Mike Dean thought a warning was sufficient punishment along with the free-kick. His reputation went before him and the home crowd were not slow to make him aware of their displeasure.

Midway through the half a wonderful rapid exchange of passes wth Mesut Ozil prominent twice ended with Danny Welbeck hitting Maguire from close range. It was an excellent opportunity to regain the lead. Minutes later the same player made a mazy run into the box but could not find the angle to finish and his cut-back was scrambled clear. Next to try his luck was Sead Kolasinac but his fierce volley was parried out for a corner by Schmeichel.

Arsenal’s apparent dominance was brought to an abrupt end just before the half-hour. Kolasinac mis-placed a pass and Leicester’s rapid counter-attack saw Vardy beat the other two central defenders to Albrighton’s cross. Okazaki almost scored with another header as the Gunners struggled to regroup at the back.

Arsenal 1-2 Leicester City

Clearly shaken, the Arsenal were under pressure for a spell but with Leicester’s defenders escaping even cautions for a spell of breaking up the game we needed to dig in. That didn’t explain the number of poorly directed passes by the hosts. When Ndidi clearly handled the ball in the box Mr Dean adjudged it to be ball to hand. At the other end I would have been unhappy at the award of a penalty, so fair enough.

The half ended as spectacularly as it had started. Ozil and Lacazette fashioned an opening for Kolasinac to square the ball to an unmarked Welbeck who finished despite almost stumbling over the ball. Could the equaliser have been better-timed?

Arsenal 2-2 Leicester City

First to try his luck after the break was Ozil, but the German pulled his effort wide of the post and Leicester avoided another psychological blow. Critically Cech was first to react when Vardy was put clean through as the visitors sought a further goal on the counter attack.

When Kolasinac again gave the ball away in the centre of the goal Cech was forced to touch over a fierce drive from Mahrez. It mattered not for from the resulting corner the unmarked Vardy headed his second goal of the contest. Arsenal’s appalling defending was exposed again.

Arsenal 2-3 Leicester City

The craziness continued when Oxlade-Chamberlain drove into the palms of Schmeichel and The goalkeeper also saved the follow-up from an offside Lacazette. The goalkeeper saved his team again when Welbeck slid Bellerin in at the far post for a one on one. Our intimate attacking play was as good as our defending was poor.

Midway through the half Arsene Wenger rang the changes, sending on Aaron Ramsey for the industrious Elneny and Olivier Giroud for Rob Holding. Almost immediately Ramsey just failed to net the equaliser as we reorganised into a 4-3-3. The Ox switched to right-back, Bellerin went to left-back, Ramsey joined Ozil and Xhaka in midfield while Giroud bisected Welbeck on the right and Lacazette to the left.

It was the latter who controlled a falling ball exquisitely and teed up Ozil for a side foot effort that was blocked in the box. Leicester sent on Amartey for the tiring Okazaki. Ozil found himself unmarked at the far post but again sliced his effort wide of the mark. Cue Theo Walcott’s introduction for Welbeck. It was the last throw of the dice by Wenger.

With ten minutes remaining Xhaka tried his customary strike from distance and saw it deflected for a fruitless corner. Iheanacho was somewhat surprisingly sent for the more defensively minded James. Immediately the Gunners were level again as Ramsey controlled Xhaka’s chipped past and placed a sweet strike just inside the far post.

Arsenal 3-3 Leicester City

Arsenal seem to find dramatic late winners at home to Leicester in recent years and Giroud’s towering header under pressure from Maguire put the Gunners in the driving seat again. Lacazette is a wonderful striker, but he is behind Olivier in the France national team for a reason.

Arsenal 4-3 Leicester City

Would there be another twist? Gray for Albrighton was another attacking substitution by the visitors. Schmeichel’s last of the ninety minutes walkabout went unpunished and the board was lifted to indicate five added minutes. In the first of them Walcott strayed offside when Lacazette offered him a chance to be an hero. It was nail-biting stuff. Leicester poured forward but Giroud’s wonderful header proved decisive.

It was another shaky performance on the opening day by the Gunners, but a true test of character to dig a result out and head tha Premier League on day one. Just the thirty seven matches to the title then. (Tongue protrudes from inside the cheek!)

Credit too for a much criticised manager for the tactical switches that proved decisive.

The preparation is over, and the real work starts now for Arsenal who need to hit the ground running on Friday. Disappointingly, given the number of fitness and conditioning staff we now employ, we go into the new season with serious level of fitness issues. According to physioroom.com we head the treatment table with eight players out or doubtful for Friday evening’s kick-off.

The addition of Alexis Sanchez to that list today caused raised eyebrows. Arsene Wenger revealed that he picked up an abdominal strain in training on Sunday morning and will be out for “two weeks or one more week”, which is a new way of saying the dreaded three weeks. Hopefully he will be back before Christmas if he is still a Gunner then.

Long term absentees Gabriel, Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin, and Santi Cazorla are also joined by doubtfuls Per Mertesacker, Aaron Ramsey, and Mesut Ozil. We are also without the suspended Laurent Koscielny, and probably the late returning Skhodran Mustafi.

It’s not all doom and gloom because we will still be able to pick ten of the starters who won the FA Community Shield on Sunday, or indeed all eleven who played when Mertesacker was elbowed out of the contest by Chelsea’s Cahill. So Petr Cech to start behind a trio of Rob Holding, Nacho Monreal, and the beast, Sead Kolasinac?

Hector Bellerin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should be the wing backs alongside a solid midfield pairing of Mohamed Elneny and the Wembley man of the match, Granit Xhaka. Alex Iwobi will probably be trusted to supply the ammunition for Danny Welbeck and Alexandre Lacazette to fire on target.

The persistence with the back three formation, even without the potential first choice trio of Mustafi, Mertesacker, and Koscielny, is encouraging. It brought about a season-saving improvement at the back end of last season, and if circumstances dictate we do still have the personnel to convert to a more conventional four if required as matches progress.

What of our opponents? Leicester have endured the same frustrations as many other top-flight clubs. Uncertainty over who will still be with the club on 1st September, and what new players can be acquired by then.

Their main concern, for the second summer running, is the situation with Mahrez. The player has been linked with potential suitors including most often, probably, the Arsenal. He would appear to be very much a back-up option to our main target, an Aldi Thomas Lemar if you will.

They have made half a dozen signings, most notably that of Kelechi Iheanacho from Manchester City for a reported fee of £25m. It will be interesting to see if he and Albert Steptoe lookalike Jamie Vardy can gel together as a pair. They have also signed the Sevilla captain, Vicente Iborra, a midfielder who won three consecutive Europa League titles after joining the Spaniards in 2013. He won’t be at the Arsenal on Friday however. Like Robert Hoof he is ruled out by injury.

The ‘holic pound

As the monks from Castle Ned pointed out in the last drinks we have won just one of our last seven opening Premier league fixtures. The law of diminishing returns is not applicable to opening day fixtures however, so I would prefer to tip us on the law of averages.

I’m also persuaded by the level of intensity and sense of purpose we displayed against Chelsea at Wembley. A repeat of that desire should see us past a Leicester side who struggled to come to terms with playing last season as reigning champions. The level of expectation for them has been readjusted, it seems.

I’m thinking of backing Lacazette to score and us coming out on top 3-1 in an enjoyable romp. Do some shopping around to get 12/1 against that scoreline. If you are brave enough to go for the scorecast with Lacazette anytime and 3-1 expect to see odds around 30/1.

And finally

It’s that time of the season when a sense of anticipation, the entirely human optimistic outlook (well, for most of us!), and the sudden presence of silent but angry butterflies deep in the gut all return with a conflicting vengeance.

On a personal level I am disappointed that in a season where we will see so many Sunday/Monday and Thursday fixtures that television has dictated a Friday evening start for us. I know that will be popular with so many Gunners who live nearer to the stadium than I, and I accept that were it the NLD I probably would have made the effort to get there. It is however another kick in the teeth for those who travel from some distance to get our Arsenal fix. Personal moan ends.

Those who are going, have a wonderful evening. We are in a situation where a good result and performance will set a more enjoyable atmosphere around the stadium, and hopefully set the precedent for the season to come. You don’t need to bring up the flip side of that coin in the drinks. We all know what that might look like. Let’s be positive and avoid it.

Those who will be joining me watching on a rectangular screen, and hopefully not from behind the sofa, pour yourself a little of what you fancy and experience the feelings that only your football team can provide.

As ever, ‘holics, have a great one.

The Gunners went into the Community Shield without Laurent Koscielny, Skhodran Mustafi, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, and Alexis. Let’s hope we are able to field a stronger line-up next Friday.

Petr Cech started against his former club behind a back three of Rob Holding, Per Mertesacker, and Nacho Monreal. That was an unchanged back three from the clubs’ previous meeting at Wembley in May. Mohamed Elneny moved into the centre of midfield alongside Granit Xhaka.

Hector Bellerin featured as the right wing-back, and surprisingly Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was preferred to Sead Kolasinac on the other flank. The front three saw Alex Iwobi as playmaker behind Alexandre Lacazette and Danny Welbeck.

Arsenal made a bright start pressing high up and finding some joy on both flanks. We were close to an opener on six minutes when Iwobi skinned Luiz but his cut-back just evaded the incoming Lacazette. Danny Welbeck’s header a minute later was safely pouched by Courtois. Iwobi played a one-two with Elneny and almost opened up Chelsea’s left flank.

When Azpilicueta hauled down Welbeck as the Arsenal front two broke he earned the first yellow card of the new season, not that it will carry forward. Hector Bellerin was the next when he arrived late on Alonso and Conte waved an imaginary card at Bobby Madley, the referee. Chelsea’s first serious effort came to nought when Batshuayi handled the ball in a vain effort to get the better of Mertesacker. When Fabregas attempted to play Willian in the alert Holding saw the danger and tracked the runner at the expense of a wasted corner.

As the clock clicked round to 22 minutes Welbeck teed up Lacazette who curled a beautiful effort around Cahill onto the post. A deserved goal was denied the Frenchman by inches. Shortly afterwards Alonso escaped with a few words of caution after a dreadful challenge from behind on Lacazette. Arsene Wenger showed a little more class than his opposite number.

Just before the half-hour the Arsenal were forced to re-organise when Mertesacker trudged off with a serious looking blood injury to the forehead inflicted by Cahill’s flying elbow. Mr Madley saw nothing wrong with the challenge. Sead Kolasinac came on to play on the left side of the back three with Monreal switching inside. Pedro was first to test the new set-up and he created a yard to get a shot away that Cech parried to safety.

When Willian took a salmon leap in the penalty area he earned a yellow card. Chelsea were posing more of a threat towards the end of the half and Cech had to race out of his goal at speed to deny Moses. Xhaka spared the goalkeeper’s blushes after a mis-kicked clearance in the last couple of minutes of the half.

There remained enough time for Iwobi to sting the palms of Courtois and Welbeck to blaze the ball high, wide, and not so handsome. Would the Gunners end up regretting not carrying the advantage they had deserved going into the break?

The answer came in the opening minute of the second-half when Moses reacted quickest to Cahill’s knock on from a half-cleared corner to drive the ball past Cech from point-blank range. The first goal is so often decisive in these matches. Yet more sloppy defending shortly afterwards saw Batshuayi draw a goal-line save from Cech.

Chelsea 1-0 Arsenal

Lacazette freed Bellerin down the right as the Arsenal attempted a response but Elneny’s volley went wide of the target. Iwobi’s attempt to send Lacazette clear was too close to Luiz and the threat was nullified. The French striker was looking lively.

Cahill, having taken one centre-half out of the contest, almost repeated the dose as he stuck the nut on his own partner, Luiz. The Brazilian, who himself had one eye on Holding with intent as he climbed, was eventually able to continue.

As the hour mark approached Elneny’s fierce inswinging cross come shot brought a very impressive save out of the alert Courtois underneath the crossbar. Chelsea broke down the right but Holding was again the man to clear the dangerous Willian cross at the near post. The match was becoming an end to end affair and Luiz had to be quick to block Welbeck’s effort from an Oxlade-Chamberlain through ball.

With 25 minutes left on the clock Arsene Wenger made a double substitution. With one eye on Friday Lacazette made way for Olivier Giroud, and surprisingly Iwobi was sacrificed for Theo Walcott, hardly a like for like exchange.

Kolasinac is an interesting prospect. He doesn’t get out of the way of any collisions and both Pedro and Willian learned that the hard way. Chelsea brought on the former Real Madrid striker Morata for a 20 minutes cameo.

In the 75th minute Xhaka’s thunderous piledriver brought another fantastic flying save from Courtois at full stretch in mid air. The Gunners deserved an equaliser for a spirited display. They remained adrift, however. The Chelsea goalkeeper was much quicker to react to goal attempts than he was to take goal kicks.

Pedro’s disgusting scrape down Elneny’s Achilles rightfully earned a red card, and a minute later Giroud and Kolasinac were on the end of a beautiful flighted free-kick from Xhaka which the new boy headed home firmly to equalise. It was no more than Kolasinac and the Gunners deserved.

Chelsea 1-1 Arsenal

With just over three minutes remaining the promising Reiss Nelson, recently promoted to the first-team squad, came on for the hard-working Welbeck. In the first of five added minutes Walcott scuffed an opportunity to snatch a dramatic late winner. A second effort a minute later was better struck but was blocked, and then the same player was denied a third opportunity by a fully stretched Azpilicueta.

The match petered out to an end not befitting a fine contest. A penalty shootout (I should have put the ‘holic pound where I suggested it might be successful in the preview) ensued. Petr Cech won the toss for the choice of ends and took the action to the Arsenal end. The new ABBA system saw Chaill take the first successful kick before The Gunners had two opportunities to take the advantage.

Walcott drilled home the equaliser before Monreal gave us the advantage. It was time for Chelsea to take two, and Courtois blazed his effort into the joyous Arsenal supporters. Morata’s dreadful debut miss meant the Arsenal had two penalties to win the Community Shield. Oxlade-Chamberlain slotted the first, and Olivier Giroud sank Chelsea’s hopes of a season-opening trophy 4-1.

Shoot Out: Chelsea 1-4 Arsenal

Not for the first time the Gunners have hinted at a squad depth to be wary of, but we should once again will be cautious of making too much of this performance in a warm-up match for the new season. The real business starts on Friday, but we could not have made a better impression today. A third win over Chelsea in under a year provides hope for the coming challenge, if not expectation.

Well played the Arsenal, FA Community Shield winners, 2017.

A few days gathering rust completed, it’s good to be back to preview the FA Community Shield against Chelsea at Wembley. Some would try to elevate the status of what is essentially a last chance to work on some things before the season kicks off properly. Victory next Friday is far more important to us than this match.

Yes, it would be great for those at the national stadium if we did secure another morale-boosting success against a team who have had a good record against us in the last decade. Far more important though is that the new boys have one last chance to settle into what could be their roles in the season to come.

There has been some talk of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil missing training as a precautionary measure against niggles. I would still expect both to start and get an hour or so of interacting with Alexandre Lacazette. The interesting thing about the selection tomorrow is the readiness of the late returnees, namely Rob Holding, Skhodran Mustafi, and Alexis Sanchez. Expect to see a second-half cameo from the latter of that trio.

As the first week of Premier League action starts Petr Cech should keep goal for the Gunners, and as a Chelsea supporting friend pointed out he will be the player with the most appearances for the bus stop in Fulham on display. The back three in front of him should be Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal.

The most obvious wing-back selections would be Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac, although Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain impressed towards the end of last season. Between them the favoured pairing of the moment appears to be Granit Xhaka and Ramsey.

Having already said that Ozil should start behind Lacazette that leaves someone to fill the Alexis vacancy in the starting line-up. The Ox, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, and Alex iwobi all have claims but it would be good man-management, perhaps, to reward the young player who made the biggest impression in pre-season. Reiss Nelson has earned an opportunity to play in front of a capacity crowd at the new Spurs stadium. (Good to see they hosted around 20k for the visit of Juve for their first home match!)

We are due to face a different Chelsea to the team we defeated so impressively at the same venue in May. Summer recruits include Bakayoko, Rudiger, and Morata. The latter will be a replacement for the out-of-favour Costa. Also gone are Terry, Matic, and (on loan) Zouma. Of course we faced them in China where a Batshuayi brace and a Willian goal saw them comfortably beat a makeshift Gunners line-up.

It is fair to assume we will start a little more positively than that day and the two teams should be more equally matched this time around. There will be no ‘holic pound for a pre-season match, and although it would not be a surprise to see the shield decided on penalties there is little value in the 13/5 against the draw.

If you are going then enjoy your day. If you are watching on television then try not to chuck anything at the screen! If you are stream-hunting I wish you good luck.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

Again I owe at very least a debt of gratitude to our very own TTG for helping out with an excellent piece as I chill big time in the West Country. I think you will enjoy it at least as much as a very mellow me. Let’s go back to Saturday, and the visit of Benfica.

One thing every fan remembers is his or her first match and certainly Gooners will remember their first Arsenal match. Today young Oliver saw his first game at the Emirates and watching his delight at being in the stadium, seeing his heroes up close and cheering five goals in a very entertaining friendly was probably as much a delight for me as it was for him.

I had originally intended to be on holiday in Norfolk today but a few weeks ago Ollie had asked me if I would go with him to the Emirates Cup as part of his eighth birthday celebrations . Had I broached this suggestion normally to Mrs TTG I would have been pessimistic of success but she is a devoted grandmother and thought it was a lovely idea for him to watch his first Arsenal match with Grandad. He also brought along my daughter and her husband and his elder brother whose affiliation lies on the dark side of the Seven Sisters Road but who were charm and fairness personified today as they watched events unfold.

Before the game we made the obligatory visit to the Armoury (as much for Grandad as for Oliver) and purchased a very fetching Arsenal hoodie for the young birthday boy. Against my better judgment I invested in the very fetching new third kit and hope it is not as tightly cut as most of its predecessors. I also bought a Dennis the Legend mug and will be drinking from it on match days hoping that the great man’s powers will propel the team forward next season. Whenever I visit the Armoury I try to work out what the turnover on a match day must be. The place was rammed with people their arms full of replica kits and other memorabilia. This is not the normal audience for a home game and the pickings for Arsenal must be enormous.

Before we took our seats in Club Level (a rare treat) we went in search of the commemorative tile I purchased beside the Tony Adams statue paying tribute to my late father who saw his first game in 1924. How proud he would have been to see his great grandsons beside this very personal monument. I know I was.

I’m not massively acquainted with Club Level and to be honest prefer the higher vantage point I have in Block 100 but our seats were perfect for youngsters watching their heroes including the ubiquitous Gunnersaurus who looks to me as if he needs a few sessions with Darren Burgess. Apparently he feels much the same about me.

Some people poor scorn on the Emirates Cup but this was a chance for a huge number of young children to watch Arsenal live in a much more benign atmosphere than I am used to on a Saturday afternoon (or whenever we play). The place was about 85% full and I reckon about a third of the spectators, at least, were under the age of twelve. We didn’t watch the Red Bull v Sevilla match in order not to place too much of a strain on the youngster’s concentration and I’m not sure that many people did. Amazingly there was a contingent of vociferous Portugese fans in one section above us, supporting their team passionately. I’m never quite sure of the sanity of people who travel abroad to watch pre-season friendlies but I suppose there is a bit to do in London or they may have been natives of this fair city who had moved from Portugal some time ago.

Benfica are on a bit of a domestic roll having won four titles in a row but they lose most of their stars each season and have seen Premier League giants poach three of their best players already this close season. The loss of Ederson to Citeh has revived the opportunity for Julio Cesar to regain his place in goal and they were a neat, stylish team, much better in attack than defence. That made two of them because our three at the back formation made for a lively and fairly scary first half with all three of our defenders looking fallible, suspect in their positioning and very risky in some of their passing. Our keenness to play out from the back (loosely) cost us two first-half goals (both deflected) and while the gap on the left side between Maitland- Niles and Kolasinac was a problem for the whole first-half there were compensations in the displays of both wing-backs, Nelson, who is surely a star in the making, and Kolasinac who is the ultimate brick outhouse with pace and drive and who helped set up both of the two goals that Theo notched in the first half. Nelson is not a wing-back but further forward his pace and trickery will cause many sides better than Benfica a problem .

The second half was inevitably disjointed with a flood of substitutes joining from both sides but our performance was much more coherent as the industry of Elneny and class of Xhaka began to tell. Theo’s cross was deflected in by Lisandro for our third, Giroud finished off an excellent move with a nice finish from a clever Nelson cross for number four, and the fifth was a fine finish from Iwobi after a deft lay-off from Giroud.

Lacazette joined the match late on with Ozil and the Ox but was unable to make too much impact. Interestingly he played with Giroud upfront rather than instead of him. There were too many people on the pitch to make too much sense of the game. Theo has definitely bulked up and looked effective in a freer role although he missed a sitter. Based on this match I would be loath to let Elneny and Chambers go and I think we might see Nelson fairly regularly in the Premier League.

It was a fine if wet baptism for Oliver, but baptisms are meant to be wet aren’t they? It was a very entertaining and happy day for an excited little boy who I hope will be visiting Arsenal for a very long time to come. Some family traditions are precious but if they involve the Arsenal they are doubly so.

You’re a star, Oliver, as is TTG!

We Lost, Yet Still Won

It is wonderful being on holiday in the west country. Unless Arsenal are on television and you want to follow the match on Cornish wifi, or tortoisenet as it is also known. I caught something like twenty minutes of oft-buffered action which the Arsenal won by a first Laca goal to nil.

So I am turning over the next four paragraphs to those of you who were posting in the drinks. Thank goodness you did, and apologies for stealing your content.

Danny is a master of the unintentional scuff-dummy. I actually saw that! That goes down as an assist.

All that cash and he (Hector Bellerin) can’t even afford a bowl and pair of scissors. A valid tonsorial point, I’m sure you will agree.

Total nonsense that Sevilla didn’t win the mini competition (I concur) but who cares anyway? Thought Ox terrific, Laca the goal poacher, Ramsey industrious. I thought Elneny did all right in the middle of the three, lots of interceptions.

Gotta love a comp where you can lose half your matches and still beat a team that wins all of theirs!

So it would appear that Sevilla struck either side of Alexandre Lacazette’s first goal for the club. I still haven’t seen them as they are not on Arsenal Player tonight, or maybe totoisenet is unable to update the site.

General impression I have is that they were good value for the win and it was definitely not a good day at the office for us. Is that so worrying at this stage of pre-season when we are very much playing sides of a pick and mix persuasion? Perhaps not.

It would be more of a concern next Sunday when we should see something closer to the starting eleven against Leicester. In the meantime the struggle to keep up with modern day life down here will continue.

It’s not one I’m fussed about winning, either. The laid-backedess of this place is just great.

Have a relaxed one, ‘holics.

 

As expected the Gunners started a squad eleven against Benfica on day one of the Emirates Cup. On a damp North London afternoon we started the brighter, but a shock or two lay in store.

As early as the fourth minute Reiss Nelson and Theo Walcott combined to provide a headed opportunity for Olivier Giroud but Benfica’s veteran goalkeeper, Cesar, made a flying save.

Against the run of play we fell behind when a soft strike from Cervi deflected off both legs of Per Mertesacker to leave David Ospina helpless.

Arsenal 0-1 Benfica

The Arsenal countered with Walcott prominent. Having missed the target from an offside position he profited from a wonderful piece of play by new boy Sead Kolasinac. The Bosnia and Herzegovina international showed real determination to prevent Benfica from seeing a ball over the goal-line and chipped a cut-back to Walcott who volleyed home with his right foot.

Arsenal 1-1 Benfica

When Walcott burst clear in search of his second he was cynically tripped on the edge of the box by Eliseu. In a more competitve fixture I’m sure our old friend, Anthony Taylor, would have produced a red card, but the resulting yellow was probably sufficient punishment in a pre-season friendly.

Walcott did double his tally just past the half hour mark. Alex Iwobi, the excellent Kolasinac, and Francis Coquelin teed up the English international in front of a gaping target. It was the last we saw of Coquelin who hobbled off to be replaced by Mohamed Elneny.

Arsenal 2-1 Benfica

Within ten minutes that good work was undone when Ainsley Maitland-Niles, on the left of the back three, had a crossfield pass intercepted and Salvio’s shot took a deflection off Rob Holding which once again deceived Ospina.

Arsenal 2-2 Benfica

The half-time whistle brought the players at least some respite from the torrential downpour. Holding made way at the break for Calum Chambers and the opening minutes were end to end.

The advantage was regained when Walcott’s attempt to pick out an unmarked Giroud at the far post was turned into his own net by Benfica’s half-time substitute, Lopez.

Arsenal 3-2 Benfica

Three should have become four when a flowing move ended with Walcott smashing Giroud’s lay-off high into the North Bank under no challenge. That sparked a triple substitution but since former young gun Chris Willock wasn’t among them I’ll not waste time listing them.

The impressive Reiss Nelson crossed to the far post where a tightly-marked Giroud muscled his way into a position to clip a beatiful left foot volley into the other corner of the goal. It was a strike that sent a message to Alexandre Lacazette who the preferred choice for France is.

Arsenal 4-2 Benfica

The bearded striker was denied a double after a delightful one-two with Elneny by a wonderful Cesar save. Kolasinac and Giroud enabled Iwobi to smash home the Gunners fifth moments later. That’s entertainment, as a famous preserve once proclaimed.

Arsenal 5-2 Benfica

Yet more cheers rang around the ground when Lacazette was intoduced for his home debut replacing Walcott. Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also came on for cameo performances, presumably as they will be starting on day two.

The siege that followed yielded no further goals and a cheery crowd made their way out into the evening downpour in search of cover and sustainance. All in all an encouraging work out, but no more than that at this stage.

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