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Same Old Story

We’ve seen this film before. England versus Germany goes to penalties. This time it is the U21s denied in the cruellest fashion in the European Championship semi-final. Forgive me overseas ‘holics, but our success in the U20 World Cup had set up (once more, unrealistic) hopes of another tournament triumph.

Calum Chambers did his reputation no harm with a fine performance in what would ultimately turn into an evening of disappointment. To be completely honest though England did well to take the game to extra-time and beyond. Whilst we spurned a number of chances in the opening half the German side appeared fitter and technically superior, and they missed any number of opportunities to wrap the game up in normal and extra-time.

Disappointingly there was no place again for Rob Holding. I’m sure many Gooners will be wondering how he did not get that berth alongside Chambers? The young man’s performances for the Arsenal at the tail end of last season, particularly in the FA Cup Final at Wembley, suggest he is going to be a big game player for club and country.

So Serge Gnabry goes on to the Final and as I type it is finely balanced between Hector Bellerin’s Spain and Italy in the other semi-final. The potential for Bellerin directly up against Gnabry in Friday’s Final is about the only remaining interest in the competition for this hack.

Talking of penalties (well we were a short while back!) it was interesting to see the number of places on social media, and in the drinks too, where much was made of the contribution spot-kicks have made to Alexandre Lacazette’s goalscoring exploits this season. I don’t think it is unfair to say that there is a vacancy for a reliable striker from the twelve yard spot in the Arsenal side at the moment?

Oops, speculation. From me? I’ve been sucked in by the hype. Damnation.

Art of Football

Once again, huge thanks to our old friends at Art of Football (click here for their website) who have provided some raffle/auction prizes to those good people @TheGunnersPub for their Grenfell fundraiser with Hardeep Singh Kohli this coming Saturday.

Tonight’s featured product is Va Va Voom, a tribute to our record goalscorer Thierry Henry. It’s available as a tee or sweat in a variety of colours. It’s summer though, and money is tight, right? There is an answer to that too. They have a summer holiday promotion so for a 20% discount just enter the code HOLIDAY at checkout.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

It’s summer, and for me in recent years the lack of the Arsenal has allowed me to spend time experimenting with new tastes. This evening it was a balti naan, two products I have enjoyed before but not in a kind of Asian calzone. Very tasty, and followed up with a bottle of Tennessee cider blended with Jack Daniels (other American whiskeys are available!). That also was very enjoyable.

Lulled into a false sense of wellbeing I ventured into the world of NewsNow, which of course at this time of year is full of ‘exclusives’ about the players coming and going from the Arsenal. I acquired a sense of mistrust and dissatisfaction at all of this speculation in the early days of the Arsene Wenger reign. Why did we never sign George Weah, Hatem Trabelsi et al who were linked with us every summer, it seemed. Sebastian Frey, Lillian Thuram, the list was endless.

And so it remains. This summer is being talked up as some sort of revolution at N7. Alexis, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud could (I hate that word) be going out of one side of the revolving door as Alexandre Lacazette, Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, and Aleksandr Golovin walk in the other side. Oh, and Riyad Mahrez. The latter is I think the latest in a long line of players who will be linked with us every summer until he retires.

As for the first two, I do understand why they are generating some excitement. The French strikers were linked with us last summer too, and quite why one or other didn’t put pen to paper is another chapter that will be interesting to read if and when Arsene ever gets round to writing ‘that’ book. Both were reportedly available at lower prices than we are being rumoured to be willing to pay now. The mystery (and misuse) of Lucas Perez may never be known. There is another being linked with an exit, understandably.

For the first time in a few years I did watch a fair bit of French football this season just ended, and the thought of both Lacazette and Mbappe wearing the cannon on the chest is a dream, but surely one that will not become a reality. To make it so I suspect will mean that Alexis Sanchez has been allowed to leave in exchange for a hefty fee, thus freeing up cash for the French internationals and their salaries. That isn’t an ITK view by the way, just my own opinion based on little more concrete than the tittle-tattle I have read elsewhere, and the fact that although FFP may be dead in the water we still have to comply with the Premier League’s wages cap.

I also suspect that the summer’s dealings depend heavily on Alexis being the first block to removed or allowed to stay in the jenga tower that is this transfer window. Get it sorted, and quickly, please Gunners.

Art of Football

If you missed it in the last post then this is a reminder of the huge thanks to our old friends at Art of Football (click here for their website) who have provided some raffle/auction prizes to those good people @TheGunnersPub for their Grenfell fundraiser with Hardeep Singh Kohli on July 1st.

We will be featuring Art of Football Arsenal designs, such as the excellent Seventh Heaven tee shown above, for the next month or so. If you feel guilty about missing my fifty-tenth birthday earlier in the year I am a size XXL!

That’s me done for another evening, so as ever, have a great one ‘holics.

 

“You need to do a new post, you do.”

Do I? What about?

“About the Arsenal, of course!”

But they’re not doing anything newsworthy at the moment.

“What about all those new signings they are being linked with?”

What new signings? Kolasinac, good player, great deal. Nobody else has signed.

But NewsNow is full of stories of imminent signings. About two dozen about to be nailed down.”

Well carry on reading about them there. Then come back and tell me how many have happened on 31st August.

“So you’re saying we aren’t signing anyone?”

Where did I say that? What I am saying is that 95% of the clickbait crap out there is pure fiction.

“So talk about the 5% that isn’t?”

If I knew what the 5% was I would be singing it from the rooftops like the canariest canary of all time.

“You don’t know?”

No.

“But you’re a blogger?”

That’s right. I work in a supply chain organisation all day and write about the team I love at night, when there is something to write about. There isn’t!

“That’s not very exciting, is it? Can’t you make stuff up, like they do?”

What’s the point? They are so much better at it than me? And, to be honest, I only want to know what has happened in the real world and comment on that.

“You’re missing a trick mate.”

I think not. Keep the faith fella. Up the Arsenal!

A huge thanks to our old friends at Art of Football (click here for their website) who have provided some raffle/auction prizes to those good people @TheGunnersPub for their Grenfell fundraiser with Hardeep Singh Kohli on July 1st. We will be featuring Art of Football Arsenal designs for the next month so you don’t forget who to favour for your next quality tee design.

Take care, ‘holics.

Forgive me if I am a little confused this evening at something of a non-story. The Arsenal have announced that we will receive an allocation of 28,300 tickets for the FA Community Shield against Chelsea at Wembley on Sunday August 6th. That makes it almost the equivalent of the number we received for the FA Cup Final.

Whilst the Community Shield is usually available to silver and red members once the season ticket-holders have applied, or not – as is always the case, I am a bit baffled as to why this is. I understand that at the FA Cup Final there are a number of debenture holders, County FA allocations, and sponsors tickets driving the numbers available to the competing clubs down. But the pre-season curtain raiser, or major trophy as Manchester United view it?  Perhaps the monks at Castle Ned will root out the info and post it in the drinks?

Hector Bellerin

Anyone else heartily sick of Barcelona’s attempt to unsettle the young man we have turned into a proper footballer? Yesterday one of his international colleagues, Denis Suarez of Barcelona (surprise surprise), was quoted as saying that Hector was torn over the decision.

“I have spoken with him, and on the one hand he’s keen to come and on the other he feels tied to Arsenal.”

Today it was time for another of his international colleagues, our very own Nacho Monreal (spot the trend?), to pour scorn over the Suarez claims.

“He’s an Arsenal player and almost certainly he will stay here. Hector is a very important player for us and the boss has already reiterated that he counts on him.”

All of which is interesting given that just seven months ago the impressive young right back and wing-back agreed a six-and-a-half year contract extension with the Gunners. End of speculation, please.

Alexis Sanchez

Another topic that frustrates. Reports coming out of Germany suggest that Bayern Munich’s interest in our top goalscorer last season has cooled as soon as his wage demands became apparent. They allegedly fear the potential for unrest if the other top players at the club demand parity with the Chilean. With PSG also off the radar, apparently, the popular line is that Manchester City remain the only likely destination for the Chilean.

Unless we drive the price insanely high can we get on with the job of bringing other top players into the squad to complement our best players and hopefully persuade Alexis to keep Atom and Humber in North London. Oh look, there are those damned fairies again at the bottom of the garden making a mess of the lupins.

The Fixture List

There are a few variations of opinion about the list which was published just yesterday (Wednesday). If your glass is half-full our run-in currently looks very good indeed, on paper. In March, April, and May the toughest match looks to be Manchester United at Old Trafford in the penultimate away match.

If your glass is half empty then we will be playing all of the teams that finished above us home and away before then and the chances of us being in contention for the title will certainly depend on our performances in those big matches. Chelsea and Manchester City away look particularly tricky, given that they will follow our Europa League adventures on Thursday nights.

If you are an overseas supporter planning a trip do remember that the likelihood of these matches being switched to Sunday afternoons and Monday nights before Europa League fixtures will necessitate considering a short City break rather than a day or two. Good luck to you.

Fore!

Tomorrow (Friday) it’s a first outing for my increasingly erratic golf swing of this summer. The North Wiltshire Arsenal Supporters Club, fuelled by bacon butties and pints of muscle-relaxant will criss-cross the fairways in pursuit of the most prized of all the North Wiltshire majors. Well, the only one, really! I’m guessing there will be much talk of the Cup Final, the season ahead, and whether or not Hector and Alexis will be staying next season. I may have to give someone an umbrella enema if that is the case.

Have a great one ‘holics.

So, I’ve taken a breather, enforced by a combination of wonderful cricket and the election here. I’ve been riling a lot of people about the latter so it is off limits on the blog. It’s a football blog after all. I don’t want to lose half of my readership!

It’s been a strange day today. The cricket was the sport of choice but the British summer being typically damp it didn’t encroach much on the football that followed it. The combined brains of Duckworth and Lewis (Overseas readers, just take my word for it) meant that England were triumphant but denied the pleasure of overcoming the old enemy, Australia, with overs to spare.

From old enemy to auld enemy in the fitba. Scotland, the motherland, have a set of players technically inferior to most of the big guns in Europe right now. England crossed the border running away with their World Cup qualifying group having not conceded a solitary goal in the competition. What followed didn’t reflect the large gap that should have existed.

At Arsenal we have become very familiar over the years with the supposedly lesser teams defending with discipline and frustrating us. Let me tell you this England team is no Arsenal and so after an early period of Scots pressure the game settled into a very recognisable pattern. The hosts dealt relatively comfortably with what little pressure England were able to exert in the opening 70 minutes.

Pleasingly, given the England team contained four Middlesex marshmen, it was transformed when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was introduced and within five minutes he scored the goal that looked like deciding the match. However, England’s clean sheets record came to an abrupt halt in a finish reminiscent of the 1979 FA Cup Final.

With three minutes remaining Lee Griffiths, from a free-kick foolishly conceded by Cahill, sent an effort past Joe Hart’s flailing left hand. It was messy but the Scots cheered at the salvation of a point. Those cheers turned to euphoria when they got another free-kick on the edge of the box in more dubious circumstances in the last of the ninety minutes. Griffiths sent it past the England goalkeeper’s right hand this time. An astonishing victory, surely?

Four minutes were added on, and in the last of them the hosts surrendered possession cheaply in their own half. The ball was swung to the far post, the keeper didn’t claim it, and Kane spared England’s blushes with an Alan Sunderland style strike. So the international derby ended as a Desmond.

A word or two about what appeared to be a friendly aftermath, with both sets of supporters applauding each other as the Scots departed the stadium. The English were held in the ground as a safety measure given the history of disorder that has often surrounded the fixture. I think there is a mutual respect developing slowly between the committed supporters of two national teams who are a long way from the summit of the game right now. Let’s hope it continues to grow and future meetings are as civilised.

Finally, it is hard to believe it is two weeks since that brilliant FA Cup Final win. The feelings that day generated have yet to dissipate entirely, which is pretty special. We have signed a new tough guy defender who was in the Bundesliga team of the season on a free transfer. Welcome Sead Kolasinac. We have finally expelled Yaya Sanogo, and although nobody has signed a new deal save the manager, we have not lost anybody significant, yet!

Thank you the Arsenal, and the England cricket team, for making some of us very happy bunnies tonight.

Have a great Sunday, ‘holics.

The awful events of last night in and around London Bridge were a reminder that in the happiest of times we need to remain vigilant and aware of the acts of others. The response has been predictably both understanding and yet defiant at the same time. London will not be cowed into submission by these cowardly acts of terror. The thoughts of us all, I’m sure, go out to the families and friends of the victims. May those patients most seriously injured survive their ordeal.

The Champions League Final

The final ‘holic pound of the season was ventured on Juve to triumph 2-1. I thought that a team famed for it’s defensive qualities, one that had only conceded three goals in the tournament until last night, would be able to create at least a couple of clear chances. At half-time I checked the cash-out value of my bet and ridiculed the thought of a profit of two pounds. Silly me.

As exciting and even a contest though the first-half had been Real turned on the after-burners in the second and you simply cannot deny they were good value for their eventual 4-1 triumph. The objectionable Ramos soured their performance with his pathetic play-acting to get Cuadrado sent off with the trophy already in the bag. It was a sad end to an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable match.

Obviously the “Arsenal aren’t in the same class’ comments were to the fore, and I cannot vigorously defend a team that shipped ten goals to Bayern. I do, however, believe that the Arsenal playing with a back three, that saw off the challenge of deserving champions in the FA Cup Final, would not be as humiliated. Obviously it will be at least another season before we have a chance to put that belief to the test. By then who knows will still be at the football club. I’ll concede the non-argument for now.

Tony Adams

Mr Arsenal has generated column inches and debate a plenty on social media as he promotes his new book, Sober. I have to believe that his 22 years at Arsenal, 14 as captain, 669 appearances and 10 major trophies, including league titles in 3 different decades, entitle him to a view about the club that was his life.

Yes, his views are controversial, are probably timed to maximise publicity for the book, and they will infuriate some Gooners, particularly of a younger persuasion who didn’t experience the good times with him. I don’t agree with much of what I have read lately, but I didn’t hear them in context. The newspapers have lapped them up to maximise clicks and I’ll regard them as such for now.

Also, for those who still cherish what he achieved as a Gooner I will be launching a competition this week for copies of the book so keep your eyes peeled if you want to win one of these special prize copies. In the meantime, if you haven’t seen it, here is the pre-launch video promo for the book, courtesy of the publishers, Simon & Schuster, who are kindly providing the prizes.

David Ornstein’s piece on the BBC website about Arsene Wenger signing on for a further two years has not surprisingly poked the hornets nest that is Twitter. If and when the confirmation is released by Arsenal the warm glow of a magnificent performance on Saturday will leave some, that seems certain.

I don’t intend to let it have such an impact on me. Arsenal’s wonderful victory in the FA Cup Final has put me in a really good place and I will not be made to leave there by a decision entirely out of my own hands. We have different ways of supporting the club, and different views about the way forward, but at the end of the day we are at the mercy of a majority owner who is clearly happy with the way things are.

It isn’t a secret that I feel this would have been a great way for Arsene to bow out, head held high, his last memories of a delighted following at Wembley. Instead he clearly wants to move on and attempt to put right what has clearly gone wrong in the last decade. He obviously believes there is at least one more title, or if we can secure qualification next season, one last crack at the Champions League in him.

I don’t share that view, but I do accept it is not my call, and I do not believe that protesting and adding to the negativity around the club is something I should be doing. It’s a personal thing and you should do as you see fit. I will see fewer matches next season, but that will be down to the number of Sunday/Monday/Thursday fixtures and not a message about the man in charge.

I think Stan Kroenke is being very pragmatic in making the deal. The club is in no position to bring in just one man to do all of the jobs that Arsene does. The structure is not in place to bring in just a top class coach, and it seems others are attempting to force a new structure capable of enabling a smooth transition. Good for them if that is the case, but Arsene has added shrewd politician to his armoury of qualifications.

We can only hope that Arsene will continue to work with those he has ‘trumped’ to put such a structure in place by May 2019, for this must surely be his last chance saloon? Don’t misinterpret that. I want him to land that fourth Premier League title, that first Champions League, more than anything in fact. It would crown a remarkable reign. I just can’t see it happening.

So in August I will be back up the Arsenal, exercising my lungs in support of my club, and wishing the current manager every success. His successor is surely only two years away, and we must use those 24 months to prepare the club to be even more successful under whoever that turns out to be.

Take care, ‘holics.

The day didn’t start well. A massive thunderstorm shook me from my slumber at 5am. With a taxi booked for just after eight there was no point in trying to get back to the land of nod. Coach to Reading, train to Paddington, and two underground journeys later I was north of Wembley for what has become a lucky pre-Final ritual. Haddock fish cakes, melt-in-the-mouth fillet of lamb, and a delicious orange bread and butter pudding in wonderful company settled the nerves and provided a solid base for what was to follow.

An early arrival at the stadium seemed like a good idea and we thanked the armed officers who greeted us. The walk up Wembley Way, whilst difficult for me these days, is always a feature of any Final. Both sets of supporters were in good spirits. A white wine and a can of Beer were obtained on a three year credit agreement in the lower tier concourse as friends gathered to exchange pleasantries.

Our own Bergkamp the Man and I took our seats half an hour before kick-off to soak up the sights and the atmosphere. It was our first time in the lower tier of the new Wembley and it is only from here that one can get a perspective of the vastness of the place that towered into a clear blue sky. The seats around us quickly filled and the sea of red was impressive.

And so to the main feature of the day. Per Mertesacker was passed fit to start his first match of the season alongside Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain switched to fill the left wing-back berth vacated by Kieran Gibbs. It looked very vulnerable to the attacking threat posed by the champions. It was anything but! Danny Welbeck got the nod to start up front with Olivier Giroud benched.

I had suggested beforehand that because of our defensive shortcomings that we would take the game to Chelsea, and wow, how we did. A red swarm enveloped the startled favourites and in just five minutes Alexis, one of ours who loves to score at Wembley, put us ahead. We had to wait for Anthony Taylor to consult with his assistant, a nervous few moments. The signal of the goal sparked a second wave of celebrations. Only this morning have I seen the handball by Alexis as he charges down the clearance. It’s a 50/50 call if he had time to get out of the way of ball from point blank range and we got the benefit of the doubt.

Quite how that slender margin remained at the break was hard to believe. The chances to add to it came and went. Cahill back-heeled Mesut Ozil’s deft chip off the goal-line. Welbeck’s header thumped into the far post and Aaron Ramsey had no time to react and turn it in. Welbeck got clear again and for the second time Cahill effected a goal-line clearance. It was men against boys, and not in the way the experts had predicted beforehand.

On Chelsea’s rare breakouts that makeshift defence remained rock solid, with the excellent Mertesacker a visible tower of strength. Alongside him Holding again belied his tender years while Monreal stood firm. Where this performance came from, who knows, but half of Wembley stayed noisy and proudly behind those who were giving their all for their club.

Chelsea looked a little sharper at the start of the second-half and David Ospina made a couple of fine saves from Kante and Moses. We continued to pose a threat, however, and Courtois had to be alert to deny Ramsey’s lung-bursting run and Bellerin. Next came a twist so unforeseen. Moses, already booked, threw himself to ground in the Arsenal box with Oxlade-Chamberlain inches from any contact. Anthony Taylor, having the expected erratic performance, made the best decision of the evening and showed the miscreant his second yellow and a red card.

Ten men against eleven can be tricky at times, and the introduction of Fabregas added spice to the atmosphere. He played a ball into the box that fell to Costa, and his deflected shot crawled past Ospina in slow-motion over a hundred yards away. Hearts sank for seconds, but all around a series of chants were started to lift the boys in red. I doubt they were needed, stung by what had happened the Gunners gave a counter-attacking masterclass thereafter.

Giroud’s introduction for Welbeck as an impact substitute worked almost immediately. The Frenchman found himself on the byline on the left flank and chipped a perfect ball to the far post for the onrushing Ramsey, another of ours who loves a Wembley goal, to finish with a diving header. Strangers hugged as a swathe of joyous faces celebrated at the East End of this historic venue. Bellerin galloped down the right hand only to hit his effort inches wide.

Chelsea had one last chance to secure the only ‘holic pound I have never wanted to win, but Ospina denied Costa. There remained time for Ozil to wriggle his way into another shooting position in the box, but once again we were denied by the goalpost. It mattered not, The much-maligned official gave a shrill blast on his whistle and the outsiders had landed a record-breaking thirteenth FA Cup. Also a record, the seven won by Arsene Wenger.

The celebrations that followed were savoured by most of the massed ranks of joyous, celebrating supporters who have been through every possible emotion in this season of contradictions. The players, magnificent to a man, took their praise and yet how on earth the man-of-the match award did not go to Aaron Ramsey, or possibly the awesome Mertesacker, was beyond me and those around me.

What had occurred made the tortuous journey home all the more bearable. Rather than celebrate with so many friends I spent time with on the day I had to join lengthy queues to the first leg of the homeward journey. There was plenty of time to reflect on a job well done, and the enormity of the Gunners defeat of the team of the season. Football never fails to surprise and delight at times.

Thanks for reading this season. Your contributions to the drinks have been their usual mix of valid opinion and sheer lunacy! I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was wonderful that some of us should share the joy and excitement of the Final day. And another FA Cup win.

A plate of scampi and several pints into Cup Final eve I suppose I have to arrive at a ‘holic pound. It’s been a pretty nerve-jangling week, and as if we haven’t lost enough experience at the back now this evening I see the rumours that David Ospina may start ahead of Petr Cech. What madness is this? I love the little fella, but his future lies elsewhere. Stay with the number one please Arsene.

That probably hasn’t set the encouraging tone you came looking for. Apologies. Let’s get all of the unpopular stuff out of the way first. We play tomorrow to deny deserving Champions a double. I know it helps that in securing the title they denied those from the other end of Seven Sisters Road a first close-up of the Premier League trophy, but they were worthy winners.

It helps that they parted company with the loathsome Mourinho to do it. However what doesn’t help that basically they owe the title to us. After we had schooled them 3-0 at the Grove in September the new manager had a complete rethink about the make-up of his team. Conte made the switch that not only solidified the defence but gave some freedom to his most creative talents, particularly Hazard. You have to respect the size of that achievement.

Now, if any Gooners are left reading (I know for some strange reason some of the younger ones have a stronger dislike for Chelsea than Tottenham – more madness!) how can our depleted squad actually win tomorrow? There are clearly two schools of thought. A repeat of our 2005 ‘they shall not pass’ performance against Manchester United at Cardiff when we played a 9-0-1 formation with no support for poor Dennis Bergkamp.

That so-unlike-Arsenal performance was a necessity because of the paucity of attacking talent available to us on the day. This year we look to be facing exactly the opposite issue so it would be something of a surprise to see a rag, tag, and bobtail defence hold out for 120 minutes and expecting the likes of Ozil, Alexis, Ramsey, and Oxlade-Chamberlain to form a barrier ahead of the thin red line.

Without being reckless surely our best chances lie in a controlled but adventurous approach from the off? These players have proven, albeit too seldom this season, that they are capable of producing devastating counter-attacking football, and against our opponents at Wembley it should be remembered!

The ‘holic pound

I’m hearing voices from both shoulders. “Of course we can”, “Not a hope pal”. I’m persuaded that our best chance may be to test our heart rates with another penalty shoot-out, but I cannot see a 0-0 over ninety minutes preceding it.

I will never bet against my beloved Gunners but I have come as close as ever to doing just that by putting the infamous pound on a 2-2 draw at 90 minutes. Alexis and Ramsey love scoring at Wembley so I fancy them to keep that run going. It may even go to 3-3 in extra-time but the penalty shoot-out has loomed large in my thoughts in the last 24 hours. Let it be ours.

So that is probably a good note on which to leave this Wadworth’s inspired chunter for tonight. I have to prepare for an early start tomorrow thanks to GWR not running any trains from Swindon on Cup Final Day. I have to meet ‘holics present and past for our ‘lucky’ Cup Final lunch with a Gooner for a chef patron. Poor young Bergkamp the Man has the pleasure of the seat next to me in the ground. I pray he remembers his ear defenders.

Thanks for reading, you wonderful people. Have the best weekend of the season, ‘holics.

Where There Is Hope…

Less than 48 hours to go, and the nerves, I will confess, are starting to build. As preparation weeks go this has not been the best. Every day it seems someone else is a doubt for the match, but still that last drop of hope refuses to evaporate.

If we were playing them at the bus stop in Fulham I think I would be resigned to our fate right now, but we aren’t. At the new Wembley they have beaten us in an FA Cup semi-Final and we have beaten them in the Community Shield, a pre-season friendly elevated to major trophy status by the loathsome Mourinho last night. Of course it was his Chelsea we defeated that day, courtesy of a wonderful strike by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (see above).

Hopefully the Ox will feature on Saturday too and enjoy the feeling of a more significant Wembley strike. It will be a tough call for Arsene Wenger to choose between him and Hector Bellerin at right wing-back. A fully fit Bellerin would be an automatic choice but his ongoing ankle issues have robbed him of a yard of his blistering pace. Our defensive situation means we are ending the same way we started the season. Going with an untried combination at the back. Arsene admitted the obvious.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable and unpredictable, and we have been hit hard in a position where we will need to be strong on Saturday. We’ll have to find solutions and hopefully I will find the good solutions.”

Surely under the circumstances a back three is more required than ever? The options? Per Mertesacker, Rob Holding, Nacho Monreal, Matthieu Debuchy. Has Kristian Bielik been at Shenley this week? The former trio seem likeliest unless Kieran Gibbs is ruled out, thus affording an unlikely promotion to Debuchy.

Clearly attack will be the best form of defence, and it goes without saying we will have to be ruthless when opportunities present themselves. We can all see the dilemma facing the boss to lead the line. Olivier Giroud is undoubtedly the more consistent finisher if we are considering a straight choice between he, Danny Welbeck, or Theo Walcott. However there is a feeling we may be better off going for someone with greater pace to exploit the erratic Luiz.

A combination of either Walcott, or Welbeck, and Alexis offers the opportunity for flexibility and rotation between the left flank and leading the attack. That would also retain the option that has worked so many times this season of using Giroud as the battering ram impact substitute. How many times will we change our minds between now and 4.30 on Saturday when we will find out what the man that really matters has decided?

They key to the whole match however could be the pairing behind Mesut Ozil. One of them will need to keep a particularly close watch on Hazard when he comes roaming through the centre. Francis Coquelin proved not up to the task at the bus stop this season, and Granit Xhaka’s ‘tackling’ with Anthony Taylor refereeing is a recipe for a disaster. Aaron Ramsey will be more concerned with inflicting damage further forward. Mohammed Elneny, anyone?

Ah well, roll on Saturday. All of this thinking, worrying then hoping, is just too nerve-wrecking. I think a need a tot or two of single malt tranquiliser. Until tomorrow night, have a great Friday, ‘holics.

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