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“It was pressing, and counter-pressing, and perfection… In the centre midfield it was perfect.”

Jurgen Klopp reflected on his team’s utterly deserved 2-0 triumph and yet study of those words will tell the story of the night. Yes, Dortmund had pace, power, desire, and an incredible work ethic. Arsenal produced a little bit of the former, and nowhere near enough of the others. Yes, Dortmund were very, very good, but we certainly allowed them to look it.

What can I say tonight to dispute that? Nothing. Other than, of course, it was one night. Taking a step back from the bitter disappointment of the evening we find ourselves three points off the top of the group with five matches to play, three of which will be at home. Think about that for a second. Our first competitive defeat in fourteen Premier League, FA Cup, and Champions League fixtures straddling the close season. Hopefully it will serve as a massive wake-up call and not prove to be a portent of another miserable season ahead in the big away games.

Let’s hope this increasingly expensively assembled squad will reflect later this week on just why there was a collective lack of effort and execution tonight. We have used such performances down the years to develop a ‘this will not happpen again’ attitude, most famously after a five goal beating at Stoke in our first double season.

Let’s hope we analyse the twenty-four Dortmund chances to our four and identify those in midfield who allowed their men to run at our beleagured defence all night. No names, no pack drill, but what should be as good an attacking midfield as there is in Europe folded tonight, giving oxygen to the argument that we should have done more to secure an out and out holding player in the summer. Yet this was not a performance that would have been made better by one more signing. This was a performance that would have been made better by making more of an effort to control the ball and the pace of the game. The collective failure to do so should not be laid at the door of individuals.

I’m in danger of turning this into a rant, and that is not what most of you who come here expect. I don’t mind us getting a schooling tonight if we use the experience to ensure it isn’t repeated this season. We have what we have in the squad for another three and a half months before we can add what may be missing. I have no doubt we will play much, much better at Villa this weekend, and against Tottenham next. I will next see the boys in the flesh at Stamford Bridge a week later.  The fear tonight is that another tough away test could prove too much for this squad.

Don’t let it be so, Gunners, It’s time to show some cojones.

“Klopp’s team, who have never lost at home to an English club, are chasing an eighth straight European home win in succession… One High Street bookie offers a staggering 20/1 against a good old-fashioned one nil to the Arsenal. I cannot ignore that…”

Written the night before we journeyed to Dortmund ten months ago. We won 1-0. I picked up a nice little earner. Dortmund have now lost at home to an English club. This time around I am not so certain that supporters of either club go into the match confident of the points, such is the havoc wreaked on both squads by injuries.

The hosts are missing a minimum of eight players from their squad, including the influential Hummels (Ironically a target for us, allegedly), Sahin, Reus and Blaszczykowski. For our part we have lost both full-backs from the weekend draw with Manchester City. That means we are down to the bare bones at the back with youngsters Hector Bellerin and Isaac Hayden likely to provide cover on the bench. Looking at Mathieu Flamini limping around in the latter stages against City it is hard to see him starting either although he was not mentioned in the pre-match presser.

Arsene quoted Calum Chambers as a 50/50 chance of starting and had one of those wry smiles when he called tonsilitis as the cause. I would be surprised if the former Southampton lad and Keiran Gibbs do not come into the back four with Mikel Arteta returning in place of Flamini.

Most interesting selection for me, not for the first time will be the chief playmaker. Jack Wilshere was outstanding on Saturday but, cast out predominantly on the wing, Mesut Ozil divides opinion. It is not a new conundrum, nor an Arsenal only one. Through the years club and international managers have been given headaches trying to accommodate the likes of Charlie George, Glenn Hoddle, Tony Currie, Matt Le Tissier. The list is endless and all came in for a degree of stick about their defensive contribution. Ozil is a magnificent creator, he sees passes others don’t. On Saturday he looked different class when coming inside as a link man. I would start him if he were a hundred percent. I’m not sure he is, otherwise he would surely be asked to supply the ammunition for Alexis and Danny Welbeck?

The latter two have been mentioned by the enigmatic Klopp who knows full well he faces a different Arsenal team this time around. The mutual love-in between he and Arsene continued pre-match. There is so much respect between the sides born out of regular meetings in this competition. We have won, lost, and drawn in Dortmund in recent seasons. Predicting the outcome of this one is made more difficult as a result. The bookies have Dortmund as slight favourites, but again the 0-1 away win looks generous at 14/1 as I type. However the ‘holic pound is on 1-2, a decent 12/1 punt I think given that we know the home team will give it a go and we are stronger going forward than defending right now.

I know a fair few who are making an early morning start to get out there. Have a fabulous day, and night. In a passionate football venue make as much noise as you can. I’m more than a little jealous not to be with you.

Have a good one, ‘holics, wherever you will be watching.

The grey of early morn turned into a sunny lunchtime gathering to see if this new-look Arsenal could prove a match for the champions. I said beforehand that much would deprnd on how City, so often negative at the Grove, set-up. Pellegrini showed faith in his selection and had clearly encouraged them to be more adventurous which made for an enthralling contest.

Arsenal too had the bit between their teeth, and driven on by Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey in particular looked as threatening as we have seen this season. City’s defenders were denied time and space as Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez impressively closed them down. Welbeck came close to a dream debut opener but his lob hit the post instead of bouncing in. He can certainly be pleased with his first 87 minutes in an Arsenal shirt.

The only downside to a fascinating contest unfolding before us was the failure of Mark Clattenburg to take action as City repeatedly resorted to fouling in an attempt to disrupt Arsenal’s rhythm. Let me say at this juncture I believe him to be far and away the best referee in the Premiership, but his determination to keep eleven versus eleven on the pitch meant he had to overlook multiple offences, particularly by Zabaleta and Milner, the type of which earned others yellow cards on the day. City will argue they might have had a second-half penalty when Jack Wilshere’s arm and ball were in contact. Deliberate? You couldn’t tell from where I was, seventy yards away.

That City took the lead on a break was no surprise to long-time Arsenal followers. Navas made a lightning break down the right and found Aguero at the near post. Arsenal unhinged all too easily, and an indication that City had brought their ‘A’ game. So too had the Gunners and wave after wave of red was unleashed in intricate and determined offence, interspersed with light blue counters that kept the watchers gripped.

The surprise was that it took over an hour for that pressure to pay off. Alexis combined with Ramsey and Wilshere and the latter chipped Hart superbly to level matters. Ten minutes on and we witnessed the first of what we hope will be many magical moments from Alexis. The magnificent Kompany’s clearance was headed back into the box by Wilshere and Alexis explosively volleyed into the top corner. It was a moment that saw wild celebrations both on and off the pitch.

Sadly from that moment on the Arsenal started to run out of steam, as if the sheer effort of turning things around had drained many legs. Mathieu Flamini started to labour, but worse was to come when his namesake, Debuchy, appeared to catch his studs or blades in the lush turf and went down screaming in pain. After he was stretchered off Demichelis was alllowed a free header from a corner, a cruel blow perhaps but City will argue it could have been worse for Arsenal having struck both posts and had a goal ruled out, correctly, for offside as they poured on the pressure in the closing moments.

Arsenal will feel they had restored some pride, given the nature of some of the hidings they took from direct rivals last season. Beforehand I spoke of the need to get Ozil back into the centre. His best work yesterday came when cutting in from the flank, and he was less than enthusiastic about the defensive side of the game. However Arsene persisted with Wishere in the role and was rewarded. If the intention was to give the England international confidence then it has worked spectacularly, if this match is anything to go by.

Back at a packed tavern the talk was of Clattenburg’s performance, and whether Wilshere or Kompany was man of the match. Good as the latter was I will settle for Jack.

Enjoy your Sunday, ‘holics.

Real football returns in the aftermath of the international break, and it couldn’t be much bigger than Arsenal against Manchester City at the Grove. Throw in a potential debut for the scorer of two England goals in the week and you have a match to anticipate with relish. That’s the build-up, now for the reality of the fixture.

Since City were first financed by the Abu Dhabi United Group the results of our meetings at the Grove have been 2-0, 0-0, 0-0, 1-0, 0-2, 1-1. Seven goals in six fixtures is not the goalfest we have come to expect in the return fixture where our determination to play an open game has seen goals galore in recent seasons, culminating in last season’s see-saw 6-3 hiding in a game we might have won by any margin up to 6-7.

City have tended to play it tight at the Grove, relying on the counter-attack when we over extend. The fact they have only one win in that six match sequence might just provide Pellegrini’s men the motive to be more expansive this time around. That, and the fact that they now have Bacary Sagna, as well as Gael Clichy and the odious Nasri, able to offer an insight into Arsene Wenger’s approach to such fixtures. Not that they could help much to help when the two shadow squads met at Wembley in the Community Shield a month ago and we triumphed 3-0.

It is a fair bet this will be a very different match from that. If Aaron Ramsey is fit to start we will possibly be missing just Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud from the likely starting eleven were everybody available. In front of Wojciech Szczesny we can expect a back four of Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, and fit-again Kieran Gibbs.

In midfield Mikel Arteta will probably be joined at the base By Rambo, if fit, or Jack Wilshere if not? Personally I would prefer to see Mesut Ozil returned to the advanced playmaking role in which he can pick out the the pace of Alexis Sanchez on the right, debut boy Danny Welbeck in the centre, and the guile of Santi Cazorla on the left. That would represent a change from what Arsene has done thus far, but we haven’t been firing on all cylinders and this may be the approach to get us back in the groove again.

The most realistic options are on the left flank, where the improved Nacho Monreal may get the nod over Gibbs, and either Lukas Podolski or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might be preferred to Santi.

City, obviously title contenders, started the season brightly, beating Newcastle on the road 0-2, then Liverpool at home 3-1, before unexpectedly coming unstuck at home to Stoke City, 0-1, in their last outing. They have lost Jovetic and Fernando to injury, and Negredo as a result of their failure to comply with FFP (according to Pellegrini). Expect Aguero and Dzeko to start up front. Not a bad pairing, in all fairness. Just how ambitous Silva, Nasri, and Yaya Toure are could determine the nature of the contest.

The ‘holic pound is wagered on a float of Friday night stout. I’m drawn to the 2-1 home win on offer at as high as 11/1. That looks generous, with a back-up few coppers on 3-2 at 33′s.

I’m looking forward to seeing a number of you on the day, and for those who cannot make it then I hope you are still able to catch the game with your broadcaster of choice.

Have a good one ‘holics.

The Three Amigos?

The first of the dreaded international breaks for this season is in full flow. Just days after the transfer window has closed we are still being linked with players by sites desperate for hits. That highlights the lack of real news. It isn’t entirely barren out there, however, with Steve Stammers in the Mirror, and James Orr in the Independent, declaring a potential North London derby return to action for Theo Walcott in three weeks time.

Now it is harsh to expect Theo to hit the ground running. Quite whether the level of work he is able to put in now equates to a full pre-season is open to doubt, but with recent additions to the squad there is a delicious prospect of him lining up alongside Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez in a totally interchangeable front three that could cause opposition defenders nightmares.

It isn’t just the fact that the three have blistering pace, the thing that defenders hate most, and it is not just that they can all finish as they have all proven, but it also means that opposing teams may not be allowed the luxury of playing out from the back as all have the ability to press defenders and deny them the time they like to have.

That isn’t to say that those three should be our first choice until Olivier Giroud returns. There are options, particularly on the flanks, and Theo may have to be nursed back to full match fitness, but I don’t mind admitting I am excited about the possibilty of those three striking up an understanding and switching positions every few minutes with devastating effect.

Tactically it adds something to our options as well. If we are to survive the season (well, until January at least) with relatively few defensive options then the more time we can keep the ball in the opposition half can only be advantageous. That defence is an area in which we will need a degree of good fortune if we are to turn promise into a serious title challenge.

For now though let’s just enjoy the horizon, and a mouthwatering opportunity to burn teams with raw attacking power.

A Deadline Day Ode

‘Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house, every brain was thinking, Arsene. Man or mouse?

Some laptops were broken, their batteries dead; the ice bucket challenger had some ice on his head.

What’s this? The anguished cry of so many, no central defender? the man is a Benny!

No beast of a man, to anchor the middle, oh Arsenal, Gawd’s sake, you boil my piddle.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, and what, prey, did my Britneys’ hear?

As the three wise men had spotted afar, we had acquired our own bright northern star?

And Lo we had our new striker Danny, oh please be a Wrighty and not a damned Franny.

From the boardroom a cry with deadline day cheer, “Enjoy what you’ve got, you’ll be paying all year.”

Danny Welbeck, welcome to Arsenal son.

And A Point Secured

Well, as days out go I think you could say that was mixed. The team news revealed a couple of surprises, namely the ‘resting’ of Jack Wilshere, so impressive against Besiktas, and the selection of Yaya Sanogo who was listed as out with a hamstring problem before the event. There was an understandable reason for the former. Jack cannot play every match. As for the latter, well that was an odd one given that Alexis had proven to be the matchwinner up top in midweek.

The match hinged on a five minute first-half spell that began with Laurent Koscielny taking what appeared to be a mixture of elbow and accidental head butt from Schlupp. It took a long time for him to be brought back to his feet and taken off the pitch for treatment. Mathieu Flamini screamed at the bench after the next Leicester attack, and clearly all was not well. Then Sanogo, unable to latch on to the first chip in his direction, saw a similar opportunity and Scmeichel’s deflection was netted by Alexis. One-nil to the Arsenal indeed.

Unfortunately Koscielny was under the first cross that followed into the Arsenal box, and Ulloa headed home comfortably. Laurent was sensibly replaced by Calum Chambers, but was it too late? How easy to say from a distance, but with the benefit of hindsight was that really so difficult a call?

What followed was something we have witnessed so often. Arsenal, dominating possession for large swathes of the contest, but unable to create clear-cut opportunities. It happens to everybody, and the optimistic would argue we are doing well to remain unbeaten while not finding form and function. I get that, totally, but this season looks like being a more competitive one between two or three sides. Whether it is three now looks to depend on what happens in the next twenty-four hours.

There was a point this afternoon at which it looked as though per Mertesacker might follow the Kos into the treatment room. Thankfully it proved to be a false alarm. The consequences, had it transpired, were lost on nobody, and at this point any review of the match turns into the topic I hate most. One cannot avoid it however.

Had Per had to go off with any ‘about three weeks’  injury, and with Laurent already assaulted (yes he was thank you pal), what would our central defensive partnership have been when Abu Dhabi Select come to town? Calum Chambers, as he proved once again having come on as a substitute, can be trusted to give of his best. Who else?

Monday, the final day of the transfer window, promises to be a tense affair once again. So many think we need strengthening further, this scribe included, but on Tuesday we will have what we have. What do you intend to do then, depending on what happens in the ensuing day? I will get behind whoever we have, because that is my role, as a supporter, to support.

Let’s consider the next twenty-four hours, however.

I will.

And Leicester

I have waited until the final whistle has blown at Goodison before considering the preview of our trip to Leicester, hereinafter to be compulsorily referred to as And Leicester, in honour of the song we amended in the early seventies. Quite why things got so lively at And Leicester, both when we played there and when venturing further north through the station, I’m not entirely sure. Fibert Street was a proper old school ground and I have to confess not having been to the Walkers/King Power stadium.

Indeed Arsenal and And Leicester have shared some famous faces, particularly from our European Fairs-Cup winning and first double squad. Frank McLintock, George Armstrong, Eddie Kelly, and Jon Sammels all starred for both clubs. Back to today, however.

Chelsea and Swansea have maintained their one hundred percent start to the season by winning their third fixtures today, thus making it desirable that we get something, and preferably three points, on Sunday. Please note the word desirable. It isn’t critical, crucial, or must-win in August. Having said that keeping on the leaders shirt-tails would make life easier in the months to come, and even with the injuries we have suffered thus far we should have too much on paper for the newly promoted charges of Nigel Pearson.

And Leicester opened the season by coming from behind twice to hold Everton, but in their second home fixture last Tuesday they were humbled by League Two Shrewsbury, scorers of the only goal of the game. That performance paled into insignificance given Manchester United’s humbling at MK Dons and Pearson will have worked hard at rebuilding his squad’s belief in the ensuing days.  In between those two performances the Foxes gave a reasonable account of themselves at Stamford Bridge before falling to a 2-0 defeat.

Forget And Leicester, what of the Arsenal side to take them on, bereft of the injured Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott, Yaya Sanogo, and Olivier Giroud, but buoyed by the return of Aaron Ramsey, suspended for the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas. Quite who makes way for Rambo is far from clear. Jack Wilshere’s return to form in the 1-0 midweek triumph may have saved him, but can Mathieu Flamini be sacrificed to facilitate a Rambo/Wilshere axis?

The other alternatives could see either Santi Cazorla or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making way and the pack being shuffled. Whichever of the options transpire I will join the clamour for the return of Mesut Ozil into the playmaker role behind Alexis Sanchez, please boss.

Reasonably convinced though I am that we will bring the three points home from And Leicester, I am being cautious with the ‘holic pound. The 8/1 available for a 1-2 away win looks particularly attractive. I’m on it.

So all that remains is for me to wish those going a cracking day. Show Leicester what magnificent away support they have missed since we were last there in the Invincibles season. For the rest I also wish you a cracking day, and a perfect picture on your broadcast or stream.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Seventeen And Counting

If you want to read a conventional report on the game tonight can I recommend the Guardian. I haven’t seen what they have come up with yet, but among the mainstream media they and the Observer get it right more often than most. Actually, I just checked, and it is here.

For this blogger and, I suspect, most of you, it was a fraught evening. In the preview I probably gave away my expectation with a punt on 2-1, albeit supplemented with a lesser wager on 3-1. I suspected we were in for a tense night as a result of experience rather than intimate knowledge.

It was a game I thought long and hard about coming up for. It is always touch and go if I get home from midweek matches, and I could do without the worry that accompanies that. Most midweek games that I attend I make an early exit, if the situation permits. I have to say at 1-0 going into added time tonight I could not have done that.

The match was eminently watchable if you didn’t have an enormous emotional attachment. Arsenal must be the best team to see if you are a neutral, or supporter of another club not in direct competition with us. For example, Ludogorets or maybe Tottenham. No wait, well played Ludogorets tonight.

Not being a neutral, and of course neither are you, this was a night we have become accustomed to. With the half a spine of Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, and Olivier Giroud missing Arsene opted for what I would consider a plan B. My instinct was that he would start Sanogo as a target man, a la Giroud, but instead he opted for a more mobile front man in Alexis. The system changed somewhat, we also had an interesting blend of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, and Mesut Ozil making shapes ahead of Mathieu Flamini, and alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, often left lonely hugging the right touchline.

As things transpired Arsene nailed it, but by a whisker. Alexis will love the significance of his first competitive goal for Arsenal. Let us also acknowledge significant decsions by a poor referee that could have changed the outcome. I have no issue with Debuchy’s first half challenge in the area, but Jack was a lucky boy. Given what happened later I have to acknowledge we dodged one bullet, maybe.

That doesn’t excuse a card happy official from showing a second yellow, and red card, to Debuchy for a perfectly innocent challenge in which he wins the ball. Cue the ramp up in nervousness among the faithful.

The outcome was as precious a 1-0 as we have produced in recent years. The questions remain. I am loathe to spark the debate again about using the resources clearly available to strengthen the squad. It goes round and round and pits Gooner against Gooner. We know we are short, squad wise, of a quality centre back. We know another defensive midfielder, preferably a beast of a player, would be welcome, and who the hell couldn’t do without a goalscoring centre-forward?

That being said let’s just savour the evening, and a first goal of many for Alexis. Now, time to get some more ice. Long story…

 

 

A difficult week could be made much more bearable on Wednesday night should Arsenal beat Besiktas to reach the group stages of the Champions League for the seventeenth consecutive season. The online Arsenal world is alive with talk of injuries and potential transfers. They have to be put on the back burner for the first “must-win” game of the new season.

We go into the match without the injured Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott, and Olivier Giroud plus the suspended Aaron Ramsey. The latter duo will certainly be missed but this is an opportunity for others to step up to the plate and impress. I may be wrong, but the starting eleven almost picks itself in these circumstances.

Wojciech Szczesny should start behind the strongest back four available which would mean Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny starting in the centre of the defence for the first time this season. That is undoubtedly harsh on Calum Chambers, but there is no shame in being behind that first-choice pairing. Can Calum play left-back? The situation probably means that the more experienced, if inconsistent, Nacho Monreal keeps the job.

In midfield there is an opportunity for Mathieu Flamini to get another yellow card under his belt alongside Jack Wilshere, who must surely surrender the playmaking role to Mesut Ozil in order to restore some balance to the side. The attacking trio provide the one area perhaps where the boss will be wrestling with his options. I suspect it will be Alexis on the right, Santi Cazorla on the left, and Yaya Sanogo leading the line. There is however the option of starting Alexis in the centre, not an outrageous success at Goodison Park, and play Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Tomas Rosicky on the right.

Besiktas come into the game fresh, having not played at the weekend. They showed last week that we can take nothing for granted. They created chances and in Demba Ba have a player who knows how to find the net in English conditions. Turkish teams traditionally haven’t traveled well but there is a change sweeping through that league, and to be fair Besiktas are unbeaten in their last three away Champions League fixtures. Slaven Bilic brings a fresh approach, and whilst they may well rely on a cautious counter-atttacking game they appear to have more ambition than many in recent years. As Bilic himself said,

“We have a dream, a hope. It’s more of a plan though, and we are going to do everything we can to fulfil it. We have prepared our game, our plan. I have big belief in my assistants and they are going to do the job.”

The ‘holic pound goes in search of value, and will be a smaller than usual bet. I have to be honest, this is pure guesswork and not as informed as would normally be the case. Bookies are nervous of 1-0 and 2-0 at 13/2, but I’m tempted by the eights on 2-1. Actually, I’m tempted by a back-up punt on 3-1 at thirteens. Whatever.

For those lucky enough to be going, have an enjoyable evening. As for the rest, I hope you have a decent stream. Luckily I have Sky Sports 5 so, whoop whoop. Take care, all, and please, keep it civil in the drinks. Thank you.

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