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I have a very old drum here that I simply have to bang again having watched the EFL Cup Final being decided by officiating errors rather than the excellent football that was played. Southampton will long feel hard done by, and football supporters everywhere will understand their feelings of disappointment tonight. It will live with them a long time.

Actually Matt Le Tissier was quite right when he said the the match could have followed a very different path had the Saints opening ‘goal’ been allowed, as indeed it should. It might also have seen United win a less emotional contest from behind. Yet the feeling that Southampton were robbed also lingers in the air, and for how much longer can we not take some sort of action to improve the standard of officiating?

Few could argue that the officials are under more scrutiny than ever and have a very tough job to do with many split-second decisions to make over the course of every game. The majority they still get right, but there is a feeling that the majority is shrinking as ever more high-profile mistakes are seen, and inconsistencies are evident.

The same old arguments for and against technological assistance raged on social media during and in the wake of the match. Football however has to follow the lead of cricket and rugby in helping the officials to get more decisions right. Slowly but surely it is being dragged kicking and screaming to that inevitable conclusion. We have made a start with goal line technology which has been a welcome introduction.

Next season the German Bundesliga will become the first major league competition approved to use video assistant referees. The VAR experiment is still in an experimental phase under the supervision of the law-making International Football Association Board and it will be interesting to see exactly how it will work and what it will cover. Nobody wants repeated lengthy delays to disrupt the flow of the game, but rugby has somehow got that right, and wiring up the referees would also help greater understanding of the job facing the man in the middle.

If the VAR experiment throws up valid reasons for a wider introduction to be halted then at least we can say the game tried to help raise standards and get back to the drawing board. I can’t help but feel though that done correctly this will be a justification for a revolutionary change to the game. It has to be something that is used only on matters of fact, and then there is the question of whether or not clubs will be allowed a number of ‘challenges’ as in cricket.

I’m not sure about the latter. It could be used by clubs to waste time, and this system is supposed to be about helping the officials, not making their life potentially harder. Rugby seems to have got things pretty much right, and the ability to listen in to the discussion between referee and video referee is informative too.

I know there are people out there dead against any change, but the game is becoming too big for officials, nowhere near as quick as those they are meant to be controlling, from having every modern assistance available to get more decisions right.

Rant over, for now. I have a feeling it will resurface again very soon.

Southampton’s journey to the EFL Cup Final has robbed us of a weekend fixture so the internet is rife with speculation rather than much hard news. Injuries continue to be the most tangible snippets out there. Reports that Santi Cazorla is out for the remainder of the season will surprise few, but it is desperately sad news for the Gunners who it’s fair to say have missed him a lot since he went in the fetlock back in October. Let’s  hope he can recover fully and return to complete a full season 2017/18.

Out for three weeks is Mohamed Elneny just as it looked as though he might be making a regular starting spot his own. The timing could not be worse for him with Aaron Ramsey thought to be on the cusp of returning to training. Laurent Koscielny is also expected to be back in full training prior to the visit to Anfield on Saturday week.

The midfield has been seriously misfiring in recent weeks and it will be interesting to see if we can repair the area of the team that is so crucial to the football that Arsene Wenger wants to play. Numerous combinations have been tried and it may well be that we are about to see a fairly settled spell of Ramsey and Granit Xhaka, if they can avoid the twin threats of further injury and suspension.

I prefer to steer clear of speculation but there have been more reports following the Mundo Deportivo revelation yesterday that Hector Bellerin remains Barcelona’s number one defensive target in the summer. The article suggested that Barca hope Hector may agitate for a move away from the club should Arsene Wenger leave at the end of the season. I’m sceptical as he signed a new long-term deal, reported to be over six years, in October. He has also said repeatedly he is happy at Arsenal. I’m keeping my glass half full on this one.

Finally Arsenal.com carried an interview with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain today talking about the importance of the supporters getting behind the team. He also shows appreciation of the fact that the team having to lift themselves as well.

“People have been doubting us and it’s important that we pick ourselves up to try to turn the tide into a more positive one. Our fans are great home and away. They’re very loud so we hear them when they’re happy and we hear them when they’re frustrated, but that’s part and parcel of being at a massive club like Arsenal.”

Every day it seems that one player or another is making all the right noises, and hopefully for the remainder of the season we can produce a run of improved form and results that will deliver a greater unity around the club.

Arsene Wenger’s mix and match selection was a good mix of youth and experience, it appeared, ahead of the match at Gander Green Lane. In front of David Ospina a back four of Gabriel, Skhodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, and Nacho Monreal, were backed up on the bench by Mathieu Debuchy, Per Mertesacker, and Kieran Gibbs. Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka were in behind a creative trio of Theo Walcott, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, and Alex Iwobi. Just for good measure Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were substitutes along with Alexis, displaced by Lucas in the first eleven.

Both sides started cautiously and the first moment of ‘excitement’ was created by a pitch invader eleven minutes in. Why, when you are one of the holders of the 5000 hottest tickets in town, would you ensure your ejection and the waste of a space in the ground? A quarter of an hour passed before Elneny launched a conversion attempt far over the crossbar. There followed a shocking dive by former Gunner Craig Eastmond. Disappointing but not surprising to see that. Michael Oliver was not fooled.

Roarie Deacon, another former Gunner, enjoyed the opening quarter of the match and caused both Arsenal full-backs some nervous moments. As the clock ticked over 23 minutes Xhaka was awarded a yellow card for his first foul of the contest when he held Eastmond back. He does appear to be a marked man by the PGMOL officials. Arsenal grabbed the lead when Xhaka sent Lucas scurrying down the right flank. He cut in and sent a cross towards Walcott, who completely missed his attempted backheel, and the ball curled inside the far post.

Sutton United 0-1 Arsenal

A scramble ensued when Monreal was denied by the goalkeeper but Iwobi was unable to tee up anyone in the chaos that followed the ball not going out of play. Moments later Walcott did connect with a drive from outside the box that missed the target by some distance and nestled in the back of the home end. Collins challenge on Iwobi was ‘interesting’ in the light of the Xhaka booking. The non-award of a free-kick raised eyebrows. Man and ball was a great challenge many moons ago, but today? Of course Alan Shearer laughed it off and mocked Martin Keown for considering it a foul.

Just over five minutes before the break Reine-Adelaide found himself the covering right-back and was forced to take a yellow card for the team when Deacon threatened to break clear. The resulting free-kick was rapidly taken to the other end by Walcott, and Iwobi’s effort was deflected just past the post. Sutton were all but gifted a response when Ospina’s careless clearance presented May with a free shot which he sliced into the rough wide of the near post.

Elneny, who looked to have picked up a calf problem in the first-half, did not reappear after the break and Oxlade-Chamberlain was introduced. The National League side started the half enthusiastically pressing across the pitch but the Gunners did quickly adjust to the increased pace of the game. With both sides careless in possession Sutton coach Ian Baird, once of Southampton, screamed “for flips sake get ‘old of the flipping ball”, or words to that effect. The beauty of a small venue!

Gomis created panic in the Arsenal box and the Gunners had Oxlade-Chamberlain to thank for bringing the ball out of danger. The feeling that we needed the cushion of a second goal was growing. It came courtesy of a wonderfully intricate exchange around the box and ended with Walcott sweeping Monreal’s cross in at the far post with his left foot.

Sutton United 0-2 Arsenal

Chances were traded but both goalkeepers were able to deny first Biamou for Sutton, then Lucas for the Arsenal. Monreal had to be at his best to head a dangerous looking Deacon cross away for a corner which Collins head narrowly over. Sutton, and their supporters, were lifted by the moment. Just short of 65 minutes Deacon’s 25 yard pile-driver crashed back into play off the crossbar. Bigger clubs are sniffing around him, and you can see why.

Oxlade-Chamberlain’s scintillating break over half of the pitch came to nought when he failed to pick out the three unmarked Gunners in the box. Spence responded with a cross that brought an excellent punch clear from Ospina. This tie was still very much alive with twenty minutes to play. Sutton sent Hudson-Odoi on for the luckless May. The Gunners went for the double substitution of Alexis and Maitland-Niles for Reine-Adelaide and Iwobi.

Holding had to be alert to clear when Oxlade-Chamberlain had his pocket picked by Gomis. Some of the Sutton lads may have started to tire at this point but Gomis was not one of them. The Ox attempted to make amends but Worner managed to parry his goal bound effort.

Collins took a kick at the stricken Alexis then pushed him over as he attempted to get up. I wonder what Xhaka thought of him getting away with a quick word of warning by the inconsistent Oliver. The fact that he is the finest the PGMOL have at the moment is telling.

As the clock ticked down Xhaka’s long range effort was deflected to Oxlade-Chamberlain, sadly off target with his snapshot. Martin Keown, perhaps unsurprisingly, praised Arsenal’s approach to a potential banana skin. We should also pay tribute to Sutton who were far from disgraced on the evening. Their passage to the fifth round was a thrilling ride for them and their supporters, and the two Football League scalps they claimed along the way will not be forgotten for a long time.

All in all, a very satisfying evening. Bring on Lincoln.

At last there is some real football to distract us from the general air of gloom surrounding the club at the moment. An incedible Saturday in the FA Cup saw a non-league team advance away against a Premier League club and a League One club defeat the champions. While Sunday’s fixtures went as existed the draw gave us more reason to cheer. Only non-leaguers Sutton United and Lincoln City stand between us and an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

Just who will start at Sutton became marginally clearer on Sunday as Danny Welbeck played for seventy minutes in the under-23 fixture at Leicester. The England striker confirmed on his Twitter account that the “plastic pitch at Sutton isn’t the best idea at the moment“. Clearly he has ongoing issues with that knee. Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were not involved at Leicester so probably will be at Gander Green Lane.

So, using the eleven that started at Southampton in the last round as a basis from which to work it is possible that Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal might come in for Shkodran Mustafi and Kieran Gibbs in front of David Ospina, and alongside Hector Bellerin, and Rob Holding.

Mohamed Elneny could come in for one of the young double-barrelled midfielders and alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a midfield three. If Lucas has not regained fitness we could be stretched up front. Olivier Giroud should get a start alongside Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi?

Sutton will obviously be up for the game, in particular the former Gunners Craig Eastmond, Roarie Deacon, Jeffrey Monakana and Jack Jebb. Eastmond was once considered to be ahead of Francis Coquelin for a future midfield berth with the Gunners, and made ten appearances in two seasons including a Champions League appearance in Donetsk. Talking to Jim White in the Telegraph Craig was warm in his praise of the boss who let him go, whilst upbeat about his new team’s chances of causing what would surely be the biggest FA Cup upset of all time.

“To be fair, we never think we haven’t got a chance, that’s one of our strengths. Sure, if Leeds had played their full-strength side we might have thought different. But once we saw their teamsheet, we knew we could do it.”

“I’ve not seen Arsène Wenger in the flesh since I left the club. I see him on TV all the time obviously. Be great to catch up. I know he’s taken a lot of stick recently, but for me there’s no question, he’s a great manager. And a great man.”

Much has been said about the nature of the artificial surface but in all honesty Arsenal effectively play on firm, enhanced surfaces every week. The bounce may be marginally different and the first burn will persuade most to try to stay on their feet more than usual, but if we are playing a possession game based on short sharp passes then we should be able to make our technical superiority pay.

The ‘holic pound

If you listened to the Bergkamp Wonderland podcast this week you will know I am not expecting an avalanche of goals. The standard of the National League isn’t so very far removed from that of Leagues One and Two so I expect the hosts to get bodies behind the ball and make it difficult for us. The lively Deacon and the experienced Tubbs will hope to convert any rare opportunities that come their way on the break.

I plumped for 0-3 to the Arsenal but don’t be surprised if at least a couple of those don’t come until the non-leaguers tire in the latter stages. Unfortunately for me the bookies think that is the likeliest outcome too. Paddy Power offer a market best of 13/2 against that and I have grabbed a piece of that while it lasts. Expect it to drop to 11/2 or even 5/1.

To the lucky 750 plus any of ours who have tickets from Sutton I wish you a fabulous evening of old style football watching. To the rest who hopefully won’t need to be behind the sofa let’s just hope we get an exciting, but eventually not too pulse-racing passage into a quarter-final against another National League opponent.

We all know the rest of the football world will be rooting for the underdog, as indeed we were when Sutton beat Leeds to reach the last sixteen. Should the unexpected happen I hope the vast majority of us will react with some class and grace.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

The car was in for an annual service and MOT today, so I got to have a holiday and catch the Arsene Wenger press conference live. I’m not quite sure what people were expecting to hear, or rather I probably do, but it was never going to be more than a demonstration of him putting on a brave face and trying to get people to focus on future games, not recent horror stories.

He confirmed that he had said this week that he would make a decision about his future in March or April. Whether he will share that with the wider public then or at the end of the season remains unclear. A friend who knows him far better than I ever will thinks it will be the latter as Arsene would never want it to be about him, and I understand that. Arsene remains totally committed to the club and his beliefs about how the game should be played.

There are those who wish that he was a little less principled in this instance and give the supporters an opportunity to reunite and show their appreciation for the amazing things he has achieved at our club in a stay that will stretch to nigh on 21 years. Perhaps he gave us a hint with his insistence that he would be managing somewhere next season, even if it were not at Arsenal.

There followed on social media the demonstration that the divide is still very much in evidence, but changing somewhat. The belligerence of those who would want him gone is still stark and saddening. However there is a softening on the other side as a number of those who remained staunchly loyal have come to accept that now the time probably has arrived for the ultimate change to be made.

As one of those who have turned through 180 degrees I have to say I have done so with a very heavy heart. There is still that tiny forlorn hope that the players who have let Arsene down so badly finally realise their potential in the final three months of the season. Thirteen consecutive Premier League victories would take us very close but it is difficult to imagine this group rediscovering form and confidence for more than a handful of games before weakly submitting again.

More realistic would be a third FA Cup triumph in four years. Four more wins would deliver that and it is incredible to think that some would deny him even that. Those who do should take a long hard look at themselves. If you want Arsenal not to win trophies because you want the manager to go then you are not what most people would consider to be an Arsenal supporter.

Even if we do end the season in style however it would be better for it to be a glowing celebration of Arsene’s tenure. What he achieved in his first decade will always mark him out as this club’s greatest ever manager, and that he managed the transition from Highbury until the renegotiations of the major sponsorships in 2013 will also stand the test of time. He has had the chance to spend the club’s new wealth but we appear to be no nearer to seriously challenging for the major prizes than we were then.

We’re not entitled to win anything, but the club made that momentous move to ensure we could continue to compete at the highest level. We haven’t made that step up though. When Ivan Gazidis said we would compete with the likes of Bayern Munich he must have prayed we would not be humiliated by them in consecutive seasons this far down the line. It’s time for fresh ideas in the boardroom. It’s time to say thank you and good luck to the amazing man who brought us to this point.

It’s time to write the next chapter, painful as that may be.

The announcement of the starting eleven meant Bayern, and most Arsenal supporters, were still facing the possibility of a 4-3-3 formation as well as the normal 4-2-3-1. As the match kicked off it looked very much a case of the latter, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right flank and Alex Iwobi on the left.

Bayern’s starting line-up looked to be proof of the absurdity of the claims that they are not what they were. Neuer, Lahm, Hummels, Martinez, Alaba, Alonso, Vidal, Robben, Thiago, Costa, Lewandowski. Powerful.

The opening phases were interesting with Arsenal pressing high and Bayern springing direct and pacy counter attacks. Bayern were first to settle into their plan of controlled possession and forced the Gunners onto the back foot. Vidal produced the first effort on target after less than ten minutes but David Ospina saved comfortably.

In under twelve minutes we were behind. Francis Coquelin, the only person in the stadium who didn’t know you have to keep Robben away from his left foot, allowed him to do exactly that, astonishingly going the wrong way to allow the Dutch winger the opportunity to drive the ball into the top far corner. It was a fabulous strike. Three minutes later he tried his luck again but Ospina dived to grab the ball.

Bayern Munich 1-0 Arsenal

Skhodran Mustafi took a chunk of Thiago from behind and picked up an early yellow card for the visitors. The early pressing was left by the wayside as the Arsenal retreated into something of a back ten leaving Alexis looking a forlorn and frustrated lone raider. On our left flank Kieran Gibbs and Iwobi were being schooled by Robben and Lahm. The recalled Granit Xhaka was forced to be a third covering defender on that flank.

Coquelin sent Alexis scurrying away midway through the half but Martinez very easily dispossessed the solo attacker. When he made a second break a couple of minutes later he drew a foul from Hummels on the edge of the box. Hummels was shown the yellow card for the challenge. A chance for us to strike? Ozil’s free-kick was spilled by Neuer but ricocheted away to safety.

Temporarily lifted, we took up the pressing game again and were rewarded with a penalty kick when Lewandowski brought down the fast-reacting Koscielny in the box from a corner. Alexis’ spot-kick was poor, Neuer saved, but the Chilean produced a wonderful finish on the turn at the second attempt. Astonishingly, we were level.

Bayern Munich 1-1 Arsenal

The goalscorer was booked minutes later when Martinez threw himself spectacularly to ground under minimal, if any, contact. Bayern screamed at the referee when Bellerin’s arm, in a natural position, was hit from point blank range. From the resulting corner Lewandowski headed over the crossbar.

At the other end Xhaka ventured forward for a well-struck left foot volley that Neuer managed to hold onto. This was far from the passive Arsenal in the wake of the opening goal, but Bayern attempted to hit back with another high header by Lewandowski from Alaba’s cross. Hummels too missed the target with a header from a set piece conceded by Xhaka.

The last chance of the half fell to Mesut Ozil from a tight angle on the left hand side and Neuer was equal to it. A very good first-half was drawing to a close and the Arsenal could be well pleased with their response to going behind.

We started the second-half on the front foot but suffered a real blow when skipper Koscielny hobbled off with a hamstring problem to be replaced by Gabriel. The substitute’s first challenge was a vital one on Lewandowski. However the latter climbed all over Mustafi to power home a header from Lahm’s cross and Bayern were again ahead with over half an hour still to play.

Bayern Munich 2-1 Arsenal

A couple of minutes later the Arsenal defence was peeled open once more when Lewandowski back-heeled into the path of the untracked Thiago who slid the ball inside the far post. Memories of last season’s 5-1 mauling here were being resurrected.

Bayern Munich 3-1 Arsenal

Xhaka received a yellow card for a bad challenge on Alonso, who needed no encouragement to lie down at every opportunity. Gibbs survived another call for a penalty when he appeared to move his arm towards the ball to deny Robben. From the corner that followed Ospina produced a wonderful save to deny Martinez. The reprieve was temporary. Thiago’s deflected strike put us in all kinds of bother. The loss of the skipper had left us so badly exposed at the back.

Bayern Munich 4-1 Arsenal

Arsene decided the answer was to send on Theo Walcott for the unfortunate Iwobi, out of his depth on the night. Hopefully he will learn much from the experience. Arsenal’s defenders long balls upfield were coming straight back with no Olivier Giroud to hold the ball up. Walcott’s introduction ahead of the target man was mystifying. Ospina produced another fine save as Bayern powered through and around us at will.

Mustafi and Lewandowski came together, not for the first time, and the Arsenal man was less than impressed with the striker’s apparent inner ear infection. With fourteen minutes to go we finally introduced Giroud and hauled off Coquelin. Lewandowski appeared to catch Ospina as the latter made a brave save at his feet and Gabriel was quick to seek retribution. It was good to see a reaction. Gabriel and Lewandowski met shoulder to shoulder in the next attack and the latter again plunged unnecessarily and theatrically.

Lahm, outstanding on the night enjoyed the freedom of the right flank once more but from his cross Robben thankfully fired his right footer high and wide. Before he was substituted Costa brought yet another wonderful save from Ospina throwing himself full length at his far post. Lahm’s late booking for bringing down Oxlade-Chamberlain will rule him out of the second leg, but he had already ensured his team a comfortable cushion to travel with.

Walcott earned us a corner with six minutes to go but we were unable to convert it into a much needed second away goal. Lewandowski was withdrawn and managed to make it all the way to the line without falling over again. In truth he was being very professional and using up time that Arsenal badly needed to make better use of. Robben, bettered only by Lahm on the night was also taken off to a rapturous standing ovation.

Newly introduced Muller gave the scoreline a horribly familiar ring when he danced inside Oxlade-Chamberlain to slide home the fifth.

Bayern Munich 5-1 Arsenal

Arsenal’s second-half capitulation was so worrying. If we can’t lift ourselves in a Champions League knock-out tie then when can we? This tie may just have been the final crack at the Champions League for Arsene, and the result may confirm that. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and consider that when things have calmed down.

It’s February, so we are playing either Bayern Munich or Barcelona, right? Let me just check the fixture list, ah, It’s Bayern again. But we’re away in the first leg, so that means we have done pretty well in the group stage this season. Had we not pinched the top spot we would have been hosting Barca tonight, but instead PSG have that little test to face. Advantage the Arsenal, yes?

Arsene Wenger has already confirmed that David Ospina will be in goal in the Allianz Arena. The Champions League and cup tie goalkeeper has a real opportunity to stake a claim to more regular action in a huge match. The news is not so good for Lucas who has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. I hope his luck turns for the better soon.

Ahead of Ospina the boss has to decide between Nacho Monreal or Kieran Gibbs for what could be one of the key positions of the match. If both were showing consistently good form I would plump for Nacho, but I will understand if Arsene opts to start the latter for the second match running. Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, and Laurent Koscielny are surely given starters?

As is Mesut Ozil, despite the Chinese whispers of his impending benching. A fascinating choice awaits for the pair behind him in midfield, assuming Arsene sticks with his 4-2-3-1. The switch to 4-3-3 worked at Southampton and in the opening phase at Stamford Bridge, but it was ditched after Chelsea took the lead and Arsene is unlikely to put his complete trust in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to be the middle man in that formation in a match of this magnitude.

That’s not to say the Ox won’t start on Wednesday night. In fact he is highly likely to, such has been his form in recent weeks. At last we have the luxury of options to partner him with Granit Xhaka back to challenge Mohamed Elneny after his suspension. Xhaka and the Ox could form a powerful base from which to spring attacks, but can Granit resist his inclination to the impetuous? Elneny may keep his place, just.

Mesut is not the only Gunner under a bit of a cloud at the moment and for that reason I would be sorely tempted to start Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi either side of Alexis rather than start with Theo Walcott. I hope Theo is just suffering a bit of ‘new Dad tiredness’ and will be back to the form he showed in the first half of the season soon. He really needs to show he is still driven to contribute more to this side. In reality I suspect the boss will persist with him. Good luck to him if so.

What of Bayern, I hear you ask. Now whilst I am watching a lot more European football in recent weeks none of it has been from the Bundesliga, so I am reliant upon the opinions of others. I have read in many places that they are not the Bayern of recent seasons, but when I look at the League table I see they have lost just one match and are seven points clear at the top of the table. They have scored 45 goals in 20 league matches. That’s deterioration? Blimey.

Champions League then, perhaps more relevant? A defeat to Atletico in Madrid, just the 1-0. A 3-2 loss in Rostov is eye-catching. It’s why they finished second in group B as they avenged their defeat by Atletico on match day six. So basically one embarrassing reverse all season. They still look the hardest of nuts to crack to this observer.

The ‘holic pound

Last season we beat them 2-0 at home in one of the best performances we have produced in recent seasons. It counted for nought as they monstered us in the return, but there is a blueprint for how to contain, frustrate, and punish them. I’m not expecting us to repeat that margin of victory, but if we are to succeed then a return to our European heritage, and one-nil to the Arsenal has some appeal at a staggering 22/1 with Paddy Power. If a topical anytime goalscorer punt is of interest then Mesut Ozil and Shkodran Mustafi look a little skinny at bests of 9/2 and 12/1 respectively. I’ll pass at those prices, thank you.

A fair few friends are enjoying the hospitality in Munich as I type. The Arsenal allocation, as ever, is sold out. I hope they get a performance from a team that is certainly due a good one. At home I may grab some Bavarian beer for a stereotypical night in front of the screen with my full leder… no, I’ll spare you that image. It’s made me feel a bit queasy, if I’m honest!

Have a (hopefully) great one, ‘holics.

Cup of tea. The first requirement of the morning. It’s a Sunday morning look back at the day before, so forgive me if some of the events of yesterday have been ‘dissolved’. On reaching the usual pre-match hostelry almost bang on opening time I ran into a face I haven’t seen in nine years. Zaph is a provider of exotic Icelandic food and drink and didn’t disappoint. It was great to see him again.

The ex-neighbour returned for a match and proved something of a lucky omen as we bounced back from the week from hell. Not that it was all plain sailing, but if you read the preview ahead of the match I will claim to have pretty much called how the match would pan out with the exception of the opener arriving before half-time , and the second goal not being scored by Danny Welbeck.

We made a bright start and Mesut Ozil combined with Alex Iwobi only to see his attempted chip headed away. We perhaps should have gone ahead when Alexis was put through but his chip lacked his usual deadly accuracy and Jakupovic made a comfortable save.

That seemed to bring Hull out of their shell and we saw glimpses of why they came into this match unbeaten in four Premier League encounters. The impressive Markovic sped through Arsenal’s left flank and crossed inches out of the reach of Niasse, who was almost gifted a simple tap in. The same player was denied spectacularly by Petr Cech when he climbed highest to a Grosicki cross.

Back came the Arsenal and Hector Bellerin spurned the best opportunity so far when Alexis, Ozil, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain combined to put him free only for the Spaniard to slice his drive onto the next fairway. An apt point at which to point out the contribution of the Ox again yesterday. Defensively he covers gaps rather than thunders into tackles, but he is the next best option we have to Santi for setting us off on the counter attack. He was arguably the man of the match.

He was involved in the next attack too when the ball fell to Alexis who cut inside but dragged his effort from the penalty spot wide of the target. Another Ox long pass was swept imperiously out to Iwobi who showed good strength to find Alexis, and the Chileans chip into the box was met on the volley by Ozil, but sadly it cleared the target with ease.

The opener arrived twelve minutes before the break. Iwobi and Ozil again opened up Hull’s right flank, Kieran Gibbs drive was deflected onto the wrist of the incoming Alexis by Jakupovic. It happened in a split second and referee Mark Clattenburg rightly ruled it to have not been a deliberate handball, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Arsenal 1-0 Hull City

Far from down having gone behind the Tigers started the second-half with a statement of intent. Markovic left the otherwise excellent Laurent Koscielny for dead on the hallway line and sprinted down our left flank before crossing to his strike partner Niasse. His drive drew an excellent save from Cech, forced to go full length to his left.

On the hour another sweeping move saw Ozil and Iwobi exchange passes before the latter curled his effort just over the crossbar near the far post. Then Ozil and Alexis put Theo Walcott through but he is a pale shadow of the player who started the season so well, and he passed the ball into the palms of Jakupovic. Knowing the arguments that often causes in the drinks I will say that it was an observation, not a criticism. Everyone has a little dip at points in the season and I would expect to see the busy Theo back again soon. It was a shame to see only Coquelin, after a delay, go to his assistance when Maguire turned bully boy midway through the half. Mohamed Elneny replaced him with twenty minutes to go.

Hull were finishing strongly and we survived something of a mini onslaught in the closing stages. Gibbs got the benefit of the doubt when clearing out Markovic as he bore down on goal, and the defender breathed a sigh of relief at the award of just a yellow card.

Markovic headed straight at Cech, Niasse found the side-netting at the near post, and Diamonde head over from close range. Yet at their most dangerous they were also at their most vulnerable. On the break following a scooped Iwobi clearance Ozil scampered clear and sent Alexis on a diagonal run from centre to left flank. His cross left the goalkeeper in no-mans land, late substitute Lucas headed goalwards and Clucas was forced to extend his arm to the ball to deny the goal. The red card was inevitable, less so was the Alexis spot-kick that was struck close to Jakupovic but with enough venom to render his late dive a pointless exercise.

Arsenal 2-0 Hull City

The ‘holic pound secured at the death, we returned to the pub and Zaph’s deadly concoctions. Old friends and new celebrated a win which was so badly needed. The result was far more important than the performance which was just as well. Once again we were like the proverbial curate’s egg, excellent in parts but…

Right, we can sit here moaning about Arsene, Arsenal, the weather, the economy, and all the rest. Instead we have a game to prepare for, players and supporters alike. It’s become quite an important one too. Consecutive defeats have once again cast us into what looks like being an incredible tussle for second to sixth places in the Premier League.

Under normal circumstances one would think that Hull City at home would be just the sort of fixture to provide a timely boost for all with the club in their hearts. Wouldn’t you know it though, the Tigers have found their claws under the management of Marco Silva, manager of the Olympiacos side that shocked us 2-3 at the Grove last season.

Their last four league fixtures have brought victories against Swansea, Bournemouth and Liverpool, plus a draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford. They also beat United in the second leg of the EFL Cup semi-final. A point tomorrow could lift them out of the relegation zone and all three points could elevate them three places up the table.

They do have problems ahead of the match. They have lost skipper Dawson and Hernandez to calf and hamstring injuries, and of course Mason’s recent skull fracture at Chelsea has weakened them further. It’s not all negative for them, however. Like us they welcome an Egyptian star, Elmohamady, back from their near miss at the African Cup of Nations.

For the Arsenal of course it is Mohamed Elneny who is back and hopefully fit enough to make a start in our beleaguered midfield. I wrote the other night in favour of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain getting the nod ahead of Francis Coquelin, who reportedly has a hamstring niggle, in the other berth in front of a back five that has warranted some thought this week.

Hector Bellerin would be a gamble at right-back, despite his return to full training today. Gabriel may be preferred to the alternatives to replace him despite a couple of dodgy performances last week. Laurent Koscielny and Skhodran Mustafi should get the chance to make amends for a less than convincing display last week, but Keiran Gibbs cannot be far from a recall at left back while Nacho Monreal searches for form and confidence. Petr Cech is expected to start behind them although few would be against a promotion for David Ospina right now.

The front four will likely still be Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil, and Alexis. Danny Welbeck would be a preferred starter for this fossil, but I’m sure he’ll get at least twenty minutes to lift the mood in the stadium, if required. Talking of which there has been much selective quoting of Arsenal Wenger today in the press and social media. Why should I not add to it?

“This is a decisive moment of the season and it is important as well that the fans are behind the team or we’ll have more problems. That is very important. This is not the time to go the way the media want us to go, but be behind the team and help the players to perform.”

Despite my personal view that he might consider making this season his last I think some are in danger of losing view that we all want what is best for this club, that we will all differ in our views of the best way forward, which isn’t a crime by the way, and we all have a role to play in setting an atmosphere in which these players can deliver what we crave. Yes, Arsene is right when he acknowledges that the team have to do their bit too.

“I am not fool enough not to know that the first priority is us and our dynamic inside the team that will create and facilitate the support of our fans. That is down to the quality of our performance.”

The ‘holic pound

The players can react to the furore of the last few days in one of two ways, obviously. An early goal to lift the crowd could lead to a convincing win, but there is the nagging doubt that Hull will set up to frustrate. A draw would be a great result for them and anything more on the break or from set pieces would be an absolute bonus. I have a feeling they may take some breaking down, but if we do ease the pressure with a second-half opener then we could go on to clinch it with a second (from Danny Welbeck?).

The 2-0 home win is also the bookies favourite outcome too, so only 13/2. Maybe have a couple of pounds on it this week?

It will be a snowy early morning start here if the forecast is to be believed, but the white stuff isn’t expected to make it to the capital. It will be a wee bit fresh though, so if you are not one of the ten thousand or so predicted to stay in the warm rather than take up their seats at the Grove do wrap up and be prepared.

Wherever you are watching, have a great one, ‘holics.

My thanks to one of our own, the inimitable Ttg, for telling the story of his grandson’s goalscoring exploits against the Arsenal, no less. A wonderful insight into an evening and an opportunity never available to those of us of a certain age. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I’ve spent a long time away from junior football. A very long time since it existed only in very rudimentary form when I was playing. Daughters didn’t get involved in football very much thirty years ago, and it is only now that I have grandsons who are learning to love the game as much as I do that I’ve had the pleasure of watching them play.

The facilities that they have are fantastic. Astroturf pitches, floodlights and footballs that fly through the air rather than drop like stone onto your head and proper, intelligent coaches who are teaching them to play with their heads up, taking  a good first touch, looking for options and playing  out from the back with the ball on the ground.

My eldest grandson Harry is just nine. He has been in love with football since he was able to kick one and when he was seven he spent a year in the Brighton pre-academy.  When his time with Brighton came to an end, he began training with a local elite training squad to develop his skills. He is also playing with his friends and on Saturdays in a local team where one of the coaches took the local team to Wembley in the FA Vase.  The coaching team show the boys how to keep their positions using drone footage.

It’s a far cry from the primitive conditions that many readers of this blog will be familiar with. I played for my primary school on cinder pitches that cut your legs to pieces if you went to ground and there was little in the way of proper coaching.

My grandsons, Harry and his brother Oliver are football aficionados. Harry has been claimed by his father for the dark side, his brother by his mother to continue an Arsenal supporting tradition in my family that goes back amazingly over one hundred years when my grandfather used to watch the Arsenal at Woolwich.

Imagine then the general excitement when Harry was asked to play in a development match against Arsenal! His initial reluctance to soil his boots on the same pitch as Arsenal players soon turned to excitement that if he played well one day he might be training with Alexis Sanchez, if we can get the Chilean magician to stay with us for that long! The evening was in fact a series of half hour development matches between the elite squad and the Arsenal development squad for lads of that age in Kent and Sussex. The pre-academy players train at Kidbrooke and there is huge competition for young talent.

Harry played as they do at his age in a half hour match.  Seven a side on a half-size pitch with reduced size goals. The emphasis is on skill and movement and on this bitterly cold evening the love and loyalty of lots of devoted parents was stretched to the limit. For me it was a delight to see my grandson able to express his love for the game and not inconsiderable talent against representatives of the club I love. Although his brother had threatened to cheer for Arsenal, brotherly love won out and he joined me in wanting Arsenal to lose for the first time in my life – and lose they did.

Harry’s elite squad triumphed 7-0 against a Gunners team. It showed the importance of practising and training as a team. In the team Harry played in three of them play together on a Saturday and I think that helped give them an edge. Harry grabbed a hat-trick and played throughout intelligently and diligently with an attitude and skill level that made me very proud.

On the two other pitches the Arsenal teams proved rather more successful but it was clear to me that at this very early level professional clubs hoover up any shred of talent that they can find.  The Arsenal coaches resplendent in very natty tracksuits weren’t unnecessarily harsh on their charges but it was fairly obvious that if we were watching any future football prodigies they weren’t on the Arsenal side.

As the games ended I congratulated a rightly elated Harry and his mates and congratulated one of the Arsenal keepers for an immensely brave double save which would not have flattered Bob Wilson in his heyday. His Mum looked up eyes aglow and asked me which club I was with. ‘Arsenal’, I said, for sixty years! She looked deflated hoping that he might have got a counter offer from one of the many clubs that fish in this teeming pool of talent.

It’s a tough world for lads dreaming of a career in football but ’twas ever thus. But one young man slept contentedly last night, a hat-trick under his belt, in love with the game and enjoying it for its own sake. How delighted I was to see him relish his evening. What a wonderful opportunity it was, for us all.

Ttg

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