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Hello ‘holics,

We’ve teamed up with Arsenal Football Club to offer our readers the chance to win a pair of tickets to ‘Arsenal Legends’ v ‘Milan Glorie’ at Emirates Stadium on Saturday 3 September.

The star studded encounter will see a host of football greats on show for both sides. Some of the Legends that are scheduled to play are Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Filippo Inzaghi and Cafu.

To be in with a chance to win, please answer the question below:

Which of these Arsenal Legends has a statue outside Emirates Stadium?

•             Thierry Henry

•             Lee Dixon

•             David Seaman

Please send your entries to competition@goonerholic.com by midnight UK time on Sunday, 28th August. Include your name and email address so you can be contacted in the event of you winning the tickets. There is no cash alternative for this prize.

If you want to make sure of your place in the stadium on the day tickets are now on general sale for this fixture and are priced from £20 adults and £10 concessions (16 and under and 65 and over) here.

Good luck to you all.

This was a match which neither side could afford to lose, and it showed. As early as the first minute the recalled Laurent Koscielny gave us a taster of what was to follow as he snuffed out the first attack of the match. Last week without him we shipped four goals at home but his return also brought the best out of his defensive colleagues, most notably Rob Holding in only his second Premier League start.

At the other end Leicester’s back line also dominated, forcing the visitors to play a lot of sideways passes and look for gaps that didn’t appear. Santi Cazorla showed a willingness to have a dig from outside the box, and his in-swinging free-kick brought a last-ditch save out of Schmeichel.

After Vardy, keen to impress after turning the Gunners down this summer, had survived reprimand for a couple of ‘exuberant’ tackles, he went enthusiastically to ground under Coquelin’s first tackle of note. Mark Clattenburg was quick to show the yellow card, perhaps too quick, and it would come back to haunt him in the second-half. To be fair the referee made what was shown to be a wonderful decision to ignore howls for a penalty when Drinkwater hit the deck as the outstanding Koscielny made contact with the ball, and only the ball.

That the same eleven started the second-half was a little bit of a surprise with Coquelin on a yellow card, but the Gunners started brightly, though still lacking in pace on the break. Mahrez, like Vardy hoping to impress, was fouled by Coquelin and hit his free-kick just over. It wasn’t a yellow card offence, but still a risky one under the circumstances. At the other end Hector Bellerin tried his luck from outside the box but Schmeichel was equal to the effort.

When the substitutions arrived there were some puzzled faces that Coquelin remained on the pitch. Granit Xhaka was starting to feel the pace of his first Premiership start and made way for Jack Wilshere. Santi Cazorla was replaced by Mesut Ozil, who is being eased back into competitive action, not unreasonably. In his cameo appearance the German genius set up a chance for Theo Walcott and was denied at the near post by Scmeichel.

The match ended with a couple of controversial moments. Coquelin foolishly managed to tread on both the ankles of Mahrez with both of his feet, quite the achievement and surely worthy of a yellow. Much more so than his first, in fact, which may have been in Clattenburg’s mind. It’s the only explanation for the clemency. He had a bigger decision to make when Bellerin and Musa got in a tangle of legs and the Leicester man tumbled in the box. Perhaps we would have wanted that given at the other end?

Olivier Giroud got twelve minutes at the end, and immediately gave us a more balanced look. There is little doubt that Alexis has not enjoyed his two match stint up top. He may well be switching to one of the flanks for the short trip to training ground neighbours Watford. Which one will be interesting.

The travelling faithful were largely scathing at the end of the match, and the chant of “spend some flipping money”, or something like that, was understandable and to be expected. We don’t have a reliable alternative to Giroud up top, and although Rob Holding and Laurent Koscielny were indeed excellent today we are an injury to either of them away from looking very exposed in the centre of the defence again.

I know it isn’t as easy as finding a target, writing out a cheque, and hey presto, but we are making it look an impossible rather than a complicated task. The discontent of some, perfectly understandable when argued respectfully and with reason, will continue into the winter if we are unable to demonstrate our ambition to recover from a poor start to the season. We all want us to.

The vultures appear to be circling the Grove once more. One match into the season the harbingers of doom are making the most noise, and in all honesty it is hard to believe that we have been so reticent to bolster a squad decimated by injuries and enforced holidays. We are the first visitors to Leicester this season on Saturday evening, and both sides are seeking their first points of the new campaign.

There have been seasons where an early season visit to the reigning champions would have been an altogether scarier experience, and yes, that 8-2 is never far from the memory. Leicester’s defeat at newly promoted Hull last week is an indication that they, like so many more experienced and successful clubs before them, will find retaining the title much more difficult than winning it.

They lost only three matches in securing the trophy last season only we beat them twice and that will surely be in their minds. Then of course the sub-plots of the failed bid for Vardy, and did we really seek to sign Mahrez? Whatever, the pair of them have their improved deals with the Foxes. Good luck to them, but not immediately!

The loss of Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi to the Shenley infirmary presents an opportunity for Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. If there are any unforced changes to the side humbled on the opening day then probably Laurent Koscielny will be rushed back into the centre of the defence, and Granit Xhaka might make his first Premier League start? The former is the likelier of the two.

My idle speculation would have Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud’s return to the squad on the bench. The boss has already hinted that he cannot start all three returnees.

“I will consider them for selection this weekend. Of course they have not played any games for a while, so I have to be selective and I cannot go for the three because that would be too risky. But basically with Laurent Koscielny I have no choice. If I have to take a gamble on one, it’s certainly on him.”

The presence of Giroud should prompt some reaction from Alexis, who did not look his energetic and enthusiastic self last week. The Chilean’s 47 minute hat-trick in the corresponding fixture last September proved decisive in our 2-5 triumph. Another positive result would raise the spirits on and off the pitch for the Gunners.

The ‘holic pound

A week into the season, and so my glass remains half full, even if the ale it contains has a hint of cloudiness about it. Have we the spirit and resilience to follow last season’s impressive win with something similar. Probably not. Another tense affair more akin to our last minute triumph at the Grove is more appealing. I have plumped for a repeat of the 2-1 Gunners triumph that day. You will find the Paddy Power odds for this, and the other Saturday fixtures, here.

Win A 2016/17 Arsenal Shirt of Your Choice

Leicester vs Arsenal Teamsheet PP

Talking of Paddy Power, they are giving one UK based ‘holic reader the chance to win a new Arsenal home or away shirt for the coming season. You have seen my idea of the Arsenal team above, but do you know better? To win, just summit your starting eleven for both teams in the comments section, and make sure you have a valid email address in the appropriate box.

The rules are as follows: 

Submit your predicted starting XIs for both teams in the Leicester City vs Arsenal Premier League match on Saturday 20 August in the comments section.

The winner will be the first entrant who correctly names all 22 players.  If no one gets all 22 players, the winner is the entrant who correctly names the most players in the starting XIs combined.

In the event of a tie, the person who commented the earliest wins.

Terms and Conditions:

1. All entries must be received by 09:00 on Saturday 20 August 2016.

2. One entry per UK household.

3. The winner will receive the following prize: A 2016-17 Arsenal shirt – the winner can select whether they want Home/Away and the size

4. In order to facilitate the prompt delivery of your shirt, your name and address details will be shared with Paddy Power.

5. Paddy Power will not be liable for any prize that does not reach the winners for reasons beyond Paddy Power’s reasonable control.

6. Entrants will be deemed to have accepted these terms and conditions and agreed to be bound by them when entering this competition.

Good luck ‘holics.

The opening weekend of the Premier League season. Every year the anticipation is the same. Surely we have learned from the past? This is our season? I’m looking forward to seeing the new boys. Yesterday add to that list I am watching the game with the future of the club, Junior Gunners both. Come on you rip-roaring Gunners!

We were missing some players, Liverpool were missing some players. We had enjoyed a positive pre-season but so too had the visitors. Our defeat of Manchester City paled into insignificance when compared to their demolition of Barca.

For 45 minutes two wide-eyed boys watched a not unusual Arsenal performance. Comfortably in control of the game, assured in possession of the ball if not particularly creative, chances came and went. Aaron Ramsey found himself in promising positions in the box on a number of occasions, Theo Walcott looked lively and confident after his performance against City. Alex Iwobi continued to look like a huge part of whatever our future holds.

Theo found himself upended and broke the one-time unwritten rule about the fouled player taking the spot-kick. He’ll know it wasn’t a good penalty and hit at a comfortable height for a goalkeeper to save going to his right. Last season he would probably have gone missing thereafter but his assured finish when put through by Iwobi was a sign that he may be returning to some semblance of form and confidence.

We thoroughly deserved the slender advantage, and in truth should have had a bigger lead to reflect our first-half performance. That we didn’t take even that down the tunnel was down to a very soft free-kick within Couthino range. I have seen criticism of Petr Cech for not getting to the join of crossbar and post on the wall side of the goal. Harsh seems inadequate a description of that.

It was the spark for the visitors to take full advantage of an Arsenal that folded uncomfortably in an eighteen minute spell that yielded four strikes of stunning quality. It was uncomfortable watching in the Cotswolds. Those whose opinions I value fall on both sides of the huge split in the fanbase. We all want the same thing. Sadly there are those who do not see and respect that inevitable facet of the human condition.

That we emerged from yesterday’s performance clearly unprepared for that spell of Liverpool domination either side of half-time wouldn’t be contested by a significant majority in either camp, I would suggest. “Why haven’t we paid whatever they want for Mustafi?” I have seen offered as a criticism. Not an unreasonable question, but he was a team-mate of Mesut Ozil at the Euros and would not have started yesterday.

The points lost with half an hour to play, and it could have been worse than 1-4, we showed a degree of spirit in hauling an unlikely comeback into view as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain injected a direct approach and enthusiasm into a shellshocked team. However it wasn’t to be, and the memories of opening day home defeats to Aston Villa and West Ham in the last three years found a new companion.

Oddly there has been much support for the young central defensive pairing, and quite rightly. Liverpool’s goals were all superbly crafted or finished moments of quality, rarely produced in such quick succession. Calum Chambers header to make it 3-4 was a testimony to the determination those on display to put right what had gone before. Mohamed Elneny looked to have justified his selection ahead of expensive new boy Granit Xhaka.

As has been said elsewhere I think the manager and those responsible will need to seriously review what has happened in terms of player trading and acquisition over the close season. We were evidently seriously light in two key areas. It is understood that those who went the distance in the Euros would not have been available for yesterday, but the season is 38 games long and yesterday was as clear a demonstration as you need that we lack the balance in the squad to cover significant absences.

Aaron Ramsey is out for a month and Alex Iwobi also limped off with a thigh strain. Before we have got to full strength already we have an injury list of absurd proportions. There are two weeks left of transfer window in which we acted early, and hinted at further, but how we need to lift everyone connected with the club who were promised more than this once the new stadium and finances were established and stabilised.

Oh, and Alexandre Lacazette, almost begging to join us it seems, would have been available to us yesterday as he opened his season with a hat-trick for Lyon against Nancy.

It is quite the feeling, the first preview of a new season. As happens every other year, after a major tournament, there barely seems to have been sufficient time for preparation. We have squeezed in trips to France, The USA, and Sweden. Those trips provided a bonding session for those who are likely to start on Sunday, but not the lads from France and Germany.

Whilst it is not ideal to be going into the first match of the season with a team already hit by injuries and lack of pre-season for a few, the visit of Liverpool will demonstrate the relative strength of both squads. Liverpool too have injury worries ahead of the match. For Arsenal there is an opportunity for some players who might not otherwise have started the season to lay claim to an instant promotion.

On Wednesday I covered the defensive options for us, and they are so many that I have seen lots of variations put forward as the solution. I’m all for playing our best full-backs to counter the threat that Liverpool have out wide and playing the England U-21 pairing of Calum Chambers and Rob Holding. They know each others game and have shown decent form in pre-season.

If those two do start then expect Francis Coquelin to be snarling and snapping into tackles in front of them. Should that be the case then it will be fascinating to see who gets the nod alongside him. Gut feel here says Mohamed Elneny will get the job this week, but Granit Xhaka is almost certain to get a Premier League debut, if only from the bench. I have no doubt he will be a regular starter very soon.

With Mesut Ozil only just back from holiday the ‘number ten’ role will fall to either Santi Cazorla or Aaron Ramsey. Whilst the latter was undoubtedly a star of the Euros it is possible that Arsene will give him a little rest on the bench and turn to the diminutive Spaniard who has impressed in pre-season, and was sorely missed for much of last season.

Assuming that Alexis gets to start up top, as against Manchester City, the flanks provide even more fascinating selections. It is likely that Alex Iwobi will get the nod over Joel Campbell on the left, but the line-up against City last week suggested that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could have been getting prepared for inclusion on the right this weekend. Theo Walcott certainly did his chances of a recall no harm with his excellent cameo when called upon in the second-half. That could well have been the clincher.

The Gunners will face a Liverpool now significantly remoulded by Jurgen Klopp. Gone are the likes of Kolo Toure, Jose Enrique, Martin Skrtel, Joe Allen, and Jordan Ibe. In have come Marko Grujic, Joel Matip, Loris Karius, Ragnar Klavan, Sade Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Alex Manninger. The latter remains a firm favourite from his time at Highbury, but the first four of those I cannot recall seeing. As I haven’t seen Liverpool in pre-season they could be anything.

Knowing what Klopp achieved at Dortmund it is fair to assume his side will have been physically prepared for a season of pressuring teams all over the pitch. Guardiola may attempt something similar this season but Liverpool are further down the line than City in that respect, and could prove to be more consistent in the opening weeks of the season.

The ‘holic pound

The first of the season is being put on a relatively high-scoring affair. Liverpool’s pressing game may see early rewards, particularly against an inexperienced Gunners defence, but that sort of game places huge physical strain on players and the visitors could tire and leave gaps in the closing stages. If you listened to the ABW Podcast last night you will know I have plumped for 3-2 to the Arsenal. Shop around for 28/1 against that.

Preview done, it is time for this old boy to pack for a weekend away that prevents me taking my seat on Sunday. I will not be back until Monday so regulars, be prepared for a very delayed review of the weekend’s proceedings.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

The boss has been speaking and snippets have appeared on Arsenal.com so I was quick to browse the team news for Sunday. The combined reference to Danny Welbeck and Per Mertesacker being expected back in four to five months took me a little bit by surprise.

In my head I had thought that Danny was ruled out for this season, but frankly I don’t know where that came from. The possibility of him being back in January is a reason for cheer, as long as he is not pushing himself, or being pushed, too hard. Let’s also hope we have not eased efforts to strengthen the front line as a result of Danny’s improving prognosis.

Although it is perfectly understandable that the club do not choose to be open about their proposed transfer dealings it is hard not to wonder what is going on when reports are published saying that neither Leicester City nor Lyon have received formal offers for Mahrez and Lacazette. An experienced defender is clearly now a priority but surely deals can be done concurrently rather than painfully slowly, one at a time? They probably are, in truth, and therefore our frustration is misplaced.

Should we bring in anybody in the next day or two (I know, I know!) it is highly unlikely they will be able to slot into the side on Sunday. That increases the possibility of Laurent Koscielny being asked to start against Liverpool with only a week of preparation under his belt. Let’s hope that we have learned the lesson of playing Alexis too early last season and let Kos ease his way into what will be a long season.

The central defensive options therefore are to play Calum Chambers with either Rob Holding or Krystian Bielik, or switch one of the senior full-backs, Mathieu Debuchy or Nacho Monreal, alongside the former Southampton player. If the latter it would probably be better to plump for Debuchy rather than weaken the left flank of the makeshift back four.

It does mean we had better have our best possession game in place on Sunday. Come back on Friday for a fuller preview of the season opener.

Cheers, ‘holics.

That was one way to spend a Sunday. England rather thoughtfully wrapped up an unlikely third test victory at Edgbaston just before Arsenal and Manchester City took to the field in the Ullevi for our final pre-season warm-up match.

I won’t call it a friendly as some of the challenges were of a very physical nature. Whilst most are at pains to point out that the results in these matches are unimportant, when Arsenal and the present-day Manchester City locked horns both sides were looking to secure the slightest psychological advantage going into what will be another very competitive season.

There were welcome returns for Aaron Ramsey and Alexis in a much-changed starting line-up that offered some hints about who will start against Liverpool next week. Rob Holding got the nod to accompany Gabriel at the heart of the defence. Granit Xhaka was paired with Francis Coquelin in front of them, and Alexis filled the problematical striking role.

Arsenal will have reached half-time wondering how on earth City had the slenderest of leads. In the opening minutes Gabriel headed wide from Ramsey’s free-kick, and before long Ramsey himself headed just over from a delicious Alexis cross. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, starting on the right, was the next to go close with another audacious chip. Coquelin’s effort, brought about by enthusiastic Arsenal pressing, was blocked.

Having not secured the advantage those chances presented it was perhaps with a sense of deja-vu that we were caught napping when Sterling’s cross was volleyed home by Aguero, so often our nemesis.

Manchester City 1-0 Arsenal

At half-time Arsene made the first of the usual raft of changes. Calum Chambers, Mohamed Elneny, and Theo Walcott replaced Holding, Xhaka, and the Ox. I cannot pretend I have been impressed with Theo in the past year, but this evening he looked like the player we always hoped he would become. One half does not a season make, but his impact was decisive.

Theo held up play on the right flank before cutting the ball back to Alex Iwobi whose carefully placed curler once again highlighted Joe Hart’s shortcomings as a goalkeeper.

Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal

Alexis smashed a free-kick against the bar as the Gunners continued to have the best of the opportunities, and Theo’s first time drive across the goal was palmed out for a corner by a grateful Hart. At the other end Navas brought a fine save out of Petr Cech but it was a rare retaliatory strike at this point. Arsenal gained a deserved advantage with a rapid break that ended with Theo exchanging passes with Alexis on the edge of the box before chipping over the advancing Hart. It was breathtaking football.

Manchester City 1-2 Arsenal

Of the three substitutes who appeared after that strike, Chuba Akpom is the most fascinating. He is a striker, and quite rightly there is a clamour for a major signing in that area. Chuba had an unspectacular season on loan at Hull City last season, but circumstances have given him opportunities in pre-season, and in his cameo tonight he found himself in the right place at the right time to plunder his third opportunist goal in the warm-up matches. True he owed much to the handling, or rather the lack of it, by the hapless Hart, but the lad is doing all he can to force a serious appraisal of where he stands with the club right now, and whether another season on loan might be the only option for him this term.

Manchester City 1-3 Arsenal

Arsenal being Arsenal there was still time for another collective defensive lapse to present Iheanacho a free header from point-blank range to reduce the arrears, and Cech had to dive full-length to keep out a Yaya Toure drive.

Manchester City 2-3 Arsenal 

In unspecified time added on Gabriel contested a ball with Iheanacho and ended up buckling under the challenge, albeit accidentally. The resulting reaction of Gabriel and those around him suggest a serious injury. It is as yet too early to speculate on the nature of the injury, but obviously our best wishes go out to the Brazilian for a speedy recovery.

That probably leaves us with three inexperienced young central defenders going into the new season, or a week in which to secure an experienced addition to the squad. Whether such a signing could form a brand new partnership next Sunday is open to doubt, but that doesn’t make such a signing any less desirable. Let’s not dally please, Arsenal.

It was a sobering end to an otherwise excellent day.

For the first leg of a Scandinavian weekend for the Gunners we warmed up for Sunday’s match against Manchester City with a match against Norway’s Viking in Stavanger. It would prove to be a very different two halves of football.

We missed an early opportunity to lead when Mathieu Debuchy went to ground somewhat theatrically after having his arm tugged. From the spot Santi Cazorla saw Austbe claw his effort to safety.

Chances were exchanged as both sides looked to go forward with pace and close opponents down all over the pitch. Mohamed Elneny impressed and almost scored the opener with an unmarked header from a corner. This ploy did eventually lead to the visitors taking charge of the contest when Joel Campbell got the final touch to another fine header by the Egyptian.

Viking 0-1 Arsenal

Arsenal made two changes at half-time bringing on Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Alex Iwobi for Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The hosts made a number of changes and were about to find themselves over-run as their young substitutes were no match for a hungry Arsenal squad.

A couple of minutes into the second-half Theo Walcott teed up Cazorla for a volley that flashed wide of the post. It was a sighter, and a couple of minutes later Santi drilled a drive in from the edge of the box with Walcott again providing the assist.

Viking 0-2 Arsenal

Three minutes later Walcott got his first goal of pre-season when he applied a fine finishing touch to Joel Campbell’s pass. Hopefully this gives him a much-needed boost in form and confidence.

Viking 0-3 Arsenal

With less than ten minutes of the half gone it was four. Cazorla freed Campbell and his cross was bundled past his own ‘keeper by the unfortunate Haukas.

Viking 0-4 Arsenal

As the hour mark approached we had a fourth goal in nine minutes. Campbell provided the spectacular finish off the crossbar after another Cazorla inspired attack.

Viking 0-5 Arsenal

We made a raft of changes during the following minutes but the rout continued when Gedion Zelalem and Cazorla set up Iwobi for number six at the far post.

Viking 0-6 Arsenal

Santi’s eventful evening saw him booked for a blatant trip with eleven minutes remaining. A minute later Reine-Adelaide played a fine pass inside the full-back for Iwobi to place one in off the far post.

Viking 0-7 Arsenal

Second-half substitute Pedersen blazed over as Viking threatened a consolation on a rare break. At the other end Chuba Akpom from point blank range presented a double save opportunity to the ‘keeper. A minute later he did find a finish when Hector Bellerin’s shot was parried by the recently introduced third goalkeeper.

Viking 0-8 Arsenal

The final whistle on ninety minutes spared the bewildered hosts further damage. Quite what Arsenal will have got out of the match, or more accurately the second-half, is anyones guess. Match fitness has been gained, and a little confidence for one or two, hopefully. The answer is probably going to be seen on Sunday when we will have a direct comparison with where City are a week before the Premier League season kicks off.

At the end of the day you can only beat what is in front of you, and we did that most emphatically. We can also draw a positive from the performances of Elneny, Cazorla, and Campbell. Are we really considering letting Joel go?

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Arsenal Player has allowed a look back at Arsenal’s clash with Chivas de Guadalajara in the early hours of this morning (UK time). The Mexican Super-Cup winners were weakened by national team call-ups ahead of the Olympics, but in the first quarter of the contest you would not have thought so.

Benitez volleyed over from the centre of the area and it was Guadalajara who won the game’s first corner in the opening ten minutes. In truth though neither goalkeeper needed to make a save until the twenty-ninth minute when David Ospina spared Rob Holding’s embarrassment after the young defender had dangerously misplaced a pass midway inside his own half.

The same player could not have made amends for that error in any better fashion than to open the scoring four minutes later when Santi Cazorla’s free-kick was fed into his path by Calum Chambers. From point blank range Holding tapped in what will hopefully be the first of many goals in Arsenal colours.

Guadalajara 0-1 Arsenal

It was nearly two a couple of minutes later when Granit Xhaka freed Nacho Monreal on the left and from his cross Theo Walcott saw his close-range effort well saved by Rodriguez. At the other end Holding expected Ospina to collect a through ball and the goalkeeper’s delay resulted in him taking an accidental boot to the face as he contested the fifty-fifty ball.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, lively as ever in pre-season produced a wonderful solo run with five minutes of the half remaining, but Rodriguez was equal to his left-footed effort. The next attempt came from Cazorla and again the goalkeeper dealt with his cross-shot, but what a joy it was to see the dancing feet of the little maestro again.

Two of a number of second-half substitutes, Joel Campbell and Chuba Akpom combined to create the opening opportunity of the second-half but the latter miscued his finish and the chance was gone. It didn’t matter for within minutes we doubled our advantage with a simply wonderful solo goal by, who else, Oxlade-Chamberlain. From the right flank his back-heel took him past two defenders and having cut inside he curled the ball inside the far post.

Guadalajara 0-2 Arsenal

Before the hour was up it was three. Francis Coquelin played a ball inside the full-back to Mathieu Debuchy and the Frenchman’s cross was touched in by Akpom, his second goal of the USA tour.

Guadalajara 0-3 Arsenal

Akpom could have had a second when the marauding Holding put him through on goal but he screwed his effort wide of the far post. Next to find himself clear in front of goal was Debuchy, but he was in nose-bleed territory and saw Rodriguez deflect his effort wide of the same post.

A spicy final twenty minutes started with a crude challenge from behind on Debuchy which earned Zendejas a booking. Zendejas got his revenge when tumbling theatrically under the challenge of Debuchy in the box to win his team a penalty, duly converted by Zaldivar. The fuse had been lit.

Guadalajara 1-3 Arsenal

Mohamed Elneny curled a twenty yarder just wide as Arsenal looked to re-establish their advantage. Debuchy, clearly rattled by Zendejas, was next to see yellow for returning fire on his tormentor. In the aftermath of that incident a member of the Mexican support staff was ordered from the bench, presumably for something he said to one of the officials?

Debuchy got the benefit of the doubt when Zendejas once more threw himself spectacularly to earth under minimal contact. Then Hernandez said something to Campbell which sparked a reaction and a bit of handbags. Both players were the last additions to the referees filling yellow card, and the curtain came down on what was eventually a comfortable Gunners triumph.

There is little point in seeking any guidance to the season to follow from what have effectively been a couple of exhibition matches, but there are positives to be had. Xhaka looked a decent player on his debut. It is interesting that both he and Elneny played separate halves. Coquelin’s good form complicates matters with the two rear most midfield positions. Holding, although obviously a little raw, looks a decent player in both boxes. Most important though is that Santi is back. He is the metronome of the side and surely a position has to be found for him in the team?

Fantasy Premier League

The code to enter the Goonerholic Fantasy Premier League for this season is

696884-192307

It’s just a bit of fun, but do add your team and test yourselves against your fellow ‘holics.

Have a good week, ‘holics.

Unable to catch the action due to an obscenely early start to my golfing Friday, I am so grateful for one of ours, Dr Faustus for sharing a unique look at Arsenal’s win against the MLS All-Stars. I owe you, my friend. Thank you.

The year is 2070. There is a football match being held in recently colonized Europa, Jupiter’s moon. The mighty Arsenal Earth Super FC — reigning champions of the interplanetary champions league — is playing an exhibition match against Generation After Corporation Athletic Club (or, as they are popularly known, GACAC), a somewhat mysterious sporting organization owned by a powerful conglomerate of businessmen controlling much of the galaxy’s water sources. They are also accused of devious biological experiments. It is 238th earth minutes of the match, Arsenal is winning 49-47, and the opposition makes a substitution that sends a visible ripple of fear in the Arsenal side. A nonagenarian Didier Drogba enters amidst huge fanfare in the opposition camp, and in the remaining 12 minutes goes on to score 4 goals to inflict misery on the mighty Arsenal, taking his career total against the Gunners to 4587. 

I wake up from my dream with my head nestled between the MacBook and a bunch of loose sheets containing hastily scribbled notes of yesterday’s Arsenal game against MLS (that is, Major League Soccer, the primary “Football” league in USA) All-Star team. It is past 2 AM, and I realize I must have fallen asleep while trying to organize the notes — taken while watching the match on the TV — to be able to give a structure and coherence to the match report that can at least pretend to bear a family resemblance to the incisive and immensely enjoyable match reports that the maestro churns out on a regular basis, twice a week or more.

Respect for ‘Holic increased by a few orders of magnitude, I finally start writing this report. Before the game started at 8PM Eastern US time, for half an hour we were subjected to much passionate discussions about the fortunes of individuals and clubs in the American league and the logistics of choosing the MLS all-star team that this American found no interest in. Apologies to MLS followers. The MLS all-star line up on the other hand didn’t disappoint, with two of my favorites from the past decade in Pirlo and David Villa appearing, both now plying their trade for New York City FC who are being managed to the top of the league by one Patrick Vieira. And then there was of course the great Arsenal fan Drogba, who never lets go an opportunity to show how much he loves the club.

Our starting line up was somewhat predictable except for the youthful pairing of Holding & Bielik as the central defensive duo. Chambers was obviously being kept for the second half. To lend defensive solidity the base of the midfield had dual pivote of Elneny and Coquelin, Jack being the advanced midfielder. The interchangeable front line had pace and no little trickery in Ox, Theo and Joel. The second choice fullbacks started the game but the relatively weak looking defense received some boost from our acting captain in Petr Cech who was vocal throughput and in excellent shape by the evidence of his performance.

In the scorching heat — 84 degrees Fahrenheit in US, 28.9 degrees Celsius in the rest of the world — our forward three started with sharp movements off the ball and some quick interchanges. Ox, who will become increasingly confident as the match progressed, set up Theo following some good movements by the latter but our no. 9 for the night shot outside under pressure. Just a few minutes later Campbell’s close control in tight space and intelligent use of the ball drew a foul. Theo’s smart free-kick — drilled low and kept on the ground — was saved equally smartly by All-star’s Jamaican goalkeeper Blake who based on today’s performance may find admirers on the other side of the Atlantic sometimes soon.

Pirlo and Kaka were not afforded much time on the ball by the energetic duo of Coquelin and Elneny. The Egyptian especially kept on getting better as the match progressed, covering all empty pockets of space with authority and guile, keeping our forward movements fluid with sharp passing. But Pirlo produced a moment of typical Pirlo-esque magic, quickly dropping very deep and then releasing Dos Santos (yes, ex-Spurs) with a magnificent through ball. Cech made a brilliant save. 

Around 9th minute Campbell earned a penalty by craftily exploiting the hint of a misunderstanding between the opposition keeper and the last defender, chasing a lofted pass from Gibbs to get around the keeper only to be dragged on the floor by the defender. Joel took the penalty himself — if this was not a pre-season friendly he would most likely not have been afforded that luxury — and despite a ridiculous shuffling to his run up had the ball in the back of the net. Then him and Coquelin danced a little jig which the Liverpool fans should do well to look up on the internet, used as they are to the post-goal celebrations of such balletic grace by Sturridge et al.

After the goal Arsenal players quite intelligently sat back and tried to hit the MLS stars on the counter and in that 10 odd minutes passage of play we should have scored at least one more goal. Campbell set Theo up with an Ozil-esque through ball. And a few minutes later following good defensive work by Ox Theo went on an impressive solo run but at the very end he failed to square to Joel who was facing an open goal, choosing to shoot tamely at the keeper. Theo’s off-the-ball movement was superb in both cases, but technical quality with ball on the feet questionable.

The strength-sapping heat now had started to take its toll on the proceedings, which was turning lugubrious and purposeless. Kaka and Villa created few moments of anxiety in the Arsenal defense, Debuchy particularly looking vulnerable and not offering young Holding much protection. Bielik on the other hand started to grow, with some confident playing from the back showcasing his composure on the ball. He stood up well to the physical challenge that Drogba possesses even at the autumn of his career. In between there were some snippets of good play by Arsneal, Jack slowly coming to his own and combining well with Campbell and Theo on a couple of occasions. Ox and Elneny both tried their luck from distance. Elneny’s impressive pile driver was saved superbly by the Jamaican Blake. Theo, Ox, Cambell switched around their positions and Campbell moving in centrally robbed Kaka, dribbled through a couple of players but his final pass to Theo was a little short.

There was a water break around 34th minute. Coquelin was temporarily injured in a manner reminiscent of so many Arsenal injuries of the past. But thankfully he recovered soon and joined the proceedings. Then just before the halfway mark the most expected thing about this game materialized.

Drogba scored. It was from a mistake by Bielik whose willingness to take risks to make quick forward passes from the deep backfired and from the resulting attack Drogba scored after three attempts, even after a great save by Cech and a block by Holding. Our goalkeeper captain was furious to concede against his old team-mate. Bielik’s expression after the goal told you that this is a player who is going to learn from this experience. Except for this mistake I thought his performance in the center of the defense was accomplished and full of natural technical quality. He is definitely not ready for a first team role yet but I think as a defensive midfielder or even as a ball-playing modern central defender he has great promise.

On the first half’s showing Elneny was my man of the match, closely followed by Ox and Joel. Ox was full of vim and vigor, whereas Joel was more sly but had some wonderful moments on the ball, demonstrating both technical quality and a pleasantly surprising understanding of space and angles. Someone has been learning from Mesut the maestro on the training ground.

Second half started with five substitutions from us: Xhaka, Monreal, Bellerin, Chambers and Iwobi coming in for Coquelin, Gibbs, Debuchy, Bielik and Jack. MLS All-stars made a whole lot more substitutions, Pirlo and Villa even leaving the ground to hurriedly catch flights back to the East Coast to be able to play for their club on Saturday. The notable introduction was that of Giovinco, the ex-Juve and Italian center forward who has apparently been scoring for fun in MLS. MLS started with high tempo, forcing Cech to an early save. Theo, Joel and Ox stayed on, one wonders whether the implications are that is likely to be our front three in the first few matches absence of any new signings before that. Ox started where he left off, some impressive wing play down the right followed by a cut-back that unfortunately was meant for Aaron Ramsey driving in from the midfield. 

Xhaka started by keeping things simple, with a quiet positional maturity and simple short passing. He burst onto life around 69th minute with a spectacular left-footed attempt from around 35 yards. Soon after that his passing range and a genuinely impressive left foot from dead ball situations were on display. Whisper it slowly, we may have found a deep lying midfield player who could be a combination of the best qualities of Coquelin and Arteta. In the defense Chambers and Holding were handling Giovinco’s crafty movements and turns well enough, Holding especially growing in confidence with the familiar face of Chambers next to him. While Bellerin looked a little rusty Monreal appeared to be simply continuing from last season. On the left Campbell and Iwobi combined very well with him a couple of times.

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