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“We had a very difficult start and since we have responded very well. I feel the team is on the way upwards but we have as well to show that first of all we can improve, that we have the desire to improve as a team, and as well, that we can repeat the performances week in, week out.”

Fine words from the boss in his pre-match press conference, but as we have seen for ourselves we do not repeat week in and week out. More importantly we have to continue to show that when we are not at our most fluent we can still dig out results, and that is an area in which we seem to have made great strides this season.

This weekend sees what is probably the least attractive home fixture of the season. There is no denying, at supporter level at least, that neither us nor Stoke hold the other in high regard. They are likely to play to frustrate but they do have the players to hurt us on the break. This may be another afternoon in which we will have to dig deep to get a result.

Fortunately our form against them home is much better than it is at their place. We have won the last fourteen matches in which we have hosted them. Mark Hughes is well aware of that fact but believes the tide can turn for his in-form charges.

“In the past as a club we’ve struggled to get results at places like Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge but we’ve been able to do that in recent times. This is the only one left standing so it would be great to get it out of the way.”

The team news for us is fairly positive. There are no new injuries, Francis Coquelin returns after suspension, and Hector Bellerin may be passed fit to return to the squad. The Spaniard’s return is welcome news although to be fair Gabriel has not let anybody down in his couple appearances in the role. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the six changes we made in Basel were reversed and the side that eventually drubbed West Ham is given another chance to show that was no fluke.

The odious Shawcross and fellow defender Cameron are ruled out, but ironically a couple of weeks after Mathieu Debuchy limped out of his latest comeback his assailant Arnautovic has been deemed fit to play. Stoke have lost just one of their last nine outings and conceded just five goals in that run. They are just two points behind sixth placed Manchester United so will be no pushovers.

The ‘holic pound

The bookmakers have a repeat of last season’s 2-0 home win as their favourite, but the scoreline hasn’t repeated in this particular fixture since 1947 and 1948 when we twice sent them packing 3-0. That scoreline holds some appeal again with Alexis and Mesut Ozil on the same wavelength at the moment. I have a little wager on that 3-0 at 9/1.

With Chelsea not playing until Sunday that scoreline would be enough to put us on top of the Premier League, if only for a day.

The Arsenal Foundation

Arsène Wenger and the players will be donating a day’s wages to The Arsenal Foundation on Saturday for a 10th consecutive year, to raise money for projects that use the power of football to inspire young people around the world.

Supporters will also have the opportunity to get involved, with a number of special fundraising activities planned. Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis said:

“Our annual charity matchday is an important part of what we are as a club. We are in a privileged position where we can make a meaningful difference – both with the funds we raise and the power the Arsenal name has to inspire young people. We want to make the most of that opportunity.”

 The charity match day is always a matter of pride for us as supporters and it is a day on which we too can do our bit. Please take some change for the collectors if you can afford it.

And of course wherever you are watching it, have a good one ‘holics!

Arsene Wenger, not surprisingly, engaged in a little rotation for the trip to Basel. I was right to tip Rob Holding and Kieran Gibbs for the back four. Aaron Ramsey got the job partnering Granit Xhaka in midfield. Alex Iwobi and Lucas allowed Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a chance to freeze their cobs off alongside Olivier Giroud on the bench.

A cagey start saw the match take place mainly in the twenty yards either side of the halfway line where space was at a premium. Yet from out of nowhere the Gunners grabbed an eighth minute lead. Alexis played one of his trademark chipped passes into the path of Gibbs who crossed for Lucas to coolly finish from point-blank range. It was the Spaniard’s first Champions League strike for the Arsenal and his third of his first season in North London.

Basel 0-1 Arsenal

Basel attempted an immediate response and the offside Delgado drew a magnificent save from David Ospina. Astonishingly the Gunners scored an identikit goal to their first in the fifteenth minute when Ozil played in Gibbs whose low drive was parried to Lucas at the far post, and another calm finish from close-in justified his inclusion from the start. News that Ludogorets had taken the lead in Paris lifted the spirits even more.

Basel 0-2 Arsenal

Again Basel threatened and full-back Traoré smashed an effort just wide of the far post. Arsenal settled again, defending very much with a 4-4-2 shape, but springing bodies forward when breaking. Alexis tried his luck from an offside position but the effort was straight at the Basel goalkeeper, Vaclik.

Ten minutes from the break Gibbs’ luck on the night changed momentarilywhen he was carded for a challenge from behind on Steffen. Then the Xhaka brothers came together with Granit taking a piece of his elder brother’s calf. The referee awarded the free-kick but took no further action. Steffen recovered quickly and drew a double save out of Ospina with a rasping long-range drive.

The half-time whistle came too early for Arsenal, completely and utterly in control of the game. Basel snapped into some crunching challenges at the start of the second-half but the same two suspects fashioned the perfect response when Gibbs nicked a ball in midfield and put Lucas in on the right side of the box. The Spaniard drilled the ball across the goal and into the far corner of the net to complete his hat-trick.

Basel 0-3 Arsenal

Janko missed the opportunity to reduce the arrears when he out-jumped Koscielny to a Delgado cross, but then directed his  header off target. At the other end three became four when Alexis and Ozil combined again to tee up Iwobi for a rare finish in front of a gaping target. “Sublime” said the commentator on BT and who could argue?

Basel 0-4 Arsenal

The news of Cavani’s equaliser in Paris saw the first doubts of the evening emerge. A set piece created a momentary panic in the Arsenal defensive ranks but Ospina was equal to Serey Dié’s final effort from outside the box. Balanta’s diabolical follow through on Alexis prompted a double substitution but not before Alexis blasted his free-kick against the crossbar.

As the news of Ludogorets reclaiming the lead in Paris filtered through the introduction of Giroud and Mohamed Elneny for Alexis and Ramsey took place. Giroud almost struck immediately when he got on the end of another Ozil pass but guided the ball wide of the near post. This was followed quickly by Walcott coming on for the German magician. With a quarter of an hour remaining we did not need to pick up pointless injuries to key players.

Walcott’s first break through the middle ended with a tame effort from twenty-five yards. Sadly Holding made his first error of the night and Doumbia, on for Delgado, went on to clip the ball over Ospina’s left hand. If the otherwise impressive young defender learns from that it will be a small price to pay.

Basel 1-4 Arsenal

Walcott’s deflected effort won us an 85th minute corner from which we launched a long session of keep-ball. The Gunners were closing out an eye-catching win at a ground considered to be something of a graveyard for English clubs.

The added bonus of winning Group A will have lifted everyone in and around the club. Whisper it softly but slowly there is a real feeling developing that this squad can achieve something this season. The proof of that will depend on results after Christmas, but we really couldn’t have done much more in the first half of the season.

Before looking ahead to the trip to Basel the draw for the third round of the FA Cup has sent us to Preston North End. Looking at the draw I would imagine we would probably be the third or fourth choice for television so I think we can kiss goodbye to a 3pm Saturday kick-off. I hope for the sake of the travelling Gooners that it isn’t switched to Friday or Monday night, but they must remain real possibilities.

Holders Arsenal came from two goals down to win 2-4 at Deepdale in the third round in 1999. The following season we beat them 2-1 at Highbury in the League Cup. Strangely those are the only previous Cup meetings between two proud and established clubs, both of whom have enjoyed the title, ‘the invincibles’. (Edit, my source site was wrong about that Cup meetings stat, see Ned’s drink below) Preston achieved the feat in the inaugural Football League season in 1888/89, and added the FA Cup for good measure.

More on them before the tie is played in January. Before then we have match day six in the Champions League group stage to negotiate. Paris St Germain are at home to Ludogorets and are huge favourites to win and clinch top place in the group. Under the circumstances we can expect Arsenal to engage in a degree of rotation in Basel, although Arsene has taken the full squad with Olivier Giroud coming in for the suspended Francis Coquelin.

We can be sure that David Ospina will reclaim the goalkeeping berth, and it would not be a surprise for Rob Holding and Kieran Gibbs to slot into the back four. Ahead of them Mohamed Elneny could return alongside Granit Xhaka. Perhaps Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi will allow Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil a rest. It would be a brave manager who tells Alexis he will make way for Giroud or Lucas after his heroics at the weekend!

Basel can be expected to put up a real fight. They just need to do better than Ludogorets in order to claim the Europa League spot that goes to the third placed team in the group.  That probably means a draw would do them nicely, thank you very much. To show that this is no walkover Basel have won their past three Champions League home games against English clubs. In fact at home they have lost just two of their last eight home matches in the Champions League, to Real Madrid and PSG.

The ‘holic pound

I was seven minutes away from collecting on Saturday evening, but the three goals scored in those minutes meant I was way off the mark. Listeners to last week’s A Bergkamp Wonderland podcast know I think this is a likely draw, and I don’t back against the Arsenal. Therefore it is an anytime goalscorer I am looking for. Tricky when the team isn’t certain, but there is a topical selection. I will have a smaller than usual punt on Xhaka at 6/1 to net against his old club. If you fancy Elneny to do the same he is priced at around 11/1.

Those lucky enough to have made the trip will enjoy a sunny and balmy 4/5 degrees in the afternoon but it drops below zero during the game so wrap up warm folks. As ever, wherever you are watching, have a great one, ‘holics.

Gunners Grab A Pfeiffer

The lunchtime destruction of Manchester City by the bus stop in Fulham meant that Arsenal went into the evening match with a chance to move into second position in the Premier League, three points behind the West Londoners. Arsene Wenger opted to start with Gabriel at right-back, Granit Xhaka alongside Francis Coquelin, and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain on the left hand side.

The already weakened West Ham defence was further hit by an early injury to James Collins who limped off angrily in the seventh minute to be replaced by Arbeloa. Almost immediately Nacho Monreal broke free and crossed into the box but none of the Gunners attackers had made the run in. Oxlade-Chamberlain was next to break but he overhit his pass to Mesut Ozil.

Monreal was freed again, first by a magnificent Xhaka through ball, then courtesy of Alexis, but again the crosses found only West Ham feet. The Ox was next to hit that touchline and cut the ball back, and again the Hammers somehow kept it out.

In the seventeenth minute Mustafi’s header from a corner flashed past the far post and just beyond the unmarked Laurent Koscielny and Alexis. The home side fired a warning shot  across our bows when Payet sent Lanzini scampering clear but he was forced wide and Petr Cech saved from a tight angle.

In the 24th minute our domination was rewarded, thanks to a dreadful pass by Ogbonna which was picked off by the excellent Coquelin. Alexis sprinted clear, evaded a last-ditch challenge by Reid, and slid the ball into the path of Ozil who side footed home the simplest of finishes.

West Ham United 0-1 Arsenal

As the half hour approached the Ox got clear again but with support finally arriving he blazed a horrible slice some way wide of the far post. Alexis was next to try his luck but Randolph made a comfortable save. Arsenal’s total control warranted a second goal, particularly with last season’s West Ham comeback in the corresponding fixture in mind.

We missed a golden opportunity when the Ox put Alexis through one-on-one with Randolph but unusually the Chilean’s touch let him down. The same player tried to put Monreal in but underhit the final pass. Arbeloa’s dreadful challenge from behind on Coquelin surprisingly drew no caution from Mr Pawson. Alexis was the next to break down the left hand side and he too could only cut the ball back to a defender.

West Ham almost bounced back when Obiang got between defenders and headed Fletcher’s cross over the crossbar. Gabriel had to be treated for a knee problem following that incident and trod gingerly for the remaining minute or two of the half. A last-minute break by the Ox came to a disappointing end when Ozil played a return pass behind his teammate and the whistle came to West Ham’s rescue.

First to get forward in the second-half was the Ox down the right flank, but as in the first-half the ball into the box was dealt with by the hosts. Ozil’s tantalising free-kick from the same flank was headed over by Theo Walcott as Arsenal picked up where they left off. Alexis and the Ox combined to put Walcott through again but he miscued and the chance was gone.

We had Laurent Koscielny to be grateful to for denying Fletcher an equaliser, and the young striker drove another effort narrowly wide as West Ham inevitably came back into the game. All of a sudden that single goal advantage was looking decidedly slender. Fletcher then saw yellow for leaving his foot in on Koscielny, although it looked more clumsy than intentional.

West Ham sent on Ayew for Fernandes to give themselves an added option up front. A pacy counter-attack saw Alexis feed in Walcott but the England man’s effort was blocked. The combative Reid was booked for a late challenge in the build-up. Cue Arsenal sending Aaron Ramsey on for the subdued Walcott in the 66th minute, and Koscielny getting a card for a foul on the lively Fletcher.

A long slow build-up ended with Monreal cutting the ball back to Ramsey. His effort was blocked by Randolph, as was the acrobatic follow-up by Ozil. The second goal we yearned for arrived in the 72nd minute. It was made by and finished by Alexis, with an incredible turn and run in the inside-right channel before driving the ball just inside the far post.

West Ham United 0-2 Arsenal

That resulted in the inevitable introduction of Carroll for Noble. Gleeful Gooners roared out a taunting “We’ll never play here again”. Alexis grabbed his second with a shimmy and drive into his favourite corner from the edge of the box. With ten minutes to go we were surely home and hosed?

West Ham United 0-3 Arsenal

The ‘holic pound wasn’t on for long. Payet’s free-kick came back off the bar and Carroll headed home the rebound. There was an inevitability about that one. West Ham had their consolation, but they would live to regret prodding the sleeping lion with a stick.

West Ham United 1-3 Arsenal

There were six minutes of the ninety remaining and it was good to see Arsenal’s spirited response. The immediate one was a thumping drive by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Hopefully that will do his confidence the world of good.

West Ham United 1-4 Arsenal

The Alexis show was complete when he sprinted onto a ball from the Ox, drew the ‘keeper, performed a step-over to sit him down, and chipped Randolph to complete his hat-trick. Was he offside? Possibly. Who would have denied the irresistible force his treble?

West Ham United 1-5 Arsenal

The Arsenal sent on Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi for Coquelin and Ozil. The Ox had a chance to complete a brace but Randolph was equal to the effort. Alexis galloped clear again and all but teed up Rambo for number six, but West Ham scrambled it clear after Randolph had saved the first effort.

In hindsight we were fortunate to come up against an under-strength West Ham in front of their notoriously quiet support. They looked like a team in need of a lift, but as we have discovered when you are in new surroundings the team has to do the lifting. We have taken second place for at least twenty-four hours. Liverpool are at Bournemouth tomorrow and need a win to overtake us again.

Arsene Wenger must have been delighted to have the opportunity to express himself in his post-match interviews.

“The regret we had at half-time was that we had not made more of the chances we created. Sometimes you get away with it like today. For us it was important for them not to get the equaliser.”

“I knew that in the League Cup that could happen, but it was more disappointing to lose the game than the run we had. We want to keep the run in the Premier League going now.”

Arsene Wenger

November is now a memory, a collection of statistics. Three draws were bookended by victories we needed and so it wasn’t the disaster some had feared beforehand but the sting in the tail, exit from the EFL Cup at the quarter-final stage, has taken the sheen off it for some. It’s done, and we look forward to a new month, and a new venue.

We make our first trip to the publicly-gifted Meccano set in Stratford that now houses West Ham United. To say it has endured a rocky introduction is to underestimate the situation. Poor stewarding and security has spoiled the experience for many, both Hammers and visitors, while the team have struggled to perform in what appears to be a soul-less bowl after the more intimate surroundings they were used to (sound familiar?).

The hosts appeared to have turned their early season’s difficulties around when beating Sunderland in the league and Chelsea in the EFL Cup in October, but last month Stoke came and left with a point from a 1-1 draw. West Ham currently sit a point above the relegation zone and have one eye very firmly looking back over their shoulder. So worried are they that they have recalled Andy Carroll despite admitting he is not fit for ninety minutes. Can he terrorise us in the air again for half an hour or so?

It’s been a bad week for us, of course. Mathieu Debuchy and Olivier Giroud have both been added to the injury list whilst Santi Cazorla has been told he needs surgery to resolve his current problem. Arsene has decisions to make. Carl Jenkinson’s recall on Wednesday resulted in him drawing very mixed reviews. I’m sure he would love to play against the club where he was on loan last season but having recalled Debuchy last weekend it looks as though the boss is considering alternatives.

Francis Coquelin looks to be the preferred starter at the base of midfield but nobody has yet to claim the position alongside and ahead of him. Will Aaron Ramsey get the nod again after being preferred to Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka last weekend? Ahead of them Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott, and Alexis are givens. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain preferred to namesake Iwobi. Lucas is a natural replacement for Giroud on the bench.

The ‘holic pound

The Southampton punt was a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show, following as it did a tidy profit last Sunday. Which Arsenal will turn up on Saturday tea-time? It’s a while since we produced a really convincing performance and West Ham will certainly be motivated, although possibly fragile if we get off to a good start. With a little less conviction than last week I am looking at us scoring three again. 0-3 to the Arsenal I have taken at 15/1. It’s about time we produced a performance.

To those fortunate enough to be going please keep your wits about you. It’s a derby match and the sauce will have been flowing for a while beforehand. Those inexperienced stewards will be backed up by more police than usual, but the stadium was not constructed with a football crowd in mind. Take care of yourselves and each other, and…

Have a great one, ‘holics.

Arsene Wenger’s team was pretty much as predicted beforehand as thousands struggled to get to the Grove amid underground transport chaos. I hadn’t foreseen the promotion of Jeff Reine-Adelaide on the right flank, but ten changes it was. Southampton went with a very strong, although also much-changed, line-up and a difficult night lay in store.

The extent of that travel chaos was clear as the teams emerged to a stadium nowhere near full. A minute of silence was immaculately observed for the victims of the Chapecoense plane crash.

After a cagey start the Saints exploded into the lead in the 12th minute. Bertrand was put clear down the left and his cross eventually found it’s way to Clasie who drove it home fiercely. The visitors had made their intent clear.

Arsenal 0-1 Southampton

The Arsenal’s attempts to get back into the game quickly foundered as Alex Iwobi ran into a penalty area roadblock, and Carl Jenkinson angled a cross over the crossbar. A laboured performance didn’t look any better when Bertrand sprinted away from Mohamed Elneny and the Arsenal man took a yellow card for tugging him back.

Iwobi’s attempts to inject life into his team usually fell down with his final ball, a shame as he wasn’t hiding and needs a confidence-boosting performance. He was the second Gunner into the book for a foul on Boufal.

Yoshida’s awful body-check on Reine-Adelaide added to the yellow card count, and from the resulting free-kick the Japanese defender came closest to scoring the equaliser with a glancing header just beyond the far post.

Bertrand was not as profligate at the other end, sliding his effort from Boufal’s cross inside the far post. 38 minutes in, and our unbeaten run all but lay in tatters in front of a sparse and subdued crowd.

Arsenal 0-2 Southampton

An early substitution was enforced when the unfortunate Elneny limped out of the game to be replaced by Granit Xhaka just before half-time. When that whistle blew the air was filled with boos, hardly surprising but not exactly helpful to young players.

At least we started the second-half with our most incisive move of the match but Aaron Ramsey’s final effort was comfortably pouched by Forster in the Southampton goal. Long sought to counter but was just about denied by Emiliano Martinez. Xhaka’s thumping free-kick from over thirty yards was saved comfortably enough, but it was a fair effort from that range.

As the teams exchanged breaks at pace Boufal slid one narrowly wide of the far post. Arsenal’s need for adventure meant we were even more vulnerable than in the opening half. Even Coquelin had a crack at goal from outside the box but Forster made another comfortable save.

Seeking greater momentum Arsene sent on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Reine-Adelaide just past the hour mark, followed by Ainsley Maitland-Niles for the out of form Jenkinson. At this point it was questionable whether Arsenal or my streams were playing worse.

I saw Gibbs denied from a far post header, Rambo’s none too convincing penalty appeal, and Lucas picking up a yellow card. True, we were playing much better than in the first half, but that two goal deficit looked far too tough a mountain to climb.

Iwobi jinked and drove another effort at Forster. Have you ever tried to smash down a well-built wall with a rubber hammer? Well, we were trying. A desperate clearance by Maitland-Niles prevented a final humiliation as the clock ticked down.

Quite what you feel about tonight will depend on your view of the EFL Cup as a trophy. It is, fair enough, clearly number four in Arsene’s list of priorities. It is frustrating though for those who would argue it is the easiest of our four main competitions to win, and I understand that too. The surrender of it this evening will have to be judged against what we go on to do in the remaining months of the season.

Tonight though a combination of Arsenal and TfL left an awful lot of people feeling very frustrated. If those who missed tonight go on refreshed to take the points at West Ham on Saturday then tonight will make a lot more sense to a few.

Thoughts On A Strange Day

First things first. On the other side of the Atlantic an air crash has rightly grabbed the headlines today. That event means much to me in a number of ways both personally and professionally. If I am being totally honest I had not heard of Chapecoense until this happened. Now I know people like me, and millions of others, are grieving tonight with those on another continent, and I understand totally. Thoughts of football people, indeed all people with good in their hearts the world over, are with you in the coming days and weeks.

After that I don’t know where to go with a preview of the Arsenal’s EFL Cup quarter-final against Southampton. There are those for whom this is a competition in which we are two wins from another Wembley final, and that we should play the strongest available team. I lean, less fervently than in years past it is true, to the view that we have three more important priorities and if we have a ‘squad’ strong enough to compete in those, then the ‘squad’ should give us a chance in this one.

At the outset I have a strong feeling that much may hang on how seriously Southampton are taking this competition. New boss Claude Puel made nine changes to the side that drew with Manchester City in the last round, a 1-0 victory over Sunderland, including naming six academy graduates. Yet after this weekend’s Premier League win over former manager Koeman’s scousers he said,

“It’s an opportunity to try to win something. The last game against Everton was a fantastic game, with good intensity and a good physical level.”

He will know that Arsene Wenger will with go with a much-changed eleven and decide what sort of side to select.  The Gunners boss has shown faith in third choice goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez in the competition so far, and his selection of David Ospina for Champions League matches suggests that he has decided how best to employ his options in that department.

In front of him a recall for Carl Jenkinson is likely, with Gabriel and Rob Holding probably being trusted to deputise for the skipper and Skhodran Mustafi. Kieran Gibbs could get the nod on the left. As for their two protectors at the base of midfield, now there is problem for Arsene to ponder. Francis Coquelin is fresh, and Mohamed Elneny or Granit Xhaka  have not been used excessively so far, so I would think the former with either of the latter.

Aaron Ramsey looks a shoe-in for Mesut Ozil’s role. It’s the closest position to where he excels for Wales. Alex Iwobi to the left of him would make sense, but the right flank is an interesting one. A switch for the Ox is a possibility, but this may be another opportunity for the versatile youngster, Ashley Maitland-Niles. Fit again Lucas Perez is a likely starter with Chuba Akpom eagerly awaiting a call from the bench, if fit again?

There will be further young talent on the bench probably in the shape the excellent prospects Krystian Bielik and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, but could we see some real experience there ‘just in case’ a squad team needs easing over the line in a tight affair? Possibly Mustafi, Xhaka or Elneny, and Walcott?

The ‘holic pound

I  am on a rich vein of form, a run of one! How on earth this will go depends on what you have just skimmed over. I would be surprised if Puel, so close to a first trophy, hands us the advantage by going with a weakened selection. I am tempted to a bare pound on an unlikely goalscorer for us. It’s only a bit of fun, after all. Rob Holding to score at anytime. I’m on that at 14/1. Shop around.

Have a good one ‘holics.

Three Wheels On My Wagon

but I’m singing’ a happy song…

The Cherokees don’t like it one bit, but we’re still rollin’ along. I was reminded of the New Christy Minstrels classic first by my meandering route to the match, then by Arsenal’s performance as we defied a very lively and combative Bournemouth team and (I always feel free to call it when we have won) another dreadful refereeing performance.

The early journey to town could have been worse. Replacement buses can be tedious, but at least I had only to switch to South West Trains to reach the capital and take in lots of places I haven’t seen in years through the carriage window on a pleasant day. It set the tone for the day. It wasn’t ideal, but eventually it got me where I needed to be, though I have the utmost sympathy with the commuters crammed into those awful carriages day in and day out during the working week.

The pre-match warm-up had to change as well. Guinness was rested for a week in favour of stomach-settling port and brandy, thank you Conor who will never ask what I am drinking again! News filtered through of the line-up. Matthieu Debuchy? That was a surprise. The pairing of, is it Elaka or Xhaneny?

The open nature of the match from the off promised much and chances fell to both teams. Ozil’s blocked effort and Smith’s drive just wide of the post signalled the ambition that the combatants had brought to the field play. Combatants the visitors certainly were, with two bookings in the opening minutes for ‘challenges’ on Alexis and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The latter had a mixed bag of a match, with some of his distribution again disappointing, but his willingness to run at his full-back all afternoon gave us something that has been lacking in recent weeks. the opening goal arrived from that flank but courtesy of a woeful backpass from the Cherries skipper, Cook. Alexis is not the player to put clear through on goal. We half chuckled/half cheered the lead.

There followed two penalty appeals that raised the temperature in the stadium. I’ll confess to having no clear view of the Alexis incident from forty yards away. I did have a very clear view of the Bournemouth penalty when Wilson clearly threw himself into Monreal and dropped to earth. Free-kick to the Arsenal, surely. To the incredulity of all around Mr Jones awarded the spot-kick that Wilson himself converted.

In between those two incidents a moment that stirred memories. In the ill-fated number two shirt Debuchy, making his first appearance in nigh on a year, sat back on the turf, once more gone in the fetlock. His early departure drew a sympathetic round of applause, but the feeling that Arnautovic is his Dan Smith now hangs heavy.

Gabriel’s deployment at right-back mystified those who shared in some wickedly funny chat at half-time. Mustafi is well-versed in the role at international level and the Brazilian clearly looks more comfortable in the centre. Full marks though for his undoubted effort and a couple of tackles that some latter day full-backs would have smiled at.

The second-half was as lively as the first and I could watch Mesut twisting away to create the second goal, eventually headed home by the new Dad Theo, all day. Mesut and Alexis spent the second-half trying to set each other up but just failing to connect so many times. They are all but on the same wavelength again and we will be a very dangerous side when they fully click again.

Thereafter things got tetchier than in the first-half as both teams felt aggrieved at a mystifying officiating performance. If Mr Jones has a top flight fixture next week then the PGMOL are doing things wrong. Benik Afobe, formerly of this parish, got half an hour off the bench and impressed as Bournemouth gave as good as they got. He drew a tremendous save out of the alert Petr Cech.

For Arsenal that new pairing of Xhaka, and particularly Elneny, gave a solid account of themselves. There were brief spells in the match when our fluidity returned, and hopefully we can build on that in the coming weeks. The ‘holic pound was secured at the death when Ozil put Giroud in on the byline and his perfect cut-back presented Alexis with an open goal and a brace on the day.

The post mortem proved once more how important the social aspect of the day is, and will forever prove testament to the all-healing powers of the ‘real’ Taytos. Thank you to all, friends old and new, who made it yet another thoroughly enjoyable experience. Anyone got a spare wagon wheel they don’t need?

That was an interesting set of results on this Saturday as our title rivals set out their stall. Manchester City took over at the summit with something of a fortunate come from behind win at Burnley, and with Vincent Company out for another six weeks they do not look convincing leaders. They didn’t stay there long.

Liverpool took over with a couple late goals at home to Sunderland and saw their talisman, Coutinho, taken off on a stretcher. Then came what in prospect was the match of the day. Chelsea had the chance to become the third league leaders of the day, but their opponents from the brown and sticky end of Seven Sisters had an opportunity to displace us from fourth place with an away win at the bus stop in Fulham.

The neighbours owned the first half and should have turned round a goal to the good but Pedro’s strike turned Chelsea’s fortunes round. They went on to win with a biblical strike by the basket case Moses (sorry about that) to remove the absurd ‘invincible’ talk from the marshlands.

It was an extra recovery day for the Gunners after a tough evening against PSG in the Champions League. The visit of Bournemouth on Sunday sees us face up to Benik Afobe (if he makes an appearance from the bench), a player with something to prove, and Edddie Howe, a young coach being perhaps prematurely linked with the Arsenal. The regulations regarding on-loan players means Jack Wilshere gets a weekend off. It will be good to see him and give him a cheer again. Arsene was asked what difference his absence might make to the visitors.

“When a player like Jack is in top form, you miss him always. But we want to win games again and the solution is definitely more on our side to focus on our offensive performance and be tight at the back, rather than expecting any weakness from Bournemouth.”

I’ts good to see we are not taking them likely. Bournemouth’s players will relish the opportunity to test our eighteen match unbeaten run. They have little to lose and know full well we are, strange though it might seem, struggling for fluency at the moment.

With nobody fit to return from injury Arsene has to find the right selection to get us back on the front foot from the same squad that was available in the week. Petr Cech’s recall is a given and the only real call to be made immediately in front of him is Nacho Monreal or Kieran Gibbs to start at left-back.

Far more influential could be the selections around Mesut Ozil, given little quality ball to work with of late. Aaron Ramsey got a mixed reaction to his performance in the week but his best work is done in the centre of the pitch and perhaps he will be given another opportunity to show that he can get to grips with the role. Is this the time to give Granit Xhaka another chance to get to grips with the Premier League?

Although Olivier Giroud seems to be back to full match-fitness the temptation to play Alexis centrally in a bid to improve our fluidity must be strong. Theo Walcott should start on the right and maybe AlexOxlade-Chamberlain will reclaim the other flank from Alex Iwobi.

The ‘holic pound

Both of last season’s matches against Bournemouth ended 2-0 to the Arsenal, so you won’t be surprised to hear that is the favourite with bookies this time around at about 15/2. It may be the smart bet but I fancy both teams will serve up an even better game. I am drawn to the elevens on offer for a 3-1 home win.

If GWR and South West Trains get me there on time I hope to see a lot of you tomorrow. Now we know we need the three points to stay within three of Chelsea at the top, so the target on Sunday is clear. Wherever you are watching it…

Have a great one, ‘holics.

Twenty-four hours on and it has been interesting seeing the different takes that people have on the performance of the team and certain individuals against PSG. Of course that isn’t a surprise. Why would we all agree? The only thing that most could sign up to was the fact that this was another uninspiring start to a big match by this Arsenal squad.

However my glass is, as most of you know, half-full. Much was made of our early November schedule. It is fair to say that we haven’t really turned up against Tottenham, United, and PSG and yet in recent seasons we would probably have lost those games. There is something about the squad this season. We are digging out draws when nowhere near our best. That is keeping us in a reasonable position for now and hopefully we will recover our mojo in the upcoming fixtures.

Having said that our performance against PSG, particularly in the first-half, was disappointing in the extreme. I agree with the oft-expressed view that we do most certainly miss Santi Cazorla when he is out. We do have to find a way of compensating for his absence, and quickly, for he turns 32 in three weeks time.

Aaron Ramsey drew perhaps the most wide-ranging opinions on his performance in the Cazorla position. He is clearly a different type of player and for me he showed a lot of positional discipline. On his rare forays forward he looked the likeliest of our midfielders to score. I wouldn’t rule him out of a further appearance or two in the role and on match day six if Santi is not back that may be the opportunity to play Rambo with Xhaka or Elneny as Coquelin is suspended.

I will offer rare praise to a player who I would not have started, and especially not behind Alex Iwobi. Kieran Gibbs was given an opportunity because consistency has, hopefully temporarily, deserted Nacho Monreal. Monreal has rightly made the position his own in the last couple of seasons and Kieran has always looked a player in the Clichy mould with an error or two never far away. I thought him the pick of the defence on Wednesday. Could that be a turning point for him, a performance that he can build form and confidence on. Let’s see.

Bring on Bournemouth.

Art of Football competition winners

The winners of the excellent Art of Football teeshirts were John Deasey and ‘one of our own’, Esso. Seeing as eighty percent of the entries were from ‘holic regulars one of you was bound to be successful. Congratulations both. You will love the presentation of the shirts when you receive them.

Thank you to those who entered. If you weren’t a winner you can still buy the tee of your choice from Art of Football (click here) and on Black Friday you can use the code BF20 to claim a very tidy twenty percent discount FOR ONE DAY ONLY.

Thanks to all at Art of Football for collaborating with us once again.

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