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Where does one start after yet another performance in which Arsenal frustrated more than they delighted? The day started well enough, a fabulous lunch in equally fabulous company. Asked outside how confident I was I had to respond with “Don’t tell anyone, but not very.”

That said we made a bright and confident start with Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, and Alexis all having opportunities before Santi Cazorla drew a fantastic save from Harper. An opening goal was surely coming, and duly arrived, an Alexis special, and not the only reason he was Arsenal’s man of the match.

When we are in such cavalier mode we are a joy to watch, but as so many sides have now shown, easy to counter-attack. Diame’s rampaging run appeared to have been ended by Mathieu Flamini’s intervention, but the Frenchman was manhandled out of the way and the Hull man went on to finish with Arsenal players berating the hapless referee, Roger East. Arsene wasn’t slow in letting the fourth official and the assistant referee know his take on the incident.

One of many breaks in play

Let’s make it clear that the referee was dreadful throughout, worse even than Anthony Taylor against Villa last season, and his non-decision here did affect the result, but let’s not allow that to blind us to the fact that Arsenal should still have had enough talent on the pitch yesterday to beat a mid-table team. For all that Hull did what the lesser clubs have frequently found fruitful against us, the unchecked time-wasting, the rarely punished rotational fouling. You can call out the official for a woefully sub-standard performance without it being the main reason why we took one point instead of three. The main reason was us.

We didn’t pick up from where we had started after that equaliser. When we experienced similar performances at the back end of last season we used our lack of pace and creativity due to the absences of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, and Theo Walcott. That isn’t the case now. We have bought pace aplenty. Alexis has it, Welbeck has it (and both of those players put in a full shift yesterday), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has it, although this was an off day for the Ox.

That we fell behind at the start of the second-half was all of our own making. Jack allowed Huddlestone unfettered passage down the right flank and his cross was headed home by Hernandez who caught the BFG on his heels. We awaited a response. Hull had their third choice goalkeeper on as a substitute. Surely we would pepper the goal now, but no. He wasn’t required to make a save until the final five minutes as we continually sought to weave our way through the backline with one pass too many time and again.

That tactic may have been understandable. Although the excellent premier League debutant, Hector Bellerin, and Kieran Gibbs ruled the flanks, crosses into the box were meat and drink for Hull’s battallion of big men. There has to come a point, however, when someone takes responsibility and gets the shot away at the end of these intricate exchanges.

In the six minutes added on, although most thought it should have been more, we got the equaliser when finally Alexis threaded the ball through for Danny Welbeck to apply a clever finish. We nearly snatched the points at the death but the chance fell to Gibbs, not Sanchez or Welbeck, and the ‘keeper saved.

So to another inquest in the pub of choice. Good people lifted each other. I’d like to say that this was just one of those days and in the words of D:Ream ‘Things can only get better’, and doubtless they will, but there have been too many of these careless draws already this season. Five in eight starts should be something of a wake up call. Yes, we may point at the ludicrously long injury list, but that eleven that started yesterday should have had too much quality and technical ability for a workmanlike Hull. The supposed weak links, Bellerin and Monreal, had excellent games I thought. Jack and Santi, dominant in the opening spell, lost their control of the midfield a little too easily thereafter.

The manager and his staff need to lift and inspire their troops for a batch of winnable fixtures, but yesterday was the first of those and we came up short again. It’s true that the title is won after Christmas, but equally true that it can be lost beforehand. The gap between Chelsea and us looks worryingly large right now.

The Thin Red Line Returns

At last, following an unusual international break in which we provided five players for England and I enjoyed watching Scotland in Poland, we are back to real football. The stuff that matters, if you will.

There is, however, no getting away from the fact that we are down to the bare bones for the visit of Hull City, smarting for revenge after their FA Cup Final defeat in May. Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil have joined the lengthy list of those ruled out by injury, and Calum Chambers is suspended. Mikel Arteta is fit to return and it is likely that Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck will be available despite picking up knocks playing for their respective countries.

Most expect Nacho Monreal to switch into the centre of the defence alongside Per Mertesacker, and Hector Bellerin to get his Premier League debut at right back. How much cover we will have on the bench to cover that experimental line-up will be interesting.

Arteta’s return could see him paired with Jack Wilshere at the base of a fluid midfield behind Santi Cazorla, and flanked by any two of Alexis, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, and Lukas Podolski. Danny Welbeck, pictured in training on Friday, should be fit to lead the attack.

That looks like a side capable of creating plenty, and we may need to given the nature of our back four, and the fact that Hull have strengthened wisely since we overturned a two goal deficit at Wembley. Hernandez, Ben Arfa, Ramirez, Diame and Ince were shrewd acquisitions for the team now lying just a point behind us after the opening seven fixtures. They have scored twice in each of their last five fixtures which included a 2-4 defeat against Manchester City. Their only other trip to London this season saw them depart with all three points from Queens Park Rangers on the opening day.

All of the above should point to a high scoring contest, but as a result the odds on offer for a cautious 2-1 home win look very tidy, particularly the 17/2 from one bookie. That is the destination of the ‘holic pound, but if you fancy a repeat of the 3-2 we saw in May then 25/1 is widely available.

Geordie Armstrong On The Wing

Older Gooners will be interested I’m sure in the book signing taking place in the Tollington tomorrow. Dave Seager and George’s daughter, Jill, are being joined by some Gunners legends to sign copies of the new book about the 1971 double winner.

I’m looking forward to reading about the perpetual motion man who gave his all for Arsenal as player and coach until his untimely death.

Dave and Jill, I know you’ll have a great day.

Campo Retro October Discount For Goonerholics

During the month of October you can get a generous 20% off a classic Campo Retro legend shirt by entering the code GH20 at the checkout. Click here to check out the range and order your favourite. Perhaps you fancy a ’71 classic to accompany the Geordie Armstrong book?

Whatever you are doing, have a great weekend ‘holics.

Once again I am indebted to our very own resident sports physiotherapist, Trev, for his professional view on a topical subject. We have players out for a variety of reasons, and it would take a series of articles to cover them all. Trev looks at one area this week as an example. Do you think you could persuade him to cover a different part of the body in each international break in the drinks? Thanks Trev.

Mark Verstegen – Shad Forsythe’s mentor,

 “If we are screening every athlete and we see something that might take someone out of games, we want to address those inefficient movement patterns up front,” he says.

As injuries are once again taking their toll on our season and speculation mounts as to why, it might be interesting to get an overview of how problems can progress through the body.

Bearing the quote at the top of the piece in mind, I thought I might combine Verstegen’s words and one of my own personal experiences of The Arsenal.  Everyone is clearly hoping that Shad Forsythe, the new Head of Athletic Performance Enhancement, is going to bring a new approach to avoiding injuries at the club.

One very good place to start, with any sports person and especially footballers, is with foot mechanics. I am not suggesting that the club has not addressed this issue now, but it does illustrate well how injuries can progress.

A number of years ago, fairly soon after the Shenley training and medical centre opened, I had a private tour of the facilities which included everything from the laundry and changing rooms to the coaches offices. It was fascinating and, at the same time, quite surprising stuff.  One thing that has stuck in my mind since that day, and I promise you there is nothing weird or fetishy about it, is Robert Pires’ boots !

Robert Pires was clearly a quite brilliant footballer, but also a very flat footed one – if the indications from his gait were anything to go by.

Between the changing room and the training pitches was a room where each player had a peg with six pairs of boots on it.  I was amazed to see that, in an elite team containing  stars like Vieira, Bergkamp, Henry and Sir Bob, that for all his apparent flat footedness, Pires had no arch support built into any of his boots.

The foot is a three arch structure which should provide spring and balance points.
The main arch runs under and along the instep and is supported by the plantar ligament.
The second arch is formed along the length of the toes, and the third, or transverse arch, runs across the instep.
The balance points are at the heel, big toe and on the outside of the foot just behind the fifth toe.

If the main (plantar) arch of the foot drops – due to genetics or overuse – the centre of the foot rolls inwards ( hyper-pronates) and the person’s weight and main balance point drops back onto the inside part of the heel, leading to strains and inflammation of the ankle ligaments and Achilles Tendon, which is the amalgamated tendons of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the rear calf.

This makes an athlete slower off the mark as the weight has to be shifted further forwards to get moving, but also creates a whole chain of events that can cause a succession of injuries.

As the foot continues to pronate, it drags the tibia (shin bone) into an inwards rotation too. That eventually causes the tibia to become misaligned which distorts the joint spaces up in the knee, leading to pinching and wear of the fibro-cartilages, strain and inflammation of the tendons and ligaments, and wear and inflammation of the patella (kneecap).

The rotation continues through the thigh into the hip causing misalignments of the pelvis, inflammation and even tearing of ligaments in the groin, and protective contractions in muscles around the pelvic girdle.

That, in turn, results in the spine not rising straight from the pelvic girdle, inflammation of the sacro-iliac joints, lumbar strains, misalignments and other back problems.
If the bottom end of the spine is not straight, the head, at the top end, will not be straight either. But the spine requires the eyes and ears to be level in order to be able to balance and coordinate efficiently.

Consequently, the brain causes the spine to compensate for this leaning to one side by bending back the other way, generally in the lower half of the thoracic spine (bottom half of the rib cage). A final compensation is then needed at neck level.

These compensations are achieved, at each point, by contracting the. muscles on one side of the spine to pull it back over. This can lead to pain in the shoulders, neck, headaches and migraines.

Hopefully, all this detail won’t have sent everyone to sleep.
The idea was to show how a simple mechanical failure in the foot can cause postural change in the body, and a whole set of related conditions.
It might put a bit of meat on the bones of Mark Verstegen’s quote at the top of the piece.

Whether it makes anyone feel better about our overcrowded treatment room is another matter entirely.

20% Off Campo Retro Legend Shirts

Don’t forget, during the month of October you can get a generous 20% off a classic Campo Retro legend shirt by entering the code GH20 at the checkout. Click here to check out the range and order your favourite.

Anybody who wondered if the international break had come at a good time for Arsenal has probably had their answer now. The feeling that most of the squad would spend time away forgetting the Chelsea defeat and return ready to start all over again against Hull has been replaced by yet another massive inquest.

It all started on Wednesday when the German FA announced to the world that Mesut Ozil would be out for 10-12 weeks with a ‘partial lateral collateral ligament tear’ in the left knee. Immediately it sunk in that once again he and Aaron Ramsey, so crucially missing for a vital part of the title run-in earlier in the year, are out together again.

Twenty-four hours on and Laurent Koscielny was sent back to Arsenal by France with chronic tendonitis of both ankles. With Mathieu Debuchy already ruled out by injury and Calum Chambers suspended for the next fixture at home to Hull the last thing we needed was another scare involving a back four player.

The reference to the tail end of last season may be unfair. Theo Walcott is close to a return, and his absence was another contributory feature of our spring collapse. The cover for Mesut is there. Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, and more than ever Jack Wilshere, are all capable of fitting into the number ten role. They have not only the returning Theo to work with. In spring we didn’t have Alexis or Danny Welbeck. The forward options are starting to look attractive.

The potential early derailing of another title challenge won’t be down to any attacking weakness. We are, however very much down to the bare bones defensively. All together now. “We knew that. We told you so in August.” Hindsight favours those of a pessimistic hue, as it so often does. They aren’t wrong though. Going into a season with so few acknowledged defensive-minded players was likely to provoke a response if we picked up injuries and suspensions, and we have.

Having said all of that I think it wise to wait and see what happens in the coming weeks before going overboard with any assessment of where we are. Following, lest we forget, only our first Premier League defeat of the season, we have a string of fixtures which should yield enough points to keep us in relative touch with the leaders until the transfer window opens again in the new year. Without doubt we have the cash to buy should quality be available in that window.

Let’s assume we have the desire too, to strengthen further.

Campo Retro Arsenal Shirts

Look, as Arsene would say, the good folk at Campo Retro have offered Goonerholic readers a massive 20% discount off their superb range of shirts in October. You can check them out here. Pick your shirt or shirts of choice and when you checkout enter the code GH20 to secure your discount.

I’m tempted by the 1979 Cup Final shirt. What’s your favourite? Let me know in the drinks.

Taking the day after the match off was a good idea. Leaving the post until the morning after equally so. A strange day ended with us nine points, but not light years, behind Chelsea. You have seen the match, and read other match reports. I’ll give an impression of the day from one perspective rather than add to those.

It turned into a strange day. My inability to read a ticket, and my assumption about the size of the fixture, meant I planned for a 4pm kick-off, only to be told by text that it was the early match while I made a tortuous journey to south-west London. The anticipated sightseeing and lunchtime session turned into a hurried couple of pints before joining the queues to get into the Shed. We were held outside for what stewards advised was an ‘incident’. Once inside all became clear, or rather not. A hint of red in the air, acrid smoke. Some thoughtless plum who presumably knows nobody with COPD or asthma thought it fun to let off a flare in a confined space by the bar.

The resulting shut down of the refreshment facilities meant an early ascent of the upper tier steps to a cramped seat. You can’t all sit at Chelsea, even if you wanted to, and so stand and sing we did. You will have your own take on how it all unfolded, and I will not change entrenched views. Suffice it to say this was far from the embarrassing surrender of last season. We were encouraged early on, but that is to be expected, I suppose. Mourinho has his way of playing big clubs, which involves having all eleven players in their own half for large swathes of the contest, and breaking with lung-bursting pace.

It isn’t pretty, as a million tweeters confirmed, but I can’t help to think back to the latter years of the George Graham reign, when we would do the same to the big sides we faced. Once again the tactic worked, and until Arsene registers a win away to a rival it will continue to be a stick to beat him with. The spat with his irksome opposite number, amusing at the time, is a sign of the tensions he still feels on such occasions, and totally understandable too.

The incident that sparked that confrontation was a vile lunge on Alexis by Cahill. A clear red card offence to all but the hapless official. I’ll be quick to point out others should have followed and he was totally incompetent for both sides. It was a day Atkinson will want to forget, although hopefully his bosses will not let him do so when assessing his performance. That was however a game-changing moment, whereas Welbeck’s equally poor challenge at the end of the match wasn’t.

We had looked more likely to score in the opening 27 minutes but our failure to do so handed Chelsea the opportunity to succeed with their rope-a-dope tactics. Creating little, it was not a surprise they got the advantage with a penalty, when Hazard was alllowed far too easily to make a mazy run into the box and square up Koscielny, drawing the inevitable clumsy challenge. It was a clear penalty from over a hundred yards away on a narrow perch in the gods. Another decision for St Francis of Assisi to duck.

In the aftermath Jack Wishere was quoted on www.arsenal.com thus…

“We are playing against teams who, when you are on top, you have to make it count or they will punish you. That is what they did.”

A perfect summation of the day, and so many recent awaydays against good sides. Had we scored first Chelsea would have faced a decision about when to open up in search of an equaliser and present us with an opportunity to double our advantage. They didn’t need to, and the second-half followed a similar pattern to what had gone before. Jack himself missed the clearest opportunity to level matters, but a rare heavy touch at the wrong moment cost us dearly.

Yet more controversy after the break when Cesc Fabregas batted away Jack’s drive with a flailing arm. That would be a penalty nine times out of ten. This was the tenth. Calum Chambers let fly but cleared the crossbar. It wasn’t our day, a fact confirmed when Costa lobbed the hesitant Szczesny. Presumably the ‘keeper feared another red card situation?

That there were frustrations among some of the traveling faithful can’t be denied. To an extent that is understandable, although the abuse dished out by a very few to our own is not. As stated earlier, until we beat a title rival on the road the undercurrent of dissatisfaction will continue to flow unabated. So huge and diverse is the fanbase it would be remarkable in the extreme if we all largely agreed about the state of the club, at any given point in time.

So once more we ventured out onto Fulham Road, a little despondent rather than distraught. A couple of pints of HSB at Paddington cheered briefly. Match of the Day highlighted Chelsea’s disruptive rotational fouling, and although that is a valid point, we have to learn to deal with it because they are not the only team to engage us so.

There will be better days to come at the Bridge, for sure. I hope I am there then.

My Hornbyesque upbringing in the Thames Valley means Chelsea versus Arsenal was always a much-anticipated fixture. Cheap train travel and cheap admission on the day meant schoolboys could afford the day on pocket money, and join in the great adventures that an ‘away’ game provided. My first was in 1969. Tomorrow’s combined match ticket and coach/train travel far exceed what would be considered pocket money today.

So many have advised I am in for a bad day, and there is no denying that Chelsea have made a very fast start to their Premiership campaign. Only Manchester City, at home, have taken a point against them. On the road Chelsea have beaten Burnley and Everton, whilst at this weekend’s venue they have seen off Leicester (2-0), Swansea (4-2), and Aston Villa (3-0). They have strengthened shrewdly, including Cesc Fabregas of course, but most significant would appear to be the purchase of Diego Costa who already has eight goals to his credit.

You cannot escape mention of last season’s horror story for us, a six goal drubbing on what should have been a happier day for the boss, celebrating a thousand matches in charge of the Arsenal. Our performances away from home against our main rivals have for too long now been a cause for concern. This is an opportunity to show that we have addressed that. Once a fixture we approached with relish, we have now won just twice at the Bridge in the last decade. I get it. We are underdogs.

I also get we were underdogs the last time we won there on a day when the lasting image will be of John Terry chewing the cud as we clinched a remarkable 3-5 triumph three years ago. The team news remains a worry. Only Nacho Monreal is likely to return to the squad that saw off Galatasaray in midweek. Should there be any change to the eleven that started that fixture? Having Santi Cazorla in a deeper central role seemed to work on Tuesday and the attacking trio of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez provided the bullets for Danny Welbeck to fire.

Obviously Chelsea on their own patch are far more formidable than the Turks, and we will have to be far more alert defensively to the sort of counter-attacking game that the loathesome Mourinho so likes to play against us. Having the Ox and Alexis on the flanks provides hard-working cover to full backs who will be sorely tested. If they can do that well, and we can fashion opportunities for Danny at the other end then that is the recipe for pulling off the unexpected, or at least securing the point that will keep the gap between us and the leaders to six points.

As for the ‘holic pound, I was hoping for better than 9/2 for an away win. That looks a little short to me. I’m going instead for what does look super value. Two bookies offer Laurent Koscielny to score anytime at 20/1. I’m on the big man to strike from a set piece.

Engineering works make for an awful journey by taxi, replacement bus, train, and tube. I’m hoping against hope, it would seem, that all will be worthwhile when we depart West London with something from the match. Let’s hope it isn’t just a hangover.

Welbeck In Contention

Happy eighteenth anniversary, Arsene. A potential banana skin of a night became a celebration not just because Galatasaray lined up with an untested formation, but also because those in red and white displayed a sense of purpose and commitment. Almost down to the bare bones, we shall worry tomorrow morning about Alexis’ ankle. His contribution tonight, alongside Mesut Ozil, gave us hints of what lies in store in the coming months. A new team is coming together, slowly but most definitely.

However, it wasn’t Ozil or Alexis who claimed the man of the match plaudits. Danny Welbeck has divided opinion since his deadline day capture for £16m. That looks absurdly good value for an English international striker when you look at the fees paid for one or two other young English players (Luke Shaw *cough*). Manchester United fans must have loved sitting in their front rooms watching their old boy playing in Europe tonight and doing so well.

As a contest it was over by half-time, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a game to raise the blood pressure. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla to the fore in the opening exchanges we showed an appetite sometimes lacking on our frustrating days. Gala threatened on the break, but in truth looked a little lightweight with little support for the experienced Pandev up front. The difference in attacking options were demonstrated little more than twenty minutes in. Alexis played Welbeck in and a toe poke before Melo could intervene put us ahead.

On the half hour he doubled his productivity for the night, shrugging aside Melo again to finish in a style compared to a Highbury legend. Let’s take it easy on that front for his next hundred, or maybe two hundred goals for Arsenal, eh? The name Melo is cropping up time and again. Remember some berating Arsene for not signing him a couple of years back? He should have walked tonight for a savage two footed lunge on Alexis. Quite how he got away with only a yellow card was a mystery to all who witnessed it. Alexis was withdrawn in the second-half and  shown with a precautionary, hopefully, ice pack on his ankle. We’ll need him on Sunday.

Before the half-time cuppas’ were served (ok, it is specially prepared energy drinks now) we had a third. Alexis was played in by Ozil (I thought they couldn’t play together?) and for the third time the ball was slotted inside the far post. The ‘holic pound would have rewarded handsomely at 45 minutes. It was fatally holed just seven minutes into the second-half when Welbeck started and finished the flowing move that saw us four to the good. It was Danny’s first hat-trick in senior football, but all the signs are that more will follow. His speed of thought and foot were impressive tonight. Repeat that on Sunday please, young man.

Of course on an evening when an opponent should have walked for a savage foul, we were bound to lose our Wojciech for another ill-judged but not not malicious challenge. Let me say here I have no problem with the red card he received under the present guidance to referees, but it is ludicrous that Melo should have stayed on the pitch tonight when Szczesny was sent off for a challenge that did not threaten serious damage to a fellow professional. These inconsistent and incompetent referees need highlighting too.

The result of the Pole’s rashness was an appearance from the bench for David Ospina. Beaten from the spot he may have been, but as the nine men ahead of him regrouped he gave a solid display and even produced one save ‘for the cameras’ as the old ‘keepers would say. He will have another opportunity to impress now at Anderlecht in three weeks. Could we be witnessing the arrival of a new number one? We shall see, but not at the bus stop in Fulham on Sunday, I suspect. Nor should we.

So, let’s take a deep breath and think what this means. We have a home win in the Champions League, and so we should. Two more and a performance in Belgium or Turkey (or both) and we are last sixteen material again. I mentioned bare bones earlier, and certainly we are not far from that, but Tomas Rosicky was a second-half substitute tonight, and impressed. Jack Wilshere too. The earlier summons for Ospina probably denied Lukas Podolski a run out. First impressions tonight are, should Alexis not be ruled out, that we have a starting eleven that can give it a go at the bus stop on Sunday. Confident? Not particularly, but the Arsenal have given me some unexpected boosts down the years, and this weekend provides yet another opportunity for them to surprise and delight.

What say you?

 

I have to be honest. In August I didn’t expect six weeks into the new season that I would be previewing our first Champions League group phase home fixture wondering if we could put out a first team squad starting eleven. That sounds dramatic. We can, but only just, and that should be significant.

Galatasaray are back in town and given our opening day performance in Dortmund we need to secure three points, and hopefully avoid further injuries in the process. We cannot gloss over the problems that we face ahead of the match. We have to, for one night only, forget the fact that an important, if not decisive, fixture follows on Sunday. We are missing, wait for it, Debuchy, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Diaby, Gnabry, Walcott, Sanogo, and Giroud.

Those that are available should still be capable, surely, of delivering what Le Boss regards as a crucial three home points?

“Basically the target is always the same in the Champions League. You need to win your home games and you need one good result away from home. We had a disappointing result in Dortmund and the potential is there for us, we don’t lose a lot but we want to find the winning edge together and we have that opportunity against Galatasaray.”

Well nobody can argue with that, agreed? Wojciech Szczesny will surely start behind our only four senior (yes, you are already Calum!) defenders, Calum Chambers, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, and Kieran Gibbs. Arsene has a decision to make about who plays behind and alongside Danny Welbeck. How fit is Jack Wilshere? The answer, if he needs additional rest before Chelsea, is Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Tomas Rosicky, Mathieu Flamini, Mesut Ozil, and Santi Cazorla or Lukas Podolski. The bench might be thin. Apologies kids, and Joel Campbell, I wish you well if you get your opportunity.

I would love to argue the reasons why we will beat Galatasaray. I would love to give you a deep and meaningful tactical appreciation of where they are right now. It would be utter bollocks. I haven’t watched them once this season. I am relying on the old stereotype of Turkish teams travelling badly, and Arsenal historically doing alright at home, to inform my bet on the match, so don’t follow it slavishly. The High Street bookies are all over a low scoring Arsenal win. They are not often wrong, but 1-0 (7/1 at best), 2-0 (15/2), and 2-1 (8/1) don’t represent value for me. I am having a ‘holic pound that I can afford on both 3-0 and 3-1 at 12/1.

On the day, as well as overseeing our Champions League adventure, Arsene will be celebrating eighteen years in charge of THE Arsenal. I seriously thanked him once for what he had done for us, after the Highhbury Farewell. What has followed has caused much debate, and falling out between top people I knew.

Having said that it is time to withdraw to the land of nod. Have a lovely Wednesday all. Let’s pray for a good result tomorrow. Big weekend ahead.

We Love you Arsenal, we do.

Twenty six hours after the event I have finally seen the entire match. The strain on the wifi in the place where I found myself on Saturday meant I saw only the first-half, and that on mute. A second viewing of that first period on Arsenal Player confirmed the impression I had at the time. The midfield that so impressed for much of last season is still taking shape, and we have not hit the ground running. Despite dominating ownership of the football too often our advances were side to side and lacking the urgency that we exhibit when on song.

It would appear reasonable to wonder if continued efforts to shoehorn Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, and Mesut Ozil into the starting eleven are at the heart of the problem. All do their best work in behind the main striker, and it was evident that Ozil was more influential after Ramsey’s unfortunate removal with a hamstring problem. We will perhaps find out in the coming week, or weeks, depending on the diagnosis of the extent of that injury.

The loss of Mikel Arteta too limits our options for the meetings with Galatasaray and Chelsea in the coming days. There is an obvious replacement in Mathieu Flamini, but the old warhorse looked to tire badly against Manchester City in his last start, and was caught in possession for Spurs unlikely opener in this match. Two big games in four days will test his fitness. Arsene said afterwards that Abou Diaby is not yet ready to return and if Jack has a reaction to his ankle knock yesterday, and is also ruled out, then our options are limited.

Indeed it could be that we will be down to almost the bare bones for Wednesday’s Champions League encounter, with Mesut and Santi Cazorla ahead of Flamini, and Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flanks. Pray none of that quintet picks up a knock that rules them out of the important trip to the bus stop in Fulham also.

The improvement in our creative play in the second-half was apparent before Spurs were gifted the lead, and the reaction to that shock was commendable, if ultimately insufficient. The Ox looked rightly thrilled with his equaliser after a magnificent dummy by Danny Welbeck (cough). It looked for all the world as if the axis of Ozil, Cazorla, Alexis, and Gibbs could open up Spurs right flank at will, and with Calum Chambers and the Ox threatening down the opposit flank it did look as though the winner would be found. My heart says we deserved it, my head tells me to be more questioning.

The other significant contributor to the match was Michael Oliver. I know I am harsh in my assessment of our Premier League officials. Because of the general lack of quality we currently have this young man has been fast-tracked, and his appointment to this fixture merely reinforces that view. It was too big a game for him, although to be fair he showed no partiality and had some very difficult calls to make. We will argue that Jack should have had a penalty in the first-half but it happened quickly, and only multiple views of the relays confirmed Rose’s challenge was unfair.

Even harder the decision to deny Per Mertesacker an equaliser. The goal line technology showed the ball in play when Lloris saved, which was not in doubt, but the ball did thereafter go backwards and close at least to over the line. Neither of those non-decisions should result in him being marked down, but his inconsistency in what constituted a yellow card meant that players were free to commit multiple offences, and none more so than Lamela. Oliver cottoned on to this too late, and decided to award yellows for almost any foul in the second-half by anybody not previously booked.

Laughably, Chadli was booked for taunting the schoolboys, girls, and pensioners in the Family enclosure. Since when has being nothing more than a classless prick warranted the award of a yellow card? Frankly, Oliver appeared to lose control, but for clarity, I again emphasise this was not an excuse for dropped points by the hosts. I just hope he is not considered an option to officiate next Sunday, and that is far more important.

Criticism of a side thus far unbeaten in the Premier League might be seen as harsh, but trailing Chelsea by six points after just six matches is a legitimate concern. Next Sunday’s match is too early to be considered pivotal, but more important is that we start to rediscover the consistency of performance in the calendar year of 2013. We have, thankfully, strengthened the squad if not entirely to everyones satisfaction.  We are bedding in some new talent and that is taking a little longer than we might have hoped.

That said we are still not far from fielding a front three of Theo, Welbeck, and Alexis. I am rather looking forward to that. If only they could start in the coming week. Pray for a clean bill of health after Wednesday night.

 

It’s the eve of the match like no other. Our rivals these days may come from the west of London and the north-west of England, but there is something about facing the neighbours that still stirs the blood. I only have to hear the word “Tottenham’ and the memories come flooding back. 1971, 2004, Raddy, Ray, Liam, Alan, Rocky, Charlie, Tony, Thierry, Bobby, Tomas, Theo. Fabulous wins and the odd painful reverse. It’s a fixture that divides families. My late grandfather, a late uncle, and cousin are from the dark side. The rest of the family knew that North London is red.

There was a spell when I would confidently demolish the marsh-dwellers ahead of our meetings, but as the austerity years hit so they have enjoyed the odd isolated triumph, immediately burned onto disc. Their only league win at the Grove came in 2010 when we watched on, almost disbelieving, as a 2-0 half-time lead was tamely surrendered. The following season, on a pivotal day for Arsene Wenger, we were 0-2 down early on. Many felt that had the result gone against us that day we would now have a different man at the helm. Bacary Sagna sparked the fight back, and triggered a five goal salvo that will always be remembered by those who saw it.

A repeat 5-2 the following season gave the lie to the mythical ‘power-shift’ claimed for so long by those well and truly in our shadow. That claim resurfaced last summer. A figure in excess of £100 million was splashed (polite version) on a veritable chest of tat. Olivier Giroud’s 23rd minute strike did for them in the League, and then Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky humbled them in the FA Cup third round tie that was the springboard for us winning the competition.

This season they have yet another manager for Arsene to see off. Mauricio Pochettino looks to have a bit more about him than some of the clowns who Tottenham have appointed in recent years but is starting to realise the challenge that faces him. After beating West Ham and Queens Park Rangers in their opening Premier League fixtures the neighbours have taken just one point from the next three, at Sunderland, and suffered successive defeats to Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion.

Arsene was complimentary in his pre-match presser when quizzed about the visitors and their new manager.

“It’s early in the season to judge a team but they have certainly less introduction of new players. They will benefit from stability and he’s a quality manager. He has shown that at Southampton.”

The team news was much as expected. We remain without Mathieu Debuchy, Nacho Monreal, Theo Walcott, and Olivier Giroud. The temptation to go with the side that won so impressively at Aston Villa last weekend must be huge for Arsene. If there are to be changes one would assume the options revolve around whether to recall Abou Diaby and/or Jack Wishere for Mikel Arteta and/or Santi Cazorla. A little something is telling me Jack for Santi is the likeliest of those two, which would have important ramifications for Mesut Ozil.

The ‘holic pound harks back to a historic result for a historic fixture. In our first double season, 1970-71, we played Tottenham at home in September. Wee Geordie Armstrong scored both goals in a 2-0 win that day, and I fancy a repeat at the Grove. I’ve taken what I consider a generous 10/1 with one High Street bookie.

Unfortunately, for the first time I can remember in years, I will miss the annual ‘rip it out of the neighbours’ in the flesh. I will be at a wedding in a barn in the middle of nowhere, praying for a mobile signal, or better still a wifi link so I can get the match on the phone. As ever I am reminded of an old cricket tale when this game approaches. “If God is on our side we shall win. If he is on their side they will win. But if he keeps his beak out of it we’ll bloody well thrash them”, or words to that effect.

Have a good one ‘holics.

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