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We are a week away from the first of two crucial fixtures against Manchester City in the month of April. Whilst next week we will be looking for three valuable points in our fading bid for a top four finish the second meeting will provide the opportunity to progress to a third FA Cup Final in four seasons.

Perhaps surprisingly it will be the first meeting of the clubs in the premier cup competition since 1971, a night this blogger will always recall with great pleasure. To put the fifth round tie into context we had been drawn away to the champions of 1968, the FA Cup winners of 1969, and the European Cup Winners Cup winners of 1970. In short City were firm favourites to progress.

Former Gunner Joe Mercer was the manager, and alongside coach Malcolm Allison had fashioned a wonderfully entertaining side at Maine Road. Like their neighbours who boasted the holy trinity of Law, Best, and Charlton, City had their own in Lee, Bell, and Summerbee. All three had been plundered from the lower divisions. Bell, nicknamed Nijinsky after the racehorse rather than the ballet dancer, had phenomenal stamina and was one of the best box to box midfielders I ever saw. Lee and Summerbee, from Bolton and Swindon respectively, were equally at home on the flanks or in front of goal.

Arsenal had won the European Fairs Cup in the previous season, our first trophy in seventeen years, and although we were locked in combat with Leeds United for the League title we really were given little hope of progressing. It was a very wet spring indeed. The fifth round tie was scheduled for a Saturday afternoon kick-off but for the second time in the competition that season an Arsenal tie was washed out by an absolute downpour which rendered the pitch unplayable.

On the following Wednesday it was played on a drenched and muddy pitch that looked like a skating rink under the floodlights. The grainy footage (see below) scarcely did justice to the conditions. Charlie George had missed much of the season after breaking his ankle with Everton goalkeeper Gordon West on the opening day of the season (of course he scored!).

His return was to lift the Gunners to the eventual triumph in the competition. In his comeback he scored in a fourth round replay against Portsmouth. He would go on to head the only goal against Leicester City in a quarter final replay. With one of the last shots of a remarkable season he would beat England goalkeeper Ray Clemence from twenty yards to secure an incredible double.

But it was at Maine Road that Charlie proved his greatness in the biggest of fixtures. A first-half free kick from the edge of the box put the visiting Gunners in the driving seat. His second was a hint of what would happen at Wembley nearly three months later. Strike partner John Radford sent Charlie skipping clear of the City back line and having slotted the ball past another England international goalkeeper, Joe Corrigan, Charlie gave us all a preview of his most famous celebration.

Colin Bell’s consolation strike wasn’t enough to spoil one of the biggest Arsenal victories in my lifetime. Charlie explained his celebration of the winner thus,

“As I laid on the floor, I was looking over to Malcolm Allison, Manchester City’s coach. Frank McLintock came in the dressing-room before the game and said: ‘I’ve been talking to Malcolm and Malcolm thinks you’re crap’. When the game started, I was the best player. That’s why I looked at Malcolm.”

Allison hadn’t said anything of the sort and was taken aback at the abuse Charlie aimed his way at the final whistle. Pure Mclintock genius!

A wonderful evening, and I have known ever since that I was lucky Mum and Dad let me stay up to watch the highlights that school night. Enjoy Charlie’s goals with contributions from him and the wonderful Jon Sammels who was also in the side that night.


So, extremely tired, I thought I would watch Germany playing England last night. I have taken to not watching them all the time now because frankly watching England in 2017 reflects watching Arsenal in 2017. They rarely play attractive football and psychologically they are way below the level they need to be at.

However I don’t mind admitting to enjoying the performance, and the match, rather more than I expected. For an hour I thought England were by far the better side and if Vardy or All could finish we could have been two or three up. Germany, being Germany, punished us for letting them off the hook with a solid end to the contest.

The game was played in the spirit of a testimonial for that once a Gunner, always a Gunner, Lukas Podolski. Following several sighters he scored the sensational goal the German crowd wanted so much and even I cheered. I know Arsene Wenger lost faith in him for his laissez-faire attitude to tracking back but we couldn’t help but take the smiling Poldi to our hearts. When in the mood he was also a wonderful finisher, and last night showed he still packs a thunderous shot on him.

The only downside to the evening was another boorish display by a number of the travelling England contingent. I wonder how many of them will be foolish enough to repeat such scenes at Moscow 2018? Thank you to the good folk of Germany who lit up the Brandenburg Gate in the colours of the Union Jack following the events in Westminster yesterday. The vast majority of English people were repulsed by the few hundred mindless idiots who spoiled an otherwise excellent occasion.

Anyway, all in all that was an encouraging start for Gareth Southgate and I may just watch England again on Sunday against Lithuania. It’s a shame it’s ten days until Arsenal have a chance to show they can produce a surprisingly good performance against Manchester City.

It’s going to be a long ten days.

Has this two week international break come at a good time for Arsenal? For the football club, possibly, but not where the supporters are concerned. It’s a fortnight before the players, rightly condemned for their no-show at the Hawthorns on Saturday, can show they have the ability to bounce back from a dreadful run of form. That is time in which egos can be stroked, and weaknesses tackled behind the closed gates at Shenley.

The break provides an opportunity for the squad, or at least those not called up by their respective countries, to work on rediscovering form, confidence, and most importantly desire. There is a job here for the club captain. Per Mertesacker should pull his squad together and tell them a few home truths about performing for their reputations, and the supporters, if not for the manager.

On Sunday week we will face the first of two matches in April against Manchester City. Lose that one and a top four place could sail away into the distance. Lose the second and the last hope of silverware this season would evaporate.

How unwelcome is this break for those on both extremes of the Wenger in/out argument, and those subjected to their escalating spat on social media. Thankfully I no longer have the time to keep up with all the shenanigans during the working day, but within minutes of getting home this evening there were more virtual wars being waged. If there is one thing more depressing than Arsenal’s form at the moment it is watching groups of like-minded web warriors turning on fellow Gooners who have the nerve to hold views that differ from theirs.

It’s a poisonous atmosphere that infiltrates the grounds where we play now, and may well have an affect on the problems the team are facing right now. Fair enough, everyone has the right to protest, peacefully and with respect. That respect is being shown less and less, however, both in the grounds and online. What’s it all about, Alfie?

I think you are all aware that I have swung round to the view that we should not be offering our greatest ever manager a new contract. That doesn’t mean I think that those who still support the man are all unthinking loons. Far from it. There are good and bad on both sides. I do believe it would do the club a lot of good right now if that announcement were made so as to instantly improve the atmosphere at matches and enable the supporters to unite in appreciation of the job Arsene has done.

Today it seems possible that the contract offer is not only still on the table but may even have been signed already. If either of those happens to be true then it is perfectly understandable that a weak and seemingly powerless board is looking to delay any announcement. All I do know for certain is that nobody on Twitter, or Facebook, or any of the other social platforms knows the truth.

For fellow supporters to be abusing each other over something that isn’t known and hasn’t happened is so utterly pointless. Lots (and I’ll hold my hand up here) have been very good at talking but not listening. Closed minds encourage barbed and uninformed responses, and it all escalates from there.

Whatever happens I will still support Arsenal, albeit differently next season. The season ticket will be the first sacrifice if another groundhog season is on offer. I’ll still be able to pick and choose the matches I want to be at next season in support of the team on the pitch. I’ll still enjoy a few pints with people on both sides of the divide who can debate all things Arsenal without going red-faced with rage.

But that changes the nature of this post to being about me. That is something we all need to consider at the moment. How much of what we are all saying and doing right now is all about us? That’s really worth more than a moment’s consideration, no?

Victoria concordia crescit.

News broke early that Mesut Ozil would miss the trip to the Hawthorns. Arsenal Wenger explained that he had picked up a minor hamstring niggle in training yesterday. The manager also opted for a very flexible potential front three of Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, and Alexis. I doubt the players would have seen Thierry Henry’s view ahead of the match which was damning of the current squad.

“Is the Arsenal shirt too heavy for you? Stop hiding behind Arsene Wenger and be more than mediocre.”

The opening phases of play suggested that the Baggies would be more than content to sit deep and let us have all the sideways possession we wanted in front of them. They soon showed their menace on the break as left-back Nyom went on a powerful marauding run down the left before cutting a dangerous ball across the face of the goal.

Theo Walcott was denied at point-blank range by Foster following a Nacho Monreal cross as we produced our first moment of menace. When Alexis gave the ball away, not for the first time, in the twelfth minute McClean’s drive was parried away for a corner. When the set piece was delivered Dawson out-muscled Laurent Koscielny and out-jumped a hesitant Cech to head home. Who expected West Brom to be a threat from set pieces?

West Brom 1-0 Arsenal

The advantage didn’t last long. Granit Xhaka picked out a surprisingly unmarked Alexis on the left hand side of the box. The Chilean did what he does best, wriggling inside before lifting the ball high into the net.

West Brom 1-1 Arsenal

Alexis was becoming the focal point of the match and McAuley avoided censure for pulling him back in the next attack. Livermore went one better, pulling his shirt then tripping him up without even seeing a free-kick awarded. Rondon was next to join in the clearly rotational fouling of the Gunners main man. Referee Swarbrick was showing no sign of getting a grip of the situation.

The football was proving less of a distraction than the two competing aircraft carrying anti and pro-Wenger sentiments. They were both absurd and embarrassing.

A prolonged spell of painfully slow possession ended on the half hour mark when Rondon got on the end of a direct through ball and dragged his effort just wide of Cech’s far post. That sparked the Arsenal into life and Foster had to go full length to his left to deny Aaron Ramsey. Theo Walcott was unable to convert the parry. West Brom responded with a Fletcher effort that drew a fine save by Cech.

The goalkeeper hobbled off a couple of minutes later after appearing to pick up a muscle problem. David Ospina entered the fray from the bench. A brutal late ‘challenge’ on Alexis by McClean resulted in just a yellow card. Would that be sufficient to deter the next Baggies thug from assaulting the Gunners most influential player in the first-half?

It was the visitors who earned the first corner of the second-half when, for the first time, Walcott found enough space to play a dangerous ball across the face of the goal. Back came the Baggies and Rondon again out-muscled the skipper to glance a header just wide of the far post.

Just eight minutes after the break Robson-Kanu came on for Rondon who looked disappointed to say the least. Little more than a minute later he put the hosts ahead again when Ospina failed to deal with a one on one with McClean and the substitute poked the ball through the legs of McClean, by now in an offside position having shoved Bellerin over his prone goalkeeper, and into the net. After a consultation with his assistant Swarbrick awarded the goal. To be fair I would have wanted it given at the other end.

West Brom 2-1 Arsenal

With twenty-five minutes to go the anonymous Walcott made way for Olivier Giroud. From the following corner Danny Welbeck thumped a header against the crossbar. Was that to be a sign of things to come? We survived what would have been a killer third goal for the Baggies when Ospina denied Robson-Kanu and Chadli’s follow-up was kicked off the line by Mustafi.

The surprising lack of an increase in tempo from the Arsenal spoke volumes. Thierry’s plea to be ‘more than mediocre’ went unheeded. The humiliation was complete when Dawson repeated his first-half header from a corner. Arsenal’s players, almost to a man, raised their hands whilst looking to blame each other. It was a pathetic surrender to a bang average side. “You’re getting sacked in the morning” taunted the Baggies support.

West Brom 3-1 Arsenal

The substitution of Alex Iwobi for a limping Alexis wasn’t appreciated by the travelling Gooners. Unaware that the Chilean was still suffering they roared out “You don’t know what you’re doing”. With every passing poor performance the pressure on Arsene Wenger is understandably building. Four defeats in five Premier League matches, with two of them against Watford and West Brom is not a blip. It’s indicative of a greater malaise around the club right now.

The ole’s rang out as the home side strung together a succession of passes against dispirited, gutless opponents in the closing stages. Typing as the match is in progress even I cannot find any sense of perspective watching this. It is painful. Top four? Not like this we won’t.

Something has to change.

“We now want to focus on the championship again and forget about the cup a little bit. We have a good month to come back in a strong position in the Premier League.”

Arsene Wenger, talking to arsenal.com, sums up where the focus lies going into a run of five Premier League fixtures interrupted by yet another infernal international break. Three of those matches are on the road and this weekend we are off to face West Brom at the Hawthorns. We are five points behind fourth placed Liverpool and six behind third placed Manchester City, and they face each other at the Emptihad on Sunday. Three points are essential to enable us to gain ground on at least one of those.

The team news is mixed with Kieran Gibbs and possibly Alex Oxlade Chamberlain doubts ahead of the match, but Mohamed Elneny back to fitness earlier than expected following his ankle injury. There is no need to rush him back potentially too soon so a place on the bench is likely for him. The back five probably picks itself if Gibbs is ruled out. Hector Bellerin, Skhodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal to start in front of Petr Cech.

The formation ahead of them is really a tough decision for the boss. As he himself pointed out in that arsenal.com interview the Baggies have a formidable record of scoring from set pieces this season. Who would have thought that of a Tony Pulis team, eh? That might mean a start up top for Olivier Giroud with one eye on what he can contribute defensively in the air.

That would probably rule out any thought of playing a 4-3-3 set-up in which we have looked most comfortable of late. So, Granit Xhaka to start alongside either Aaron Ramsey or in-form Oxlade-Chamberlain behind Mesut Ozil? Theo Walcott on the right and Alexis on the left? Try and get our best fast moving accurate passing game going. It’s surfaced all too seldom this season, but these players have the ability to bring it back again.

For the Baggies the experienced Morrison will miss Saturday’s game because of an ankle injury, and winger Phillips is also ruled out with a hamstring problem. The hosts are three places and ten points below us in the table, and will be buoyed by the memory of their 2-1 victory in the corresponding fixture last season. To put that into context it was their only win against us in the last thirteen meetings of the clubs.

The ‘holic pound

We have to turn our disappointing away form around and this spell of Premier League fixtures affords us that opportunity. An open contest is a distinct possibility so I am tempted to put a portion of my Cheltenham Gold Cup winnings on a 2-3 to the Arsenal at 25/1 with Paddy Power. That would make for a happy Saturday evening!

Arsenal In The Community and The Arsenal Foundation

I sometimes don’t get the time to read all of the content on the official website, so thought I would share a couple of features I caught up with last night. Full marks to David Ospina, Emiliano Martinez, and Carl Jenkinson for helping blind and partially-sighted youngsters who participate in Arsenal in the Community weekly football sessions in the Arsenal Hub.

Also, I’m not sure how closely you follow the work of the Arsenal Foundation but I did spot this on arsenal.com this week and thought I would share as an example of the work they are doing worldwide. The Foundation have agreed a donation of £50,000 to global charity partner Save The Children to help the ongoing fight against famine in East Africa.

They are just two of the many stories that demonstrate that even at what might be considered a difficult time for the club on the pitch, off it we still exude class aplenty.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

I am starting writing this, whatever this becomes, at half-time in Monaco. Yes, I am a bit of a masochist watching this week’s Champions League ties after our mauling by Bayern Munich. I’m glad I did though. There is no doubt both matches involving the English clubs have produced absolute thrillers.

Whilst many on social media chose to use Leicester’s victory to highlight Arsenal’s obviously poor recent record in the round of sixteen I was thinking of their supporters, enjoying the sort of stuff we got used to in Arsene Wenger’s first decade. They are on a thrilling ride which didn’t look at all likely a few short weeks ago. While Jamie Vardy’s antics last night didn’t make for good viewing the Leicester performance generally most certainly did. Full marks to them.

At half time it looks very much as though Monaco are possibly about to blow away Manchester City with a breathtaking display of attacking football. Even without the injured Falcao they look absolutely deadly in attack, and unquestionably Killian Mbappe is showing what a player he already is at 18. Just how much better will this young man become? Our failed bid for him last summer will not be our last, I’m sure, but bigger clubs have now started following the prodigy. We may have missed our chance.

The final whistle has just blown on an astonishing game of two halves in Monaco. City pretty much dominated the second-half as Monaco had the first but could only draw it 1-1. Monaco advance, and deservedly so.

I wonder what effect that will have on our FA Cup semi-final opponents? They would have reasonably expected to go through when the draw was made and may feel their exit more than the Gunners. We knew Bayern would be a tough test. At Wembley will we face a shell-shocked City, with their evident defensive weaknesses, or a motivated City with a very positive attacking intent.

Both Citeh and us lack consistency, and have veered from the sublime to the ridiculous this season. Our Wembley match-up really is an impossible one to call at this moment in time. Personally I’m pleased we avoided Chelsea who may well be on a high when they take on the neighbours. The Premier League title is so close they can almost feel it. Tottenham, potentially shorn of Kane although they are understandably looking at bionics to bring him back earlier than expected from his latest ankle knack, might have been preferable. However the prospect of a Final between the neighbours from North London and Middlesex is simply too tantalising for words.

Please let us be in it, whoever it is.

Stepping out onto Holloway Road three hours before kick-off it was evident just what this game meant to the good folk of Lincoln. Families bedecked in red and white stripes were everywhere. In the pub more familiar faces gathered to witness the first-half of the rugby before decamping to the stadium.

The small matter of an FA Cup quarter-final followed, and an unusual one at that. The hosts were literally on a hiding to nothing against their non-league opponents, and the first half almost turned into a nightmare. We created chances, as expected, but one by one they came and went. Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott had a couple each, from memory, but we were also on our feet to applaud Cech for an excellent save to deny Arnold.

Had that gone in the game might have taken a very different turn. Lincoln were disciplined, defended in numbers, and killed time in much the same way we see so many Premiership clubs do at our place. In Lincoln’s case it was seen as more heroic, and why not?

The loss of in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with another hamstring problem saw a recall from the bench for Mesut Ozil. His impact wasn’t immediate, but he made the team purr after the break. Just as we were dreading a half-time stalemate, and all that would include, Walcott produced a shot that found it’s way into the net via a couple of deflections.

That strike proved to be the trigger for the opening of the floodgates. The second-half had barely warmed up before Hector Bellerin teed up Olivier Giroud for the second goal. Although that strike gave us breathing space it did nothing to quieten Lincoln’s nine thousand fans who were making the most of their big day out.

A third goal arrived when Gibbs broke free down the left and his cross was diverted past his own goalkeeper by the unfortunate Waterfall. Lincoln’s plan to break the match up into ten minute segments might have been seen to have worked in the first-half, but they were losing all of the second-half segments 1-0.

The fourth was worth waiting for. Alexis found space in the way he so often does to hit a beauty from the edge of the box. By this time I had become fascinated with who was celebrating with who when the goals went in. Maybe we read too much into things like this, but the team doesn’t look as united as it appeared not so long ago.

Alexis turned provider for the fifth, almost walked into the net by Ramsey. The only regret this scribe had was that Lincoln were unable to fashion a consolation that would have lined the pockets nicely. Instead a number of us stayed to give them a standing ovation as they soaked up the last moments on the big stage.

What this victory will do for the Arsenal’s form and confidence is anyones guess. All the boys could do was to win this match, and they did it well enough in the end. Sterner tests await, including a potentially huge FA Cup semi-final.

We’re going back to Wembley!

“We’re professional people, we’re winners, we expect to win, we’re used to winning, we like winning, we enjoy winning, our lives are better when we’re winning.”

One of the managers is sounding particularly bullish ahead of Saturday evening’s FA Cup quarter-final.

“We go to Arsenal with a game plan, and to try and execute it. It would be a disservice to our players to tell them just to wake up on Saturday morning and enjoy the day. We work every day for this; this is our lives.”

Danny Cowley, manager of National League giant-killers Lincoln City, isn’t under pressure right now. How his opposite number must wish he could say the same. To be fair Cowley has also said that his team have a one in a thousand chance, which seems far more accurate than the bookmakers odds of 33/1 against what would surely be the biggest FA Cup upset of all time.

If it doesn’t rain, it pours on Arsene Wenger right now. As well as standing his ground in public he has to contend with a bug that has hit some of the squad in the last ten days. Those of us with rather too much snow on the mountain remember only too well the effects of a flu bug on our 1969 League Cup Final team. Don’t panic Captain Mainwaring!

The bug has probably ruled out Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi, and possibly Mesut Ozil. Nonetheless the Gunners should still be able to field an eleven strong enough to show Lincoln the respect their run deserves as well as giving us every chance of progressing comfortably in what is surely our last opportunity to lift any silverware this season.

David Ospina, horribly exposed against Munich will want to see Laurent Koscielny starting alongside Hector Bellerin, Kieran Gibbs, and either Shkodran Mustafi or Per Mertesacker.

Aaron Ramsey may be rested after his return to action against Bayern, and if we are to go 4-3-3 then it is possible that Ainsley Maitland-Niles could get a call-up to partner in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Granit Xhaka. A front three of Theo Walcott, Alexis, and Lucas should prove to be a match-winning combination.

I’m not being dismissive of the Imps who have thoroughly deserved to reach the last eight of the competition. The leaders of the National League have beaten Guiseley, Altrincham, Oldham Athletic, Ipswich Town, Brighton & Hove Albion, and Premier League Burnley on the way. That is impressive indeed for a team that isn’t likely to be non-league next season. They have a punchers chance, as they showed with that late Sean Raggett winner at Turf Moor.

We haven’t played the Imps since 1915, which was a year after the last non-league team reached the quarter-final stage. Our previous meetings all came in the old Second Division. The Gunners last lost an FA Cup tie to a non-league team, Swindon, in 1911.

The ‘holic pound

The bookmakers favour 3-0 to the Arsenal, and at around 13/2 that doesn’t look bad value. I’m being a bit more positive although that is based on us going for that attacking 4-3-3 set up which did for Southampton in the fourth round. Anthony Taylor is refereeing so I think Lincoln might well prevent the blank sheet, not that the two things are in any way related, you understand. I’ve grabbed a bit of the 20/1 available if you shop around for a 5-1 home win.

That should guarantee a heroic defensive performance by the visitors and a decider from the penalty spot!

If you are going remember there is another planned march from Highbury to the concourse at the Grove and plan your journey accordingly. To those who will be watching on television and streams from behind the sofa – I feel your nerves. This really could be an historic day, but I have confidence that we will be fully prepared and will produce the performance we need to progress.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

UEFA, I have a plea. Your flagship competition is sponsored by the world’s leading brewers, and those of us who have no option but to watch a team that has devised ever more ways to tumble out of the competition in the round of sixteen need something stronger than the Bovril I revisited from my youth last night. How about it? Even if you cannot organise competent officials please give us the means to be able to cope with them.

The Bovril, however, meant I watched the match with a very clear head and enabled me to enjoy, along with most others in the stadium, almost an hour of the best performance we have seen from an Arsenal team since the Chelsea home game in September. It wasn’t just the Bovril that took me back fifty years. The practice of lobbing unravelling toilet rolls brought the memories flooding back. Pity the Bayern fans who needed them at half-time.

The match most of you will have seen, and so too much detail isn’t necessary. With Mesut Ozil dropped to the bench for having been ‘ill’ we fielded a trio of Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield. They had an energy and understanding that has been absent from our performances for too long. Ahead of them Theo Walcott and Alexis buzzed menacingly. Only Giroud looked hampered, looking as though he may be playing with an injury.

We deserved the advantage that Walcott’s impressive strike gave us, and it was a shame he found the side netting rather than repeating the effort minutes later. Bayern weren’t rocking in any way shape or form, but they were far from comfortable and Ancelotti was frowning and pacing to and fro in his technical area. When we were denied a penalty for Alonso’s challenge on Walcott I think we feared the worst.

After the break Giroud was just unable to get over a superb ball into the box and looped his header just over the bar. Little did we know that would be the end of the joyride. As the crowd berated the assistant for half-raising then dropping his flag by his side Lewandowski got the wrong side of Laurent Koscielny and tumbled to earth in familiar fashion. Yes, he bought it, but Kos should have known better than to allow contact on the wrong side.

What followed was bizarre to the same degree as Robin van Persie’s dismissal at Barca in 2011. Koscielny was shown a yellow card straight away, a couple of Bayern players spoke to the referee and the wand pointer behind the goal, and the referee changed his mind and produced a red card. I haven’t seen any replays, but in the ground it looked and felt very wrong indeed.

Thereafter the match took on a very familiar hue. Without the skipper any degree of defensive organisation collapsed, aided and abetted by yet more controversial non-calls by the assistant on the south west touchline who beat a hasty retreat down the tunnel as the referee blew for time on a second consecutive 1-5 drubbing.

I would love to love Bayern. They went for the jugular when the opportunity presented itself. They killed time when necessary, tumbled to earth when they needed to tumble. In truth I think many would like to see the Gunners get a little bit more street wise. I hope they go on and win the competition so we have that piteously small consolation left, to claim it took the winners to beat us.

Afterwards there was sadness on the trudge back to the station (having waited until the final whistle I avoided the crush!). There is an end of era feel to it all, but the vast majority remain behind the team on match days whilst hoping common sense will prevail. Towards the end there were a few protesting souls at the Clock End Lower who tried to get their “You’re killing our club” nonsense going. It died rapidly to be replaced by an equally unsupported chorus of “One Arsene Wenger” from the Clock End Upper.

And so to the 10.45 from Paddington, sponsored presumably by UEFA. “We are sorry to announce there is no buffet service on this train tonight”.

Summed it all up, really.

I can remember Sunday 15th May 2016 as if it were yesterday. We needed to take a point at home to already-relegated Aston Villa to clinch third place and the neighbours needed a point at already-relegated Newcastle to become Premier League runners-up. I went through every single emotion that day. Football pulls me out of some dark places and that afternoon it most certainly did.

The drubbing we handed out that afternoon was only part of what caused so many people to depart the stadium smiling and laughing. The regular cheers that broke out as people following Tottenham’s humiliation on their mobiles brought immense happiness to all in the ground. “It’s happened again” indeed. The Champions League berth made secure. Most were so happy we would have the opportunity to play on the big stage again.

Ten months on and we’re going to get to see Bayern Munich in the flesh again and the spirits are once more at rock bottom. The atmosphere surrounding this match is far from ideal. Rumours of training ground bust-ups denied and yet we go into the match without Mesut Ozil, fit enough to train but still recovering from an illness all last week (whilst he was well enough to go tenpin bowling with some of his teammates). Arsene Wenger also avoided a question about Alexis starting by saying he would probably pick his team tomorrow morning.

I’m sure most admire the manager for defending his players on a public platform and respect his wish to keep disciplinary matters confidential. It is a shame that we have these distractions ahead of a match in which we will have to produce the greatest comeback in Champions League history to progress. Of course that is unlikely but we saw four years ago that Bayern can switch off in the second leg when we won 2-0, requiring a third goal to go through in Munich.

Frankly any margin of victory would lift a lot of the pressure off players and manager ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final, but an early goal or two might just put doubts into Munich minds. Rose-tinted, you say? I plead guilty. It’s what supporters do, dream of the impossible. It’s why I’m going. Even though I don’t really expect it I couldn’t bear the thought of missing the miraculous should it somehow happen.

What will be the starting eleven, disciplinary measures aside? I have seen it suggested that Per Mertesacker might make his first appearance of the season. That would be a big call, but understandable. Without digging out individuals the back four has slipped from the standards it was setting earlier in the season and was pulled apart when Laurent Koscielny went off in Munich. If we really are going for it we may also see Keiran Gibbs recalled.

I wonder if, without Ozil, Arsene might take a leaf out of George Graham’s book and play three at the back and two wing backs? Hector Bellerin and Gibbs would suit that approach. Or will he stick with a conventional four and play three in midfield, perhaps Granit Xhaka, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Francis Coquelin? The attacking trio will depend on Danny Wellbeck’s state of readiness. Ideally he would start with Alexis and either Theo Walcott or Lucas. The latter must be hungry to show what he can do at the highest level, and hunger is a quality we have lacked lately.

The ‘holic pound

Simple really. We need only to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at one of the best teams in Europe whilst not conceding to stand any chance of getting through. Fancy the miracle? You can get 110/1 against 4-0. That obviously won’t be the selection but I’m having a little bit of that for fun.

Arsenal to win in ninety minutes can be grabbed at a generous 5/2. The bookies are convinced Bayern will complete the double over the Gunners. I suspect they may be happy to sit and hold on to their advantage and we could nick a 1-0 under such circumstances. Both teams would be happy with that, I suspect. A modest punt on that won’t cover the cost of the evening, but it would add to the pleasure if it were to be successful.

Those who are going tomorrow will I’m sure get behind the team on another big European night. Whatever else is happening right now can be put to one side for ninety minutes, surely? Those who will be exercising their right to protest pre-match will, I am sure, take up their seats and roar the boys on once they have made their point peacefully, and with respect.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

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