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Not surprisingly the topic of goalscorers has occupied my mind of late. This evening I’m looking back at the Arsenal’s top goalscorers since the beginning of the Premier League in the 1992-93 season and even includes three players, no, make that two, soon to be one (!) still currently playing for us.

Thierry Henry (175)

One of the greatest players the Premier League and world football has ever seen, Thierry Henry helped the Arsenal to two league titles and three FA Cups between 1999-2007, costing less than what Liverpool paid for Emile Heskey a few months later!

The World Cup 98 and Euro 2000 winner was the second highest goalscorer in Premier League history when he first left the Gunners over a decade ago, going on to win further honours with Barcelona before making an emotional goalscoring return to the Gunners in 2012.

Thierry Henry is Arsenal’s all-time top scorer and currently tops up his pension as a successful television pundit.

Ian Wright (104)

Ian Wright joined the Arsenal from Crystal Palace in 1991 before the Premier League had been formed.  He went on to be a prolific goalscorer in all competitions for the North London club, eventually winning the Premier League title up front with Dennis Bergkamp during the 1997-98 season.

The former-England international turned television pundit and personality had been Arsenal’s all-time top goalscorer in all competitions until he was surpassed by Thierry Henry in 2005.

Robin van Persie (96)

Arsène Wenger signed Robin van Persie from Feyenoord for £2.75 million in 2004.  The Arsenal boss converted the Dutch international from a wide forward into a striker, from which van Persie became prolific during his final six seasons at the Emirates, when fit.

Van Persie controversially left for Premier League rivals Manchester United ahead of the 2012-13 season where he won his first league title in his first season at Old Trafford, and became the latest player to win the Golden Boot with two different teams.

As things currently stand, odds on the Premier League winner for this season reflect the runaway performance of the blue half of Manchester so far rather than red.

Dennis Bergkamp (87)

One of the most elegant players to grace the game, Dennis Bergkamp lit up the Premier League when Bruce Rioch brought him to Arsenal from Internazionale in a £7.5 million deal in the summer of 1995.

The non-flying Dutchman went on to score 87 Premier League goals during 11 seasons with the Gunners, teaming up with some of Arsenal’s great goalscorers; Thierry Henry and Ian Wright.  He was also part of the Invincibles during the 2003-04 season.

In 2017 readers of the BBC voted Bergkamp’s goal versus Newcastle United in 2002 as the greatest goal in Premier League history.

Olivier Giroud (73)

Now in his sixth season with Arsenal since arriving from Montpellier for a fee around £10 million in 2012, Olivier Giroud has netted double figures in each of his seasons so far but has lost his regular starting place to Alexandre Lacazette this season. If only we had seen more of them as a strike duo.

Giroud’s 73 goals in 177 Premier League appearances falls somewhat short of the likes of Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and Robin van Persie in the goals per game ratio.

Theo Walcott (65)

Arsène Wenger raised a few eyebrows in January 2006 when he signed 16-year-old Theo Walcott in a deal worth £5 million, potentially rising to £12m.  The teenager had shown promise in his limited appearances for Southampton but the price was still considered substantial at the time.

Walcott even made Sven-Göran Eriksson’s World Cup squad later that summer, though did not make an appearance during that tournament.  He’s actually still yet to make an appearance at a single World Cup, but will be hoping his move to Merseyside today will put him back in the frame for this summer’s tournament in Russia.

Now 28 years old, Theo Walcott has scored 65 goals in 268 Premier League appearances over 12 years – predominately playing down the right wing. His move to Everton brings an end to an association that promised a great deal, but didn’t quite deliver. He leaves with our best wishes for some of his goalscoring appearances in big matches. Good luck Theo.

Robert Pirès (62)

One of the most talented and exciting players to step foot in the Premier League, Robert Pirès wowed crowds between 2000-06 at Arsenal, in which he won two Premier League titles, including being an integral part of the Invincibles.

He scored more than 14 goals in three separate Premier League campaigns which was very impressive for a wide man when Arsenal also had the likes of Thierry Henry at the same time. Robert still helps out at the club in various roles and remains as popular as ever with the supporters.

Alexis Sánchez (60)

Now in the final six months of his contract at the Emirates, Alexis Sánchez either has until the end of this season or until he is sold later this month, to catch up with Robert Pirès and/or Theo Walcott to move further up Arsenal’s all-time Premier League top scorers chart. With Manchester United having agreed terms with him that seems highly unlikely.

The Chilean has been phenomenal for Arsène Wenger’s side since joining from Barcelona in a £31.7 million deal following the 2014 World Cup.  His 60 goals have come in 120 Premier League appearances, giving him a 0.5 goal ratio. However his increasingly erratic behaviour has made the gamble of not selling him last summer a failed one.

Emmanuel Adebayor (46)

A controversial figure among Arsenal fans, who wanted a wage to match Thierry Henry before he ever proved anything at the club.  In fact, Emmanuel Adebayor never really did prove anything during his three-and-a-half years at the Emirates.

The Togolese striker’s only prolific season came during 2007-08 when he netted 24 goals in 36 Premier League appearances, but even then six of those came in two appearances versus a Derby County side that picked up a record low 11 points that season.

Freddie Ljungberg (46)

One of Arsène Wenger’s greatest finds, Freddie Ljungberg arrived from Halmstads in his homeland for £3 million in 1998.  He became a two-time Premier League winner and lifted the FA Cup on three occasions during his nine seasons with Arsenal.

Another wide player who liked to get on the scoresheet, the Swede netted 10+ goals in two Premier League campaigns. Together with Robert Pires he provided a real threat from the flanks and was another firm favourite. Who will ever forget his red hair?

My huge thanks to our very own Countryman100 for covering today’s debacle for me. I feel like I saw the match, so well did he cover the game.

It was as I started this report that I realised that I seldom comment at length on games I’ve seen on TV. I tend to contribute to the bar on games I’ve been to live and to give a little colour for those who aren’t lucky enough to be there: whether the North Bank is raucous or sullen; the tribulations of finding a late night curry in Winchester after Southampton away; who the gobbiest fans are on the walk back to the car (leaving Spurs aside, probably Man City); the joys of a four hour drive home after you’ve done United at Old Trafford. But there was never any chance of me being in Bournemouth, down in the land of ‘Arry and boats. The Vitality Stadium is tiny, with a capacity of only 11,360 and so this is one of the hottest away tickets of the season. They sold out at 60 credits (to get to 60 credits you need to have gone to almost every away game for the last three seasons). So here I am, on my sofa in Cambridgeshire, laptop on my knee, tuned to Sky Sports.

Last year’s game on the South Coast was a pulsating 3-3 draw after we were 3-0 down. When we played Bournemouth at home in September it was a different story. One up in five minutes and two up in half an hour, Danny got two and Laca one in a 3-0 win. Recent away form caused one to doubt that the same ease would be seen today, although the Cherries had never beaten us. Team news filtered in about 12.30. Sanchez out of the squad, didn’t travel. Have we seen his last game for The Arsenal?  With no game until next Saturday, the Boss chose the same team as against Chelsea midweek, except Cech in for Ospina. Jack started again (yay) against his loan club, his ankle knock seemingly recovered and Ramsey and Kola were back on the bench. No Ozil, due to a knee injury evidently. Bournemouth switched to a back three to match our formation. The snidey pre match comments reminded me of why, when I do watch on TV, I only switch on at kick off.

After their wing backs got round us a couple of times, the first time Jack picked up the ball led to a great run and Bellerin being fed into the area. Unfortunately he got squeezed out and couldn’t get the ball across to Lacazette. Again Jack drove through the midfield, put Lacazette in and from his cross the ice cool Ainsley Maitland-Niles jinked and turned and then let loose a fierce shot which glanced off the cross bar. Iwobi tried his luck from the edge of the area and Begovic palmed it away for a corner which came to nothing. Good start from Arsenal. However it was time for our usual cock up in midfield and first AMN, then Mustafi passed it calmly to a man in a red and black shirt. Luckily we got away with it as we didn’t against Man United. Callum Wilson barged the ball out of Cech’s hands and put it in the net but not even the Cherries crowd believed it and it was disallowed.

As the half grew on, Bournemouth came more into the game and also began to “let us know they were there”. First Laca, then Iwobi suffered robust challenges which went unpunished.  An egregious dive from Gosling was rightly punished with a yellow card by Kevin Friend. The game was getting scrappy. Simon Francis took another yellow for blocking Danny as he surged forward. Isn’t it notable how far Smudger Smith will bend over backwards to try and be fair? He protested both cards. A fabulous flick from Jack put in AMN who charged into the area but he over ran the ball. On 34 minutes the ball broke for Danny who could have gone down for a (slight) hand on the shoulder, but drove on and had his shot blocked by Begovic.  Mustafi twice went close from corners. Arsenal were starting to dominate the game.  From a free kick Bournemouth had a big shout for a handball in the area by Iwobi. Not given.  Smudger, of course, thought it was a pen, as did all the studio pundits. We probably got some payback on recent bad calls there. Arsenal the better team in the first half (which isn’t saying much), but Bournemouth looked capable of scoring against our nervous defence. LJW best player on the park by a mile.

Half time: Bournemouth 0: 0 Arsenal

51 minutes in and a peach of a goal from Arsenal. A fabulous ball inside the full back from Iwobi on the half way line found Hector one on one with the goalie. He didn’t exactly bury it, but his shot squirmed off Begovic and into the net.

Bournemouth 0: 1 Arsenal

A cynical trip from Xhaka on Ibe found him in the book.  A promising move saw Danny about to be put in when a hand to the face sends him to the ground. Nothing to see here says Smudger. After 62 minutes the hapless Charlie Daniel at left wing back, who was being run ragged by AMN, gets hooked for Lye Mousset. Lacazette chips, Sanchez style, a lovely ball into the box for Iwobi who delays his shot and gets robbed by the defender.

Ouch. On 69 minutes a soft equaliser. A hopeful ball into the box by Ryan Fraser sees Cech come past the penalty spot but get beaten to the ball by Callum Wilson who bundles it in. Wilson was marginally more offside than Laca was at Stoke.

Bournemouth 1: 1 Arsenal

73 minutes gone and Ramsey comes on for Chambers, moving to a back four.

Less than a minute later and another defensive shambles in the box sees Jordan Ibe smash it home from a second ball off Wilson after a cross has deceived both centre backs and Xhaka fails to track the run of Ibe.

Bournemouth 2: 1 Arsenal

 Theo comes on for  Iwobi. Let’s see if he can do it one last time. Jack bursts forward and mishits a shot wide. Super Jackie Wilshere rings out from the travelling faithful. Theo’s first and second contribution is to run offside. Former Arsenal man Benik Afobe comes on as we move to 4 minutes of injury time.

We huffed and puffed but never looked like scoring again. The ‘holic pound has gone as far West as the Guvna

Full time Bournemouth 2: 1 Arsenal

Same old same old Arsenal on the road. We really need some serious transfer action as this team looks mentally shot. ‘Holic you chose a great weekend to miss the game. I wouldn’t bother watching it back.

Hello from Cornwall where I thought I might be able to cobble together a preview  of Sunday lunchtime’s match at Bournemouth. However a series of trips to farm shops, garden centres, breweries, pubs, and restaurants has rendered that impossible.

So you know what to avoid I am letting you know that the ‘holic pound is firmly planted on 1-3 to the visitors at 12/1. Come back for at least one guest post on the match after the event.

Off to another pub!

As in the league fixture at Stamford Bridge in September the manager went into the first leg of the Carabao Cup with his best player, Alexis Sanchez, on the bench. Fortunately Skhodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka were fit to start, but Mesut Ozil was ruled out by injury. Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck joined Alexandre Lacazette in the Gunners spearhead. Interestingly, young Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos was also among the Arsenal substitutes. Jack Wilshere skippered the team.

Chelsea it was who had the first opportunity when Morata outpaced Chambers and Mustafi but could only hit the side-netting from a tight angle. When Hazard attempted the same in the fifth minute Mustafi was quick to step in front of his man and clear the danger.

The Gunners won the first corner of the match as the clock ticked past eight minutes but as is so often the case we failed to clear the first defender. This opening phase was turning into a cat and mouse affair with both sides pressing industriously. It didn’t make for much of a spectacle. One Bellerin strike aside the crowd were being duly silenced by the fare on offer. A couple of spoiling fouls by Kante and Xhaka didn’t help the flow of the game.

Midway through the half Jack Wilshire chipped a ball in behind the Chelsea defence to give Lacazette the sort of chance he would have wanted more of this season, but the French international sliced his volley high and wide. At the other end David Ospina found a driven cross too hot to handle but he managed to recover his parry at the second attempt. Was the match about to open up?

Alonso’s driven cross was deflected out for a corner by Chambers and in the phase of play that followed Ospina managed to turn another fierce Moses effort onto the post. There followed an Arsenal corner at which the video assistant reviewer was summoned for the first time when Calum Chambers ended a grapple with Alonso by pushing him over. He was perhaps fortunate to escape with no more than a warning. A second review could have resulted in a yellow card for Bellerin’s challenge on Fabregas but Martin Atkinson kept his powder dry, as it were.

The VAR was called on a third time when Ainsley Maitland-Niles appeared to have been brought down in the box by Moses but between them the officials opted not to award the spot-kick. That was preceded by a fine Courtois save from Iwobi. The match was improving as a spectacle. Mustafi was another to escape with just a warning for hauling Morata down and then denying his clear offence.

As the half wound up Ospina had to get down quickly to prevent Fabregas from heading the hosts into the lead. His goal-line clutch was just what we needed to deservedly get to the break on level terms.

Chelsea started the second-half on the front foot and forced a couple of corners. The second saw Christenson head narrowly over the bar from close range. The pressure would be on them to win the home leg so perhaps it was not a surprise to see them adopting a more positive approach. When Wilshere surrendered possession cheaply Xhaka was forced to take a yellow card for the team by bringing down the marauding Rudiger.

Alonso just failed to connect with a corner as the Gunners desperate rearguard action was being fully tested. Wilshere limped out of a challenge with Drinkwater and couldn’t run off whatever the problem with his ankle (again) was. Before the skipper could hobble off Morata drew another diving parry from Ospina. Substitute Mohamed Elneny couldn’t get a touch when Morata got clear and slipped the ball under the dive of the onrushing Ospina, but mercifully the ball rolled the wrong side of the post. I couldn’t help but think that we might have been better served had the departing Francis Coquelin been available from the bench?

On a rare break Maitland-Niles floated a ball into the box that saw Courtois rush to claim between Welbeck and Lacazette. Spirits uplifted the young stand-in wing back swept a ball across the pitch that Alonso was happy to head out for a throw-in. With 65 minutes gone Alexis was sent on for (you’ll never guess!) Lacazette. Almost immediately we had another let-off when Christenson again missed the target with a header from a corner.

Drinkwater made way for Willian as Chelsea looked to inject fresh legs into the attacking third. Going into the final twenty minutes you had to admire the dour defensive performance of the Gunners whilst wondering if they could possibly keep it up until the end? Iwobi broke but his toe-poked attempt to finish from distance was never going to trouble Courtois. Alexis gave him ‘the look’.

Willian’s curling drive in the 75th minute drew another good save from the alert Ospina. I’m probably tempting fate here by suggesting he is our form goalkeeper of the moment. He was called upon moments later to drop on a speculative Alonso effort. We broke again and Welbeck spun to create a shooting opportunity only to see it blocked. Xhaka risked the wrath of Mr Atkinson by going through the back of Morata but the referee was in relaxed mood. He did produce a card when Kante hacked down Welbeck as we sought to break again.

Alexis won a free-kick when bundled over by Willian and as we prepared to take it Chelsea sent on Bakayoko for the surprisingly ineffective Hazard. The Arsenal, encouraged, enjoyed a little spell in the ascendancy and Xhaka drew a save from Courtois. All of a sudden the ‘holic pound wasn’t looking such a daft punt. Elneny’s trip from behind on the frustrated Morata earned him the third yellow card of the night.

Welbeck’s challenge on Fabregas saw the VAR being consulted again but for the fourth time there was deemed to be no clear and obvious error. It’s early days, but the use of VAR here was demonstrably a success. The massed ranks of the travelling faithful in what was once the Shed roared their team home to a truly excellent away stalemate. It won’t be any easier at home, but we have given ourselves a real chance of another Wembley day out and quickly laid to rest the memories of Sunday.

This was a good evening, ‘holics.

This is where I now should type some nonsense about getting back on the horse, but instead it’s time to forget about Wembley in May and think about another potential cup win there in February. At least we have a couple of blank weekends coming up so picking anything other than the strongest fit eleven to go to the bus stop in Fulham would be a dreadful mistake.

However the manager said in his pre-match press conference that he had no injured players set to return so we are definitely missing Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny,  Sead Kolasinac, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, and Olivier Giroud. In addition to them Skhodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka were undergoing fitness tests today. If the former doesn’t make it we have maybe to go with a back three of Mathieu Debuchy, Per Mertesacker, and Rob Holding in front of the goalkeeper. David Ospina may well get the nod as our cup-tie custodian.

That defence looks vulnerable to the runs of Morata, Willian, and Hazard, and will require some protection. Given Francis Coquelin’s problems with Hazard last season that probably means a pairing of Mohamed Elneny and Jack Wilshere in front of them should Xhaka not make it. Hector Bellerin and Ainsley Maitland-Niles look nailed on to start as the wing backs.

The attacking trio has to be Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and Alexandre Lacazette. Alex Iwobi may well have impressed when preferred to Ozil in our 0-0 draw at the Bridge earlier this season, but a spell out of the firing line might be best for him right now. Alexis is already cup-tied after playing against Doncaster so there is no reason to leave him out even if he is destined for a January move.

There seems to be a great deal of pessimism and negativity surrounding this semi-final, and that is perfectly understandable, but we have unexpectedly produced some decent results when least expected this season. Indeed the two draws in the Premier League against the same opposition have probably been better than many would have expected. All we can hope is that the manager has spelt out what he expects of his chosen squad for this first leg, and that they show the application and discipline that was missing on Sunday.

The ‘holic pound

Such hot favourites are Chelsea that you can get a staggering 16/1 against a good old ‘one nil to the Arsenal’. OK, so there is a big question mark about us keeping a clean sheet, but I just cannot let that deal go. Maybe a little less of a wager than usual, however.

So that’s that. I’m back out to talk to the fairies at the bottom of the garden. Are you feeling more upbeat than a couple of minutes ago?

No, I didn’t think so. Have a good one, ‘holics.

Right, enough of the moping around. It’s time to look at the positives from yesterday. I had an amazing vegetable curry, and liquorice sambuca is delicious. That’s that, now for the post mortem, although so late that there is probably not much left to be said about the game.

First off though I should deal with the selection. It was largely as I had expected pre-match and I was happy enough with that to go positive on the ‘holic pound. It would therefore be hypocritical of me to express dissatisfaction after the event, other than to bemoan the lack of quality on the bench. That was a strong enough team to win the tie as long as they went out and applied themselves. They didn’t, and that suggests a couple of things.

Firstly that they lacked the oft-mentioned mental strength that the manager is keen to boast about after we have won a tight contest. There was a collective malaise that spread through them all it seemed. When your best player in a 4-2 defeat against a struggling Championship team is quite possibly your goalkeeper then that speaks volumes about the rest, summed up by Per Mertesacker.

“It’s difficult to take because for those players who played today, that was probably a last chance to show up and show the manager that they’re ready to play more games. It’s not the case anymore.”

It also hints at a collective failing of the manager and his coaching staff to prepare the side for the task ahead. It was a surprise to see a flat back four when the personnel on the pitch could quite easily what has been our formation of choice this season. It was awful to watch us being pressured into mistakes all over the pitch and being run ragged by an 18 year old striker only playing because of injuries.

I would like to say 24 hours on that it was a rare defeat, the manager’s first in the third round of the competition he has won more than any other. It was our second FA Cup defeat in five seasons. Somehow though it seems like yet another failing against a team from a lower division. That just didn’t happen in Arsene’s early years, but now they are totting up. Burnley, Ipswich Town, Blackburn Rovers, Bradford City, Sheffield Wednesday, and now Forest. Arsene admitted to Arsenal Player that we were second best on the day.

“I am very disappointed by our performance because Nottingham Forest were the better team out there, the most dangerous and won many challenges. I can congratulate Nottingham Forest because they were the better team tonight. It hurts very much. I’m very, very disappointed because I love the cup competitions.”

The clamour for Arsene Wenger’s removal have understandably followed. I argued for him to go last season and still remain of that opinion, but I would rather focus on supporting those with the cannon on the chest in the big matches to come. The FA Cup may be gone, and along with it any semblance of a title challenge. However the Carabao Cup is a realistic target and we should put our strongest available eleven out against Chelsea in the two legged semi-final. The Europa League also, as it now seems to be our most likely avenue of returning to the Champions League.

Surely we understand by now that this board does not have the plums to change the manager mid-season. Personally it is horrible to see his grip on the club being eased from his grasp by his own shortcomings. He transformed this football club in his first decade in charge, steered us through difficult times following the stadium move, but this has been a tough season for him and it seems to have taken it’s toll.

Once again there is deadwood to jettison as well as the contract situation with key players to be resolved or otherwise. Our previous financial prudence may have to be stretched over the coming months in order to rebuild the squad. The signs right now are that Sven Mislintat has been tasked with starting the rebuild, but we will need a lot more than a twenty year old Greek central defender to come in, and we will need to replace likely departures like Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, Mathieu Debuchy, and Francis Coquelin.

That is as much venting of the spleen as I can muster for now. It’s time to prepare for the bus stop in Fulham on Wednesday, and bringing the possibility of another Wembley day out in February a little closer.

Welcome to half a post. After Arsene Wenger’s three match touchline ban I was set to continue my week long rant, but this morning’s (Saturday) Arseblog post covers everything I would have said so I shall just link to it here instead. That just leaves a little look ahead to the visit to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup on Sunday.

We will be putting out a cup team again, that much seems sure. So David Ospina behind a possible back three of Calum Chambers, Per Mertesacker, and Rob Holding. Mathieu Debuchy and Ainsley Maitland-Niles may start as wing backs flanking a midfield pairing of Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin.

The most uncertainty surrounds the front three. We will get a good sign about Theo Walcott’s immediate future if he is left out and therefore is not cup-tied. Should that be the case then Danny Welbeck will find himself partnering a couple of youngsters, perhaps Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock (or Eddie Nketiah?). Don’t be surprised if Alexandre Lacazette is on the bench just in case.

The hosts lost 4-0 to us at the City Ground in the League Cup last season and have not enjoyed the best of seasons in the Championship. On New Year’s Eve they parted company with manager Mark Warburton and Gary Brazil has stepped up as caretaker manager, not for the first time. They are without a win in their last five matches and haven’t scored in the last three. We will be seeing Armand ‘knuckle-dusters’ Traore again as he is likely to be at left-back for Forest.

Brazil will tell his team they have no pressure or expectation going in to this match so they might as well go out and have a go. We know even the most experienced Arsenal teams can melt under pressure. I have to say though that there should enough of a blend of youth and experience to give us a distinct edge if we apply ourselves as we should. Playing at Forest today isn’t as intimidating as it was when Frank Stapleton’s late header saw them off at the City Ground on a memorable night in 1979.

The ‘holic pound

Some kind souls felt sorry for me and sent me a free bet this weekend so I am on a 0-3 win for the Gunners at 11/1. The likes of Fleetwood, Wigan, Coventry, Wolves, and Norwich have shown today that lower division clubs have chances to compete with weakened top flight clubs, but a lot of our cup tie squad have played well in the Carabao Cup and Europa League this season so they are not coming into the match cold.

The chances of me being able to write the match up before Monday evening are slim in the extreme, so apologies in advance. All that remains is for me to wish you, have a great one, ‘holics.

Arsene Wenger went for youth rather than experience and put Rob Holding into the gap vacated by the injured Laurent Koscielny. Ainsley Maitland Niles got the nod to start as left wing-back, and Mesut Ozil was passed fit to play.

After a cautious start the Gunners came close to seizing the initiative in the seventh minute when Alexandre Lacazette was upended just outside the box by Kante. Alexis Sanchez saw his effort deflected just wide of the post. Three minutes later the Chilean tried to pick out Ozil’s excellent run but just overhit the cross. As the Arsenal attempted to turn the screw Maitland-Niles sent in a low cross too close to Courtois.

A mistake at the other end by Chambers let Morata clear through on goal but Petr Cech distracted him and the Chelsea striker knocked his effort well wide. Cech denied the same player at his near post as Chelsea hinted at more to come. Next however was the turn of Courtois to pull off a sensational save to deny Alexis with the help of both goalposts.

Midway through the half Lacazette spun round and got a shot away that once again Courtois was equal to. The game was really entertaining at this point. Back came Chelsea again and Bakayoko drew a save out of Cech with Chelsea’s first effort on target. From the resulting corner Morata headed over from close range.

On the half hour mark Jack Wilshere went into Anthony Taylor’s book for a lunge at Fabregas. That challenge had probably been brewing for a few years. It was destined to provoke a response.

When Granit Xhaka conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box Alonso thankfully lofted the ball over the bar. To the other end we went and Ozil curled one inches wide of the far post. Fabregas then followed Jack into the book when he extracted retribution for the earlier challenge. Teed up by Hazard, Fabregas curled his shot over the top. Quite how this half ended goal-less was a mystery.

It was Chelsea who threatened first after the break. Hazard was denied by Cech’s outstretched right boot, then the goalkeeper recovered quickly to save Alonso’s follow-up. Maitland-Niles, enjoying a good evening on the left flank, crossed an inch or two too high for Alexis to get a header in at the far post. Lacazette’s attempted blast was blocked by the exceptionally positioned Courtois.

Rob Holding was the next to see yellow for clattering into Fabregas after the ball had gone. Ten minutes into the half came the first substitution. Conte sent on Zappacosta for Moses who had to be retrieved from Maitland-Niles’ pocket. Ozil glided through the Chelsea defence exchanging passes with Bellerin but a deflection for a corner was the end result. Ozil had the ball in the net but Mustafi was pinged for a foul on Alonso. An hour in, still goal-less.

Ozil, in mesmeric form, played a one-two with Lacazette but his attempted cut-back was scrambled to safety. The reprieve was brief. Ozil found Rob Holding and his through ball was deflected by Morata to Wilshire who drilled the ball high into the net at the near post. It was no more than the Arsenal deserved.

The Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea

One could have become two as Alexis and Lacazette combined to open up the Chelsea defence again only for the latter to shoot just wide. Incredibly the Arsenal were robbed by yet another appalling penalty award when Hazard threw himself to the ground clutching a non-existent shin injury without any touch from Bellerin. Surprise, surprise. Anthony Taylor couldn’t wait to point to the spot. Another game-changing decision by an incompetent official? Hazard converted the spot-kick. Ozil was punished with a yellow card for complaining to the perpetrator of the crime, Taylor.

The Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea

Morata outpaced Mustafi but shot over as Chelsea sought to take maximum advantage of their good fortune. So contentious was the penalty that a strange hush descended on the stadium. Stunned by their poor fortune for a second consecutive match the Arsenal stopped doing the things they had done well all match and faced up to a period of concerted Chelsea pressure. Cech had to get down quickly to stop Morata’s cross-come-shot from reaching Hazard.

Mystifyingly Wenger chose to take Lacazette off early again to make way for Welbeck in a situation where we really needed every goalscorer we could muster on the pitch. Chelsea, with Drinkwater on for Fabregas, were more than happy to sit back and soak up the pressure. Hazard was withdrawn and replaced by Willian. The Arsenal crowd let him know what they thought of him. Such a shame that an excellent game was ending with some rancour.

The seventh defeat of our Premier League was made possible when Zappacosta turned Maitland-Niles for the first time in the match and crossed to the near post where Alonso darted in front of the static Mustafi to sweep the ball in.

The Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea

Welbeck got clear down the right flank but was unable to pick out Alexis or Ozil in the box. Cue Theo Walcott coming on for another former Saint, Chambers. Mustafi attempted to make amends but saw his ferocious volley blocked by the arm of Cahill. Not a penalty, clearly, unless it had been at the other end one cannot help but think.

Bellerin’s cross was over his team-mates heads but when a cross came back in Alonso teed up his fellow Spanish full-back for a glorious half-volley that was no more than the Gunners certainly deserved.

The Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea

There was time left for Zappacosta to slam a drive against the crossbar. A wonderful match had the ending it deserved, and both coaches embraced in a show of respect.

Now for Arsene’s presser. A second charge in a week to come?

Back in May we went into the small matter of an FA Cup Final against Chelsea with a defensive crisis. Per Mertesacker was picked for his one appearance of the season alongside Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal with Laurent Koscielny suspended and Skhodran Mustafi ruled out by illness. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got the nod to play at left wing-back as Kieran Gibbs was injured.

Fast forward nearly eight months and we face similar problems before playing Chelsea at the Grove in a very important Premier League fixture. The Gunners are set to start without Nacho Monreal, Sead Kolasinac, Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, and of course Santi Cazorla. Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil are both doubts but will have tests nearer kick-off.

Should the latter pair fail to make it we are looking at a likely trio of Calum Chambers, Per Mertesacker, and Skhodran Mustafi in front of Petr Cech. Hector Bellerin and Ainsley Maitland-Niles should flank Granit Xhaka and Jack Wilshere. In the possible absence of Ozil the temptation to play Alexis in the hole, Alex Lacazette up top, and bring in Danny Welbeck ahead of Alex Iwobi to work the flanks, might be strong.

We trail the visitors by seven points right now, and they are occupying the third automatic Champions League qualifying spot that should be a target for us. The consequences of dropping further points on Wednesday night are unthinkable. The champions arrive unbeaten in six Premier League and Carabao Cup matches in which they have scored thirteen goals and conceded just two. Easy this will not be.

This is the first of three new year encounters with Conte’s team, the other two will be in a semi-final of the Carabao Cup. With Manchester City seemingly sailing off into the distance with the Premier League title the current incarnation of the League Cup will provide both clubs with an opportunity to lift some silverware this season.

The ‘holic pound

The bookies have got the visitors as slight favourites but we showed in May at Wembley that we can respond to a challenge. Earlier this season we went to Stamford Bridge just three weeks after shipping four goals at Anfield and were unlucky not to leave with more than the one point a goal-less draw earned us. A similarly disciplined performance will be required and IF (that’s a big if!) we are to win then 1-0 would appear to be the likeliest scoreline. I have taken 12/1 against that.

Arsene Wenger Charged

I’m on record as saying he has overstayed his welcome, but I will not use the FA charge laid at his door as a stick to beat Arsene Wenger with. I don’t mind admitting I am still fuming about Mike Dean’s penalty award to West Brom on Sunday.

Contrary to popular belief I have not seen anyone argue against the perceived wisdom that we played badly on Sunday, but to say we should have won regardless of the spot-kick award is flying in the face of everything we have experienced at football.

We were leading what we had allowed to be a difficult away game 1-0. In popular speak we were doing what good sides do, grinding out a victory on a day when we didn’t play well. That we didn’t was down entirely to an appalling refereeing mistake that ultimately determined the result and denied us two points. I haven’t seen one ex-referee, player, or even opposing supporters argue that that was a penalty under the wording of law 12. That the same referee denied us a penalty against Leicester on similar grounds only adds to the injustice of it all.

Yes, perhaps I should let it go, but to be honest having seen Jack Wilshere booked for protesting the decision, having seen Petr Cech booked for having the nerve to respectfully request an explanation, and now to see the manager facing a touchline ban for telling the officials what most thought of them is just punishing the victims of the crime, not the perpetrator.

It’s time for those in charge of our game to make the referees, and the PGMOL officials, accountable for their performance. Mic them up so we can hear them explaining their decisions (and hopefully stop the worst of the abuse I don’t doubt they receive on the pitch). Make them available for post-match interviews to explain their contentious decisions. Stop protecting the guilty and do something about improving the appalling standard of refereeing in this country.

There is a reason we will not have any of our officials at the World Cup this summer. It’s because they are not up to standard and are exempt from appraisal. The whole thing stinks.

Arsene Wenger made just one change to the team that won at Crystal Palace. Mesut Ozil was reportedly injured and Alex Iwobi was recalled, although he featured mainly on the right hand side rather than as a direct replacement.

A familiar face ended an early attempt at a one-two between Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette. Kieran Gibbs got between the two and happily conceded a corner. West Brom responded with a Phillips cross on to the head of Rodriguez who brought a fine save out of Peter Cech.

It sparked a crazy exchange at both ends with Calum Chambers finally dealing with a goalmouth scramble after Cech had fumbled a cross before Lacazette saw his effort deflected wide of the Baggies far post. Chambers was again called upon to relieve the pressure as his colleagues struggled to deal with a corner, an ominous sign perhaps.

The match wasn’t even a quarter of an hour old when Sead Kolasinac exchanged passes with Alexis only to run into a navy and white wall in the box. Alexis was looking at his most alert and fed Iwobi for a placed effort that just cleared the crossbar. Another peach of a ball behind the defence just evaded the intelligent run of Hector Bellerin.

Skhodran Mustafi was adjudged to have tripped Robson-Kanu but Brunt sent his free-kick into the traveling Gooners behind Cech. That roused the Arsenal from their apparent slumber and Granit Xhaka fired one straight at Foster in the Albion goal. The ‘keeper was tested again by a fine left foot strike by Iwobi but conjured up a save of sorts.

Albion, looking far from a bottom of the table team were applying pressure in the form of a high press, but their enthusiastic approach earned Evans the first yellow from Mike Dean when he lunged into Iwobi after failing to control a ball in the left-back berth. Kolasinac, also taken out nastily by the unpunished Barry, hobbled off to make way for Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

Cech had to drop smartly onto a low cross drilled in by Phillips as the Baggies seized the initiative. The defence were finding themselves with more work to do than they had anticipated. Once again those ahead of them, barring possibly the lively Alexis, needed a proper talking to at half-time. “They’re lacking that little bit of a spark“, said Ray Parlour during the interval. You can say that again.

Four minutes into the second-half Lacazette was the meat in a sandwich between Dawson and Hegazi but Alexis could only hit the Baggies wall with his free-kick and the chance went begging. Chambers last gasp clearance brought an end to an attempted counter attack. He was caught shaking his head at those ahead of him. Another corner gave the hosts the chance to load the box but Hegazi lifted his overhead effort into the crowd behind the goal.

Mustafi, being given a torrid time by Robson-Kanu, was carded for taking the Albion striker out after he had got a cross away. Brunt quickly followed him into the book for taking Jack Wilshere out from behind.

Suddenly a bit of quality. Wilshere fed Lacazette and his fierce drive was knocked out for a corner by Foster’s left boot. Then Alexis picked out the same player and Lacazette’s deft touch glanced the ball just the wrong side of the post. Alexis tried his luck next but drove the ball wide of that same post. At last the Gunners were warming to their task. Xhaka and Lacazette provided an opportunity for Alexis but again the block preserved the stalemate.

A surprise substitution in the 71st minute saw Per Mertesacker introduced for Laurent Koscielny, presumably suffering with his ongoing Achilles issue. Albion too took the opportunity to make a double change. McClean and Krychowiak replacing Phillips and Brunt, followed minutes later by Nyom for Robson-Kanu.

Iwobi drew a comfortable save out of Foster with a speculative effort and was immediately replaced by Danny Welbeck. That decision got raucous approval from the travelling faithful. A quarter of an hour to go and no more substitutions available to either side.

Rodriguez stung Cech’s palms and McClean’s follow-up effort was superbly blocked by Bellerin. West Brom were enjoying a purple patch of their own, but we bounced back again. Alexis was upended by a combination of Barry and Dawson on the edge of the box and smashed the free-kick in off McClean. Dawson’s yellow card increased his agony, but there is no doubt Alexis deserved the reward for an exceptional performance. Let’s hope it wasn’t his last in an Arsenal shirt.

West Bromwich Albion 0-1 The Arsenal

Incredibly Mike Dean adjudged Calum Chambers to have handled a ball hit straight at him from point-blank range by Gibbs. It was the latest in a number of appalling decisions given by Dean against the Arsenal over the years. Rodriguez slammed the gift of a penalty home. Wilshere’s booking compounded the sense of injustice. The excellent Chambers did not deserve that bum call.

West Bromwich Albion 1-1 The Arsenal

You can argue (and some of you will) that the Arsenal had not played well enough to win, but actually they had until Dean’s match-changing intervention. The Arsenal players were quick to tell Dean what they thought of him at the whistle and the self-promoting one showed Cech a yellow card. It was one of those days.

And with that it is time to wish those of you who have already reached it, and those of us looking forward to celebrate it in a few hours, a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2018. I have a few delightful drams waiting to accompany Jools Holland and I into the new year. Thank you for your company and your contributions in 2017.


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