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Well, if someone had offered us a nail-biting 2-1 win at Upton Park while the top three all dropped points I think it is fairly safe to assume we would have collectively ripped their arm off.

Just five minutes in we had to survive a disallowed goal when Alex Song volleyed home from outside the box, and co-commentator Tony Gale reasoned that the goal should have stood because Wojciech Szczesny would not have saved it even if not unsighted by three offside West Ham players in front of him, one of whom hurdled the shot. We do get some idiots employed as so-called experts.

Shortly after came a penalty scare when Sakho went down after backing into Mathieu Debuchy. Replays of both incidents proved that in fact the locals were mistaken and in fact the officials did know what they were doing.

The Hammers were clearly up for the match, and so it has to be said were we. It was very pleasing to watch the visitors more than happy to mix and match a silky passing game with some cold steely determination.

The first warning for West Ham came when Alexis Sanchez headed wide, and only due to the intervention of Laurent Koscielny, equally keen to get involved. At the other end Carroll shoved Mathieu Debuchy out of the way to set up a shooting opportunity but his effort was blocked by Koscielny.

The tackles were flying in which if we are being honest made it even more compelling viewing. Adrian and Szczesny exchanged saves before Tomkins volleyed over when set up by Downing.

Arsenal seized control of the match in less than three amazing minutes towards the end of the first-half. Santi Cazorla forced his way into the box and was upended by Reid. Today there was no concession of the resulting penalty and the playmaker of the moment sent the otherwise impressive Adrian the wrong way. Then Cazorla and Debuchy combined to set Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain free in the right half of the box and from his cross Danny Welbeck applied the tap-in for 0-2.

Before the whistle had blown the amazing Alexis came close to grabbing a third. Arsenal had clearly capitalised on their purple patch.

Less than ten minutes after the restart the Irons were back in it. Tomkins cross was headed home by Kouyate, after Per Mertesacker had denied Carroll with a superb headed clearance under pressure, and an already gripping contest became a more tense watch.

The Ox released Cazorla and only Adrian will be able to tell you how he saved it. From the resulting corner Debuchy headed inches over. Danny Welbeck carried the ball from his own half and just missed with his attempt to seal the points. It was typical of Arsenal’s dangerous counter-attacking throughout the half.

Again Adrian denied Arsenal the clincher with astonishing stops from an Ox header and an Alexis toe-poke, although he was grateful to see Welbeck blaze over when clear on goal. He was the busier of the goalkeepers overall, but Szczesny was also far from redundant as the hosts cranked up the pressure in the closing stages.

Arsenal were well-served by the experience and youth of Mathieu Flamini and Francis Coquelin at the base of the midfield. Flamini hasn’t had the best of seasons but has improved of late and is somewhere close to the player we knew. His young partner, recalled prematurely from a loan spell at Charlton, relished the physical battle and emerged from the match with a late yellow card and no little credit.

Desperate to grab a point, West Ham pushed on in the five added minutes as Arsenal retreated into a defensive shell. Nolan was denied by Szczesny and Valencia headed over but Arsenal had done enough and held out for three deserved points from a tremendous game. Arsene summed up his team’s performance afterwards.

“From ‘keeper to up front, everybody had a fantastic game today… When you have the defenders back that makes a change.”

We end 2014, a very mixed year indeed, in fifth place in the table, and will climb another place if we can start 2015 with a win at Southampton, above us only on goal difference after holding Chelsea 1-1. Here’s to continued spirited performances in the new year.

Boxing Day football used to mean working out if British Rail could get you to wherever the game was being played and back, and then going regardless. We had cheap travel, cheap tickets, and it could be a way to work off the Christmas turkey.

Fast forward two or three decades and the trains won’t take you anywhere on the day, so from the wilds of Staffordshire we watched lunchtime and afternoon matches with assorted pates before tucking into a feast of cold meats and pickles with the Arsenal match courtesy of a telephone company’s television service. Young, impressionable eyes transfixed at the kick-off. Don’t let me down again, Arsenal.

The award of an early penalty eased the tension. “Santi scored the last one Grandad, didn’t he?” Of course he did, so why the fouled player, Alexis Sanchez, took this one with Cazorla on the pitch was a mystery. Rob Green makes saves at the Grove, so this one was no surprise, but two frustrated Junior Gunners groaned.

A free-kick on the edge of the box. “Santi’s good at free-kicks, isn’t he?” Olivier Giroud takes it and Green saves again. “Pass me the game pie, would you?” The assorted pickles were absolutely delicious. Then Alexis got on the end of a Kieran Gibbs cross and finally two lads are allowed to share the outpouring of relief. “Yessssssss!” A discussion about the relative heights of Alexis and Santi followed. Perhaps the right one of the two was in position this time.

Olivier Giroud’s rush of blood to the head, literally, gets a mixed reception. The youngest gives the idiot the doubt. “How can someone the size of Onuoha go down like that from a tap of the forehead?” It only adds to the foolishness of the retaliation. Ferdinand’s stranglehold going unpunished provides a deflection from the Frenchman’s stupidity. Atkinson is in the bottom rung of a particularly poor collection of PGMOL officials. Did you expect anything else?

When Alexis set off on a mazy run to set up the impressive Tomas Rosicky we had already lost the youngest to some virtual car race. Thankfully he came running back in to see the replay. 2-0 to the ten men meant a nervous few minutes for Grandad, praying for a 3-0 result to pay for the Christmas booze, and hopefully Per Mertesacker to score to add a healthy profit.

Atkinson’s penalty award for a perfectly timed Mathieu Debuchy tackle summed up his incompetence, and a young lad returned to his car race. A nervous finish had adults and the oldest lad muttering about “typical Arsenal, this”. The penalty that never was wasn’t so bad when Zamora was ‘negated’ by Gibbs, but we had another couple of decent shouts denied to us also. With everybody but West Ham around us winning this was an important three points, but at what cost?

West Ham Up Next

So we make the short journey to Upton Park with Giroud starting the first of a three match ban, and concerns over the ability of Rosicky to play twice in under 48 hours. There may be returns for Laurent Koscielny (a little chance according to Le Boss), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (a smaller chance), and Theo Walcott (he’s not far away).

Although our two matches in the coming week are away from home both opponents are within reach and two wins would put us back into the top four, at least. Returns for the three players in question would provide a more than welcome lift to the spirits both on and off the pitch.

West Ham, although defeated at Chelsea on Boxing Day when fielding a weakened side, are probably the surprise package of the first half of the season. Alex Song (rested at Stamford Bridge) and Carl Jenkinson (who cannot play against us) have been key contributors to the 31 points haul from 18 matches which have secured fifth place in the table, one ahead of us.

At home they lost their first two in August but have since embarked on an impressive seven match unbeaten run which has included wins against Liverpool (3-1), Manchester City (2-1), and Swansea City (3-1). The prospect of Andy Carroll attacking a less than full strength central defensive partnership isn’t one to think about for too long. Be prepared for another nervous afternoon.

The ‘holic pound assumes we will be able to start a fit Rosicky or Ox alongside Flamini, that Kos will partner the BFG at the back, and that Theo or Poldi will come in for Giroud. I’m on a 1-2 away win, available at eights with Paddy Power.

Right, more cold meat for this old turkey. Have a lovely Sunday, ‘holics.

So the human alarm clocks, aka the grand’holics, started sounding off at around seven o’clock, which was a veritable lie-in for a Christmas morning. Should we survive the day of over-indulgence (the first four bottles of champers are already history) then tomorrow it will be a case of finding a stream that doesn’t buffer like crazy in the back of beyond.

The visit of Queens Park Rangers offers an oportunity to start a crucial festive period of fixtures with three much-needed points. We are getting ever closer to the pointed end of the season when the prizes and places will be decided.

We reach the halfway point of the season at West Ham on Sunday before traveling to Southampton on New Year’s Day. Both teams are currently above us so rarely will two consecutive away wins have been more desirable. Arsene was clear on their importance in his presser on Tuesday.

“There are three games in a very short period of time and we can make points. Our opponents will think that as well, but let’s just put the performances in and capitalise on it. The consistency in that period is what will matter.”

The team news, as of Tuesday, was a little vague. Tomas Rosicky, Yaya Sanogo, and David Ospina are fit to return to the squad. Hector Bellerin and Theo Walcott may or may not make it. Laurent Koscielny may make Sunday but not Boxing Day. The midfield remains decimated with Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, and Abou Diaby all out.

On paper the home match against the team from the Bush looks the easiest of the three. They go into the game just two points above the relegation zone but have taken maximum points from four of their last five home fixtures, as well as holding Manchester City to a draw in the other. On the road, perhaps more significantly, they have taken zero points this season. The closest they came to breaking their duck came at table-topping Chelsea, where they were pipped by the odd goal in three by a late Hazard penalty.

So on what do we lump the yuletide pound? I should say did. I liked the look of Paddy Power’s 8/1 against 3-0 to the Arsenal before setting off yesterday so had an extra few Christmas coppers on it. I might also have a whimsical punt on Per Mertesacker to score at anytime, but will wait to see what the odds are just before kick-off.

Now if you will excuse me I have to lend a hand in the kitchen. Those champagne bottles are heavy, and need to be emptied as fast as possible to lighten the load on the fridge.

Have a great rest of holiday, all of you, and thanks for dropping by.

A change of guest, focus, and style for this piece. Following BtM’s look to the future Neal Milsom looks back, having swapped life in London for the land down under. Thanks Neal, for writing from the heart.

Well, my first blog, and from as far away as you can get from home. Home is a funny word eh? Where on earth is home? Where the heart is? Where the family are? Where you were born? Or where your team is? 

I was sold first time I walked into the North Bank. I had found my home. No longer reading about it in the papers, I was there. Yet forty years later I’m here in Perth, Western Australia.

When I’m down, I think of Michael Thomas and Steve McMahon and his “one minute left”. That lifts me every time. The scousers were the enemy for me then. As if to demonstrate what a funny old world it can be last week my local pub here in Perth was invaded by the WA Manchester United fan club to watch their match against the bin-dippers. They sang their songs taking the mickey (apologies, couldn’t resist) out of the scousers. After seven $5 Stella’s and at half time was I chased out the pub for singing “49 undefeated”. Lucky it was my local and I knew the bouncers so they looked after me!

I remember Liam scoring that goal at White Hart Lane back in Christmas 1978. Like ‘holic I was at Wembley to see us beaten by Luton, of all teams. I was in Spain on a family holiday when we signed Supermac, Malcolm Macdonald, for a British record transfer fee of £333,333. It’s in my scrapbook. I had the Champagne Charlie hair. I saw Jon Jensen score his goal.

I’ve never been to the Emirates/Grove, call it what you will. I never saw Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp or Robert Pires do their stuff in the flesh. Damn it, I missed the Invincibles and couldn’t afford to fly to Paris. Instead I watched the Champions League Final in Koh Samui in a beach bar with fifty other gooners and absolutely loved it, bar those oh so painful last thirteen minutes.

I still get up at 3 am to watch our team. We had a thousand Aussie-based Gooners at the casino in Perth to watch us win the FA Cup Final against Hull City last year. That made up for bloody Luton! My boy wears his Arsenal shirt with pride although the wife doesn’t totally understand.

My point? No matter where in the world I happen to be watching my team my heart, and my home, will always be in the North Bank, Highbury, where first I set foot all those years ago. Once a Gooner, always a Gooner.

Have a great Christmas, those celebrating it, and I wish you a great holiday wherever you are. Cheers ‘holics.

For a second week running Bergkamp the Man is back with a post that will doubtless stimulate as much debate as last week’s piece. He looks at the future and grapples with a question common to many I know. What part will we play in the future and where will we be watching our Arsenal next season? Thank you BtM.

So what does the future hold? What’s that picture beginning to form in the crystal ball? Is that Arsene Wenger I see holding the Champions League trophy aloft? Or is it that young thruster Thierry Henry frowning on the touchline as Arsenal plays the final game of the season needing to beat Wigan away to avoid relegation?

Either of these is quite possible and neither is dependent on the ghost of Arsenal past and red-tinted memories of the good old days when everything was ‘definitely better’. More than ever before, the game will be as much a money game as a football game. Irrespective of its source, from sugar-daddies to hard toil, the quid, the greenback, the lira, the peseta will drive the destination of silver.

The teams who consistently and repeatedly win trophies are distinct in one primary respect. They have more money than the majority. So they can acquire, retain and develop the cream of the players. Best players eventually comprise the best, winning teams. QED. And success can be bought ‘overnight’ in the style of Man City or Chelsea. So, that’s the way to go, isn’t it? “Spend, spend, spend some f*cking money Arsenal and we’ll all be happy and we’ll never bleat again and that’s a promise!”

But there’s the rub. That’s a fork in the road that we see emerging at the end of Holloway Road. Many of us are delighted by the prospect of Arsenal spending but distraught by the notion that an excess of that spend will be our own. The prospect of Silent Stan spending is great – but please, Arsenal, don’t ask us to pay more for seats, beer or foot-long sausages!

So for us fans, customers, clients, bum on seats, income generators (choose your poison) something has to give. The parting of the ways is nigh. There are two choices at different ends of a long red spectrum.

a) We can pay up and applaud as Arsenal grabs deeply into our wallets, justified by financial competitiveness and winning ways on the back of more buys like Ozil and Sanchez.

b) We move off and on. Either to ‘Arsenal Light’ or to watch clubs better suited to our wallets, be they Charlton, Stratford or Bishop’s Stortford.

“But there’s a half-way house” you say! “An idyll in which Arsenal wins, wins, wins and generously cuts the price of seats, beer and sausage to make us feel ‘warm and fuzzy’ again.” I don’t think that will ever happen, don’t hold your breath, but dream on if you wish.

So what does this Arsenal Light look like?

It involves absolutely everything we enjoy today and at a fraction of the cost, but with one exception. We never (or only rarely), go to the stadium – all recovering junkies need the occasional fix.

“So we never watch Arsenal in the company of other Gooners?”

We do, we just do it differently thanks to ever-improving digital media and telecommunications. Put differently, top-notch flat screens linked to satellites at our Gooner locals. Even 3pm kick-offs are available now through savvy publicans, slingbox technology and the likes. The beer’s cheaper and the sausages don’t cost eight quid a pop. Paint your own pictures.

“Hold on”, you say. “That’ll never happen. The stadium will be empty if we’re in the pub and then Arsenal will be forced to reduce prices.”

It won’t be empty. For every one of us who struggles to find the gate money, there’s an emerging Gooner with money to burn looking for a new venue to set the spark. On my first visit, Highbury was mainly an all-white male venue, dads and their boys. Compare that with the multi-cultural diversity of the Emirates faithful today. From a business perspective, that’s a jackpot waiting to pay out. Sign a Chinese, Japanese, Indian or Korean super-star and China Eastern and ANA will be flying weekly charters to Heathrow and sushi and dim sun will be de rigeur alongside Asahi Superdry (our new sponsor) and Suntory shots.

“You’re wrong, BtM, the stadium will be empty, there will be no atmosphere for TV, the networks won’t pay, the bubble will burst, YOU are the dreamer!”

Even if not a single sausage-eater turned up, the show would still go on. Just like sitcoms create atmosphere by exploiting canned laughter, canned singing (absent the cusses to upset Holic’s grandsons) would belt forth. Computer graphics would instantly fill empty stadia (in the style of Spartan warriors in the Persian War movie 300). But that won’t be necessary, the seats will all be full.

I entered earth’s atmosphere in the 50’s. Two billion people lived on the planet then. If I can hang on in there till 2040, the population will have quadrupled to eight billion in my little lifetime. There’s good news, Stan. The market’s growing – but you’re no fool, you knew that all along. You didn’t buy Arsenal on a whim.

There is no shortage of future punters. Wise American and Asian entrepreneurs are investing in football clubs to make their future golden. Maybe we should club together, Holics and buy a club? Leeds United anyone? It’s a great brand, could it be a money machine? Well, there would be tough times and we’d need a brilliant manager to sustain major success at national and European level on a worn-out old shoestring. Do such people even exist? Aaaah, someone like Arsene Wenger, you mean? Maybe we could even get Arsene himself? Nah, if they’re in their right minds, Arsenal will NEVER let him go!

So where will I be in this brave new world, or even next season? Having been turfed out of Arsenal’s premium seats, assaulted and thrown unceremoniously down the stairs and out of the stadium from Arsenal Club, my enthusiasm has been ‘quelled’. I’d ‘save’ seven grand each year by relinquishing my two tickets, staying off the train and drinking and eating at reasonable prices – on home games alone. My local has an increasing appeal and the guv’nor is savvy (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

But surely loss of real fans can’t be the answer for Arsenal can it? Creative restructuring of the Arsenal offer to cater better for different levels of wealth is a must. Equally, delivering value by delivering on the promise of the experience and not assaulting and insulting long-term old timers when in your care might be a reasonable place to start. Come on, Arsenal, you can do much, much better – IF you can be bothered.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Le Professeur Competition Winner

Congratulations to Charles Singer, who correctly identified Tottenham as the team against whom Arsene’s Arsenal secured their third Premiership title. Thank you to those who entered. You can still buy a copy of the book via the Amazon ad in the sidebar.

On a strange afternoon at Anfield Arsenal ended up bringing home a point that frankly didn’t look likely for all but the last of the opening 45 minutes. That they only brought home a point is equally astonishing after taking the lead in the second-half and seeing the hosts reduced to ten men in the second of nine added minutes.

The first half was a tense experience as Liverpool flooded the midfield and dominated possession. A subdued Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mathieu Flamini struggled to contain the lively Lallana and Coutinho, while Calum Chambers was finding the marauding Markovic a real handful.

Gerrard and Lallana were off target with the earliest opportunities but Wojciech Szczesny was required to save from Markovic before the same player again missed the target from a good position. A goal never felt far away and arrived in the final minute of the half when Coutinho found a yard of space on the edge of the box and fired in off the far post.

In all honesty Liverpool deserved the advantage at the break, but were denied it when Gerard fouled Alexis and the resulting free-kick eventually saw Mathieu Debuchy claim his first goal in an Arsenal shirt as he climbed above Skrtel to head in at the far post.

Whatever was said at half-time appeared to have an effect in the second-half. The one way traffic of the opening period gave way to a more end to end pattern as Arsenal got closer to their opponents and started to move the ball around with a little more certainty themselves. Coutinho and Santi Cazorla traded chances but both were off target. Then came what would prove to be a pivotal moment as Giroud accidentally trod on the head of the prone Skrtel, and six minutes of treatment ensued that would come back to haunt the Gunners.

Lucas and Gerrard both missed the target, as did Cazorla and the increasingly influential Giroud. The Frenchman did not miss, however, when finding himself unmarked in front of goal to convert Cazorla’s glorious cut-back. Harsh on Liverpool in the context of the match as a whole, but somewhat deserved for the much-improved visitors.

Not surprisingly Liverpool pushed on in search of the equaliser but created little of consequence. Gerrard brought a save out of Szczesny and Lucas again sliced wide. The introduction of Francis Coquelin for the goalscorer suggested we were preparing to dig in to secure the win, but in a frantic last minute of the ninety the Ox called to the bench to withdraw him. He and Alexis made way for Monreal and Campbell.

Borini now became the central figure in this phase, bringing an excellent save out of Szczesny, earning a yellow card somewhat foolishly for dissent, then a second yellow (it surely should have been a straight red?) for aiming his studs into Santi’s chest. Although seven of the nine added minutes remained that should have sealed Liverpool’s fate. It didn’t.

In the 97th minute Liverpool won a corner, the errant Kieran Gibbs strayed from his post, the out-of-sorts Per Mertesacker cowered under the challenge of the unmarked and onrushing Skrtel. The header was inside the vacant post and three points became one. The BFG is missing his mate, Laurent Koscielny, and can be forgiven for having the odd off-day given the demands being placed on him as the only fit central defender we have. It might not be a bad idea to get Nigel Winterburn to come in and work with Gibbs. If he thinks he has made it, he needs to think again.

Collectively those on the pitch failed at a crucial moment, of that there is no doubt. As someone rather dryly observed on Twitter (sorry I cannot remember who to credit) we probably don’t get much practice at defending corners given our inability to deliver one. Again today that failing was evident. However at half-time if someone had offered us a point I’m sure many would have taken it.

Twelve points adrift of both Chelsea and City at Christmas. It isn’t what we wanted in August, but isn’t terminal, although the five points gap to Manchester United in third place should perhaps occupy our immediate focus. Well that, and some extra training on taking and defending corners on Christmas Day.

“Every defeat is a scar on your heart. They started off the blocks well and we were too late to get into the game.”

Last season’s 5-1 drubbing at Anfield remains strong in the memory. That we recovered to beat the same opponents in the FA Cup a week later hasn’t completely eased the pain of that day for Arsene Wenger, or indeed a number of supporters of the club. It was the day the title dream, fuelled by our form in the calendar year of 2013, died.

This is the latest opportunity for Arsenal to visit the home of a rival and come away with points, although the task does not look quite so daunting this season as Liverpool have struggled to cope with the departure of Suarez to Barcelona. That and the loss of Sturridge to injury has severely hampered them in the goalscoring department. They are heavily reliant on Sterling to step up to the mark. Lest we forget the England winger scored twice in the aforementioned 5-1. The free-scoring scousers of last season have, however, notched just nineteen goals in sixteen Premiership starts this term.

Liverpool start the match five points and four places behind the Gunners, but once again we are down to the bare bones it seems. Calum Chambers returns after suspension, but there were late tests planned for Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Nacho Monreal. Still we are without Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, and Laurent Koscielny.

Le Boss faces an interesting selection to partner Per Mertesacker at the back. Three full-backs are in the frame, with Monreal likeliest to get the nod if he is passed fit. Only really ‘beasted’ against Swansea he is growing into the role this season. Mathieu Debuchy looked comfortable there last week but frankly I think I could have played centre-half against Newcastle that day. Calum Chambers is the third option, but perhaps too prone to make ‘cardable’ challenges. Should Monreal fail his test then Debuchy alongside the BFG and Chambers at right-back is likeliest.

Mahieu Flamini is a shoe-in to start at the base of the midfield, but if the Ox fails his fitness test it is hard to imagine who will partner the French international. The likeliest option could be the recalled Francis Coquelin. What a story that would be. Santi Cazorla must surely be given the opportunity to demonstrate his excellent current form behind Olivier Giroud.

The wide attacking roles provide another interesting poser for the manager. Presumably Lukas Podolski would slip further down the pecking order were Theo to be fit again. Alexis Sanchez must surely start in a fixture of this magnitude, so it will be Theo or Danny Welbeck for the other flank.

One has to hope that forewarned by Liverpool’s storming start last season we will have been prepared to hit the ground running in this one. A more cautious and disciplined start could establish a platform we can build on later in the match. We have match winners in the side, but we will need to defend from the front in the early phases of play in order to give them the opportunity to demonstrate their class.

The ‘holic pound is wagered on a punt I normally steer clear of. The bookies love first goalscorer bets, but I do think the 13/2 being offered by Paddy Power for Oliver Giroud to draw first blood represents decent value, so I’m on it.

To those making the trip I wish you a great day out. Christmas shopping complete I will be in the warm with some tasty London Pride to take it all in. Let’s hope we all have a good one, ‘holics.

Le Professeur competition

There is still time to win a copy of Tom Oldfield’s biography of Arsene Wenger.

To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is to answer this question. Against whom was Arsene Wenger’s third Premiership title confirmed? Was it…

a: Manchester United

b: Tottenham

c: Everton

Please send all responses to competition@goonerholic.com along with your Twitter and/or Facebook handle (if available, otherwise your email address will be fine) by midnight on Monday 22nd December, UK time.

Thank you.

Once again our very own Bergkamp the Man commits to print the first of a two-parter that will provoke much debate, I am sure. I thank him for his contribution. I’m sure we will discuss it over a pint or two in the new year. If you want to win a copy of Tom Oldfield’s biography of Le Professeur you still can here

A run of relatively poor performances quickly exposes Arsenal to the ire and thoughts of retribution by the disenchanted in these social-media-fired times. Arsene Wenger’s ‘incompetence‘ regularly bubbles to the top of this ‘hit’ list, only marginally ahead of the perennial favourite for hit pickers, funding and the price of entry to watch the mighty Gunners.

These two disparate themes need to be decoupled. Those who judge Arsene to be the root cause of poor performance are entitled to their view, of course they are. I side with the perspective expressed by Paul Merson in his post-Anderlecht comments on another woeful performance “Arsene isn’t the problem. He could walk into any other club in Europe tomorrow.” I’m no longer motivated to argue the toss with those who beg to differ. I do acknowledge that there are many shades of grey in that debate.

The constant expression of anger at the fact that Arsenal “charges too much” for tickets continues to amuse, however. This appears to come from the same group that is consumed by Arsene Wenger and his team’s inability to perform at the standard they demand. Ironic? I’d say so. “Arsenal are being run as a business now. We’re no longer fans, we’re customers, bums on seats and nothing more.”

Guess what? Be careful what you ask for or you might get it. With their relentless demand for ever more success, the disenchanted have sewn the seeds of their own current discontent. The teams who consistently and repeatedly win trophies are distinct in one primary respect. They have more money than the majority. So they can acquire, retain and develop the cream of the players. Best players eventually comprise the best, winning teams. QED.

But here’s the kicker. These top players demand the highest wages. Why wouldn’t they? Like it or not, football is part of a multi-billion pound global sports entertainment industry. It’s no longer just ‘football, the game to entertain the troops now that they’re home from the trenches’ or in any of its guises in the decades since. And these wages need to be financed.

“But Arsenal used to be different” proclaim many. “Why can’t they be warm and fuzzy to their fans and still win?” If you want to swim with the sharks, the European elite, Real, Bayern, Barca, Man Utd and their like, you can’t behave like Flipper the friendly porpoise I’m afraid. The only route in the current construction is driven by economics, specifically more money.

Arsenal made 6M profit in 2013 on a ‘take’ of 243M. That’s 2%, bottom of the league, knocked-out-of-the-cup at home versus Potters Bar performance. If you think Stan’s running Arsenal for profit, he would have done better to stay in the family business and buy Tesco. And £155m of the take went on salaries for the players. If you want to throw bricks, the players rather than Stan and ‘his’ ticket prices might be a better target?

There are three routes to more income :

1. Match day

2. Broadcasting

3. Sponsorships/Partnerships

  • Arsenal has closed the gap on Man U and reaps 100M from game day. Tick. (Thanks for buying the seats, folks)
  • Arsenal will outperform the Mancs on broadcasting this season
  • Sadly, on sponsorships, Arsenal trails multi-million pounds behind. Man U’s premier deals, Adidas (75M) + Chevrolet (51M) + Aon (18M) = 144M; trump Arsenal’s Puma (34M) + Emirates (30M) by a staggering 80M pounds each year. That’s enough to buy and pay one Paul Pogba every year before Arsenal even gets on level pegging.

If you want the team to win, suck up the price of your seat and smile. While you’re at it praise the Lord or Lady that during the barren years of funding our club had Arsene Wenger weaving miracles and maintaining competitiveness at the top table. “Don’t like the sound of that”, you say? “Silent Stan should dip into his pocket and pull out a Rooney, a Messi or a Reus”, you say. “Alternatively he should cut the price of tickets in half and just take the hit”, you say.

I have news for you, not one of these is ever going to happen.

If you want cheaper seats, they’re available just down the road at Stratford or Charlton. If you want to watch Mesut, Theo, Alexis, Danny, Ox and Ollie ‘do what they do’, pay up and be grateful. If you think that the team is only one or two players away from global dominance, be pleased that Arsenal’s business brains are working hard on closing the sponsorship gap between Arsenal and the elite. And, if Silent Stan requires 3M for his expert services and advice on closing the 80M pound hole, be happy – you’ll love the silver that pours from the dark cloud you see above you to quell your depression.

Do I like paying top dollar to watch the team I used to watch for a fiver in the era when you could walk through the turnstile on the day? It really doesn’t matter. I live in today’s reality and pay my way willingly. I don’t blame Stan. I don’t even blame the players and their £155m pound salary take. And, of course, I don’t blame Arsene Wenger, the greatest manager Arsenal has had and most likely will ever have.

And am I completely happy? Well not really, but that’s a story for another day.

On the day that Thierry Henry retires from football I have the good fortune to get a look at the latest biography of the man that was so influential in his career to hit the shelves. I say late, but Arsene Wenger, The Unauthorised Biography Of Le Professeur, is in fact an updated reissue of Tom Oldfield’s 2009 book.

With no autobiography yet on the horizon, this biography will satisfy demand for insight into one of football’s most discussed managers. For those who have the first version of this and the other biographies of Arsene (I have the books written by Rivoire, Rees, and Palmer, the biter of the hand that fed him) then you will be primarily interested in the most recent years and months.

Of those authors Rivoire was closest to the man, though few and certainly none of the four could be considered confidantes. Tom Oldfield, neither close nor disaffected, appears the most objective I have read thus far and does rightly lean heavily on Rivoire for reference.

Should you not have bought any of them and want to learn more about the man then this will not disappoint. His early career, the influence of Max Hild, and his first management role at Nancy prior to the seemingly inevitable move to Monaco, now our opponents in the last sixteen of the Champions League in 2014/15.

Of course it was at Monaco where he began to work with some big names who would go on to talk in glowing terms of him as a coach, and also he encountered the match-fixing scandal with Marseille in 1993. Then to Nagoya, and Tom covers the influence of the J-League on Arsene.

The Arsenal years, however, are what really concern us, right? Let me tell you the chapter entitled ‘Arriving At Arsenal‘ starts on page 33 of 421. That in itself should tell you something. Of course the early years of his reign are covered thoroughly, for this author knows his target audience. Uniquely thus far we do have an insight into recent seasons, and the turning of some against Le Professeur.

The issues surrounding the fallow years from 2005 to 2014 are addressed, the recent years relatively briefly, but not surprisingly. They have been something of a recurring theme, after all.

In summary, if you want an up-to-date biography of the manager of Arsenal since 1996 then yes, this is something of a combination of the best two, and at a budget price too, if you check the Amazon ad in the sidebar.

Win A Copy Of Arsene Wenger, The Unauthorised Biography Of Le Professeur

The good folk at John Blake Publishing have provided us with a copy of the book for one ‘holic reader to win and enjoy. To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is to answer this question. Against whom was Arsene Wenger’s third Premiership title confirmed? Was it…

a: Manchester United

b: Tottenham

c: Everton

Please send all responses to competition@goonerholic.com along with your Twitter and/or Facebook handle (if available, otherwise your email address will be fine) by midnight on Monday 22nd December, UK time.

Good luck, all.

A little later than usual I caught the train from the West Country.. The 5.30 kick-off afforded a leisurely, if crowded, journey to the new home of football. Pre-match drinks with old friends were enjoyed and we contemplated mainly how Mathieu Debuchy would fare at centre-half against his old team-mates, Cisse and Ameobi.

Inside the ground any pre-match fears proved to be unfounded. From the off he and Per Mertesacker knitted together well and dealt comfortably with their opposite numbers. Hector Bellerin and Kieran Gibbs (particularly the former) provided width at appropriate moments and Arsenal were quickly onto the front foot.

We came close to grabbing an early lead when Per Mertesacker’s effort came back out off the bar. The lead wasn’t long behind, and arrived courtesy of Olivier Giroud’s superb header from an Alexis Sanchez cross. There was a feel good factor about the ground and Arsenal bombed on, denied a second only for an alleged foul in the build-up to Danny Welbeck’s fine finish seen only by the appalling again Lee Mason.

Just once did the visitors look likely to level but Wojciech Szczesny showed commendable concentration to deny them with a magnificent double save from Gouffran and Cisse after long periods of inactivity.

It is fair to say we needed the comfort of a second goal as that late scare demonstrated. We didn’t have to wait too long for it. Santi Cazorla was picked out by Alexis, he left Coloccini for dead and clipped a beauty past young Geordie ‘keeper, Alnwick.

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In front of us Alan Pardew hauled off his two strikers, perhaps harshly given the lack of service they received. We were very good, but this was not the disciplined and dangerous on the break Newcastle side who beat Chelsea a week ago. Almost immediately it was three, with Bellerin crossing for Giroud to grab his second goal with a deft near post finish. “One Arsene Wenger” was picked up and sung with some gusto by the majority, a show of support I understand was jeered in one part of the ground but certainly that wasn’t audible in East Lower.

Newcastle did plunder some consolation for their travelling support when Perez headed home a Colback cross. Arsenal simply dusted themselves down and got about their business of playing some wonderful possession football. They didn’t just smother the game though, but grabbed a fourth as the match drew to a close. Santi Cazorla’s Panenka followed Welbeck being brought down by Dummett.

And so back to the pub to chew over the fat in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere. It was a fun day to be at the Arsenal again, and a huge part of that was the pre and post-match socialising. Thank you all for one of the good ones.

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