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Arsene put his faith in youth for the visit of Reading in the EFL Cup. Emiliano Martinez started behind a back four of Carl Jenkinson (welcome back corporal), Gabriel, Rob Holding, and Kieran Gibbs. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was paired with Mohamed Elneny behind a front four of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi, Jeff Reine Adelaide, and Lucas. Olivier Giroud started on a very inexperienced bench.

The young Arsenal side started well enough and with just over five minutes on the clock there could have been a dream return for Jenkinson. On a foray into the Reading box he tried a snap shot that Al Habsi parried back into his path and then headed the rebound over the crossbar from close range. Two minutes later Al Habsi had to be quick off his line to deny Lucas before Oxlade-Chamberlain hammered an effort just wide of the mark.

Next to go within a whisker of opening our account was young Maitland-Niles who curled an effort narrowly wide of the far post from twenty yards. Reading’s first effort followed but Obita’s long range provided Martinez with a simple save diving to his right. We missed a golden opportunity when Lucas was put clear but the Spaniard attempted to set up Reine-Adelaide, underhit the pass, and Reading scrambled it clear.

Iwobi was next to try his luck from distance but again the ball steered clear of the far post before Maitland-Niles drove one over the bar. The goal was surely coming, and it did when the Ox wriggled his way into the right side of the box. He finished with a fine angled drive through the legs of Blackett and just inside the left hand post.

Arsenal 1-0 Reading

Two minutes before the break we were inches from being pulled back to level when Harriott’s deflected effort found the roof of the net but thankfully over rather than under the bar. It was a warning that we needed to convert more of our very promising approach play into goals. I’m sure Arsene and Steve Bould would have quietly emphasised the point during the interval.

We were again on the front foot at the start of the second-half. It doesn’t seem to matter which eleven Gunners play where, as all are coached in the style and formation that the first team is expected to play with. First the Ox, then Lucas were denied by blocks as the Gunners streamed forward. We were exposed to a counter-attack when Gibbs dithered but the skipper for the night recovered to retrieve the situation.

The Giroud chant started up as thoughts of those watching turned to what might be a crucial second goal, but it was Reading who sent on their main French striker, Kermorgant, to sniff out an equaliser. On the hour his towering header brought the best save of the night from Martinez. Giroud sprinted up and down the touchline hoping to remind Arsene that he was there and ready.

Finally the change was made with Reine-Adelaide making way to a warm round applause and Giroud getting heartily cheered back into action. Lucas switched to the left to free up his position. Reading responded by sending on Gravenberch, a defender with the girth of an American football linebacker, who somehow avoided a caution for launching his not unconsiderable weight upon Lucas’ ankle. Chris Willock replaced the stricken striker a couple of minutes later following a fine Al Habsi save from a powerful close range Giroud header.

We should have sealed it when Oxlade-Chamberlain was put through only to drive too close to Al Habsi, and unfortunately Iwobi was unable to control and finish the goalkeeper’s parried save. When McLeary cynically chopped down the Ox a minute later the referee finally produced the yellow card that we feared he had left at home. Iwobi was next to draw a save out of the experienced Al Habsi, and the tension was released when the Ox took Giroud’s lay-back and drove a ferocious deflected drive into the net.

Arsenal 2-0 Reading

The double goalscorer was withdrawn to a standing ovation to allow a cameo appearance for the Danny Karbassiyoon scouted Gedion Zelalem. Suddenly the young Guns keep-ball was a welcome and not unattractive option. There might have been a sting in the tail but Martinez produced another first-class save diving to his left to claw out a Kermogant free-kick which came through a veritable forest of bodies.

Arsene will feel some satisfaction that his young second string have beaten seasoned Championship campaigners. He will have lessons to work on with them but they achieved a good win and a clean sheet. Thousands of Arsenal supporters who could not normally attend matches at the Grove were treated to seeing their team win in the flesh for a tenner. All in all a good night, don’t you think?

Author Dave Seager with contributors Alex Brooker, Jim Campbell, and Tom Rosenthal at the launch

It was an early start to the journey to the match on Saturday given that Dave Seager was launching his latest book in the Tollington at 11 am. In it Dave shares the experiences of fifteen of the funniest Arsenal supporting comedians plus, hidden in the middle of the book, one from a follower of the neighbours at the suggestion of Alan Davies.

‘Supporting Arsenal is a Funny Old Game’ is also providing a contribution towards Comic Relief, which I know is something that really got the author excited. The tagline to the book is ‘seriously funny, yet funnily serious’ and that sets up what follows perfectly.

From the opening chapter with the revered Jewish hooligan (you’ll have to read the book!), Ian Stone, to the last when Alex Brooker reveals why he couldn’t tell Marc Overmars and Kanu apart at his first live match, you get to share the Gunners experience down the years with some very funny, intelligent, and interesting people. Barring the one in the middle, obviously!

Many have tales to tell of those at the club who they have met in various circumstances. Alan Davies waxes lyrical about Arsene Wenger, Romesh Ranganathan talks about his first meeting with Ian Wright whilst hungover, and Gary Marshall shares tales from his after dinner experiences with Paul Merson and Ray Parlour.

Those of us who may have been following the club for a little longer are catered for too. Clive Anderson recalls his first match seeing Stanley Matthews make his final appearance at Highbury. Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran predate that and prompted a few memories to resurface.

And that is really where this book scores for it is the conversational nature of what appears on the pages. These are first and foremost football supporters talking about shared feelings and experiences. It was fitting that the launch should have been in an Arsenal pub because it feels as though you are chatting about football with distant acquaintances over a pint.

Dave will be in the Tollington again before the Reading match tomorrow, when one of those mentioned above will also do a quick solo spot. So go along early, have a chat and a giggle, and buy a really enjoyable read.

If you can’t get along tomorrow then visit Legends Publishing here to buy that gift to yourself or the Gooner in your life.

The ‘holic pound

You will by now have worked out there is no time for a Reading preview here, which is a blessing in disguise for you. I haven’t got a clue who will be starting for us, or for Reading, so I’m chucking a Hail Mary at the bet and going with 3-1 to the Arsenal for no good reason whatsoever. Don’t waste money you haven’t got on following that!

And wherever you are watching the match, have a good one ‘holics.

There was an element of “I’ve seen this game before” about yesterday’s match with Middlesborough. Shades of last season when Santi Cazorla was missing and our excellent midfield didn’t look quite so excellent.

It’s not that we played badly, but the things that have been coming off for the front four in recent weeks were denied by some very resolute defending by the visitors. They did what they had to and probably at the end were rueing the opportunities that came their way.

We started brightly enough. A Mesut Ozil free-kick and a long range fizzer from Mohamed Elneny promised more would follow. Boro had other ideas on the break and it took an excellent double save from Petr Cech to deny Traore and Negredo. Seconds later Ramirez swerved a free-kick onto the Gunners crossbar. The warnings had been given.

Midway through the half Francis Coquelin was upended on the edge of the box and Alexis brought the best out of former Barca goalkeeper, Valdes. Back came Boro and Traore turned Hector Bellerin to hit a cross that eventually arrived on the head of Ramirez at the far post and Cech again saved from point-blank range.

We started the second-half on the front foot and could have taken the lead if Laurent Koscielny could have made contact with an Alexis cross after Valdes had dropped the ball. When Oxil was fouled Alexis curled another free-kick just wide of the near post. The same player then drew another excellent save out of Valdes with a spectacular strike from 23 yards out.

It was Cech, however, who would be called into action next when turning a far-post drive from Traore away for a corner. Alexis continued his personal battle with his former team-mate when put through by Theo Walcott, but Valdes again proved equal to the Chilean’s effort. Boro all but sealed the shock win when Traore again broke at pace and played in Negredo but we survived when Koscielny produced a stunning sliding tackle to deny the former Manchester City striker.

There remained an agonising five added minutes in which Ozil finally found the net but from an offside position. Walcott too was flagged as he put the last chance of the game wide.

The point was enough to put us top of the table, for a day at least, but an air of frustration could be felt around the ground. Although we stretched our unbeaten run to twelve matches this was a reminder that some of our old demons may still be lurking.

Hopefully this was a rare failure to break down organised and determined opponents. Yet that is successive matches in which the defence has looked vulnerable to out and out pace. Too often the back four were exposed to Boro’s flyers and defence starts in front of the back four where the normally dependable Coquelin and Elneny were not up to their usual standard.

Arsene’s birthday celebration may have been a bit flat. His are the final words.

“We were exposed at times. When you cannot win, you must not lose. At least you can have a drink on your birthday. When you win you deserve it, when you don’t you need it.”

Middlesbrough are next up as we complete three home games in eight days, and we are looking for a clean sweep after a narrow defeat of Swansea, and eventually an absolute thrashing of Ludogorets.

Arsene Wenger has some difficult selections to make tomorrow. There is little doubt that Petr Cech will return between the sticks, but ahead of him the boss has to choose between Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs to play alongside Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, and Laurent Koscielny. I suspect Nacho will get the chance to reclaim the reliability he has demonstrated in the last couple of seasons.

Santi Cazorla is a doubt after taking a knock on Wednesday. Such is the strength of the squad there is no need to take any risks. Francis Coquelin can be partnered by Mohamed Elneny as Granit Xhaka serves the first of his three match ban.

There is another choice to be made on the left flank. Alex Iwobi is the likely starter but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gave the boss much food for thought on Wednesday evening with a solid performance and a goal.Whoever gets the nod will be part of the most fluid front four in the top flight at the moment. We are used to seeing Alexis and Theo Walcott interchanging but it is the determination of Mesut Ozil to ghost into the box more regularly that is most eye-catching.

The classy playmaker has helped himself to four goals in the last two games, including two volleys of the highest order. He is playing with confidence and style, and the addition of more goals is helping to make our new attacking set-up so good to watch again. Let’s hope we are able to come to an agreement on a new contract for him soon. Yes, it will cost us, but so would a replacement of anywhere near his ability.

Boro arrive just one place above the relegation zone on goal difference, and head coach Aitor Karanka is being brutally honest about his target with his newly-promoted charges.

“For me, I don’t care because I want to be in this position in May. We are in the Premier League now and if in May we finish 17th, I will be really, really pleased.”

Their one win this season came on the road at fellow strugglers Sunderland, and they have drawn against Stoke at home plus West Brom and West Ham on the road. Calum Chambers is on loan at the club although obviously he is ruled out tomorrow. He is also their joint second top scorer with one goal! Stuani has struck three times. They might not score many, but they are reasonably tight at the back, conceding at just over a goal a game.

The ‘holic pound

It would be wonderful if we could pick up where we left off on Wednesday but Boro are likely to put up two ranks of defence in their half and defy us to play through them. I’m being a bit circumspect with the pound and plumping for 2-0. At 11/2 it won’t pay for a holiday in the Bahamas but a nice meal out would be more than acceptable.

A Bergkamp Wonderland Podcast

The boys invited me on last night’s live podcast where we looked back over the events of the last week with a welcome and special visitor, Geoff Hollefreund. You can catch it here. Thanks for the invite boys. It was a special show to be a part of.

Book Launch At The Tollington

Talking of Geoff we will meet up again tomorrow morning for the launch of Dave Seager’s new book ‘Supporting Arsenal is a funny old game‘. it starts in the Tollington at 11 am and is a chance to share the Gunners supporting memories of no fewer than sixteen of our top comics and funny men. With Christmas around the corner this would make an excellent present.

There will be a review of the book in the blog on Monday. Having read half of it I can tell you already it is worth every penny, and for every book that sells at the RRP, £19.99, a donation of £2 goes to Comic Relief. Dave will be joined by Alex Brooker and Tony Rosenthal at the launch, so do come along and say hello.

That’s it for another preview. I will see a fair few of you tomorrow no doubt. Wherever you are following the match have a great one, ‘holics.

Arsene Wenger opted to ring the changes, bringing in David Ospina, Kieran Gibbs, Francis Coquelin, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Champions League matchday three. He explained it pre-match as keeping the spine of the side, and…

“I rotate a little bit without altering the balance of the team.”

Ludogorets started brightly and with only two minutes on the clock Coquelin was called upon to cut out a dangerous cross from Cafu. Mesut Ozil was the first to break clear for Arsenal but his cross was comfortably gathered by Stoyanov. From the opposite flank Hector Bellerin’s cross into a dangerous area was also thumped clear.

In the ninth minute Alexis set up Theo Walcott who collected the rebound when his first effort was blocked and looked to pass rather than shoot from close range. Again the defence cleared. We didn’t have long to wait for the opener. Having failed to convert one break Alexis took his second opportunity when he collected Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass, cut inside the first defender, and played a sublime chip inside the far post.

Arsenal 1-0 Ludogorets

The visitors pacy trio up top were causing problems and Wanderson brought a sharp save out of Ospina when allowed to cut in unchallenged from Arsenal’s left flank.

As the midpoint of the half approached Alexis was upended by Palomino whose challenge looked remarkably similar to that by Granit Xhaka on Saturday. The Portuguese referee awarded the free-kick but took no further action, quite rightly.

A mistake by Moti gave Ozil a shooting opportunity on the edge of the box but the teenage defender made amends with a block. We had to be grateful again to Ospina when Misidjan was put in behind the Gunners defence and the Columbian ‘keeper sprinted out to win the one on one situation with a strong hand.

The Ox, having a reasonable return to the side, went close to setting up a tap in for Walcott but was out by a fraction. Minutes later Ospina repeated his face to face heroics against Misidjan when Arsenal were again easily opened up, and Wanderson’s effort grazed the far post when the ball was knocked straight back in.

At the other end Coquelin put in Walcott who shot straight at Stoyanov at a time when the home side looked in need of the cushion of a second goal. Bulgaria’s Eagles fashioned another chance and Anicet’s drive was deflected by Laurent Koscielny to enable a comfortable Ospina save.

Just under four minutes from the break the Ox fed Ozil on the left flank, the German cut back an amazing ball to Walcott on the edge of the box. Theo moved it to his right and curled a wonderful finish beyond the reach of Stoyanov. How Arsenal needed that goal.

Arsenal 2-0 Ludogorets

Stoyanov had better fortune when clawing out an Alexis effort which proved to be the last action of the half, one which was far more open than perhaps some had anticipated.

The restart by Arsenal was wonderful, and will have boosted a couple of players. Gibbs cross was only half cleared to Oxlade-Chamberlain and the England international placed a perfect finish for our third.

Arsenal 3-0 Ludogorets

In the 56th minute we were out of sight when Koscielny won out in a two against one situation, Santi Cazorla picked out Ozil in the Ludogorets half and the German genius contolled the ball on the volley and passed the ball into the net.

Arsenal 4-0 Ludogorets

That was Santi’s last contribution as he limped off to have an ice-pack applied to what looked like a sore ankle. Mohamed Elneny got a welcome appearance as substitute. Minutes later Walcott departed to a standing ovation to be replaced by new boy Lucas.

We perhaps should have had a penalty when Alexis was bundled over in the box before the Ox was denied a second goal by Stoyanov, having been offered a close range volley by the imperious combination of Ozil and Alexis. He turned provider himself a minute or so later but Lucas was denied a clean strike.

The crowd were on their feet again when Alexis made way for Alex Iwobi with seventeen of the ninety minutes remaining. Ozil grabbed a second on the night when Lucas found him unmarked at the far post. It was another breathtaking break.

Arsenal 5-0 Ludogorets

The same combination brought a volley from Ozil for his hat-trick in the 87th minute. “We’ve got Ozil, Mesut Ozil” rang around the stadium.

Arsenal 6-0 Ludogorets

There remained time for even Bellerin to try his luck from the edge of the box. At last Stoyanov was equal to the effort.

It is hard to understand how a team that had been so lively and threatening in the first-half had collapsed so completely in the second. Unrestrained, the Gunners did their goal difference no harm with a devastating exhibition.

That’s seven straight wins for Arsenal now, and eleven undefeated. The feelgood factor grows a little. It is only October, lest we get carried away.

I wanted to have written this preview by now, but a good Gooner sent me a copy of an upcoming book to review, and I couldn’t stop myself from reading it for a while. More to follow on that later this week.

Now, let me see. What do we know about Ludogorets Razgrad? Not surprisingly very little, which is sadly not a guarantee that we just have to turn up to take the three points. A good spot to gen up on our next opponents is on the English version of their website, here. Clever blogging that. I could have spent an hour or so on there picking out scraps of information you might not have wanted. Now you can read as much, or as little, as you like.

The winners of the last five Bulgarian A Group titles, Ludogorets are the first Bulgarian club to twice reach the group phase of the Champions League. They first did so two seasons ago and gave Liverpool a scare before losing 2-1 at Anfield. The return fixture ended in a 2-2 draw. This season they started impressively, holding Basel to a draw away from home on match day one. We will take more comfort from their home match against PSG, which the French club won 1-3.

Having typed that it is fair to say that the match will be determined by which Arsenal turns up. In that regard we have every reason to be confident. The Gunners are currently on a very encouraging run of good form. Ten unbeaten fixtures since the opening day debacle against Liverpool have seen only Leicester City and PSG hold us to a draw. The eight wins have been achieved with a combination of all the qualities top teams have. There is resilience and determination allied to technique and even a little bit of swagger this season.

The squad is likely to be unchanged from that which was on duty against Swansea at the weekend. Changes? Depending on how recovered players have looked in training it is unlikely that there will be any rotation. Some might argue Kieran Gibbs for Nacho Monreal but it is too early for that, surely? Francis Coquelin or Mohamed Elneny could come in for Granit Xhaka, but he will miss the next three matches so one might argue let him enjoy one more game before his enforced absence.

Arsene Wenger, talking at the pre-match press conference shown on the official club website arsenal.com, was asked about what he thought of his team and what could they go on to achieve this season.

“I think the team is focused, the team wants to play the football we want. They believe in what we do and with our good ingredients. After we have to show the desire, the hunger, in every single game.”

We have heard similar before, but there is a bit of a different feel about the club right now. It is too early to be getting carried away, that is true, but it is a while now since we have seen the team playing as well from front to back as consistently as we have been of late. Fingers are very firmly crossed here.

The ‘holic pound

Ludogorets have scored in both group stage matches so far, and we are creating chances so 3-1 at around tens looks a fair punt to me. I’m on it.

A little later than planned can I wish all of you who are going another enjoyable couple of hours watching a really good team prove it once more.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

Another bright start enabled Arsenal to chalk up a sixth consecutive Premier League win, but goodness me it turned into a real battle for the three points despite our obvious superiority for most of the match. On a glorious October afternoon we took advantage of the teams above us only drawing to go level on points with leaders Manchester City.

After some encouraging early exchanges we went close when Skhodran Mustafi just missed the target with a powerful header. The German international was quick to venture upfield at every opportunity and he has given us an extra dimension.

It seemed inevitable that we would take the lead and we did so when the rejuvenated Theo Walcott applied a deft touch to Hector Bellerin’s headed cross that Amat failed to deal with. Alexis all but doubled the advantage but his cheeky lob drifted just wide of the far post. Twelve minutes before the break we seemed to have sealed the points when Walcott grabbed his second when Swansea failed to deal with a corner.

The mood changed momentarily, however, when Granit Xhaka conceded possession and Sigurdsson lashed an effort past Petr Cech. The goal lifted Swansea visibly and sent a huge warning out to the home side.

The two goal advantage was restored twelve minutes after the break when Alexis once more turned provider for Mesut Ozil’s delicious far post volley. It was another magical moment from a magical pairing. Again the contest should have been secured, but Arsenal, being Arsenal, made it harder for themselves than it should have been.

Winger Barrow, who gave Nacho Monreal a thorough examination throughout the second half, crossed for substitute Borja to apply the finish, and the Gunners were again defending the narrowest of advantages. The tension only increased when Xhaka, having an afternoon he will want to forget, cynically tripped Barrow on the halfway line and found himself the recipient of what appeared to be the harshest of red cards. It was not an afternoon that referee Moss will look back on with any pride.

What remained seemed to be a string of crosses and headers straight at Cech broken only by two wonderful breaks that should have seen Walcott complete his hat-trick, but in his  search for the perfect finish he hit first post, and then crossbar, as the Gunners somewhat stumbled over the finishing line.

Arsene summed up the frustration at our failure to get the comfortable win our football deserved.

“I have some mixed feelings because it looked at some points comfortable and then it never was.”

The loss of Xhaka for three matches provides an opportunity for Francis Coquelin or Mohamed Elneny to claim the vacant berth. The form of the front four continues to excite, but that is two wins by a single goal on the bounce. Let’s hope for a more convincing victory against Ludogorets on Wednesday.

A huge thanks to all who shared parts of a thoroughly enjoyable day. From the lunchtime burger to the homeward bound bacon baguette it was real fun, the final twenty-five minutes of the match aside!

I think the correct introduction runs along the lines of … Thank goodness that interminable international break is over and we can get back to real football. I honestly haven’t checked but I think I probably say that after most of these poorly organised shambles’.

Of course this time we return to Premier League action after displaying a rich vein of form before the squad departed for the four corners of the globe. (Is it flat after all?). You couldn’t refresh Twitter quickly enough to avoid mentions of a five match winning run in the league. Nor the cautionary mentions of us picking up just one point from our last four matches against Swansea.

It’s a time of year that hasn’t always been kind to us (though wait until we get to November!) and we are facing our current bogey team. Has that got our feet back on the ground? Not me, I’m happy to say. Our performances, more than our results, lifted most of us before the break, and the same personnel should be available for the boss to call on. They have developed good habits and an exciting style of play has returned after quite the absence, if we are being honest.

Of course we are only ever one bad result away from seeing the old wounds open up but despite our recent record against the visitors the odds are heavily in our favour. Petr Cech and the back four pick themselves, surely? Although Francis Coquelin is reportedly fit again it probably isn’t the best time to restore him to the side with Granit Xhaka and Santi Cazorla knitting together impressively.

Theo Walcott showed he has learned a lot over the summer, preserving his energy in meaningless internationals so he is ready to be a leading exponent of our pressing game from front to back. Alex Iwobi is back having scored for Nigeria so with confidence buoyed. Then there is Mesut. He played just half a game for Germany the other night, but assured Arsene that he is fit and raring to go this weekend. He is the pivot of a wonderful front four who should again supplement Alexis, while there may be time for Lucas to get some Premier League experience as the match progresses.

If there is a concern then it must be for how long can we continue to play that pressing game for ninety-five minutes, twice a week, for the next seven months. The squad will be crucial, so news that Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud remain in need of further conditioning is a worry. On the plus side Carl Jenkinson returned to action with the U23s against Southampton, and Per Mertesacker and Gabriel are progressing well. What isn’t clear is just what is going on with the likes of Debuchy and Sanogo, last seen clutching boarding passes for Bermuda.

Our bogey side, and I cannot stop my bunged up beak from reminding me of that, arrive on the crest of a slump. They very quickly jettisoned Francesco Guidolin having picked up just four points from the opening seven matches, and have surprisingly plumped for the former USA national coach, Bob Bradley, as his replacement. He has a reputation for producing hard-working teams, and certainly Swansea have been exactly that in the last couple of seasons.

The ‘holic pound

Will the ‘new manager factor’ kick in and provide an instant panacea for all that has ailed Swansea in recent weeks? We can certainly expect a side where all eleven players will be keen to impress the new man to cement their places. I can see them proving much more difficult to rip apart than Chelsea and Basel in our last two home matches. Bergkamp the man knows exactly what I am tipping for this one. I have found 2-1 to the Arsenal at 17/2, which seems pretty good value.

Tonight’s Drinks

There will be a temptation to discuss the successful appeal by Ched Evans earlier today (Friday). Please bear in mind at all times that tonight he is legally an innocent man, and confine any discussion to the relevant points of law, should you know them.

It is worrying that a financial reward unearthed ‘new evidence’ not directly relating to the evening in question, and that ‘evidence’ was accepted and formed the basis for a successful appeal. This is probably the only area that you can discuss in the drinks for legal reasons. Please bear that in mind.

Please also be respectful of the fact that not one individual has emerged from this trial with their reputation intact, and very possibly one of them should have done.

I’ll leave it there and wish you a great day tomorrow. I’m excited as I’m meeting up with a number of the team from A Bergkamp Wonderland for a hipster burger and a glass of elderflower presse. I’ll see some of you for a proper drink afterwards in the usual place.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

What should have been a break to recharge the batteries in Dubai was cut short when Kieran Gibbs got the call to join the England squad ahead of their match in Slovenia due to a hamstring injury sustained by Ryan Bertrand. In the end Danny Rose was fit to start and Kieran spent the evening on the bench.

It isn’t lost on anybody how close Gibbo is to the England left-back berth, but as long as he is the back-up at Arsenal then that is all he can expect to be with the national team. It’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for a loyal, but injury-prone, club servant. Bertrand probably is the pick of the English left-backs at the moment, but given regular football it is likely that the Arsenal man would be preferred to the erratic Rose.

Therein lies the issue. When Nacho Monreal arrived from Malaga in January 2013 he played second fiddle to Gibbo, and has confessed himself it took him a while to settle into the Premier League. Eighteen months after arriving Nacho was afforded a run in the side as an emergency central defender. Monreal took the chance with both hands. Such was his improvement in form and confidence that once Laurent Koscielny was fit Nacho was retained at Gibbs’ expense. At the end of the season I got to meet Nacho and asked him about his relationship with Kieran.

“For me he’s a really good player, but he’s also a very good person. Obviously he’s my ‘opponent’. We’re fighting for the same thing…for me, I consider him a friend. If I can help him, I do it of course.”

Since then Nacho has enjoyed stellar form last season, and rightly remained the incumbent. One rumour in the summer suggested that Arsenal had rejected an offer by West Ham to take Kieran on loan for the season. That would have been understandable, and with the benefit of hindsight the player may consider that he dodged a bullet by not going.

Once again this season so far Kieran has had to accept his role as the man sent on to seal up the left flank in the second-half of tight affairs. He has looked to be recovering some form and confidence when he has done so, and with Nacho having a couple of difficult matches Arsene now has an interesting decision facing him. Nacho is 31 in February, Kieran is just 27 and should be reaching his prime. The Gunners are unlikely to part with him in January, but may not want to risk losing an international defender next summer.

The Lambeth-born Gibbs will surely start against Reading in the current incarnation of the League Cup. He has to produce an eye-catching performance which might lead to him getting further opportunities. Underused for nearly two years now, his body is better prepared for the regular grind of first-team football. His time may be coming.

All of which ensures that Nacho Monreal will have to fight even harder, and play even better, to keep his younger challenger at bay and maybe seeking a future elsewhere?

Thank you to regular drinker Pangloss for contributing a thought-provoking (and decidedly radical) piece as a response to a healthy discussion in the last drinks. The relationship between supporters of club and country has changed a great deal in the last thirty years. Pangloss presents an option that I am sure will provoke a healthy response. The cricket analogy is an interesting one, and many Yorkshire fans will point out the potential flaws given their experience of the last game of this county championship season. Nonetheless this is a discussion piece, and I am grateful to Pangloss for his contribution. Join the debate respectfully in the drinks, please.

I read North Bank Ned and TTG’s exchange about FIFA/UEFA competitions in a previous bar with interest, although I’m not sure I agree with their preferred solution. They suggested that the World Cup and European Championships be played more along the lines of the FA Cup, with stronger teams entering the competitions at later stages, although they had some misgivings as to whether the FA would like this idea as they may expect to sell fewer tickets to the friendly matches they anticipate would replace the current, well-attended, competitive games. (This is an honest attempt to summarise their discussion and I apologise if I have misremembered/misrepresented anything; if so I would like several previous offences to be taken into consideration.)

A few years ago when the club-before-country controversy before last was raging, I recall chatting to a Wolves supporter and a Welsh rugby fan. They felt that the FA should run the game in a way that would lead to the strongest possible national team. I responded that the current organisation tended to ensure that the best possible football was available to fans on a week-to-week basis. We didn’t discuss the matter any further, but I believe that this dichotomy lies at the heart of discussions such as Ned and TTG’s.

As Arsenal supporters, we have grown used to starting the season with a justifiable feeling that our team will challenge for honours – we have been disappointed too often over the past few years, but usually we can maintain this belief until Christmas at least. Even so, we’ve had the thrill of watching our team make a run into (or sustain their position in) the upper reaches of the table to ensure European qualification. Fans of only half-a-dozen or so clubs regularly have this experience. Those of the other 86 teams have to get their excitement elsewhere, and it’s likely that they will follow their national teams more closely than do many of us.

I don’t think Ned and TTG’s ideas are sufficiently radical and I wonder whether some “central contracts” scheme as in cricket might be workable. I propose something along these lines. National football teams select squads of 25 players around the end of July. They assume responsibility for the salaries of these players who will not be paid by their clubs while they are members of the national squad. I’m inclined to think that international salaries should be subject to a seperate negotiation between players’ agents and the national FAs. If that leads to lower salaries and players retiring from international football earlier, then so be it.

National teams are allowed to call up additional players to join their squads on January 1, releasing a corresponding number back to their clubs. Additional players are paid by the national FAs from Jan 1, and returning players are paid by their clubs from the same date. These call-ups and releases must be announced before December 1. The dates are chosen to allow clubs to recruit replacements during the existing transfer windows (add there probably needs to be some tweaking to this to cover players getting injured between Dec 1 and Jan 1, which should include an extension of the window so that clubs can recruit replacements for players called up late, and for any player traded as a replacement etc.)

International teams would play a full program of League matches and tournament qualifiers about once a fortnight between August and May, with the final stages of tournaments during the close season as at present. The nations would be responsible for negotiating TV deals for the World Cup and other tournaments, from which they would need to finance the players’ salaries and any other expenses.

I believe that this system would appeal to the national bodies as they’d have more matches, or money-making opportunities to use Ned and TTG’s terminology. It should appeal to the fans of the leading clubs as there would no longer need to be any Intralulls (the irritating gaps in proper football previously known as Interlulls). It should also appeal to fans of lesser clubs as they would have more international football to watch.

I claim that the above is a free-market system in which the demand for international football would be reflected in the sums that players could earn for turning out for their countries. The major disadvantage to my mind is that, with the increased day-to-day contact with the players that this would lead to, the position of England manager might actually appeal to Arsene Wenger, something I don’t consider particularly likely at present. Others might, of course, see this as a point in its favour.

Of course, such a major reorganisation of international football would have to be agreed by all the national bodies, which makes the whole thing more than a little unlikely to happen, but I think I, for one, could probably live with it if it happened.


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