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A week that started with us back in the Premiership top three and looking forward with great anticipation ends with yet another bout of navel gazing. Not immune from that I spent a chunk of last evening watching the new Invincibles documentary. In this of all weeks that was probably a mistake.

I make no apology for admitting to dewy eyes as I watched, and listened to, some of the real characters who went an entire League campaign and compiled that astonishing ‘Lost 0′ record. To hear them talk of the pain of missing out on the Champions League that season only serves to emphasise how far the current incarnation are from that holy grail.

I’m not sure we fully appreciated that eleven years ago we were watching a team that could call upon four of the finest players in the world in Vieira, Pires, Henry, and Bergkamp. Football clubs suffer from organisational multiple personality disorder, and it was impossible last night not to compare today’s squad with their forebears.

How many supreme talents do we field today? One could make a case for Alexis being in the top echelon of current footballers. Mesut Ozil is knocking on the door but appears to lack the mental toughness that Alexis exhibits. That mental toughness was in short supply generally on Wednesday as the side imploded so spectacularly against Monaco.

Those who fell in love with the invincibles are now having the depth of their amour tested. My generation fell in love with a ‘Mr Hyde’ version of Arsenal and have learned to live with the fluctuations in fortune that have followed, fully appreciating the years of feast.  Those in their twenties and thirties are discovering that ‘Dr Jekyll’ Arsenal is a fickle mistress.

It isn’t easy to deal with the fragility of today’s Arsenal when one sees the side that turned defeats into draws and draws into wins. Both teams have produced simply breathtaking football, although perhaps a little less this season than previously. Yet just six weeks after what had appeared to be a defining victory at Manchester City the soft underbelly that plagues the latest Arsene Wenger creation has been cruelly exposed.

On Sunday once again a response is required when Everton come to town. To be fair the Gunners have responded to defeats well this season. However, the nature of the capitulation on Wednesday raises questions about our ability to handle teams with defensive organisation and swift counter-attacking capability. Those questions require answers before we face Manchester United and Monaco in eight crucial days.

Everton should provide a good test. They are unlikely to be too adventurous, and will have been encouraged by Monaco’s gameplan. So what does Arsene do differently on Sunday?

“For us what is important is to respond well. We are on a strong run in the Premier League and we have to respond to that disappointment in a strong way on Sunday afternoon, that’s all we can do. We are back in the top three in the Premier League, we have an opportunity to stabilise this position and we want to take it. I have not made any decision yet for Sunday’s game. We will have to rotate a little bit, because we play Sunday and Wednesday. There will certainly be some changes.”

The injury situation is little changed. Jack Wilshere will be missing for ‘days not weeks’ after another procedure was carried out on his ankle. Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini are returning to training but are ‘not completely there’. Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Debuchy are still ‘a few weeks away’.

Basically it is Wednesday’s squad but with a bit of a shake up. The first decision Le Boss has to make is who to play in goal. I feel for David Ospina, criticised in some quarters for his performance on Wednesday, but left exposed by the malfunctioning defensive unit in front of him. Talking of which it would not be a surprise to see a Premier League debut for Gabriel, and a recall for Nacho Monreal, a surprising omission in the week.

Santi Cazorla is not being used in his best position as the box to box man and here is an opportunity to get either Tomas Rosicky or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain involved from the start. If anyone expected to see Olivier Giroud rested after his personal nightmare against Monaco then Arsene has given a strong indication that his main striker will retain his place.

“Olivier’s a strong character. Personally I don’t blame him at all. We lost as a team, we fight for each other as a team and he worked hard for the team even on the night. He didn’t miss the chances on purpose. He wanted to score the goals but that can happen.”

Everton come into the fixture guilty of inconsistency, although they have four away wins to their credit this season, including their last trip to Crystal Palace where they scored the only goal. The visitors are languishing in the bottom half of the table, which must be a frustration after they were among the clubs who pushed Arsenal hard for fourth place last season.

The ‘holic pound

I have to believe we will bounce back on Sunday. As stated above we generally do, so I am on 2-0 to the Gunners again in the hope I was just a match early with the same prediction in the week. Paddy Power offers 7/1 against that outcome.

So which Arsenal will we see on Sunday? Sadly the 2004 vintage isn’t an option, but even in this one season we have witnessed both Jekyll and Hyde versions. I love them both, we can’t change that can we, but obviously would prefer Jekyll to eventually triumph. We may be a little short of steel, but we do still have the ability to produce winning performances. Starting Sunday please.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

A Numbing Night

The last sixteen of the Champions League, generally regarded to have got a favourable draw, Arsenal contrived to fall to the counter-attacking game that Arsene Wenger himself had predicted beforehand.

Monaco offered no surprises. Indeed they were under-strength, missing as they were the likes of Toulalan, Bakayoko, and Raggi. Kurzawa and Ferreira Carrasco only started on the bench, resting niggles.

There were two changes for us, with Hector Bellerin and Kieran Gibbs taking the full-back positions. The former would have been a popular choice given that in his recent appearances he has looked more confident and assured than Calum Chambers.

However the selection of Gibbs over Nacho Monreal came as something of a surprise. Martial and Dirar provided the wide counter-attacking threat predicted and gave both Arsenal full-backs a torrid time.

Careless in possession and distribution the Gunners surrendered an opening goal, and the initiative, at a crucial time as the opening half drifted to a close. Predictably it was a rapid break and we were too easily undone.

Monaco, their tactical plan reinforced, started the second-half happy to invite us on, and on we most certainly went. On another evening Olivier Giroud would have gobbled up at least one of the handful of opportunities as the ball followed him around. Had he done so things would look very different today. He didn’t. We ploughed on, lambs to the slaughter as it turned out.

The nature of the second goal on the break, to Berbatov of all people, exemplified the Gunners naïveté. The goal came not just as a result of a lack of protection for the defence, but more an absence of any sort of defence as we pushed for an equaliser.

There was, Arsenal being Arsenal, a sting in the tail. Even after the Ox had given us the lifeline of halving the deficit in the last minute we still managed to leave ourselves wide open to be hit on the break a third time.

We don’t know if the manager sent his team out unprepared for the Monaco tactics he had predicted, or whether they collectively failed to do their jobs. Not one of the fourteen players would have walked off the pitch happy with their contribution.

We can hope that, despite the evidence of our own eyes last night, this team can go to Monaco and win by three clear goals (or 2-4 or higher by two). I hope for the sake of those paying a small fortune to follow the side out there that we have a damn good go at it, whilst simultaneously retaining some form of defensive shape and discipline. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

More immediately though we have to bounce back from this performance and grab three important points against Everton on Sunday. It’s a fair bet the out of sorts visitors will arrive with exactly the sort of game plan that unhinged us last night and will therefore be ideal preparation for the second leg.

It will be interesting to see what we do differently on Sunday.

“Monaco made 11 points at the group stage, scored four goals and conceded one, so that means they defend very well. That’s what they will certainly try to do tomorrow and they are also very good on the break, quick in transition, so that’s what we expect from them.”

Arsene giving an assessment of his former club which ties in very much with what Andrew Gibney said on the A Bergkamp Wonderland podcast I was privileged to contribute to last week.

That miserly defence is a concern but also the fact that they do like to counter with pace down both flanks. Crystal Palace were allowed far too many crosses on Saturday and one would hope that we have prepared to stop the supply at source more effectively on Wednesday night.

Perhaps surprisingly the two clubs have never met competitively before, although in August the visitors beat Arsenal in the Emirates Cup with a goal from the prolific (cough) Radamel Falcao before his loan move to Old Trafford.

Monaco have injury worries over left-back Layvin Kurzawa and winger Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco. The latter would be a big miss given their likely tactics. Midfielders Jeremy Toulalan and Tiemou Bakayoko, and defenders Ricardo Carvalho (yes, that Ricardo Carvalho!) and Andrea Raggi are out.

The Gunners will be missing Jack Wilshere but should welcome back Hector Bellerin, Tomas Rosicky, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Of the three probably only Bellerin has a chance of starting, otherwise we could be unchanged from the weekend.

The ‘holic pound is persuaded that we could have enough guile and speed of thought in midfield to get a reasonable enough win to defend in the second leg. Unfortunately the bookies agree so the odds are on the short side. I am having a piece of 2-0 to the Arsenal, a skinny 11/2 with Paddy Power, but understandably so.

A word to the wise. I will be at the match so traveling home late tomorrow, and I have a full day on Thursday so the review (rather than a conventional report) will appear at some time on Thursday evening.

Legends Attend The Invincibles Premiere

The ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003/04 is celebrated in a new Arsenal Media documentary released this week.

The film, which took almost two years to complete, includes contributions from Arsène Wenger, Thierry Henry, Jens Lehmann, Sol Campbell, Martin Keown and Ray Parlour.

It premiered at the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead on Monday evening, with members of the Invincibles squad in attendance along with a host of famous fans.

‘Invincibles’ will be aired for the first time on Sky Sports 1 & 5 after Wednesday’s Champions League match with Monaco, with an extended version of the film available on iTunes and DVD from March 30.

The documentary will also be aired in the United States on NBC, with the premiere at 12pm (Eastern Time) on Sunday, March 1 following the Arsenal v Everton match.

It will then be screened again the following day at 9pm, as well as on March 14 on 6am  and at 4pm on March 22 (all Eastern Time).

Many thanks to Arsenal FC for the video and image shown here.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

 

Arsenal sit in third place in the Premier League after an atmospheric afternoon at Selhurst Park. From early on it was clear that we were paying Palace much respect, relying once again on the pragmatic that brought us joy at Eastlands rather than the flourish with which Boro were dismissed last week.

A difficult afternoon for Mark Clattenburg took shape in the fourth minute when Francis Coquelin’s raised boot caught Campbell in the stomach. He can feel himself very fortunate to have escaped with a warning. Invited on, Palace seemed to want to get Zaha running at Nacho Monreal, and the Spanish left-back struggled early on. Thankfully the winger who returned from Manchester United was less than accurate with his delivery.

Arsenal were looking menacing on the break and had the lead on eight minutes when the Palace debutant Souare upended Danny Welbeck around the eighteen yard line. The linesman indicated a penalty and Santi Cazorla found the net comfortably. Cue “One nil to the Arsenal” from the magnificent traveling support, also enjoying a contest of their own with their home counterparts.

Palace responded by working the flanks and a stream of crosses were dealt with comfortably by a resolute Gunners defence, although the fact that more were not prevented by the full-backs is something to be addressed at Shenley before Wednesday. Monaco too are likely to attack from wide. The half-time stats told a story. Not a single Palace effort on target.

That haunted them more as Olivier Giroud grabbed a second for the visitors in time added on at the end of the half. Alexis set Welbeck through and his effort was parried by Speroni only as far as the in-form Frenchman who finished. Palace claimed Welbeck was offside, and it was certainly a close call.

If we had hoped that goal would have knocked the stuffing out of Palace after the break we discovered quickly that it hadn’t. Zaha was denied by Monreal for the first of a string of corners which we defended comfortably. Still Arsenal looked to carry more threat on the break. Mesut Ozil saw his header from an Alexis cross graze the bar and the same player put Alexis through for a one on one with Speroni, but the Chilean stroked the ball inches wide of the far post.

Giroud and Zaha traded chances as Palace continued to send a stream of crosses in without creating any opportunities of note, but the match was far from over. In the fourth added minute the hosts suddenly got the bounce of the ball, and Murray converted a scramble in the six yard box. An incredible comeback was denied them when the scorer saw his last gasp header bounce back off the post and into the grateful arms of the prone Ospina.

The final whistle brought to an end a very strange but fascinating contest. The man of the match vote would be a tough one to call, and I would have no problem with anybody disagreeing with my choice, Danny Welbeck. That call owes as much to the shift he was prepared to put in defensively as well as in attack. He is keeping Theo Walcott out of the side at present and today provided the reason why.

Not emphatic by any means, but the three points were what mattered, and once again we secured them despite not being at our best. That’s a good sign, isn’t it?

Storming The Palace?

I was chatting to a mate last week about my first visit to Selhurst Park in November 1969. It was the first League meeting of the two clubs. We stood at the back of the Whitehorse Lane end, sold in 1981 to make way for a Sainsbury’s supermarket. The pre-match read of the programme was depressing, labelling Arsenal as ‘Punchless’ after a run of twelve matches without a win. In their last ten outings the misfiring Gunners had scored just twice.

A couple of hours later we were making our way home in the warm afterglow of success, a 5-1 pasting  having been dished out, and a search of YouTube found the highlights here. It was great to see Geordie Armstrong, and the recently featured Jon Sammels in that video. Arsenal would go on to land their first trophy in seventeen years at the end of that season, memorably defeating Anderlecht in the European Fairs Cup.

The two clubs have now met 29 times in the top flight, and Palace have won just twice. Their only triumph in front of their own supporters came in 1979 when the only goal of the game was good enough to beat a Gunners team missing Pat Rice and Alan Sunderland. Their other triumph was by 2-1 at Highbury in 1994 when Ian Wright grabbed the goal for the Gunners.

If the Palace of the first half of the season were our opponents tomorrow there would be little reason to anticipate them securing a third triumph, but a managerial change in January has seen something of a revival of fortunes for the South Londoners. The replacement of Neil Warnock and Keith Millen with former Eagle Alan Pardew has seen something of a mini-revival. His first game in charge saw Tottenham defeated 2-1, and they have also won at Burnley (3-2) and Leicester (1-0). Their last two home matches brought a lone goal defeat to Everton, and a 1-1 draw with Pardew’s former club, Newcastle United.

As for the team news, long term absentees Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, and Abou Diaby remain out. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was back in full training today (Friday) and is probably a little short (in Wengerspeak). Hector Bellerin and Mathieu Flamini required late tests but with Calum Chambers and Francis Coquelin fit there is no need to gamble on their fitness.

On the plus side Jack Wilshere is available again and will probably start on the bench. As well as Coquelin it would not be a surprise to see recalls for Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal after last week’s outstanding performance against Boro. More interesting will be whether or not the attacking pack is shuffled to make space for Theo Walcott.

The hosts could welcome back skipper Jedinak after an ankle injury. McArthur may also return but our own Yaya Sanogo is ineligible to face us.

Listeners to last night’s AFC Podcast will know I had to reveal the ‘holic pound a day early. I am waiting though for Paddy Power to improve on 14/1 against a 1-3 win for the visitors before hitting the bet now button. That confident prediction is based on the midfield turning up with the same ambition and conviction displayed last week, rather than the one that sometimes struggles to break down well organised defences.

For those going I hope we do secure the points for you with yet another blistering performance. That sentiment is obviously extended to those of you who will be joining me on a stream hunt at three. I’m looking forward to getting a flavour of the atmosphere as the vociferous home support goes head to head against the magnificent traveling Gooners.

This weekend, as ever, have a good one ‘holics.

As a young boy I wrote to one of my favourite players of the time asking for some tips and didn’t in all honesty expect a reply. I certainly didn’t expect four pages of Basildon Bond to come through the letter box shortly afterwards. Handwritten tips and advice from a stylish midfielder with an explosive shot. Not surprisingly he remains a favourite to this day.

In recent months Twitter has been alive with news of an upcoming novel which is woven around the story of Jon Sammels, and not surprisingly it is a read I have been looking forward to immensely. The author made it clear from the off that this would be a work of fiction, but grounded in fact, and he has succeeded in handling a difficult concept with no small amount of skill.

The main character is one Mr Arsenal, a high-flying sports media mogul with a fast and loose lifestyle. He is a flawed character. In the opening couple of pages we are aware of his wife and a string of girlfriends and yet, although most will be looking for the Arsenal-related material to kick in, the developing story of what befalls the central fictional character in 2013/14 holds the attention.

Mr Arsenal and his partner land a deal to produce a documentary ahead of the 2014 World Cup. They are looking for an angle and when viewing footage from the 1970 World Cup find a spat between Malcolm Allison and Alan Mullery referring to a player called only ‘Sammy’, a player who was ‘left behind’ when England traveled to Mexico.

So we are set on a course that encompasses three threads, The ongoing domestic travails of the fictional lead, Arsenal in their first trophy winning campaign in nine years, and the pursuit of the story that surrounded the playing career of ‘Sammy’.

Over thirty-two chapters, totalling 485 pages, this is a light, but not a quick read. However it was most definitely a worthwhile study for this old boy with some vivid recollections of the late sixties and seventies. Matches, goals, players from the era evoked misty memories, and shone a light on some of the goings on of the time.

Relive the goals of Jon Sammels, videos of which have by and large vanished without trace. Get a very well recounted and sympathetic view of a player who could, nay should, have been trusted to achieve more. Relive the great European nights and the Swindon frustration all over again. It’s all there.

There being more than one storyline we actually get a mixture of happy and somewhat sad endings. That is quite something to achieve. If I’m honest I think the novel and the autobiographical elements would have worked in their own right, and possibly have had an appeal to different audiences, but this tome will hopefully attract both. If you want to purchase it from Amazon you will find the link in the sidebar.

A well-crafted book, but more importantly to this still-a-fan, a welcome look back at a player who gave so much pleasure to many, and yet ultimately frustrated a vociferous few.

Giroud Two Good For Boro

 

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A change of routine meant a few Guinni in the Pins before heading for the Tollie, and a mood of confidence was built ahead of a potentially tricky tie. As the teams prepared to kick-off we took our place very close to the traveling hordes. This was an atmospheric day!

From the off Arsenal were clearly of a mind to get the job done with style. Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla took control and mesmerised the visitors with speed of thought and sleight of foot. Mejias was kept busy in the Boro goal, denying Cazorla and Giroud as the Gunners probed for an opening.

Surely the first goal wouldn’t be long in arriving? When it did there was an element of London buses involved as two turned up together. First Cazorla released Kieran Gibbs to cross for Olivier Giroud to slide home the opener, then Alexis found the Frenchman at the near post for a sweet volleyed flick to double the advantage. Nine thousand Boro fans were silenced.

The second-half followed a similar pattern without the finishing touches. This was a dominant performance as we have seen from an Arsenal side in some time. Ozil, Gibbs, Alexis, Cazorla and substitute Theo Walcott all went close to increasing the margin of victory. On their rare forays into Arsenal territory Boro encountered a solid Gunners defence.

A word for debutant Gabriel. If he has problems communicating with those around him it didn’t show yesterday. His performance was assured, strong in the air and positionally sound he appears to be a very shrewd signing, although doubtless he will face sterner tests.

This was a return to the sort of midfield masterclass we specialised in through the calendar year of 2013, and if this level of intensity can be maintained then the season may yet hold more silverware in store. The squad is gaining some strength in depth again as the walking wounded return. How many could agree on what our strongest eleven is right now, so many candidates are there in most positions?

The draw for the quarter-finals takes place later and could be anything. I’ll take anyone at home, or a short journey down the M4 to Reading.

Have a great week, ‘holics.

“At least we will not have the excuse to be surprised because they beat Manchester City in a convincing way. That is a good warning for us. In the Championship, any team that plays at the top is a danger for any Premier League team. They are well organised, play good football with good pace, and they are very creative.”

Well, I guess that means we are not underestimating the challenge that Middlesbrough will offer on Sunday. Arsene’s assessment is a welcome sign of just how seriously we are taking the defence of our trophy.

The Gunners treatment room is again full to bursting. Aaron Ramsey has reclaimed his spot with a hamstring strain, and Alexis Sanchez isn’t expected to vacate the treatment table after Upson’s assault on him on Tuesday night. Long term absentees Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, and Abou Diaby are all still out.

Jack Wilshere has returned to training, so don’t be surprised to see him on the bench. Wojciech Szczesny returns between the sticks as the cup goalkeeper and an impressive performance would not do his chances of reclaiming the number one slot any harm.

Arsene hinted that January signing Gabriel could make his debut in a back four that may also include Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, and Nacho Monreal.

Francis Coquelin should continue to anchor the midfield with Tomas Rosicky slotting into the box to box role vacated by Ramsey, and Santi Cazorla as the creator in chief.

Perm any two from Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, and Mesut Ozil to start in wide positions. All have been given free reign to come inside in support of Olivier Giroud and that could be the key to unlocking Boro’s impressive defence.

The Teesiders took Liverpool to a penalty shoot-out in the COCup this season as well as beating City at the Etihad in this competition. Their manager, Aitor Karanka, is quietly confident of an upset.

“It’s going to be a massive game, everyone at the club expects we can beat them, but if we go there and think it is going to be easy, or another game we can beat them without playing our best, we can make a mistake.”

The ‘holic Pound

I’m backing the holders to be well-prepared for the counter-attacking style that got the visitors through the challenge of Manchester City. Looking at the odds I am drawn to a favourite (though rarely successful) prediction of mine this season, 2-1 to the hosts is 15/2 with Paddy Power. I’m on it.

The Week Ahead

With no midweek fixture I’m delighted to see the issue of a new book, I Am Sam, by James Durose-Rayner. There will be a review published next week as soon as I can get through 485 pages of what promises to be a cracking read.

That’s it for now. I look forward to seeing some of you on Sunday. As ever, have a good one ‘holics.

This was supposed to be the bounce back night from the weekend, and at the end of the day one has to say the end justifies the means. However this was yet another game of two halves, without doubt.

Arsene made some significant changes to the starting line-up in attacking areas. Sensibly, I originally thought, he stuck with what is currently our strongest fit back four ahead of David Ospina, understandably our custodian of the moment. Hindsight can do one. Let’s not be revisionist about this.

Tomas Rosicky got the box to box gig ahead of Aaron Ramsey, again a popular call at the moment. Olivier Giroud was benched and there was a tiki-taka look to the front four. Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez conjured up some magical first-half moments.

It wasn’t all one way however, and the lively Mahrez went close a couple of times early on. Gradually though the imperious Ozil got to work. He freed Walcott for one of those “Oh Theo” moments, and not for the last time.

The lead was secured when Mesut was denied a cheeky effort by Schwarzer. From the resulting corner Laurent Koscielny got a step ahead of Morgan and converted at the near post. Surely this would calm the nerves?

If I am honest although we were clearly the dominant side in the first-half there were always moments where Leicester broke with purpose. The second goal, when it arrived, was more than welcome. Ozil’s fierce strike was parried into the path of Theo who finished emphatically. Half-time must have been a relaxed experience for those around where I would normally have been, and indeed around the stadium.

The second-half, however, was a difficult watch on a dodgy stream. What on earth must it have been like in the stadium? It started brightly enough, and it is hard to understand why we did not have a penalty for a Simpson handball, given what the referee would adjudge a yellow card offence outside the area by Tomas Rosicky later on.

Leicester, dangerous on the break early on, came more and more into the contest. What would prove to be just a consolation goal came when Cambiasso, clearly obstructing the ball, set up the play from which the impressive Kramaric drilled one home. The visitors deserved at least that.

Half an hour remained, and chances were traded. Thankfully the points had already been decided, little did we know, but there was a sting in the tail, and so typically Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey, rested at the start, came on for Theo in the 73rd minute, but ten minutes later made a sad farewell to the proceedings with yet another injury. He was on his way back to full fitness, and this will be a nervous time for him, and us, as the medics determine the extent of the latest knock.

And so we held on to secure the points, and for at least twenty-four hours a place in the top four. There remains a frustration that the points should have been so laboured tonight. It was fabulous to see Alexis, Santi, Mesut, and Alexis in tandem, particularly in the first half, but look back at the performance overall, and you realise how difficult it is for Arsene to select the right eleven for any given contest.

We will get it right!

And Leicester

After a string of free midweeks the visit of Leicester on Tuesday could not be better timed. Very quickly the mood that has followed Saturday’s tame defeat can be improved as the pointed end of the season looms into view. Arsene Wenger is under no illusion about the size of the task facing Arsenal in the coming weeks.

“We have a very important period in front of us, with the Champions League, the Premier League and the FA Cup. It is important that the team responds very well and very quickly. We are going into a period where we play many games and where all our squad will be highly important.”

The good news for the Gunners is the return to the squad of Alexis Sanchez. It would not be a surprise to see him return on the right hand side of the advanced midfield trio. Perm any two from Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck for the others. Behind them it must be tempting for the boss to play Tomas Rosicky as the link between Francis Coquelin and the attack, so giving Aaron Ramsey a breather.

I would be surprised to see any changes in the back four for this match, particularly with Middlesbrough up next. I have seen some discussion of David Ospina since Saturday. It is likely he will start on the basis that he was not at fault for either of the goals at White Hart Lane.

Leicester’s preferred approach is to defend deep and look to break down either flank. That could favour the selection of Alexis and Welbeck out wide with their appetite for tracking back and helping their full-backs. Both would also give Leicester’s wide men a fair test when we have the ball too. Olivier Giroud could face a battle too with Robert Huth set to debut for the Foxes.

The visitors have had a torrid time of things since holding us and beating Manchester United in the salad days at the start of the season. They are rock bottom and the mixed reports around the club regarding the position of manager Nigel Pearson cannot be helping their preparation. If there is a warning sign to be heeded, however, it comes in the shape of their 1-2 win at White Hart Lane in the FA Cup 4th round.

I’ve seen all manner of wild predictions for a high-scoring home win and frankly they make me nervous. Leicester will have numbers in defence and we have had many frustrating games against difficult-to-break-down teams before. Having said that I think we might do well in the latter stages, particularly as we are likely to have a mixture of guile and pace to bring on from the bench as defenders tire. I’m having some of the modest 6/1 available from Paddy Power against a 2-0 win for the Gunners.

Those that are going, wrap up warm. It promises to be fresh, but dry too, thankfully. A chest bug will keep me firmly in the warm hunting for a stream. Hopefully the match is being shown somewhere in the world.

Have a good one ‘holics.

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