Feed on
Posts
Comments

Buy All The Left Wingers!

Wouldn’t you know it? Last night I settled down, this page open, and ready to chart the performances of Yannick Carrasco and Ryan Fraser in the Belgium versus Scotland Euro 20 qualifier in Brussels. The team sheets went up, and both were on their respective benches. Just my luck!

Fraser did get on for the last hour and actually looked the pick of a Scotland side that not surprisingly were second best on the night to a team that finished in third place in last summer’s World Cup.

Until recently these were being touted as the most likely attacking additions to the squad, and I seriously doubt with limited funds that we would buy both. Reports, largely originating in European press sources, have suggested that we are close to pipping Bayern Munich to Carrasco’s signing and that the haggling over his price from his Chinese club, Dalian Yifang, is now the final brick in the wall. I’m dubious about us not agreeing a fee of £25m for a young Belgian international.

I’ve been further persuaded to the benefits attached to signing Fraser from Bournemouth. First and foremost he is a ‘homegrown’ player, and remember we had to play the latter stages of the Europa League with a reduced squad because we didn’t have sufficient numbers of those, and we have already lost Rambo and Danny Welbeck this summer.

John Welsh, with whom I often enjoy a shared platform on A Bergkamp Wonderland, made the point that he would lean towards Fraser simply because Carrasco’s decision to go to China suggests that his main motivation is money, and not the club. That is a valid point, and he does not have the Premier League knowledge and experience that Fraser would bring. Fraser shouldn’t need a year to settle in, and the language barrier would be slightly less of an issue with the Scot!

My mind made up, I ventured into Twitter again today, only to read of our apparent interest in Ismaila Sarr. Where does he principally play, I hear those of you who have forgotten his performances for Rennes against us in the Europa League ask? He actually caused us real issues all across the front line, but is more often than not found on the left wing even though he is right footed. He has pace to burn, and looks decent value at a rumoured £30m.

But wait, what more is being written about him? The excellent Layth Yousif, writing for Football.London, wrote of “Rennes hoping for a bidding war for Sarr, with Monaco and Premier League pair Leicester City and Watford interested, along with Serie A giants Inter Milan and Roma”.

There is a powerful whiff of an agent and a club looking to maximise the fee, and then wages, for their ‘asset’. I’m not sure we will be playing those games with our rumoured budget. Again he may take time to settle in the Premier League.

I can’t wait to open up Twitter tomorrow and read the latest rumours. Especially if we are linked with…. who plays left wing for Dortmund these days?

The official announcement of the players released this summer contained no real surprises. Petr Cech had already announced his retirement from playing before the season is out. It seems likely that he wasn’t prepared to continue as a cup tie goalkeeper. A return to Chelsea as director of football is rumoured.

He signed a four year deal in 2015 for a reported £10m and in his first season he won the FA Community Shield and the Golden Glove. Injury denied him a place in the FA Cup winning team against his old club Chelsea, but in the following season’s opener he was back for our penalty shoot-out win against Chelsea and a second Community Shield win with The Gunners.

Petr remained our number one until he was injured against Watford at the end of September, but in his role as cup tie goalkeeper he was instrumental in us reaching the Europa League Final. We wish him well in the future.

Stephan Lichtsteiner was an interesting signing last summer on a free transfer from Juventus. If he was perhaps no longer at his best his arrival had one massive positive for the club. Genuinely feeling his place was under threat Hector Bellerin returned to the player we had seen prior to his injuries in 2016/17 and prior to picking up another bad injury this season. That meant that Stephan made 23 appearances for the team this season.

Aaron Ramsey will be a big miss for the club after devoting a decade to the service of The Arsenal. Regardless of the reason for his departure on a free transfer to Juventus his performances in his farewell season were worthy of the highest praise. Professional to the end, we will remember his goal at Wembley against the neighbours and his subsequent celebration. His comeback from a broken leg at Stoke should inspire many who suffer serious injuries in the future.

Danny Welbeck too has been allowed to run his contract down although a serious injury restricted our options to make any money for him in January. I’m told the club did make him a new contract offer very much on a pay as you play basis, but Danny has better offers on the table. Fair enough. The goals he popped up with against his former club, Manchester United, and in the 2015/16 season against Leicester, will stay with us.

Thank you all for the memories you gave us.

Three young Guns were also released.  Julio Pleguezuelo has signed for FC Twente in the Netherlands. Charlie Gilmour and Cohen Bramall are now free agents, and hopefully the club are still active in seeking clubs for the youngsters they let go.

It is safe to assume there will be further departures as Unai Emery seeks to take advantage of his third transfer window with the club. After just one season at the club it already feels as though this will be a critical season for his Arsenal future. As supporters we have to hope that he returns success to the club next season.

Jose Antonio Reyes

It’s the first non-football Sunday evening of the close season. It’s always a bit of a downer and it rounds off an emotional weekend for us all. This isn’t about me, me, me. It’s about us, us, us. So with a keyboard and a very large glass of Laphroaig Select in front of me let me vent our anguish and hope that it helps.

The breaking news yesterday morning of the death of Jose Antonio Reyes in a tragic automotive accident obviously impacted many in ways we had not expected. At various stages of the day I know it hit many of us. I should have known better than to open the video of him and his little daughters when he returned from China in the local pub just before teatime.

Those extending their sympathies to his friends and family read like an invincibles who’s who, and demonstrated the affection that his peers felt for him. For example, Thierry Henry.

“I’m devastated to hear the sad news about José Antonio Reyes. Wonderful player, superb team mate and exceptional human being.”

Probably the fullest appreciation came from one who Jose Antonio took under his wing arriving as a sixteen year old from Barcelona.

“A humble guy who always had a smile on his face, great footballer and great person. I could not wake up today in a worse way. I will never forget when you and your family welcomed me at your home in my first Christmas in England when I was alone and was 16 years old. I will never forget our tennis football matches in the gym before and after workouts. Our connection in the field was also special, since it was always easy to find yourself between the lines so you could make the difference. 

I always say that you have been one of the greatest talents in football and I know that I am not wrong. 2 days ago I was talking about you in an interview, it might be a sign, who knows, to remember you, my great friend. I will never forget you, we will never forget you. Always in our hearts. Rest in peace Jose Antonio Reyes. Love you very much. Cesc”

There were also acknowledgements posted by Lauren, Sol Campbell, Ray Parlour, Robert Pires, Kanu, Rami Shaaban, Freddie Ljungberg, Gary and Colin Lewin, Stuart Macfarlane, and, of course, one Arsene Wenger on Bein Sports. I’m sorry if I missed any others.

As with most of you Jose Antonio introduced himself to us at Highbury with a brace against Chelsea in the FA Cup, and oh, that first, a screamer into the top left corner. In the North Bank, well everywhere in the ground, we went nuts. “We’ve got ourselves a player!”. He would go on to net 5 goals in 21 appearances as the invincibles wrote their name in history.

The true recognition of his value to that team came at Old Trafford in the infamous match 50 in our unbeaten run. I’m not sure that rotational fouling was a recognised term then, but it is certainly what United perpetrated upon the player seen as the biggest danger to them. Rooney, Scholes, and the cowardly Neville brothers committed ‘challenges’ on him that day that Mike Riley either turned a blind eye to, or eventually produced a token yellow card. They effectively kicked him out of English football.

It wasn’t immediate. Jose Antonio scored 12 goals in 45 appearances in that second season and satisfyingly ended up an FA Cup winner at Cardiff against, fittingly, Manchester United. The following season he was an integral part of our run to the Champions League Final and made another 44 appearances for the club. He was at the forefront of Arsene Wenger’s thinking at a time when we had Ljungberg and Pires. There is no higher compliment.

Home sickness is a thing, and Jose Antonio felt it increasingly during his time in London. Reluctant to sell a prized asset, we agreed a loan deal for him. This was no ordinary loan. The talented winger/forward found himself at Real Madrid for a year as we hoped he would agree to come back. It wouldn’t happen. A year on he was an Atletico player where he won the Europa League twice.

In his later career he returned to Sevilla where, under Unai Emery, he won three more Europa League winners medals. As a full Spanish international he scored 4 goals in 21 appearances, but his life and career was never about statistics. It was about a talent who brought pleasure to all fortunate enough to see him play. It was about the player who had to be ‘reduced’ to try and stop The Arsenal from dominating matches.

Here’s hoping that his young family are able to relatively quickly grasp the esteem in which he was held by fellow footballers and supporters of his various clubs alike. I haven’t a clue how to finish this other than to say that we would sign the 2004 Reyes tomorrow. We need someone with his gifts.

RIP Jose Antonio.

Although the team picked itself really I could at least say I had nailed it again. I’m sure Unai reads the previews. Also as predicted Kante started for Chelsea. The mood ahead of the London derby in a ridiculous location was said to be good with Chelsea and Arsenal supporters mixing peacefully. Let’s hope it remains that way in the coming hours.

How would we cope with the Chelsea front three of Pedro, Hazard, and Olivier Giroud? Could Chelsea deal with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette? Luiz freed Pedro in the opening minute but Petr Cech came and played as sweeper keeper to snuff out the danger.

Our first chance arrived in the ninth minute when Kepa could only punch a cross from Ainsley Maitland-Niles to Aubameyang but the first shot of the contest drifted wide of the far post. Not surprisingly the opening phase was cagey and this was a welcome attack of note. Lacazette looked to free Aubameyang five minutes later, but just failed to do so.

Two minutes later Granit Xhaka picked out Sead Kolasinac on the left flank but Azpilicueta recovered to block the cross. VAR denied us a penalty when Kepa appeared to catch Lacazette as he was put through one on one. How costly would that non decision prove? We were taking control of the contest and Jorginho had to concede a corner to prevent another Maitland-Niles cross from reaching it’s intended destination.

We needed to turn the scoreboard over in this spell of pressure. Lacazette went chasing a Torreira through ball and Azpilicueta all but tore his shirt off to deny the Gunners striker in the box, although to be fair it probably started outside the area. Still no award was forthcoming. Pedro fouled Monreal and Sokratis reached the resulting free-kick at full stretch but his header looped into the grateful arms of Kepa.

Chelsea finally threatened on 25 minutes and mercifully Giroud miscontrolled a cross from Pedro as we were stretched on a rare break. Aubameyang responded with a cross that Lacazette could only deflect over the raiding Kolasinac. Then Granit Xhaka clipped the crossbar with a thunderous right footer from the edge of the area. We truly deserved something at this point but not scoring was looking ominous.

A corner and an Azpilicueta run around the half hour mark highlighted the ability of Chelsea to spring forward but defensively we pleasingly stood firm. We responded with a header wide by Sokratis Papastathopoulos from a corner. We held firm again when Cech got down quickly to his left to deny Emerson and Maitland-Niles dispossessed the dangerous Hazard in the box.

Back we came and Kepa looked far from confident punching a Kolasinac cross back into the danger area. It was becoming an end to end contest as half-time approached and Maitland-Niles again denied Hazard in the box. It was worrying that Chelsea had created that one on one situation. Six minutes from the break Cech denied Giroud with a magnificent save at full stretch to his left. We reached the half-time whistle both frustrated and relieved.

Mesut Ozil had appeared largely anonymous in the first-half, but look again. He was doing the man-marking job on Jorginho that Aaron Ramsey had done so well in the home Premier League fixture. He was unable to contribute as much creatively as a result and Unai Emery must have been thinking of switching to a flat back four at some point in order to get Alex Iwobi into the midfield as well.

That wasn’t a consideration at the start of the second-half which began with Aubameyang raiding down the right wing only to see Luiz half-block his attempted cross to Lacazette into the path of Kepa. At the other end Hazard teed up Giroud but mercifully the former Gunner miscued it and we survived. It was but a temporary reprieve. Giroud, who else, dived in front of Koscielny to send a diving header just inside the goalpost and we had paid the penalty for not scoring when dominant in the first-half.

That switch from Emery now appeared more desirable than ever to this old fool. We attempted to respond but Chelsea now had massed ranks of blue at the back. Pedro picked up the first yellow card of the night, seemingly for dissent, or was it for diving? That was a bit fussy of the Italian referee perhaps.

Torreira was denied by a Kante block as we sought a crucial equaliser. Chelsea broke again and as the hour approached they virtually sealed the deal when Hazard picked out the unmarked Pedro who passed the ball inside the far post. The back three was being exposed. When would Emery make the long overdue change?

Disaster followed. Maitland-Niles flattened Giroud in the box and Hazard’s penalty sealed the deal. It was his farewell gift to the bus stop in Fulham, but gifted to him by the inaction of Emery. This was not the end of season we had prayed for. Too late he sent on Iwobi, and astonishingly Matteo Guendouzi, for Monreal and Torreira. Where was Danny Welbeck?

Iwobi’s impact was immediate. Christensen was booked for fouling him, the resulting free-kick was diverted into his path, and an immaculate volley reduced the deficit, but too late. Giroud chipped a peach to Hazard at the far post and it was 4-1.

BBC summed up the next phase perfectly. “A shot at each end as this game just falls apart in terms of discipline and shape. Eden Hazard has a curler pushed away by Petr Cech and then Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fires over.” Cech then produced another magnificent save to deny Willian. He was unquestionably our man of the match. A telling verdict on a night of shame. Sokratis too had to summon his last ounce of energy to deny the same player.

Azpilicueta smashed one just past the far post as The Arsenal simply waved a white flag. It’s hard being objective at this point. Apologies, but this is embarrassing. As I typed that Christensen blocked Lacazette’s effort as 4-2 looked likely. Joe Willock, introduced for Ozil, should have scored the second but shanked a curler wide of the mark. No criticism of the lad intended. It was probably a good idea to give him a taste of the big game. With no Champions League football next season we will need to promote the pick of the youngsters next season. He is one.

The best team over the ninety minutes unquestionably won tonight. We paid the ultimate penalty for not taking advantage of our first-half dominance. Cruelly three minutes were added at the end when it would have been kinder to put us out of our misery. Well played Chelsea. I hope I never have to write those words again. Let’s all spare a thought for those hardy souls who actually reached Baku, a crap venue for a crap Final performance. Sorry.

The end of season surrender of a Champions League place reflects badly on the head coach. In truth given the position we were in having played all of the big six with a couple of months of the season to go it was criminal. He got a second chance tonight, and failed again with his inaction until the game was lost. He has to be given a second season. We’re not a Chelsea, but he has to demonstrate quickly next season that he has learned the lessons of his first end-of-season.

It’s a first on Goonerholic, a European Final preview. I’ll try and keep it relatively brief as I am also incorporating the ABW live preview from this evening and they offer pretty comprehensive coverage.

The team news is that Dany Welbeck is fit to return and will be on the bench at least. Sadly Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, and Aaron Ramsey, all of whom would surely have started, are still ruled out by injury. Of course we will also be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan for reasons entirely unrelated to football. How I wish both clubs would have got together and discussed boycotting the venue. They didn’t. We move on.

The main topic of discussion about our starting line-up is who should be in goal. A reminder for those who have forgotten, Petr Cech was our first choice goalkeeper at the start of this season and only lost the gloves because of an injury. Bernd Leno has come in and not played badly so has retained the job in the Premier League. Cech remains our cup tie ‘keeper and I would start him in this Final regardless of Chelsea leaking ‘news’, yet to be confirmed, that he is returning to them in some capacity. He will want to bow out as a player with one last European winners medal, you can be sure.

There are other reasons for him starting. In his 21 appearances this season he has conceded 1.05 goals per game. Leno’s number is worse at 1.25. He has conceded on average a goal every 84 minutes to Leno’s 71. Both have kept 8 clean sheets this season despite the fact that Leno has played 15 extra games. Errors leading to goals have been zero for Cech, 5 for Leno. Still think we should go with our best goalkeeper? Me too.

Beyond him it would be a surprise to see any change to the 3-4-1-2 formation that got us through the latter stages of the competition. That means Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal at the back. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac flanking Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira in midfield, and probably Mesut Ozil sitting in behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.

The only likely deviation to that could be Alex Iwobi for Ozil, a switch that Arsene Wenger favoured against these opponents in his last couple of seasons when the Nigerian was give a special man to man marking job. It’s not clear that Emery shares that view right now.

Chelsea have problems too, with Rudiger, Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi definitely out, and Kante reportedly out, then being fitness tested, then out again, then due a fitness test again, all of which suggests he’ll start! Sadly attempts to alert the Azerbaijani’s to Hazard’s Armenian heritage by Arsenal supporters have failed, and he will pose the biggest threat after Olivier Giroud, who has signed a new contract to remain at the bus stop in Fulham.

The ‘holic pound

I’m too nervous to think about this in all honesty. It is very possible that this game could go to extra-time which would scupper most bets, but please Lord not penalties too. That would be unbearable. If Aaron Ramsey were starting I would bet my pension on us, but he isn’t. The bookies are usually a good guide. Chelsea are favourites to win in 90 minutes at a best of 7/5 compared to our 11/5. The draw at 12/5 appeals. Interestingly the favourite correct score prediction is 1-1 at 6/1.

I’m thinking I have to back us, but maybe not heavily! 2-1 to the Arsenal looks the value bet at 21/2 so that gets my 50 pence. Good luck me.

The ABW Live Preview Show

That’s all folks, as a certain cartoon pig signed off back in the day. Have a good one. Come back tomorrow night for a report on a remarkable victory, or understand I may not write anything ever again if that doesn’t happen.

Have a great one, ‘holics, especially those of you who made it to Baku by plains, trains, and automobiles.

This afternoon provided a blessed relief to the tedium that is waiting for the Europa League Final to be over. Normally I wouldn’t take any interest in a match between Charlton Athletic and Sunderland, but the appearance of on-loan Krystian Bielik in the League One play-off final at Wembley made it required viewing.

Like Calum Chambers at Fulham the Polish U21 international has performed two roles at The Valley this season and indeed fulfilled them both this afternoon. In the first-half he was on the right side of a back three and an early slip from which he recovered in the opening minutes aside his performance was assured. Strong in the air, he did a job in both boxes.

In the second-half Charlton reverted to their preferred system of a flat back four and a diamond in midfield which Krystian was at the base of. If one were being ultra-critical it might be said that he lacks a change of pace, but it is the tail-end of a long, tough season. Such was his control of the areas in front of that defence that at the final whistle he was voted the Sky Sports man of the match, and rightly so.

Charlton’s dramatic winner with six seconds remaining will have catapulted him into the thoughts of Unai Emery, surely? It should be enough to ensure he gets a pre-season with the club so the head coach can evaluate the player and decide if his future is with us, or does he get another loan? The only threat to him getting a full pre-season in could be his inclusion in the European U21 Championship which ends on June 30th after which he will need a break to recharge his batteries. Good luck Krystian.

It was thirty years ago today

That Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play? No, of course not, it was the greatest ever finish to any top-flight season when we went to Anfield to topple the reigning champions and recent FA Cup winners with virtually the last kick of a remarkable season.

I doubt I will be alone in watching Fever Pitch, and 89, this evening. The memories, in as much as they have ever gone away, will come flooding back. Smudger’s header, Mickey’s miss, then his conversion of a similar opportunity at the death. A winner away to your biggest rivals, not at home to a relegated club, Sky Sports.

Enjoy them again too, ‘holics. I know I will.

Vinai And Raul – Part 2

Arsenal.com have published the second part of the interview with Vinai Venkatesham and Raul Sanllehi, and there was pretty good explanation of how the structure of the club has changed in the past year.

I have to say that Sanllehi, far more in control of this part of the interview, is an accomplished talker in a foreign tongue. Some may dismiss his smooth patter as well-coached PR but actually I thought he came across as sincere and knowledgeable as you would need your head of football to be.

His likening of the new structure as a skeleton on which we will add muscle and heart. It was good to see the first team put at the head of the skeleton, that’s obviously how it should be, But the emphasis on the academy pushing talent upwards through the legs was very clear. We need to be producing more homegrown talent because that is how all the big clubs act, he said. I’m assuming he disregards the freakish nature of Manchester City’s and PSG’s situation as somehow ignoring them as big clubs.

Even better was the importance of data, analytics, and performance maximisation incorporated. These are areas that we have developed significantly in the last year and we had thought ourselves better advanced than most beforehand. Technical quality allied to better fitness are areas we have perhaps not mastered in recent seasons. Raul’s explanation of using the data to avoid mistakes was probably aimed not just at the current squad, but any future acquisitions too.

To think Ivan Gazidis has been replaced by Vinai suggests how little he contributed, or was allowed to, in the club under Arsene Wenger’s domination. How much the boss did is emphasised by the appointment not just of a head coach, but also a technical director (Edu?) and head of football operations.

We were warned in part one that the discussion would get into the area of contracts and transfers. Raul went further than we might have expected with the Aaron Ramsey situation, and was frankly and rightly critical of us having allowed him to reach the final year of his contract. He did confirm that it was us who withdrew the offer of the contract and explained that the likely offer we would have had to make him to stay would have ‘imbalanced’ the dressing room.

I’m not convinced by the latter point when it is known that we have at least three players earning in excess of £150k per week. I did pick up on an aside he made about Aaron continuing to receive large offers from other clubs. Strictly speaking this was tapping up last Autumn, but all clubs do it as Raul hinted at earlier. That does tie in with the possibility of Raul and/or Vinai having taken umbrage to Aaron being hawked around by his agent after we thought a deal was close.

He was very reassuring about how prepared we were for the transfer window and how he personally hates deals being stretched out to the last day. The proof of the pudding will obviously be in the eating but let’s hope he delivers on what I am sure are his honestly held views.

If you haven’t watched it I would recommend you find a spare 25 minutes. I do feel a bit more positive having watched it, but then I have very rose-tinteds, as you well know.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Managing director Vinai Venkatesham and head of football Raul Sanllehi have given an interview being posted in instalments on the official club website, and if you are naturally suspicious then you will dismiss it as pure PR, and of course there is an element of that involved. They have not been verbose with the supporters in their first season, an issue shared by the club’s owner and son.

Part one of the interview concentrates on the season yet incomplete, but one game from successful or not, and the involvement and vision of the owner, absent or otherwise?

Venkatesham is the man who takes the lead in the interview but at one point Sanllehi cuts in with the observation that the pair share a vision for the future of the club. It shouldn’t need to be said, but it is something of a reassurance that he makes that positive intervention. I have seen them at close quarters once and it is clear they are definitely comfortable in their relationship. Given the occasionally fractious dealings between Wenger and Gazidis that is a comfort.

The managing director was clear in the club’s vision for the future. Talk of transition from what went before to making “the club’s fans proud” and seeking success in the Premier League and Champions League. The cynics would argue Wolves owners would be sending the same message (are they?) and I get that. Whilst it was disappointing we didn’t quite make that once controversial fourth place the objective of continuous improvement sets a clear ambition for next season. You will be measured by results, gentlemen.

The subjects of the owner and financial situation are inevitably intertwined, and anybody who expected these guys to use a public forum to call for more input from Stan were always going to be disappointed. They put a really positive spin on the fact that he has has told them that every penny the club generates in revenue is available to deliver the objectives that all are agreed on. As a generalisation that is actually ok.

Oh, but if only Laura Woods had been able to delve deeper as the interviewer. Is the revenue being reduced by ‘deductions’ to fund Stan’s buying out of Alisher Usmanov? Whilst the insistence that we can only spend what we earn is roughly in line with the objectives of FFP have we considered that we are not dining at the same table as Manchester City and PSG (for now?).

Allow me to play the devil’s advocate. Manchester City and PSG will ride roughshod over FFP and accept financial penalties because they are financed by countries. We should perhaps forgive Stan for not throwing cash at The Arsenal (bear with me) because they will frankly throw the full weight of the legal profession at any attempts to preventing them from playing in and winning the big one. Stan is worth a few bob (understatement is my middle name) but the last thing he needs is for one of his sporting clubs to be denied entry into the most profitable of tournaments. He will piggy back on any success by others, maybe?

I’m looking forward to part two, because we already know that individual contracts are likely to be addressed, however fleetingly. There was a discussion developing about getting value for money from a large wage bill (a good thing Vinai said), and making important and ‘brave’ decisions about players with two years left on their contracts. This is the itch that we need to scratch badly. I’ll give these guys the benefit of any doubt because they frankly inherited a mess from the last year of Gazidis et al.

The summer will be a supreme test. We are able to spend money that we couldn’t in January due not to FFP, but Premier League financial restrictions. We do realise the benefits of the Adidas and new Emirates deals. Hopefully we have Europa League winners income and Champions League future to make us a more attractive proposition.

Have a good one, ‘holics, but moreso The Arsenal.

CBA implores “write about what hugs yer heart”. A clever way of pointing out I have been lax this week. As I will be out from dawn until well past dusk tomorrow I shall type random phrases accompanied by a very large muscle relaxant. What is in my heart? The Arsenal of course.

This should be the happiest fortnight of the season coming up. Finally we have a European Final to look forward to thirteen years after that Champions League Final when we were thirteen minutes from lifting big ears with only ten men against them, in that despicable European Final graveyard for us. Names that cannot be mentioned have not been.

Yet the shine has been taken off the upcoming completion of Europe’s second competition by and large because it is being held pretty much in Asia. Certainly in Eurasia, as Orwell would confirm. The expense of getting there, the paltry ticket allocation, and by no means least, the requirement of a visa. This has far-reaching consequences for some Gooners.

Azerbaijan is still virtually at war with the ethnic Armenian majority of Nagorno-Karabakh backed by Armenia, although officially the conflict ended 25 years ago. The wounds are fresh and as we discovered when we played Qarabag earlier in the tournament nobody seems willing or able to guarantee the safety of Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan. It doesn’t stop there, however. Arsenal, being a worldwide club, have a number of Armenian and Anglo Armenian supporters who will most definitely not be granted visas to travel to the match.

How on earth UEFA could have picked such a venue, inconveniencing (*to say the very least) the supporters of both competing clubs, and to which we probably won’t be able to take a key midfielder in the absence of Aaron Ramsey, is beyond common sense and smells very unsavoury indeed. (* royally pissing off would be more accurate!)

I suggested on Twitter yesterday that once supporters have missed a European Final they might be inclined to miss more and more matches if this is how the governing bodies are going to treat them. UEFA is effectively driving people away from the game they are supposed to promote. That is a grave charge to lay at their door.

I was going to say it’s not all bad news, but for a couple of young footballers the missing of such a high profile fixture must be soul-destroying. Fortunately for us they are Chelsea’s Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek. The latter was crocked playing in a friendly in the States a fortnight before what would have been the biggest night of a fledgling career.

Let’s pray we don’t have anybody getting enthusiastic with their challenges in training as we build up to our last chance to clinch Champions League football next season.

Dear Chelsea, I don’t suppose you’d do us a favour and withdaw that Hazard chap in protest if Mkhitaryan is forced to miss the Final? You are already in the Champions League, after all.

Have a good weekend, ‘holics.

An extremely rotated Gunners starting eleven lined up for the final match at Turf Moor. Only Nacho Monreal and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang survived from the team that started at Valencia on Thursday. We know the reason why, but clearly we had given up on producing the goal fest that might have made for a remarkable day.

As early as the third minute Burnley goalkeeper Heaton handled the ball outside his area and was duly booked. From the resulting free-kick Aubameyang hit the post, maybe with his arm, on a day when he was looking to close the two goal gap on Liverpool’s Salah in the race for the golden boot.

Barnes produced the first threat for the Lancastrians when he out-muscled Mavropanos only to head wide. He would bully the Gunners back line for much of the contest.

Heaton saved when Aubameyang tried his luck once more. The Gabon striker was looking hungry, although to be fair those around him struggled for cohesion in the opening half. Barnes again responded with a close range volley which was parried clear somewhat unconvincingly by Leno. His strike partner Wood beat the Gunners goalkeeper in the 28th minute but fortunately the ball crashed off the post to safety.

In the 34th minute we had to make an unwanted substitution of skipper Laurent Koscielny for the injured Konstantinos Mavropanos. Three minutes later Tarkowski’s header from a corner flashed past the far post. The same player was booked for cynically chopping down Alex Iwobi shortly afterwards. After the break Lowton was booked for another rash challenge on an enraged Iwobi. The Gunner needs to get a lecture in discipline from his peers before Baku.

Ever more thuggish as a team, Burnley’s Wood pushed Koscielny through a far from robust hoarding and we held our collective breath as the skipper climbed gingerly back to his feet. Of course according to the pint of gravy slurpers we were always cheating, which warranted their usual pathetic chorus of boos. They truly are the Lancashire Stoke.

Seven minutes after the break they were silenced when Aubameyang sprinted clear of the defence, placed the ball to the left of Heaton, and inside the post. Against the run of play, in all honesty, we were ahead. In the aftermath there was a yellow card for Matteo Guendouzi, allegedly for unsporting behaviour. Hopefully he celebrated wildly right in front of the boo boys!

Burnley 0-1 The Arsenal

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, again enjoying mixed fortunes on the afternoon, then saw a shot saved by Heaton. This was much better from the visitors who were finally taking control of a difficult game.

Aubameyang tried yet another strike only for it to be partially blocked by Mee and bounced into the hands of a relieved Heaton. in the 62nd minute Eddie Nketiah came on for his U23 pal Joe Willock, a surprise inclusion who enjoyed a half decent game. We were looking to seal the deal, as they say.

In the very next attack Aubameyang’s spectacular far post volley from Iwobi’s inch perfect chip put him level with Salah on 22 goals. News followed that Salah’s team mate, Mane, had also reached that figure. Would one of them score again to clinch the golden boot?

Burnley 0-2 The Arsenal

In the 65th minute after the ball had ping-ponged around the box Barnes met Gudmundsson’s short cross with a glancing header. Surely just a consolation? Or were we about to collapse from a strong position?

Burnley 1-2 The Arsenal

Mkhitaryan’s turn and shot five minutes later showed we still possessed an attacking intent, and when the Armenian teed up Aubameyang the striker incredibly missed the target from the centre of the six yard box. Would that cost him a precious prize?

Cork then only received a yellow card for raking his studs down the back of Guendouzi’s leg. Mike Dean has red card players for less. To complete the Stoke comparison the hosts brought on Crouch in the 83rd for an entirely predictable, but ultimately futile, aerial assault.

There remained a sting in the tail for the miserable locals. It was delivered by Eddie Nketiah who ‘megged Heaton in added time to equal Alexis Sanchez’ goal total for the season. Well done the 19 year old who was starting to wonder when his chance might arrive again. The perfect end to a decent afternoon, even if we remained in 5th place in the table. We have one more chance to clinch Champions League football once more.

Burnley 1-3 The Arsenal

So to the changing room to celebrate the share of the golden boot prize by Auba, thoroughly deserved.

Older Posts »