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Real football returns in the aftermath of the international break, and it couldn’t be much bigger than Arsenal against Manchester City at the Grove. Throw in a potential debut for the scorer of two England goals in the week and you have a match to anticipate with relish. That’s the build-up, now for the reality of the fixture.

Since City were first financed by the Abu Dhabi United Group the results of our meetings at the Grove have been 2-0, 0-0, 0-0, 1-0, 0-2, 1-1. Seven goals in six fixtures is not the goalfest we have come to expect in the return fixture where our determination to play an open game has seen goals galore in recent seasons, culminating in last season’s see-saw 6-3 hiding in a game we might have won by any margin up to 6-7.

City have tended to play it tight at the Grove, relying on the counter-attack when we over extend. The fact they have only one win in that six match sequence might just provide Pellegrini’s men the motive to be more expansive this time around. That, and the fact that they now have Bacary Sagna, as well as Gael Clichy and the odious Nasri, able to offer an insight into Arsene Wenger’s approach to such fixtures. Not that they could help much to help when the two shadow squads met at Wembley in the Community Shield a month ago and we triumphed 3-0.

It is a fair bet this will be a very different match from that. If Aaron Ramsey is fit to start we will possibly be missing just Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud from the likely starting eleven were everybody available. In front of Wojciech Szczesny we can expect a back four of Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, and fit-again Kieran Gibbs.

In midfield Mikel Arteta will probably be joined at the base By Rambo, if fit, or Jack Wilshere if not? Personally I would prefer to see Mesut Ozil returned to the advanced playmaking role in which he can pick out the the pace of Alexis Sanchez on the right, debut boy Danny Welbeck in the centre, and the guile of Santi Cazorla on the left. That would represent a change from what Arsene has done thus far, but we haven’t been firing on all cylinders and this may be the approach to get us back in the groove again.

The most realistic options are on the left flank, where the improved Nacho Monreal may get the nod over Gibbs, and either Lukas Podolski or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might be preferred to Santi.

City, obviously title contenders, started the season brightly, beating Newcastle on the road 0-2, then Liverpool at home 3-1, before unexpectedly coming unstuck at home to Stoke City, 0-1, in their last outing. They have lost Jovetic and Fernando to injury, and Negredo as a result of their failure to comply with FFP (according to Pellegrini). Expect Aguero and Dzeko to start up front. Not a bad pairing, in all fairness. Just how ambitous Silva, Nasri, and Yaya Toure are could determine the nature of the contest.

The ‘holic pound is wagered on a float of Friday night stout. I’m drawn to the 2-1 home win on offer at as high as 11/1. That looks generous, with a back-up few coppers on 3-2 at 33′s.

I’m looking forward to seeing a number of you on the day, and for those who cannot make it then I hope you are still able to catch the game with your broadcaster of choice.

Have a good one ‘holics.

The Three Amigos?

The first of the dreaded international breaks for this season is in full flow. Just days after the transfer window has closed we are still being linked with players by sites desperate for hits. That highlights the lack of real news. It isn’t entirely barren out there, however, with Steve Stammers in the Mirror, and James Orr in the Independent, declaring a potential North London derby return to action for Theo Walcott in three weeks time.

Now it is harsh to expect Theo to hit the ground running. Quite whether the level of work he is able to put in now equates to a full pre-season is open to doubt, but with recent additions to the squad there is a delicious prospect of him lining up alongside Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez in a totally interchangeable front three that could cause opposition defenders nightmares.

It isn’t just the fact that the three have blistering pace, the thing that defenders hate most, and it is not just that they can all finish as they have all proven, but it also means that opposing teams may not be allowed the luxury of playing out from the back as all have the ability to press defenders and deny them the time they like to have.

That isn’t to say that those three should be our first choice until Olivier Giroud returns. There are options, particularly on the flanks, and Theo may have to be nursed back to full match fitness, but I don’t mind admitting I am excited about the possibilty of those three striking up an understanding and switching positions every few minutes with devastating effect.

Tactically it adds something to our options as well. If we are to survive the season (well, until January at least) with relatively few defensive options then the more time we can keep the ball in the opposition half can only be advantageous. That defence is an area in which we will need a degree of good fortune if we are to turn promise into a serious title challenge.

For now though let’s just enjoy the horizon, and a mouthwatering opportunity to burn teams with raw attacking power.

A Deadline Day Ode

‘Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house, every brain was thinking, Arsene. Man or mouse?

Some laptops were broken, their batteries dead; the ice bucket challenger had some ice on his head.

What’s this? The anguished cry of so many, no central defender? the man is a Benny!

No beast of a man, to anchor the middle, oh Arsenal, Gawd’s sake, you boil my piddle.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, and what, prey, did my Britneys’ hear?

As the three wise men had spotted afar, we had acquired our own bright northern star?

And Lo we had our new striker Danny, oh please be a Wrighty and not a damned Franny.

From the boardroom a cry with deadline day cheer, “Enjoy what you’ve got, you’ll be paying all year.”

Danny Welbeck, welcome to Arsenal son.

And A Point Secured

Well, as days out go I think you could say that was mixed. The team news revealed a couple of surprises, namely the ‘resting’ of Jack Wilshere, so impressive against Besiktas, and the selection of Yaya Sanogo who was listed as out with a hamstring problem before the event. There was an understandable reason for the former. Jack cannot play every match. As for the latter, well that was an odd one given that Alexis had proven to be the matchwinner up top in midweek.

The match hinged on a five minute first-half spell that began with Laurent Koscielny taking what appeared to be a mixture of elbow and accidental head butt from Schlupp. It took a long time for him to be brought back to his feet and taken off the pitch for treatment. Mathieu Flamini screamed at the bench after the next Leicester attack, and clearly all was not well. Then Sanogo, unable to latch on to the first chip in his direction, saw a similar opportunity and Scmeichel’s deflection was netted by Alexis. One-nil to the Arsenal indeed.

Unfortunately Koscielny was under the first cross that followed into the Arsenal box, and Ulloa headed home comfortably. Laurent was sensibly replaced by Calum Chambers, but was it too late? How easy to say from a distance, but with the benefit of hindsight was that really so difficult a call?

What followed was something we have witnessed so often. Arsenal, dominating possession for large swathes of the contest, but unable to create clear-cut opportunities. It happens to everybody, and the optimistic would argue we are doing well to remain unbeaten while not finding form and function. I get that, totally, but this season looks like being a more competitive one between two or three sides. Whether it is three now looks to depend on what happens in the next twenty-four hours.

There was a point this afternoon at which it looked as though per Mertesacker might follow the Kos into the treatment room. Thankfully it proved to be a false alarm. The consequences, had it transpired, were lost on nobody, and at this point any review of the match turns into the topic I hate most. One cannot avoid it however.

Had Per had to go off with any ‘about three weeks’  injury, and with Laurent already assaulted (yes he was thank you pal), what would our central defensive partnership have been when Abu Dhabi Select come to town? Calum Chambers, as he proved once again having come on as a substitute, can be trusted to give of his best. Who else?

Monday, the final day of the transfer window, promises to be a tense affair once again. So many think we need strengthening further, this scribe included, but on Tuesday we will have what we have. What do you intend to do then, depending on what happens in the ensuing day? I will get behind whoever we have, because that is my role, as a supporter, to support.

Let’s consider the next twenty-four hours, however.

I will.

And Leicester

I have waited until the final whistle has blown at Goodison before considering the preview of our trip to Leicester, hereinafter to be compulsorily referred to as And Leicester, in honour of the song we amended in the early seventies. Quite why things got so lively at And Leicester, both when we played there and when venturing further north through the station, I’m not entirely sure. Fibert Street was a proper old school ground and I have to confess not having been to the Walkers/King Power stadium.

Indeed Arsenal and And Leicester have shared some famous faces, particularly from our European Fairs-Cup winning and first double squad. Frank McLintock, George Armstrong, Eddie Kelly, and Jon Sammels all starred for both clubs. Back to today, however.

Chelsea and Swansea have maintained their one hundred percent start to the season by winning their third fixtures today, thus making it desirable that we get something, and preferably three points, on Sunday. Please note the word desirable. It isn’t critical, crucial, or must-win in August. Having said that keeping on the leaders shirt-tails would make life easier in the months to come, and even with the injuries we have suffered thus far we should have too much on paper for the newly promoted charges of Nigel Pearson.

And Leicester opened the season by coming from behind twice to hold Everton, but in their second home fixture last Tuesday they were humbled by League Two Shrewsbury, scorers of the only goal of the game. That performance paled into insignificance given Manchester United’s humbling at MK Dons and Pearson will have worked hard at rebuilding his squad’s belief in the ensuing days.  In between those two performances the Foxes gave a reasonable account of themselves at Stamford Bridge before falling to a 2-0 defeat.

Forget And Leicester, what of the Arsenal side to take them on, bereft of the injured Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott, Yaya Sanogo, and Olivier Giroud, but buoyed by the return of Aaron Ramsey, suspended for the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas. Quite who makes way for Rambo is far from clear. Jack Wilshere’s return to form in the 1-0 midweek triumph may have saved him, but can Mathieu Flamini be sacrificed to facilitate a Rambo/Wilshere axis?

The other alternatives could see either Santi Cazorla or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making way and the pack being shuffled. Whichever of the options transpire I will join the clamour for the return of Mesut Ozil into the playmaker role behind Alexis Sanchez, please boss.

Reasonably convinced though I am that we will bring the three points home from And Leicester, I am being cautious with the ‘holic pound. The 8/1 available for a 1-2 away win looks particularly attractive. I’m on it.

So all that remains is for me to wish those going a cracking day. Show Leicester what magnificent away support they have missed since we were last there in the Invincibles season. For the rest I also wish you a cracking day, and a perfect picture on your broadcast or stream.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Seventeen And Counting

If you want to read a conventional report on the game tonight can I recommend the Guardian. I haven’t seen what they have come up with yet, but among the mainstream media they and the Observer get it right more often than most. Actually, I just checked, and it is here.

For this blogger and, I suspect, most of you, it was a fraught evening. In the preview I probably gave away my expectation with a punt on 2-1, albeit supplemented with a lesser wager on 3-1. I suspected we were in for a tense night as a result of experience rather than intimate knowledge.

It was a game I thought long and hard about coming up for. It is always touch and go if I get home from midweek matches, and I could do without the worry that accompanies that. Most midweek games that I attend I make an early exit, if the situation permits. I have to say at 1-0 going into added time tonight I could not have done that.

The match was eminently watchable if you didn’t have an enormous emotional attachment. Arsenal must be the best team to see if you are a neutral, or supporter of another club not in direct competition with us. For example, Ludogorets or maybe Tottenham. No wait, well played Ludogorets tonight.

Not being a neutral, and of course neither are you, this was a night we have become accustomed to. With the half a spine of Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, and Olivier Giroud missing Arsene opted for what I would consider a plan B. My instinct was that he would start Sanogo as a target man, a la Giroud, but instead he opted for a more mobile front man in Alexis. The system changed somewhat, we also had an interesting blend of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, and Mesut Ozil making shapes ahead of Mathieu Flamini, and alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, often left lonely hugging the right touchline.

As things transpired Arsene nailed it, but by a whisker. Alexis will love the significance of his first competitive goal for Arsenal. Let us also acknowledge significant decsions by a poor referee that could have changed the outcome. I have no issue with Debuchy’s first half challenge in the area, but Jack was a lucky boy. Given what happened later I have to acknowledge we dodged one bullet, maybe.

That doesn’t excuse a card happy official from showing a second yellow, and red card, to Debuchy for a perfectly innocent challenge in which he wins the ball. Cue the ramp up in nervousness among the faithful.

The outcome was as precious a 1-0 as we have produced in recent years. The questions remain. I am loathe to spark the debate again about using the resources clearly available to strengthen the squad. It goes round and round and pits Gooner against Gooner. We know we are short, squad wise, of a quality centre back. We know another defensive midfielder, preferably a beast of a player, would be welcome, and who the hell couldn’t do without a goalscoring centre-forward?

That being said let’s just savour the evening, and a first goal of many for Alexis. Now, time to get some more ice. Long story…

 

 

A difficult week could be made much more bearable on Wednesday night should Arsenal beat Besiktas to reach the group stages of the Champions League for the seventeenth consecutive season. The online Arsenal world is alive with talk of injuries and potential transfers. They have to be put on the back burner for the first “must-win” game of the new season.

We go into the match without the injured Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott, and Olivier Giroud plus the suspended Aaron Ramsey. The latter duo will certainly be missed but this is an opportunity for others to step up to the plate and impress. I may be wrong, but the starting eleven almost picks itself in these circumstances.

Wojciech Szczesny should start behind the strongest back four available which would mean Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny starting in the centre of the defence for the first time this season. That is undoubtedly harsh on Calum Chambers, but there is no shame in being behind that first-choice pairing. Can Calum play left-back? The situation probably means that the more experienced, if inconsistent, Nacho Monreal keeps the job.

In midfield there is an opportunity for Mathieu Flamini to get another yellow card under his belt alongside Jack Wilshere, who must surely surrender the playmaking role to Mesut Ozil in order to restore some balance to the side. The attacking trio provide the one area perhaps where the boss will be wrestling with his options. I suspect it will be Alexis on the right, Santi Cazorla on the left, and Yaya Sanogo leading the line. There is however the option of starting Alexis in the centre, not an outrageous success at Goodison Park, and play Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Tomas Rosicky on the right.

Besiktas come into the game fresh, having not played at the weekend. They showed last week that we can take nothing for granted. They created chances and in Demba Ba have a player who knows how to find the net in English conditions. Turkish teams traditionally haven’t traveled well but there is a change sweeping through that league, and to be fair Besiktas are unbeaten in their last three away Champions League fixtures. Slaven Bilic brings a fresh approach, and whilst they may well rely on a cautious counter-atttacking game they appear to have more ambition than many in recent years. As Bilic himself said,

“We have a dream, a hope. It’s more of a plan though, and we are going to do everything we can to fulfil it. We have prepared our game, our plan. I have big belief in my assistants and they are going to do the job.”

The ‘holic pound goes in search of value, and will be a smaller than usual bet. I have to be honest, this is pure guesswork and not as informed as would normally be the case. Bookies are nervous of 1-0 and 2-0 at 13/2, but I’m tempted by the eights on 2-1. Actually, I’m tempted by a back-up punt on 3-1 at thirteens. Whatever.

For those lucky enough to be going, have an enjoyable evening. As for the rest, I hope you have a decent stream. Luckily I have Sky Sports 5 so, whoop whoop. Take care, all, and please, keep it civil in the drinks. Thank you.

It’s August, and Arsenal are trailing at half-time in the northwest. Two second half goals get us a result. Next time out we are spared a home defeat against Portsmouth by the infamous Robert Pires penalty award. Now nobody is claiming that eleven years on that this Arsenal side is in any sort of shape to emulate the invincibles. However the invincibles didn’t look invincible every week. A season is always made up of a mixture of performances, usually ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Last season we suffered too many of the ridiculous, and missed out on the title by seven points as a result. Today we returned to the scene of one of those appalling performances with a side that caused some raised eyebrows. Eyebrows that climbed further when the match got underway and we had Per Mertesacker on the left of Calum Chambers and next to Nacho Monreal, in for the injured Kieran Gibbs. Mathieu Flamini stood in for the injured skipper in front of the back four.

There were a couple of surprises further forward. Mesut Ozil was recalled but lined up on the left hand side while Jack Wilshere somewhat surprisingly remained in the ‘number ten’ role. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was called up on the right with Alexis Sanchez switching to the centre in place of the benched Olivier Giroud.

To be fair we started brightly enough. Roberto Martinez had spoken beforehand of the importance of keeping possession, and Arsenal most certainly had the lions share of the opening exchanges. Everton were relying on pacy counter attacks when the Gunners coughed up the ball in attacking areas. Just eighteen minutes in the match, and the mood of many watching, turned when Coleman sprinted past Ozil to head home a far post cross. We were on the back foot and Everton drew confidence from that opener, and why wouldn’t they? They are a good side.

Just before half-time came the moment that could have cost us three points and not just two. We didn’t cover ourselves in glory defensively, but Lukaku’s clear foul on Mertesacker was ignored in the build-up to a clearly offside Naismith being freed to score. For once the former Rangers man’s inner ear infection did not cause him to lose his balance unexpectedly.

Half-time afforded Arsene the opportunity to change his game plan, and quite rightly, earlier than usual, he took said opportunity, sending on Giroud for Alexis. It must have been tempting to keep the Chilean on and go 4-4-2, but the boss decided to retain the starting formation. Of course the first chance of the half fell to the big man who blazed a tricky opportunity over, but his availabilty gave us an outlet that hadn’t existed earlier and caused Everton some consternation.

Two further chances fell to Giroud and went begging, and with just over a quarter of an hour remaining Santi Cazorla and Joel Campbell were introduced for Wilshere and the Ox. Santi went into the hole vacated by Jack and Ozil remained a lonely figure out wide. I can’t help thinking that any psychological lift to Jack by starting him in that position could be outweighed by forcing our best passer of a ball into an unfamiliar role. The name Arshavin was mentioned on Twitter. Harsh, I’m sure. Once fully match fit surely Mesut will be back in the engine room?

Seven minutes were left when Arsenal got one back, Aaron Ramsey (who else?) getting into the box to convert Santi’s fabulous cross. The traveling faithful upped their volume from 10 to 11. A match that for so long had seemed lost was now looking salvageable. The visitors had the bit between their teeth. There was an air of inevitability about who would score the equaliser. The harshly maligned Giroud won the grappling contest with Distin to head home Monreal’s cross.

So at a venue of one of last season’s spineless capitulations we salvaged a point from what had appeared for so long a hopeless position. That says much about the spirit in this squad. A point closer to the seven that cost us so dear in a season on season comparison. Nobody will pretend we are where we need to be right now, but the unbeaten run is extended, and both history and common sense says there is still much to come from this squad. Yes, it would be desirable to address a couple of glaring weaknesses in the final week of the transfer window, but this squad is close.

I wonder how we will look back on this result in eleven years time?

Oh, and SkyGo, thank you for this. Contributed to an eventful evening.

 

April Shower

So I have a routine. Friday evening I have the first pints since Sunday, then watch the presser, then try and fashion some sort of a preview. Maybe it is too routine. I am about to find out. No presser seen, and I’m not sure all the Kate Bush footage I have seen this evening will inform my opinion of our trip to Goodison tomorrow (or probably later today by the time I finish this!)

Welcome to the world of blogs, where every now and again an unprofessional and impromptu offering can be thrust out there. So, should we start with remembering the utter whacking we took up there less than six months ago? Perhaps not. It matters not now.

Unfortunately Mikel Arteta is ruled out after his ‘coming together’ wiith Demba Ba on Tuesday. On the plus side our World Cup winners are back in training, but as none of them is suited to the deep-lying midfield role I will assume that Mathieu Flamini is the likeliest replacement. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is an interesting alternative, but surely does his best work in attacking areas?

Of the Germans I would be very surprised if Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil don’t start. I have loved Calum Chambers first appearances in an Arsenal shirt, but Per is the finished article and needed for our first ‘north-west on Saturday teatime’ test. That is Arsenal’s equivalent of a ‘cold Tuesday night in Stoke’.

Lots of nonsense has been spouted about our attacking options. For those who have not seen it I would recommend Tim Stillman’s excellent column on Arseblog this week. We are feeling our way into the new season. Given our last four competitive fixtures have yielded an FA Cup, the Community Shield, three precious points on the opening day of the new Premier league season, and a draw at a tricky Champions League qualifying away venue, I would urge some patience and restraint. Then again I would, wouldn’t I? It’s what I do.

So we are in pretty good shape, Theo and Gibbo apart. What of the bluenoses? Ross Barkley, Arouna Kone and Bryan Oviedo are likely to miss out. So what? Looks like they will have a decent side out too. Until April Goodison has held no terrors for us for a while, but the beating we took that day was significant. Having said that it would be a surprise to many neutral observers if Everton were able to impose themselves on the visitors in a similar fashion.

The ‘holic pound? Let’s face it, at this stage of the season it really is all guesswork. Keep your money in your pocket is the best tip, but I have a sense of mischief about me. I am attracted to the 0-3 to avenge last season in kind. Thirty to one is on offer. Can we keep a clean sheet? If you are sceptical then 1-3 can be grabbed at 22/1. I am on both. It is what you do at, oh wait, it is now matchday!

For those who bought tickets before the television rescheduling and who are still going, have an absolute blast. There are no trains back to London after the game so many have been shafted, but when did the Premier League, Sky, or BT et al, ever give a monkeys about supporters?

And so to the customary have a good one ‘holics. Let’s enjoy today, and indeed the rest of the weekend.

I feel the need for a somewhat defensive post about the goal-less draw with Besiktas tonight mainly because of the reaction on social media sites, but actually that is not how I feel about the game. For much of the ninety minutes I saw two commited teams trying to fashion an open contest on a cabbage patch of a pitch, which by the way was the same for both sides.

The match could have had a sensational opening, Ba trying his luck from the centre circle and thankfully Wojciech Szczesny got enough on the effort to tip it onto the bar. Just minutes later the Arsenal ‘keeper denied the same player. Besiktas, with former young Gunner Ozyakup prominent, were giving it a go in front of their vociferous following.

The visitors hit back though with Alexis Sanchez fashioning a couple of half chances for Olivier Giroud. If match fit the Frenchman might have notched one of them. That he isn’t, which is why Yaya Sanogo has been preferred when available thus far. As the half came to a close the Frenchman was set up by a fabulous Aaron Ramsey chipped pass but he took a rusty air shot. Hopefully in coming games we will see the improvement that only games can give at this stage of the season. That having been said, should a quality goalscorer come available before the end of the month we should be in there. Not surprisingly there aren’t that many available, so a premium will have to be offered.

I took a step back from the immediacy of Twitter responses towards the end of the half, and actually enjoyed the battle of wills unfolding in front of me. You expect a degree of tactical awareness from a Slaven Bilic side, and I thought their willingness to trade openly was a testament to their belief they could pull off an upset. That made Arsenal’s defensive discipline all the more pleasing. Calum Chambers, one slip on the rutted surface aside remains a more than capable deputy for Per Mertesacker. I am tremendously impressed with his start to a career in an Arsenal shirt.

The second half started as the first had ended. A great chance for the Arsenal but Aaron Ramsey just not quite able to apply the finishing touch to a Giroud through ball in a twist of fate. Demba Ba took out Mikel Arteta in the build up to a great chance for Sahan, and Mathieu Flamini came on for his customary yellow card. Unfortunately Aaron Ramsey made a premature departure after picking up a second yellow for a tug at Ozyakup, who tumbled somehat easily and theatrically. A lesson learned for Aaron hopefully. He made it easy for a weak referee to show that card.

Still the ten men could have nicked it when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain brought a fine save from Zengin, who managed to turn the effort onto the post. One could argue it would have been no more than Arsenal deserved on the night, but at the same time I would understand Besiktas fans saying that their team did not deserve to lose, and I would agree.

The quality might not have shone through tonight, but it was hardly likely to on such a poor playing surface. I rather fancy we may see a more disciplined counter-attacking game from Besiktas next week on the carpet at the Grove. An away goal would certainly put the cat among the pigeons, but I have to believe with the Germans returning, and another ninety minutes at Goodison under the belt, that we will be stepping up a gear in the home leg of a fascinating match-up.

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