Feed on

Munchen Bite Back!

Arsenal arrived at the Allianz Arena hoping to stop a team who had averaged four goals a game at home in all competitions this season. They departed a chastened side after Europe’s best had extracted full revenge for their defeat at the Grove a fortnight ago.

The team news an hour before kick-off provided one surprise. As expected Mathieu Debuchy replaced the injured Hector Bellerin at right back, Laurent Koscielny was replaced by Gabriel, possibly a precautionary measure with the North London derby coming up. Joel Campbell retained his place after his goalscoring performance at Swansea.

The Gunners made a bright start and just 26 seconds in Olivier Giroud fired wide with our first effort. The only action Petr Cech saw in the opening five minutes was a simple catch of a hopeful cross. Alaba had their first speculative effort from thirty yards in the seventh minute, but again it was a comfortable save for Cech.

The breakthrough came in the tenth minute, and it was a horror story for the Arsenal. Gabriel moved out as a cross came into the box but timed it wrong, leaving Lewandowski free to head past a surprisingly stationary Cech, who presumably thought a flag was coming.

Arsenal immediately went down the other end and thought they had scored when Mesut Ozil converted Nacho Monreal’s cross. The referee gave it but under pressure from the Bayern defenders the fifth official on the goal-line informed the referee that Ozil had handled. The goal was rightly disallowed and to rub salt in the wound Ozil was booked.

Coman forced Cech into action  twice and then the ‘keeper saved another Lewandowski header at full stretch. Wave after wave of attacks were now being launched by the impressive hosts.

Joel Campbell picked up a yellow card midway through the half, bringing a spectacular tumble out of Coman. From the free-kick Francis Coquelin produced an excellent defensive header under pressure.

Muller found the corner (sorry about that) and all but put the match out of the Gunners reach in the 29th minute with an effort that deflected in off Per Mertesacker. A minute later Cech had to be on his toes to deny Lewandowski a third.

On an increasingly rare break Alexis was bundled off the ball on the left flank. Where Campbell had been booked for a lesser challenge there wasn’t even a free-kick awarded.

With ten minutes of the half remaining Mathieu Debuchy denied Lewandowski at the expense of a corner. Shortly afterwards it was Muller’s turn to warm Cech’s palms again, twice, in two minutes. Costa got in on the act drawing another fine save from the ‘keeper. The inevitable third was only being delayed.

Alaba, the left-back, won the ball in the centre of the park and from 20 yards out blasted one into the top corner of the net. We were picking the worst possible opponents to have an off night against. The half-time whistle came to our rescue, but only temporarily.

Arsenal did try to start the second-half in more positive mode with Ozil and Sanchez looking to find us a way back into the match but Bayern defended in numbers as well as throwing bodies forward. Pep Guardiola’s response was to send Arjen Robben on for Coman and with his first touch he made it 4-0 from Alaba’s cut-back.

That prompted Arsenal’s best counter to date and Neuer had to be at his best to deny Santi Cazorla. Almost immediately the ineffective Campbell was replaced by Kieran Gibbs with Alexis switching to the right. More intricate build up orchestrated by Ozil ended up with Monreal bursting into the box but stumbling at the crucial moment.

A consolation arrived in the 69th minute, and impressive it was. Alexis launched another counter which ended with him finding Giroud in the box. The big Frenchman chested it down, swivelled, and volleyed home. Not appreciating what was little more than a flesh wound Guardiola sent on Vidal for Lewandowski.

After some spectacular interplay between Ozil, Coquelin, and Alexis ended up with the latter’s effort being blocked Coquelin stormed forward again and set up Santi for a skied effort at the near post. The momentum was clearly now with the Gunners, although at 4-1 Bayern could be forgiven for taking their foot off the gas.

With seven minutes remaining Robben found himself in behind the back line and he rounded Cech only for Debuchy to make an astonishing recovery tackle. Monreal then did similar to deny Muller.

In between, with an eye on Sunday, Arsene Wenger withdrew Giroud and sent on Alex Iwobi. In the closing minutes Calum Chambers was sent on to give Santi a rest. The substitutions turned things Bayern’s way again and Muller was allowed too much time and space to beat Cech at his near post.

5-1 was a fair reflection of this game, and a last gasp win for Olympiakos in Greece made an awful night worse for the Gunners. Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say fair play to the opposition. Bayern are some team. Arsenal face a huge last matchday in Greece, assuming they beat Zagreb at home.

Bayern Munich, away. Say it quickly and the enormity of the challenge facing Arsenal may not hit for a while. Go over in your mind our last two results in Munich, a 1-1 draw in 2014, and a 0-2 win in 2013, and you might even believe we have a very real chance of getting something out of what could be our toughest away fixture of the season. That seems to be pretty much Arsene Wenger’s take on the upcoming match too.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Bayern, they are playing extremely well, but I think it is a good opportunity for us to show that we are moving forward, that we are up to the test we face tomorrow. We have shown that in the first game. What you want is 100 per cent commitment from your players in an intelligent way. What we want is a similar performance what we did against them, we have done well here and we just want to do what it takes to make a positive result tomorrow.”

It has to be said that for lightning to strike twice we will have to be at our very, very best in the Allianz Arena. Our cause has not been helped by the news that Hector Bellerin was left at home with a groin injury. Mathieu Debuchy is the obvious replacement and although he has struggled in his four appearances this season he has those, and a wealth of experience, under his belt. He’ll need to be at his best to nullify the threat that Douglas Costa poses.

Back from the World U-17 championship, Jeff Reine-Adelaide goes straight in to squad, but will surely be on the bench at best? Joel Campbell did enough at Swansea to keep his place on the right but will need to show his defensive qualities in support of Debuchy behind him. That combination on the right may be unproven but it’s the best fit pairing we have for those roles at present. What an opportunity it is for them to make their case for more regular first-team football.

Better minds than mine are pondering how, or even if, Arsenal will attempt to attack Bayern in their heartland. A repeat set-up of the first leg is expected with Santi Cazorla holding deep alongside Francis Coquelin, the two wide players expected to cover the entire flank, sitting deep when Bayern have it, and exploding forward should we counter. The key could be how much room Mesut Ozil can find in a crowded midfield. Pep Guardiola thinks we may have something more basic in mind.

“Arsenal is a top team in Europe. They are strong enough. Arsenal want to attack but it’s difficult against us with our good pressing game. They will play a lot of high passes to Olivier Giroud. We did not allow them to do so in the first game.”

Giroud and his opposite number Lewandowski will certainly feature strongly, and both will be closely marked. Olivier will probably have to do a lot of work with his back to goal but that is a job he usually does well. Chances for both will probably be few and far between, but they are likeliest to be on target for their respective teams.

The ‘holic pound

As ever I am chasing a bit of value, and that isn’t hard to find here. No matter how unlikely an Arsenal win might appear to the pundits, odds of 7/1 in a two horse race are too good to ignore. Odds-on favourites can and do hit unexpected trouble in running. A back-up pound on the draw at 9/2 appeals as well.

I hope those who have survived the fog-induced delays of the last couple of days and are now enjoying German hospitality (sausages and beer to you and me!) get to see one of those gritty backs to the wall performances that we are capable of, and have produced in Munich before. Enjoy your trip, and come back safe.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

A Tale Of Two Halves

Arsenal arrived at Swansea with Joel Campbell selected to fill the gap on the right hand side of midfield, and the rest of the side as expected. In a slow opening quarter of an hour the only attempt on goal came when Nacho Monreal blasted one well wide of the target.

In the fifteenth minute Joel Campbell produced the first worthwhile effort on goal but just missed the target by inches from the edge of the box. Five minutes later Shelvey sent Gomis free but as the striker tried to go round Petr Cech the remarkable Hector Bellerin recovered to make a spectacular clearance.

Gomis was presented with a chance to make amends from a Montero cross but Cech was perfectly positioned to save at the far post. A series of niggly challenges from behind by the hosts were deemed not worthy of yellow cards by the incredibly patient Kevin Friend.

Set up by Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud hit a first-time drive just over as Arsenal sought to impose themselves on the game. Generally though the visitors were not retaining possession as well as we have come to expect. Montero was coming more and more into the game and looking a real handful on the left flank. We survived what appeared a decent penalty shout when the referee decided that Per Mertesacker had not deliberately elbowed the ball at a free-kick.

Campbell, keen to impress, tried his luck again but shot straight at Lukasz Fabianski. The heart in mouth moment we feared came just before halftime when Giroud went down in some discomfort after a clash of knees with Montero. Fortunately after a couple of minutes treatment he was able to continue. With our resources limited by injuries we certainly could not afford to lose the Frenchman at this moment.

Arsenal were quicker out of the blocks in the second-half forcing a couple of corners, and from the second Giroud got between defenders and directed a glorious header inside the far post. Swansea City 0-1 Arsenal. In the following minute Petr Cech’s concentration was tested and he made a fine diving save to deny Ki. The match was definitely warming up. Next to try his luck was Alexis, but his curling effort sailed high and wide.

Bellerin produced another astonishing clearance when an offside Ayew took aim at what appeared to be an empty net. In so doing he collided with the post but after treatment to his ribs he was able to continue.

Mr Friend’s patience finally snapped when Ki was impeding Giroud as Arsenal looked to make further progress. Just short of the hour Mesut Ozil, coming more and more into the game, started the move which ended in a Campbell cross just evading Giroud.

Swansea had a real let off when Shelvey slipped over, presenting a chance to Alexis, but the referee spared his blushes by awarding the Swansea man a free-kick. The Chilean might have done better when heading over the bar after Koscielny had headed a corner on to him.

The reprieve was only brief. Fabianski dropped the ball under pressure from Giroud and Koscielny and the latter turned to knock the ball in. Mr Friend pointed to the centre circle despite the protests of the Swansea players, staff, and crowd. Swansea City 0-2 Arsenal.

Five minutes later the points were secured when Ozil and Sanchez opened up the Swansea defence with ridiculous ease and the German’s cross was met at the far post by Campbell who produced a tidy finish for hiss first goal for Arsenal. Swansea City 0-3 Arsenal. It is difficult to explain how the midfield that misfired so completely in the opening forty-five minutes had taken complete control of the contest after the break. Let’s just be grateful they did.

Swansea attempted a response but Cech was again comfortably equal to Williams’ effort. Arsenal brought on Calum Chambers and Kieran Gibbs for Campbell and Giroud. A sensible precaution under the circumstances. Williams misery was complete when he finally saw yellow for hauling back Alexis. Fabianski had to make a smart double save from Ozil and Alexis. It was the last sight of Ozil, substituted by Alex Iwobi to a standing ovation from the once again magnificent travelling Gooners.

After the match Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny admitted we had not played well in the first half and that we turned it around in the second. Both emphasised the importance of the win. Sadly Manchester City’s late winner at home to Norwich means we are still in second place on goal difference but today we knocked a couple of goals off that advantage.

All in all a good day for the Arsenal, and the back-up ‘holic pound!

“It’s a different team. What we want to focus on is the Premier League and I’ve said that many times. The Premier League team did not play on Tuesday night.”

With those words Arsene Wenger brushed aside the COCup exit on Tuesday and emphasised what he expects from his team at Swansea. Arsenal are on something of a roll, Tuesday aside, and with the top five separated by just three points it is important that we do not draw another blank at the Liberty Stadium.

The task has been made a little more complicated by the loss of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. They have joined David Ospina, Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshire, Tomas Rosicky, and Danny Welbeck in the West Wing of the extended treatment complex at Shenley. Swansea manager Garry Monk isn’t of the belief that those injuries hand the advantage to his charges.

“Arsenal have an excellent squad. The bigger squads can afford injuries. It would hit us harder if we had those injuries but they have the strength and resources to cope.”

That remains to be seen, but in fairness we will probably have nine of Arsene’s preferred starting eleven on the pitch at kick-off. There remains the question of who will start on the right side of the Gunners midfield in South Wales. Listeners to last night’s (Thursday) ABW podcast will know of my preference for Alex Iwobi to get the nod. However, that seems unlikely after Arsene rather puzzlingly said in the wake of the Sheffield defeat that the level was “too high” for the younger players he selected.

It is likely that the boss will turn to Joel Campbell for his greater experience. If he does let’s hope Joel seizes the opportunity to finally prove he is Premiership material. If you want to hear more of what was discussed by @The_GFP @ozgooner49 @jasondavies71 @Geoff Arsenal and yours truly on the podcast it can be found below.

Monk has no such worries and a full squad to pick from. The Swans promised to challenge for a top five or six berth early on in the season drawing at Chelsea on the opening day before going on to beat Newcastle and Manchester United. They hit the skids in September, securing just one point and one goal as well as tumbling out of the COCup to Hull City. In October they have beaten Aston Villa, drawn with the little club up the road, and lost to Stoke in their last home outing.

The key for us could be how we handle Bafetimbi Gomis, the French international who scored home and away as the Swans did the double over us last season. However, he has gone six Premier League games without a goal after scoring in each of the opening four Premiership matches. His fellow countryman, Olivier Giroud, has an excellent opportunity to again secure the central striker’s role in the absence of Walcott.

With Bayern Munich and the neighbours to follow in the coming week we’ll be praying for no further injuries for the visitors this weekend. That goes for red cards too. The penalty for a sending off tomorrow would be a ban for the neighbours and that is something we could well do without.

The ‘holic pound

The bookmakers have us as odds on to overturn last season’s defeats to the Swans. I have a sneaking fancy for a 1-2 win which is on offer at around eights. That scoreline had been taken when I predicted 0-3 on the podcast. I will have to have a back-up pound on that at 15/1.

Have a cracking day out if you are fortunate enough to have a ticket for the match. The forecast is for a decent day so hopefully that is a good omen. It will be another stream hunt for those in the UK where 3pm Saturday matches cannot be broadcast. That will mean Twitter off so we don’t see what is going on a couple of minutes before it happens on the stream. First world problems, eh?

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Gunners Have An ‘Owler

The team news revealed a reasonable blend of experience and youth. The spine was provided by Petr Cech, Per Mertesacker, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Olivier Giroud. Debuts were being made by Glen Kamara and Alex Iwobi. There were also the expected promotions for Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers, Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Flamini, and Joel Campbell.

That balance was lost as early as the third minute when the Ox limped off having gone in the fetlock. Theo Walcott was sent on, hardly a like for like replacement. Joel Campbell suddenly found himself switched to the number ten role.

A cagey start ensued with both defences on top and some robust challenges from both sides, notably Wednesday’s Sam Hutchinson. With barely a quarter of an hour gone the substitute too walked off with a calf problem. That does suggest something may have been amiss in the pre-match warm-up, although the television commentator noted that Arsene Wenger had cut short Theo’s routine prior to the initial substitution.

It did make for a third debut though for Ismael Bennacer. Joel Campbell found himself back on the right flank with Bennacer now in the important creative role.

The game roared into life in the 27th minute with a spectacular strike by Wednesday’s Ross Wallace from a cut-back by Daniel Pudil. The defending wasn’t great but credit the Championship side for conjuring up the move down their left flank.

Hutchinson avoided a red card for a poor studs up challenge on Kamara two minutes later. It was surprising he had not already seen yellow, but not that this was his ninth booking of the season.

Joel Campbell’s effort was blocked and the hosts went down the other end where Flamini conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box. The goalscorer was inches away from doubling his tally for the evening. Nine minutes before the break Iwobi danced into the box and fired narrowly wide. On a rapid counter Lucas João was denied by Cech but from the resulting corner João headed Wednesday’s second from Wallace’s cross. Frankly it was no more than they deserved.

As the clock ticked down Flamini saw his effort blocked on the edge of the box. Wallace, Wednesday’s man of the half picked up a stupid yellow card for dissent when Giroud was upended by Lee. Bennacer’s header from Campbell’s cross was dealt with comfortably by teenage second string ‘keeper, Joe Wildsmith. The whistle cut short a horrendous half for the visitors.

The first attempt of the second-half came from the experienced Barry Bannan, fortunately for the Arsenal it was high, wide, and far from handsome. The reprieve was temporary. Calum Chambers conceded a cheap free-kick which was chipped to the unmarked Lees beyond the far post. His cross just cleared a ducking Gibbs and Hutchinson bundled in the third.

Three nearly became four when João, unmarked in the box, headed narrowly wide. It was becoming, literally, men against boys. Just before the hour mark bookings were traded. Loovens for the Owls and Debuchy for the Gunners. Arsenal’s third substitution saw Krystian Bielik become the fourth debutant for the Londoners, replacing the unfortunate Kamara.

The magnificent travelling support roared out defiantly “We love you Arsenal, we do”. At last they got a response, Flamini chipping to the far post for Mertesacker who warmed Wildsmith’s hands. A series of corners promised much, but yielded little. Wednesday retreated and allowed no room for Arsenal to exploit, even if we had a creative spark left on the pitch. A rare break ended with the ineffective Campbell collecting a yellow card for a trip. The same player had the last say, volleying wide of the far post from the inside right channel.

There was no doubt that the better side had triumphed. It was a tough night for the Gunners youngsters. Paul Merson suggested they needed more help from the experienced heads around them. The problem is that some of those experienced players are struggling themselves. We know where the COCup features in our priorities, but let’s hope the defeat does not spread a wider air of malaise at Shenley in the coming days.

By the look of things tonight it won’t. The friendly greetings between the opposing benches suggested we weren’t too bothered.

After an intense burst of victories against Manchester United, Watford, Bayern Munich, and Everton it is down to largely the squad players and youngsters to take on Sheffield Wednesday in the fourth round of the COCup. Arsene Wenger today confirmed that Per Mertesacker is available after illness but David Ospina remains injured. The boss took the unusual step of saying that Petr Cech will play in goal. Ahead of him we could see Mathieu Debuchy, Mertesacker, Calum Chambers, and Kieran Gibbs.

It would not be a surprise for Glen Kamara to be given a start alongside Mathieu Flamini in a holding role. The three attacking midfielders will be the most interesting test facing the boss. Alex Iwobi has been in fine form for the U21’s, scoring twice against Bayern in the European Youth League last week, but he arrived at the club a winger and must be in contention on one of the flanks. Ismael Bennacer was a summer capture from Arles Avignon who has trained with the first team this season and maybe considered. One of the experienced players may start, possibly Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who looks in need of a confidence boost.

Theo Walcott, rested on Saturday, might start but this is probably more likely to be the chance Joel Campbell has been waiting for to lead the line. Jeorge Bird is closer to the youth set up and sees things slightly differently. I don’t think either of us will be too far out.

I’ll be honest and say I don’t know a great deal about the current version of Sheffield Wednesday. They dropped out of the top flight in 2000 and a succession of managers as well as owners have failed to oversee a return of the glory days. The current side appears closer than any to achieving that. They currently sit ninth in the Championship, four points adrift of the play-off places.

Their path to this tie has seen them defeat Mansfield Town and Oxford United before winning at Premier League Newcastle in the third round. We have been warned. At home only one of eight visitors have beaten them, and that was high-flying Middlesbrough. Apparently they have their own injury concerns and will be without defender Michael Turner, midfielder Alex Lopez and attackers Marco Matias and Modou Sougou.

Owls boss Carlos Carvalhal appears to be something of a mathematician, saying beforehand.

“I believe that probably we will have 10% chance to go to the next phase but 10% is 10%. It is not zero. Zero is when you can do nothing, 1% you can do something and with 10% you have chances. We will grab this 10% and try to do our best and maybe we’ll have a little more with the support of our fans and we will fight, of course.” 

The ‘holic pound

That’s clear then. I have to say given that they are at home and we are likely to field a very young and inexperienced side that their odds might be greater than 10%. The bookmakers have to assume that Arsene thinks he is taking a team to Yorkshire that will ensure our progress and have priced the match appropriately. Against anybody but us I would be very interested in the 17/2 against the home team. The bookies make 0-2 the favourite scoreline and the inclusion of Cech makes this my choice also.

If you are making the trip on a cold Tuesday night I hope indeed that Arsenal do have sufficient strength to progress and your journey is made worthwhile. The match is on Sky Sports 1 here so doubles numerous streams will be available for those of you who are not subscribers.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Sunday morning, the extra hour in bed turned down in order to catch Match of the Day. Was that really such a good game yesterday? It turns out the answer was yes, but only because we withstood a spirited fightback by a very positive Everton side.

The afternoon started well with reports of Chelsea’s continuing woes accompanying the pre-match pintage. The team news filtered into the pub and the news of Per Mertesacker’s illness meant a recall for Gabriel. The inclusion of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Aaron Ramsey was largely expected, but most significant was the recall for Olivier Giroud in place of Theo Walcott.

Giroud was needed for his target man qualities as Arsenal sought to relieve moments of pressure from an Everton side that was prepared to commit bodies forward when in possession. He was also a significant threat, heading a Santi Cazorla corner wide before setting up Mesut Ozil for an effort that was deflected wide by Tim Howard. The opening half hour lacked the intensity of the Manchester United match, but that owed much to Everton being well organised in the opening exchanges.

Giroud brings Monreal into play

Then the goals arrived, like London buses, two together. It was almost inevitable that Ozil would be the provider, and Giroud the finisher of the first. From the restart Alexis Sanchez quickly regained possession, was tripped on the edge of the box, and Santi Cazorla’s cross was powered home by the head of Laurent Koscielny. It was a burst that would prove decisive, but by no means was it the end of the contest.

Everton were not about to fold as they had done last week, and broke at pace with the impressive Berkley’s speculative effort deflecting off Gabriel and wrong-footing Petr Cech. Were Deulofeu not suffering from an inner-ear infection they might have made more of an impact. That boy does enjoy chewing the cud and quite how he avoided the attention of Lee Mason is a mystery.

The second-half started as the first before building to a frenetic crescendo. Alexis was twice denied by Tim Howard and Olivier Giroud will be wondering how he did not add to his tally. He had an acrobatic effort saved by Howard, just failed to connect with a teasing Bellerin cross, and rattled the crossbar with another fine effort. Ozil, as ever decorating the performance with some sumptuous passes, drilled a fine drive against the foot of a post

It wasn’t all one way traffic though and Everton sensed a point, coming closest when Lukako out jumped the Gunners defence to head onto the top of the crossbar. Flamini, on to protect the slender lead, found himself at centre-forward but he headed straight at Howard thereby enabling the visitors to counter attack in his absence. Deulofeu stayed on his feet to blast another effort goalward but Cech saved excellently.

There were some amusing exchanges between the crowd and fourth official Anthony Taylor over some of Mr Mason’s more bizarre decisions, or non-decisions, but to be fair he took them in good spirit and even sent a fruit pastille up to the neighbour for the day. Mason finally saw the same things as the crowd and two yellow cards for Gareth Barry were correctly administered.

And so to the pub to ruminate on the creative axis of Cazorla and Ozil, and the fact that once again we are at the summit of the Premier League, if only briefly. It matters not a lot in October, but adds to the growing belief in the squad. Patches like these are there to be savoured, but not overstated. At least we are competitive thus far, and that is all we can ask for.

“Everton is another big game so the target is for us to take advantage of that. We play in front of everybody so let’s take advantage of it. We have built up a run and that brings confidence, but you also want a good compromise between confidence, urgency and hunger. It must give us hunger to do more. That’s what we want to do against Everton.

Arsene Wenger points out the importance of producing another winning performance on Saturday evening. Victory would take us top of the Premier League, if only until the Manchester derby on Sunday. The confidence has returned and the defeat of Bayern Munich, on top of victories against Manchester United and Tottenham, will surely only strengthen that belief.

The Visitors

Everton arrive on the back of a defeat by Manchester United last week but that performance was surely affected by the news of Howard Kendall’s death. The Toffees had amassed 13 points from 8 matches prior to that and they remain in the top half of the table just 4 points behind fourth-placed West Ham.

Everton defeated Chelsea last month and have earned a point in our neck of the woods already courtesy of a goalless draw in N17 in August. Prior to the United match they also earned a point in the first Merseyside derby of the season.

They have an in-form striker in Romelu Lukako, who has 7 goals to his credit already this season. Defender John Stones, target of a very public transfer bid by Chelsea in the summer, and Ross Barkley in midfield are likely to be off to the European Championship with England at the end of the season.

The Arsenal

Aaron Ramsey’s hamstring injury sustained against Bayern will keep him out for three Arsenal weeks (so expect him back some time in the new year). David Ospina and Mikel Arteta are also ruled out along with the long-term absentees Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, and Tomas Rosicky.

Arsene has probably got to make a decision between slotting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in as a straight replacement for Rambo, or switch Theo Walcott to the right hand side and recall Olivier Giroud up front. Hopefully beyond that any ‘rotation’ will be saved for Sheffield Wednesday next Tuesday in the COCup. Let’s get the best available team playing at a high tempo and pressing from the off to prevent Everton getting a foothold in the game and frustrating us.

I’m grateful to the BBC for an interesting little statistic about our HFB. “Olivier Giroud has scored his last four goals for Arsenal as a substitute. The Frenchman has scored four goals in his last four league and cup games against Everton.” He sounds worth a start for me. Get chalk on your boots, Theo.

The ‘holic pound

We are the form team in the Premier League right now. Everton have made things difficult for us in recent years and it is a fair bet that Roberto Martinez will set up to contain and counter. Everton have not won at the Grove but secured draws in 2006/7, 2009/10, 2012/13, and 2013/14. I will back against a repeat, however. Momentum could be halted at any time, but while it is with us the comfortable home win is sought. 3-0 to the Arsenal at around tens is too tempting for me. I’m on it. Be warned though, as the visitors have only conceded two goals on the road in the Premier League this season so far.


The Daily Mirror’s John Cross will be at the wonderful Piebury Corner on Holloway Road from 2-4pm signing copies of his book ‘Arsene Wenger: The Inside Story of Arsenal Under Wenger’. Few have enjoyed the degree of access to Arsene in recent years as John so this promises to be a fascinating read. The added bonus of a delicious pie or scotch egg and a pint makes this a real pre-match attraction.

I will doubtless see a number of you at the usual haunt pre and post match. It looks as though we might just get a little bit wet! For those not lucky enough to be at the Grove I hope you find a decent broadcast to follow. As ever, have a good one ‘holics.

Gunners Monster Munchen

It was the best of times. That’s all. No Dickens style rider. From the pre-match aperitifs, through some wonderful Italian food in good company, to one of the most emotive nights the Grove has hosted, it was a special day.

That it was such an un-Arsenal like display, but one that harked back to the best of the nineties Gunners European performances, made it all the more sweet for some crazy inexplicable reason. I wouldn’t want to watch that week in, week out, but as a pragmatic approach against the best-equipped opponents it is something we have been crying out for in the barren years. Rope-a-dope was never so satisfying, but this was rope-a-dope ultra.

Born in Manchester last year, Arsenal’s adoption of a solid defensive plan with rapid counter-attacking when allowed was honed to perfection on a relatively balmy October evening. What made it all the more impressive is that we survived a Bayern storm in the opening half. Both full-backs were clearly being pinpointed as Arsenal’s weak link. Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal often found themselves double-teamed as Alexis and Aaron were being pulled around by some intelligent movement by the visitors.

After some early scares for the less experienced Bellerin Arsene Wenger made a slight change, allowing Mesut Ozil to perform a little more of a covering role. At the heart of the defence Bayern floundered on the twin rocks of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, although they in turn had the benefit of the shielding offered by Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla.

We let them have the football until they felt compelled to run down a blind alley and then we countered. They bossed the possession statistic all night, but the better chances were fashioned by us. It was an absorbing watch punctured only by the need to ‘do our bit’ and burst into raucous song.

The empty seats at the start of the match

The Bayern fans added to a wonderful atmosphere. The much-heralded protest against ticket prices was observed by around a quarter of them, around 700 or so would be a rough estimate. They replaced the banners that occupied their empty seats five minutes in and earned a warm round of applause from a lot, but by no means all, of the home supporters.

Some of them must have wished they had stayed outside. On the couple of occasions they fashioned chances they found Petr Cech in magnificent form. His first-half save from Thiago was breathtaking from sixty yards away. I look forward to seeing it again. A second-half tip over the bar from Lewandowski will bear further inspection too.

At the other end also Manuel Neuer was adding to the goalkeeping masterclass keeping out goal bound efforts from Ozil and, more memorably, Theo Walcott. Theo worked his socks off but again found playing with his back to goal a challenge. However he most certainly kept the central defenders on their toes and looks more and more comfortable in the role as he adjusts to it.

There were moments of near farce as Bayern were reduced to playing walking football in their own half, almost begging Arsenal to come out of their oh so protective shell. The Gunners responded by having a breather, or strolling round their own half as if to say “Well come on then, come back down here and let us take it off you again!” It added to the theatre of the night.

The introduction of Olivier Giroud for the last quarter of an hour proved a masterstroke. Immediately he started winning the balls played from deep and bringing others into play. More importantly he got the breakthrough for the Arsenal when he judged the flight of Cazorla’s teasing free-kick better than Neuer and knocked in what may prove to be the most important goal of his career to date.

The second, thrillingly crafted by Bellerin who was sensational in the second-half, and finished by the mercurial Ozil, created mass confusion in the stadium. Why were we celebrating? Had the final whistle blown. No, fair play to the first fifth official I have seen do one of the jobs they were put there to do, it was a second goal. The killer of the ‘holic pound too, but I wouldn’t have wanted the match to end differently.

The journey homeward, and for much of today, was an opportunity to bask in the glow of a remarkable night. The only dampener was discovering that Olympiakos had won in Zagreb, and if they win the return on their own turf in a fortnight they will have nine points with two matches to play. It means we could really do with something from our trip to Munich. Let’s worry about that in a fortnight though.

On Tuesday night we proved we have the abilty to compete with and defeat the best in Europe once more. Let’s savour that delicious thought a little while longer.

It’s all about me, me, me. No, that’s inaccurate. It’s all about us, us, us. A generation or two of Gooners who have watched us lift every trophy the game has to offer English club teams bar the holy grail that is big ears. So when we hear suggestions that it might be better if we go out of this season’s Champions League and concentrate on the Premier League challenge we scratch our heads, or stamp our feet and scream “NO!”. We want the full set before four darkly clad ageless jockeys come to spirit us off to whatever happens next.

Bayern Munich are in town and will be our opponents home and away in our next two European matches. We have met them four times home and away in recent years and our record reads the same in London and in Munich. Won 1, Drawn 1, Lost 2. Ironically that is also our record in our last four home matches in the Champions League. Therefore in some quarters there is an understandable air of pessimism about the upcoming matches, particularly in the light of our two defeats against the supposed lesser lights of the group.

It is time for Arsenal to put in the sort of performance that has yielded eleven goals and nine points in the last three Premier League fixtures, not the inability to turn possession into goals and points against Olympiakos and Dynamo Zagreb. A point also voiced by Arsene Wenger ahead of the match.

“Maybe subconsciously we thought ‘anyway we will win these’. Now to correct that we need a great performance. What we want to do is play up to our level. That will be needed because we play against a big team.”

We are boosted by the return of Gabriel, but he is the only addition to the squad that was on duty at Watford on Saturday evening. There must be a temptation to start the Brazilian ahead of Per Mertesacker, but the skipper’s familiarity with the visitors may be regarded as an asset. Other than that it is unlikely that we will see any other changes from Saturday’s starting line-up. Olivier Giroud has a strong case for a recall, but Theo Walcott’s performance against Manchester United in our last big home match has surely earned him the chance to prove that was not a one-off.

Bayern arrive with a one hundred percent record domestically and in Europe. Perhaps that makes them due a defeat, or two! To insert a smattering of perspective at this point, against the two sides who have already beaten us Bayern scored eight goals without response. Despite this Pep Guardiola has been making the case for not dismissing the challenge of Arsenal lightly.

“They have an advantage because they have to win. When that happens with these kind of players, and the history of this club, they are going to make the best performance possible. I don’t expect anything other than a fight for the 90 minutes. I can imagine the mentality of my team. We would be an animal, because it is our last chance. You give everything and that will happen with Arsenal so you have to be prepared.”

We don’t expect anything other than that either Pep, but what we expect and what we get in Europe these days can be very different things. The ‘holic pound, You won’t be surprised to read, is based on the belief we will see the Arsenal respond positively. It could be surrendered very quickly, but I am drawn to that old European favourite, one-nil to the Arsenal. There is a reason you can get up to 16/1 against that scoreline. Indeed the bookies have Arsenal rank outsiders at 3/1. At home, that is almost unbelievable, but sadly a reflection of how we are viewed in the Champions League right now.

It’s time to start changing those perceptions. Nobody believes for a moment that it will be easy, but it is most certainly possible. Let’s not tamely surrender a shot at big ears, for our sake. We are not in a position where we can turn our backs on a major trophy in the misplaced belief it would guarantee another. That way lies more bitterness and rancour.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »