Feed on

A couple days back at base and I am catching up with my email. Among it all the update on the figure raised for the Arsenal Foundation on this season’s charity matchday against Stoke City earlier this month. £258,214, a new record sum donated by the players, staff, and supporters of the Arsenal. Well done to all who contributed.

Add this to the one million pounds raised by the Arsenal Legends game against Milan Glorie in September, and the twenty percent of sales of the Arsenal Christmas jumpers, and you will see a very healthy contribution to enable the Foundation to further help those both locally and overseas.

Beneficiaries of 2016’s charity matchday include; Arsenal Foundation partner, Willow, Nordoff Robbins, and Teenage Cancer Trust who create world-class cancer services for young people in the UK. Through The Gunners Fund, The Arsenal Foundation will make more grants of up to £2,500 totalling £75,000 each season to support a range of local projects.

The money raised by the Legends match will be used to create pitches in Jordan and Somalia. The Arsenal Foundation’s efforts in locations recovering from former troubles continues to provide real help to the young people in those areas.

At this time of year in particular it is good to remember the work that the Arsenal’s charity arm does with so many disadvantaged young people. It should be a matter of considerable pride for all involved.

Classic Football Shirts

The new year sees a new alliance here at Goonerholic with classicfootballshirts.co.uk becoming a very welcome addition. Check out just the Arsenal kit they are currently offering and you will find page after page of wonderful shirts and associated kit priced from under a tenner to eye-watering prices for player issue rarities. There really is something for everyone there, and if you click on there through the link in this paragraph there is a chance this blog may make a few coppers too, thank you.

Classic Football Shirts was formed a decade ago by students Matt and Doug, and the business has expanded to the extent that they now operate out of a 15000 sq ft warehouse. Over 25 people are now kept busy selling kit from 50 clubs and 20 brands worldwide to provide the best clearance bargains out there. Why not take a look and see what takes your fancy?


The Long Slow Bond

Home just in time for kick-off after taking a lively pup for a swim and a run, it was time take up position around the television seated next to the eldest grand’holic. It took a while to sort out an English commentary, and we succeeded eventually, but not before learning the Spanish for “it looks like West Brom are going to bore the pants off you this afternoon”.

So, no Theo today. In fact Bellerin appears to be the right wing back. Iwobi appears to be in the centre, left of Mezut.” We tried to digest the set-up which looked like a variation rarely seen. 3-2-3-2.

Nacho has lost his place to Gibbo I see” said the older viewer, not surprised as you will have seen in the preview. “He’s a better player, surely?” and who am I to argue with a young fan?

West Brom doing the usual. Banks of four and five with one poor sod left up top on his own to forage. Be prepared for a long afternoon. We don’t look like we have any sort of tempo to our build-up so we need to be patient this afternoon.” And so the first-half panned out.

Anybody for a Bloody Mary?” I tried to sound less than eager, but the half-time treat absolutely hit the spot.

The second-half started brighter. “Yeaghhhh, wait yeeaaarrrrgggghhhhhh!” Foster was at his best to deny Iwobi, then Alexis. “Yeeeeeeaaaaaarrrrgggghhhhhhh!” the Chilean hit the post. We appeared to have reverted to a familiar formation with Iwobi back out on the right.

It’s going to be one of those days” said Nanny one to Nanny two on the other sofa. This is only marginally behind “I don’t know why they bother, they never score” and “Never mind, it’s only a game” in the irritation stakes.

Foster was at his best again to deny Alexis, then Giroud. “Why doesn’t Lucas get a start Grandad? And when is he going to bring Ramsey on?” The young man is wise beyond his years. “How long is the goalkeeper allowed to hang on to the ball Grandad?” I inform him at Arsenal they are only allowed to hold on to it as long as it takes me to have a shave. We smile together.

Kieran Gibbs injury doesn’t look good and so as well as well as the attacking substitutions of Rambo and Lucas we have to bring Nacho back into the fold. We rain crosses into the Baggies box, all to no avail. From our left we hear “I don’t know why they bother, they never score.” A black labrador pup looks at me, tilts his head to one side. I doubt he has ever seen a little steam come out of a human’s ears before.

The best chance falls to Bellerin, now operating as an auxiliary striker. “Aaarrrggghhh! If that was Giroud it’s goal.” is answered by “Never mind, it’s only a game.“. I assure a now silent young man that no Arsenal match is ever ‘only a game’, and then it happens.

Ozil exchanges passes with Bellerin and crosses for Giroud to somehow hold off a strangulation attempt by his marker. The looping header breaks the visitors resolve and unites young and old in a spontaneous “Wooooohoooooooo!“, or something like that. “Have they scored?” asks a Nanny, I’m not sure which.

Any chance of another Bloody Mary?

Grandad! It’s only five o’clock.” And so for the first time I can remember we celebrate a last gasp win at home to West Bromwich Albion with champagne, which seems a little excessive in the grand scheme of things, but this is more acceptable than me hammering another large vodka, tomato juice, Worcester sauce, Tabasco sauce, and lemon juice down me Gregory Peck.

I hope you all had a good one, or as good as possible given your unique circumstances.

Can’t wait to see Fat Sam bring an expansive Palace to the Grove on New Years Day.

Yo ho ho, and trust me I am full of it as I grab a few minutes to preview the Boxing Day match in between little bouts of helping out and lots of sampling different drinks and pieces of food. By Tuesday I will be, as Bez once screamed in Arabian Knights, “size of an elephant!” Someone really should remake the Banana Splits in HD. I digress.

From what I am reading and hearing elsewhere Arsenal have a MUST WIN game against West Bromwich Albion on Monday. That is much more significant game than a must win one. We get the picture. Throwing two leads away to end up pointless in two trips to the north-west has added emphasis to us securing three points from this one.

The seasonal relevance of Scrooge Pulis bringing his latest incarnation to the Grove is not lost on us. Having said that he has a pretty poor track record against us at our place, despite the times his Stoke (and last season West Brom) have made the most of home advantage against the team they love to hate.

The Baggies have looked strong this season and have an opportunity to climb to seventh place behind Manchester United if they can get a result in this one. Although obviously biased I cannot help but observe that our need is greater, trailing Chelsea by the equivalent of three wins.

Whilst the prognosis for the squad appears healthy in the coming weeks we are one body short from the eleven that suffered reverses in the last two outings. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is ruled out by injury, but may have missed out in what could, perhaps should, be a reshuffle of our left flank resources.

It wouldn’t be the greatest surprise to see Kieran Gibbs get his chance over Nacho Monreal, a wonderful footballer but struggling for form of late. Alex Iwobi is the obvious replacement for the Ox, but there are question marks over his stamina. Might this be the match in which to give Lucas a taste of Premier League football? The prospect of he and Alexis interchanging, and interacting with Mesut Ozil is a tasty one.

James Morrison is a doubt for West Brom after missing training due to flu, but they will leave a decision until Monday and don’t be surprised if he features yet. Jonny Evans could make his comeback after a two-game absence caused by a calf injury, which his more cruel critics might say would hand us the advantage.

The ‘holic pound

“I have a group that is ready for the fight.” said Arsene Wenger. He’d better be right. A full house of hungover Gooners with indigestion will not greet another surrender with festive cheer.

I prefer to believe we have more spirit and determination about us than we showed in the second-half at Goodison and the Emptihad. West Brom do have power and as ever with a Pulis team they do have the players to capitalise from set pieces.

They may pinch a goal, but hopefully not a point. I’m taking the 21/2 on a 3-1 to the riproaring Gunners, not the out of sorts imposters of last week.

It is time to hit the driving range with the grand’holics, so that means it is also time to wish you all a very happy and healthy Christmas, or holiday for those of other persuasions.

There will be those for whom it won’t be the happiest of occasions for various reasons. Know that toasts will be raised to you over the weekend.

Have the best one you can, ‘holics.

When you have seen as many Christmas fixtures as those of us who have left our teen years long behind, then you will have seen many that leave an imprint on your life. Who knows, you might be attending your first match against West Brom this Boxing Day and the 8-5 victory will never leave you.

In my earliest memories we would invariably play the same team home and away at Christmas. Most notable of these was in 1965 when Sheffield Wednesday whacked us 4-0 at Hillsborough on the day after Boxing Day. The following day we hosted them and won 5-2. No, we couldn’t make any sense of it either!

The first Christmas game that actually made the entire holiday came on Boxing Day in 1968. The visitors to Highbury were Manchester United, who earlier that year had become the first English club to lift the European Cup, or the Champions League as it has become today. This was the United of Law, Best, Charlton, and Brian Kidd, who would go on to spend two seasons saving the Gunners top flight status in the mid-seventies.

Arsenal themselves were in something of an upturn. The previous season they had reached their first Wembley final in my lifetime only to be beaten by a very controversial Terry Cooper goal for Dirty Leeds in the League Cup Final. A follow up trip was around the corner, but Swindon Town would ruin that day. However, the side that was about to lift the European Fairs Cup and their first double in the space of twelve months was taking shape.

Arsenal went into the match fourth in the League and with plenty of people tipping them for Championship success. Officially 62,000 were packed into Highbury. I can assure you it was many more than that. Turnstile operators of the day could get an adult and child through with only one click recorded.

United were adjusting to the loss of Bill Foulkes and Shay Brennan at the back, but their midfield and attack was formidable. Arsenal were without the injured Jon Sammels, for whom David Court deputised.

The first-half was a tense affair played out in front of a raucous crowd. The North Bank was as noisy an end as any back then, and an education in all manner of obscenities to an eleven year old! However I was at the other end, to the left of the clock looking at the pitch, where dad and his mates would gather in those days. There were a fair few Stretford Enders and cockney reds at our end, but they would remain mostly quiet on the day.

The match turned in the fortieth minute. Paddy Crerand, one of United’s combative midfielders alongside Nobby Stiles, pulled up with a muscle injury. United’s substitute was Carlo Sartori, a frail-looking attacker. They were unbalanced for the second-half and Arsenal took full advantage.

Arsenal took the lead from a wonderful piece of role reversal. John Radford, a six foot plus striker, got free down the left wing and when he crossed the ball it was met with a diving-header from wee Geordie Armstrong, the most versatile of wingers and the best crosser of a ball I’ve seen in my lifetime. One nil to the Arsenal some twenty-six years before that became an Arsenal anthem.

Just two minutes later Geordie found himself in space on the left and he crossed for Court to net another acrobatic header. The North Bank was a wall of noise, and for the first time I can remember hearing, roared out the Jingle Bells version that ended “Oh what fun it is to see United lose away, hey!” In truth we didn’t beat United often in the sixties. We were feeling relief and joy in equal measure.

With a quarter of an hour remaining the rout was complete when Geordie conjured up another cross from the left to repay Radford for earlier. The big Yorkshireman gave Alex Stepney no chance. 3-0, against the European champions, I don’t think I had experienced such excitement at a game before that. Crerand’s loss, plus the fact that George Best spent the entire game trying not to get near Peter Storey, was too much for the shell-shocked visitors.

There have been other memorable Christmas fixtures, and how many times will I write about the Lane in 1978, but that game ten years earlier will never leave me. I was privileged to see it.

Arsenal :- Bob Wilson; Peter Storey, Ian Ure, Peter Simpson, Bob McNab; David Court, Frank Mclintock, George Graham; John Radford, Bobby Gould, Geordie Armstrong.

United :- Alex Stepney; Francis Burns, Steve James, David Sadler, Tony Dunne; Nobby Stiles, Bobby Charlton, Pat Crerand (Sartori); Brian Kidd, Denis Law, George Best.

It’s Happened Again

Both sides made one change at the Emptihad. The Arsenal opted for Alex Iwobi over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whilst City brought in Fernando for Gundogan.

As the clock ticked over four minutes we had a dream start on the break. Hector Bellerin sprinted over half the length of the pitch and played the ball to Alexis. In turn the Chilean played Theo Walcott in through the centre for a cool finish past Bravo’s right hand. It was a great run by the England international.

Manchester City 0-1 Arsenal

Sterling’s diving header was a coat of paint away from levelling things up less than two minutes later. The early omens were for an open contest. We were playing a high line and Laurent Koscielny had to be alert to cut out an intended through ball for Sterling who had galloped into space.

Two rapid breaks by Arsenal around the quarter of an hour ended disappointingly, but it appeared City were hanging on by a thread. Midway through the half they were reduced to a wild effort from distance by De Bruyne. It was becoming evident that the Gunners were setting up for a repeat of last season’s rope-a-dope, with the two banks of four providing quite the barrier.

Around the half hour mark Gabriel’s clearance cannoned off the head of Bellerin and forced Petr Cech into a smart save. We took the opportunity to break again, only for Walcott to blaze his volley from Ozil’s wonderful pass over the target. It was noticeable that we had silenced the home crowd.

Walcott had another opportunity from a corner ten minutes before half-time but headed a couple yards wide. Silva’s somewhat ironic and cynical hack at Francis Coquelin to stop us breaking again earned him the first yellow card of the game. We powered forward again but Bellerin’s rasping drive was over the bar again. A second goal was not only desirable at this point, but also deserved.

A needless foul by Alexis on Otamendi gave City a chance to attack but Sane’s cross was put behind for a corner by Gabriel. Worryingly Alexis appeared to have come off worse, and was outsprinted by Kolarov when put free. He limped back gingerly. Iwobi did put the ball into the City net as the half drew to a close but the offside flag had already been raised against Nacho Monreal. That was a shame as the young winger was putting in an end to end shift.

In added time Toure’s header from a corner was fortunately straight at Cech and Arsenal went off for their half-time refreshments by far the happier of the teams, which made what was to follow absolutely baffling.

City made a change at the start of the second-half, sending on former Gunner Bacary Sagna for Zabaleta. They levelled things the suspiciously offside-looking Sane was played in by Silva and he slid the ball past Cech. It was a goal that emphasised Arsenal’s inability to grab a killer second goal while fully in control of the first-half.

Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal

Toure’s yellow card for dissent five minutes into the half was deserved. His animated reaction to the award of a throw-in against him was excessive and unnecessary. At the other end Bellerin sliced another attempt high and wide of the mark. Back came City, for the first time looking capable of pulling us out of shape.

Another Bellerin run at the heart of the City defence was intercepted and the hosts counter ended with Iwobi blocking Sagna’s attempted cross. Just past the hour Silva sent Sane running at Cech again but the Gunners ‘keeper made an excellent save at his near post. The stubborn rearguard action of the opening half had been replaced by us being careless in possession under pressure. Shades of Goodison all over again.

Granit Xhaka was forced to scramble the ball out for a corner as City again breached the defensive line. Fortunately Silva dragged his effort wide of the near post. That was the trigger for fresh legs, and the entirely predictable substitution of Oxlade-Chamberlain for Iwobi.

It changed things not a jot. Sterling, a different player in the second-half, was sent scampering clear down the right by De Bruyne. Monreal allowed him to cut inside and beat Cech at the near post with Silva in an offside position but probably not in Cech’s line of sight. For the second time in five days we had surrendered a one goal advantage in the north-west.

Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal

Giroud and Navas appeared from the bench for Coquelin and Sane respectively. We were again exposed on our left flank and DeBruyne struck the post from an acute angle. Arsenal responded by subbing the sub. Mohamed Elneny replaced The Ox. De Bruyne was next to see yellow for an awful ‘challenge’ from behind on Gabriel as he shepherded the ball over the touchline.

At last we threatened but when Ozil teed up Walcott he chipped woefully over the far post. Encouraged, we poured forward again but Giroud headed off target under pressure from Sagna. Iheanacho replaced Kevin De Bruyne as City attempted to run down the clock.

Elneny picked up our first booking for a clumsy challenge on Fernando. It was a break in momentum we didn’t need. In four added minutes Gabriel also saw yellow for a ludicrous challenge from behind on Silva. Fernando took another yellow for a tug on Bellerin and the game limped to a conclusion.

A second disappointment in a week will spark the same old discussions in the coming days, and understandably so. This should not be a fatal blow to our challenge, but that our soft underbelly was again exposed should lead to the exchange of a few home truths at Shenley this week. We have put ourselves under pressure in the pointed end of the season, and we have to find a way to deal with that pressure. Especially when that pressure is self-inflicted.

“We know we are on a long-term target and that we have to go through some disappointments. We have done extremely well, but what is important in football is that you respond and that we focus to do better in the future. We are a strong team away from home and that’s what we want to show straight away again at Manchester City.”

Arsene Wenger talking to Arsenal.com before what has become a very significant trip to Manchester this weekend. This preview is being written after Chelsea grabbed another 1-0 win, this time at Crystal Palace, to pull nine points clear at the top the Premier League. If there is a winner at the Emptihad tomorrow then that club would become the best placed to take advantage of any slip-ups by the bus stop in Fulham.

Arsene will be as aware as anybody that this is also a great opportunity for us to hurt a weakened City line-up. The spine of the side, Kompany (knee), Gundogan (knee), Fernandhino and Aguero (both suspended) are all out. Expect the versatile De Bruyne to drop deeper, while Sane or Navas fill in further forward. They are still a dangerous opponent, but the depth of their squad will be fully tested here.

Pep Guardiola will doubtless be telling his players that we face a similar issue being without Shkodran Mustafi, Aaron Ramsey, and Santi Cazorla, and that would be fair comment. We haven’t lost a game when Mustafi has played this season and we have the lost the three he has missed so far. The opposing managers have been full of praise for the other this week, with Pep saying,

“I understand it’s not easy to win the Premier League, but I have a lot of respect for his (Arsene’s) career. I admire the way he tries to play and especially the quality of the players they like and they buy. If we are lazy and not strong enough, they have the quality.”

The Arsenal may have a psychological advantage in as much as City have already come a cropper to London clubs Chelsea and Tottenham this season. Most peoples title favourites at the start of the season, they too need to get back on the winning trail. We are on a decent run against the blue half of Manchester and last season’s two goal triumph up there should give us heart ahead of kick-off.

The Gunners back five picks itself, but again a decision about which pairing is the best in front of them. Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin may get the chance to show that the result at Goodison was a blip. Mesut Ozil and Alexis will surely have another chance to build on their partnership.

It is in the wide positions where Arsene has to earn his corn. Theo Walcott, after a bright start to the season, has looked a little tired recently. That’s understandable. The new father is still putting in a full shift defensively but that attacking edge was missing on Tuesday night, not for the first time of late. Lucas, scorer of that opportunist hat-trick in Basel, is a potential replacement if Arsene opts to rest the England international.

Similarly, on the left, one could barely get a cigarette paper between Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi. Whoever gets the nod will need to deliver in order to avoid a place on the bench on Boxing Day.

The ‘holic pound

You know I think bookies are rarely wrong and I am a bit surprised that they have City as very warm if not hot favourites to win. That means the odds on an Arsenal win are higher than I expected. As a Christmas gift for Bergkamp the Man I am tipping 1-2 to the visitors at a very tasty 12/1. I’m hoping the fact that we have our main striker available is the difference between the sides.

Art Of Football Offer

If you missed out on the Art off Football teeshirt competition, and their Black Friday promotion you still have this weekend to grab a deal from them.

Last minute Christmas shopping? 15% off this weekend using the code: PanicBuy. Order by Monday for Xmas delivery. See their website here for the Arsenal goodies on offer.

That’s it for now, so to the travelling faithful on Sunday I will offer my usual wishes for an enjoyable and successful trip. Let’s hope that between 4 and 6pm on Sunday you will get to enjoy doing the Poznan yet again.

For all of you who are reading this, have a great one, ‘holics.

Too early for a preview, but I can’t take three nights off this side of a Christmas when I may well be conspicuous by my absence. I ask mates for their suggestions for a post. The creative juices were clearly flowing. Picture this strapping Welsh lad suggest in that oh so lovely brogue “Try a romantic comedy Dave”. Then they all pile in.

“Arsene & Koeman”

“There’s something about Ronald”

“Mustafi gone – the organisation went to rat shit”. No wait. I think that last one was a genuine comment on the match. The first defeat in Premier or Champions League since the opening day of the season was compounded by good results for all the teams we would rather have clipped our heels as we fell and tumbled over too.

Again in the era of social media it is easy to get dragged into a world that seems full of people who will suck the life from your soul. Instead I follow just a handful who I know have the club in their heart. Actually if I think about it there were matches in the pre-internet era that might have generated similar endless circular debates, and I would have understood completely.

They roll around in this cursed memory of mine, one which forgets the names of people I met yesterday but can still picture Jim Furnell getting manhandled by Jack Charlton to allow Terry Cooper a free crack at the volley that decided our first Wembley Final in my lifetime. I think people would have understood that one a little better. Leeds under Revie were a coming power and mixed silk and steel to intimidate teams before beating them.

A year later 60’s Twitter would have been an awful place to inhabit after we were beaten at Wembley by a Third Division club. Ian Ure’s Arsenal career went south that day. The boo-boys needed a scapegoat. Never mind that a bug had raged through the squad in the week leading up to a match, that went to extra-time, on a quagmire of a pitch ruined by the Horse of the Year show. They were ‘excuses’. URE OUT!

Fast forward to September 1970. The Gunners, fresh from winning their first trophy in seventeen years, were making a serious challenge to Leeds for the title. In the first dozen matches the only defeat came in a bad-tempered affair, on and off the pitch, at the bus stop in Fulham. Manchester United had been thrashed 4-0, and Tottenham 2-0 with a Geordie Armstrong brace.

In the week before a trip to the old Victoria Ground in Stoke we had toasted West Brom 6-2 and successfully cleared the first hurdle of our defence of the European Fairs Cup against a powerful Lazio team. This was when relations with the Potters weren’t as bad as they are today. Tony Waddington had put together a promising blend of youngsters and more experienced campaigners, like our very own George Eastham.

Stoke’s centre-forward, the battle-hardened John Ritchie, thumped in a header, then added an impressive solo effort as Stoke built up a head of steam in the first-half. 2-0 wouldn’t last, surely, we thought. It didn’t. Terry Conroy, a ginger haired Paddy (who’d a thought it!) smashed in a third which won the MotD goal of the month award. We were being run ragged. A young Jimmy Greenhoff, who would go on to star for Manchester United made it four. The disaster was complete when Alan Bloor, a central defender, thumped a Bob Wilson parry into the net.

Can you imagine how low people were on the specials back south that day? Those survivors of that double-winning team will tell you that we won the title as a result of that day. On the Monday the players locked themselves in the Highbury equivalent of Anfield’s famous boot room. Every player was given his say, and many home truths were aired, digested, and put right in the coming weeks and months. Frank Mclintock had pulled off a masterstroke that day, but there were no selfies of the event, no Snapchat videos to becalm (or indeed further enrage) seething supporters. We saw the effects unveil themselves slowly but surely.

So let’s pray that we see the same determined, sustained reaction to Tuesday night in the coming weeks and months. Starting, preferably, at the Emptihad on Sunday. If we are as wounded as those boys in 1970 we should see the evidence of it this weekend.

Let’s have a happy ending to this one, please Arsenal.

So what did I know beforehand? Nothing. Arsene made the obvious enforced change of Hector Bellerin for Skhodran Mustafi but otherwise kept faith in the players who swept West Ham and Stoke away. Could we retain the goal threat and fluidity displayed in recent weeks?

Everton rested Gareth Barry but the midfield trio still retained a combative look. Deulofeu, Mirallas and Funes Mori found themselves dropped to the bench. Ronald Koeman said beforehand what he expected from his team to stop the Arsenal from playing. I don’t think we needed to be told.

“We need to be more compact, more aggressive.”

Arsenal threatened an early opener but an Alexis through ball just slid a yard ahead of Theo Walcott and Stekelenburg dropped on the ball. Everton’s response? A corner that was easily dealt with by the Gunners.

In the seventh minute we clicked into gear down the left flank. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain found the overlapping Nacho Monreal and his cross was fired over by Mesut Ozil. At the other end we had Francis Coquelin to thank for covering the central defenders and clearing a Lukaku cross for a corner.

Arsenal were allowed possession in front of Everton’s two banks of four and the visitors patient probing, with Granit Xhaka prominent, was keeping the home fans quiet. Everton were in trouble when again Monreal crossed in from the left and Williams clearance eventually found its way to Francis Coquelin. The French midfielder was brought down by Jagielka on the edge of the box and he got a yellow card for his troubles. Alexis took the free-kick and saw his drive deflected into the net by the hapless Williams.

Everton 0-1 Arsenal

Come to see the Arsenal, you’ve only come to see the Arsenal.” Over three thousand travelling Gooners filled the night air with song. Lennon tried to lift the hosts spirits with a mazy run but Gabriel blocked his attempted shot. The 28th minute saw Laurent Koscielny grimacing and clutching his back but he played on without treatment.

Another Lennon run raised the temperature but he lifted his attempt high and wide as the Arsenal defence stood strong. We broke with pace and Alexis found Ozil on the left but the attempted cut-back was cleared by the Toffees. The tackles were now snapping in as the midfield duel went to the next level.

A free-kick award which clearly angered Arsene Wenger wasn’t dealt with decisively by Monreal and Lennon again fired over. McCarthy was fortunate to see only yellow for a cowardly late double challenge from behind on Coquelin. As the half drew to a close Baines cut inside Walcott all too easily and his cross found his fellow full-back Coleman in between Koscielny, nudged forward by McCarthy, and Monreal for a glancing header inside the far post.

Everton 1-1 Arsenal

Another cheap shot on Ozil on the whistle made for lively scenes as the teams disappeared down the tunnel. It was good to see the yellow shirts unite for whatever was about to happen.

Arsenal restarted brightly. Ozil and Alexis combined to give Walcott a headed opportunity which resulted in a corner. Xhaka picked out Alexis on the left with a wonderful ball but the home side closed out the Chilean. Coquelin was next to feed Alexis, he crossed for his mate Ozil, but the genius lifted another real good chance over the bar.

Ten minutes after the break Everton made a break and Coquelin brought Baines down from behind before he reached the box. It proved to be a worthwhile risk when Coquelin himself jumped to head Barkley’s free-kick clear.

Back came the Gunners and Bellerin looked to set Ozil free but Stekelenburg made a brave save as Baines clattered into his team-mate’s orchestra stalls. After a lengthy break Barkley tested Arsenal’s rearguard again but his drive was wide of Cech’s far post. Both sides were now hunting the advantage which made for a gripping watch.

Coquelin drove into the box again and Everton struggled to clear. Alexis again picked out Monreal who had two bites at the cross. Somehow the bluenoses survived a spell of intense pressure.  That resulted in the first substitution with Lennon making way for Mirallas in the 68th minute. Lukaku outpaced Gabriel down the left but the Brazilian made a wonderful recovery challenge in the box.

Cue a double substitution with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott making way for Olivier Giroud and Alex Iwobi for the final twenty minutes. Monreal single-handedly denied Lukaku and Coleman in quick succession. Moments later we somehow survived an old-fashioned goalmouth scramble when Iwobi toe-poked the ball away from Lukaku at point-blank range.

At the other end Iwobi was on the end of a move instigated by Monreal and Alexis but he couldn’t sort his feet out and find the finish. Alexis then looked for Bellerin in the box but again Stekelenburg was quick to sweep up behind his defence. Valencia was next to be substituted by debutant Calvert-Lewin as Everton sought to relieve the pressure.

The impressive Gueye welcomed Giroud to the match by clattering the big man from behind. I’m not sure he will be an Everton player for long. The same player looked to create an opening for Mirallas but Cech was quick to grab the ball. Koscielny saw yellow for a sliding tackle on McCarthy. Everton were coming again, and Cech produced a fabulous diving save to deny Jagielka.

The reprieve was temporary. Williams was allowed a free run at Barkley’s cross and the central defender powered in his header. Arsenal had crumbled with just four minutes left.

Everton 2-1 Arsenal

Lucas was sent on for Coquelin, a last desperate throw of the dice, and he was close as Stekelenburg pouched an Alexis cross. Funes Mori was sent on for McCarthy to close out the game. Jagielka saw a red card in the last of four added minutes for a foul on Lucas. In a frantic ending Iwobi saw his effort kicked off the line by Baines but it wasn’t to be the Arsenal’s night

The Gunners fourteen match unbeaten run in the Premier League is but a memory tonight. What is important is how we react. On Sunday we will find out at Manchester City. Tonight all we can do is congratulate Everton on a committed performance and taking their chances.

When you look at the teams around us, you can see that the margin of difference between the teams has shrunk a lot. So the way you respond in every single game is absolutely vital. It’s a very important period where everyone has to be absolutely focused on our results and on the way we want to play.

Arsene Wenger ahead of a crucial Christmas period for the club. In the last three fixtures we have battered a poor West Ham team, Basel, and in-form Stoke City. The tests have got progressively harder and continue to do so. In five days we have two trips to the north-west, so often a graveyard for title aspirations. It’s title rivals Manchester City at the Emptihad on Sunday, but before that there is the matter of a trip to Everton.

Everton, like Liverpool and Manchester United, has invariably proved a barometer of our title aspirations. I can still remember the ovation they gave us when we went there in 1989 and whipped them 3-1 with a breathtaking performance. The fact that former bluenose Kevin Richardson starred and scored that day, plus the fact we were in the process of relieving Liverpool of the title, may have had a bearing on that generosity.

It’s a very different Everton we face this season. Ronald Koeman has taken over the managerial hot-seat and we all know how well his Southampton sides did against us. I am a little bit nervous that Tuesday night will be a tougher test than Sunday. Their only home defeat this season came when a below-strength team tumbled out of the EFL Cup to Norwich City. Otherwise they have played eight matches at Goodison winning four and drawing four. Two of those draws came against Manchester United and Tottenham, both 1-1. The battle for Europa League places is warming up.

Of course we make the journey without Skhodran Mustafi, yet to experience defeat in an Arsenal shirt, and such a vital component of our excellent recovery from our opening day humbling by Liverpool. Gabriel has looked much more assured in his recent appearances and switched seamlessly alongside Laurent Koscielny on Saturday. That partnership will be key to the next three weeks.

Being a Tuesday there may be a change or two elsewhere if anybody has not fully recovered from Saturday’s physical battle. It would be a surprise to see any further tinkering with the defence but both Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka put in a full shift at the weekend and Mohamed Elneny could get a start. The boss has spoken about the physical effort required to play on the flanks in his press conference earlier so Lucas and Alex Iwobi may be in line for starts?

The ‘holic pound

I may be cautious about the outcome of this one, but there is a pleasing symmetry to our recent wins. 5-1, 4-1, 3-1. I’m lured irresistibly to the natural progression to a 2-1 win for the Arsenal at a decent 17/2 if you shop around. That would return us to the summit of the Premier League for another 24 hours although it is difficult to see Chelsea’s run coming unstuck at Sunderland on Wednesday.

So to those making that long journey on a Tuesday night (and yes, I have done it in the past) I wish a reward of three points for your effort and commitment. Those of us ‘hiding behind the sofa’ will be with you in spirit.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

To send the Orcs back north empty-handed is always a pleasure. To do so on a day when a lot of old friends met up again made for a lot of fun. Not surprisingly we reverted to the eleven that started at West Ham last week, and that again paid dividends.

The three goals I had tipped beforehand duly arrived, but not until Stoke had been gifted the lead. From the halfway line I’ll be honest and say with Wenger-like vision I didn’t see it. Indeed I still haven’t, but a halftime query with the good folk of the press box drew the opinion that it was a very soft penalty award. That Lee Mason didn’t adjudge the ‘challenge’ worthy of a yellow card suggested he saw nothing malicious in it.

Not for the first time the official frustrated the home crowd with a string of debatable decisions. The penalty was despatched by Charlie Adam, and that would not be his only contribution. By this time Arsenal had been forced to reorganise following the departure of Skhodran Mustafi with a hamstring problem. It seems we will not see the excellent defender again this year. Gabriel switched to the centre and Hector Bellerin slotted in at right-back.

The shock of conceding persuaded Arsenal to ramp it up a notch. Mesut Ozil was denied by Biram Diouf but before long the equaliser arrived. Alexis sent Bellerin racing down the right flank and his cross was met perfectly by Theo Walcott at the near post. At 1-1 the half-time drinks would have tasted sweeter.

Just four minutes after the restart we were ahead for the first time when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked out Ozil, unmarked in the box, and a rare headed goal from the German put us in the driving seat. We were very much looking like an in-form team but Stoke could have levelled when a Crouch header brought a fine save from Petr Cech.

Victory, and temporary leadership of the Premier League, was sealed in another controversial moment. Alexis was tripped on the edge of the box, and then stamped on by the vile Adam. Mr Mason clearly saw something because he waved play on as the ball ran on to Iwobi who sidefooted the ball inside the far post. That no action appeared to be taken against Adam was suggesting that the referee had not seen the incident clearly. Perhaps we shall hear more of it in the coming days?

The end of a very fine week for the Arsenal prompted the downing of many celebratory beverages, as well as the pre-Christmas sausage and chips, for which our thanks are due to Martin and Lou. By the end of today we will probably be back in second place but that is a very encouraging place to be just four matches short of the midpoint of the season.

Another big week beckons, with trips to Everton and Manchester City our immediate future.  I doubt that they will be as easily despatched as West Ham, Basel, and the Orcs.

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