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Video courtesy of Arsenal FC

And so the signing of Petr Cech came to pass yesterday (Monday). First of all, welcome to Arsenal, Petr. You have given many fine displays at the Grove and we look forward to lots more now!

Looking around at the opinions of my peers on blogs and on social media this seems to have been another warmly welcomed move. The few I have discussed the potential move with in recent weeks will know I am currently less enthused than most about the deal. Being a curmudgeonly soul I have suggested that there is a very good reason why Petr was the number two at Chelsea, and that his few recent appearances (Bradford in the FA Cup for example) would suggest he may have lost a little of the edge that made him the best goalkeeper in the Premiership for the biggest part of a decade.

That said though I know I am one of just a handful of ‘Meldrews’ and when far better judges than I, yes Bob Wilson and David Seaman I mean you, are bigging up the signing then I will be only too happy to be the first to place a large order at humblepiestore.com when the new ‘keeper rediscovers his best form. To be fair we have had players here in recent seasons who have flourished when given a run of games and should Cech once again scale the heights then we will have made another key capture from a rival. It feels so good to type that after the ‘feeder club’ jibes that were aimed at us from 2007 to 2013.

The man himself is very convincing when talking of his expectations both for himself, and the Arsenal.

“I want to be playing, I want to have a chance to compete for my position in the team and I want to be useful for the team and do the usual stuff on the pitch week in, week out. I hope I will have that possibility to compete for my place here at Arsenal and I hope that I can bring something a little extra to the team that can help. I had a good chat with him (Arsene Wenger) and it was the first time after the club approached me that I could speak to him in private for such a long time. He made me believe that this was the right step and that this is the club with a lot of ambition. I have a lot of personal motivation and ambition and the club definitely matches it. It is an exciting time for me, it is a project where Arsenal fans and the club have been waiting for the Premier League title and this is a chance for me to bring my experience and my little extra to the team and we can possibly achieve that.”

Petr’s arrival will now spark a discussion about the future for David Ospina and Wojciech Szczesny. As far as this blog is concerned that is for another day. I may again be flying in the face of popular opinion in who I believe should be loaned, or sold on, so I think I shall go and soothe my curmudgeonly soul with a glass of delicious single malt, and give thanks for the fact that what will be will be and my opinion doesn’t matter a jot!

Once again my thanks to one of ours, North Bank Ned, for a guest piece on something of an overlooked anniversary. A hundred years ago our last season outside the top flight had drawn to a close, and the first enforced interruption of the Football League by a world conflict had begun. Ned looks at that last match and what happened to some of the Gunners thereafter. Thank you Ned, for a wonderful reflection.

If we feel bereft of league football during its summer break, feel a moment of sympathy for Gooners of a century ago. Though they didn’t know it at the time, there would be no competitive games for four years. The Football League would be suspended for the rest of the duration of World War One, graver matters were to hand than football.

The unbeknownst last game had been played on April 24th, 1915. Playing on even that long after the outbreak of hostilities had been controversial.  The Second Battle of Ypres, which saw the first use of poison gas, had started two days before that game. The ill-fated Allied landing at Gallipoli was the day after. The public was fast losing any appetite for men in shorts kicking a ball for money.

London had seen the first German Zeppelin attacks by then but at Highbury centre-forward-turned-inside-right-for-the-day Harry King scored four as The Arsenal put Nottingham Forest to the sword 7-0. Contemporary reports suggest the total could have run into double figures. A series of ‘magnificent’ saves by Forest keeper Albert Iremonger, the 6’5’’ brother of England Test cricketer, James, and reckoned to be the finest keeper in the country, kept the score down to 2-0 at the half.

Bob Benson, hard-tackling full back and occasional centre forward (he was playing there against Forest with King switching position in an experimental line-up), scored a brace. Jock Rutherford, playing in his regular position of outside right, got the other goal. Benson was also the team’s penalty taker. His style was unique. Another member of the team would place the ball on the spot while Benson jogged up the pitch from his customary full back’s position. He would pick up the pace as he approached the ball, arriving at full speed to blast it in the direction of the net without breaking stride. It is said that he had developed the technique at his previous club, Sheffield United. There, he reputedly sprinted the whole way.

The season had gone a bit pear-shaped in February and March. We lost seven of our final 13 league games (end of season collapse? surely not!) However, the size of the win over Forest lifted us to a final position of fifth on goal difference. Birmingham and Hull City also ended up on 43 points, seven off promotion. The original table listed The Arsenal as sixth. Remarkably, it wasn’t until the 1980 that a mistake in the official goal average calculation was spotted and the record set straight.

King played only one season for us, but what a prolific season. He hit 26 goals in 37 league games (despite a nine-game drought before the Forest game) and another three in two FA Cup ties. Those 29 goals set a club record for the most goals in a season. They included the first hat-trick scored at Highbury (against Grimsby) and another four-goal haul against Wolves. Small for a centre-forward at 5’9”, King had played league football for Birmingham several years previously with no great distinction. He then dropped into non-league football for four seasons before being signed by Arsenal from Southern League side Northampton Town when in his late 20s. He turned out 30 times for the club in wartime matches, but he was 33 years old when league football resumed in 1919 and was released. His career drifted to a close at Leicester and then Brentford, for whom he collectively scored 17 goals in 41 games.

In contrast, Benson’s story is a tragic one. The England international collapsed on the pitch during the second half of a wartime fixture against Reading in 1916 having burst a blood vessel. He died in the dressing room at Highbury. He was buried, it is reported, in his Arsenal shirt.

Rutherford, a flying winger who had won titles and cup medals galore during a 300-plus-game career with Newcastle before falling out with the management, would survive the war. In 1926, he became the oldest player to represent Arsenal. He was 41 years and 159 days old when he played in the 1-0 win over Manchester City at Highbury on March 20th. That still stands as a club record, though Jens Lehmann came within nine days of breaking it when he was drafted in as emergency cover at Blackpool in 2011. Rutherford played 232 games in an Arsenal career that bizarrely included four weeks as player-manager of Stoke. By the time he had moved on (to Clapton Orient following the arrival of Joe Hulme, Rutherford wouldn’t finally hang up his boots until 1928), Arsenal were well established as a Division One club, and no longer Woolwich or even The Arsenal.

The club was re-elected to the First Division when the Football League resumed in 1919 despite its fifth-placed finish in Division Two in 1914-15.  That last game of the 1914-15 season against Forest is also the last league game we ever played outside the top flight.

We replaced some relegated club from Middlesex that had come bottom of the First Division in 1914-15. It still rankles with them — but that is a long story for another day.

The WWC Warming Up Nicely

I have largely enjoyed watching England Ladies advance to the last eight of the WWC in Canada. There, I’ve said it. I know that puts me in something of a minority, judging by the volume of traffic on my Twitter timeline during the matches, but hell, I’m swimming against the current on the likely signing of Petr Cech too. More of that if and when the deal is completed.

I’ll accept England took an hour to get into their stride against Norway last night, but the occasional derogatory tweets failed to distract me from the last half hour that saw England book a quarter-final date with the hosts this coming weekend.

Steph Houghton’s excellent header cancelled out Norway’s opener, and was followed by a stunning strike from Lucy Bronze which will surely be a candidate for goal of the tournament.

Despite the negative comments I have seen elsewhere I think it is clear that this England side has made great strides since the formation of the FA WSL four years ago. That coaching standards are better is clear. This was England’s first win in the knock out phase of the World Cup and there is every reason to feel that a semi-final place, at least, is a distinct possibility. Currently ranked sixth in the world, that would represent a considerable achievement for them.

The team lacks nothing as far as technique and organisation goes. What all of the teams here do lack is the diving and amateur dramatics that has infested the mens game. The tackling can be fierce though, just ask Karen Carney whose ankles were singled out for the sort of treatment often dished out to Jack Wilshere.

It’s good to see that the BBC are moving their live coverage from BBC3 to BBC1 for the match against Canada. The game deserves a wider audience (although early hours of Sunday kick-off will limit the numbers – this is why our smart boxes can be set to record tv for later viewing!).

So if you have been put off watching by the curmudgeons of social media do yourself a favour. Watch a match or two from the competition with an open mind. I’d recommend following Andrew Gibney (@Gibney_A) on Twitter for informed comment. There are good matches, and some not so, just like the mens game. There are moments of brilliance, and moments of farce, just like…you get the picture.

Oh, and there is the added attraction of five Arsenal Ladies in the squad. Come on England!

My output in the months of June and July down the years hasn’t been great. For a blogger who doesn’t enjoy the speculative nature of what would constitute news at this time of year I have decided the answer is the odd comment piece and a bit of history. Already one of ours, Snowy (good man!), has contributed two posts in the wake of another long season. Please find another fine piece from the same author who is digging me out of a deep hole as far as content is concerned this month. Thanks Snowy, it’s much appreciated.

Football, it has been noted, is a funny old game. So now that we have scores of TV cameras at every match, pre- and post-match interviews, the fan-generated clips on YouTube, plus all manner of footage from the team coach to the dressing room to the Tunnelcam, you may quite reasonably imagine that we can see absolutely every second of everything going on during every funny old game, should we choose to.

Certainly there’s a great deal of the rather dreadfully termed ‘content’ that global media companies use to persuade the audience they’re actually there. But it’s far from the whole story. Outside the formal coverage, the awkward ‘fan-terviews’ and the beery sing-songs captured on mobile phones, there’s a whole host of things to see every matchday that are completely ignored by the TV ‘eye’. Yet they are every bit a part of the matchday experience as their slick, HD-ready cousins.

Touchline ‘wildebeest’ 

It may not always be caught on camera, but the area around the pitch on matchday is generally teeming with professional snappers and their hefty bags of mysterious gadgetry, alongside Stewards, presenters, ballboys, ballgirls and flag wavers. Mainly trying to get out of each other’s way.

At the larger grounds this herd assumes the majestic Attenborough-documentary proportions of a perfectly-choreographed Serengeti. But at other places it’s more of a third rate wildlife park with a couple of bored antelope that’s quite rightly about to be closed down. I know the wildebeest all have ‘proper’ jobs in the matchday circus, but for the crowd their only real role is to stop the occasional rocket seemingly destined for Row Z with their face. Generally to a cheerful ‘wahay’ from the crowd on the very rare occasions when one does.

Bored goalies 

If there’s not an amusing montage somewhere on YouTube of the stuff keepers get up to when they’re bored and they think no-one’s watching, then there ought to be. The bouncing side to side along their line. The arm slapping. The star jumps. The running on the spot when it’s especially cold. In fact, most games will also yield a moment or two of more obvious comedic potential, be it bumping into a post, fumbling with a water bottle, or trapping their hand in the net while stowing their towel.

Over the years I’ve come to better appreciate the matchday contribution of the bored goalie, because in a particularly dull 90 minutes it’s sometimes the only real entertainment we get.

The half time warm up 

While those of you who are plugged into the TV coverage are forced to suffer the half time platitudes of tedious, barely housetrained pundits, those of us at the game are either in the bar, in the bogs, or sat in the seat we paid for but have been defiantly ignoring by standing up for the previous 45 minutes.

I’ve long since given up trying to join a half time queue when hundreds of others are trying to do the same. So if I’m not chatting to whoever’s sat next to me I’ll watch whoever’s been on the bench warming up. Mostly it’s what you’d expect – moderately interesting drills and skills from the young and the recuperated. However at least once in every season you get a chance to see something exquisitely rare and beautiful.

For me last term it was Alexis at Villa, tucked away in his own quiet corner of the pitch performing such beguiling flicks and tricks it was impossible to look away. I have no idea how long I was watching in real time, as it was almost like space-time itself was being messed with. So at its best the half time warm up is an unforgettably mesmerising window into the world of a football genius at their craft. And even when it’s just a kick about between Shad and the recently lame, it still trumps any half time Zorb race or fan penalty shoot out. Every. Single. Time.

First timers 

Of all the generally under-noticed sights this will always be my favourite. On every matchday someone, somewhere, is attending their very first game. Every match-going supporter has been there once, and we almost always look back on it with incredible fondness.

Those who have not yet been to their first game may well ask how you can tell, since it’s not like first timers are given L-plates at the turnstiles. But they do wear a sign of sorts, and if you look carefully you can’t really miss it. There’s always someone somewhere trying to hide the butterflies we mostly all feel before the match, but being given away by that unmistakable wideness of their eyes.

Here and there you spot them as the stands fill. Someone looking around at everyone and no-one, taking it all in. An earnest explanation being given to an attentive child. A wise old hand pointing patiently to some feature in the ground or something important in the programme. And sometimes, just sometimes, you’re lucky enough to catch someone’s eye as they sing for the first time as a fully-fledged member of the matchday choir, belting out their contribution to that glorious rumble you hear in your chest, and which at its best will leave a smile so wide it feels like it’s joining up again at the back of your head.

Beneath the perfectly groomed and sometimes characterless veneer of the modern game, there remains a colourful seam of real matchday life that’s still completely unretouched. It’s the last part of football that’s so far been left alone by those who’ve sanitised, homogenised and monetised every other aspect of the game, and every part of me is glad of that – for me it’s the very soul of the game.

So these are a few of my favourite matchday things (aside from Arsenal victories) what are yours?

Editors note – Feel free to share them with us. It will be a long summer! However, those who offer me sponsored content every day, there is a reason you don’t get a response. Cheers.

So Nacho!

The highlight of the Puma home kit launch for this fossil was the opportunity to spend some time with a handful of my blogging peers in the company of Nacho Monreal. I was warned he might not be the most forthcoming of interviewees so what transpired was a pleasant surprise.

The informal setting may have helped. As we joined him in a box in the south east corner of the stadium he smiled and welcomed everybody in with a warm handshake. As we got underway it is clear that he talks with his eyes, and with his expressions, as much as his voice.

I had planned to get the first question in to put him at ease and to let him know he was among friends, not hardened pros looking for that controversial soundbite that would come back to haunt him. Clearly I didn’t need to bother, but asked anyway about his start to last season playing in the centre of the defence and if that had contributed to his improved form at left back.

He was quick to point out that he had never played as a centre-back before, then laughed and adopted glazed eyes as he admitted, “I was scared. I was like, ‘Are you (Arsene Wenger) speaking seriously?‘” A friendly audience laughed with him. He had put us at ease!

He went on to expand on that spell, and made the case for those ten matches in the centre making him fully match fit so when Laurent Koscielny returned he was able to slot back into his left-back berth fully prepared. “I am a player who needs to play every single game. Two seasons ago, it wasn’t like that.”

There is no doubt that Nacho has contributed much to our improved performances in the big away games this season. Using the examples of the trips to Manchester he made his point about continuity once more. “I was playing well. In these moments I think the most important thing is not to change the team. If I’m playing I need to keep playing. If Kieran Gibbo is playing, he has to play. It’s like that. It’s not good to change one or two players just for one game.

Mention of United away in the FA Cup brings a glint to his eye and another broad smile. That goal? He told us it was all about his control of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass and raised chuckles of appreciation for adding that after that it was too easy. Self-deprecating, he added, “I am a player who does not score too many goals in my career. So when I score I go crazy“, and again we all share a laugh.

Of the second half of the season he revealed something that has been apparent at Shenley, but is rarely mentioned. “After Christmas the team was really strong. For me the most important thing was the atmosphere in the group. It was completely different from the beginning of the season and from the last season.” Additionally, of course, we had key players coming back around that time. “What more? Well, I think the best players finished the season fit; like Santi, like Mesut and Alexis. Obviously when these players are fit it gives confidence to the team.

I put it to Nacho that Francis Coquelin made something of a difference too. He puffed out his cheeks, gave a ‘matter of fact’ stare, and agreed. “I think he was the best thing for the club! This is football. He’s a player who was playing for Charlton in the Championship. He came back, but not to play, just to be on the bench, maybe. After, for me he was the best player. I think he will be a very important player for Arsenal next season. He was amazing.”

Naturally the subject turned to our prospects for the coming season. The answer comes from a first-team player, but sounds like a supporter on social media. There is little noticeable difference in the diagnosis. “We need, I think, two things. First keep going like we finished, we need to keep the level. The other thing, I think if the club signed one or two top players. We need a player who scores 25 goals per season. We need more goals to win the Premier League.”

That desire for new players begs a question about competition, and indeed Nacho’s own relationship with ‘Gibbo’, as he calls him. “It’s good. It’s not the best, but it’s good. For me he’s a really good player, but he’s also a very good person. Obviously he’s my ‘opponent’. We’re fighting for the same thing. I don’t speak a lot with him, firstly because of the language. It’s difficult for me speaking English…I feel limited, and also because he plays in my position! But for me, I consider him a friend. If I can help him, I do it of course. I’m not thinking about me, I’m thinking about the team. For me the most important thing is the team. If you tell me I play and the team loses, or he plays and the team wins I say, ‘He plays and we win.’ For me the most important thing is the team.

I felt compelled to correct Nacho as we wound things up, assuring him that his English is much better than my Spanish. For a little over twenty minutes he was charming, informative, funny, and I think pleased to have drawn this particular group of interviewers for the evening. Next up for him was the improvised ‘catwalk’ as he paraded in the new kit. One I hope he will be seen in a lot more in the coming twelve months.

Thank you Puma and Arsenal, but most of all, thank you Nacho.

Twenty-four long hours on and it is time to reflect on the new home kit launch at Arsenal. Fortunate to have a media event invitation I arrived shortly after six and before long a string of familiar faces gathered in the Foundry restaurant.

Well aware that such invitations are a cause for comment on social media sites I will point out the motivation for sponsors like Puma to involve bloggers is that unlike the national press our readership consists almost exclusively of Arsenal supporters, not just at a national level but around the globe. In other words we are a direct route to large numbers of their potential customers.

The plus side to accepting the invite was the opportunity to interview one of the club’s players. The handful of bloggers present were allocated Nacho Monreal, and there will be more on that interview in the next post. Based on some of the reaction from elsewhere we had one of the better interviewees. I must admit, I would have liked a chance to quiz Hector Bellerin, the star of the show, as well. The two full backs and Francis Coquelin were definitely the most improved players this season.

Then came the time to wander downstairs and join the already assembled throng outside. A quick check on the phone confirmed the live broadcast was streaming on the blog. Relaxed, I could now enjoy Gilles Peterson in action. The sounds encouraged the masses to at least do a little shuffle, if not dance enthusiastically, to keep warm as the temperature dropped.

We had already heard from indoors the rehearsal of “We’re the North Bank”, “We’re the Clock End”, and the reason for that would become clear later. The lights came on, the show began, and Gilles Peterson was first to be interviewed and he predicted a treble for the Gunners next season. It’s hard not to like that fella.

Next up, with “the words Arsenal legend were written for this man”, Nigel Mitchell introduced his co-host for the evening, Thierry Henry. Titi spoke of his early days when the likes of Tony Adams and Martin Keown would kick him in training to let him know what it meant to play for the Arsenal. He reiterated that he left the club as a fan, and when he returned he spoke of what the goal against Leeds United meant to him as a fan.

The co-presenters set about interviewing a few lucky supporters and before we knew it the players who had earlier been interviewees were introduced in the new kit and quizzed in turn. Large roars greeted Tomas Rosicky setting a target of winning the title next season and Santi Cazorla’s agreement with that sentiment. Hector Bellerin, Danny Welbeck, and Nacho looked more comfortable as ‘models’ and an appreciative audience sang out as proceedings drew to a close.

It has been strange seeing the range of reaction today, more to the event than the kit itself which seems to have drawn critical acclaim from a design viewpoint. Puma know better than to mess with the ‘Arsenal play in red shirts with white sleeves’ expectation. Modern kits aren’t made for old gits with my girth, but I have to say twenty years ago I would definitely have been snapping up one of these.

It is a remarkable phenomenon that so many are enticed to a launch of a product so widely leaked in recent days and weeks. There has been some criticism from those for who this sort of thing is not their cup of tea, but that so many took up their invitations on a far from balmy evening is affirmation of the arrangement of the launch. There is an audience for events like this and the participation of all present last night was great to see.

Puma have pumped millions into the club for the right to hold promotions such as this. In a world of twenty four hours a day social media they are efficient ways of spreading the message to a worldwide fanbase in a short space of time. The smiles on the faces of those in attendance confirms there is a market for interactive events between club, sponsors, and supporters. That market will be continue to be served, and very professionally if Monday night is anything to go by.

A first for Goonerholic, my grasp of technology permitting :-)

Watch the new kit launch here, live from 21.30, UK time.

Should any issues arise there will be further video content available tomorrow.

Enjoy, ‘holics.

I am again indebted to the prolific Snowy, who submitted not one, but two guest posts in the wake of the FA Cup win, knowing the productivity of yours truly plummets when the season ends! Two weeks to the day since that wonderful evening at Wembley seems the right ‘anniversary’ moment to run with that second piece. Those who know her will appreciate that I may have amended a phrase or two (see italics!), but will know exactly what she typed originally. What’s it about? Six words.

What do you think of Tottenham?

When I awoke upon the Sunday after our Cup Final victory, I had something of a ‘boilk’ (as I believe the young people say). The ‘something’ being what PG Wodehouse would likely have referred to as the ‘Broken Compass’.

Now for anyone who is not a student of the inestimable Wodehouse, he had a rather fine category system for hangovers, of which the ‘Broken Compass’ is one of six. The others being: the ‘Sewing Machine’, the ‘Comet’, the ‘Atomic’, the ‘Cement Mixer’ and the ‘Gremlin Boogie’.

He clearly knew his stuff. And while he himself never bothered expanding upon the precise nature of these post-‘workout’ beasts with any form of additional description, I feel that most of us will have a pretty good grasp of what he meant by each of them. Helpfully, for anyone who has led a very quiet life or is perhaps teetotal, they have all been rather neatly described here.

So it is with a heart full of North London pride that I turned to Arsenal TV on Sunday to watch the parade, and in so doing discovered that Little Jack was boarding the victory bus in a bucket hat and dark glasses, clutching a beer. And he was clearly within the blissful Elysian grip of the much-coveted ‘Gremlin Boogie’.

So well done Jack, I salute you. Many have tried. Few have succeeded. Frankly you had me at ‘Barcelona at home’, but seriously you deserve special thanks for properly taking it up a level since then.

What I particularly admire about this whole episode is that that while in the grip of the ‘Gremlin Boogie’ Jack still managed to perfectly and comprehensively upset the delicate sensibilities of so many utterly dreadful chattering* classes that (depressingly enough) are actually PAID to produce opinion pieces within the sports sections of our daily newspapers.

So to the chattering* classes I feel duty bound to ask: what in the name of all that is decent are you thinking piously berating a young man who has just completely joyfully celebrated winning an FA Cup winners’ medal for reasons of sporting achievement, in a week where global football has been so comprehensively rogered for having its snout in the till, while another Premiership side has had their youth players unmasked as being of wholly questionable virtue by their very own mobile phones?

For any others who are as completely baffled by this completely tortured twisting of the basic moral compass as I, I hope you take some comfort in the quantum possibility that in some parallel Universe, Jack has now been made lifetime Emperor of the whole planet. By virtue of a Twitter poll. And the chattering* classes have been ground up into small pieces to feed my cats.

I rather hope it does not give the quantum cats indigestion there. And I also hope that what remains of the chattering* mass debaters will at some point soon realise that in whichever parallel universe they may be, on the morning after, Jack could well be sober, but they are still likely to be pretty flipping dreadful.**

* Click-whoring

** Hypocritical

Puma New Kit Launch On Monday To Be Streamed Live

If you have been on social media in the last few days you cannot help but have seen the news of a new Arsenal home kit launch at the Grove on Monday evening. As something of a first on Goonerholic (my grasp of technology permitting) it will be streamed live here from 9.30 pm until 10.00 pm.

On Tuesday evening I’ll let you know more about what happened at the event, and look out for player interviews later in the week. That is if I can remember anything afterwards!

Now to watch the England Ladies team. Have a good one (Sunday), ‘holics.

“for an hour we were treated to the sight of Diaby back in the fold. This guy is going to be some player.

So I wrote back in January 2007 as Abou Diaby returned to the side for the first time since he had his ankle smashed by Dan Smith, a pointless and vicious assault in the closing minutes of a nothing game.

In the first leg of the League Cup semi-final at White Hart Lane Diaby plotted our recovery from 2-0 down to grab a draw thanks to two goals from Julio ‘the beast’ Baptista. From January to May he flitted in and out of the side making 13 starts plus five appearances as a substitute. At Villa Park he secured three points for us with the only goal of the game.

A pattern was being established. A knee injury and further ankle problems were experienced in February, and in April he suffered from concussion. The blueprint for the seasons that followed was there for all to see. Still a formidable talent, but oh so fragile courtesy of one awful challenge.

His tally for the 2009/2010 season would be his best, scoring 7 goals in 40 appearances. His reward was a new long term contract which is only now expiring. There were still matches missed due to recurring injuries, and he was often patched up to get him on the park, so influential was he at his best. In 2011/2012 he didn’t start a solitary match, plagued by a succession of injuries suffered as he sought to get back to full fitness. In the last two seasons he has just started one match.

Such was his potential though there was never a question of his being released. Until today that is, when the Premier League’s retained list was published. There is an outside chance that he may still be offered a pay as you play deal by the club, but that isn’t likely to prove an attractive proposition for one so frail in body and limb.

Today has been coming quite frankly. Few will take any pleasure from the news though. Hugely talented, and a likeable character, Abou could have been the player who took charge of Arsenal’s midfield following the departure of Patrick Vieira. Instead we were restricted to fitful treats from a porcelain player. He shone brightly, but seldom.

Abou, we will miss you, and will always regret not seeing the player you could have become. Thanks for those moments when you were able to remind us of your talent. Whatever the future holds for you rest assured that large numbers of Arsenal supporters wish you all that you wish yourself.

If only…

The first weekend ‘sans Arsenal’ is all but a memory, and a very strange one at that. The pining for the Gunners didn’t really kick in on Saturday. Let’s face it, how many Saturday games do we have these days? Besides, I had an expected battle about a broken Hoover to deal with. I emerged with a replacement far less stressfully than I had anticipated, so thank you Currys for that.

Of course it was also Champions League Final night, and so a fresh meaty pizza with tzatziki and a few bottles of Bass helped to ease the nagging ache as once again two teams other than Arsenal contested that object of long-term desire otherwise known as Big Ears. 2006, seen just the once and never again, was never far from the mind as Barca once again justified favourtism.

I read elsewhere, from more than one source, that we are lightyears away from the last four in this season’s competition. Although our usual early exit suggests that is so I am not convinced. Yes, we certainly need to strengthen in a couple of areas, but with the strongest team currently available to us I really believe we could have beaten Juventus last night. It is of course something easily typed, and can never be tested.

Yes, it is clear that Barca are on a different plane to the rest of Europe this season, and they have surely the most potent front three on the planet right now, but nobody exemplifies the fickle nature of Lady Luck more than them. Never have they retained Big Ears, so next year would be a good one to play them in the Final! (Yes, that was tongue in cheek.)

If the Champions League went to the best team every year then a host of teams (Porto 2004, Liverpool 2005, Chelsea 2012, and in European Cup days Steaua Bucharest and Red Star Belgrade, among others) would never have got their hands on the trophy. That we haven’t when those have will hurt until the wrong is righted.

This is a particularly important summer. We have the guts of a very good side indeed. Real quality in the likes of Koscielny, Mertesacker, Ozil, Cazorla, and of course the irrepressible Alexis. Balance is provided by a very impressive British core of Rambo, Jack, Theo, the Ox, and Danny Welbeck. There is real potential in the likes of Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin. Nacho Monreal has come on in leaps and bounds. Olivier Giroud needs to add consistency to be a beast of a striker.

So how far away are we really? A world-class goalkeeper would be a dream signing before we get under way again in August. Per isn’t getting any younger so maybe a centre-half to supplement he, Kos, and Gabriel? Someone to challenge or support the Coq at the base of the midfield, and another true goalscorer to similarly challenge or support Giroud. The money is there. The wage bill is likely to be trimmed further this summer. This is what we were told the move to the Grove would provide in time.

That time is now!

He’s One Of Our Own

Now I know a number of you are much entertained by Gunnersaurus Stunt Double in the drinks, and a select few had the pleasure of meeting him in the Tollie earlier this season. He is vibrant company, and despite the somewhat undersized dinosaur costume he wears, is very level headed.

I say level headed, but the bloody idiot is intending to jump out of an aeroplane in his dinosaur costume for C.H.A.O.S, a wonderful charity that “gives around 100 children each year the opportunity to truly be children for a week where they otherwise simply would not be able.”

The camps provide children with a safe, nurturing, learning, loving and most importantly, FUN environment where they can just be kids. They learn a great deal about a new environment, team work and how to look after each other through team games, nature walks, camping, and beach activities. Many for the first time in their lives!

So could you follow the example of the wonderful Abb and sponsor the mental sod. You will find the link here. Why anybody would choose to chuck themselves out of a perfectly serviceable flying machine and put his faith in a sewing machine is beyond me, but is certainly worthy of our support.

Thank you, ‘holics.

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