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A Hard Day’s Night

It’s after ten. I have just watched West Ham and Barcelona get knocked out of competitions that we no longer have an interest in. I am enjoying their misery as they have enjoyed ours. It’s the way of the football supporter. We should have been celebrating a third FA Cup this season, but we self-destructed against Watford in the quarter-final. The Champions League remains a distant dream, despite our hardy annual qualification.

It is the biggest tribute to Arsene Wenger’s reign that we have been involved in eighteen consecutive Champions League seasons, and look likely to make that nineteen. It is the blot on his copybook that we have not won it, despite coming within twelve minutes of so doing ten years ago.

Two years earlier we surrendered our best chance of lifting big ears in a quarter-final against Chelsea. We had four world-beaters in Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, and Thierry Henry. We went an entire season unbeaten in the Premier League but lost the biggest prize to a team that allowed a poor Monaco side to beat them in the semi-final. In turn they lost to Mourinho’s Porto in the final. There are so many ‘ifs’ in life. This was one of the bigger ones.

It pains me to see people suggest that the Champions League isn’t so important these days. Yes, only a fraction of the teams in it are champions, but they are the best in Europe. In the days of the European Cup and UEFA Cup the latter would often be the harder to win because it included champions of the season in which it was played. The Champions League format provides a much stiffer test than it’s predecessor ever did.

So why is it important to us fossils? “And if, you know, your history” I have seen us lift every piece of silverware in my lifetime, bar one. The very first was the European Fairs Cup, forerunner to the UEFA Cup. The best European trip was Copenhagen 1994 to see us lift the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup. These nights were so special. There is one more to come that will mean so much more. Let it be sooner rather than later. Some of us have just heard the bell as we head into the final lap.

The Champions League remains the Times crossword that we cannot complete. We find moments of inspiration, but come up short against the very best. We have Petr Cech, we have Mesut Ozil, we have Alexis Sanchez. We are edging closer to having the requisite number of world class players, we have the money, and yet something is lacking. Is it desire, is it ambition?

The coming summer is huge. There is a European Championship to occupy the best players which will make this absurd imposed transfer window even more complicated. Once you could buy players in all but about three months of the year. Now you can only buy them for about three months of the year. Restrictive nonsense, but it is the same for everyone.

We all want Arsenal to make a statement, to cover the obvious deficiencies in the squad. We have again reached a point where significant pruning is required and investment is required to help us to compete. This season’s Premier League campaign has been as frustrating as the Champions League in 2004. For Porto and Monaco read Leicester City and the LWCs. Little clubs over-achieving while we self-destruct.

It’s over to you Stan, Ivan, and Arsene. Where do we want to be? The time has come. Show us. Please.

Arsene Wenger surprised many by sticking with David Ospina in goal for the trip to Upton Park. The Gunners were unchanged from the team that started successive victories over Everton and Watford. What was about to unfold was madness on a grand scale.

So, chronologically the talking points were;

Carroll committed two awful assaults in one ‘challenge’ on Laurent Koscielny. How it was only a yellow card and not a red was a surprise to this admittedly partial observer. To be fair Francis Coquelin avoided censure for his first foul in the immediate aftermath.

In the thirteenth minute Lanzini did find the net only to be denied by an erroneous offside flag, as Hector Bellerin clearly played the goalscorer onside. The officials were setting out their stall for the afternoon, but defensively we would end up matching their incompetence.

Arsenal’s reponse was to take the lead in the eighteenth minute. Nacho Monreal was denied a penalty claim but from the attempted clearance Mohamed Elneny, Coquelin, and Alex Iwobi combined to slide in Mesut Ozil for a cultured finish inside the far post.

West Ham United 0-1 Arsenal

A rapid break ended with Ozil setting up Alexis for a shot that Adrian saved low to his left. As ever it was just delaying the inevitable. Coquelin and Iwobi set up Alexis for another clinical finish. The Gunners were tearing West Ham’s right flank apart.

West Ham United 0-2 Arsenal

West Ham came back with a Cresswell cross and header from Carroll that was comfortably saved by Ospina. It too was a warning shot. The same combination enabled Carroll to head home to bring the Irons back into the game. Arsenal’s entire back four had migrated to the right leaving Carroll on Monreal, a huge mismatch.

West Ham United 1-2  Arsenal

Adrian denied Arsenal a third and the importance of that was evident a minute later when Gabriel blocked a Carroll effort at point blank range but failed to block the striker’s follow-up volley. A comfortable lead had been wiped out in two dreadful minutes at the end of the half and frankly we had only ourselves to blame. I wonder if it crossed the manager’s mind to bring on Per Mertesacker for the struggling Gabriel at half-time?

West Ham United 2-2 Arsenal (half-time)

Controversy wasn’t far away at the start of the second-half as Carroll, lucky to be on the pitch after his early challenge on Koscielny, sent a flailing elbow into Gabriel’s face and referee Craig Pawson bottled the obvious. He did the same moments later when the same player hauled Koscielny to the ground in the box. The loose ball fell to Payet but his finish into an empty net followed the award of the free-kick. No further punishment for Carroll?

It was nailed on that the fortunate Carroll would complete his hat-trick and he duly did. This time the central defenders had left him up against Bellerin at the far post, even then his header was going straight at Ospina until Gabriel, enduring a horrible day, headed it into his own net.

West Ham United 3-2 Arsenal

The Arsenal sent on Ramsey, Giroud and Walcott at various points, did away with his two holding players, and went for broke. Laurent Koscielny scrambled in a bouncing ball and we were level again. Could we dare to dream?

West Ham United 3-3 Arsenal

Carroll again bundled Gabriel to the ground and the Brazilian foolishly lashed out with his boot and was fortunate perhaps that his assailant is more of a hurdler than a sprinter. Again Mr Pawson took no further action.

So that basically was that. We needed a winner desperately, and didn’t get it. West Ham too will have wanted more. It made for a white knuckle ride for supporters of both clubs and everybody in the ground ended up exasperated by the performance of the match officials. That’s no excuse for Arsenal though. The defence showed an amoeba-like lack of spine. West Ham will argue, not unreasonably, that they were actually robbed of a fourth goal. They were.

We came into today’s match needing to win the last seven and praying for Leicester to lose three. That seemed a remote but real possibility. Now they need to lose three and draw one of their last six for us to have any chance. That is not going to happen.

It isn’t the time for damning verdicts, although they would be deserved. This season we had a real opportunity to end the title drought. You don’t win championships by turning up in fits and starts and paying no heed to defensive basics. The post-mortem should wait for the season’s end, when howling at the moon will understandably commence.

Farewell To The Boleyn

There are a number of reasons why seeing us win at Upton Park feels good. This Saturday gives us the opportunity to begin to avenge the unique double they achieved against us. The Hammers were the last team to beat us at Highbury, and the first to beat us at the Grove. Now it’s our turn.

This is our last visit to Upton Park before they go to the massive public gift that is the Olympic Stadium. Few non bubble-blowers who ‘enjoyed’ the unique atmosphere at the Boleyn ground in the seventies will shed a tear at its passing, although I anticipate most scribes who missed those days will bemoan the loss of another piece of our heritage in romanticised tributes.

Forty years ago getting to, into, and away from Upton Park required a degree in camouflage and undercover training. Those who accepted the challenge would discover that in all four sides of the ground you had to be sure not to know the name of the Gunners left-back. I can see you old boys nodding!

Of course it’s changed since those dark days and a new generation of Gooners have, if not an affection for, a bond with the Irons in the form of a shared dislike of all things Tottenham. The travelling Gooners will once again prove that they are the best in the top flight making a proper atmosphere at a venue where once that was ill-considered. It’s one of the positives of the modern era that matches like this provide a positive experience for supporters of both sides.

It is perhaps fitting that the last trip to there is one of the most important of all for Arsenal. If you listened to the Bergkamp Wonderland Podcast this week you will know that the thinking is that we need to win all seven remaining fixtures to stand a chance of winning the Premier League. Even that may not be enough but frankly anything less would make it all but impossible rather than unlikely.

The team news is encouraging in as much as there is a possibility that Aaron Ramsey and Matthieu Flamini may be fit to join the squad, although it would be a genuine surprise if we changed the starting line-up that played so well against Everton and Watford, other than to reintroduce Petr Cech for David Ospina in goal. The hosts will be at full strength after Cheikhou Kouyate’s red card against Crystal Palace last week was rescinded.

We have to remind ourselves that West Ham too are hunting a Champions League berth and are just three points behind fourth placed Manchester City. What may help us is they are days away from an FA Cup replay and may not be keen to put their bodies on the line with at least one day out at Wembley in prospect if they can beat Manchester United. That said the close proximity of West Ham to us is not forgotten by Arsene Wenger.

“We do not only look in front of us, we look behind us as well, because we are chased by a group of teams who can make it very difficult for us.”

The ‘holic pound

It’s Grand National and Masters weekend, so value punts are the nature of the beast. I’m hoping we play freely as in the last couple of matches and thinking West Ham will play their part in a goalfest. I have 2-4 to the Arsenal at a very tasty 55/1. That would set the weekend up nicely!

So that is it for another Friday evening. I’ve enjoyed watching the U21s, complete with Jack Wilshere for 65 minutes, and Tomas Rosicky for the first-half, beat their Newcastle counterparts. Now it’s time for the rest of the England Ladies match against Belgium.

Whatever you are doing this weekend, have a good one, ‘holics.

The Arsenal U18’s went into the second-leg of their FA Youth Cup semi-final against Manchester City needing to turn over a 1-2 deficit from the first leg. It took them just five minutes to level the aggregate score when Chris Willock evaded a couple of defenders to curl a right-footed effort into the corner from the edge of the box.

Sadly parity was short-lived. Ten minutes later, completely against the run of play, Diaz was on hand to head home a parried clearance by the Gunners goalkeeper, Hugo Keto. Kaylen Hinds, released by Jeff Reine-Adelaide went close to restoring the Gunners advantage on the night but fired into the side netting. Willock, impressing with his skill and work ethic, also went close as the Gunners sought to drive the visitors back.

Just past the half-hour Garcia’s quick free-kick caught the Gunners back four napping and Congolo finished assuredly. Two goals down on aggregate was hardly deserved and Steve Gatting had the job of lifting his young charges for one last push.

Although the early attacks were suffocated by City’s blanket defence two timely substitutions on the hour meant that the deadlock was broken a minute later when Donyell Malen found himself surprisingly unmarked at the far post and headed home.

With fifteen minutes left Bola slipped as he went into a challenge and the referee deemed his clumsy, but possibly unintentional challenge worthy of a straight red. It was the moment that handed the visitors an opportunity to retake a degree of control, although the ten men showed considerable spirit and countered at every opportunity.

On one such foray in the five added minutes came the defining moment of the tie. City goalkeeper Grimshaw picked the ball up outside the area, thereby denying us an opportunity of an attempt at an unguarded goal, but he was only booked. The ensuing free-kick from Ben Sheaf was brilliantly saved by the carded player. As City had already used up their substitutions it would have been an outfield player in goal had the referee shown a red card to the culprit.

The final whistle saw players from both sides sink to the turf exhausted. They had given their all and goodness knows how many would have survived the extra half an hour had we found the equaliser. With such good fortune City should do well in the Final and who would begrudge a young side their moment?

As for Arsenal it is clear we have a couple of exciting prospects at this level. The journey from U18’s to fully-fledged pro is a tough one however. Let’s hope they will look back on tonight as a step forward, experience gained, and a lesson learned.

Let’s hope we see more of them too. Thank you ITV4 for giving us an opportunity to catch up with two of the best academy teams in the country.

A sunny spring Saturday. A lovely lunch with friends old and new putting the world to rights. On such days Arsenal invariably put on a show and while they failed to put yesterday’s opponents to the sword three weeks ago they most certainly did this time around.

The FA Cup failure came as a result of not turning superiority into goals in the opening half, but in the opening minutes Alexis Sanchez slammed home the rebound after his header from an Alex Iwobi cross was parried by Gomes. Shortly after came the seventh minute tribute to Rocky Rocastle, a moving moment contributing to one of the good days. A rare minute of unity between Arsenal supporters.

With Iwobi and Mohamed Elneny giving a masterclass in midfield it was surely just a matter of time before we confirmed our superiority on the day. Iwobi and Danny Welbeck both went close before the young Nigerian accepted an opportunity provided by Alexis to double our advantage. This was the Arsenal we have seen too little of this season, playing with a swagger about them and very pleasing to the eye.

As we had struck four minutes into the first half so we did again in the second. The goal came from an unlikely source but Hector Bellerin’s deflected effort was no more than the rampaging full-back deserved. Shortly afterwards Iwobi was denied a double on the day only by the crossbar.

Mesut Ozil was next to go close with a fine effort that just passed the wrong side of the post and saw another shot saved by Gomes. Alexis too saw another powerful drive saved by the Watford ‘keeper who presumably will show us a little more respect in the wake of this game than he did three weeks ago.

The Gunners were guilty of a little showboating drawing the inevitable “olés” from a sunbathing crowd. It was all too much for Nyom who clattered into Ozil and was lucky to see only a yellow card for his ‘challenge’. With around twenty minutes remaining Olivier Giroud came on for Welbeck and promptly saw a header saved by Gomes.

Iwobi was substituted to a standing ovation to allow Theo Walcott a cameo. Arsenal’s third substitution saw Joel Campbell replace Alexis. The final quarter of the match was turning into a scrappy affair with too much whistling. The stop start nature was lit up by a wonderful pass from Ozil to Campbell and his cross provided an opportunity that Walcott could not help but convert.

What a difference it was at the final whistle as many stayed on to give the team the reception they had earned. The good mood transferred to the pub where Tottenham’s draw at Anfield was followed in the beer garden by the oohs and ahs coming from the bar. We are just four points behind them now with a match in hand. One match at a time we just have to keep this winning run going and hope for help from others.

It’s not difficult to love Arsenal in this mood. Now can we follow up two fine displays with a third at West Ham next Saturday?

Twenty Days. That’s how long it is since we trudged out of the Grove, stopping only to applaud the visitors on their victory in the FA Cup quarter-final. Watford are back again on Saturday afternoon, and a repeat of the result less than three weeks ago is unthinkable.

If you have listened to this week’s Arsecast you will know I fancy Leicester to lose three of their remaining fixtures more than I fancy us to win all eight of ours, but that is what we have to target, starting against the Hornets. We’re back in ‘win the next match’ territory for the last six weeks of the season. Arsene said that and added,

“There will be twists and turns but what we have learned is that everybody can drop points against everybody, so we want to focus first on our own results. Once you’ve done your job you can hope that the other results go for you.”

The good news, of course, is that we found a balance and formation at Everton that restored hope and confidence. Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny formed a wonderful partnership at Goodison and will surely be trusted again to provide the platform that allows the likes of Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil, Alexis, and Danny Welbeck to flourish.

In that ill-fated FA Cup tie Welbeck was a late substitute, scoring one and missing the opportunity to salvage a replay for us. He deserves to start this time around and cause Quique Flores’ side yet more problems. We were largely in control of the first half of that match but toothless up front, and we were caught by two sucker punches from a decent counter-attacking Watford team. We will need to be more positive in the early stages this time around, as we were at Goodison, and indeed at the Camp Nou.

On the plus side we have won all five of our previous Premier League meetings with Watford. Their quarter-final triumph masked a slump in the League as they have lost three in a row, and four of their last five away matches. If you think 40 points is the safety mark they do need to win one more match this season. It seems certain they will be back next year which will surprise the many who must have doubted their survival chances back in August.

The ‘holic pound

No matter what our thoughts of Arsenal’s ability to win all eight of their remaining fixtures are, we do have the players to do exactly that and the pound will seek that positive outlook for as long as we can keep that run going. It is placed on a 3-1 home win on Saturday, available at a market best of 12/1. That hopefully will cover my share of the pre-match lunch bill.

Those of you who are going I may bump into at the ground or the usual place post-match. To those of you less fortunate I wish you a happy weekend with a win for us to celebrate and something unlikely to happen elsewhere. We can’t rely on that, but we can keep up the chase.

Let’s not forget too that it is Rocky remembered day. I saw mention of a minutes applause in David’s memory in the seventh minute. Let it be so. Gone, but never forgotten.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

A Midweek Ramble

I see that Wednesday is now referred to as ‘hump day’. Presumably this phrase was invented during a recent international football break. For one reason or another they always give me the hump. The lack of Arsenal matches, the likelihood of injuries, and the ongoing civil war between Gooners makes for a miserable fortnight.

The England cricket boys did their best to lift the mood of the nation earlier today, but as usual the football team flattered to deceive by producing their customary pre-tournament impressive performance in Germany only to surrender a one goal advantage at home to the Netherlands.

Arsene had the opposing factions at each others throats on social media with an interview he gave to Bein Sports in which he assured anyone who wanted to know that he would still be in charge of Arsenal next season. Now I would hope he might reconsider if we fail to land the title that the Manchester clubs and Chelsea handed to us on a plate this season, but I do still fervently hope he is able to turn things around before leaving this club on a high rather than being hounded out by the baying mob.

As if to compound matters the Ladies team found themselves on the receiving end of a few controversial decisions that cost them dear in a 2-0 defeat at Manchester City Women. There were, however, positives to be taken from the performance and it appears even at this early stage as though the WSL title will be going to the wire with City, Chelsea, and Arsenal all looking strong.

Arsenal.com did their best to raise the spirits by publishing an upbeat interview with Nacho Monreal about what good the win at Everton has done to us. I had the good fortune to meet Nacho last June and not only is he a fine defender, but an excellent bloke as well. His form this season has been right up there but because he is not in the limelight he could lose out on the player of the season award. He would certainly get my vote as he has been our most consistent performer this season.

Last but by no means least a mention for a piece by Sam Wallace in the Telegraph about David and Ryan Rocastle. I see Ryan at most home games and can confirm he is a very likeable young man, and a proper chip off the old block. David always had time for those who idolised him and on the fifteenth anniversary of his passing (tomorrow, Thursday) you can guarantee that his best moments will fill Twitter and Facebook timelines.

It will be a day for remembering, with warmth and affection, the good times.

Easter Sunday. A wonderful afternoon of cricket on the box, and how does one follow that? For me it was to watch the highlights of the Arsenal Ladies 3-1 win over Reading Ladies in their opening WSL fixture on Wednesday.

Less than five minutes of video doesn’t allow a confident prediction for what lies ahead, but combined with reports of the match it does look as though we are considerably strengthened by our new signings. One who caught the eye was Asisat Oshoala, the Nigerian striker signed from Liverpool. She scored the Gunners second goal, was denied by a post earlier, and showed an impressive mix of pace, control, and aerial ability.

As if to demonstrate our ambition for the coming season there was another major signing announced on Thursday. Jodie Taylor, a winter target we thought had slipped through our fingers, signed from Portland Thorns in the American National Women’s Soccer League. The England Lioness played four times in last summer’s World Cup and scored against hosts Canada.

The depth of the squad was shown by the fact that there were six internationals on the Arsenal bench against Reading. I suspect a few may find themselves starting the next match. Tomorrow (Monday) afternoon we travel to Manchester to take on likely title rivals City Women. Some degree of rotation may be required to keep the squad settled this season.

The Arsenal Ladies manager, Pedro Martinez Losa, whilst not underestimating the size of the task ahead sounded confident ahead of the match, telling Arsenal.com…

“We beat them last season in the Women’s Super League and we beat them in the Continental Cup. We know we can do it again. I think the league is decided in every game.”

City made a nervous start to the new season. By all accounts they failed to make their clear superiority over Notts County Ladies count until the 93rd minute when a free-kick from former Gunner, Steph Houghton, gave them the narrowest of wins. The matchwinner knows how important this early-season fixture could be.

“It’s a massive game. We know they are a good team and they’ll be in the same position as us. They’ll want a bright start, but for us it’s about remaining confident and improving on this performance.”

It will be a very early and searching examination for both teams, and subscribers to BT Sports1 will be able to follow the action live. Kick-off is at 3.00 pm. Good luck to the Gunners.

My thanks to our very own North Bank Ned for another historic contribution.

Easter was late in 1930, deep into April and only a week before the FA Cup final.

The most expensive forward line in football had only just found its shooting boots. Joe Hulme, David Jack, David Halliday, Alex James and Charlie Jones had cost the then staggering sum of £34,000; Herbert Chapman, for one, never had reservations about spending his chairman’s cash. Even with the veteran Jimmy Brain and youngsters Cliff ‘Boy’ Bastin and Jack Lambert coming in and out of the team as Chapman juggled his attack in search of the elusive right combination, lack of goals left the Arsenal heading for a 14th placed finish, down five places from the previous season.

A couple of four-goal hauls at Highbury in March against Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers offered a flicker of promise, but it wasn’t until April 12 that the floodgates opened with an 8-1 thrashing of Sheffield United. Nine days later, during which time we’d also squeezed in two more league games (and they complain of fixture congestion today!) came a game at Leicester City’s old Filbert Street ground that still stands in the records books.

You don’t often score six and not win, nor concede six and not lose, but that was the case for both sides on Easter Monday, 1930. The 6-6 scoreline remains the highest score draw in top-flight English football, and has only been matched once in the English game by Charlton and Middlesborough in the old Second Division in 1960. “Although facing the wind at the outset, Arsenal were…cleverer, quicker on the ball and shot better,” according to one match report. We did most of the attacking but still managed to be 3-1 down at half time regardless of having had a David Jack header in the third minute disallowed for offside and then taking the lead. Plus ça change.

Three goals in 10 minutes at the start of the second half restored our advantage. With less than half an hour to go, we had stretched it to 5-3. Leicester it pegged it back to 6-5. Then, with 11 minutes to go, Leicester’s veteran centre-forward and record goalscorer Arthur Chandler grabbed the equalizer. We had two chances in the final minutes to score a winning seventh, but could convert neither.

“What the Arsenal lacked in team play they made up in fighting spirit and staged a brilliant recovery after being two goals behind at the interval,” the match report said in words that could have come out of the mouth of an earlier incarnation of Arsene Wenger. Halliday ended up scoring four goals, “got on shots from all sorts of difficult angles”. Bastin, “a great force”, scored the other two.

Remarkably, it would be Halliday’s last game for the club. Despite his four goals, he was dropped for the FA Cup Final at Wembley five days later, Jack Lambert taking his place and scored as Arsenal won the trophy for the first time. Though a prolific goalscorer elsewhere (156 goals in 166 games for Sunderland before Chapman brought him south for £9,000), Halliday couldn’t make the centre-forward’s position is own. He managed only 14 games and four goals before his quadruple against Leicester. The following November, Chapman sold him for a knock-down £5,700 to Manchester City, for whom he would score 47 goals in 76 games. Halliday would later manage Leicester in the mid-1950s, taking it up into the old First Division in 1957.

Dan Lewis, the Welsh international goalkeeper infamous for letting Cardiff’s winning goal in the 1927 Cup Final slip through his arms, also made his final appearance or the club in the 6-6, though his Arsenal career was truncated by injury. Indian ‘holics may be intrigued to know that he was replaced in the Cup Final by his understudy, who I believe to be our only Madhya Pradesh-born Cup-winning keeper, Charlie Preedy (his father was, appropriately for a future Gunner, serving in the Royal Artillery there). Preedy never established himself as first choice, even with Lewis being sold to Gillingham at the end of the season. Part of the reason was that, unlike many goalkeepers of the day, he was an advocate of rushing from his goal line to meet oncoming attacks. While he made daring saves, he was as likely to miss the ball altogether.

Chapman, as unhappy with his goalkeepers as his centre-forwards, tried to sign Austria’s keeper, Rudolf Hiden, in the close season. Hiden was reckoned to be the top keeper in continental Europe, but the English authorities wouldn’t sanction a foreign professional. Chapman signed instead Dutch international Gerrit ‘Gerry’ Keyser. He was acceptable to the blazer brigade as he came from an amateur club, Ajax Amsterdam. Keyser turned out to be as spectacular and reckless as Preedy and soon lost his place to the long-kicking William Harper, who had returned to the club after going off in 1927 to play in the eastern United States. After Frank Moss had joined from Oldham Athletic in 1931 and another season spent as understudy, Preedy moved to Bristol Rovers having played less than 40 games for the club over four seasons, in which he actually kept more clean sheets than conceded goals. After football, he drove a London Black Cab.

When the Arsenal next played at Filbert Street, in the league the following season, they went one better on the scoring front, winning 7-2. That was, though, the 35th in a most unlikely record-setting sequence of 39 league games. The Arsenal failed to keep a single clean sheet in the league between the start of April 1930 and the end of February 1931. That 39-game run of picking the ball out of the net every match has not been surpassed to this day though QPR matched it in 1968-69.

It is a most bizarre record for a team that was noted for its defence and was well on its way to bringing the league title not only to Highbury but to the South for the first time, ushering in the golden era of Chapman’s Arsenal that would sweep all before it.

For those seeking the perfect distraction from the international break Arsenal Ladies open their 2016 WSL campaign on Wednesday evening with a home match against Reading Ladies, at Meadow Park in Borehamwood, kick-off at 7.45pm.

The Arsenal kicked off their FA Cup campaign with a victory at Birmingham on penalties at the weekend and will host Notts County Ladies in a tough looking quarter-final.

The Gunners have strengthened significantly during the winter, signing record England cap holder Fara Williams, Dutch international Danielle Van de Donk, Republic of Ireland international Katie McCabe, German international Josephine Henning and Nigerian international Asisat Oshoala.

The Arsenal will be bidding for their first title since 2012. Fara Williams was a member of the Liverpool team who wrestled the title from our grasp in 2013 and 2014 and her signing has lifted the squad as explained by another Gunners England international, Jordan Nobbs, to Press Association Sport.

“When I was told we were adding her to our team I was very pleased to have a player as experienced as that. Last season we didn’t have the strength in our overall squad, whereas now we might be leaving big players out of our team, international players, so we have the competitive side and have to keep everyone happy. I believe in myself and the team that we can do very well.”

The Arsenal Ladies captain, Alex Scott, flew to Iraq last week to see for herself the results of a project funded by the Arsenal Foundation in partnership with Save the Children. If you haven’t already watched the video below, which launched on YouTube this week, please take time to see what the provision of two new football pitches means to children and families who have been forced to flee their homes to Khanaqeen.

“The impact that football is having on these children’s lives is incredible.” said Alex. “Having escaped violence and war with only the clothes on their back, football is giving them back a childhood and some normality after everything they’ve been through.”

The Arsenal Foundation, to which players and supporters alike make valuable contributions, has been supporting Save the Children as their global partner since 2011 and has raised more than £1.5million to support the charity’s life-saving work.

Sign for Life

You may have missed news of NHS Blood and Transplant’s Sign for Life campaign which has just concluded for another year. This nation-wide event encouraged football fans and clubs to engage with and spread the word about organ donation and its importance. It’s all about joining a vital team and signing up to the Organ Donor Register, as well as sharing your wishes with your family.

One person can save or greatly improve the lives of many other people through organ donation. However, the reality is that every day three people die waiting for organs simply because there aren’t enough donors. Many people don’t realise how organ donation works, or how you can express your wishes.

To become a donor you have to be signed up to the Organ Donor Register, as well let your family know. Your family have to give consent before your organs can be used to save lives after you’ve gone, which is why it’s so important that they know your wishes. The NHS is seeking to harness the passion of football fans to add momentum to the ongoing campaign for organ donors, to really make a difference to thousands of people’s lives.

Getting involved is easy. You can sign the Organ Donor Register here: www.organdonation.nhs.uk/register-to-donate .

Please get involved if you are UK based and not already carrying a donor card. Thank you.

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