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With apologies to Poirot obsessives, two weeks on from our astonishing smash and grab in Brussels we go head to head with Anderlecht again. We will need to start the way we ended against Burnley at the weekend.  If the anticipated home wins transpire then Dortmund and ourselves will have secured the last sixteen berths from group D with two matches to spare although the battle for first and second place will remain.

I think it is safe to assume that the Belgians will offer more of a threat than we faced on Saturday. After we made a bright start in the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium we were penned back for long periods, particularly in the second-half. Although we look stronger offensively we must make sure of providing cover for what is still, lest we forget, a bit of a makeshift back four.

I was critical of starting both Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini against Burnley, but with the benefit of hindsight that may well have been a dry run for this match. Start them both, and unleash Theo at tiring defenders after an hour. I like that thinking a lot more in the context of Tuesday night.

It will be interesting to see if Arsene fiddles with the four advanced players from Saturday. Alexis surely cannot continue to put in the shifts he is currently, twice a week? The skipper summed him up perfectly in today’s (Monday) presser.

“He’s a bull – he goes again and again. That’s the only secret with Alexis, he wants to get better and better. That’s the way he is.”

I would stick with the form man who was our one stand-out performer in Brussels and who has played so very well for weeks now, and possibly allow Theo to give him a rest for the last half an hour if the situation allows. Aaron Ramsey and Lukas Podolski are perhaps alternatives to Santi Cazorla and the Ox? Tomas Rosicky will surely make a contribution before long. For all that I suspect we might see an unchanged starting eleven.

The ‘holic pound usually seeks value. I think somewhere along the line we will give someone a fearful beating, but not on Wednesday probably. The decent value kicks in with us scoring four or more in the correct score markets. I’m indebted to a friend, John on Twitter, for putting me back on to a punt that has yielded rich pickings before. 25/1 is available for Anderlecht to be leading at half-time, and Arsenal to win. Given our recent performances that looks a possibility, and not too remote.

I realise I should be there in person, reliving that night over 44 years ago when first I saw us lift a European trophy against the same opponents. Good as they were in the first match, however, this Anderlecht don’t have the same appeal as their 1970 ancestors. I have grand’holics to treat to a Manchester United fixture at current day prices. Sky Sports 5 it is.

For those going I hope you get a performance to savour, and a safe journey home. The forecast is for a sunny afternoon and a chilly but dry evening. Welcome to autumn. For the rest of you watching television or streams, hopefully not from behind the sofa, it’s ok to raise a glass to the boys on match nights.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

The morning after the night before. The ‘holics, as ever, have been a bad influence, clearly. It was good, however, to be celebrating what became a comfortable win once Arsene worked out that Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini were in excess of the required number of holding players against limited opposition to the tune of one.

For over an hour Burnley clung to the point they so desperately craved by fair means or foul. Again we cannot blame them for that. We can once more bemoan the refereeing weakness that allows constant disruption to the flow of the game and the timewasting antics of the goalkeeper. He also missed a blatant penalty when the already booked Boyd palmed a Santi Cazorla corner to safety.

Breaking the frustration however was the outstanding Alexis. His appetite for work, whether attacking or defending from the front, is astonishing. No surprise then that he was close to opening our account, along with near misses for Danny Welbeck and Cazorla.

With Sean Dyche constantly urging his troops back into their defensive trenches I thought we might see a half-time change. It was just past the hour mark when finally we introduced Aaron Ramsey for the skipper and the match was almost instantly transformed.

The long overdue lead was secured when Chambers sent in a glorious cross from the right flank and the outstanding Alexis placed his header to perfection inside the post. It was no more than he deserved. Provider turned scorer minutes later when Chambers pounced on a blocked Welbeck effort to drill home the second.

Theo is back

The arrival, as substitutes, of Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski added to our firepower in the closing stages and both were desperately unlucky not to add to our tally as we cut loose. In stoppage time the scoreline was made more representative of the gulf in class between the teams when Alexis, who else, grabbed his second goal courtesy of a Gibbs set-up.

There seemed little disagreement in the post match discussions in the pub. Most, it seemed were surprised we went with two holding players for so long. Alexis and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were outstanding and pretty much everybody else was competent at least. There were special mentions too for Nacho Monreal, again performing better than expected alongside Per Mertesacker, although he will face sterner tests than Burnley were able to provide.

It will be interesting to see when first we will start with Theo, Alexis, and Danny Welbeck. This coming week would be good, boss.

All in all a good day spent in very good company.

A Burnley Brief

The law of averages suggests that somewhere along the line Burnley will win a match. Dare I risk mentioning that if it happens on Saturday, however unlikely that may seem to so many, the law of sod will have been proven once more. When first I remember watching Arsenal this Saturday’s opponents were a force in the top flight. These days when I hear Burnley I think Jimmy Anderson (cricket reference, sorry my transatlantic friends).

With apologies, this preview will be brief. It is nearly 10 pm on the eve of the match. Your scribe has imbibed, and I intend to both pre and post match on Saturday. The team news is what we have come to expect. Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs have joined the walking wounded and only the latter is given a fighting chance of being passed fit.

That leaves us with a starting line up that includes a back four of Bellerin, Mertesacker, Chambers, and Monreal. Think on that for more than a second or two. Those who called for some strengthening of the back line in the close season will be close to muttering “told you so”. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

Now consider you are a Burnley supporter. They are approaching all manner of records for not winning a league match from the start of the season. As a football supporter I pray they win next week against Hull, but as an Arsenal supporter I pray not this weekend. That’s how it works, isn’t it?

The visitors have secured four draws this season, at home to Manchester United and Sunderland, and away to Crystal Palace and Leicester. The ‘holic pound clearly seeks value in the home win, but not from complacency. I have seen us make a mess of such encounters. Arsenal to win by a low margin isn’t great, but if it is a winner why wouldn’t 3-1 at a best of 11/1 represent value. I’m on it.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the local of choice. For those further afield I wish you a lovely weekend. Let’s hope nothing silly happens this weekend.

Up the Arsenal !

Jon Sammels Remembered

Three points secured the previous day, the clocks have gone back so it is dark early. What do you do on the longest Sunday evening for six months? This Gooner reached for the dvd of our first double season, 1970-71.

The triumphs that season were made all the more remarkable by the fact that the club went into the season with a squad of seventeen players, which they did not supplement at any stage. Astonishing as after the opening day of the League season they had three players out with long term injuries. Of the other fourteen one, the reserve goalkeeper Geoff Barnett, did not make a single appearance all season. Two others, Peter Marinello and Sammy Nelson, started just one and three matches in the campaign. You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out that the other eleven were pretty busy for a while. And we think we are down to the bare bones now.

On 21st November 1970 we welcomed central defender Peter Simpson and midfielder Jon Sammels back into the team for the first time in what would become an historic season. At Ipswich we secured a one-nil win courtesy of Geordie Armstrong’s second-half strike, but more importantly we now had more than a dozen outfield players to pick from. Sammels, scorer of the clincher in the previous season’s European Fairs Cup triumph was a welcome addition to a functional midfield shorn of his passing ability and fierce shot.

A week later Jon featured again in a 2-0 win over Liverpool but the substitute was George Graham, who went on to score. There were mutterings in the crowd now used to seeing Peter Storey and Eddie Kelly battling whoever wanted to stop us playing, while George Graham strolled forward to telling affect and Geordie Armstrong supplied a stream of crosses on which the twin battering rams of John Radford and Ray Kennedy feasted.

It seemed that Jon was contesting a place with ‘Gorgeous George’, and although more skillful the former was struggling to regain match fitness. Graham’s goals gave him the edge although he too did not enjoy universal acclaim from a tough Highbury crowd frustrated at both for a perceived casual approach at times.

Jon replaced Eddie Kelly for the next match, a 4-0 romp against Beveren Waas, and stood in for George again for the impressive 2-0 defeat of Manchester City at Maine Road. There followed a run of seventeen matches when Bertie Mee decided to go for a blend of beauty and the beast where Jon replaced Eddie Kelly in the starting line-up. At the start of February Charlie George, who had broken his ankle on the opening day of the season, returned in an FA Cup replay against Portsmouth. George Graham lost the number eleven shirt and Jon held on to his place until a Fairs Cup nightmare against Cologne in March.The boo boys got to him and the more prolific scorer returned to the team.

He would not start a game in an Arsenal shirt again, although ironically in the next match, at Crystal Palace when he was dropped to the bench, he came on to score a typical Sammels strike in a 2-0 win. That was his last goal for the club. He made two further appearances from the bench, firstly in the FA Cup semi-final which Peter Storey turned round single-handedly against Stoke, and finally at the end of April in a 2-2 draw at West Bromwich which I attended.

I wish I had known I wouldn’t see him in red and white again. In the wake of the Fairs Cup Final triumph a year earlier I had written to him asking for advice on striking a football (he had the fiercest shot on him) and how to improve my game. I didn’t expect a response, and certainly not a hand-written one that stretched to four pages of velum. I was already a fan, but at thirteen I was understandably overwhelmed at his kindness.

As the double was secured Jon had already decided he could no longer accept his treatment from the segment of the Highbury crowd who had turned on him. Bob Wilson was quoted in Jon Spurling’s excellent Highbury: The Story Of Arsenal In N5 thus,

“Jon was my room-mate and the night before the FA Cup final, he was seriously choked up. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for him to miss out on the climax to the Double season, after he’d been at Highbury all those years. You hate to hear one of your team-mates receiving criticism from the crowd. Fans have a much bigger influence on players than they think.”

It the ensuing summer Jimmy Bloomfield, an experienced player at Arsenal when the teenage Sammels surfaced, paid £100,000 to take him to Leicester, where Jon would stay for seven seasons as a mainstay of what many Foxes supporters would argue to be their most exciting side. Many Arsenal supporters would care to remember what had gone before.

A boyhood Arsenal supporter in his native Suffolk, Jon joined Arsenal as a 16 year old in 1961. He made his debut at 17 and scored in a 2-3 defeat at Blackpool. He finally established himself in the 1965-66 season, sharing the playmaking duties with George Eastham, an England international. In November of that season Arsenal played a Brazil XI, preparing for the World Cup tournament won by England the following summer. Jon scored in each half as Arsenal beat the reigning world champions 2-0.

With Eastham’s departure Jon became the Gunners playmaker and soon found himself surrounded with familiar faces as Bertie Mee increasingly gave responsibility to the youth assembled largely around the Billy Wright era. Bob Wilson, Peter Storey, Peter Simpson, John Radford, Geordie Armstrong. He won admirers as a stylish passer with good control in either foot and a devastating shot. I was in the Clock End in 1969 when he slammed the goal of the season past Manchester United’s Alex Stepney from over thirty yards out. I can see it today. A special memory.

That season ended with his glorious chest down and cross shot inside the far post against Anderlecht, thus securing the first trophy my generation saw the Arsenal win. For that reason alone he would live in the memory, but the man who went on to become a driving instructor in Leicester (let that sink in David Bentley and your ilk) will always be fondly remembered by most who saw him proudly wearing the cannon on his chest.

So sad that an ignorant few deprived us of a talent that may have helped us avoid the all too quick return to temporary mediocrity so soon after that double triumph.

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I think I have said before, and probably more than once, that if the mark of a good side is one that picks up wins when playing badly, then we must be world-beaters. Quite frankly right now we’ll take the three points any way we can get them, whilst offering up prayers to all of the Gods thanking them for Alexis Sanchez and his continuing fitness.

For the second match running we scored twice away from home to seal victory, but this was not a smash and grab of the type witnessed in Brussels. This was a win ground out by a squad desperately looking to gel, and owed much to Sunderland’s current crisis of confidence.

To be fair to the mackems they started brightly and Arsenal’s defence, again incorporating Nacho Monreal as a central defender, held firm. Arsene had presumably anticipated as much, and paired Mikel Arteta with Mathieu Flamini in front of the back four as added insurance. An interesting decision, for certain, and the end result provides justification for that selection.

The contest was developing with a hint of an edge after Rodwell’s awful lunge on Calum Chambers resulted in nothing more than a talking to from Kevin Friend, who went on to book three players from each side for less serious offences. These continuing inconsistencies frustrate supporters everywhere and once again chants of “You don’t know what your doing” rang around the ground.

As Arsenal imposed themselves on the match Danny Welbeck hit a curler from outside the box just over. Santi Cazorla was off target looking to test a nervous looking former Gunner, Vito Mannone. Generally though we struggled to create much against Sunderland’s massed ranks of defence until they actually did it for us. Wes Brown’s horrendous mis-hit backpass sent the industrious Alexis scampering clear to lift the ball over Mannone’s left shoulder. One nil to the Arsenal, and a bit early for the ‘holic pound I thought at the time.

The first half, and what was to follow as the match drew to a close, was a demonstration of how valuable the Chilean has already become for us. He allies pace, wonderful technical ability, calm finishing, and a work ethic bettered by not one of his colleagues. He works his socks off for the side. When eventually we have got a functioning midfield he could be an absolute revelation. That we haven’t was evident and must remain a mystery to the manager and his coaching staff.

Sunderland again came out determined after the break and Rodwell’s header was as close as they would come to getting an equaliser. Oh the irony had it gone in. The fierce undercurrent remained. Steven Fletcher hobbled off and was followed by Kieran Gibbs, Just what we needed, another defensive injury. Per Mertesacker didn’t look to be moving too freely, but then does he ever? He remained the rock on which our back four hangs, surrounded by three full-backs, one a rookie.

I used the word soporific to describe events in Belgium and the same adjective describes this second-half. The longer it went on the more we retreated and looked to hit on the break. Tired legs were replaced too late I thought, Ramsey and Rosicky coming on for Arteta and the out of sorts Ox in the closing minutes.

There remained the sight of Mannone making a complete and utter hash of controlling a ball and presenting the ever alert Alexis with his second goal, and denying me a tidy little win into the bargain.

Not surprisingly the manager was keen to praise the matchwinner afterwards.

“He took advantage of the mistakes they made, but as well, he has super quality, Sanchez. He has has quick feet and that’s why he wins many balls that normal players don’t win. In transition from offence to defence, he is very quick and wins the ball back very quickly, and you can take advantage of that.”

He certainly dug us out of a hole today. Let’s hope we can build on our improving fortune, and our yet to improve form.

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So we are looking for a turning point. Or did that arrive in the final two minutes in Brussels? Arsenal’s need for three points at Sunderland this weekend is more about establishing, or maintaining, some momentum. We had hoped that the win at Villa Park would be the springboard for a healthy run of confidence-boosting performances. It wasn’t. As Arsene conceded in his press conference we are consistent, but not yet efficient. That’s one way of putting it.

Sunderland have good reason to produce the sort of concerted defensive performance against which we have struggled so far this season. Last week’s eight goal drubbing at Southampton could affect them in a number of ways. With the attacking otions available to us we should really go for the jugular, but ruthless we have not been thus far. Have the manager and his coaching staff got the message right this week? A purple patch will materialise, and the sooner the better.

The team news is that Jack Wilshere is ruled out by suspension, and only Wojciech Szczesny will be back, although Theo Walcott should hopefully be available next week. The Polish ‘keeper will probably return behind an unchanged back four, Nacho Monreal’s experience likely to give him the edge over a recall for Hector Bellerin.

It is in midfield where the interesting selections lie. The engine room was the strength of the side when we clicked last season but it is fair, I think, to say they haven’t hit the ground running as yet this season. It would not be a surprise to see Mikel Arteta return in place of the shouting, pointing, and clapping leader that is Mathieu Flamini. Aaron Ramsey probably has a box to box role nailed on, Which means a choice between Santi Cazorla or Tomas Rosicky in as a ‘number ten’.

Alexis must be the first name on the teamsheet on one flank, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may get the other, although Lukas Podolski will be hoping his last-gasp winner against Anderlecht will see him in the frame to link up with Danny Welbeck.

Sunderland have their own injury problems, particularly at the back. Does that sound familiar. They don’t have the bodies to make wholesale changes to the side humbled last week, but we all know that under such circumstances a team can produce a reaction.

It is important that Arsenal start brightly and pressurise a Mackem side who will surely start nervously. Allowing them an early foothold would encourage those on the pitch and in the stands alike. The home support is key to restoring confidence to their heroes. Let’s keep them quiet and apply pressure from the off.

The ‘holic pound is guided by caution, made nervous by our two wins in eight league starts. Sunderland will attempt to defend in depth and strike on the counter. We have lacked creativity largely so far. A famous scoreline appeals. One nil to the Arsenal is also the bookies favourite, but 7/1 looks decent value to me.

To those making the long jouney to the north-east, have a good trip and here’s hoping the boys put on a performance for you and secure a second consecutive win. To the rest of you let’s hope that there are some decent streams around to enable us to follow the action from afar.

Campo Retro Promotion

Don’t forget that you can get your favourite classic retro shirts with 20% off at Campo Retro. Check the range out here, and use the discount code FLASH20 this weekend to secure a great deal on your favourite shirt.

Have a great weekend, ‘holics.

Football books sell. It is why we have such a choice of Arsenal titles in recent months. Books about your favourite clubs, players even, have a magnetic attraction. More people, it seems, write about the Arsenal than any other club and so there should be no surprise at the number of books about the Gunners that have hit the shelves in recent months. There have been some crackers too, from Arseblog’s Together through to Dave Seager’s much anticipated Geordie Armstrong On The Wing in tandem with Geordie’s daughter, Jill.

The former is a celebration of Arsenal’s undefeated Premier League season from the supporters viewpoint, and today (Thursday as I write) saw the release of Amy Lawrence’s excellent view of that same historic campaign through the eyes of those who planned, directed, and delivered an unequalled achievement in modern football at the highest level.

In fourteen gripping chapters Invincible, well what else would you call it, relives an historic season through interviews, match reports of the day, and a subtle guiding hand from the rather less than impartial, but always objective, Amy. Her access to the characters involved enables this season to be relived by those of us fortunate to have witnessed it, but reveals the things we didn’t know, or have since forgotten.

The perfect foreword is provided by Arsene Wenger. Under pressure, certainly, at present, but the man who put together the squad that would fulfil what seemed an absurd target.

“I knew I had a special team in 2003-04 at Arsenal. It had always been my dream to go through a season without losing, even though it is not a normal ambition.”

And so to part one of the book, although the temptation to jump to and fro to capture special memories is great. I wanted to get to Liverpool at home and Totttenham away as soon as possible. Try instead though to follow it as written because the introductory chapter introduces the rivalry that existed between Manchester United and us, and puts into context that infamous Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty miss, and the subsequent events. Read Martin Keown proclaiming himself as Patrick Vieira’s minder. That speaks volumes about Martin, and the sheer physical presence of that team. This is not a strictly chronological account, but a well constructed appreciation of the characters and events that impacted so many of us for life.

Again by means of setting the scene David Dein waxes lyrical about the decision, not taken when George Graham left in 1995 but when his successor Bruce Rioch departed little more than a year later, to appoint Arsene Wenger to the post of Arsenal manager. Regardless of what has happened since, Dein’s recollections and his role in the appointment warrant an acknowledgement of his vision at that time.

The characters introduced, and the context set, let yourself follow the unfolding drama through the words of Sol Campbell (re Thierry Henry) “He was very delicate sometimes, like an artist. I’m sure he would be like some kind of Picasso.” Or perhaps Freddie Ljungberg, “I didn’t understand a word Ray Parlour in his cockney accent was trying to say when I first got there, but I learned, because everybody tried to interact with each other in their language.”

Before long you will find yourself at the pivotal part of the season, and the author rebuilds the feelings when successive cup defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea were followed by a half-time deficit to Liverpool in the Premier League. No quotes about this, you will have to buy the book, but I feel a chill down my spine one more time. Will anybody who witnessed the events of that week ever forget what was arguably Thierry’s finest half in an Arsenal shirt?

I cautioned against jumping ahead of yourself earlier, but if you cannot resist then you might care to read the early chapters and then leapfrog to chapter ten. Here the capture of the ultimate prize in English football is also set in context. Be prepared to join Pat Rice on a journey from 1971 to 2004. For this old boy it evokes wonderful memories of a night spent on the Shelf watching us secure the title for the first time in my life. Who then would have dared to dream we would repeat the achievement?

And that is the essence of the book. No matter your age in 2004, prepare to have deep rooted memories brought back to the forefront of the mind. I sat reading my idols words as they would have spoken them. Skillfully strung together, and still provoking the odd emotion that no man should admit to.

If you were there in 71 and/or 2004, buy the book. If only now do you appreciate that we probably had four of the six best payers on the planet back then, buy the book and read their words. Let me make it simple. If you are an Arsenal supporter, buy the book.

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Still on the fence about getting that 1979 Cup Final Shirt? Maybe the ’71, or the ’94 Copenhagen classic? You can get 20% off classic Arsenal shirts at Campo Retro. Check the range out here, and use the discount code FLASH20 this weekend to secure a great deal on your favourite shirt.

Thanks all. Sunderland preview to follow on Friday. Have a good end of week, ‘holics.

What looked like being a humiliating evening was turned on it’s head in the last two minutes in Brussels as Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski turned a single goal deficit around in remarkable fashion. A sluggish (Alexis Sanchez aside) Arsenal found two moments of inspiration after a very pedestrian performance to that point.

In the early stages the first chance was created by Alexis with a glorious cut-back into the path of Santi Cazorla who was unfortunately high, wide, and handsome with his shinned effort. As early as the eighth minute Nacho Monreal was yellow-carded for a body check on Cryiac, which put the stand-in central defender on a tightrope for the rest of the match. On eleven minutes Santi was presented with another chance when Danny Welbeck was upended on the edge of the box, but the free-kick hit the wall.

On fifteen minutes Alexis again crossed from the right and a stretching Welbeck just failed to get enough on the header. That miss heralded a sloppy phase with players on both sides lucky not to join Nacho in the referee’s notebook. Emiliano Martinez made his first save fom Praet’s deflected effort. As the half drew to a close Per Mertesacker headed Santi’s corner over the top at the near post. In truth it was soporific stuff.

The opening minute of the second-half saw Welbeck come close to wriggling free along the goal-line but a ricocheted clearance found the Anderlecht ‘keeper. After Conte’s effort was deflected wide it was Arsenal who came close again. Alexis’ flicked ‘shoulder’ from nigh on point-blank range once again nestled in Proto’s arms. Ten minutes into the half and fit-again Aaron Ramsey scuffed an efort wide with that man Alexis once more the provider.

The 58th minute saw Martinez called on to produce another save and momentarily the home crowd were lifted. Four minutes later Praet blazed one high over the top and that was repeated by Alexis at the other end after Cazorla was denied by Proto. Welbeck’s night was summed up by a booking minutes later as he chased back in the centre circle. His work rate is second to none, but with the supply scarce he cut a frustrated figure.

So did 1100 visiting supporters on 71 minutes when Najar was left free to head home after Monreal and Mertesacker were dragged out of the centre to cover Kieran Gibbs flank to no avail. One could be forgiven for thinking Monreal’s poor attempt to cut out the cross owed a lot to his early booking. Cue a double substitution of Oxlade-Chamberlain for Flamini, and Campbell for Welbeck. I don’t mind I was scratching my head at the choice of the two players hooked. With Flamini missing we miraculously avoided having the deficit doubled on the break when Vanden Borre’s effort hit the woodwork and Najar fired into the side netting.

Into the final ten minutes Deschacht was the first home player into the book for a foul on Jack Wilshere, and the Alexis free-kick was desperately close, but not close enough. At the other end young Martinez kept Arsenal’s hopes alive as the defence in front of him crumbled. Then astonishingly the full-backs, struggling defensively, combined for a spectacular equaliser with just two minutes left on the clock. Kieran Gibbs finish was exquisite.

Unbelievably as the clock passed ninety minutes Lukas Podolski, brought on late for Jack Wilshere was the beneficiary of another Sanchez set-up and stole the three points for the visitors, and doubtless left sub-editors scrambling to change the crisis headlines and remove the broken cannons from the back pages. In truth though there was no doubt that this was pure smash and grab by the visitors. Struggling for form, ravaged by injuries, could the club now draw strength and confidence from that final telling two minutes?

Happy birthday Arsene. Here is hoping this is a turning point.

PS, Invincible out now

As I type you can now buy Amy Lawrence’s excellent book Invincible, packed with the recollections of those who engineered and achieved the unbeaten Premier League season in 2003/4. A fuller review will be the next post on Goonerholic. For now the easiest way for UK subscribers to buy is to click on the Amazon ad in the sidebar of this blog. Trust me, it will be money well spent.

Well, those who traveled to Brussels by air today must have been cursing the weather gods. As I write their day hasn’t improved a great deal since returning to terra firma as thunderstorms rumble around the city. Back at home the storms gathering in the atmosphere and on the internet are gathering pace.

With Wojciech Szczesny ruled out by suspension Arsene confirmed today that his back-up, David Ospina, had aggravated a thigh injury in his first appearance for the club and would be out for two to three months. Emiliano Martinez, as he is now known, will don the gloves in the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. I saw Emiliano under his previous alter ego, Damian, concede five in a League Cup tie on a crazy night at the Mad Stad when we hit seven.

There is some better news in the shape of Calum Chambers returning after his suspension. That means an interesting decision for Arsene whether to play him instead of Nacho Monreal in the centre of the defence or put him in for the ‘not much but still’ less-experienced Hector Bellerin at right-back. Mikel Arteta has traveled and may be in line for a recall at the expense of Mathieu Flamini. Photographs of training showed both Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott are again involved but surely they will grace the bench at best?

The hosts will have been boosted by their victory in this evening’s U-19 match, a seven goal thriller. Surely though they will be less than confident following their 0-3 beating by Dortmund in their previous home match in the group. This folllowed a 1-1 draw away to Galatasaray on matchday one which gave both sides their only point to date.

Anderlecht’s manager, Besnik Hasi, has warned his team not to be fooled by Arsenal’s injury list prior to the critical third match in the group.

“We are a very young, talented team and will get better with these type of games… for us it will be a mistake if we are thinking because Arsenal are missing some players, and have not been at their top level in their competition, that they will not be difficult opponents tomorrow. Arsenal have dropped some points in their own championship and are less confident at the moment, but we have to be realistic and focus on ourselves, to keep the ball because we will be playing against a top team in Europe.”

His opposite number celebrates his 65th birthday on matchday three and will be hoping that his charges are ready to secure a victory. Arsene is already under pressure after Chelsea have taken an eleven points advantage in the opening weeks of the Premier League. Progress to the knock-out phase of the Champions League is expected but preferably as group winners. Anything less than a win here would be a severe blow to that possibility.

The ‘holic pound is persuaded that we have enough in the squad to get the result we need to keep the pressure on Dortmund, three points ahead of us already. I know I thought the same against Hull at the weekend, and I am hoping that disappointment will have focused minds on a much-needed improvement on Wednesday night. I’m having the 14/1 on offer against a 1-3 away win if you shop around.

Here’s hoping the 1100 or so lucky traveling Gooners who snapped up our measly allocation will get better weather, and a decent performance to cheer.

Don’t Forget Your Campo Retro Classic Arsenal Shirt Discount.

Don’t forget, during the month of October you can get a generous 20% off a classic Campo Retro legend shirt by entering the code GH20 at the checkout. Click here to check out the range and order your favourite.

Have a great Wednesday, ‘holics.

Where does one start after yet another performance in which Arsenal frustrated more than they delighted? The day started well enough, a fabulous lunch in equally fabulous company. Asked outside how confident I was I had to respond with “Don’t tell anyone, but not very.”

That said we made a bright and confident start with Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, and Alexis all having opportunities before Santi Cazorla drew a fantastic save from Harper. An opening goal was surely coming, and duly arrived, an Alexis special, and not the only reason he was Arsenal’s man of the match.

When we are in such cavalier mode we are a joy to watch, but as so many sides have now shown, easy to counter-attack. Diame’s rampaging run appeared to have been ended by Mathieu Flamini’s intervention, but the Frenchman was manhandled out of the way and the Hull man went on to finish with Arsenal players berating the hapless referee, Roger East. Arsene wasn’t slow in letting the fourth official and the assistant referee know his take on the incident.

One of many breaks in play

Let’s make it clear that the referee was dreadful throughout, worse even than Anthony Taylor against Villa last season, and his non-decision here did affect the result, but let’s not allow that to blind us to the fact that Arsenal should still have had enough talent on the pitch yesterday to beat a mid-table team. For all that Hull did what the lesser clubs have frequently found fruitful against us, the unchecked time-wasting, the rarely punished rotational fouling. You can call out the official for a woefully sub-standard performance without it being the main reason why we took one point instead of three. The main reason was us.

We didn’t pick up from where we had started after that equaliser. When we experienced similar performances at the back end of last season we used our lack of pace and creativity due to the absences of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, and Theo Walcott. That isn’t the case now. We have bought pace aplenty. Alexis has it, Welbeck has it (and both of those players put in a full shift yesterday), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has it, although this was an off day for the Ox.

That we fell behind at the start of the second-half was all of our own making. Jack allowed Huddlestone unfettered passage down the right flank and his cross was headed home by Hernandez who caught the BFG on his heels. We awaited a response. Hull had their third choice goalkeeper on as a substitute. Surely we would pepper the goal now, but no. He wasn’t required to make a save until the final five minutes as we continually sought to weave our way through the backline with one pass too many time and again.

That tactic may have been understandable. Although the excellent premier League debutant, Hector Bellerin, and Kieran Gibbs ruled the flanks, crosses into the box were meat and drink for Hull’s battallion of big men. There has to come a point, however, when someone takes responsibility and gets the shot away at the end of these intricate exchanges.

In the six minutes added on, although most thought it should have been more, we got the equaliser when finally Alexis threaded the ball through for Danny Welbeck to apply a clever finish. We nearly snatched the points at the death but the chance fell to Gibbs, not Sanchez or Welbeck, and the ‘keeper saved.

So to another inquest in the pub of choice. Good people lifted each other. I’d like to say that this was just one of those days and in the words of D:Ream ‘Things can only get better’, and doubtless they will, but there have been too many of these careless draws already this season. Five in eight starts should be something of a wake up call. Yes, we may point at the ludicrously long injury list, but that eleven that started yesterday should have had too much quality and technical ability for a workmanlike Hull. The supposed weak links, Bellerin and Monreal, had excellent games I thought. Jack and Santi, dominant in the opening spell, lost their control of the midfield a little too easily thereafter.

The manager and his staff need to lift and inspire their troops for a batch of winnable fixtures, but yesterday was the first of those and we came up short again. It’s true that the title is won after Christmas, but equally true that it can be lost beforehand. The gap between Chelsea and us looks worryingly large right now.

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