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26th May, 1989. Brian Moore relays the story as the League Championship reaches a barely believable climax.

“Arsenal come streaming forward now in surely what will be their last attack. A good ball by Dixon, finding Smith, for Thomas, charging through the midfield. Thomas, it’s up for grabs now… THOMAS! Right at the end. An unbelievable climax to the league season.”

In such a dramatic fashion did Michael Lauriston Thomas write his name large in Arsenal’s history. The title deciding goal in the final minute of a season at the home of the favourites and potential double winners. A heck of a way to crown his first season as a box to box midfielder in the First Division.

Signed as a schoolboy in 1982, Michael turned professional two years later. The versatile Thomas, captain of England at schoolboy, youth, and under-21 levels, would make his breakthrough in the 1986-87 season as George Graham set about blooding a string of exciting youngsters at the club. After a brief loan spell at Portsmouth Michael would make his first team bow in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final against the neighbours, replacing the injured Viv Anderson at right back.

His first medal was secured when he made a cameo appearance as a substitute in the 2-1 defeat of Liverpool at Wembley. The following season Anderson was one of the senior players jettisoned to make way for the young Guns. Michael found himself the preferred right-back. Positionally it was not his best role, but he used his attacking instincts to good effect, racking up eleven goals in forty-six league and cup appearances.

Graham signed Lee Dixon in 1988 and this enabled Michael to join his schoolboy pal, David Rocastle, in the Gunners midfield at the start of the 1988/89 season. Michael featured in 37 of the 38 matches that culminated in that incredible night on Merseyside, scoring seven goals. It is probably fair to comment that he owed such a contribution to the nine match ban that Paul Davis picked up for breaking Glen Cockerill’s jaw and his subsequent falling out with Graham. Having said that Bobby Robson gave Michael a full England debut in a 1-1 draw in Saudi Arabia.

The following season Arsenal slipped to fourth place, but Michael’s consistency improved and among the eight goals he scored was a hat-trick in a League Cup tie at Plymouth. A deserved second cap for England came in December in a 2-1 defeat of a good Yugoslavian side. Personally it remains a mystery that he did not get further international recognition.

Michael collected a second champions medal in 1990/91, but it was a bittersweet end of season for him. First choice in the number four shirt through to a 1-1 home draw with Nottingham Forest in March, Michael fell foul of his manager, as had Davis two years earlier. Michael, in the form of his life, played in just one of the final ten league matches as the title was secured with two matches to spare despite a two points deduction by the FA for a bit of handbags at Old Trafford.

At the start of the following season he found himself rotated with David Hillier and his old friend Davis. Graham was toying with the side and the arrival of Ian Wright meant a change of tactics for the team. Michael scored his thirtieth, and last, goal for the club as a substitute in a 4-1 win at Crystal Palace, and although we didn’t know it, the last of his 208 appearances for the club in a single goal defeat at West Ham. Michael would depart in December bemoaning Arsenal’s increasing reliance on the long ball game and by-passing the midfield.

Graeme Souness paid £1.5 million to take Michael to Liverpool, of all clubs. The opposition against whom he had won his first two medals. Despite that Michael soon endeared himself to the Anfield faithful and ended the season scoring at Wembley in a 2-0 FA Cup Final win against Sunderland. He picked up a League Cup winners medal too, although only an unused substitute against Bolton in 1995.

The curtain came down on Michael’s career after a brief loan spell at Middlesbrough, and a season each at Benfica and Wimbledon. He remains, unsurprisingly, hugely popular with Arsenal and Liverpool supporters alike. Michael enjoyed some success at Liverpool as Arsenal, despite the cup successes of 1993 and 1994, were plunged into a more spartan era style wise.

When I’m down though I know I can always break open the dvd of that incredible night at Anfield and step back in time.

“Thomas, it’s up for grabs now… THOMAS!”

A Campo Retro Shirt Still Up For Grabs

To celebrate the run up to the match against Liverpool the good people at Campo Retro have come up with a wonderful prize for one lucky ‘holic. You can choose one of a wide range of Arsenal shirts which can be found by clicking here. Both of my favourites are included in the Campo Retro collection.

To win the shirt of your choice just answer the following question. Who scored the winning goal in the 1971 FA Cup Final against Liverpool?

a) George Graham   b) Eddie Kelly   or c) Charlie George

Please send your answers to competitions@camporetro.com along with a contact email and phone number plus your Twitter handle if you have one. The winner selected after the competition closes at mid-day UK time on Thursday, 2nd April, will receive the shirt of their choice. There is no cash alternative.

Get 20% Off Your Campo Retro Favourite This Week

If you want to take advantage of Campo Retro’s special Easter offer to snap up your favourite shirt then place an order on their site and when checking out enter the promo code EGG to receive a 20% discount, even off the 1971 long sleeve shirt, the price of which has already been cut by 20%. Some deal that.

That’s it. Get your entries in (just one per person please), and good luck to you.

Arsenal Football Club and official Club partner PUMA have unveiled a world first; the Left-Footed evoPOWER Football. Designed exclusively for Arsenal, the Left-Footed evoPOWER Football was created to increase the accuracy, power and precision of a left-footed player.

In a game currently dominated by right-footed players and right-footed equipment, the Club felt it was crucial to develop kit specifically for their numerous left or two-footed players. Arsenal approached PUMA to see if they might be able to help and in their first season with the Club, PUMA have done just that.

Bellerin, Cazorla, Monreal, Ozil (c) Arsenal Football Club

Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil, Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin, were the first players to test the new football and the results were incredible. After trying the ball for the first time, two-footed player Santi Cazorla had just one thing to say: “It’s unbelievable!” Right-footed player, Hector Bellerin, said: “It’s a bit tricky to use on your right-foot but it instantly improved my left-foot.”

Further player reactions and exclusive training footage with the new ball can be watched here:

Speaking about the launch, Keith Woods, PUMA’s Senior Product Line Manager for Teamsport Accessories, said: “This football will not only improve the overall game of left and two footed players, it is also the perfect training aid for the right-footed player’s weaker left-foot. A left-footed player finally has the benefits that a right-footed player has always had with footballs to date.”

The new Left-Footed evoPOWER Football will be available exclusively at Arsenal’s official online store, Arsenaldirect.com soon…

This week culminates in the visit of Liverpool for an important match in the chase for Champions League places next season. We have enjoyed some memorable matches against them in the past, and two of the most treasured Arsenal shirts in my collection are the yellow and blue one in which we won the 1971 FA Cup Final, and therefore double, signed by Charlie George. Also the yellow and blue with red piping in which Tony Adams lifted the championship trophy at Anfield in 1989, signed by Mr Arsenal, obviously.

Win A Campo Retro Shirt

To celebrate the run up to the match the good people at Campo Retro have come up with a wonderful prize for one lucky ‘holic. You can choose one of a wide range of Arsenal shirts which can be found by clicking here. Both of my favourites are included in the Campo Retro collection.

Score Draw retro football shirts are the perfect way to get your hands on your old favourites. Because these are officially licenced products, sponsors’ logos are all there too, with player naming and numbering also available for you to choose.

Every shirt has been designed and manufactured using only the finest techniques and materials to enhance your memories of that favourite match, that favourite goal.

To win the shirt of your choice just answer the following question. Who scored the winning goal in the 1971 FA Cup Final against Liverpool?

a) George Graham   b) Eddie Kelly   or c) Charlie George

Please send your answers to competitions@camporetro.com along with a contact email and phone number plus your Twitter handle if you have one. The winner selected after the competition closes at mid-day UK time on Thursday, 2nd April, will receive the shirt of their choice. There is no cash alternative.

Get 20% Off Your Campo Retro Favourite This Week

If you want to take advantage of Campo Retro’s special Easter offer to snap up your favourite shirt then place an order on their site and when checking out enter the promo code EGG to receive a 20% discount, even off the 1971 long sleeve shirt, the price of which has already been cut by 20%. Some deal that.

That’s it. Get your entries in (just one per person please), and good luck to you.

 

A Friday night and Saturday evening have been dedicated to watching European championship qualifiers. Regular readers know I blow hot and cold over international matches these days. In the long run I wonder how long the clubs that generate massive wealth and supply the expensive players will be governed by the apparently corrupt bodies running football today. That is a question for a bigger post than should grace a blog.

The beauty of having become over time an Arsenal supporter first, and an England supporter second, is that I have no qualms about watching the other national sides and appreciating them in a way that I will never be able to take pleasure in any of our domestic rivals successes.

First up was the land of my birth and the pleasure of watching Danny Welbeck grab a sixth goal of the qualifying campaign and also providing an assist for Rooney. Danny was unanimously declared the man of the match, but succumbed to a knee injury late on. It was confirmed earlier that the injury is serious enough for him to miss the friendly against Italy in the coming week. More than that it would be unwise to speculate as to the extent of his knock.

Likewise that apparently suffered by Aaron Ramsey this evening (Saturday) as Wales cruised to an impressive win against an Israel side that went into the match with a 100% record. Rambo, like Welbeck a goalscorer and creator for his country, walked off when substituted so let’s hope that it proves to have been a sensible precautionary measure with the match already well won.

Thankfully there are no further reports of mishaps suffered by Arsenal’s internationals, but we won’t be heaving a collective sigh of relief until Tuesday’s international friendlies have come and gone.

Elsewhere Mesut Ozil took on the captain’s armband for Germany when Sammy Khedira went off against Australia after an hour of a watchable 2-2 draw with Australia. The full ninety minutes will have done him no harm at all. I caught the end of the Czech Republic’s home match with Latvia, which was handy as I saw the hosts equalise in the last minute and Tomas Rosicky walk off after his one hundredth cap for the Czechs. The full ninety should help him too.

Olivier Giroud will escape any blame for the 1-3 humbling of the French by Brazil. His appearance as a substitute was limited to the final six minutes, while central defenders Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel stayed firmly seated on their respective benches. Santi Cazorla too made only a late appearance from the bench as Spain overcame Ukraine.

David Ospina had a relatively easy time of it as Columbia scored six without reply against Bahrain, while Alexis Sanchez was a second-half substitute as Chile slipped to defeat against Iran.

That aside, I enjoyed finding out that Australian Gooners are just as frustrated as us when the international break comes around. I spent an enjoyable hour or so chewing the cud on the Gunners Down Under podcast on Friday and this surfaced earlier today. Thanks to Matty B and the BFG for putting up with me as I coughed and spluttered in the background, and spouted my usual gibberish.

That’s pretty much it for now. I am watching the Netherlands and Turkey not worrying if anybody gets hurt, and hoping it improves in the second-half. Tomorrow I will definitely try and catch Brazil against Chile, and possibly Alexis against Gabriel, at the Grove. I hope they have been reminded not to tackle each other. Ooh, Turkey have taken the lead. This game just took a turn for the better.

Camp35

One last thing. We have a competition coming up this week with a Campo Retro shirt as the prize. This week though you also have a chance to buy one at a big discount. The offer is simple, it’s a 20% off promo code (EGG) that is also redeemable against already discounted products so ‘holic readers can get up to 35% off. Perfect Easter presents! Click on this link to check out their excellent range of Arsenal shirts. http://bit.ly/1CIfcnP

Have a great Sunday all.

The international break is well and truly upon us. No real football for another eleven days as I type, and then Liverpool come to the Grove for a match that could have a massive bearing on the end of season placings. So I thought I would look at some of the players who wore the colours of both clubs down the years.

I have already written a piece about one, Geoff Strong, an idol of the very young me, on the occasion of his passing just under a couple of years ago. He was a success at both clubs and is still revered by those who saw him in North London and on Merseyside today.

Ironically the next big name to make that move north was another who hailed from the north-east, who featured as a striker for us, but like Geoff would show more versatility at Anfield. Rejected by the famous Sir Stanley Matthews at Port Vale, Ray Kennedy was working in a sweet factory and playing amateur football with New Hartley Juniors when Arsenal signed him in May 1968, turning professional six months later.

Ray got his first team baptism as a substitute in a European Fairs Cup tie at Glentoran in September 1969, but it was his second appearance, also as a substitute, that would set the tone for what was to follow. In the first leg of the Final of the same competition the Gunners were three goals down to an excellent Anderlecht team on their own patch. The eighteen year old was summoned from the bench and scored a memorable goal to give us a glimmer of hope for the second-leg, which of course was to provide our first trophy for seventeen years.

At the start of the following season young Ray must have wondered how many opportunities he would get from the bench. Arsenal had John Radford, George Graham, and Charlie George to score goals. He didn’t even feature for the opening league fixture at Goodison where Arsenal battled to a 2-2 draw, but as he scored Charlie George collided with goalkeeper Gordon West and broke his ankle. Two nights later Ray got his first start alongside Radford in a goalless draw against West Ham United at Upton Park.

From small acorns, as they say. After that blank sheet the partnership of Radford and Kennedy would terrorise top flight defences. Ray opened his account with the only goal of the game at home to Huddersfield, notched his second in a 2-1 win at Burnley, and then went on an astonishing run for one so inexperienced. Nine goals in eight games included his first hat-trick in a 4-0 demolition of Nottingham Forest.

Ever present bar the opening day, Ray went on to play in 63 of the Gunners 64 competitive matches, scoring a remarkable 26 goals. Not bad for a teenager. Enhancing his reputation as a scorer of big goals it was Ray, who else, who climbed to head home the goal that won Arsenal the first leg of the double at White Hart Lane. Five days later he added to his medal collection as Liverpool were beaten at Wembley.

Quite remarkable was the young man’s all round ability. Not just a powerful header of goals he, like Raddy, was a wonderful outlet. A target man who, like his partner, withstood weekly clatterings into the back of his calves and ankles, so often deemed legitimate at that time. He could finish with both feet too, and brought his colleagues into play with tidy distribution.

Ray remained Raddy’s preferred strike partner in the following seasons, but gradually a little inconsistency crept into his performances, and for a very good reason as we were to find out much later. In 1971/72 he made another 55 appearances and scored 19 more goals. He was just a substitute as the team lost the Centenary FA Cup Final to Leeds. The following season he scored 11 times in just 42 appearances although ever-present in the second half of the season.

Ironically in his final season in Arsenal colours he played in each and every one of a fading powers 46 matches. His haul of 13 goals made him joint top scorer with Alan Ball. It was still something of a surprise though that Liverpool paid £180,000 for Ray in July 1974 (contrary to popular belief he was not Bill Shankly’s last signing). Bob Paisley had spotted something in Ray and, unable to fit him into an attack that already featured Toshack and Keegan, he converted him into a left-sided midfielder with responsibility to create as well as score goals.

Ten major honours came Ray’s way in six years at Anfield, plus seventeen caps for England. He usually got an appreciative hand on his return to Highbury. As at Arsenal though there were days when he found motivation difficult. They were coming more often. Ray moved on to Swansea under his old team-mate Toshack in 1982, but there was to be an unfortunate parting of the ways when the Swans manager was critical of Ray’s contribution.

A final season at Hartlepool seemed a harsh way for such an accomplished player to bow out. However just a couple of years later the big man was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and the increasing inconsistency he had displayed became completely understandable.

Today Ray lives, not surprisingly, a quiet life with his family. His drug regime is constantly being changed to try to ease the symptoms of his disease. In his book, “A Ray Of Hope” the big man recalls noticing the tremors in his Arsenal days. On one occasion he couldn’t fasten his shirt buttons, but the symptoms came and went so he ignored them. That he went on to play at such a high level as the condition developed is a credit to his character, his strength, and his determination.

Thanks Ray, for helping to make my teenage years such a blast. Watching you and Raddy in full cry will always, I hope, stay fresh in the forefront of the memory. The Mickeys thought you could play a bit too.

Down the years I’m sure we have all seen games that could be described as the archetypal game of two halves. Somehow though, and maybe just because it is so fresh in the memory, Arsenal’s match at Newcastle is right up there among the most astonishing of them.

Having drawn Newcastle’s sting in the opening minutes the Gunners put a stranglehold on the first-half. With their movement the visitors seemed to be able to get at Newcastle’s makeshift rearguard at will. Alexis and Nacho Monreal were prominent on the flanks and once again Olivier Giroud was involved in so much of what was good about our game.

The surprise was that it took until the mid-point of the half for the opening goal to arrive. Colback’s foul on Giroud gave Santi Cazorla the chance to pick out Danny Welbeck with his free-kick and the England striker’s header was deflected in off the knee of Giroud.

It wasn’t a surprise when, less than four minutes later, Giroud had added an emphatic second with his head from Santi’s corner. In between those two strikes Welbeck volleyed wide after some typically dogged approach play by Alexis. It looked as though the weakened Geordies might be on the receiving end of a hiding, but somehow they made it to half-time just two down.

What followed was a tidal shift in fortunes. Booed off at half-time, the Magpies returned with a much more energetic approach and pressed Arsenal hard from the whistle. Indeed within three minutes of the restart the lead was halved when Pérez and Cabella set up Sissoko to finish with a crisp right footer. Twice in the ensuing minutes Perez was just off target as Arsenal looked, with little success, to regroup.

Newcastle were pinpointing Calum Chambers who is currently not the assured young defender we saw at the start of the season, but in fairness to him it was becoming evident that some of those ahead of him were running low on fuel after the attempt to pull off a remarkable comeback in Monaco on Tuesday. Fortunately Laurent Koscielny and the recalled Gabriel looked assured in the heart of the defence. That was just as well given the rearguard action that was developing.

Ospina denied Sissoko a second, Janmaat just missed the target, and Arsene sent on Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky for the seemingly tiring Alexis and Cazorla. Francis Coquelin was again a key figure, pinching possession for us on numerous occasions only to see the ball gifted back to the hosts far too cheaply.

In the midst of a steady stream of attacks from the hosts we got a break, but Welbeck was denied at the near post by Krul when perhaps he might have considered cutting the ball back for one of two team mates unmarked in the box. As the minutes ticked by Perez had one more attempt at an equaliser but again Ospina proved his equal.

Hector Bellerin, surprisingly on the bench, came on for Welbeck for the final few minutes and we survived with the three points intact, and at the end of the day that is all that matters for now. Arsene spoke of his fatigued battlers after the match.

“We have played four games in two weeks and three away games at Manchester, in Monaco and here today, and we’ve won all three. The last 40 minutes were difficult because our legs had gone a little bit and Newcastle played very well in the second half.”

Indeed they did, and all credit to them for that. It would be good, but so un-Arsenal like, to see one or two of those who are almost running on empty withdraw injured from the upcoming internationals. So now we have a week and a half worrying about those playing competitively for their national sides, and praying all come back with a clean bill of health.

As I type we are a point behind Manchester City still, and three points closer to Chelsea who will surely get a result in Hull. Or will they? Just how important will that dogged resistance shown by the Gunners today prove to be?

There is no more time to go over the Champions League exit. The priorities for the remainder of the season are to finish as high in the Premier League as we can, and retain the FA Cup. The title bid that the repugnant Mourinho says we are still in continues at St James’ Park (or whatever the cock Ashley calls it these days) on Saturday afternoon. We have won our last six against the Geordies, so they will feel the law of averages owes them a favour.

They will be up against it, as it is reported that they may have only thirteen fit outfield first team squad players available. Let’s remember they can only play fourteen anyway.  Fabricio Coloccini, Siem de Jong, Cheick Tiote, Massadio Haidara, Steven Taylor, Papiss Cisse and Paul Dummett,  are all unavailable. We will though need to keep a watchful eye on the likes of Sissoko, Gouffran, and Ameobi.

As for ourselves we could welcome Tomas Rosicky back into the squad that won so comfortably in Monaco. Some rotation may be wise, Alexis being the most obvious case in point, although Arsene may be reluctant to rest our leading goalscorer again. The back five could remain unchanged, so untested were they in the principality.

Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey may be anchoring behind a trio of Theo Walcott (or Rosicky?), Mesut Ozil, and Danny Welbeck, with Santi Cazorla joining Alexis on the bench in order to freshen them up for the vital matches ahead? Olivier Giroud must start up top but should we find ourselves in a strong position then he may be taken off early and kept fit.

We have bounced back from Champions League disappointment with impressive away wins in the last two seasons. A repeat of that form is required. For their part the Geordies are sufficiently clear of the bottom three (seven places and ten points) to be free from immediate pressure and one or two who didn’t expect to feature at this stage may feel inclined to show what they can do.

If selected Theo too needs to produce a performance. Apparently his contract talks have been put on hold until the end of the season. This must suit both parties. The player will know he is not justifying his current terms in the region of £100k per week, and presumably is looking to better that. Arsenal clearly won’t commit to that without seeing the evidence that the England international has recovered form and confidence since returning from last season’s horror injury against the neighbours.

The ‘holic Pound

In all honesty this could be anything, but I am currently thinking we will start with a safety first attitude and look to break when the opportunities allow. It could be a tight affair after the exertions of Tuesday night, but I am drawn towards a 0-2 triumph for the visitors after a disciplined performance. Paddy Power offer 15/2 against that outcome, and I am looking for a fourth consecutive Premier League pound to come in.

Have a great weekend, ‘holics.

Yet again in the ’round of sixteen’ Arsenal have produced a wonderful second leg performance in the wake of a poor first leg display. Heroic failure? Maybe less so this time but there is no question that the Gunners came within a whisker of a Champions League quarter-final with an impressive performance in Stade Louis-II.

The early stages were not in the script at all as a confident Monaco got bodies forward and probed with intent. In only the second minute Berbatov teed up Moutinho who thankfully blazed his effort over the bar. Gradually though we got a foothold and the home side reverted to type, defending in depth and in numbers.

Encouraged forward we could have snatched an early lead when Hector Bellerin crossed from the right flank and at the back post Giroud’s header was deflected wide off the head of Wallace. Four minutes later the Frenchman turned provider for a spectacular Santi Cazorla strike but Wallace was again on hand to block.

Midway through the half Laurent Koscielny volleyed against the bar from point blank range only to be adjudged offside from a defensive header. Had he scored that would have been a massive talking point.

Nine minutes before the break we had that oh so important first goal. The increasingly influential Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck combined to spin Giroud in behind the defence. Subasic blocked his first effort but Arsenal’s main striker seized on the rebound and smashed a rising volley into the roof of the net from a tight angle. Game on.

Within a couple of minutes it could have been two. Giroud teed up Welbeck but the sprawling Abdennour made a block he knew little about and Monaco, rocking, survived. Three minutes before the break a strange incident saw Arsenal rightly denied a penalty when Alexis tumbled in the box attempting to control an awkward ball. However the award of a yellow card for simulation looked harsh. Having said that I thought it an honest decision by the referee. It was a shame he didn’t apply the same logic when not awarding free-kicks when Monaco players started tumbling.

The half ended with further chances for Giroud and Welbeck, but a goal to the good at the whistle felt a good position to be in against a home team now seemingly intent on holding what they had. The visitors topped the attempts stats by eight to one.

The visitors again demonstrated intent at the start of the second-half but Giroud snatched his effort wide under pressure. Kondogbia upended the unusually wasteful Sanchez on the edge of the box and Ozil’s free-kick forced Subasic into a desperate save.

As the hour passed Arsene made a bold substitution, withdrawing the again mostly excellent Coquelin and sending on Aaron Ramsey. Immediately Arsenal had a greater goal threat, but Monaco sensed an opportunity to kill the match off and rediscovered a little of the adventure with which they had started the match. Having said that we were so close to a second when Ozil’s fierce drive flashed just wide.

With just under twenty minutes to go Theo Walcott was introduced for Welbeck rather than Alexis, somewhat surprisingly. He had a great opportunity to notch the second but struck the post from a great position. Fortunately for Arsenal Kurzawa knocked the rebound to Ramsey who drilled it home. One more and the perfect storm would have yielded an unlikely result.

Arsene’s last throw of the dice, Gibbs came on for the impressive Monreal. The best chance to advance came and Giroud and Sanchez distracted each other at the far post it seemed. Subasic made a desperate parry and it would have been interesting to get a goal-line view of how close it came to crossing the line. There were no real protests to be fair.

Per Mertesacker went forward as an additional striker but we don’t hoof the ball up front, even in these circumstances. The hosts held on through a tortuous closing phase and for the fifth year running Arsenal’s Champions League challenge ended at this stage.

The statistics tell a tale. 71% of possession on the night for the visitors. Seventeen shots (seven on target) for Arsenal, with just three (none on target) for Monaco. Still though the significant stats were posted in the first leg. The ‘Mr Hyde’ Arsenal cost themselves dear at home. Therein lies the lesson to be learned from this campaign.

Big Ears remains a distant dream.

I am indebted tonight to ‘one of our own’, Thundertinygooner, who has stepped into the breach at short notice to preview the Champions League clash in Monaco. Thank you so much Ttg, it is massively appreciated.

Hope really does spring eternal 

A few weeks ago we experienced one of the most gut wrenching nights of hope and despair in Arsenal’s European history. Huge optimism abounded as the game began only for us to suffer the deflation of goals by Kondogbia and Berbatov, the old foe’s strike redolent of so many conceded by Arsenal in recent history at the Emirates. Then in just over a minute the biggest lurch of all. Oxlade-Chamberlain curled in a magnificent effort to give us fleeting hope only to stumble when play restarted to leave the Monaco substitute to run through and restore the two goal advantage off the far post.

We trailed out dispiritedly ready for the cacophony of jeering and taunts from those who don’t have our best interests at heart, many of whom sadly were in the stadium. Predictably the criticism from professional and amateur critic was harsh but predominantly justified. A naive defensive display, quality and robustness in midfield from Kondogbia and Moutinho and a strangely muted night for our best players seemed to suggest that the last 16 of the Champions League, even against what seemed eminently beatable opponents, was a bridge too far.

Four games on however, optimism is rising again in our camp. This has not been promoted by any collapse in form by a formidable Monaco team in prime form and back in their tight and frankly tiny ground, and sitting on a huge European advantage. It helps that those four games have all been won and won pretty well, most particularly the huge cup tie last week at Old Trafford where the team showed that away from home they can fight hard, and defend well against a major team in a major stadium.

Saturday’s comfortable victory over West Ham has prompted an outbreak of the feel goods that has clearly permeated the support in this bar and hopefully the hardy souls from North London who will step into one of the most luxurious environments in the world with renewed hope and belief.

There may be changes from Saturday. Bellerin seems likely to return and it is possible that Gabriel might be preferred to BFG who had such a wretched night in North London. Cazorla will return and Ramsey seems likely to provide the mobility in midfield we lacked in the first leg. Giroud will be given the chance to atone for the worst night of his professional life and while I would controversially rest Sanchez his early withdrawal on Saturday suggests Arsene Wenger is not of the same mind.

Monaco will be strengthened by a number of returning players including another old London foe, Ricardo Carvalho who missed the first leg.

The Guv’nor has indicated in the previous drinks that the ‘holic pound is on 3-1 to the Arsenal in normal time. How wonderful that would be as every goal we score after that would mean Monaco must get two.  I am less hopeful but who in his right mind could bet against a man looking to see the ‘holic pound sail in for the fifth game in a row.

Those who love and respect Wenger , and that extends way beyond our club would love to see his CV completed by winning the Cup with Big Ears. How lovely it would be too if we are citing fixture congestion as a problem as we try to maintain our bid for a glorious treble.

Well we can dream!

Another enjoyable day spent in pleasant company and the bonus of another decent performance from the Arsenal which went largely as expected. Arsene made five changes to the team that defeated Manchester United, resting among others the in-form Santi Cazorla.

We made a bright start and could have grabbed an early lead but Theo Walcott hesitated when clean through and allowed Collins to make a recovering challenge. Near misses would be a recurring theme of the half, with Alexis and Aaron Ramsey denied by Adrian in fine form.

Another clear shot presented itself to Walcott, but he fired straight at the West Ham goalkeeper. This was one of those frustrating days from Theo, his rustiness evident, he flitted in and out of the game before he was hooked with around twenty minutes remaining. The uncertainty around his future may not be helping, but he did his cause no favours today.

West Ham’s resilience finally cracked in time added on for their earlier timewasting, which was pointed out to the departing Sam Allardyce at the break. The goal was worth waiting for too. A stunning strike just inside the far post from Olivier Giroud, once again putting in a shift and linking attacks with no small amount of subtlety.

West Ham attempted to come out of their shell at the start of the second-half, finally getting some support up to the lone raider, Sakho. In truth though they lacked the imagination to create too many problems.

A rare sight came on the hour when referee Foy had to hand the whistle over to Anthony Taylor having ‘gone in the fetlock’. The resulting chant of “You’re not fit to referee” was roared out by both sets of supporters and raised chuckles all around the stadium.

In the preview I had written ‘It could be a frustrating opening hour at least, but with a strong looking bench Arsenal could overpower the visitors in the latter stages.’ and so it proved. The ‘holic pound came in for a fourth consecutive match with two goals in the closing ten minutes.

Aaron Ramsey notched the second on the day from Giroud’s set-up, and then Matthieu Flamini, presumably brought on to shut up shop, found himself free at the far post to knock in a third from fellow substitute Santi Cazorla’s cross.

Arsene summed it up perfectly,

“For 80 per cent of the game we were in control. Maybe for ten or fifteen minutes in the second half they put us under pressure but you expect that in a derby when a team is one nil down.”

The day was made all the better by Burnley’s unexpected defeat of Manchester City. Just a point separates us from the champions and second place now becomes something to target over the final nine matches. For now though thoughts turn to an even stiffer challenge in Monaco on Tuesday.

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