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And From Small Acorns…

As days go, that wasn’t so bad, at least sports and weather wise. Having said that it might have better if events in Nottingham hadn’t made the lunchtime kick-off viewable. The only incident that lifted Manchester United’s match from the mundane arrived when Kyle Walker scored the only goal of the match, and past his own ‘keeper too. Excellent start for the shadow-dwellers. We are above them already, and we don’t play until Sunday.

Chelsea’s home draw against Swansea gives us an early opportunity to take a slender advantage. That would hardly be conclusive evidence of a title challenge in the 37 Premier League matches that follow our meeting with West Ham, but it would give us a buffer to try and protect ahead of our trip to the bus stop in Fulham in six weeks time. Small steps, as they say.

It would, however, be unwise to underestimate the visitors to the Grove for the opening fixture of an eagerly awaited campaign. West Ham have a respected, if abrasive, new manager in Slaven Bilic. Their competitive season has already kicked off, albeit culminating in their elimination from the qualifying rounds of the Europa League in Romania on Thursday night.

Bilic is blending in a host of new signings along with our own Carl Jenkinson, loaned to the Irons for a second season and so ineligible to play in this match. Their early start has resulted in them giving late fitness tests to Winston Reid, Joey O’Brien and Pedro Obiang.

Arsenal will be without the injured Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, and Tomas Rosicky. Alexis returned to training this week and is not expected to start, but his fitness level not surprisingly is high and don’t be surprised if he is on the bench if required.

Despite these absentees Arsene still has a wealth of talent from whom he can select his starting eleven. It would be something of a surprise if the eleven that started in the Community Shield victory against Chelsea at Wembley last Sunday wasn’t given the chance to further develop. The only logical change would involve Olivier Giroud reclaiming the striking role from Theo Walcott, but the big Frenchman may have to be patient for a while longer.

So what of the ‘holic pound, I hear few ask? The first few matches of any season are something of a lottery. It may be too early to expect the Bilic effect to kick in, but we can expect the visitors to be well organised defensively. That organisation should receive a testing examination from a Gunners team that has looked impressive in pre-season. I will be persuaded by my optimistic head that we will be able to unlock the Hammers with increasing ease as the contest progresses. Shop around for 12’s on Arsenal to win 3-1.

The taxi is booked for sparrowfart tomorrow so I arrive in plenty of time for the first pint, erm, I mean the lunchtime kick-off. I look forward to that first meeting of fantastic friends of the new season. To those not going I wish you a happy viewing by whatever medium you intend to use, and here’s to the first three points of the season, please. Should they be gained we have a base on which to build. Damn you hope, this is your time.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Right then. I want to write my first Premier League preview of the new season. That will mean the match is a day or two away. That means I wish it were Friday or Saturday. Silly, isn’t it, that even at my age the start of every season is so eagerly anticipated? This one a little more than usual, to be honest.

Football provides us with a little bit of escapism from the grown-up stuff going on elsewhere. A one hundred percent pre-season record, the signing of Petr Cech, the defeat of Chelsea at Wembley. For the first time in years we are being spoken of as genuine title contenders going into the new season.

This is where I should caution against optimism, but hell, even I am caught up in it. Even the transfer speculation that I despise has taken a new form. The quality of player that we are being associated with is something that helps to build the feel-good factor around the club. Having signed Mesut Ozil from Real, Alexis from Barca, and of course Cech from Chelsea, our feeder clubs are now at a different level to where we were shopping even three years ago. (Extracts tongue swiftly from cheek!)

As I type I have the first episode of a new season of the Great British Bake Off playing in the background. If Arsenal were a cake that was set as the challenge then a review of the ingredients suggests a very tasty treat could be in store for us at the end of the last episode of this coming season. To be supremely confident it would be nice to see a little extra filling to shore up the base, and perhaps something rich but tasty to complete the topping?

I’m not sure that any of our rivals have as good a second choice goalkeeper as David Ospina, never mind as good a first-choice as Cech. Interestingly the team we defeated at Wembley on Sunday are probably the only ones capable of disputing that.

The full back positions are well provided for too. I was surprised and delighted to see Hector Bellerin start the Community Shield, and he faces the fiercest competition from Mathieu Debuchy, and not forgetting Calum Chambers. On the other flank it was also good to see Nacho Monreal, much-improved last season, get the nod over Kieran Gibbs. Gibbo will hopefully respond and make a similar stride forward in his own game. There is potential there we would love to see fulfilled.

The January arrival of Gabriel has at last provided genuine competition to, and cover for, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Until Nacho played there at the start of last season I would have thought we would need another, but between him and Chambers it looks as though we do have options in that area.

Francis Coquelin has made the holding role his own, and while Mikel Arteta and, currently, Mathieu Flamini provide experienced alternatives both are nearing their sell-by date. There is time to see what is on offer in the market.

The midfield is packed with unbelievable talent. Let’s just say that Arsene will face sleepless nights deciding on how to perm Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshire and Tomas Rosicky. Should all remain fit Arsene’s biggest problem may be keeping them all happy. There were signs at the end of last season that at least Rosicky felt a little under-appreciated. Many will have some sympathy with our most direct creative talent. He was under-used it seemed in the second-half of the season.

Then the attack. Olivier Giroud provides a wonderful outlet, can play with his back to goal when needed, and if he can up his conversion rate will surely get his chance to secure his own position. Theo Walcott has eyes on the role too, and with a healthy new contract in his back pocket he now needs to step up to the mark when chosen. We have a midfield that can change their game to suit his strengths as well as Giroud’s. The third option to lead the line is Danny Welbeck, scorer of a most significant goal in the FA Cup at Old Trafford. Can he make the step-up in his second season? Lat’s hope so.

Then of course we have Alexis who prompts so much expectation, and that is understandable. Quite simply he lives, breathes, eats, and sleeps football. To see the enthusiasm he displays whether at training or on match day is to know that just rubs off on the other players. He is a significant part of why the team spirit last season seemed better than at any time in the last decade. Surely he deserves to play alongside another top quality goalscorer? The icing on the top of that cake?

They are few and far between, but Benzema about whom most of the speculation concerns is undoubtedly one. “Benzema will stay with us,” Rafa Benitez is reported as saying. “I can’t see any reason why he would leave. We are very happy with him.” That is a little bit short of stating definitively that he will stay. And there I go, breaking the rule about speculation on here. Damn you, hope!

Almost the whole of August remains. Here’s to a successful start to the season that distracts from the “are we or are we not buying anyone else” stuff. One hell of a cake is in the baking. Please let it not fail to rise and leave a bitter aftertaste for the want of one or two additional finest ingredients.

Engaged elsewhere earlier today, I have yet to take in the full story of the Community Shield defeat of the bus stop in Fulham. I am therefore indebted to our very own Lars who answered a call for help after the event and summarised our defeat of the Champions at Wembley, despite doubtless having sunk more alcohol than I did this afternoon. The result follows, and made me smile. Thanks Lars, I owe you. Doubtless the invoice will be for beer!

In the past 16 or so months, Arsenal have visited Wembley six times. Six times have we emerged victorious, and while the Community Shield may rank somewhere marginally above the Emirates Cup and similar in importance it is still four trophies won in those six matches. Winning begets winning, they say, and we can only hope that turns out to be true in the season ahead.

In the buildup to this game, both managers had pointed out that while officially a friendly, a game like this always becomes a little more than a regular pre-season game. This was evident from the start as players on both sides went into challenges with far more conviction than is normal in friendlies. Jose Mourinho had set up his team to try his usual tactic of stifling the opposition and played both Matic and Ramires in front of the back five, and it was clear that they played to not concede and nick something on the break.

Initially it worked quite well, but Arsenal slowly got their game going and upped the tempo and Mesut Özil was instrumental to this with a couple of quick one-touch passes to find players already on the move, and in the 24th minute the deadlock was broken. The ball was won on the left side and found it’s way to Mesut Özil who ran with it for a bit looking like he was going to continue down the wing, and when several Chelsea players started to converge on him he made a quick pass inside, completely wrongfooting several Chelsea players. The pass reached Theo Walcott and he in turn quickly found Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who now found himself in acres of space and only Azpilicueta to beat to have a shot on goal. The Ox, by some quick footwork, created some space inside and then fired a rocket of a left-footed shot into the top corner giving the keeper absolutely no chance. The most famous of Arsenal scorelines had been established.

Going a goal behind is not what Mourhinho teams are set up to do, so this forced them to open up and go on the attack but a combination of solid Arsenal defending and, on the one occasion Chelsea did create something, an absolutely terrible headed finish by Ramires who should at least have hit the target kept Chelsea out. Meanwhile, at the other end Arsenal should perhaps have done better on at least two occasions where we could have had players clean through on goal with better final touches but 1-0 it was at half time.

The second half saw Mourinho replace the totally invisible (other than when he was flagged off for offside on numerous occasions) Loic Remy with Radamel Falcao in an attempt to strengthen the attack – but in all honesty he may as well not have bothered. Far be it from me to judge Falcao from only 45 minutes for a new team, but if anything he looked even worse than he did for ManU last season. A heavy first touch, slow, remarkably easily pushed off the ball and generally not contributing anything at all. Pundits can say what they want, but I can certainly see Chelsea struggle to score if Diego Costa was to be out for any extended period of time.

For the most part of the second half, we sat back and soaked up the pressure. Only on one occasion did Chelsea break through our defensive wall and in all honesty they should probably have scored but Hazard, under some pressure from Koscielny, skied his effort from close range.

That proved to be their only real chance to score, though. From then on, Arsenal were closer to scoring a second than conceding, and Olivier Giroud who was subbed on for Theo Walcott missed two decent chances which on another day he could very well have scored two goals from. Chelsea were restricted to look for scraps from set pieces, and in all honestly I never really worried because we were rock solid on those and the closes Chelsea got was a weak header from quite far out from Kurt Zouma. It is remarkable how quickly Petr Cech seems to have settled in with Kos and the BFG in front of him, they have barely played together but look like they have been playing together for years.

In the closing minutes, both Santi Cazorla and Kieran Gibbs had great chances to put the game to bed but fair play to Courtois for some really fine goal keeping, particularly for the Gibbs chance where he was incredibly quick off his line to close down the angle for Kieran to aim at.

But 1-0 it ended, and we retained the Community Shield. It was far from a perfect performance, but it was a solid one and one thing we have too often lacked in later years is to be solid even when not firing on all cylinders for the duration of the game. Let us hope we can keep building on that solidity that started to take shape in the latter part of last season.

So in the end a deserved win, and while it was a nice one we now face the real deal. West Ham will visit our place next Sunday and it is now time to start focusing on that game. But as unimportant wins go, this was certainly a rather nice one!

It’s hard to believe we are just a week away from seeing the opening salvos fired in the Premier League, but first there is the small matter of retaining the FA Community Shield against Chelsea at Wembley on Sunday. There is an air of positivity around the club at the moment, which makes for a refreshing change. Positivity only becomes confidence however with success, and Arsene is going to have to break his run of never having beaten a Mourinho-managed team to achieve that.

Much of the good spirit in and around the camp is based on the arrival of Petr Cech from our Wembley opponents. Let’s hope with regular football he reproduces the form that made him Chelsea’s number one for the most successful decade in their, erm, history. Ahead of him, with everybody fit, Arsene has some serious selection issues to ponder.

I have a feeling he will go with Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, and Nacho Monreal. Personally I would differ only in the selection of Hector Bellerin at right-back, but I haven’t won three Premier League titles and six FA Cups. The boss will plump for experience, probably.

If picking four at the back is hard, just look at the options now in midfield and attack, and this is before Alexis has even returned to training. Assuming Francis Coquelin is a shoe-in as the protector of the back five we then have permutations everywhere else. Santi Cazorla or Aaron Ramsey for box to box? Santi Cazorla or Mesut Ozil for playmaker? One of these too play on one flank with either Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the other?

Up top too, an interesting choice between Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott. If both were fit and in form I would prefer the physical presence of the former. His ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play is a gift that Theo doesn’t possess right now. We have to adjust our attacking play as a result in order to try and create opportunities to utilise his pace in between and behind defenders. That said the Frenchman hasn’t hit the ground running in pre-season, so Theo may well get the nod.

For the opponents, Cahill and Costa are both available after suffering injuries in Chelsea’s final pre-season tour match against Barcelona. It will be interesting to see if the latter is preferred to new signing Falcao, or indeed if Mourinho will fiddle with his usual approach to playing Arsenal and go with two up top?

History suggests we will face a side that will play the safety-first football that has brought Mourinho’s men so much success against us in the past. Last season, however, we showed in League and Cup fixtures away to both Manchester clubs that we have learned to deal with that approach.

A word too about the announcement of contract extensions for Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla. It is fantastic news that we have secured the services of the latter, too often linked with a return to his homeland. Theo is an interesting one. Last season when returning from injury he couldn’t persuade the boss that he was worthy of the step back up from squad player to regular starter. A deal close to those bestowed on Ozil and Alexis suggests he is expected to by manager and supporters alike now. It’s time to silence the most heard two words at the Grove. “Oh Theo.”

Back to Sunday, and the pre-match jousting has once again prompted comment and headlines, although I found myself for once agreeing with something that came out of Mourinho’s mouth. Whilst victory for us would break the psychological hold the Portugeezer has over Arsene it would say no more than what we believe to be the case at the moment. Arsenal are preparing a challenge for the Premier League, but it won’t be won on Sunday.

“For me there is no relation between one game and what happened before. It’s not a friendly game but it’s not a statement for the season.”

While elsewhere those who are paid to write seek to poke the hornets nest that is the relationship between Arsene and his opposite number it should be noted that both hold similar views about the outcome of this latest meeting. Arsene expressed it slightly differently.

“It’s a game that is important but it is still preparation. We want to win it and overall it can just give us that little bit more confidence before we go into the season. You know, it will not be a friendly as it is like that and it is good like that.”

And on that harmonious note (make the most of it!) the first preview of the new season grinds to a halt. For those going, have a wonderful day.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

(ps, having told Bergkamp the Man I couldn’t make my mind up between 1-0 and 4-2 for the ‘holic pound I checked the odds. Having found 110/1 against the latter I couldn’t resist. I’m going with the heart rather than the head on this one.)

A Tale Of Two ‘Keepers

I have just caught up with Arsene’s press conference from yesterday. The topic of Petr Cech came up, not surprisingly, and the question of whether or not he could improve given the different training regime at Arsenal.

“Petr Cech was already at the top but I believe that you can never deny that you can improve. He’s at the stage of his career, between 33 and 37, where a goalkeeper can be at his peak and he has the desire. As long as you have the right attitude you can always improve in life. I don’t think it’s down to different training methods, it’s just down to him to keep at the top physically and with his experience he will always improve.”

Now that was the response one would have expected but that doesn’t make it any less true. Cech has made his first couple of appearances for the Gunners and looked solid indeed against Everton and Wolfsburg. A run of more competitive games now, starting against his former employers on Sunday, may just bring back the level of performance which he demonstrated for most of his eleven years at the bus stop in Fulham.

If he does then the feel good factor around the club right now may well result in a serious tilt at the major honours in the coming ten months.

As one goalkeeper settles into the Gunners routine so another has jetted off to Rome on a twelve month loan deal. Wojciech Szczesny’s behaviour after the match at Southampton last season has been fairly accurately documented. When Cech was signed some thought that the Pole may be retained to work on his game with one of the best goalkeepers of the last decade, or because he qualified as homegrown.

However it would appear that Arsene has decided it would do both parties some good if Wojciech worked on his game, and his attitude, with another club. The announcement of his loan said that he had joined AS Roma for the opportunity of regular first-team football. On the Roma website Wojciech himself spoke frankly about what prompted the move.

“I had a difficult time last year – I’m the first person to admit that. I didn’t have the best of seasons, that’s why things have turned out the way they have, but I’m grateful because it gives me the opportunity to join Roma this season.”

More telling though was a hint at where he feels his future may lie, which ties in with some of the rumblings around the club that Arsene has lost confidence in his young charge.

“I don’t want to focus on just getting experience here and going back to Arsenal. I didn’t come here just to go back to Arsenal after one year.”

It will be interesting to see what happens next summer if Wojciech can hold own a starting berth in Rome.

Cheers for now, ‘holics.

Arsenal landed their second tournament trophy of this pre-season by lifting their own Emirates Cup for the first time in five years.

Only Mesut Ozil remained a starter for the second of the Emirates Cup fixtures against Wolfsburg and not surprisingly the rhythm of yesterday was lost in the early stages, partly as a result of the wholesale changes.

The most interesting of the selections was that of Jeff Reine-Adelaide in midfield after his cameo as a substitute yesterday. There is a danger of being too appreciative of a precocious young talent (Gedion Zelalem, anyone?), but it is clear to see why we moved to bring him in from Lens this summer. Let’s hope he continues on his sharp upward curve.

Under leaking skies containing considerably more than fifty shades of grey the Gunners struggled to escape the shackles of expectation. The German Cup winners settled fastest, their pressing game giving us problems we didn’t really solve until the opening half was nearing it’s end.

Their selection hinted at their intent, including as it did a well-known attacking trio of De Bruyne, Schurrle, and Hamlet, er, I mean Nicklas Bendtner. The former gave Petr Cech his first meaningful save, a straightforward catch from a cross.

The visitors continued to threaten as the half took shape. Gabriel and Nacho Monreal blocked efforts from Jung and Trash respectively, while Bendtner, possibly confused, played what appeared to be a side footed back-pass to Cech, and strangely opted for a potentially spectacular airborne volley when a cross seemed destined for his forehead.

Midway through the half Arsenal finally threatened to open the scoring themselves but Theo Walcott, in his preferred central striking role, was denied by Benaglio. Cut to Arsene Wenger who appeared to be less than impressed. Ten minutes before the break he did get the finish right but was rightly flagged offside, however Theo would go on to have the last laugh.

With Ozil, Jack Wilshere, and Santi Cazorla to the fore Arsenal finished the half slightly the stronger. From Monreal’s clever cut-back Ozil placed an effort just wide of the far post. The German international was withdrawn during the break and replaced by Chuba Akpom. Four minutes in Reine-Adelaide put Walcott clear and this time Theo did produce a well-placed finish. They nearly repeated that success, but Benaglio was quickly out of his area to slide the ball to safety.

Although Arsenal were now in the ascendency Wolfsburg were far from finished and just after the hour Guilavogui gave Cech his sternest test of the afternoon. The cat in the hat threw himself to his right and saved superbly to earn some serious applause from his new fans.

The substitutions were coming thick and fast for both sides. Among them, Reine-Adelaide was afforded his first ovation when replaced by the Ox. It was no more than he deserved. Isaac Hayden replaced Jack Wilshere and came close to adding a nerve-settling second for the hosts, but Benaglio was equal to it.

Bendtner was finally hooked in the closing stages to a sympathetic round of applause. Not for the Prince of Denmark do we harbour the dark thoughts reserved for the dastardly.

The match limped to a close, the referee’s whistle signaling Arsenal’s second trophy in nine days. In truth it wasn’t the sort of spectacle that we saw yesterday but Wolfsburg were considerably better organised than Lyon.

Both teams go on to meet the respective champions of their leagues next weekend. The start of a new season gets ever closer, and confidence is surely building in this Arsenal squad. Lest we forget we still have Alexis to add to the mix. Bring on Chelsea!

Proper football returned to the Grove this afternoon with Arsenal hammering Lyon in the wake of Villarreal’s narrow victory over Nicklas Bendtner’s Wolfsburg, our Sunday opponents.

Arsenal, as expected, started a mixed eleven at the start with Emiliano Martinez selected behind a back four of Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, and Kieran Gibbs. The midfield trio saw Francis Coquelin anchoring, Aaron Ramsey box to box, and Mesut Ozil as creator-in-chief. The width was provided by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and young Alex Iwobi, and Olivier Giroud was given the task of leading the line.

Under a sunny sky what looked like being a competitive match unfolded from the off, with Lyon’s midfield quartet keen to press the ball at every opportunity. The first big opportunity fell to the visitors in the twelfth minute and it took an excellent save by Martinez to deny N’Jie. Aaron Ramsey volleyed over shortly after and Mesut Ozil just failed to apply a spectacular finish to a mishit Giroud effort.

Twenty minutes in Giroud headed narrowly wide from an excellent Debuchy cross. Five minutes on and Grenier, not the only Lyon player with whom we have been linked, limped off after appearing to pull a groin muscle attempting a pass. A minute later Ozil failed to find the finish to match a marvellous through ball from Ramsey but it was just a temporary reprieve for the visitors.

From Ozil’s inch-perfect free-kick Giroud climbed to net with a combination of head and shoulder, and shortly afterwards the Ox produced the perfect end to a lightning break which saw the ball moved from the edge of our own box by three superb passes.

Iwobi got the first senior goal he must have been dreaming of on Friday night from the restart, freed by Rambo to finish well at the near post.  The winger was denied a second by the flag of the assistant referee after he had put the finishing touch to a Giroud set-up.

Ozil turned provider again, holding the ball on the left flank until Ramsey galloped forward to finish his clever pass to the French ‘keepers vulnerable spot at the near post, and the Gunners had notched four goals in a dreamy nine minutes of scintillating attacking football.

Martinez again came to the rescue with two smart saves ninety seconds before the end of the half as Lyon looked to respond, but the whistle signalled the end of a wonderful twenty minutes of the Ozil and Ramsey wonder show.

How do you follow that? With further onslaught, of course. Four minutes into the second-half the Ox was denied a second by a deflection. N’Jie reminded the Gunners that the visitors could be dangerous on the break, but the Lyon attacker fired wide of the target.

Lacazette, auditioning for Arsene Wenger it is rumoured, found himself offside but Martinez saved his tame effort anyway. The current incumbent of the Arsenal striker’s berth volleyed narrowly wide in the 58th minute. Giroud looks in the mood to challenge those who have an eye on his role.

On the hour Lyon countered again but Ferri blazed wide and that merely prompted Ramsey and Giroud to set up the amazing Ozil who steered his finish across goal and inside the far post. With a five goal lead Arsene decided to rest the entertainers, bringing on Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta for Ozil and Rambo. Iwobi too was treated to deserved applause as he gave way to Chuba Akpom, denied a grand entrance when Lopes saved his deflected effort.

The final substitutions saw Theo Walcott, the newly recruited youngster Jeff Reine-Adelaide, and Isaac Hayden replace Giroud, the Ox, and le Coq. As the match fizzled out there was yet one more strike to complete a thrashing. Santi Cazorla’s cheeky free-kick went under the wall for Arsenal’s sixth of the contest.

Now I don’t know what this comprehensive performance drubbing of Lyon tells us about the season to come, if anything. The French team were clearly blown away rather too easily by that nine minute spell in the first-half. Still, you can only beat what is in front of you, and Arsenal certainly put poor opponents to the sword. Wolfsburg too will need to improve on their display today if they are to stop the Gunners from winning their own tournament on Sunday.

Until then, have a good one, ‘holics.

Most of you will remember a very popular piece on here by our resident sports physio, Trev, back in October. I’m delighted to say he has written another informative look at the changing approach to pre-season conditioning. Trev, thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. 

So with the trip to Singapore done and the Asia Cup safely locked in the trophy cabinet, pre-season 2015/16 is well and truly underway. While our trophy cabinet is once again being replenished on a regular basis, thieves have apparently broken into the trophy room at White Hart Lane and stolen everything in it. Police are said to be looking for two men carrying a roll of blue and white carpet.

In fact, pre-season has changed in recent years a lot more than some of those old Tottenham jokes. For Arsenal FC it used to be one week’s initial training culminating with a game at Underhill, as a thankyou to Barnet FC for hosting our U18 fixtures. That was followed, under Arsene Wenger’s management, by the two-week training camp in Austria and further games against low level Hungarian and Austrian opposition.

Commercial demands have seen the introduction of, so far, Far East tours, with this year’s ending with the higher profile 3-0 win over Premier League Everton. These tours have become a business requirement for teams who have to generate their own income, and are a reward and incentive for the thousands of foreign fans who swell the Arsenal coffers in the quest to dress in whichever kit manufacturer’s latest offerings.

So how does the modern top flight football team manage to fit in weeks of gruelling physical preparation and six mile runs whilst spending so many hours on long haul flights around the world?   The answer, of course, is that they don’t. The days of gruelling long-distance runs are a thing of the past because of the growing influence of sports science. The long slog has been replaced by the shorter high intensity interval training regime.  However, the introduction of state-of-the-art technology, including GPS tracking and heart monitoring devices, means that there is no hiding place on the training ground.

One of the most significant changes of emphasis is that it is often a conditioning and fitness coach, rather than the manager or his assistant, who takes the first couple of weeks of pre-season training.

After the early morning warm-up, the players are issued with GPS trackers that are linked to pitch-side laptops that give real time information on each player’s session, in terms of the intensity players are working at, what distances they are covering and then comparing that with their Prozone stats in games. If, for instance, Francis Coquelin covers 9km in a game and he only does 400 metres of that as high-intensity runs, then why ask him to cover distances much different to that in training? Players need to replicate in training what they are doing in matches.

Typically now the longest run that players will do during pre-season will last no longer than three minutes.  The 60, or even 30 minute runs are a thing of the past – it’s now about stop-start interval training and, importantly, recovery.

Another reason why players have stopped plodding around for mile after mile is that runs of that nature were designed to shed the pounds and get players back into the shape lost lounging on beaches and indulging in beer and fish and chips for six weeks.

Players might now take a complete break for a fortnight at the end of the season but for the next four weeks they will train every other day for about 45 minutes. The club will know if they have been following the programme because they are checked against at least four different physical tests several times a year, including at the start and end of the season. The tests, as a minimum, measure speed and agility, fatigue levels after sprinting, leg strength and aerobic capacity. Anyone whose results appear outside their normal range will stick out like a sore thumb.

These days, though, there is little chance of that happening.  In days gone by there was a widespread drinking culture and players would get pretty out of shape, whereas now they come back weighing no more than at the end of the season. Just as well with those new super skinny designed Puma shirts so popular with most ‘holics!

Training drills now might consist of sprint and agility ladders used for foot speed drills and high kicking routines, burpees, squat jumps and some of the old exercises but performed at high intensity over short periods with precise recovery intervals built in. Running drills will normally be done with a ball at the feet and control will be closely monitored. This checks the players’ concentration levels as fatigue begins to take it’s toll.

Interval sprints will also be an important ingredient, typically using multiples of 40 yard sprints with factored recovery periods, and incorporating square, triangular and T-shaped circuits. Running up and down the terraces and stands, as even seen in some old Arsenal footage at Highbury in the 1940/50s, will not.

There will be a break before and after lunch and then, typically, the tougher afternoon session.

More ball work, close control and first touch drills at a club like Arsenal, will all happen under the watch of the GPS analysts with their laptops. (Editor’s note, they also use a drone to track player movements from above.) The sort of distances and types of runs the players are performing will be compared with their Prozone match statistics and their individual training programmes adjusted accordingly.

Again, typically, although I’m not privy to Arsenal’s actual programme, the last exercise is the hardest part of the day. Three 800 metre runs each have to be completed in under 3 minutes, with 3 minutes of rest after each run.

The advantage of all the technology is that players now have individual programmes designed according to their current condition and their game requirements. And rather than push everyone until they throw up, players can now be precisely conditioned and once their strength, endurance and heart rates reach the required level, they can be held there without going over the top and causing damage.

Stretching still forms an important part of conditioning during the preseason day but some will be done as per the earlier Arsene Wenger era, while some, as fans on match days will have noted recently, will be done dynamically (on the move). That seams to have become a feature of the “Shad Forsythe” warm-up.

As ever, fitness and conditioning will be crucial to us this season. If, at last, it all comes good, we just might have a Premier League trophy to show for it.

Winner of the Emirates Cup Tickets

Congratulations to Paul from Bradford who will be taking a guest to the first day of the upcoming Emirates Cup on Saturday. They will see Wolfsburg and Villarreal battle it out before Arsenal host Lyon.

The correct answer was of course Alexis Sanchez, who made his debut in last season’s tournament.

Thank you to all who entered. It was certainly a popular prize, so thanks are due also to Arsenal for providing the tickets.

Arsenal are to host Lyon, Wolfsburg and Villarreal at Emirates Stadium on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 July for Emirates Cup 2015.

There will be two games on each day of the pre-season curtain raiser, with Arsène Wenger’s team taking on Lyon on the Saturday and Nicklas Bendtner’s Wolfsburg on the Sunday.

Goonerholic has teamed up with Arsenal to offer one lucky reader a pair of tickets to Day 1 of the tournament.

For the chance to win, just answer this question:

Which Gunners star made his Arsenal debut in Emirates Cup 2014?

  1. A) Alexis Sanchez
  2. B) Francis Coquelin
  3. C) David Ospina

Please email your answer, along with a contact email address and telephone number, to competition@goonerholic.com before midnight (BST) this coming Tuesday, 21st July.

Tickets are still available for Day One and Day Two of Emirates Cup 2015, from £25 adults and £12 concessions Visit www.Arsenal.com/EmiratesCup or call 0844 277 3625 for more information.

Another Ned classic, for which I am enormously grateful. The one reason why I wish I was around, and a Gooner, three years prior to the arrival of ‘holicdad. My Pop must have been spitting feathers. Thanks Ned, you are a star.

Regular sufferers of these histories may remember that I said at the tail end of the previous one that an account of how Arsenal got promoted to the First Division in 1919 was a story for another day. The Guv’nor’s holidays have brought that day to pass.

The piquancy of this tale for all good folk from the Elysian end of the Seven Sisters Road is that it was those who dwell at the swampy end who got shafted.

As 1918 turned into 1919, football was already looking forward to an August resumption of regular league competition after its World War One hiatus. There was much talk of mergers and expansions as the various professional leagues vied for the best clubs. Expanding the Football League to 44 clubs from 40 with two equally sized divisions was just one of several proposals.

In the League’s expansions of 1898 and 1905, the clubs otherwise relegated from the First Division simply stayed up and were joined by those promoted from DivisionTwo.

But 1919 would prove to be different — to Arsenal’s great advantage.

For the circumstances, cast your mind back to the pre-suspension 1914-15 season. That ended, as it should, with Tottenham bottom of Division One and Chelsea occupying the other relegation place. Derby County pipped Preston North End for the Division Two title.

However, a match-rigging scandal had blighted the season. Manchester United and Liverpool players colluded to fix their Good Friday game at Old Trafford. United won 2-0 with a suspiciously lethargic Liverpool also fluffing a penalty. A ‘Holic pound of that vintage could have found 7/1 odds on that scoreline. Seven players across both teams and their friends pocketed some hefty winnings.

A subsequent FA investigation imposed lifetime bans from English football for all seven players, including Liverpool’s splendidly named half-back Tom Fairfoul.

However, neither club was penalised. Come the end of the season, United would escape relegation by a point. Chelsea cried foul, even though United had won 3-1 at Stamford Bridge late in the season. (Chavs and Mancs in a relegation four-pointer, as it would have been then, in the penultimate week of the season; we can only dream). Nonetheless, as matters stood at the end of 1914-15, Chelsea and Tottenham were going down.

Fast-forward four years. Arsenal (and Fulham’s) chairman, the newly knighted and recently elected MP, Henry Norris, was well placed to see that the Football League would most likely expand in some form for the 1919-20 season, promote Derby and Preston to its First Division and re-elect Chelsea to right the wrong done in 1914-15.

He would also have had good reason to suspect that Tottenham weren’t a shoe-in for re-election to the First Division in the event the League decided to expand it to 22 clubs. Even in those days, there were misgivings about the parvenu Lilywhites.

Tottenham’s chairman, Charles Roberts, was sufficiently concerned about his club’s re-election prospects to write to all his fellow chairmen exhorting them to adhere to precedent and maintain Tottenham’s First Division status. He also played the patriotic card, claiming that the club had finished bottom in 1914-15 because voluntary enlistments had weakened its playing strength.

The letter, not surprisingly, found its way into the public prints, which had started to play up the ‘election’ campaign.

Norris was canvassing hard, too. He had taken over insolvent Woolwich Arsenal in 1910 and moved it to Highbury in 1913 at great risk to his fortune. A property developer, politician, and Freemason, he knew how to work behind the scenes to accumulate votes and public support.

Like Roberts, Norris petitioned his fellow chairmen. But he also had other friends in the right places. Jimmy Catton, the short, tubby but hugely influential editor of the sports weekly, Athletic News, was a critical one.

Catton’s publication had a circulation of 170,000 in 1919 and was considered ‘the voice of football’. It threw its weight behind Arsenal’s candidacy for the top flight on “the sentimental grounds” that we were the pioneer First Division club from the south — we’d first gained promotion in 1903-04 — and had shown loyalty to the northern-dominated Football League in its rivalry with the Southern League.

“The Arsenal have a case for consideration as the oldest League club in London, and one of the most enterprising in the face of difficulties which would have appalled most directors,” Catton wrote under his pen name, Tityrus.

He brushed aside Tottenham’s plea for following precedent: “Fortunately for League Football there has never been such a situation as now obtains.” Roberts’ enlistment nonsense got short shrift, too. Just one Tottenham player had joined up during the 1914-15 season, Tityrus reported. Meanwhile, the club had bought four newcomers in what proved to be a futile effort to strengthen the side (nothing new there, then).

In this febrile atmosphere, the Football League convened a special general meeting on the afternoon of Monday, March 10th, 1919 in the Grand Hotel, Manchester to consider expansion. Norris was there, even though it was the day before he was due to make his maiden speech in the House of Commons. His fellow Arsenal director, William Hall, a quiet but influential figure who sat on the Football League’s committee, was also present.

After dismissing various alternatives, the League agreed to expand to two divisions of 22 clubs. It confirmed the promotion of Derby and Preston. Chelsea was re-elected unanimously in recognition of the consequences of the 1915 match-fixing.

The vote for the final place in Division One — yes, it’s always about fourth place — would be first past the post, but it was no two-horse race.

Seven clubs had put themselves forward for election: Tottenham; the five clubs that had finished in positions three to seven in Division Two in 1914-15 separated by just four points — Barnsley, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Birmingham, Hull City and us; and Nottingham Forest, who had finished three from bottom (cheeky buggers more than half a century before Brian Clough got there.)

Contemporaneous reports of the debate that preceded the vote are scant. It is not known if anyone asked the League (and Liverpool’s) long-serving chairman, ‘Honest’ John McKenna what he thought of Tottenham, but, by repute, McKenna did advocate Arsenal’s cause on the basis of our 15 years longer League membership than Tottenham.

The minutes of the meeting record only the hard facts of the vote:

Arsenal 18, Tottenham Hotspur 8, Barnsley 5, Wolverhampton Wanderers 4, Nottingham Forest 3, Birmingham 2, Hull City 1.

We were up, and Tottenham were down.

Tottenham fans still maintain that Norris bought the vote. There were no such allegations at the time, however, and no evidence emerged that he did — at least none that has survived to this day. And if it did ever exist, Norris took its secrets with him to his grave in 1934.

The probable truth is that Norris and Hall simply ran rings round Roberts and Tottenham, collaring the committee, a plurality of chairman and, most importantly, the Athletic News.

Afterward, Norris sent Catton a hand-written note of thanks for his support. We have no way now to measure how influential that had been, especially among the northern clubs as the paper was published in Manchester, but one gauge is that future Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman would call Catton “the man who got Arsenal into the First Division”.

Tottenham slunk off to Division Two, if only for a season. A new blot on the game would soon eclipse the re-election excitement, the Leeds City Scandal of 1919 — the one that would lead to a lifetime ban from football being imposed on Herbert Chapman.

But that is a story for another ‘Holic holiday.

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