Feed on
Posts
Comments

The excitement of Monday carried over to seeing the first snaps of Henrikh Mkhitaryan trains with his new team-mates this morning (Tuesday). Unfortunately he is not eligible to play against Chelsea in what frankly has become the biggest match of our season so far. Our only hope of playing someone other than the neighbours at Wembley this season depends firmly on our ability to beat the Blues in Wednesday night’s Carabao Cup semi-final, second leg.

Our strongest fit eleven may decide the shape of the side. David Ospina will surely start in goal, and if Nacho Monreal passes a late fitness test it’s possible he will join Laurent Koscielny and Skhodran Mustafi in a back three which we have used successfully against Chelsea in recent meetings. Hector Bellerin and either Sead Kolasinac or Ainsley Maitland-Niles are the likeliest wing-backs.

With Aaron Ramsey seemingly recovered from illness, and after Mohamed Elneny’s impressive performance against Crystal Palace, the midfield combination behind Mesut Ozil is up for grabs. I suspect the manager will go with Granit Xhaka and Jack Wilshere if neither is in the infamous ‘red zone’, which frankly Jack may be not far from. Alex Lacazette, the only fit senior striker will start but who will make up the eleven? Probably Alex Iwobi, although one could make a case for Reiss Nelson to bring a fresh engine into the side.

Arsene Wenger has been respectful, perhaps too respectful, of rivals in the build-up to the match. Conspiracy theorists may surmise that this is a sign that he may be losing a little bit of competitive edge. After talking up Manchester United when discussing the Alexis  Sanchez move, he turned his attention the the upcoming match.

“The two teams are very close to each other every time they meet and the form of the day can be a decider. The strength of the motivation on the day can be a decider as well. It has always been very tight, they are two good teams who know each other well now so it’s very unpredictable.”

Chelsea are not without their injury worries either. Those who like a good boo will be disappointed that Cesc Fabregas is ruled out as he is gone in the fetlock. In further bad news Alvaro Morata is also ruled out, a striker so ineffective that they tried to sign Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch in the transfer window. The dangerous but out of form Batshuayi should step into the breach. Antonio Conte was also respectful of us pre-match.

“When you play against Arsenal, you must be prepared to suffer without the ball. They like to be offensive and bring many players in the box to find combinations between strikers-midfielders-wingers. We must pay attention and be compact.”

The away goals law

According to law 14.5 from the Carabao Cup’s official website: “In the Semi-Final ties, if the aggregate score is level at the end of the second game an extra half-hour shall be played. If the aggregate scores are still level at the end of extra time the tie shall be decided by goals scored away from home counting twice. If the teams remain equal after this procedure the tie shall be determined by the taking of kicks from the penalty mark in accordance with procedures as approved by IFAB.”

So, should Chelsea score tomorrow night we will have to outscore them to progress to Wembley. That does change quite significantly the home advantage on the night.

The ‘holic pound

I’ve had a gut feel about this for days now, and I am going to do something I don’t think I have done with the pound before. I am backing a 1-1 draw over ninety minutes at 13/2, convinced that we will nick a winner (Eddie N’ketiah off the bench, anyone?) in extra-time.

And now the pre-match nerves are kicking in. As ever I wish you a mood-boosting win to celebrate if you are there, and a damn good reason to enjoy a nip of something on a school night if you are watching from home.

Come on the Arsenal. Have a great one, ‘holics.

I don’t often watch Sky Sports News but I did this evening purely by chance and caught the moment that the exchange deal that took Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United and brought Henrikh Mkhitaryan to North London was announced.

It’s a deal that will provoke mixed emotions, indeed already has on social media. However we know it could have been a lot worse situation had Alexis run his contract down and joined Manchester City in the summer for nothing. United’s offer of a straight exchange deal leaves us with a considerable asset on a three and a half year deal.

As far as Alexis is concerned I am genuinely delighted I got to see one of the best players in the world in the flesh for his peak years. Events of recent weeks probably mean that this is the right time for him to go. We will be very happy we have signed Mkhitaryan if the player can recapture the form he displayed in Dortmund and if he now makes us look an even more desirable destination for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, should he too get the move he wants. Arsene Wenger could not hide his admiration for the Armenian captain.

“We’re replacing a very good player with a very good player, a world-class player with a world-class player. Mkhitaryan can play on the wing or in midfield, so I believe he can play very well in many positions. That can help us as well because he can play together with Ozil as well as playmaker, so overall it’s a good move.”

As for the player himself , well, courtesy of Arsenal Media you can see and hear for yourself here.

As for Aubameyang, Sky were warning us not to expect an imminent deal as there are a number of intermediaries involved and all will want their pound of flesh. This will be a significant test of the negotiating team, headed by Ivan Gazidis, currently in Dortmund. This is a deal they need to complete to lift the mood around the club.

Let’s hope as well that we haven’t taken our eye off the ball with regard to strengthening the squad defensively before the window closes next week.

There have been worst days. Birthday pints with some of Swindon’s finest set the scene for an enjoyable excursion to the home of football. Seats were taken in time to register a very well observed minute of applause for Cyrille Regis. The rain and the cold air barely registered and were forgotten after an amazing opening quarter of the match by the Arsenal.

The Gunners welcomed back Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Mesut Ozil and Mohamed Elneny. They reverted to a back four and packed the midfield and one of the returnees put us ahead in only the sixth minute. Nacho Monreal’s excellent far post header from Granit Xhaka’s corner set the mood for the first-half.

The left back turned provider when he raided down the left flank and cut the ball back for Alex Iwobi to double the advantage. I tried to get a signal to check the cashout on the ‘holic pound but it wasn’t strong enough and before I could get through we had a third goal. Again it followed a corner that found Monreal and his ball into the mix was finished decisively by Laurent Koscielny. We hadn’t even been playing for a quarter of an hour.

Less than ten minutes on and we were in euphoric mood after Alexandre Lacazette ended his recent goal famine from Mesut Ozil’s sublime backheel. With Mohamed Elneny providing an unexpectedly solid base we looked a better balanced team than we had for a long time. Midway through the half the contest was over. Sadly, not long afterwards Monreal’s day was over as he was replaced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles as a precautionary measure, apparently. Let’s hope so.

Without him a little of that balance was lost and Palace started to break play up at every opportunity with the aid of some lax refereeing as the intensity of the challenges increased, particularly after the whistle to start the second-half was blown. Roy Hodgson had definitely called for more effort from his team during the break.

Petr Cech and his defence held firm and denied efforts from Sako, van Aanholt, and Kelly. Iwobi attempted a response only to be denied by Hennessey. The late substitutions commenced with Reiss Nelson coming on for the excellent Ozil. With twelve minutes to go Palace got their consolation when Benteke headed a corner into the path of Milivojevic who finished comfortably.

Sead Kolasinac was introduced for Iwobi as we looked to see out the final moments of a relatively dull second-half. What had gone before had already put the gloss on the day. It was time for a quick post-mortem accompanied by some of Scotland’s finest courtesy of one of our own! The perfect end to a very enjoyable day. Let’s hope there are more to follow.

Finally I get to watch my first live match of the new year as one of the form teams of the moment faces a side who must be praying for a result as their season threatens to barrel-roll out of control. Crystal Palace have lost just once in their last twelve Premier League matches and visit an Arsenal team without a win in five games in three competitions. Perhaps I should point out that the one recent blott on the visitors copybook was caused by our 2-3 triumph at Selhurst Park in Christmas week, our last win anywhere.

There is some encouragement in the team news. Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal are fit to return to bolster the defence. Mesut Ozil may also be available after his latest absence. With Aaron Ramsey also fit there is a real midfield conundrum facing Arsene Wenger. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been suffering illness this week and could miss out along with Sead Kolasinac, Santi Cazorla, and Olivier Giroud.

Assuming that we stick with a back three then Koscielny and Skhodran Mustafi will probably be joined by one of Per Mertesacker, Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, or Mathieu Debuchy. That will allow Monreal to revert to left wing-back opposite Hector Bellerin. The midfield pairing between them is anyones guess. Perm any two from Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny, Aaron Ramsey, and Jack Wilshere.

Mesut Ozil, if fit, and Alexandre Lacazette should definitely start. That leaves a place for who? The imminently departing Alexis may not be in the right frame of mind right now. It’s such a shame, but totally understandable, that his stay at the club is seemingly ending in a degree of acrimony. Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi are more likely to be contesting that final starting berth. What a shame we haven’t been able to get Aubameyang over the line yet. The prospect of him potentially forming a two pronged attack with Lacazette is mouthwatering.

The manager appears to have to say rather too often of late that we need to show a reaction to every disappointing defeat. That reaction is most definitely needed here and in the weeks that follow if we are to turn our season around.

Palace arrive having escaped the relegation zone under Roy Hodgson’s management. Only a missed penalty prevented them from ending Manchester City’s unbeaten run this season three days after our triumph in South London. Their last away defeat in the Premier League was by a single goal at the other end of Seven Sisters Road on bonfire night. Be prepared to be patient against a very organised and efficient team that is a far cry from the one that started the season with seven straight defeats before they beat Chelsea 2-1.

The ‘holic pound

Palace look good value at 6/1 but I have a feeling that with a few wise heads back in the fold we will be able to follow up our win at Selhurst Park. Hopefully that will coincide with a confidence boosting goal for Lacazette. I’m on 2-1 to the hosts, the bookies favourite scoreline, at 15/2. I am looking for the double against Palace, having cashed out on 1-3 in the reverse fixture for a healthy profit.

I hope to see a few of you at some point of Saturday which promises to be another sociable (if sadly cold and wet) day! Here’s hoping we really do kick start a return to form leading to another Wembley Final. That is a topic for another day, however.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

Not surprisingly the topic of goalscorers has occupied my mind of late. This evening I’m looking back at the Arsenal’s top goalscorers since the beginning of the Premier League in the 1992-93 season and even includes three players, no, make that two, soon to be one (!) still currently playing for us.

Thierry Henry (175)

One of the greatest players the Premier League and world football has ever seen, Thierry Henry helped the Arsenal to two league titles and three FA Cups between 1999-2007, costing less than what Liverpool paid for Emile Heskey a few months later!

The World Cup 98 and Euro 2000 winner was the second highest goalscorer in Premier League history when he first left the Gunners over a decade ago, going on to win further honours with Barcelona before making an emotional goalscoring return to the Gunners in 2012.

Thierry Henry is Arsenal’s all-time top scorer and currently tops up his pension as a successful television pundit.

Ian Wright (104)

Ian Wright joined the Arsenal from Crystal Palace in 1991 before the Premier League had been formed.  He went on to be a prolific goalscorer in all competitions for the North London club, eventually winning the Premier League title up front with Dennis Bergkamp during the 1997-98 season.

The former-England international turned television pundit and personality had been Arsenal’s all-time top goalscorer in all competitions until he was surpassed by Thierry Henry in 2005.

Robin van Persie (96)

Arsène Wenger signed Robin van Persie from Feyenoord for £2.75 million in 2004.  The Arsenal boss converted the Dutch international from a wide forward into a striker, from which van Persie became prolific during his final six seasons at the Emirates, when fit.

Van Persie controversially left for Premier League rivals Manchester United ahead of the 2012-13 season where he won his first league title in his first season at Old Trafford, and became the latest player to win the Golden Boot with two different teams.

As things currently stand, odds on the Premier League winner for this season reflect the runaway performance of the blue half of Manchester so far rather than red.

Dennis Bergkamp (87)

One of the most elegant players to grace the game, Dennis Bergkamp lit up the Premier League when Bruce Rioch brought him to Arsenal from Internazionale in a £7.5 million deal in the summer of 1995.

The non-flying Dutchman went on to score 87 Premier League goals during 11 seasons with the Gunners, teaming up with some of Arsenal’s great goalscorers; Thierry Henry and Ian Wright.  He was also part of the Invincibles during the 2003-04 season.

In 2017 readers of the BBC voted Bergkamp’s goal versus Newcastle United in 2002 as the greatest goal in Premier League history.

Olivier Giroud (73)

Now in his sixth season with Arsenal since arriving from Montpellier for a fee around £10 million in 2012, Olivier Giroud has netted double figures in each of his seasons so far but has lost his regular starting place to Alexandre Lacazette this season. If only we had seen more of them as a strike duo.

Giroud’s 73 goals in 177 Premier League appearances falls somewhat short of the likes of Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and Robin van Persie in the goals per game ratio.

Theo Walcott (65)

Arsène Wenger raised a few eyebrows in January 2006 when he signed 16-year-old Theo Walcott in a deal worth £5 million, potentially rising to £12m.  The teenager had shown promise in his limited appearances for Southampton but the price was still considered substantial at the time.

Walcott even made Sven-Göran Eriksson’s World Cup squad later that summer, though did not make an appearance during that tournament.  He’s actually still yet to make an appearance at a single World Cup, but will be hoping his move to Merseyside today will put him back in the frame for this summer’s tournament in Russia.

Now 28 years old, Theo Walcott has scored 65 goals in 268 Premier League appearances over 12 years – predominately playing down the right wing. His move to Everton brings an end to an association that promised a great deal, but didn’t quite deliver. He leaves with our best wishes for some of his goalscoring appearances in big matches. Good luck Theo.

Robert Pirès (62)

One of the most talented and exciting players to step foot in the Premier League, Robert Pirès wowed crowds between 2000-06 at Arsenal, in which he won two Premier League titles, including being an integral part of the Invincibles.

He scored more than 14 goals in three separate Premier League campaigns which was very impressive for a wide man when Arsenal also had the likes of Thierry Henry at the same time. Robert still helps out at the club in various roles and remains as popular as ever with the supporters.

Alexis Sánchez (60)

Now in the final six months of his contract at the Emirates, Alexis Sánchez either has until the end of this season or until he is sold later this month, to catch up with Robert Pirès and/or Theo Walcott to move further up Arsenal’s all-time Premier League top scorers chart. With Manchester United having agreed terms with him that seems highly unlikely.

The Chilean has been phenomenal for Arsène Wenger’s side since joining from Barcelona in a £31.7 million deal following the 2014 World Cup.  His 60 goals have come in 120 Premier League appearances, giving him a 0.5 goal ratio. However his increasingly erratic behaviour has made the gamble of not selling him last summer a failed one.

Emmanuel Adebayor (46)

A controversial figure among Arsenal fans, who wanted a wage to match Thierry Henry before he ever proved anything at the club.  In fact, Emmanuel Adebayor never really did prove anything during his three-and-a-half years at the Emirates.

The Togolese striker’s only prolific season came during 2007-08 when he netted 24 goals in 36 Premier League appearances, but even then six of those came in two appearances versus a Derby County side that picked up a record low 11 points that season.

Freddie Ljungberg (46)

One of Arsène Wenger’s greatest finds, Freddie Ljungberg arrived from Halmstads in his homeland for £3 million in 1998.  He became a two-time Premier League winner and lifted the FA Cup on three occasions during his nine seasons with Arsenal.

Another wide player who liked to get on the scoresheet, the Swede netted 10+ goals in two Premier League campaigns. Together with Robert Pires he provided a real threat from the flanks and was another firm favourite. Who will ever forget his red hair?

My huge thanks to our very own Countryman100 for covering today’s debacle for me. I feel like I saw the match, so well did he cover the game.

It was as I started this report that I realised that I seldom comment at length on games I’ve seen on TV. I tend to contribute to the bar on games I’ve been to live and to give a little colour for those who aren’t lucky enough to be there: whether the North Bank is raucous or sullen; the tribulations of finding a late night curry in Winchester after Southampton away; who the gobbiest fans are on the walk back to the car (leaving Spurs aside, probably Man City); the joys of a four hour drive home after you’ve done United at Old Trafford. But there was never any chance of me being in Bournemouth, down in the land of ‘Arry and boats. The Vitality Stadium is tiny, with a capacity of only 11,360 and so this is one of the hottest away tickets of the season. They sold out at 60 credits (to get to 60 credits you need to have gone to almost every away game for the last three seasons). So here I am, on my sofa in Cambridgeshire, laptop on my knee, tuned to Sky Sports.

Last year’s game on the South Coast was a pulsating 3-3 draw after we were 3-0 down. When we played Bournemouth at home in September it was a different story. One up in five minutes and two up in half an hour, Danny got two and Laca one in a 3-0 win. Recent away form caused one to doubt that the same ease would be seen today, although the Cherries had never beaten us. Team news filtered in about 12.30. Sanchez out of the squad, didn’t travel. Have we seen his last game for The Arsenal?  With no game until next Saturday, the Boss chose the same team as against Chelsea midweek, except Cech in for Ospina. Jack started again (yay) against his loan club, his ankle knock seemingly recovered and Ramsey and Kola were back on the bench. No Ozil, due to a knee injury evidently. Bournemouth switched to a back three to match our formation. The snidey pre match comments reminded me of why, when I do watch on TV, I only switch on at kick off.

After their wing backs got round us a couple of times, the first time Jack picked up the ball led to a great run and Bellerin being fed into the area. Unfortunately he got squeezed out and couldn’t get the ball across to Lacazette. Again Jack drove through the midfield, put Lacazette in and from his cross the ice cool Ainsley Maitland-Niles jinked and turned and then let loose a fierce shot which glanced off the cross bar. Iwobi tried his luck from the edge of the area and Begovic palmed it away for a corner which came to nothing. Good start from Arsenal. However it was time for our usual cock up in midfield and first AMN, then Mustafi passed it calmly to a man in a red and black shirt. Luckily we got away with it as we didn’t against Man United. Callum Wilson barged the ball out of Cech’s hands and put it in the net but not even the Cherries crowd believed it and it was disallowed.

As the half grew on, Bournemouth came more into the game and also began to “let us know they were there”. First Laca, then Iwobi suffered robust challenges which went unpunished.  An egregious dive from Gosling was rightly punished with a yellow card by Kevin Friend. The game was getting scrappy. Simon Francis took another yellow for blocking Danny as he surged forward. Isn’t it notable how far Smudger Smith will bend over backwards to try and be fair? He protested both cards. A fabulous flick from Jack put in AMN who charged into the area but he over ran the ball. On 34 minutes the ball broke for Danny who could have gone down for a (slight) hand on the shoulder, but drove on and had his shot blocked by Begovic.  Mustafi twice went close from corners. Arsenal were starting to dominate the game.  From a free kick Bournemouth had a big shout for a handball in the area by Iwobi. Not given.  Smudger, of course, thought it was a pen, as did all the studio pundits. We probably got some payback on recent bad calls there. Arsenal the better team in the first half (which isn’t saying much), but Bournemouth looked capable of scoring against our nervous defence. LJW best player on the park by a mile.

Half time: Bournemouth 0: 0 Arsenal

51 minutes in and a peach of a goal from Arsenal. A fabulous ball inside the full back from Iwobi on the half way line found Hector one on one with the goalie. He didn’t exactly bury it, but his shot squirmed off Begovic and into the net.

Bournemouth 0: 1 Arsenal

A cynical trip from Xhaka on Ibe found him in the book.  A promising move saw Danny about to be put in when a hand to the face sends him to the ground. Nothing to see here says Smudger. After 62 minutes the hapless Charlie Daniel at left wing back, who was being run ragged by AMN, gets hooked for Lye Mousset. Lacazette chips, Sanchez style, a lovely ball into the box for Iwobi who delays his shot and gets robbed by the defender.

Ouch. On 69 minutes a soft equaliser. A hopeful ball into the box by Ryan Fraser sees Cech come past the penalty spot but get beaten to the ball by Callum Wilson who bundles it in. Wilson was marginally more offside than Laca was at Stoke.

Bournemouth 1: 1 Arsenal

73 minutes gone and Ramsey comes on for Chambers, moving to a back four.

Less than a minute later and another defensive shambles in the box sees Jordan Ibe smash it home from a second ball off Wilson after a cross has deceived both centre backs and Xhaka fails to track the run of Ibe.

Bournemouth 2: 1 Arsenal

 Theo comes on for  Iwobi. Let’s see if he can do it one last time. Jack bursts forward and mishits a shot wide. Super Jackie Wilshere rings out from the travelling faithful. Theo’s first and second contribution is to run offside. Former Arsenal man Benik Afobe comes on as we move to 4 minutes of injury time.

We huffed and puffed but never looked like scoring again. The ‘holic pound has gone as far West as the Guvna

Full time Bournemouth 2: 1 Arsenal

Same old same old Arsenal on the road. We really need some serious transfer action as this team looks mentally shot. ‘Holic you chose a great weekend to miss the game. I wouldn’t bother watching it back.

Hello from Cornwall where I thought I might be able to cobble together a preview  of Sunday lunchtime’s match at Bournemouth. However a series of trips to farm shops, garden centres, breweries, pubs, and restaurants has rendered that impossible.

So you know what to avoid I am letting you know that the ‘holic pound is firmly planted on 1-3 to the visitors at 12/1. Come back for at least one guest post on the match after the event.

Off to another pub!

As in the league fixture at Stamford Bridge in September the manager went into the first leg of the Carabao Cup with his best player, Alexis Sanchez, on the bench. Fortunately Skhodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka were fit to start, but Mesut Ozil was ruled out by injury. Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck joined Alexandre Lacazette in the Gunners spearhead. Interestingly, young Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos was also among the Arsenal substitutes. Jack Wilshere skippered the team.

Chelsea it was who had the first opportunity when Morata outpaced Chambers and Mustafi but could only hit the side-netting from a tight angle. When Hazard attempted the same in the fifth minute Mustafi was quick to step in front of his man and clear the danger.

The Gunners won the first corner of the match as the clock ticked past eight minutes but as is so often the case we failed to clear the first defender. This opening phase was turning into a cat and mouse affair with both sides pressing industriously. It didn’t make for much of a spectacle. One Bellerin strike aside the crowd were being duly silenced by the fare on offer. A couple of spoiling fouls by Kante and Xhaka didn’t help the flow of the game.

Midway through the half Jack Wilshire chipped a ball in behind the Chelsea defence to give Lacazette the sort of chance he would have wanted more of this season, but the French international sliced his volley high and wide. At the other end David Ospina found a driven cross too hot to handle but he managed to recover his parry at the second attempt. Was the match about to open up?

Alonso’s driven cross was deflected out for a corner by Chambers and in the phase of play that followed Ospina managed to turn another fierce Moses effort onto the post. There followed an Arsenal corner at which the video assistant reviewer was summoned for the first time when Calum Chambers ended a grapple with Alonso by pushing him over. He was perhaps fortunate to escape with no more than a warning. A second review could have resulted in a yellow card for Bellerin’s challenge on Fabregas but Martin Atkinson kept his powder dry, as it were.

The VAR was called on a third time when Ainsley Maitland-Niles appeared to have been brought down in the box by Moses but between them the officials opted not to award the spot-kick. That was preceded by a fine Courtois save from Iwobi. The match was improving as a spectacle. Mustafi was another to escape with just a warning for hauling Morata down and then denying his clear offence.

As the half wound up Ospina had to get down quickly to prevent Fabregas from heading the hosts into the lead. His goal-line clutch was just what we needed to deservedly get to the break on level terms.

Chelsea started the second-half on the front foot and forced a couple of corners. The second saw Christenson head narrowly over the bar from close range. The pressure would be on them to win the home leg so perhaps it was not a surprise to see them adopting a more positive approach. When Wilshere surrendered possession cheaply Xhaka was forced to take a yellow card for the team by bringing down the marauding Rudiger.

Alonso just failed to connect with a corner as the Gunners desperate rearguard action was being fully tested. Wilshere limped out of a challenge with Drinkwater and couldn’t run off whatever the problem with his ankle (again) was. Before the skipper could hobble off Morata drew another diving parry from Ospina. Substitute Mohamed Elneny couldn’t get a touch when Morata got clear and slipped the ball under the dive of the onrushing Ospina, but mercifully the ball rolled the wrong side of the post. I couldn’t help but think that we might have been better served had the departing Francis Coquelin been available from the bench?

On a rare break Maitland-Niles floated a ball into the box that saw Courtois rush to claim between Welbeck and Lacazette. Spirits uplifted the young stand-in wing back swept a ball across the pitch that Alonso was happy to head out for a throw-in. With 65 minutes gone Alexis was sent on for (you’ll never guess!) Lacazette. Almost immediately we had another let-off when Christenson again missed the target with a header from a corner.

Drinkwater made way for Willian as Chelsea looked to inject fresh legs into the attacking third. Going into the final twenty minutes you had to admire the dour defensive performance of the Gunners whilst wondering if they could possibly keep it up until the end? Iwobi broke but his toe-poked attempt to finish from distance was never going to trouble Courtois. Alexis gave him ‘the look’.

Willian’s curling drive in the 75th minute drew another good save from the alert Ospina. I’m probably tempting fate here by suggesting he is our form goalkeeper of the moment. He was called upon moments later to drop on a speculative Alonso effort. We broke again and Welbeck spun to create a shooting opportunity only to see it blocked. Xhaka risked the wrath of Mr Atkinson by going through the back of Morata but the referee was in relaxed mood. He did produce a card when Kante hacked down Welbeck as we sought to break again.

Alexis won a free-kick when bundled over by Willian and as we prepared to take it Chelsea sent on Bakayoko for the surprisingly ineffective Hazard. The Arsenal, encouraged, enjoyed a little spell in the ascendancy and Xhaka drew a save from Courtois. All of a sudden the ‘holic pound wasn’t looking such a daft punt. Elneny’s trip from behind on the frustrated Morata earned him the third yellow card of the night.

Welbeck’s challenge on Fabregas saw the VAR being consulted again but for the fourth time there was deemed to be no clear and obvious error. It’s early days, but the use of VAR here was demonstrably a success. The massed ranks of the travelling faithful in what was once the Shed roared their team home to a truly excellent away stalemate. It won’t be any easier at home, but we have given ourselves a real chance of another Wembley day out and quickly laid to rest the memories of Sunday.

This was a good evening, ‘holics.

This is where I now should type some nonsense about getting back on the horse, but instead it’s time to forget about Wembley in May and think about another potential cup win there in February. At least we have a couple of blank weekends coming up so picking anything other than the strongest fit eleven to go to the bus stop in Fulham would be a dreadful mistake.

However the manager said in his pre-match press conference that he had no injured players set to return so we are definitely missing Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny,  Sead Kolasinac, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, and Olivier Giroud. In addition to them Skhodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka were undergoing fitness tests today. If the former doesn’t make it we have maybe to go with a back three of Mathieu Debuchy, Per Mertesacker, and Rob Holding in front of the goalkeeper. David Ospina may well get the nod as our cup-tie custodian.

That defence looks vulnerable to the runs of Morata, Willian, and Hazard, and will require some protection. Given Francis Coquelin’s problems with Hazard last season that probably means a pairing of Mohamed Elneny and Jack Wilshere in front of them should Xhaka not make it. Hector Bellerin and Ainsley Maitland-Niles look nailed on to start as the wing backs.

The attacking trio has to be Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and Alexandre Lacazette. Alex Iwobi may well have impressed when preferred to Ozil in our 0-0 draw at the Bridge earlier this season, but a spell out of the firing line might be best for him right now. Alexis is already cup-tied after playing against Doncaster so there is no reason to leave him out even if he is destined for a January move.

There seems to be a great deal of pessimism and negativity surrounding this semi-final, and that is perfectly understandable, but we have unexpectedly produced some decent results when least expected this season. Indeed the two draws in the Premier League against the same opposition have probably been better than many would have expected. All we can hope is that the manager has spelt out what he expects of his chosen squad for this first leg, and that they show the application and discipline that was missing on Sunday.

The ‘holic pound

Such hot favourites are Chelsea that you can get a staggering 16/1 against a good old ‘one nil to the Arsenal’. OK, so there is a big question mark about us keeping a clean sheet, but I just cannot let that deal go. Maybe a little less of a wager than usual, however.

So that’s that. I’m back out to talk to the fairies at the bottom of the garden. Are you feeling more upbeat than a couple of minutes ago?

No, I didn’t think so. Have a good one, ‘holics.

Right, enough of the moping around. It’s time to look at the positives from yesterday. I had an amazing vegetable curry, and liquorice sambuca is delicious. That’s that, now for the post mortem, although so late that there is probably not much left to be said about the game.

First off though I should deal with the selection. It was largely as I had expected pre-match and I was happy enough with that to go positive on the ‘holic pound. It would therefore be hypocritical of me to express dissatisfaction after the event, other than to bemoan the lack of quality on the bench. That was a strong enough team to win the tie as long as they went out and applied themselves. They didn’t, and that suggests a couple of things.

Firstly that they lacked the oft-mentioned mental strength that the manager is keen to boast about after we have won a tight contest. There was a collective malaise that spread through them all it seemed. When your best player in a 4-2 defeat against a struggling Championship team is quite possibly your goalkeeper then that speaks volumes about the rest, summed up by Per Mertesacker.

“It’s difficult to take because for those players who played today, that was probably a last chance to show up and show the manager that they’re ready to play more games. It’s not the case anymore.”

It also hints at a collective failing of the manager and his coaching staff to prepare the side for the task ahead. It was a surprise to see a flat back four when the personnel on the pitch could quite easily what has been our formation of choice this season. It was awful to watch us being pressured into mistakes all over the pitch and being run ragged by an 18 year old striker only playing because of injuries.

I would like to say 24 hours on that it was a rare defeat, the manager’s first in the third round of the competition he has won more than any other. It was our second FA Cup defeat in five seasons. Somehow though it seems like yet another failing against a team from a lower division. That just didn’t happen in Arsene’s early years, but now they are totting up. Burnley, Ipswich Town, Blackburn Rovers, Bradford City, Sheffield Wednesday, and now Forest. Arsene admitted to Arsenal Player that we were second best on the day.

“I am very disappointed by our performance because Nottingham Forest were the better team out there, the most dangerous and won many challenges. I can congratulate Nottingham Forest because they were the better team tonight. It hurts very much. I’m very, very disappointed because I love the cup competitions.”

The clamour for Arsene Wenger’s removal have understandably followed. I argued for him to go last season and still remain of that opinion, but I would rather focus on supporting those with the cannon on the chest in the big matches to come. The FA Cup may be gone, and along with it any semblance of a title challenge. However the Carabao Cup is a realistic target and we should put our strongest available eleven out against Chelsea in the two legged semi-final. The Europa League also, as it now seems to be our most likely avenue of returning to the Champions League.

Surely we understand by now that this board does not have the plums to change the manager mid-season. Personally it is horrible to see his grip on the club being eased from his grasp by his own shortcomings. He transformed this football club in his first decade in charge, steered us through difficult times following the stadium move, but this has been a tough season for him and it seems to have taken it’s toll.

Once again there is deadwood to jettison as well as the contract situation with key players to be resolved or otherwise. Our previous financial prudence may have to be stretched over the coming months in order to rebuild the squad. The signs right now are that Sven Mislintat has been tasked with starting the rebuild, but we will need a lot more than a twenty year old Greek central defender to come in, and we will need to replace likely departures like Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, Mathieu Debuchy, and Francis Coquelin.

That is as much venting of the spleen as I can muster for now. It’s time to prepare for the bus stop in Fulham on Wednesday, and bringing the possibility of another Wembley day out in February a little closer.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »