As Marvin Gaye once said, “You know what I’m talkin’ ’bout.” It’s them versus Arsenal. It doesn’t need building up. So straight into the team news.
Alexis is out, no wait, he might not be. Confused? You will be. Danny Welbeck is back in the squad after a lengthy lay-off and will surely make the bench? Definitely still out are Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
As for the hosts, although that suggests a level of hospitality rarely offered these days, Bentaleb is back from the Cup of African Nations and so they have a full squad to pick from. They are also, like us, in a decent run of form, having lost just one of their last nine league outings.
Our starting line-up will be determined by the availability, or otherwise, of Alexis. Should he not make it then it would be something of a surprise to see a change from the team that started last week’s comfortable triumph over Aston Villa. There is a very strong case for Tomas Rosicky to get a start, but Theo Walcott’s record against Tottenham makes for impressive reading, and he may get the nod on a ‘horses for courses’ basis.
This is a weekend like no other in any season. The relatively few who have the away tickets face a nervous afternoon. If we can replicate our intense performances of recent weeks then the traveling faithful will have much to cheer. Santi Cazorla can crown a fine spell with a match-winning display in the big derby fixture. Those of a lilywhite persuasion will point to a new-found fondness for late winners and their own form man of the moment, Harry Kane, although he isn’t one of their own, as they would have you believe.
I should insert a paragraph here about form and logic going out of the window for a North London derby. The fact is though that during Arsene Wenger’s tenure we have avoided the banana skin more often than not. Class usually tells and the ‘holic pound certainly follows that trail of thought.
The ‘holic pound
I am sorely tempted by the 16/1 offered by Paddy Power against a 1-3 win for the Gunners. Fancy a cheeky back-up? How about 55/1 against 2-4 in a fixture that has often yielded goals down the years.
New customer to Paddy Power? Fancy that introductory 6/1 against an Arsenal win of any description, then click on the banner ad at the head of the page. Terms and conditions apply, of course.
So that’s it. No point in adding flowery rhetoric. This is battle, the decider of bragging rights until St Totteringham’s Day arrives once more with the inevitability of a furry creature defecating in a lightly-forested area.
The North London derby. A match that has changed in significance to the outside world in the Premiership years. Somewhat surprisingly for this fossil it also seems to be a fixture that doesn’t retain it’s rating among some of our younger fans, a few of whom look more towards the Chelsea fixtures.
For the uninitiated the fact that this season sees the twentieth anniversary of the last time Tottenham finished above us in the Premier League has taken the edge off the fixtures. For those of us born in the pre-Sky era, the pre-all-seater era, the pre-all-ticket era the clashes with our nearest and dearest will always be the ultimate must-win matches.
No Tottenham manager, and sweet mother of Jesus they have had enough in the last nineteen years, has ever guided his rabble above an Arsene Wenger managed team. That has increased the ire at the other end of the Seven Sisters Road. They are without a top-flight title in nigh on 54 years, and have gone without an FA Cup for 24.
For all that though in the post-war era until the arrival of the Premier League the two clubs traded blows and urged each other to greater heights. Three years after the cessation of hostilities we won our sixth championship and a similar timeframe later, in 1951, the neighbours won their first.
We restored the six title gap in 1953, but the Lilywhites finest hour came in 1961. A double, their only one and the first in the twentieth century, so you can imagine how frustrating it was for them to witness us secure the first leg of our first double a decade later on the final night of the season at White Hart Lane.
For all that there are records of civil disorder at matches between the two clubs going back to the nineteenth century it was during the sixties and seventies that it accelerated, and the rivalry intensified.
I mention it only because the more sinister aspect to the fixture was born in an era when the match wasn’t all ticket, so large numbers of Arsenal supporters would descend on the Lane for the away fixture, and likewise the neighbours would arrive en masse at Highbury.
The arrival of an all-ticket, all-seater although tumbledown White Hart Lane, and the allocation of under three thousand tickets to the visitors has taken away some of the romance that always hung over the day out at the Lane.
Long gone are the days when friends and family members would sit together, best of enemies, and nobody would know until Arsenal scored and a few dotted about all areas of the ground would leap up together, but alone, in shared celebration.
Long gone too are the days when the boards of both clubs were driven to do better than that lot up (or down) the road. It may still be true at the Lane, but our motivation now is Mammon.
The lust for growth, and for ever-larger chunks of the Premiership and Champions League riches, have taken us to a remarkable new stadium, and a degree of consistency and support that has left our old rivals behind.
While our snouts are well and truly in the trough, Tottenham are among the runts at the back of the litter, nibbling at the leftovers we carelessly drop. A League Cup or two to prevent them from complete starvation.
For all that though I cannot accept that for any Arsenal supporter, regardless of age or background, that beating this lot isn’t still the sweetest of feelings in the humdrum of any season.
They may not be serious rivals, but they are still Tottenham. Never forget.
The morning after the day before. Good company, and good football linger in the memory. The discussions after recent victories have so often centred on the standard of the opposition. It is certainly true that Villa were brushed aside with ease, but credit the level of the Gunners performance please. Some of the football we played yesterday was a hark back to the days when the quality of our football really did set us apart.
Interestingly though, given the final scoreline and the fact that we had the lead very early on when Olivier Giroud was played in by Mesut Ozil’s amazing flick, an early contender for man of the match was Francis Coquelin. Villa were not without some threat at various points in the match and the young Frenchman caught the eye with the timing of his tackling and interceptions.
It was perhaps surprising as the half reached it’s conclusion that we didn’t double out advantage, particularly when Santi Cazorla was denied only by the post, and when Mesut Ozil’s strike was ruled out by a dubious offside flag. Equally we had David Ospina to thank for not going in level when he saved superbly from Weimann’s header.
The second-half performance was breathtaking. Just over ten minutes in there was a role reversal of sorts as Giroud freed Ozil for a simply superb finish. At 2-0 the shackles, or is that the legendary handbrake, were released. The pace of some of our attacks caught the eye. The third soon arrived when Theo Walcott broke free and exchanged passes with Santi Cazorla before opening himself up for the ‘Henry-esque’ strike.
Walcott and Giroud were withdrawn for the sterner tests to come, but if Villa thought the arrival of Tomas Rosicky and Chuba Akpom would lessen the pressure they were under, they were wrong. The latter won a penalty when upended by Guzan and the Villa ‘keeper was unable to keep out Santi’s venomous strike from the spot, despite getting both hands to it.
In the first of three added minutes came a moment that those who departed early would have savoured. Hector Bellerin’s sumptuous placed finish from the edge of the box was a pleasure to witness. There remained time enough for Villa to threaten a consolation but Ospina once again produced a fine save to deny Westwood.
And so to the pub to debate how bad were they or how good were we. The defence looks solid again. Those who read the preview will know I am a Bellerin fan anyway, and he and Nacho Monreal will be hard to displace on the evidence of this showing.
The midfield options we have are already impressive. Aaron Ramsey is struggling a little for form and confidence, but isn’t hiding and it is surely just a matter of time before he flourishes again. Cazorla remains an absolute joy to watch, and yesterday gave an indication that we may find a way of getting the best out of him and Ozil in the same side.
Theo continues to frustrate and delight in equal measure. In row seven we came to the conclusion just before half time that the two words most uttered at the Grove since we moved in are “Oh Theo”. A point confirmed by two other fine judges of all things Arsenal without prompting later. When his goal came yesterday it made up for the misses of the first-half, and then some.
Guinness slurped, and whisky/whiskey savoured it was back to the chilly west just in time to relive it all on Match of the Day 2. I think on this chilly Monday morning I shall head for Arsenal Player to watch it again. It was one of the good days.
By the time you read this dry January may be but a memory. Well done if you partook. If only my birthday could be moved I might give it a bash one day. Anyway, lots to cover in a short space of time, so let’s crack on.
Aston Villa at home, with Anthony Taylor in charge. What could possibly go wrong? Let’s not go there. The injury list looks remarkably similar to last week although it is not expected that Alexis will pass a late fitness test. Add to him Danny Welbeck (thigh), Jack Wilshere (ankle), About Diaby (calf), Mikel Arteta (ankle), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin), and Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder).
Despite the midweek capture of Gabriel it is a fair bet we go with David Ospina behind a back four of Calum Chambers, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal, although Hector Bellerin would be my shout at right back, and Kieran Gibbs will feel aggrieved. Gabriel should get a late debut if we can get ourselves into a comfortable position in the match.
It is in midfield where one simply cannot double guess what Arsene is thinking. Hopefully Francis Coquelin will get the nod over Mathieu Flamini in the spine, but now how can we shape the team with Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky on fire, with Mesut Ozil so impressive last week, with Theo Walcott back amongst the goals, with Aaron Ramsey contesting the box to box berth. It’s a lovely problem we haven’t faced much this season and no matter what he does the boss will have his detractors. Let the performance speak for itself.
Olivier Giroud must start up front. That is the one area where Arsene won’t have a decision to make. He seems to appreciate it.
“We have a good, balanced squad now, It’s a compact, short squad but its of top quality and the advantage it can have is that many players have been rested. Aaron Ramsey had a good rest, and Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny, Ozil and Rosicky have not been overloaded with games. Theo Walcott is now coming back slowly, so all these players are not overloaded.”
Of course we remember Villa at home last season. Who will ever forget the atmosphere, the home-made signs, the refereeing performance? Could they repeat it tomorrow? The visitors have not been in great shape this season. They haven’t even scored in the top flight since December 20th, but that was against Manchester United, and tomorrow they welcome back Gabby Agbonlahor and Fabian Delft from injury. They also introduce new loan signing, Scott Sinclair. That could solve their problem.
The ‘holic Pound
The ‘holic pound is lured to a twist of fate. Last year they went away with a 1-3 win, not even sure themselves how they had done it. Paddy Power offer 10/1 against us turning the tables. The only part of that which worries me is the one to Villa, so I am having a back-up pound on 3-0 as well, at 7/1 with the same firm.
Matchday Programme On Android
As an iPad and iPhone user I have changed from the printed version of the programme to the digital issue. This has been a service denied to Android users until now. The digital version of the matchday programme includes a selection of the most popular features from the iconic publication – but with a difference. The digital programme also incorporates video, audio, picture galleries and more to give fans across the globe a unique guide to matchday.
The digital version is available from iTunes and Google Play priced at just 79p per issue – monthly and yearly subscriptions are also available from iTunes.
It is with extreme sadness that I read the news of the passing of Vic Groves. The uncle of Perry was a stylish and energetic midfielder in the first Arsenal teams I can remember watching, having converted from a centre-forward after a string of injuries.
We signed him from Leyton Orient in 1955, and Vic went on to make 203 appearances for the club, scoring 37 goals. At the start of the 1959-60 season George Swindin, manager and former Arsenal goalkeeper, appointed Vic as captain of the Gunners. The arrival of Frank McLintock saw Vic transferred to Canterbury City in 1964.
He was acknowledged as a ‘sturdy tackler’, which in those days meant a damn sight more than it does today. He was remembered with respect and affection by all who came across him at the club. A true Gunner, we could do with his like again.
I heard you all. You were saying “I wish Arsene would sign a central defender”. There were doubters amongst you, I know. “He won’t open his piggy bank. Come back in Ten Years Time.”
Le Boss heard the debate and understood. “Sometimes it isn’t easy to get the deal done, but if I can find a player of super quality, I will buy him. Give me a little more time.”
All along the Arsenal manager had someone in mind, but his current club insisted he was Out of Reach. Then it dawned on him. That chat with Joel Campbell when the diminutive forward had said to him “If You Really Cared you would let me go and find regular football”.
The following morning Arsene suggested the deal. He was staggered to get agreement. “Dreams can come true. Thank you. That is a super super transaction.”
So eventually we arrive at today and Arsene greeting the new boy to Shenley. “I didn’t expect you to come here. I am very happy today Because of You.”
A thought too for Joel Campbell, after all Nothing Hurts Like Goodbye, but he may return after Picking Up The Pieces of his career in Villarreal, particularly having signed a contract extension with us shortly before heading for Spain.
Last word with Arsene, I think. “We are delighted to have got Closure on our man. Things are a little bit on the Rise at Arsenal, I think you will agree.”
Welcome to Arsenal to the well-known spelling mistake, Gabriel. We wish you every success in your stay with us.
89 seconds. That is how long it took for Arsenal to calm any nerves that yesterday’s upsets might have caused. Calum Chambers spectacular foray down the right flank set up Theo Walcott for a first goal in over a year. A much changed Gunners had side grabbed the initiative from the start.
Missing David Ospina, Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Alexis Sanchez from the starting line-up at Eastlands last weekend, the Gunners nonetheless dominated the opening half.
At the heart of an impressive start was Mesut Ozil. He created opportunities for Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud as Arsenal looked to capitalise on their good form. Ahead of him Walcott was playing closer to Giroud than we might have thought beforehand. Twice he broke at pace but failed to find the final ball and the chances were lost.
Midway through the half the advantage was doubled. The also-excellent Tomas Rosicky freed Ozil in the box and a classy left foot finish gave us breathing space. We would be grateful for that later. Rosicky was starting to catch the eye with a typical energetic display. He set up Giroud but the shot was blocked.
Finally some forward progress from Brighton but not one of a flurry of efforts from them was on target. The recalled Wojciech Szczesny wasn’t called on to make a save as Arsenal completed a very dominant first-half performance.
What happened after the break is hard to understand. Some will say it was ‘the magic of the cup’. Whatever was said at half-time Arsenal came out a different team, and four minutes into the second-half Brighton halved the deficit. There was something of a combined defensive calamity, too many to name and shame, and O’Grady was allowed a free shot into the bottom corner.
That seemed to spread uncertainty through the team. Brighton had their tails up and the home crowd started to feature for the first time in the match. We needed that two goal cushion again and it was no surprise that little Mozart was the man who provided it, winning the ball back on the edge of the box and trading passes with Giroud before unleashing a spectacular right foot strike.
Half an hour to go, two goals to the good, and it seemed as though the handbrake was being slowly applied. That is understandable to a degree. Ozil and Walcott are still coming back to match fitness and both faded, but will be better for the experience today. Theo was the first to be substituted, along with Olivier Giroud. Chuba Akpom and Alexis came on. The latter as energetic as ever went close with a trio of free-kicks around the edge of the box.
A nervous ending was assured when Holla put Baldock in through the heart of the defence and the Brighton striker lifted the ball over Szczesny’s outstretched arm. It was a good finish but a very disappointing goal to concede again. 3-2
Five minutes later Ozil too was hooked, and Coquelin came on to help Flamini. That gave us a more solid platform from which to play out the closing minutes. Indeed we may have had a fourth when man-of-the-match Rosicky picked out Ramsey at the far post but the Welshman’s volley bounced to safety.
Arsene Wenger will feel that he got his selection spot on, and with players returning from injury there is a little more depth to the squad. The impending arrival of Gabriel Paulista should help, and the boss was unusually open about the likely signing. As for the match itself he avoided the problems of the second-half, as you might expect.
“Overall what you want first is the quality of the performance and to go through. They had two shots on target. When you play away from home and the other team had two shots on target, overall I think we produced the performance I expected.”
Still, after a weekend of upsets we have reached the last sixteen in our quest to retain the FA Cup. With four of the current top six in the Premiership already out of the competition we have been installed as favourites, but we need four more wins to hand Arsene a record sixth FA Cup as a manager in modern times. It’s a bit early to be dreaming of that just yet, as this weekend clearly demonstrated.
As Saturday afternoons go that was a rather good one. Chelsea, Manchester City, Southampton, and the shadow-dwellers all knocked out at home. Enjoyable as those results were they will mean nothing if we don’t grab our opportunity at Brighton to advance into the last sixteen of the FA Cup.
Some degree of rotation from the team that won at the Etihad last weekend is expected. Perhaps the most interesting selection will be the goalkeeper. Will Wojciech Szczesny be selected as the ‘cup-tie’ ‘keeper? With Hector Bellerin needing a fitness test the back four too may have been decided relatively late. He was pictured at training today so perm any four from him, Calum Chambers, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, and Kieran Gibbs. It is rumoured that we are nursing Kos through matches, so this will be clearer if he starts on the bench.
In midfield Francis Coquelin surely doesn’t need a rest, but Le Boss may decide that Mathieu Flamini needs a game. Mesut Ozil is due a start but will that allow a rest for the in-form Santi Cazorla, or will the German return to the left flank? On the right side could Theo Walcott return, allowing Alexis Sanchez a breather?
The hosts seemed League One bound under Sami Hyypia in the first half of the season, but since his departure and Chris Hughton’s arrival the Seagulls have started making progress up the Championship table. The former Tottenham defender knows what his team must do to cause an upset.
“It is our responsibility to try and do the best we can and nullify periods of their play when they can really hurt us.”
The word ‘nullify’ is open to interpretation. When we went to Gus Poyet’s Brighton two years ago the game was open and flowed. We edged a five goal thriller, but they are likely to want less flow to the match this time around. We shall see. Arsene acknowledged his opposite number in his pre-match presser.
“Chris Hughton will give them his experience and his competence, of course. He knows how to prepare a team for a challenge like this. For us the challenge is to turn up with the same spirit and show that we can be consistent with our attitude game by game.”
As Saturday’s results show we will need to carry forward the discipline and effort that brought us the points at City.
The ‘holic pound
In a moment of rashness last night I wrote in the drinks I would tip the scoreline most predicted by you. Blame Oskar and GSD therefore for a 0-4 away win. I wouldn’t go overboard on that in all honesty. Paddy Power offer that outcome at 20/1 so I will have just the pound on it, with a back-up pound on 1-3 at 11/1.
Welcome Gabriel Paulista?
As I type Villarreal have seemingly confirmed (but not yet on their website) that a deal has been agreed ‘in principle’ for Brazilian central defender Gabriel Paulista, with Joel Campbell heading in the opposite direction on loan. It is likely that the ‘in principle’ qualification refers to the need to secure a work permit for the player. Let’s hope that does not prove to be an issue. We need quality additions to the defence and he would appear to fit the bill.
I have to say I am indebted to our very own North Bank Ned for tonight’s guest post. Ned looks back to Arsenal’s first golden era and our first ever meeting with Brighton and Hove Albion. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. I know ‘holicdad would have approved too. He may well have been there that day. Anyway, thank you so much Ned.
The mighty Arsenal, en route to a third league title in three seasons and fourth in five (those were the days!), headed to the South Coast for a January cup-tie against the then Division Three (South) Seagulls.
It was the first competitive encounter between the two clubs. As unimaginable as it is today, the sides trained together in the week leading up to the game, though in the 1930s Arsenal often trained at Brighton’s old Goldstone Ground in Hove ahead of Cup games.
Brighton had beaten Folkestone of the Southern League 3-1 at home in the First Round, and fellow Third Division (South) side QPR 2-1 away in the Second. Goals by Joe Hulme just before half time and Ted Drake near the end ensured that there would be no giant-killing in the third round however. The final result was Brighton & Hove Albion 0-2 Arsenal.
Here are some grainy black and white highlights of the game. Brighton’s goalkeeper takes quite a battering.
Arsenal would go on to beat Leicester City in the Fourth Round and then Reading in the Fifth. Both games were 1-0 away wins. The cup run came to its end in the quarter-finals, a 2-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, the eventual winners at Wembley.
The following season, Arsenal would go all the way to Wembley again, winning the Cup they had only first won in 1930. Ted Drake turned in a cross from Cliff Bastin in the 74th minute to sink Second Division Sheffield United 1-0 before a crowd of more than 93,000.
‘Arsenal legend’ is an overused term, but the side that faced Brighton in 1935 was full of the genuine article, even though it was missing two of the greatest stars of the Chapman-era side. David Jack, the first footballer to command a £10,000 transfer fee (doubling the previous record), had recently retired; Alex James was out injured. At the end of the season, four of the squad, including three who played against Brighton, would need surgery. Injury crisis? It was ever so.
The team that faced Brighton:
Frank Moss (Goalkeeper) – England international and ‘keeper for the Chapman-era championship teams in the first half of the 1930s until a shoulder dislocation in 1935 ended his keeping career. He played on the left wing until retiring at end of season.
George Male (Right Back) – Chapman took a promising young left-half, played him at right back, and saw him blossom into the best full back in England and an Arsenal legend. He was the first footballer to play in six league title-winning teams (1931, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1938 and 1948).
Eddie Hapgood (Left Back) – Arguably the second best full-back in the country after George Male and another Arsenal legend with five league titles and two FA Cup winner’s medals to his name, as well as captaining club and country.
Jack Crayston (Right Half) – “Gentleman Jack” Crayston was a hard-tackling but skillful midfielder good enough to win eight caps for England. Came into the side in 1934, winning the league that year as an ever-present and again in 1938, as well as the FA Cup in 1936.
Herbie Roberts (Centre Half) – The fulcrum of the Arsenal defence in Chapman’s revolutionary WM formation (3-2-2-3 for younger ‘holics). A four-time league title winner, he was denied a fifth championship in 1937-38 when an injury early in the season before he had played the 13 games then necessary to qualify for a medal led to a premature retirement.
Wilf Copping (Left Half) – An ex-Yorkshire miner and a ferocious wee ball winner whose motto was “the first man in a tackle never gets hurt.” ‘The Iron Man’ was another England international and Arsenal great who would later manage the Belgium national team.
Joe Hulme (Outside Right) – Yet another Arsenal legend and England international, with three league titles and two FA Cups to his name. He was blisteringly fast, a great crosser of the ball and could score goals, though by 1935 injury was limiting his appearances.
Ray Bowden (Inside Right) – A stylish inside forward who got less recognition and fewer England caps than other members of Chapman’s star-studded forward line, but the Cornishman was an integral part of Arsenal’s success in the mid-1930s after taking over the playmaking from David Jack.
Ted Drake (Centre Forward) – Big, strong and fearless No 9 for both Arsenal and England. Newly arrived from Southampton the previous March, Drake enjoyed a golden full debut season: setting the still standing club record for goals scored in a season in both all competitions (44) and the league (42 in 41 games). He became the first person to win the league both as a player and a manager when his Chelsea team was crowned champions in 1954-55. (Editor’s note – Ned, how could you!)
Bob John (Inside Left) – The Welsh international had been a regular at left-back or left-half in the late 1920s and early ’30s sides, but was at the tail end of his career by 1935 having lost his place to Copping. He came into the side for the Brighton game in the absence of Alex James. John held the club record for league appearances (470) until George Armstrong passed that number in 1974.
Cliff Bastin (Outside Left) – Cliff ‘Boy’ Bastin was more a modern striker than a 1930s winger, fast and with a liking for cutting inside. Cool, clinical finishing made him a goal-scoring machine. His career haul of 178 goals in 395 games stood as the club record until Ian Wright bested it in 1997. Five league titles and two FA Cups solidify his status as an Arsenal legend.
Injury crisis, pacy, direct wingers, players switched from one position to become stars in another, players bought from Southampton, revolutionary tactics? There is nothing new under the sun. Let’s hope that’s true for the result on Sunday, too.
A jaunty Santi Cazorla with the celebrating faithful behind him
A simply superb team performance by Arsenal at the Etihad saw them comfortably defeat the reigning champions. The post-match glow is one we have been awaiting for a long time, but that makes it all the sweeter. This team now will surely have the belief that they can replicate this determined and disciplined display against quality opposition?
I wondered beforehand if Arsene might start the match with a pairing of Francis Coquelin and Mathieu Flamini. Instead Aaron Ramsey got the nod over the latter which was a bold move and enabled us to do what we do so well when the opposition is set-up to attack. We sat back, soaked up pressure, and countered imaginatively, and often with pace.
Unbeaten in twelve league matches, City started on the front foot, but could not find spaces as the Gunners often had ten men between the ball and David Ospina. The Columbian goalkeeper was not required to do much in the opening half, so solid was the yellow and blue wall in front of him. When Arsenal broke there was a hint of menace and from an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cross Olivier Giroud’s header deflected off Kompany, a player destined to enjoy mixed fortunes minutes later.
Arsenal broke again with Nacho Monreal joining the attack and attempting a one-two with Giroud, The aforementioned Kompany, clearly a bit rusty after his recent absence, brought the left-back down. So clear a penalty was it that even Mike Dean felt compelled to award the spot-kick. Yes, it was that blatant, Neil Ashton. The City skipper can consider himself fortunate not to receive a yellow card under the circumstances. He would have cause to be grateful.
The resulting penalty was hit with sufficient venom by the outstanding Santi Cazorla, and it needed to be as Joe Hart guessed the right direction to dive. The first goal is so important in the big matches. We now had three points rather than one to protect.
As the half wound down Kompany brought down Giroud, at last drawing a yellow card, and then embarked on a rant that brought what surely was a final warning from Dean.
Beforehand, let’s be honest, we wondered if we could keep the trio of Navas, Silva, and Aguero at bay. The perhaps surprising ease with which we did just that meant somebody had to go and wake David Ospina from a forty-six minute siesta as the whistle blew for half-time.
The anonymous Milner was hooked at half-time so Jovetic could be sent on as a second striker, and at last the champions looked like a team that had something to play for. In truth the Gunners survived the opening minutes of the half more by luck than judgement, and finally Ospina had some work to do, sprawling to save from Aguero less than two minutes in, then batting away a Navas drive three minutes later.
Arsenal, suitably warned, regrouped and returned to doing the things that had served them so well earlier. Sanchez was involved in the move that saw Ramsey just miss the target, and the Chilean appeared to be caught late by Kompany, who else, but Mr Dean chose instead to caution Hector Bellerin for an incident shortly beforehand.
City tried to add to their attacking options by sending on Lampard for Fernandinho, but Arsenal, prompted by the mercurial Cazorla, got a second. The scorer of the first goal chipped a free-kick on to the head of Giroud who beat Hart comfortably from close range.
It was typical of the day that the visitors comfortably saw out the closing minutes, denied a third themselves when late substitute Flamini found himself in nose-bleed territory. Then the whistle, and cue wild celebrations in the visitors section. The traveling faithful have waited long and hard for a victory in a big away Premier League game. They deserved their moment.
It seems unfair to pick out individuals in what was clearly a massive team performance, but the decision to pick Cazorla ahead of the returning Ozil was a huge one. He has been impressive all season, but was just outstanding today. 101 passes, all but 9 finding their target, and with a workrate that must have made even the astonishing Alexis jealous. That Neil Ashton, yes him again, could only give him a rating of 7 after that display is frankly risible.
Behind him though the not so unsung hero. Twitter has been drooling over the stats posted of Coquelin’s performance. He was immense, plugging gaps, getting in blocks, winning every tackle and all but one header. There is something of the Ashley Cole story repeating itself perhaps. He was loaned out to Palace and circumstances saw him surprisingly find form and favour on his return. Could the same be happening for the Frenchman after he was recalled from his loan at Charlton. He is grabbing his chance for sure.
So there we are. One of the good days. One in which hopefully the various factions can unite for a while. With the prospect of a fun day to come at Brighton a week today too. Let this be the day that the Arsenal learned again how to be truly competitive with the other big guns, for that is what all of us want.
Well that wasn’t quite what we had hoped for from our Saturday, was it. Wins for Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, and Liverpool. As I type only Southampton above us might drop points. By the time I finish this blog they may have added to our woes. Not just our woes though. Tomorrow’s opponents will also be aware that not securing the three points will result in going backwards over the course of the weekend.
Of course Manchester City can afford that a little more than us, being within five points of leaders Chelsea. For us, an away fixture at the reigning champions merely provides a vehicle with which to bring up our repeated failings against those we desire to be our rivals for major honours. Could this be the match where finally we break the mental shackles that such clashes seem to create?
Those of you who have listened to this week’s Arsecast will already have heard the thoughts of the man from East Lower, Arseblog himself, and yours truly ahead of the match.
Of course we will have to start without Mathieu Debuchy following the assault on him by Arnautovic last week, but Calum Chambers is fit again and it will be interesting to see if he or Hector Bellerin, impressive last week, gets the right-back berth. On the other flank this supporter hopes that the improving Nacho Monreal gets the nod over Kieran Gibbs if the latter passes a late fitness test.
The shape of the midfield could change. The possibility of starting with a defensive duo of Francis Coquelin and Mathieu Flamini must be strong given the form of David Silva this season. However the absence of Yaya Toure (at the African Cup of Nations) and Samir Nasri (old splinter wounds flared up in his postérieure) may persuade Le Boss to go with Aaron Ramsey alongside one of the aforementioned pair. Santi Cazorla will surely remain in the playmaker role despite the return of Mesut Ozil.
Ozil remains an option for the left sided role but Alex-Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky, and the man of the moment, Alexis Sanchez are all in contention to start out wide too. It is quite interesting that we could have options on the bench including Ramsey, Ozil, Rosicky, and Walcott if we need to change things at any stage of the match.
Olivier Giroud is a shoe-in to start up front given the injury to Danny Welbeck, and the recent departures of Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo on loan. His task will be made no easier by the return of Vincent Kompany, the spiritual leader and talisman of the City defence. At the other end of the pitch Sergio Aguero is back for City ensuring a busy afternoon for Laurent Koscielny and the BFG.
Those who focus on our record against the big clubs ignore the fact that we are unbeaten in two meetings with the champions this season, having battered them 3-0 at Wembley to lift the FA Community Shield before a late Demichelis header earned City a 2-2 draw at the Grove in September. The ‘holic pound is guided by a strange feeling I have that this might be our day. Totally illogical that, I know, but my glass is definitely half full ahead of this one.
The ‘holic Pound
On the evidence of last season we will have to outscore City in their own fortress, and we have a decent scoring record against them, so I am am looking at 2-3. Paddy Power offers 25/1 against that so if it comes in there may well be some bubbles with supper after the match.
Price Freeze Announced
Yesterday (Friday) the club announced a ticket price freeze for next season. There is no doubt that something of an own-goal was scored with the three percent hike for this season following the huge increase in income from television and commercial deals.
Whatever the reason for the cautious approach it is to be applauded on the face of it. Prices remain high, beyond the reach of some, and although one cannot guarantee success it will be interesting to see the approach next January should we appear to go backwards this season.
There is a strain on the family budget that supporters will deal with if a sense of value for money is being provided. Rightly or wrongly success is linked to that for many. The elephant in the room, failure to claim even a Champions League qualifier, would test the limits of many a long-standing Gunner. Here’s hoping we don’t face that situation when the renewal notices are posted.
Not Only, But Also
Oh, and a warm welcome to Krystian Bielik. At £2million let’s hope not too much pressure is heaped on the seventeen year old as he settles into a new life, in a strange country (can I say that?). Good luck , young man. Let’s hope he develops into a real asset in the coming years.
Oh, Southampton have just completed a clean sweep by winning at Newcastle. Hey ho.
That’s enough for now. I have another bottle of ESB calling out to me, so I shall finish by wishing the traveling support a great day in Manchester.