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Uber Alles

I hit the keyboard at ten after the final whistle blows on Brazil’s 0-0 draw with Mexico. It is the second match of the tournament I have seen bits of. The first was Brazil’s opening victory over Croatia. I am on social media sites. Brazil are poor, is the concensus. I am reminded of 1966 when England drew their opening fixture against unfancied Uruguay before taking maximum points off Mexico and France, both poorer sides than they could field today.

In the meantime I have spent a couple of evenings in Cornwall, where the mobile signal is almost non-existent, and the television I could have watched England on was hooked up to an aerial that was knacked in the autumn storms. Who fixes televisions in spare rooms?

Am I missing the greatest show on earth? Frankly, no. I am learning something about myself as the years pass. Do I give a sugarlump about what will happen in this tournament? The answer is a conditional yes. I care that the Arsenal players, current and future, come home in one piece and in good spirits. In the unlikely event that England make it into the latter phases then yes, I will get a little bit excited. Most of all though I care about the players I will want to watch every other week next season.

Really freaky is the the sudden realisation that I would really love Germany to carry out my pre-tournament tip and win the bloody thing. Having a confident and happy Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil, and Lukas Podolski (plus one or two?) pulling on the cannon next season is a happy vision. I can visualise Per lifting silverware as the new skipper. This feeling of course could all change as the competition progresses and Joel Campbell metamorphoses into the one we have sought for so long.

Now back in civilisation I am lured by the sun and the garden in a way that would not have happened when previous World Cups were played out. It dawns on me that these days only one thing matters to me, ‘footballistically’. Would I be in the garden were Arsenal playing, rather than England, or France, or Spain et al? No, I would not. I am watching individuals in a tournament rather than teams.

Does that make me a bad man?

I start to punch keys on the last night on which you will be able to say “No football on the tv then” for over two weeks. It is the eve of the opening of the 2014 World Cup. Having not won the lottery, and having insufficient talent to get sent out there by anybody else, I will not be going to a country I would love to see.

I do, however, have the advantage over most, being of an age to have witnessed England winning the tournament in 1966. I am pretty sure I won’t be seeing a repeat this summer. England have an interesting blend of youth, experience, and unfulfilled talent. Technically we are still playing catch-up these days.

Many would say we will be watching the winners tomorrow. Brazil will hope that the advantage of being the hosts benefits them as it did us 48 years ago. No European team has ever triumphed in South America which goes some way to explain why Argentina are second favourites. Both teams have a wealth of stellar talents, but I have a sneaking fancy we may witness a first in July.

Tonight Spain are the third favourites. The holders played some irresistible stuff in South Africa four years ago and they followed up by landing the Euros two years on, but many key members of that side have aged and/or lost form. For me they look beatable, possibly by my tip for the upset. I will stand accused of donning my rose tinteds when I tell you I have grabbed the 13/2 available for Jogi Low’s boys.

I have to admit a soft spot for a team containing Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil, and Lukas Podolski, with the added hope that those three are doing some first-class tapping up for us with a select one or two of their international colleagues. Their star is on the rise, it would appear.

The so-called ‘dark horses’ seem confined to Belgium and France. Of these I would expect the latter to go further, particularly with the divisive Nasri left at home. Neither of them do I see as winners. I would add one other side to watch. Uruguay will be a threat to everybody in their home continent, particularly if Suarez recovers from knee surgery and a persistent inner ear balance problem.

So that’s my colours nailed to the mast. For me the winners will come from a select group of four. Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay may benefit from not having to travel and acclimatise, but I still think the Germans will prevail (possibly by penalties, which would be stereotypically brilliant!).

Whatever happens enjoy the tournament all. I am well aware there is an international audience for this blog so feel free to tell me why I was wrong to discount your team in the drinks.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

On a balcony in Rio Arsene sips at his morning coffee and chuckles to himself. He is reading just the first page of NewsNow.

Aymeric Laporte, David Marshall, Calum Chambers, Carlos Vela, David Ospina, Loic Remy, Clement Grenier, Morgan Schneiderlin, Antoine Griezmann, Mario Balotelli, Romelu Lukaku, Alvaro Morata, Danilo, Lorenzo Insigne, Karim Benzema, Iker Casillas.

On one page alone he sees he is supposed to be throwing a hedgehog of a warchest at the transfer window dartboard. His mobile rings.

“Hello Dick, where are you? Yachting? No deals on again today? Not to worry, just get Highbury House to drop another sixteen names in selected ears tomorrow. Take it easy, Dick. Oh…you are.”

Good News Too

Roy Hodgson has said of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain,

“I think he will make the tournament without a shadow of a doubt. That’s good news.”

Good news indeed for the Ox and England, who frankly looked devoid of the creativity and urgency he can provide against Honduras last night.

I know that selfishly some of us might yearn for Arsenal’s stars to pick up three week injuries about now, but it must be more important for the players subconscious and confidence to test themselves against the best in the world.

And with that I bid you well in the garden. You are in the garden, aren’t you?

Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema

The Circle Of Summer

Another day, another Twitter storm about that Catalan bloke. It drives me nuts. Almost as much as people moaning about the fact that Twitter is all about that Catalan bloke. A contradiction? You bet I am.

Over the course of the past season I got swept along with the highs of the 2013 part of it. The opening day aside, which would become a reference point later in the season, we played with a mixture of pragmatism interspersed with occasional genius and deservedly swept to the top of the table.

In 2013 life was good. Aaron Ramsey had suddenly turned from an ugly and seriously abused duckling into a true footballing swan. It was as if the arrival of Mesut Ozil had rung alarm bells in him. “I have to start performing or I won’t get a game.” Perform he, and Ozil did.

The false highs of that opening half of the season would make what followed in the new year far worse. There was a warning eleven days before Christmas. A crazy 3-6 reverse at Middle Eastlands but we could have just as well nicked it 6-5, and so we carried on with a clean sheet at home to Chelsea, followed by eight wins and a draw in League and Cup. It was a blip, a freak, surely?

Then we went to Anfield and shipped five, and although we got revenge in the FA Cup for that mauling there followed defeats at home to Bayern and away to Stoke that sounded real alarm bells. Not the strongest of trees in the face of an impending storm I was bending with the wind. Increasingly I reminded me of Victor Meldrew, irritated with the disaffected and yet certainly understanding some of the opinions of discontent, when sensibly and rationally expressed.

Shorn of Ramsey, Ozil, and Walcott we seemed one dimensional, lacking in any kind of spark. My pessimism gene unleashed pints of whatever chemical it is that hits the ‘pissed off’ button. When Chelsea, then disappointingly Everton, mauled us and ended any realistic title aspirations I reached a very personal nadir.

I don’t mind admitting to all now, though only two people at the time, that I was seriously considering my options at the end of the season. The fun had gone out of it. Going to a game dreading the atmosphere, wondering if it was going to erupt into physical rather than verbal furore. There may have been a time when the prospect of a little brouhaha might have added to the excitement of the day, but those days are happily in the past.

The closing weeks prompted some reconsideration. An FA Cup semi-final win for us, and defeat for Manchester City provided more than a good opportunity at ending the ‘no trophy in x years’ bollocks. Ramsey and Ozil returned. Five wins on the bounce secured a Champions League qualifier. Meldrew was slowly being exorcised.

After the last home game the neighbour persuaded me to sign up for one more year in one of the best seats in the house. Defeat against Hull at Wembley may have swung me back the other way but thankfully I will never know. That day at Wembley will not be forgotten.

These days the football experience, for me anyway, is as much about the social side as the football. A truly diverse and fabulous group of people make the Tollington the pub of choice on matchdays. The community draws you in, adds to the richness of the experience. We celebrate the highs and furiously debate the lows, share pints and laughs aplenty.

A couple of our finest shared Cup Final day with me, for which I will always be grateful. The day started with fine dining and good wine, and ended with a silver pot being paraded by a team that deserved to emerge from a crazy nine months, nine years even, with something.

Yet even at the point at which we should have been at our most delirious the fact that I had chosen to dine in a Pinner restaurant rather than glug pints in a packed pub led one twat with whom I am not acquainted to dismiss me as a typical plastic, or some such soubriquet. I doubt his Dad enjoyed jaunts to places like Istanbul, Leipzig, and Belgrade for the love of the club and an education in street-wise in different times.

So it’s all about you, I hear you say, and yes it is. That’s because there is no news and I can’t stand the reiteration of entrenched views on social media sites, and less still the expression of frustration at those repetitious spats to which I add. I have come full circle. It’s summer, get out and enjoy the garden, the pub garden, the rivers, the green fields, Do something, anything, and share that with me on Twitter. I really couldn’t give a fig about that Catalan bloke right now. Ta muchly.

The Aftermath

A strange week in which the glow of FA Cup triumph remained while the realisation that the Arsenal won’t be delighting us for a couple of months (new signings apart, obviously) set in. Post-season attention disorder is with us.

Bacary Sagna said he was leaving, which surprised nobody. I don’t get the bile being directed at him by the vociferous few. He has been a solid servant and at the end of his contract he knows his next is likely to be his last. At that point he is looking to grab that last big money deal and we won’t match the highest payers. Good luck, Bacary, and thank you for the memories. Move on.

The story of the weekend, and one guaranteed to generate hits and sell papers, concerns Cesc and a possible summer move. If Barca are prepared to sell with Xavi and Iniesta seemingly on the wane then it would be something of a surprise. It is another issue to split the fanbase. For me our priorities lay elsewhere, but if he can be accommodated without affecting our plans to strengthen in other areas then why not?

Then of course the least surprising news of the week. On Friday the club announced Arsene Wenger’s three years contract extension. Now in the wake of the Wembley triumph that was only to be expected. The question will always hang in the air, ‘what if we had lost the Final’? It is now immaterial.

At the end of the day we have secured the services of a loyal and largely successful manager who has navigated some lean years as we moved stadium. I wonder, after all of the negativity he faced in those lean years, if he thought for one moment about bowing out with a trophy and Champions League football again secured?

It is telling that still debates rage about how active we will be in the transfer market this summer, and I was drawn to one quote of his when the subject was raised.

“What I can promise is that we work very hard on a market that is very, very congested with many people who have a lot of money. But we have a big advantage, players want to join us and if we find the right quality I’m sure we can strengthen the team.”

He is both setting expectation at a high level but with the caveat about competition in the market at every level. At the highest level I’m not sure we can effectively compete with the Manchester Citys and Paris St Germains of this world. The players who want to join us may be at a level just below world-class, and it is imperative we bring in characters who will contribute to the spirit in the squad, as well as supplementing the quality we have.

Now this is where the discussion is handed over to you. My distaste at idle speculation in transfer windows is well documented, but I can tell from the drinks that it is a fascination for many of you. So we need what exactly? A goalkeeper, certainly. A right-back who can cover in the centre, yes. A holding, or defensive, midfielder, probably. A goalscorer up top, certainly. A real winger rather than an out of position midfielder or forward. We haven’t even got to Cesc yet…

Have a great week, ‘holics.

It’s the close season. That’s official in my book now that the Champions League and Play-Off Finals are in the past. Doubtless I will have to do some World Cup coverage this summer because there will be precious little other football news to cover. I have to confess right now my ‘give a fig’ometer reading about that is pretty low.

What a season it turned out to be though, courtesy of an FA Cup triumph that was a little bit back to front, with us comfortably beating the bigger teams on the way to Wembley before being thoroughly tested by both Wigan and Hull City in the national stadium.

In the Premier League the promise of the calendar year 2013 flattered to deceive. Fourth place means a crowded early season post World Cup with the FA Community Shield now added to two qualifying round matches in the Champions League. Cue lots of pressure on the club to secure some key additions to the squad sooner rather than later.

You will have heard I hope, more of my thoughts on the season in the final Arsecast of the season. By the way, did anybody mention at all that WE WON THE CUP! Anyway, we singled out some players for a player of the season discussion, and there didn’t seem to be much dispute that Aaron Ramsey, Laurent Koscielny, and Per Mertesacker were the one, two, and three, with honourable mention of Wojciech Szczesny as he matured into a top notch goalkeeper.

At the end of it we have already had confirmed the departure of squad players like Bendtner and Park. Unfortunately Bacary Sagna has confirmed he is ninety percent certain to leave the club. Personally, although sorry, I cannot blame a player of his age seeking a last bank balance boosting deal. He has honoured his contracts, given a hundred percent for the club in his seven years, and come back to top form despite breaking the same leg twice, in the same place. Thank you and good luck fella.

The big plus of this weekend was Lukas Podolski telling Kicker that he would be staying at Arsenal next season. Whatever the reason for him not lasting ninety minutes too often he is a proven finisher with over a hundred caps for Germany. He is a significant part of the squad and a player that would have been expensive to replace.

With Lukasz Fabianski and Thomas Vermaelen also reported to be mulling over their future the squad, which proved insufficient for the rigours of a nine month Premiership season, is in need of replacements as well as additions. A busy summer should follow. Already I hear the pessimistic segment of our support doubting that will happen. Please, not yet. Let’s enjoy the Wembley triumph a little longer and trust that behind the scenes the club are making their moves with stealth and diligence.

And with that I must do similar. Poor old Eduardo the iMac made it through to the end, saw and reported on WE WON THE CUP!, and promptly joined the choir invisible in computer heaven. I have to set out my stall, source a quality replacement, and strike before somebody else comes in with a better offer.

Oh, and of course I cannot end today without thanking you all for reading this nonsense for yet another year, and mention the words of the day on this oh so special anniversary.

IT’S UP FOR GRABS NOW…

Thanks to our very own Clive who has shared this story of an Aussie Gooner who came over to see the Cup Final and enjoyed the eperience thanks to one very generous Arsenal supporter. Thanks Clive, it’s a heartwarmer.

After being scammed online out of £260 by an unscrupulous crook, I was more determined than ever to get a ticket to see my beloved Arsenal play at the 2014 FA Cup Final…

So….made up a sign and decided to head out to the stadium in hope….

 

As we disembarked at Wembley a police officer approached me on the platform and told me to put the sign away.

‘’ It’’s illegal for anyone to on sell their ticket to you as they will be contravening the law and ticket touting’’

‘’ What even if they sell it to me at face value?’’

‘’Yes’’

So I folded up the sign and decided to take the walk down Wembley Avenue to soak in the atmosphere. As I walked with the mob I noticed a father and son standing in the middle of the avenue holding up a scrawled sign asking for 2 tickets. Police were walking right by him. Emboldened by this I moved off to the right of the avenue and unfolded my own sign.

Wembley…. I set up my stand under that red sign and held out my sign…..within 3 minutes 3 people had spoken to me.

The first asked how much I was willing to pay and when I replied ’’no more than £200‘’ he basically spat on me…

The second asked if I was selling or buying…

Then along came ‘’Dave’’ from Warrington.

Dave and his wife had travelled down from Warrington to visit the big smoke and take in the game. She had fallen ill and he had a spare ticket as a consequence. When he approached me the conversation went like this..

Dave – You need just the one ticket?

Nick – Yup

Dave – Well come with me…you can have my wife’s

Nick – Errr how much ?

Dave- Nothing ..you can have it for free if you are prepared to sit next to me

Transpires Dave is a massive rugby league fan AND Gooner. We spent most of the time waiting to get in talking about Rugby League rather than football. As it happened his seat was in front of mine so no need to share the seat ! And the seat was in the top corner of the Arsenal end. Being the very last row I was able to stand up at will.

AND it was the end where 4 of the 5 goals were scored.

Who is the man with the smile ?

Guess whose team has won the 2014 FA Cup ?

GO ON THE ARSE !!!!!!

Just goes to prove…If there is a will there is a way…

and Karma….it has a strange way of working

PS, Given the face value of the tickets were £49.95 each I forced a sum into Dave’s hand at the end of the game. Even then it was a struggle to get him to take the money.

My ever so lucky day indeed.!!

There have been worse days in recent years. A glorious Wembley day, all sunshine and smiles. The match may not have started perfectly, but it certainly finished that way, memorable in so many ways.

The afternoon began with a superb lunch, and a short tube journey later we were joining the throng marching up Wembley Way. There is always something about that walk that makes it special. Nine minutes into the game I have to confess the gloss was coming off the occasion.

Quite how we contrived to surrender two early goals remains a mystery, but two set pieces unhinged us, and but for Kieran Gibbs goal-line clearance it could have been three. To say we started slowly is an understatement. A test of character was unfolding in front of us.

I’m not sure if the same was true around the stadium, but there was more a sense of disbelief than upset at the way we had started. The crowd stayed supportive which must have been a boost to those on the pitch.

The comeback was set in motion by Santi Cazorla, allegedly following orders from Le Boss to hit his free-kick to McGregor’s left hand side. It was another magical Wembley moment. Over an hour remained and we were back in business. Hull were combative, but that was only to be expected. Gradually we started to impose ourselves on the game. Ozil and Podolski came close to putting us on terms before the whistle.

Now it is fair to say with a different referee we would have had at least one of the three penalty incidents that followed (edit, I’ve just seen the handball, make that four), but then again we might not have got the corner from which Laurent Koscielny grabbed yet another vital goal for the club. With twelve minutes to go Kieran Gibbs looked set to win it but he blasted over from eight yards out. So to extra-time.

Olivier Giroud came agonisingly close to the third when his header smashed against the bar. We looked like the team likeliest to end the deadlock, but had to wait until the 108th minute before Aaron Ramsey feasted on a Giroud backheel to score a deserved winner with what I think was his fifth attempt of extra-time.

There could have been a sting in the tail, as Per Mertesacker slipped and Lukasz Fabianski went walkabout, but Gibbs was on hand to shepherd Aluko’s effort to safety. The most exciting Cup Final for many a year was over, and the first trophy of the Emirates years was finally secured. A word too for one not mentioned. Nobody could yet label Yaya Sanogo as prolific, but his arrival on the hour gave us a different threat and his contribution did not go unnoticed.

As I type I am watching the celebrations live. An estimated quarter of a million Gooners have taken to the streets of Islington to celebrate the triumph. I don’t mind admitting that the beer, wine, bubbles, and more beer have had an effect on me this morning. Quite how they are all holding up in the sunshine is a mystery to me. If, by the time you read this, you were among them then well done. You did the club proud this morning.

I cannot close without a thank you to two fine ‘holics with whom I had the pleasure of dining and sitting yesterday. Your company and hospitality will not be forgotten.

Thanks too to Arsenal for sharing the video below of Jenks, the Ox, and Poldi calling up Theo during the celebrations.


To see more behind the scenes action from the FA Cup Final, subscribe to the official Arsenal YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/Arsenal

WE WON THE CUP!

 

What Did She Wear, Poldi?

“What would it mean to be part of an Arsenal team that could end this nine year wait for a trophy”

Is it really that long? Thank you, professional inquisitor number one. Lukas Podolski is presented to the press ahead of the FA Cup Final.

“It is important for me, because I know the cup games are not only important in England, but in Germany as well. I play in a cup final for Bayern Munich against Dortmund. It’s always a big cup.”

Here is a senior international who goes into a huge weekend knowing the importance of the occasion to the supporters, but unsure of his starting place. What must he be thinking? At the bit of training that we see he is in high spirits and a major contributor to the positive mood in the camp.

There are those present seeking the sensational, and asked directly “Lukas, last month you spoke of your unhappiness at your situation at Arsenal” and without hesitation comes the response.

“I’m never unhappy, I always happy.” I love hearing that.

You know he is. Wherever his future lies we are extremely fortunate to have enjoyed his time at Arsenal. Right now, like everybody else, he is focused on the Cup Final, and winning it before heading off to the World Cup.

“The FA Cup is the biggest cup with the biggest history in the world. Of course, when you win the trophy, and go there, to the national team, of course we (with Ozil and Mertesacker) feel better.”

So will we send all of our World Cup performers to Brazil in such good spirits? Surely we have the ammunition to deliver the morale-boosting triumph at Wembley today?

With most now available for selection Arsene has decisions to make, and most significantly in midfield. I am convinced, contrary to what I said in this week’s Arsecast, that Wojciech Szczesny will keep goal, in front of a back four of Bacary “we want you to stay” Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Per “BFG” Mertesacker, and Kirran Gibbs.

My guess at the midfield is Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta, behind a trio of Jack Wilshere, Mesur Ozil, and Santi Cazorla. Olivier Giroud has to start up top. How unlucky is Poldi, as well as Tomas Rosicky if I am right? Bollocks, I am probably wrong.

What of the ‘holic pound, I hear nobody ask ;-) Because we are such hot favourites the odds are horrendous, in my eyes. One High Street bookie offers me a tidy return if I am right to be bullish. I’m on 30/1 for a 4-1 to the Arsenal in ninety minutes, even though I accept the opening forty-five could be tense and nervous as Hull attempt to close us quickly and deny us space.

Whatever. This has been an astonishing season. One like no other for sure. Come seven or so tomorrow evening (our time!) I pray the tears of joy are flowing. If not then I am sure we will address the alternatives next week. Tonight, we are Arsenal, and we are most concerned with…

WHAT DID SHE WEAR?

Have a fantastic day, ‘holics. I will think of you all tonight, you can be sure of that.

A huge week is coming to fruition. It seems far too long since we went into Cup Final week worrying about having the yellow ribbon to adorn the matchday attire. That at least I have sorted.

Looking around the web so much talk is of Swindon, Ipswich, West Ham, Luton, and Birmingham. I was at the first four, and watched in horror on the small screen as the latter came about. I know what we have been capable of and how it feels. I’m going tomorrow. I’m not going to experience that again. I really believe that.

I have had the good fortune to experience what Arsene and some of the players feel about the game this week. All have been united in their understanding of just what this means to the supporters, and acknowledgement of the upset in the League Cup Final of three years ago. The word I see everywhere is ‘pressure’. Kieran Gibbs has addressed these feelings and more. He looked more relaxed than I would have imagined, under the circumstances.

“If you feel under pressure it gets the best out of you, and we have played under pressure the whole season… We want to turn the pressure into a positive.”

I hear that, and clearly the optimistic among the Arsenal faithful are feeling that vibe too. We have recovered a rich vein of form, and have important players back and available. It feels different to 2011 when we swaggered into the Birmingham match as clear favourites and managed to throw it away at the death. Kieran was on the bench that day.

“We’re aware of what happened then. We want to be focused for the whole game and not take anything for granted. We’re not going to go into the game with that (favourites) mentality.”

He is not the only one who shows the attitude you would have expected of a side looking to lift such an important trophy. A vindication, if you will, of the self-sustaining model we have followed while the new money has poured into the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City.

The mischievous among the press pack have already plotted to probe him about his omission from the World Cup squad this summer. He navigated the loaded question carefully.

“No, I’m not really focused on that now. I have a big game on Saturday that I want to win, so thank you.”

I smiled, and to be fair his would be tormentors moved on. They have earlier tried to engage Thomas Vermaelen on his future and been given the expected response. This squad is totally immersed in Saturday’s game, and any attempt to distract them for the sake of a headline is dismissed by players trained in the arts of the modern media, particularly those who want to be invited back. So how important is the FA Cup to the players in these days where Champions League qualification seems of paramount importance?

“It’s massive, obviously. At the end of your career you want to look back at what you’ve won and this is the chance to look back and say ‘we won the FA Cup’.”

Interestingly, when asked if our previous wins against the Tigers would have any bearing on Saturday’s result Kieran was quick to point out that this is another day entirely.

“In the cup games there’s a different feel to it. We don’t want to take Hull for granted despite the results from the Premier League this season.”

The caution is noted, and welcome to one who has witnessed more than his fair share of upsets down the years. I am feeling more positive than I expected approaching this game. Perhaps because I have enjoyed the performances we have produced when our best midfielders have been available this season. It is no coincidence our title challenge fell apart when Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil were sidelined along with Theo Walcott. How does this team compare to others you have played in, Kieran was asked.

“This team is the best that I’ve played in. This team’s got a good balance. There is just a strong desire in the team to win every game.”

I suppose you wouldn’t expect him to say anything else, but seriously he convinced me he was being genuine. Politely he thanked his interrogators and went back into the safe confines of the Training Centre.

Now the players and staff are concentrating on what they have to do tomorrow. Few distractions, maximum focus, is the order of the coming hours. Everybody knows that the shock is possible, and that was demonstrated last season by Wigan’s defeat of Manchester City as well as our well documented reverses in the last 45 years. All the more reason to appreciate the right noises coming out of the club right now. We have the players, no question. We have the desire, without doubt. Attitude is everything, and I’m loving what I am seeing in that respect.

Let’s get it on, as Marvin Gaye once pleaded. Right now I’m feeling the same vibe.

What did she wear?

 

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