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I saw talk before the match of Arsene setting up to go with an attacking gameplay having secured victories at City and United this season playing a much more compact game than usual. It was no surprise, given those two results, that once again we set our stall at Old Trafford to defend first and foremost, and look to hit the home side on the counter.

That approach requires more accurate passing than we could muster in the opening half. As early as the third minute Alexis overhit a ball for Olivier Giroud as we sought to pinch a lead. Then the Chilean broke clear himself only to be hustled off the ball by Blind, but these were rare forays into the attacking third by the visitors.

Surrendering territory and possession meant that United would fashion half-chances. Young blazed one over and Laurent Koscielny had to be alert to block an effort from Falcao, starting in preference to van Stapleton. When Mata hit a weak free-kick that David Ospina dealt with comfortably one wondered if they had any cutting edge in the absence of Rooney.

The answer came in the thirtieth minute when Young got the better of Hector Bellerin and crossed to the far post for Herrera to volley past Ospina at his near post, with Nacho Monreal drawn into a central covering role. The full-backs were otherwise excellent, and Ospina wasn’t unduly troubled again, but the damage had been done.

The problem with going behind when playing rope-a-dope is how and when to change things. Clearly either side of half-time the instruction appeared to be stick with it, and see if we can pinch an equaliser. Sadly though with the midfield collectively unable to string together the sort of passing moves that are their trademark, we found ourselves in the position of hoping not to concede a second goal.

Eight minutes shy of the hour we had our first shot of the match. Giroud set up Alexis but his effort was high and wide, much to the derision of the home support at the old scoreboard end. That could not be described as the turning point, which was surely reached twenty minutes later with a double substitution, but slowly Arsenal found a way into the game.

Giroud did well to hold off Rojo but couldn’t get sufficient power or direction to beat De Gea, then the increasingly influential Aaron Ramsey chipped the United goalkeeper only for Rojo to clear. The chances were coming, and Arsene decided to change our shape somewhat. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott came on for Bellerin and the unusually ineffective Santi Cazorla. Francis Coquelin was switched to right-back, behind Theo, while Jack joined Rambo in a new look central midfield.

Ramsey in particular, back in his favoured role, took the game by the scruff of the neck, and ten minutes after the double substitution we were level. There is no denying a slice of good fortune was involved as Rambo picked out Theo with a magnificent forty yard pass and the latter’s attempted cross was deflected in by Blackett. It was an equaliser we had undoubtedly threatened, and the Gunners went in search of a dramatic winner.

A minute later Giroud was inches wide with a near post flick into the side-netting, and the same player couldn’t quite find his touch when another chance came his way. At the other end United fashioned a last opportunity for their Dutch substitute, but Van Stapleton cleared the bar comfortably to the delight of the again-magnificent traveling faithful.

The final whistle left Arsenal considerably happier with the point than their hosts, although credit to van Gaal who said this afterwards,

“I believe that Arsenal are maybe the best team in the league but Chelsea can finish a game. We were better than our opponents for one hour, and we led one-zero, but we have to finish the game.”

For me the best team in the League is the one that finishes first, but every non-Chelsea fan knew exactly what he meant by that. Arsene too conceded that we had to come back from a difficult start to the match.

“The only regret I have is that we didn’t take the three points in the second half. We started the first half slowly, Manchester United were sharper at the beginning, and we were a bit stretched as well width and length-wise. The second half we were more compact and we took over. We showed a great response and got a deserved point.”

The result means that effectively a point from our two remaining home games should seal automatic Champions League group phase qualification, but to finish as runners up we need to win both and hope that Southampton can win at City next Sunday. Never say never, but that appears a tall order right now.

In the meantime let’s just enjoy our ‘unbeaten in Manchester’ season. They don’t come along too often.

Manchester United versus Arsenal, and neither side can win the title. Those are words that have not applied to this fixture too many times over the last twenty years. Not that this match is insignificant at all. The runners-up spot in the League will almost certainly be Manchester City’s if they can beat Swansea away tomorrow, and Southampton at home next Sunday. Should they falter then Arsenal are likeliest to overhaul them.

Then there is a separate battle to avoid fourth place in the table, and a Champions League qualifier in August. Victory at Old Trafford would cement at least third place for Arsenal and condemn United to that play-off. Even were the home team to triumph then Arsenal could keep them in the last qualifying place in our final two home games against Sunderland and West Brom.

This is the pointed end of the season, and the FA Cup Finalists will be looking to regain form and confidence quickly after Monday night’s surprise reverse at home to Swansea. We looked at the injury list on Thursday, and we still have a very strong squad to pick from, but after fielding an unchanged starting line-up for five consecutive Premier League fixtures the boss hinted at some changes.

“We have three games to finish the season and it’s important that everybody contributes until the end. It’s important that at some stage you freshen up.”

Freshening up could take many forms. Caution could mean that those who have not put in a full week at Shenley, Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck, getting a rest until Sunderland visit the Grove on Wednesday. Theo Walcott has been clicking his heels on the bench lately and could replace Aaron on the right. Jack Wilshere and Gabriel may also come into the picture. I hope the full-back positions are not tinkered with.

For the hosts Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, and Luke Shaw will not feature, and defender Jonny Evans is a doubt, but Angel Di Maria, Robin van Stapleton and Marcos Rojo are available again. One would assume that van Stapleton and Falcao will be the candidates to replace Rooney, with Jones coming in for Shaw as the only changes from the United side that won at Crystal Palace last week. That result was perhaps made all the more impressive by Palace’s 1-3 win at Anfield this weekend?

The ‘holic pound

Dat guy scores at Old Trafford

Now we did win an FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford 1-2 just ten short weeks ago, but our rare-of-late recent League triumphs on United soil have been by that famous ‘one-nil to the Arsenal’ margin, and that is the choice for the destination of the ‘holic pound. The market is surprisingly generous about this outcome, Paddy Power for example offering nines against it coming to fruition. That suggests my confidence could be misplaced. We’ll see.

As usual I look forward to hearing the traveling faithful loud and clear on the match broadcast, and I wish you all a wonderful day/weekend out in the north-west. As for the rest of us let’s hope for a good signal, and three crucial points to ensure that Champions League group phase place.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

This has been a strange day for Arsenal news wise. Most amusing is the story that we are set to profit by around £3m if Barcelona beat Juventus in the Champions League Final as a result of a clause in the Thomas Vermaelen deal.

Of course that is made more remarkable by the fact that the former Gunners skipper has yet to kick a ball in anger for his new employers, having only just returned from a long term hamstring injury. Sorry Juve fans, but I’ll be rooting for Barca in that Final.

There is the usual range of transfer rumours which suggest that nothing much else is happening. Speculation, regulars will tell you, is not really my bag, but one potential move reported by the Star caught my eye. Tomas Rosicky, out of contract in the summer, could be set to return to his former club, Sparta Prague.

At 34 he isn’t likely to secure a regular starting place at the Grove, but in 2013, and 2014, I thought him one of the key players, a positive driving force from midfield in the second-half of both seasons. It would be a shame to lose that gift.

I know he has spent long periods out through injury since joining us nine years ago. His 28 goals and 244 appearances should ensure him a wonderful ovation at the end of the season if it is to be his last in an Arsenal shirt.

Hopefully Tomas will be in the squad to face Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. Arsene revealed today that Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will not. Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey will face late tests before that squad is finalised.

Should Rambo be fit I wonder what the odds are that we might have the same starting line-up for the sixth Premier League match in succession?

Although still ruled out the Ox has spoken to Arsenal Player about the match on Sunday.

“You can definitely take confidence from any win at Old Trafford. It’s a hard place to go and win, especially against a good Manchester United side. It will be a tough game but we can take positives from our last trip there in the FA Cup and the win that we managed to come away with.”

A third win in Manchester in a season? That would be something. Come back on Saturday evening for a preview and the ‘holic pound.

Cheers ‘holics.

A Tale Of Two Keepers

A tough weekend turned into a worse one for Arsenal as Swansea pulled off a smash and grab at the Grove. Second place is no longer in our hands, three points behind Manchester City, albeit with a game in hand, and nine goals worse off.

We started the match positively enough, and before three minutes had elapsed Olivier Giroud headed narrowly over from Aaron Ramsey’s cross. However we were flattering to deceive, The visitors massed ranks, and as usual I won’t blame them for that, ensured a crowded midfield dogfight. Swansea borrowed a familiar gameplan, for we know they can be more ambitious. They combined the physical with far from subtle time wasting, and you know who I think should deal with that.

In fairness they were not slow to spring forward when gaps appeared, and David Ospina saved at his near post from Rangel. That was a rare venture into Arsenal turf though. The home side, totally dominant in terms of territory and possession, but lacking in creativity and speed of movement, hoped for a penalty when Alexis was tugged in the box, but Kevin Friend was having none of it.

After the break the urgency returned and Arsenal created much more. Hector Bellerin lost his marker on the right and a teasing cross toward Olivier Giroud was just defended, last gasp style. Alexis, lively as ever, but struggling with his distribution, had a couple of good chances but this was not his night as he could only find the side-netting and the grateful arms of the returning Fabianski.

Giroud, freed by Mesut Ozil, could only fire straight at his former team-mate who was growing in confidence as a result of being presented with a number of comfortable saves. The inevitable substitutions saw, perhaps controversially, Francis Coquelin and Giroud again withdrawn for Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. Both contrived to hit great chances into the arms of the magnetic Pole, if you will forgive the pun.

With five minutes remaining the positive had taken to social media to say we would nick it, whilst the pessimistic were warning of impending doom. Said doom duly arrived in an awful repeat of the moment in the reverse fixture when Gomis was left one on one with Nacho Monreal to feast on a far post cross. Ospina made what appeared to be a pigs ear of a gentle effort, but criticism of the Columbian is harsh when you take a step back. His mistakes that have cost us goals and points wouldn’t even require the fingers and thumb of one hand this season.

That the ten match unbeaten run was ended is a frustration for many tonight, this not-even-a-hack included. Perspective is easy to talk about when that run is in full flow, and harder to achieve on such an evening. We fielded what most have agreed is our strongest starting eleven, a settled side indeed, but sometimes things don’t click the way they have before. Arsene was Arsene after the event.

“It was a question of being patient enough and if we couldn’t win it not to lose it. Overall I was encouraged by the quality that we showed in the second half, but it’s frustrating. When you cannot win a game, don’t lose it. We knew exactly what could happen.”

So we have United away next up. A second win of the season at Old Trafford would guarantee third place and our automatic qualification for the Champions League next season. Failing that we have the back-up of beating Sunderland and West Brom at home to achieve the same objective.

Let’s take time tonight to appreciate the run that put us in that position.

Cheers all.

Time To Play Catch Up

A mixed weekend is drawing to a close as I type. We find ourselves sandwiched between the two Manchester clubs after both recorded victories, but mathematically our nineteenth consecutive top four berth was sealed when Chelsea and Liverpool drew at the bus stop in Fulham.    

We can ensure automatic Champions League group phase qualification with two more wins, or victory against Swansea in the Monday night game plus a draw at Old Trafford next Sunday.    

Swansea arrive at the Grove in eighth place having been in contention for a Europa League place for most of the season. It looks as though they won’t quite make it, but it has still been a good season for Garry Monk’s team.    

We have nobody fit to return to the squad that took on Hull City last Monday, and could possibly lose Aaron Ramsey who was injured in that match and had not trained all week when Arsene addressed his press conference on Friday. Jack Wilshere or Theo Walcott would be in contention to replace him if he doesn’t make it.    

The visitors will be without defender Jordi Amat, and striker Nelson Oliveira, but should welcome back Dwight Tiendalli, Jazz Richards, and Bafetimbi Gomis. The latter grabbed the winner in the reverse fixture at Swansea in November when we allowed a 0-1 lead to slip in the final fifteen minutes.    

The ‘holic pound    

The ‘holic pound, on a hot streak of one, is ventured on a nervous evening ending in a 2-1 win against well organized opponents. Paddy Power are wary of this and offer sevens.    

All that remains is for me to wish you an enjoyable Monday culminating in three valuable points, and to apologise for a weekend of essential maintenance on the server which kept the site unavailable for long spells.    

Have a good one, ‘holics.

The Arsenal Hub, the new home of Arsenal in the Community, opened its doors to the public for the first time on Friday for a special launch event. The opening coincided with the 30th anniversary of Arsenal in the Community, who have been delivering meaningful community projects in Islington since 1985.

The Arsenal in the Community team’s new base will deliver 50 hours of sports and education sessions to 1,500 local people each week when it is fully up and running later this year. Based around a 50m long 4G astro-turf pitch, the facility also houses classrooms, meeting space and the Arsenal Red Zone adult learning centre.

Per Mertesacker and Francis Coquelin joined over 100 invited guests to celebrate the opening of the Hub. The Head of Arsenal in the Community, the long-serving Alan Sefton, welcomed everybody, including the MP for Islington North Jeremy Corbyn. Alan commented “We are really excited to be up and running in our new centre. It’s a fantastic facility which will allow us to run more sessions and work with more individuals in the local area than ever before.”

The first official game on the pitch was between participants from a range of Arsenal in the Community programmes. Mertesacker and Coquelin kicked off the match and acted as team managers. The Gunners duo also took a tour of the Hub, meeting participants from the Arsenal Employability programme and the club’s Gap Year scheme, before dropping in on schoolchildren from four Islington primary schools, who were taking part in the club’s flagship education programme the Arsenal Double Club.

The Arsenal Hub was inspired by the ‘JVC’ centre at Highbury. Its opening marks the completion of the £390-million Emirates Stadium regeneration project since the Gunners’ move from Highbury in 2006.

That Arsenal have such a presence in the community is a source of considerable pride for club and supporters alike. Long may Alan and his team deliver such a wonderful service.

It is really difficult trying to work out how to review a game. Sometimes a simple match report seems appropriate. How many people will have watched it? Try and build a picture for those that didn’t. Then there are nights like tonight.

On social media it seemed as if everyone was watching us bid to seal a twentieth consecutive St Totteringham’s Day celebration. All the continents were certainly represented on my timelines. The nuts and bolts of what happened are already evident to you.

So it is the lot of the blogger to try and convey a sense of the nature of the evening, a very personal appreciation of a performance witnessed by most as it happened. That isn’t as easy as it sounds. The temptation is to gush about a team that clicked into gear and threatened to run up a cricket score (well, an England cricket score anyway!).

The first-half performance tonight bordered on the sensational. Yet there are those who will jump on any suggestion that, with the benefit of a settled starting eleven, we are getting to see what players with the ability of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and Aaron Ramsey can achieve. “It’s just Hull. We’re flat track bullies.”

I don’t buy that entirely, but understand it. Hull came into the match on the back of two wins, including defeating Liverpool in their last home match. They won that game by doing the things that other clubs have done to frustrate us so many times in the past. Tonight they were set up to do the same. Not only did they attempt to deny us time and space in which to play our intricate passing game, but they allied that to a very physical approach indeed.

One cannot blame them for that. They are fighting for Premier League survival and will do whatever is necessary to achieve it. It is up to the referee to ensure that malicious play is kept to a minimum, and as usual I am happy in victory to express some dissatisfaction at the performance of Lee Mason in this regard. But enough of him for now.

Prompted by the mercurial Santi, gilded by the magical Ozil, driven by the industrious Ramsey, powered by the perpetual motion of Alexis, we wove pretty patterns around those intent on breaking up a spectacle that was evolving. These are now our four musketeers, reminders of days past, and hopefully deliverers of a great future. Not that Hull were toothless, and indeed with Brady providing a couple of quality early crosses we could easily have gone behind.

Yet the memories of the half will be of the interactions between Arsenal’s class players. Ozil, like a thief in the night, dispossessed the lumbering Huddlestone and freed Alexis. Livermore, booked minutes earlier for an awful challenge on Ramsey, brought him down from behind. No second yellow from Mason. Alexis, affronted, saw his free-kick deflected over the ‘keeper by Dawson. Justice and retribution in one.

It is impossible not to gush about Santi’s pass to Rambo for the second, but the Welshman still had work to do to fashion his also deflected finish. “You’ve only come to see the Arsenal”, indeed. The goalscorer linked with Ozil to turn provider for Alexis to get a second as an astonishing half drew to a close.

Now the second-half wasn’t as gripping as the first, but moments will remain in the memory, and none more so than Mesut’s unbelievable back heel pass without breaking stride. Pure playmaking porn. And yet Hull showed just why they are no pushovers by pulling back a goal through Quinn, albeit though Mason missed a foul by Meyler on Laurent Koscielny in the build-up.

Controversially the same two players came together again shortly afterwards and the Hull Man needed treatment for a cut below the eye for what appeared an accidental stamp by Koscielny. Mason should have stopped the game for a head injury, but didn’t. He isn’t biased, just incompetent. Hull’s crowd hated him as much as us, it appeared.

We might have added the three goals that would have taken us back to second place on goal difference. The attacking intent was there, and the arrival of Jack Wilshere as a substitute gave us a different threat.

Nobody was more surprised than I to pick up a few welcome pounds though as the game fizzled out on the 1-3 scoreline I had suggested a little punt on beforehand. That is perhaps the difference though between this side and the one that featured the likes of Vieira, Pires, Bergkamp, and Henry. On spring nights in good conditions they put opponents to the sword. Do you recall the six and seven-up shows against Southampton and Everton, for example?

Most importantly though we are now two wins away from securing third place and automatic Champions League qualification. Let’s leave United with the problem of a qualifier in August. Hang it all, let’s get the three wins and a draw that would secure second place for the first time in a decade. Then let’s go sign the couple of world class players who would surely take us one step further next season.

Yes, it is that sort of a night. Arsenal are back.

A weekend of mixed news for followers of Arsenal saw Manchester United drop valuable home points, Chelsea secure the Premier League title with three matches to play, and Manchester City to keep up the pressure in the battle for the runners-up berth with a win at the neighbours. Everybody has played before us. So to Hull on a Monday night.

The team news, such as it was on Friday, Is that Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are ruled out, and Mathieu Debuchy is a doubt with a hamstring injury. The team that started the last three Premier League fixtures may well get the nod again.

The Gunners are a win tomorrow night away from all but mathematically clinching a top four berth with four matches to spare. A point would make Monday officially St Totteringham’s Day, the twentieth season in succession that this particular feast day has been celebrated.

The home team are fighting for Premier League survival. They are level on points with in-form Leicester, and just a point clear of Sunderland, currently occupying the third relegation spot. That should come as a surprise to those who saw them cruise into a 2-0 lead against us in last season’s FA Cup Final. They have not used that as a springboard for progress.

Having said that Hull have won their last two matches, beating Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park before a single goal triumph against Liverpool at home last Tuesday. They will have a game plan, doubtless a familiar one of defend in numbers and hope to spring a surprise on the break. This Arsenal side has become used to dealing with such a ploy and should hopefully produce the perfect fast-passing and intricate attacking game that tires so many sides.

The ‘holic pound is persuaded to go for a 1-3 Gunners triumph, a 13/1 shot with Paddy Power. I’ve looked at the weather forecast for Hull and the conditions should be perfect for the visitors to play to their strengths and wear down Steve Bruce’s battlers.

For those traveling to watch despite Sky Sports somewhat heartlessly moving the fixture to a Monday night, and our allocation has sold out, I hope you are rewarded with a proper spring evening performance from the boys. Once again this season the traveling support has been fantastic. This is yet one more example of that.

And with that, for once I will finish by saying ‘holics, I hope you had a good one. I know I did.

P.S. In the last set of drinks did I notice some of you going from bard to verse?

P.P.S If you haven’t yet listened to Friday’s ‘A Bergkamp Wonderland’ podcast featuring Jason Davies, Raj Patel, Geoff Arsenal, and yours truly, then you can find it here. Cheers.

Another guest post for you this evening. A topical piece from our very own Snowy (good man Snowy!) on an aspect of commercialism that loomed large this week. Don’t just look away. Snowy makes a number of valid points and we aren’t playing until Monday night so take time to read the piece and comment, respectfully, in the drinks that follow. Thank s all, and thanks Snowy.

In a week where football commentary looked likely to be dominated by Chelsea’s monotone defence of their dreary style of play, and an ostrich-related breakdown by the Leicester boss, a small news item popped up on Arsenal.com that caught my eye, and for entirely the wrong reasons.

Now in general Arsenal.com is not a place I suspect any of us would turn to for fashion news, should any of us be looking for such news at all. But it must be said the recent appointment of Lanvin as Club tailors has had a rather refreshing effect on the demeanour of the first team as they turn up for games. They look smart, polished, every inch the professional. And what’s not to like there?

So it was something of an unwelcome surprise to see that the photo accompanying a few paragraphs of PR puff, about a Lanvin photo shoot with some of the players, was quite possibly the creepiest thing I have ever seen on the Club’s website. And I mean really, hideously, skin-crawlingly, creepy.

I’m not entirely sure what was more disturbing – the sight of some of our most respected first teamers leering ‘Benny Hill With Money’© style as a female model spindled before their jauntily seated selves, or the fact that said model was so painfully thin, that I am actually concerned for her health.

I realise that, in the grand scheme of things, a bit of fluff such as this is but a trifle, and we have many more pressing concerns. But it did set me to thinking about whose company we are all automatically keeping as Arsenal takes the shilling from our growing list of sponsors.

Most drinkers in this bar, whilst clearly holding many different political views, likely agree on many of the broader ethical issues of our time with respect to human rights, homophobia, sexism, child labour, and so on. Some of us may also make everyday purchasing decisions based on those types of ethical considerations too.

And that’s good, because generally we have plenty of choice, and can avoid brands associated with child or convict labour, poor worker safety records, or any other aspect of their practice we might object to. But football is different. It’s not a brand we buy. It’s a brand we join. And once joined (with the exception of the herds of plastics) we tend to stay for life.

Of course, by and large this is all fine. The various sponsorship deals in football come and go, and either enhance or impair our relationships with the sponsoring brands as they do so. I’m sure I’m not the only one who back in the day only purchased TVs and videos that were adorned with the letters JVC. And I may not be the only one who refused to drink Holsten (then) or purchase a Samsung phone (now) for very similar reasons.

So what’s changed? Well for one thing the benefits afforded to sponsoring brands have probably never been higher, and the reach never wider.

In the aftermath of last season’s FA cup triumph a rather charming video went viral which included celebrations from supporters clubs around the world. Everywhere we look – from last week’s clever little interactive map of Twitter supporters, to a glance at the Club own website, confirms the extent of our global reach.

Clearly all of this increases the Club’s appeal to potential sponsors, and will inevitably result in the number of brands and companies who want to be associated with the Club growing ever larger. Which is good, surely? Money is money, and we need the revenue streams. So who even cares?

Well I care, because I’m pretty bloody fussy about the company I keep. And I really hated that Lanvin puff piece on the club website, not just because it made members of our senior squad look stupid, but because it gave a very public platform to a key participant in an industry that is associated with utterly despicable behaviours, ranging from a long history of hideous labour practices and abuse of minors, to near universal eating disorders.

Put simply that’s not company I wish to keep at all. And it is singularly inappropriate company for a Club that has previously taken great pride in improving the prospects of errant players by enforcing good nutrition and healthier lifestyles as well.

Once upon a time it was just the two of us – supporter and club. Gate money played a massive part of the Club’s finances, and emptying terraces saw things, occasionally, change. Now that the sponsor has muscled in I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m beginning to feel a bit crowded out of the picture.

Of course I’m glad we have good commercial deals. We have after all been crying out for improvements in that area for years. Is it too much to ask that they are reputationally appropriate as well as commercially viable?

And if we don’t like them, is there anything we can do?

Not Only, But Also.

If you want to help some disadvantaged kids out with a design competition please read comment/drink #34 that follows. This pdf (click on KIDS below) contains the designs they have come up with and on which they would like to receive some feedback. Thanks.

KIDS

Once more it is time for one of ours to reveal his hitherto hidden talents with a guest blog. Gunner1948 has been kind enough to pen a piece about Arsenal’s elevation to the top flight after the First World War. Thank you very much for your contribution, young man! Enjoy, all.

On April 24th, 2015, exactly 100 years passed since Arsenal played their last Second Division fixture. Nottingham Forest were beaten 7-0 at Highbury and the Gunners finished in fifth place behind Preston, Derby, Barnsley and Wolves. The Great War then interrupted league football until August 1919 when it all kicked off again.

At this point a dedicated student of the game might have wondered what Arsenal were doing in Division One. Certainly Barnsley and Wolves must have been somewhat miffed. Poor Barnsley had to wait another 72 seasons before winning promotion to the Premiership where they came face-to-face with Dennis Bergkamp. Enough said!

There are various conspiracy theories on record to explain how the Gunners chairman, Sir Henry Norris, who had kept Arsenal afloat during some very lean years, managed to get his team promoted. Much is spoken of the ‘fixed’ meeting of Manchester United and Liverpool which would lead to the relegation of Chelsea. However the First Division was being expanded by two teams.

The League, wanting very much to avoid admitting that match fixing had occurred therefore elected Chelsea to fill one of the extra places given that they would not have gone down but for the collusion between United and Liverpool.

The other relegated club, Tottenham of all clubs, also argued they should remain, but the Football League took the view that they had been relegated on merit and chose instead, after some skilful lobbying by Norris, to elevate the Gunners to the top flight.

No matter the reason, the footballing gods got it right on the day. The proof being Arsenal’s unbroken string of eighty-nine consecutive top-flight seasons. No one else comes close. Everton are next with a mere sixty-one and I’d be willing to bet they don’t make it to eighty-nine.

Go Arsenal, Beat Villa!

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