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It’s August, and Arsenal are trailing at half-time in the northwest. Two second half goals get us a result. Next time out we are spared a home defeat against Portsmouth by the infamous Robert Pires penalty award. Now nobody is claiming that eleven years on that this Arsenal side is in any sort of shape to emulate the invincibles. However the invincibles didn’t look invincible every week. A season is always made up of a mixture of performances, usually ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Last season we suffered too many of the ridiculous, and missed out on the title by seven points as a result. Today we returned to the scene of one of those appalling performances with a side that caused some raised eyebrows. Eyebrows that climbed further when the match got underway and we had Per Mertesacker on the left of Calum Chambers and next to Nacho Monreal, in for the injured Kieran Gibbs. Mathieu Flamini stood in for the injured skipper in front of the back four.

There were a couple of surprises further forward. Mesut Ozil was recalled but lined up on the left hand side while Jack Wilshere somewhat surprisingly remained in the ‘number ten’ role. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was called up on the right with Alexis Sanchez switching to the centre in place of the benched Olivier Giroud.

To be fair we started brightly enough. Roberto Martinez had spoken beforehand of the importance of keeping possession, and Arsenal most certainly had the lions share of the opening exchanges. Everton were relying on pacy counter attacks when the Gunners coughed up the ball in attacking areas. Just eighteen minutes in the match, and the mood of many watching, turned when Coleman sprinted past Ozil to head home a far post cross. We were on the back foot and Everton drew confidence from that opener, and why wouldn’t they? They are a good side.

Just before half-time came the moment that could have cost us three points and not just two. We didn’t cover ourselves in glory defensively, but Lukaku’s clear foul on Mertesacker was ignored in the build-up to a clearly offside Naismith being freed to score. For once the former Rangers man’s inner ear infection did not cause him to lose his balance unexpectedly.

Half-time afforded Arsene the opportunity to change his game plan, and quite rightly, earlier than usual, he took said opportunity, sending on Giroud for Alexis. It must have been tempting to keep the Chilean on and go 4-4-2, but the boss decided to retain the starting formation. Of course the first chance of the half fell to the big man who blazed a tricky opportunity over, but his availabilty gave us an outlet that hadn’t existed earlier and caused Everton some consternation.

Two further chances fell to Giroud and went begging, and with just over a quarter of an hour remaining Santi Cazorla and Joel Campbell were introduced for Wilshere and the Ox. Santi went into the hole vacated by Jack and Ozil remained a lonely figure out wide. I can’t help thinking that any psychological lift to Jack by starting him in that position could be outweighed by forcing our best passer of a ball into an unfamiliar role. The name Arshavin was mentioned on Twitter. Harsh, I’m sure. Once fully match fit surely Mesut will be back in the engine room?

Seven minutes were left when Arsenal got one back, Aaron Ramsey (who else?) getting into the box to convert Santi’s fabulous cross. The traveling faithful upped their volume from 10 to 11. A match that for so long had seemed lost was now looking salvageable. The visitors had the bit between their teeth. There was an air of inevitability about who would score the equaliser. The harshly maligned Giroud won the grappling contest with Distin to head home Monreal’s cross.

So at a venue of one of last season’s spineless capitulations we salvaged a point from what had appeared for so long a hopeless position. That says much about the spirit in this squad. A point closer to the seven that cost us so dear in a season on season comparison. Nobody will pretend we are where we need to be right now, but the unbeaten run is extended, and both history and common sense says there is still much to come from this squad. Yes, it would be desirable to address a couple of glaring weaknesses in the final week of the transfer window, but this squad is close.

I wonder how we will look back on this result in eleven years time?

Oh, and SkyGo, thank you for this. Contributed to an eventful evening.

 

April Shower

So I have a routine. Friday evening I have the first pints since Sunday, then watch the presser, then try and fashion some sort of a preview. Maybe it is too routine. I am about to find out. No presser seen, and I’m not sure all the Kate Bush footage I have seen this evening will inform my opinion of our trip to Goodison tomorrow (or probably later today by the time I finish this!)

Welcome to the world of blogs, where every now and again an unprofessional and impromptu offering can be thrust out there. So, should we start with remembering the utter whacking we took up there less than six months ago? Perhaps not. It matters not now.

Unfortunately Mikel Arteta is ruled out after his ‘coming together’ wiith Demba Ba on Tuesday. On the plus side our World Cup winners are back in training, but as none of them is suited to the deep-lying midfield role I will assume that Mathieu Flamini is the likeliest replacement. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is an interesting alternative, but surely does his best work in attacking areas?

Of the Germans I would be very surprised if Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil don’t start. I have loved Calum Chambers first appearances in an Arsenal shirt, but Per is the finished article and needed for our first ‘north-west on Saturday teatime’ test. That is Arsenal’s equivalent of a ‘cold Tuesday night in Stoke’.

Lots of nonsense has been spouted about our attacking options. For those who have not seen it I would recommend Tim Stillman’s excellent column on Arseblog this week. We are feeling our way into the new season. Given our last four competitive fixtures have yielded an FA Cup, the Community Shield, three precious points on the opening day of the new Premier league season, and a draw at a tricky Champions League qualifying away venue, I would urge some patience and restraint. Then again I would, wouldn’t I? It’s what I do.

So we are in pretty good shape, Theo and Gibbo apart. What of the bluenoses? Ross Barkley, Arouna Kone and Bryan Oviedo are likely to miss out. So what? Looks like they will have a decent side out too. Until April Goodison has held no terrors for us for a while, but the beating we took that day was significant. Having said that it would be a surprise to many neutral observers if Everton were able to impose themselves on the visitors in a similar fashion.

The ‘holic pound? Let’s face it, at this stage of the season it really is all guesswork. Keep your money in your pocket is the best tip, but I have a sense of mischief about me. I am attracted to the 0-3 to avenge last season in kind. Thirty to one is on offer. Can we keep a clean sheet? If you are sceptical then 1-3 can be grabbed at 22/1. I am on both. It is what you do at, oh wait, it is now matchday!

For those who bought tickets before the television rescheduling and who are still going, have an absolute blast. There are no trains back to London after the game so many have been shafted, but when did the Premier League, Sky, or BT et al, ever give a monkeys about supporters?

And so to the customary have a good one ‘holics. Let’s enjoy today, and indeed the rest of the weekend.

I feel the need for a somewhat defensive post about the goal-less draw with Besiktas tonight mainly because of the reaction on social media sites, but actually that is not how I feel about the game. For much of the ninety minutes I saw two commited teams trying to fashion an open contest on a cabbage patch of a pitch, which by the way was the same for both sides.

The match could have had a sensational opening, Ba trying his luck from the centre circle and thankfully Wojciech Szczesny got enough on the effort to tip it onto the bar. Just minutes later the Arsenal ‘keeper denied the same player. Besiktas, with former young Gunner Ozyakup prominent, were giving it a go in front of their vociferous following.

The visitors hit back though with Alexis Sanchez fashioning a couple of half chances for Olivier Giroud. If match fit the Frenchman might have notched one of them. That he isn’t, which is why Yaya Sanogo has been preferred when available thus far. As the half came to a close the Frenchman was set up by a fabulous Aaron Ramsey chipped pass but he took a rusty air shot. Hopefully in coming games we will see the improvement that only games can give at this stage of the season. That having been said, should a quality goalscorer come available before the end of the month we should be in there. Not surprisingly there aren’t that many available, so a premium will have to be offered.

I took a step back from the immediacy of Twitter responses towards the end of the half, and actually enjoyed the battle of wills unfolding in front of me. You expect a degree of tactical awareness from a Slaven Bilic side, and I thought their willingness to trade openly was a testament to their belief they could pull off an upset. That made Arsenal’s defensive discipline all the more pleasing. Calum Chambers, one slip on the rutted surface aside remains a more than capable deputy for Per Mertesacker. I am tremendously impressed with his start to a career in an Arsenal shirt.

The second half started as the first had ended. A great chance for the Arsenal but Aaron Ramsey just not quite able to apply the finishing touch to a Giroud through ball in a twist of fate. Demba Ba took out Mikel Arteta in the build up to a great chance for Sahan, and Mathieu Flamini came on for his customary yellow card. Unfortunately Aaron Ramsey made a premature departure after picking up a second yellow for a tug at Ozyakup, who tumbled somehat easily and theatrically. A lesson learned for Aaron hopefully. He made it easy for a weak referee to show that card.

Still the ten men could have nicked it when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain brought a fine save from Zengin, who managed to turn the effort onto the post. One could argue it would have been no more than Arsenal deserved on the night, but at the same time I would understand Besiktas fans saying that their team did not deserve to lose, and I would agree.

The quality might not have shone through tonight, but it was hardly likely to on such a poor playing surface. I rather fancy we may see a more disciplined counter-attacking game from Besiktas next week on the carpet at the Grove. An away goal would certainly put the cat among the pigeons, but I have to believe with the Germans returning, and another ninety minutes at Goodison under the belt, that we will be stepping up a gear in the home leg of a fascinating match-up.

The game looms that emphasises the importance of a top three, not a top four finish in the Premier League. We head off for Turkey for the final qualifying round of the Champions League minus the three World Cup winning Germans, Kieran Gibbs, and Yaya Sanogo. The latter two have picked up injuries at the weekend. It happens, so let’s not go overboard on that.

What do I know about the opposition. Well for Besiktas in 2014 probably as much, or as little, as you. I have seen the names. Demba Ba, our own (once) Ozzy Ozyakup, and the manager, Slaven Bilic. I don’t watch Turkish football other than when we are over there, and that probably says more about my footballing prejudices than anything else. I don’t know the way they play. I do, however, know something of their history having been to Istanbul for our meeting with Fenerbahce thirty five years ago, and chatted football with some obliging locals.

Besiktas, it is fair to say, fall behind Fener and Galatasaray for many who do not follow Turkish football. In fact they are another big club in Turkish terms, having been champions thirteen times (ring any bells?), and Turkish cup winners on nine occasions (ok, we win on that measure). Significantly their best European campaigns have seen them reach the last eight of both the European Cup (1987) and Uefa Cup (2003). Yes, we should expect to progress, but not without one hell of a fight.

With Laurent Koscielny now expected to start the only obvious changes from the starting eleven for Arsenal on Saturday would be Nacho Monreal for Gibbs at left-back, and Olivier Giroud for Sanogo up top. Could there be others? How about Mathieu Flamini, wheeled out for the pre-match press conference, in place of either Mikel Arteta or Jack Wilshere? Maybe Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain too?

Our history in this qualifying round is reassuring. We have come through some tricky challenges. Not least last year when we went back to Fener and won the first leg 3-0 to ensure a comfortable passage. However, it wasn’t a World Cup year and we were further down the line in terms of pre-season preparation. The ‘holic pound is unusually conservative, but don’t take that as a sign of nerves. I think we are in line for another 2-1 win , as Saturday, and am happy to take the relatively meagre 15/2 or thereabouts on that scoreline.

So have a good one tomorrow, ‘holics, especially anyone who has made the trip out to Istanbul. Let’s forget the transfer window, and who we may or may not need in the coming fortnight. This qualifier is more important than anything else on the horizon for the next 24 hours at very least. Well, footballistically anyway.

Did I spell that right?

A minute left on the clock. It’s 1-1. I turn to the neighbour and say “The last time I left a game early, we won. I’m off to see if it works again.” So I skipped, not quite gazelle like, up the stairs and by the time I hit the bottom of the steps outside the roar from whence I had just come told me that once again I had secured an important triumph for the Arsenal.

That we were in such a position was owed a great deal to defensive determination, and no small amount of time-wasting, by the visitors. Alexis and Mathieu Debuchy once again served notice of a growing understanding on the right hand side in the early stages, but a string of half-chances were scant reward for our early pressure. Jack Wilshere came closest to opening the scoring but he was denied by Speroni, a central figure in the contest.

This being opening day, which we haven’t handled too well in recent years, Palace conjured up a goal from nowhere. A near post corner was glanced home by Hangeland, who had got the run on Laurent Koscielny. Some more work to be done, Bouldy, if we are to persist with zonal marking. Ten minutes to the break. Could we get back in it?

Thankfully the answer was in the affirmative, Kos himself getting on the end of an Alexis free-kick and contorting himself to make the required headed finish. Almost the final act of the half it ensured a positive reaction from the home support at the whistle.

The second-half continued in much the same vein. Palace were defending in numbers and in depth and with Speroni ensuring the clock was ticking away. Kieran Gibbs signalled to the bench that he was unfit to continue. Nacho Monreal was the obvious replacement. Yaya Sanogo, who had endured a difficult afternoon was next to go and Olivier Giroud offered a different threat. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for Jack Wilshere and that allowed Santi Cazorla to inject his guile into the central area.

Chances were created down the left as Alexis switched flanks and brought Monreal into the game, and a couple of excellent crosses lacked only a cool finishing touch. Then Puncheon rightly collected a second yellow for a nasty challenge on Monreal. I turned to the neighbour to say… and Aaron Ramsey converted the one opportunity he had all evening in time added on, courtesy of a spill by Speroni. Karma, indeed.

And so back to where the afternoon had started, The Tollington most definitely more full than the Grove. During the course of pre and post match ‘refreshments’, as is always the case, a lot of friends old and new provided chat, laughter, and a feelgood factor never far away. They came from the Netherlands, San Francisco, and Lincoln, or wherever it is Silva lives these days. A positivity is building that certainly wasn’t dampened by a scrappy 2-1 home win courtesy of me taking one for the team.

An Air Of Expectation

Knocking on a wee bit I may be, but there is something about the start of this season that has me regressing, and in a good way. When was the last time the buzz was this strong? I cannot honestly say but it is most certainly what some would label ‘a while’.

A World Cup summer means there hasn’t been much of a break for the best players, or indeed the best clubs. Yet in that time Arsenal have done some excellent business and although we are probably in need of another couple of additions to strengthen our title claims further there is a look of quality and depth in the squad. If you haven’t already you can hear more of my thoughts on this week’s excellent Arsecast, which also features the always chatty and excellent Philippe Auclair.

That Laurent Koscielny is expected to be fit has eased the only nagging doubt about the starting eleven for the visit of Crystal Palace. With Per Mertesacker and his World Cup winning colleagues ruled out it is important that the Kos is able to line up alongside Calum Chambers in the heart of the defence.

Trickiest selection headache for Arsene is in midfield. Even without Mesut Ozil there is some real quality fighting for essentially three places. I would imagine if all are fit then Arsene will go with the Community Shield winning trio of Mikel Arteta holding, Aaron Ramsey from box to box, and Jack Wilshire at the pointed end.

Rambo aside, I am most looking forward to see a likely starting attacking trio of Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, and Santi Cazorla. There is a potentially amazing blend of pace, trickery, and strength in that combination. Of course Alexis has to get used to his new team mates but there were signs at Wembley last week that we have a really hardworking talent who will support Mathieu Debuchy as well as pose defenders serious problems when we are going forward.

What sort of state Palace arrive in is anyones guess. The eleventh hour departure of Tony Pulis could work both ways. Most of the preparation will have been done by Thursday night, and it may dawn on the visitors that they are now auditioning for a new gaffer. Similarly they may feel rudderless. Think what you will of Pulis, and I will never forget him for his behaviour post Rambo’s broken leg and subsequently, he performed something of a miracle keeping Palace up last season. As Liverpool discovered, hilariously to many, the South Londoners were no pushover come the end of the season.

The first ‘holic pound of the new season (I don’t count Rambo to score last week. It was inevitable) is punted on a positive outcome, not surprisingly to you I’m sure. Our recent history on opening day isn’t good, I know, but I am going for a complete reversal of that trend. To get any value at all I’m on 5-0 to the Gunners at 28/1. That’s more than double the ludicrously short odds on winning 4 or less to nil.

To those who are going it looks as though the forecast is for a warm and sunny August Saturday afternoon. Perfect for lazing in the pub garden with a half pint or two of something refreshing beforehand. I’ll see some of you there. The first day of any seaon always starts with a great sense of expectation. It doesn’t always end so but there is something in the air, a better atmosphere it seems. Let’s get of to a flier and maintain that positivity.

A reminder for Fantasy League enthusiasts The Goonerholic FPL has now been set up for the coming season, so please feel free to join us for a bit of fun at http://fantasy.premierleague.com. The code for joining the league is 1429286-330554.

Have a good one ‘holics.

Well that was fun, wasn’t it? Arsenal (no mention of the missing World Cup Germans or that we started with Olivier Giroud on the bench) thrashed a (media emphasis, much-weakened) Manchester City 3-0.

Arsene surprised a few with his selection of Yaya Sanogo to start in the main striking role, and although the former Auxerre youngster missed a golden opportunity to double Arsenal’s advantage in the first-half he contributed two assists as a rampant Arsenal simply overpowered the City midfield, Yaya Toure and a certain Mr Nasri included.

From the off the Gunners coveted possession and City were reduced to attempt countering on the occasional break. Arsenal’s right flank, with new boys Mathieu Debuchy and Alexis Sanchez prominent asked questions that the champions couldn’t find the answers to. Early chances were traded, Clichy heading clear under pressure from Sanogo and then Debuchy and Alexis retreated to thwart Nasri and Fernando respectively.

The lead that Arsenal richly deserved came in the 21st minute. Alexis fed Sanogo on the edge of the box and he found Santi Cazorla who made room for a left foot drive into the far corner. Remember the play, because you will see more of the same this season, I’m sure. In fact we did just 22 minutes later. Alexis burst down the right with pace and fed Sanogo on the edge of the box who in turn set up Aaron Ramsey for yet another Wembley finish from the scorer of the FA Cup winner in May.

It was mesmeric stuff, an intoxicating blend of passing and movement at pace with the ball, and solid defending with new boy Calum Chambers catching the eye alongside Laurent Koscielny. Few wanted the half-time whistle to arrive, but it did and signalled a trio of substitutions by Arsene. That of Nacho Monreal for Koscielny is the most concerning, given that it was because of an Achilles problem for the French international. With Per Mertesacker unlikely to figure next weekend it means we could face Palace with the Chambers and Nacho Monreal partnership that played the second-half at Wembley.

Alexis made way for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and, most significantly, Giroud came on for Sanogo. After City had twice tested Szczesny it was the big Frenchman who calmed the nerves, thumping a glorious left footer home from 22 yards out while surrounded by three blue-shirted defenders. In truth that knocked the stuffing out of a dispirited City. Their half-hearted attacks foundered more often than not on the rock that was Chambers today. He may struggle to get a game when we are back to full strength, but how often do we stay in that happy state?

Indeed looking at all three new boys who started today it seems clear that the squad is stronger already, although another couple of quality acquisitions would be welcome. Chambers, if as versatile as he is being touted, could do a more than adequate job in three roles. Debuchy I thought was excellent as an attacking wing-back. The quality of his crossing was a delight to the eye, but defensively he may need to concentrate a little more, having been beaten a little too easily a couple of times in the first-half. Nobody will be surprised, I’m sure, to hear me being effusive about Alexis. He seems to have so many qualities, and all allied to a willingness to work his socks off from back to front, on the right, and in the centre of the park. I’m salivating at the prospect of watching him play with Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott.

Yet from effusive it is time to plant one’s feet firmly on the ground again. Thirty-eight Premier League matches lie ahead. Beating the champions in a friendly, albeit a competitive and prestigious friendly, doesn’t put any points on the board. In the coming nine months we will hopefully close the gap on City that existed last season. We were the best team of the calendar year of 2013. Now let’s convert that to being the best team for a season, just for the fourteenth time.

 

The return of the domestic season brings with it a familiar old routine. Listen to Arsene’s presser, and put together a preview bigging up the Gunners chances of success in the fixture to come. Or maybe not, this week. It is the last week until next May when the result is secondary to the performance. We meet the reigning champions at Wembley for the Community Shield. Silverware it may be, but not important enough to be painted on a hoarding at the Grove.

What we do need to do is serve notice to Manchester City, and our other rivals in the coming months, that the soft centre brutally exposed by others on occasion last season is a thing of the past, even without our three World Cup winners. It will be more than a little interesting to see the eleven that Arsene starts with after the mixed messages he would have got last weekend. After what would be regarded as a second string had dismantled Benfica, a senior eleven failed to see off the challenge of Monaco.

If I were to guess how we we line-up I would imagine this might be an opportunity for David Ospina to make his debut in goal. Arsene knows well the shape that Wojciech Szczesny is in and the Pole is surely starting the season as number one, but a first appearance at Wembley would be quite the way to start the Colombian’s acclimatisation to English football. With Per Mertesacker missing there is an opportunity for Calum Chambers to partner Laurent Koscielny in the centre of defence, flanked by Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs.

Most intriguing of all are the midfield options. If Arsene sticks with his preferred formation from last season then Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey could form the base, with Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla flanking Tomas Rosicky in the main playmaking role. Given their respective performances last weekend there must be a temptation for Arsene to start Yaya Sanogo ahead of Olivier Giroud up front, but my hunch is that the latter will get the nod in a bid to get his match fitness closer to the expected level.

Even without our Germans that would leave a strong looking bench including Szczesny, Nacho Monreal, Jack Wilshere, Mathieu Flamini, Joel Campbell, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as well as the in-form Hector Bellerin. The Arsenal old boys, or Manchester City as they prefer to be known, provide a stern test, and as it is only a prelude to the new season I will not be risking the ‘holic pound on the outcome. Having said that, Aaron Ramsey to score at anytime looks an interesting proposition at 4/1.

To those going, I hope you have a wonderful day out, as ever.

Farewell skipper

It was as inevitable as it was sad that Thomas Vermaelen’s association with the club ended today with a move to our other old boys, Barcelona. Thomas was an excellent servant and a quality central defender unlucky to be around at the same time as we had Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. From captain to back-up must be a very difficult adaptation to make, but I saw at first hand his positive and enthusiastic approach at the club’s pre-Cup Final presser. At 28 the Belgian international wants regular first team football and at Barca he has an excellent chance of achieving that. Yes, we need a replacement, but that is for another day. For now can we just wish the departing Vermaelen all the best for his future, and thanks for what he brought to Arsenal Football Club.

The Goonerholic Fantasy Premier League

This has now been set up for the coming season, so please feel free to join us for a bit of fun at http://fantasy.premierleague.com. The code for joining the league is 1429286-330554.

That’s it for now. Have a great Sunday, ‘holics.

A Brief Friday Round Up

A long week has passed, and in truth has there been much concrete news to comment on? The only thing you can say with any certainty tonight (Friday) is that we will face Besiktas in the Champions League qualifier. On the face of it the draw has been kind, but are there any easy games in Turkey these days? There is a nice little sub-plot to the fixture with former young Gunner, Oggy Ozyakup, set to play against the club who sold him to Besiktas two years ago. Perhaps it is wise to introduce a note of caution. The Turks qualified with a 5-2 aggregate thumping of Feyenoord. Enough of a warning against any complacency, surely.

There have been no further major additions to the squad this week and the boss appeared to rule out a move for Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira, although it is hard to believe that any links were entirely orchestrated by the player’s agent in this particular instance. Further activity is anticipated, both in and out. I couldn’t help but smile when I read reports, as yet unconfirmed, that we had accepted a smaller offer from Barcelona than Manchester United for Thomas Vermaelen. Having said that the Catalans, unlike the Lancastrians, are rivals in Europe this season…

Moving swiftly on. Those who attended, and remember (yes, I saw the tweets!) yesterday’s Members Day at Arsenal seem well pleased with the entertainment provided, either at the stadium or in a local hostelry or two afterwards. The Junior Gunners in particularly were well looked after, and some enjoyed taking on their idols on the pitch as can be seen below. Thank you to Arsenal for sharing the images of the day.

All of which leaves the preview of Sunday’s Community Shield encounter with Manchester City until tomorrow. There is some talk tonight of Bacary Sagna not featuring for his new club. We shall see.

Have a fabulous Saturday, all.

I was struck by a hint of deja vu this afternoon. Forty-three years ago, almost to the day, I was at Highbury to see Arsenal beat a cracking Benfica side, including the great Eusebio, 6-2 in a pre-season friendly. Nobody expected that degree of victory that day, and Arsenal would go on to surprise and delight in the opening months of that season with their interpretation of total football, made fashionable by the great Ajax side of the era.

Today the new look, and decidedly under-strength Gunners almost repeated the achievement, mastering the Europa League finalists 5-1, and again it has to be said the manner of the victory was as unexpected as it was impressive. Arsenal took to the field minus their holidaying three German World Cup winners, and started with something of a who’s who on the bench comprising, among others, new boys Mathieu Debuchy and Alexis Sanchez, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, plus Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, and Olivier Giroud.

Some idea of the potential strength of the squad was evidenced by the performances of a number of squad players plus new signing Calum Chambers, a right back at Southampton last season, but paired with left-back Nacho Monreal in the centre of the Gunners defence. From the right flank of that defence Hector Bellerin gave an impressive display, getting forward at every opportunity. Behind them Damian Martinez, presumably still third choice goalkeeper following the arrival of David Ospina, produced a string of smart saves as the visitors broke dangerously.

The midfield saw Mathieu Flamini anchoring and thereby allowing attacking freedom to Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky, both of whom showed enormous energy and enthusiasm chasing back as well as probing further forward. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and (at last) Joel Campbell worked the flanks. Campbell looked unfortunate not to get a very early penalty, but his time would come.

Yaya Sanogo got the nod to start as the central striker. A bit of a Marmite figure for the supporter base with his failure to score last season, although his chances were few and far between and usually in high-pressure fixtures against good opposition. Today he gave a hint of what he could become. An early attempt from a Bellerin cross missed the target, but his next four efforts required retrieving from the back of the net. Bellerin and Ramsey combined to set him up for the first in the 25th minute, a simple backheel flick.

Sanogo then combined with Bellerin to set up Campbell for a superb volley and we had doubled our advantage. There followed an astonishing four minute burst either side of the break which saw Sanogo plunder another three goals as Benfica fell apart. Campbell provided the assist for number three after cleverly avoiding the offside trap, Kieran Gibbs set up the pick of Sanogo’s goals, an intricate near-post finish under pressure, before he was gifted an opportunity to start the second-half with another from a parried Moraes save.

The midfield was substituted just before the hour, and from a set piece Arsenal’s lack of height and organisation allowed Gaitan to head home a consolation. Were this not a makeshift back four one might have been inclined to worry more. The players will doubtless go over what happened in the week before a stronger defence lines up against Manchester City at Wembley. A word for new boy Chambers. He’ll have more strenuous tests of his ability than a demoralised Benfica provided after a lively intial burst, but what he did was assured and he must be in the frame to partner Laurent Koscielny at Wembley next week.

There was time for the moment most in attendance came to see. Alexis was intoduced on the left flank for the final seventeen minutes, and showed some wonderful touches. He has undoubted class and will bring pace and trickery to the attack this season. Should Campbell and Sanogo build on today, Podolski and Giroud gain fitness quickly, and Theo Walcott return before long, our attacking options suddenly look much rosier. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t expect us to add a proven goalscorer should one become available, but we look much better stocked than this time last year.

Beforehand I spoke of the need to sit back and take a wider view of the performances this weekend. As a draw or defeat with this starting eleven would not have been a cause for pitchforks and torches, so the impressive win should not provoke too much celebration and expectation. By half-time Benfica had visibly crumbled, and most Premier League opponents will test us more severely. However they were reduced to that level by some astonishing attacking football from Arsenal, and some quality finishing from Campbell and Sanogo. It’s where we would want to be tonight.

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