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Something called the Ryder Cup has prevented me from starting this preview until after nine in the evening. The fact that the afternoon foursomes are approaching halfway means this could take hours to complete! A big thank you first to those who have said such kind words about the Arsene twenty years piece. Save your admiration for the man who provided the memories that so many of us were happy to commit to print. The good work was entirely his.

Now, Burnley away. Not a match to be taken lightly as Liverpool and Watford can already attest. The Clarets also drew with Hull so are unbeaten at home so far this season. Those seven points have them comfortably outside of the relegation zone at present. If Sean Dyche does keep them up this season it will be one of the big stories.

Arsenal arrive at Turf Moor in astonishingly good form though. Four wins on the bounce since getting out of jail for free in Paris, the Gunners have been getting better with every passing match since. It is a run of form built on sun-bursting effort from the front four back. Don’t underestimate Hector Bellerin’s contribution to our furious attacking in recent weeks made possible by the tremendous job that Shkodran Mustafi has been doing alongside/behind him.

Arsene’s goalkeeper and back four is surely a given. A recall for Petr Cech behind a back four that has enabled consecutive blank sheets and reduced Diego Costa to pathetic petulance last Saturday. Their performance ensured the West Londoners didn’t get back into the game when making rare breaks into Arsenal territory last weekend.

The pairing in front of them is up in the air after a remarkable recovery by Francis Coquelin from his knee-knack against Chelsea which prompted a typical Arsenal “three weeks out” prognosis earlier this week. With no need to rush a player back under such circumstances it is likely that Granit Xhaka will get to partner Santi Cazorla, isn’t it?

With an international break coming I wouldn’t expect to see any change to the front four. We may have some decisions to make when players have travelled back to us but for now Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi, and Alexis, are so on fire that leaving any one of them out when important points are up for grabs would be unthinkable. Give them the opportunity to show that recent performances can be replicated, that they have allied confidence with application. Nobody in the Premiership is more potent right now.

It looks as though Dyche spent his small budget wisely in the summer on Jeff Hendrick and Steven Defour. Both have been linked with bigger clubs. Burnley will, however, be without key man Andre Gray for ill-advised comments made on Twitter four years ago. The FA moves in mysterious ways but taking so long to take action doesn’t show the governing body in the best light. (Nor the player himself, lest that thought is misinterpreted.)

The ‘holic pound

I have to listen again to what I said on this week’s A Bergkamp Wonderland podcast. You can help me perhaps?

Ok, so I am on 0-3 to the Arsenal, and I apologise for Gimli’s abusive response! I have found that available at nines which seems a tad skinny for an away team but we are in cracking form and bookmakers are not charities!

Those who are making the journey to an area of the country that a good friend refers to in less than complimentary terms, that I don’t use here, enjoy the pies and I pray you find some drinkable beers. Please let the boys put on yet another impressive and utterly enjoyable performance for you.

And to the rest of the ‘holics, as ever, have a great one.

Twenty Isn’t Plenty

On Saturday I have to thump out a preview of our trip to Burnley which means I would have to abbreviate any attempt at covering the last twenty years in the life of Arsenal Football Club. The Arsene Wenger years have taken the club in a direction few could have foreseen in 1996, and even in the immediate ensuing years. I’m not sure anyone could adequately cover what has happened to the club we all love in those years, in the length of a blog piece.

Not all remember the arrival of Arsene Wenger, so long has he been in situ. I still have memories of that first partial season that cause me to feel shame today. We went into 1996/7 with first Stewart Houston, then Pat Rice in charge, albeit temporarily. There were rumblings of a new appointment, but actually the people I went with at the time weren’t averse to Pat getting a crack at the job. He was an Arsenal man, not like the sacked Bruce Rioch, who almost lost us the services of Ian Wright.

The rumblings didn’t go away, however, and although beaten just once in the League early doors, so very definitely title contenders, a UEFA Cup exit to Borussia Monchengladbach hastened the clubs desire to appoint Arsene Wenger. Conveniently forgotten these days, Arsene persuaded his Japanese employers, Nagoya Grampus Eight to let him terminate his contract early in order to take charge at the Gunners.

The new man had to suffer some scurrilous treatment in the English press. ‘Arsene Who’ was the least of his worries as the studious looking man entered what would prove to be a long term relationship with the ‘Tuesday Club’ and their successors. He wasn’t an immediate success. The arrivals of Remi Garde and Patrick Vieira were later proven to be the work of the man who knew he would be coming to Highbury. The latter made his debut as a substitute in the 4-1 thumping of Sheffield Wednesday in September. We knew we had a player, but not the man who had insisted on his signing.

To cut a long story short we were competitive all season, but the title was surrendered because we lost home and away to both Manchester United and Liverpool. The new boss largely kept to the back five he had inherited and slowly introduced his new ideas to a squad uncertain of his abilities. To those outside of Colney he seemed to be a good man, but not the finished article. The players, however, had already started to get the benefit of his methods.

The first full season under Arsene Wenger will long live in the memory of those of us lucky enough to have witnessed it. Eight players arrived in the close season, most notably Emmanuel Petit (another who? moment) and the dodgy-kneed Marc Overmars. The first half of the season was a mixed bag, but crucially included a 3-2 win against Manchester United at Highbury. We were competitive at last.

A disastrous start to December included a performance at home to Blackburn that resulted in Tony Adams being sent away for ‘treatment’ and Ian Wright taking issue with Gooners in Avenell Road beneath the dressing room window. At that time if someone had suggested the Wenger experiment had failed it would not have been a surprise. How he had been misjudged.

Minus his captain Arsene set up a run of form that still amazes and delights today. Although we trailed United by twelve points at the end of February (One bookie paid out to those who had backed the Mancs for the title) we put together a run of eighteen games unbeaten including the iconic 0-1 at Old Trafford courtesy of Marc Overmars wonderful finish. When the double was secured at Wembley against Newcastle United I think we knew we had a very special man in charge of the club.

Those two seasons set the tone for what would follow. Innovation, forward thinking, dedication. Arsene was the right man in the right time and place. When big decisions were needed, he invariably got them right. Nicolas Anelka, signed and a contributor to the double success, was led astray by his advisors and moved to Real Madrid for the £25m pounds that Arsene invested in the training ground at Shenley, next door to our former Colney base.

A young winger from Juve, short on confidence, was his replacement. Thierry Henry would make the next eight years a magical time for Gooners. A year later another winger by the name of Robert Pires arrived. With those two added to Dennis Bergkamp and Vieira Arsene had put four of the best players on the planet in one team, not that we realised it straight away.

A second double in 2002, achieved with ridiculous ease at the Millennium Stadium and Old Trafford, cemented Arsene’s place in Arsenal history. These were heady days for the supporters. The countless riotous evenings in the Twelve Pins testament to how awesome we were. Arsene had clearly built something very special. So special that ‘only’ landing the FA Cup in 2003 felt a little disappointing. Appreciation of what Ferguson was doing in Salford would follow later. Arsene had spoken of going a season unbeaten. The truly foolish ridiculed him for his ambition.

The following season that ambition saw fruition. Arsene’s team, challenged to beat all before them, responded. Much of the season was a stroll, but then the pointed end arrived. FA Cup and Champions League defeats in three days to Manchester United and Chelsea would have floored anybody. Liverpool led 1-2 at Highbury in the Easter sunshine. The mercurial Henry decided enough was enough. On the back of a magnificent 4-2 triumph we went on to be invincible. Arsene was totally vindicated.

The following season’s FA Cup shoot-out win against old foes United proved to be something of a watershed. We were on the move. The club needed a bigger stadium to compete, and Arsene, along with Ken Friar and Keith Edelman set about providing it. A farewell season at Highbury stirred the emotions. Memorable European nights against the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus, and Villarreal, saw us go all the way to the Champions League Final.

What followed will divide Gooners for a while to come. We all have our ideas of what we had to go through in the years of transition from one home to another. What is clear is that against all the financial restrictions that we faced for a number of years the manager enabled us to qualify for the Champions League without interruption. We produced or signed some fine players, and sadly parted with them for a considerable and necessary profit.

Arsene took the brickbats in these years, occasionally bristling with indignation, but largely with a surprising degree of class, and emerged to land consecutive FA Cups in 2014 and 2015. Perhaps we overlook what an achievement those triumphs were?

And so to 2016/17. The odd major signing has happened in recent years. Ozil at £42m, Alexis at £35m, Cech at £10m. World class players being added to the squad. Finally this year the accrued cash generated by the stadium move was seriously deployed. The best part of a £100m splashed on Mustafi, Elneny, Xhaka, and Lucas. Arsene has earned the right to splash the cash he is largely responsible for generating.

He will be judged on this season more than any other as a result. It has to be said right now that it looks as though he may have retained his touch as a footballing alchemist. After an uncertain start the Arsenal have hit a rich vein of form, winning four matches comfortably, and counting bogey side Chelsea and FC Basel among their victims in the last week. Arsene most certainly has to deliver this season, but seldom in the last decade has the mood around the Grove been as positive.

Yes, we will have to produce many more performances to achieve what is now demanded of this different Arsenal, but who is best placed to deliver that right now? For me it is a man who has devoted twenty years of his life to making twenty years of my life quite memorable.

Thank you boss.

For the visit of Basel Arsene Wenger made just the two changes to the starting line-up that destroyed Chelsea at the weekend. As expected David Ospina was recalled in goal, and Granit Xhaka deputised for the injured Francis Coquelin. Basel arrived with an impressive record of four wins and a draw in their last five matches against English opposition in the Champions League.

The visitors determination to press all over the pitch was quickly evident as the match got underway. Gradually the Gunners started stringing fast and accurate passes together. Nacho Monreal went close in the seventh minute and moments later Alexis crossed for the revitalised Theo Walcott to power a header past Vaclik in the Basel goal.

Arsenal 1-0 Basel

Basel were far from down and out. From a corner Suchy climbed highest but thankfully failed to direct his header on target. The Gunners responded with a wonderful attack orchestrated by Alexis and ended only by an offside flag against the onrushing Mesut Ozil. When Alexis broke again the industrious Suchy had to haul him back, and in so doing earned the first yellow card of the contest.

In the twenty-sixth minute the two brightest players of the half combined for a second Gunners goal. Theo Walcott played a one-two with Alexis and applied an accurate finish off the inside of the far post. It was breathtaking stuff.

Arsenal 2-0 Basel

Appetites still strong, the same pair combined to give the Basel defence another nervous moment before Balanta managed to scramble the ball clear. Then Vaclik had to be quick to pass sideways under a challenge from Alexis. Walcott and Hector Bellerin then tore Basel apart and set up Alexis. Unfortunately the Chilean shot too close to Vaclik and what may have been the goal of the season was passed up.

The ‘keeper had to be quick to block when Walcott put Bellerin through in the inside-right channel, and then Vaclik watched relieved as Ozil lifted one just wide of his far post as the Gunners threatened to run riot. Monreal chipped one behind the defence for Alexis to hit another fierce drive at the overworked Vaclik. “Eye catching football from the Gunners” purred the commentator. He wasn’t wrong. The North Bank and the Clock End exchanged chants. Watching Arsenal is fun again.

As the half drew to a close Basel were hanging on grimly. Alexis crossed for Ozil to hit an effort into the side-netting. The whistle that Arsenal didn’t want brought relief, if only temporarily, for Basel. How on earth it was only 2-0 was a mystery at this point.

Arsenal restarted where they had left off. In the opening minutes of the second-half Monreal got behind the defence and Vaclik again had to be brave to thwart the incoming Alexis. Walcott, chasing his hat-trick, was played in by Alexis again but chipped wide of the far post as the offside flag was raised against him. Alexis broke again but failed to pick out Ozil with his final ball and the other Xhaka cleared the danger.

Arsenal’s Xhaka was growing into the contest and hit a sixty-yard pass to send Alexis clear down the left, before narrowly failing to connect with Santi Cazorla in the Basel box. Alex Iwobi, perhaps feeling left out, burst half the length of the pitch to fire an effort narrowly wide of the near post from the inside-left channel.

Martin Keown, co-commentating on my stream, observed “If this was a boxing match the referee would have stopped it by now”. Cazorla galloped free down the left flank but whipped his cross into the grateful arms of Vaclik.

Ospina’s concentration was tested when Basel broke to earn two corners in quick succession and the Columbian dealt with them both. A minute later he was worked again and saved in spectacular fashion from the Icelandic international, Bjarnason. Ospina looked less convincing when flapping at another corner and Bjarnason fortunately missed the target at the far post.

Alexis attempted to free Walcott again and was a fraction off with his forty-yarder. When Walcott repaid the Chilean Alexis side-footed wide of the far post from twelve yards. With twenty minutes to go Arsene opted for a little rotation, sending on former Basel man Mohamed Elneny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Iwobi and Walcott, the latter being afforded a deserved standing ovation. How Walcott is changing opinions, mine included.

Shkodran Mustafi, having an otherwise quiet evening, played a superb ball nearly half the length of the pitch for Bellerin charging into the Basel box. With quarter of an hour remaining Kieran Gibbs got a bit of match practice replacing Monreal.

The substitutions had an impact on the Gunners fluency in the closing stages, but in fairness it appeared as though the Gunners had knocked the fight out of half-decent opponents. Alexis weaved his way towards the box and was brought down, From the resulting free-kick Cazorla hit the base of the wall. Oxlade -Chamberlain rounded Vaclik but the ‘keeper recovered to block the attempted cut-back. The goalkeeper completed an amazing night blocking another Alexis effort in the orchestra stalls.

With PSG getting an away win at Ludogorets Razgrad the fight for top spot in the group remains tense. Arsenal could do no more than they did. Another fine performance and the final scoreline again flattered the visitors. That is now four wins in a row since the draw at PSG away. Thirteen goals scored and just the one conceded is a measure of how well the Arsenal are playing right now. Whisper it softly, but we are looking a bit good.

May it continue for a while yet.

Please stop groaning. You knew I would have to do that!

When I was a lad Basle was how we spelt the city from which our latest Champions League challengers have travelled. According to the Daily Mail it still is, so I am totally persuaded to switch to the Basel of today. Birthday boy Granit Xhaka, and most recently Mohamed Elneny, know from first-hand experience what the Swiss team will bring to the Grove.

I could claim to have a similar in depth knowledge of our visitors on Wednesday night but in truth apart from the highlights of their 1-1 draw with Ludogorets Razgrad I cannot remember having watched them since Elneny and his team-mates reached the Europa League semi-final in 2013 at Tottenham’s expense. I have to say both sides seemed to play well on match day one and we will need to carry forward the drive and confidence we displayed against Chelsea to ensure the points are secured.

The injury that sidelined Francis Coquelin on Saturday keeps him out for Wednesday’s fixture, and probably a couple more, so Granit Xhaka looks set to start on the opposite side of the pitch to his older brother, Taulant. The pair have played against each other before, when Albania and Switzerland met in Euro2016.

I wonder if Arsene Wenger might be tempted to give Santi Cazorla a breather to enable Elneny to also line-up against his former club? Other than that I don’t see us making too many changes from Saturday. David Ospina will probably get the nod in goal but a change to the four in front of him is surely unlikely.

The front four are like to be retained also, particularly because Olivier Giroud is suspended (and reportedly injured too) following his sending-off in Paris. Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi, and Alexis, were simply irresistible against Chelsea at the weekend and must be keen to thrill the home crowd once more.

The visitors are bidding to land an eighth consecutive Swiss Super League title, having won last season by a staggering fourteen points from their nearest challengers, Young Boys. After just nine matches this season they are already remarkably thirteen points clear of the same team in second place. They have won all nine and have scored twenty-nine goals in the process, conceding just seven.

Not only do they boast defeating Tottenham on their European cv, but also Manchester, United, Liverpool, and Chelsea. They are organised, quick to break, and we will need to be every bit as focused as we were on Saturday.

The ‘holic pound

The events of Saturday are still fresh in the mind. It really was a wonderful day and here’s hoping that our performance was not a one-off, rather a signal that we are finally clicking into gear after our pre-season preparations were somewhat limited by the staggered return of our Euro16 performers. I have to be confident in placing the Wednesday pound, and have decided to put it on a 3-1 home win at around tens.

I hope those going have another wonderful ninety minutes to enjoy, and that we are as quick out of the blocks as we were at the weekend. Basel will grow in confidence the longer they can keep us at bay.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

This is one of the good mornings. It follows one of the memorable days. Chelsea have had quite the hold over us in recent seasons, but that hold was not so much broken as smashed aside by a breathtaking Gunners performance. Arsene Wenger summed it up perfectly in the aftermath.

“We played with style, with pace, with movement, and that’s the kind of football we want to play. It’s one of the best performances in recent years.”

He was spot on. This was Arsenal playing the way they can against an opponent they have paid far too much respect to of late. Chelsea were undone in the opening fourteen minutes. The first goal arrived when Alexis forced the hapless Cahill into a back pass that sold his goalkeeper short. The Chilean latched onto it and chipped a delicious finish inside the far post.

Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea

Barely had the crowd settled and it was two. A mesmeric interchange of passes saw Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi set up Hector Bellerin for the cut-back that Theo Walcott swept home. Theo was enjoying one of his good days. This was a reminder of his performance last season when Manchester United were put to the sword by the same scoreline as yesterday.

Arsenal 2-0 Chelsea

If there was a cloud on Arsenal’s horizon it was the early loss of Francis Coquelin who seemed to suffer a nasty looking knee injury in a fifty fifty challenge on the edge of our box. Granit Xhaka came on, and we kept the pressure on the shell-shocked visitors.

Ozil and Alexis were enjoying themselves and before the break conjured up a third. Ozil broke at the weak heart of Chelsea’s defence, sent Alexis clear on the right side of the box, and when the cross arrived back at his feet he smashed a volley into the ground and over Courtois. Three-nil. It could, indeed should, have been more.

Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea

The proverbial handbrake was applied in the second-half, but there were still moments for the faithful to enjoy. Particularly the discomfort of the odious Costa who spent the evening in Laurent Koscielny’s pocket. When finally he snapped the crowds glee at the award of the yellow card matched the celebrations for the goals before the break.

The anonymous Fabregas was substituted to howls of laughter. Arsenal sent on Kieran Gibbs and Olivier Giroud for Iwobi and Alexis. Both departed to the standing ovation that Wenger had intended. Theo and Giroud came close to adding to Chelsea’s misery, and the visitors pain was complete when substitute Batshuayi was thwarted by Petr Cech from their only clear-cut opportunity.

It was that sort of day, and the post match celebrations were understandably noisy and cheerful. Can we maintain this sort of form in the coming weeks? With Manchester City retaining their one hundred percent record against Swansea we need to. For today though let us bask in our best performance against Chelsea in many a moon. Indeed this was a match to remember.

“Now it’s a new era where it looks like it’s balanced again.”

Arsene captures the mood perfectly ahead of the meeting of London’s most successful clubs in the twenty-first century. Much is being made of Chelsea’s dominance of the fixture in the last decade, and to be fair, of our dominance in the decade that preceded it. Chelsea’s slump under the odious Mourinho last season is history now, but still provokes a wry smile or two in North London.

The self-promoting cock has been grabbing the headlines ahead of this latest derby fixture, and that is made all the more irksome by the fact he has buggerall to do with it. Twice he has managed Chelsea, twice he has been found out and sent packing. Let him now try and do better than David Moyes and Louis van Gaal at Manchester Thursday. The early signs aren’t encouraging, or rather, they are!

New manager Antonio Conte has Chelsea playing a 4-5-1 that converts very quickly to a 4-3-3 and has surprised those who thought he would focus on making them a much more defensive set up. Like us they have three wins and a draw from their opening five Premier League fixtures and we hold the slenderest of goal difference advantages to keep them behind us in fifth place. They, like us, will be contenders this season, but if there is a loser on Saturday they are likely to be eight points behind a very strong looking Manchester City at an early stage of the season.

Arsene made much of us maintaining our discipline in his pre-match conference, and rightly so. Last season we allowed the antics of Costa to provoke responses that earned us red cards in both fixtures. It took the FA to retrospectively catch up with the Spaniard after an explosive encounter at the bus stop in Fulham on this very weekend last season. It will be interesting to see how Shkodran Mustafi fares against the biggest wind-up merchant in the league.

Arsene also has to decide how many of last weekend’s starting eleven to recall after the shadow squad matched their four goals away from home. The performances at Hull and Forest must have lifted the confidence levels around the squad, but that confidence will need to be allied to effort and determination on Saturday evening.

The most popular change would obviously involve a start for Granit Xhaka after his two explosive strikes in four days. He doesn’t look a ready-made replacement for Francis Coquelin’s shielding role in front of the back four, and Santi Cazorla’s quality as the box to box player was emphasised when he wasn’t around last season. He is the metronome of the side. It is likely that Coquelin and Cazorla will get the nod again for this one but Arsene should be prepared to act quickly if either picks up an early yellow card.

The other big decision will depend on Olivier Giroud passing a pre-match fitness test. We didn’t miss his hold-up play option at Hull or Forest, but Chelsea provide a different test altogether. They will sit deep and break at pace. Giroud’s quality with his back to goal would be useful under such circumstances, although I’m sure after a better performance at Hull that Alexis will be determined to occupy Cahill and Luiz, likely starters in the absence of Terry in the heart of the Chelsea defence.

The ‘holic pound

Like Arsene I feel there is no longer an imbalance between the sides ahead of this latest meeting. Chelsea continue to pose a threat on the break, but look more vulnerable defensively than they have for some time. Much will depend on us not letting Costa knock us out of our rhythm and I have to be positive that we will be prepared for what he will bring to the game.

One of the longest-suffering readers of this blog knows full well that I will tip a 2-1 win for this match. At nines that represents value I think. The bookies are finding it hard to split the teams, quoting us around 7/5 against, and Chelsea around 5/2 against. Interestingly the 2/1 for the draw looks very skinny, and probably that is what they think is likely to happen.

The late kick-off allows for a lie-in tomorrow morning. The lure of a long day of drinking ahead of this potentially explosive match isn’t as attractive as once it was. Instead I will have a mid-afternoon plate of food before partaking of a couple of late drinks in enjoyable company before kick-off. Post match I have a feeling we will have reason to be supping some celebratory pints. I hope I’m right. We are long overdue the three points off that lot.

As ever, have a great one, ‘holics.

The team doesn’t get revealed these days without a great deal of debate accompanying it on social media. The official Twitter account showed Emiliano Martinez surprisingly perhaps behind a back four of Ainsley Maitland-Niles (an attacking midfielder), Rob Holding, fit-again Gabriel, and captain for the night Kieran Gibbs. Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka were finally harnessed in front of that back four. Thereafter an interesting permutation of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Chuba Akpom, and Lucas Perez.

Early on the team settled into some semblance of a pattern with Reine-Adelaide on the right, Akpom on the left, and the Ox in the Mesut Ozil role. That left Lucas free to lead the line. The degree of flexibility that allowed us would hopefully see us in good stead as the match progressed.

The first real chance was gifted to Kasami when Gibbs and Holding were involved in a ninth minute mix-up but fortunately the Forest man placed his effort wide of the target. The twelfth minute round of applause for Brian Clough was accompanied by the first Gunners strike on target. Akpom’s rising drive was turned over by Stojkovic in the Forest goal.

Just past the quarter of an hour Nicklas Bendtner’s first contribution against his former club was to scythe through Gabriel long after the Brazilian had offloaded the ball. The subsequent yellow card was not disputed , nor could it  have been. Generously we could assume his timing was out as this was his first start of the season for the Championship club.

Our first corner saw the Ox solve our long-standing problem of failing to clear the first man. We watched in awe as the twentieth minute set piece sailed over the last man. Moments later the other former Gunner, Henri Lansbury, was fortunate to escape censure for a dreadful over the top challenge on Elneny. Allowed to continue the move, Forest went close again as Bendtner’s drive just evaded the far post.

That seemed to stir the visitors and Xhaka, set up by the Ox, unleashed his second long-range thunderbolt in successive matches to put us ahead via the flailing hand of Stojkovic. Let’s pray we don’t coach that long-range strike out of the £35m new boy.

Forest 0-1 Arsenal

Nine minutes before the break Elneny sold birthday boy Rob Holding short and the the young centre-back was forced to take a yellow card for the team to prevent Kasami making progress. By and large though one would have to say that for a team that will only have played with each other on the training ground the Gunners were showing impressive control of the contest to this point, even allowing for the opposition.

Reine-Adelaide had noticeably come infield a la Ramsey in order to give Maitland-Niles the freedom of the right flank. We looked perhaps susceptible to the break but Forest carried little threat down their left, thankfully. An Elneny snapshot lacked the accuracy of his midfield partner, but served as a warning to Forest that we weren’t afraid to have further attempts from distance if given time and space.

In the minute before the break the Ox made a rapid break through the centre and found Akpom. He set up the fast-arriving Reine-Adelaide who placed his effort inches wide of the far post. The seemingly invisible (to the referee) Lansbury made another horrendous challenge on Gabriel. How on earth he was still on the pitch at half-time was anyones guess. There remained time for Martinez to comfortably cling on to a tame effort from outside the box by Bendtner.

Forest started the second-half brightly and Bendtner got clear on the left but his cross was wasted as none of his colleagues had attacked the box. Another minor Lansbury trip went unpunished, and quite rightly. Had the referee been alerted to his misdeeds at half-time? We will never know. When Reine-Adelaide was brought down on a direct run just outside the box Lucas was given a chance to open his Arsenal account, but he aimed his shot at a comfortable height for Stojkovic to grasp.

A period of attempted pressure by Forest was comfortably dealt with and temporarily held up by the Ox dragging a long-range strike from the inside-left channel wide of the mark. Arsenal had better luck when Lucas slid Akpom in and Mancienne brought the striker down with an ill-timed nudge. From the spot Lucas opened his account for the Gunners which was perhaps as much a relief for the travelling Gunners as it was for the £17m Spaniard.

Forest 0-2 Arsenal

Just past the hour Lansbury looked for and made contact with Gabriel once more. It is easy to see how he gets booked every other game. Four of the cat’s nine lives had now gone. The generous chant of ‘Super Nicklas Bendtner’ answered my preview question about the reception awarded to an ex one of our own.

Lucas proceded to show us just what we have got for our money when he sprinted clear down the left flank, cut inside and out-muscled Mancienne, rounded Stojkovic, and prodded the ball into the gaping goal before taking a cowardly whack from the late-arriving Mills. Cue wild celebrations from the travelling Gooners.

Forest 0-3 Arsenal

The hat-trick effort moments later didn’t look like beating Stojkovic, but Arsenal were again turning the screw and Cohen found himself in the book for a mistimed challenge on Akpom. Bendtner, cutting a forlorn figure by now, looked to be telling the bench he had a problem. The bench, perhaps considering it to be a psychological one waited for a few minutes before sending on Vellios in his place. The Dane applauded the travelling Gooners who again roared out his name in appreciation.

Lucas was again denied his hat-trick as the Gunners look to set the seal on the evening but Osborn had other ideas and brought a good save out of Martinez when he was freed by Lansbury. Chris Willock was given a debut in place of Akpom, and Gedion Zelalem got his chance for Reine-Adelaide with eight minutes left on the clock. Four minutes later Krystian Bielik came on to give Maitland-Niles the chance of an ovation for his evening’s work.

The Ox made one last effort to lay a third goal on a plate for Lucas but Mills was on hand to block the goal bound effort. The former Saint decided to take responsibility himself and finished assuredly after exchanging a one-two on the edge of the box with Lucas. It was a goal he deserved on the night and hopefully will give him some confidence.

Forest 0-4 Arsenal

And so Arsenal’s squad players and youngsters gave a very solid account of themselves against opponents who could have proved much trickier a test. The obvious candidates must be wondering how long before they make the step up. Elneny and Xhaka, whilst hardly extended, looked comfortable in each others company. Lucas may be considered as an option to Alexis up front if Giroud’s absence continues.

All in all, an enjoyable watch. The 4,000 travelling Gooners roared in agreement.

You have to be of a certain age to appreciate that headline. Sorry kids!

When the topic of conversation turns to Nottingham Forest I usually end up boring people to tears with tales of Alan Ball’s debut, and the night we knocked Cloughie’s 42 matches unbeaten team, forerunner to our Invincibles, out of the FA Cup. Why should you be spared?

Ball’s signing at Christmas 1971 was for a new British record fee of £220,000 and Arsenal, then as now, were careful with the pennies so it caused a real stir. Still only 14, I knew I had to get there and a couple of mates from Marlow agreed. So the day after Boxing Day we made an early trip up to Kings Cross where I think £2 was sufficient to get us on one of the two, or was it three, ‘specials’ to Nottingham.

Being one of the first solo ventures outside London for us we soaked it all up. British Rail packed us on to dilapidated rolling stock and hundreds of like-minded souls swigged from cans and sang heartily, mainly about Ball. That first walk across the Trent was a rite of passage they said, but our numbers ensured that the locals kept themselves at a respectful distance. The match itself was equally unremarkable. Everyone urged Ball to have a go at every opportunity, but in the end it was George Graham who won us an unspectacular point in a 1-1 draw.

The mode of transport was the same for our FA Cup 5th round tie at the seemingly unbeatable Forest nearly eight years later, although by this time our numbers were swollen by a number of unofficial coaches. On a raucous Monday night an Arsenal side missing Willie Young went to the City Ground as lambs to the slaughter and left with a memorable victory thanks to the only goal of the game, a Frank van Stapleton header.

We were massed to the left hand side of the Trent End and so made sure the locals were fully aware of just who had beaten them. Not only did Forest set a record for consecutive top-flight wins that season, only broken by the Invincibles 26 years later, but they also retained the League Cup and won the European Cup beating the holders, Liverpool, along the way. Liverpool gained revenge in the League, reducing Forest to runners-up. How we should have built more on the back of our performances that season.

Now, in a completely different era, we go back to Forest with the boot very much on the other foot. The mighty Arsenal, Premier League runners-up and perennial Champions League combatants, face a Forest for whom things have taken a downturn since those heady days. In it’s latest incarnation the Football League Cup (EFL Cup this season) provides the opportunity for the East Midlanders to extract full retribution for that memorable reverse.

Arsenal will be missing more than Willie Young this time around. This is a competition to provide opportunities to squad players and kids to show what they can do. I cannot even match Arsene’s first choices at the moment so the guesswork involved in suggesting our starting eleven for this one is considerable. David Ospina seems to be the cup goalkeeper and so will get the chance to build on his performance in Paris last week.

Ahead of him Gabriel may be fit again to return to action but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him eased back on the bench behind a starting back four of Mathieu Debuchy, Rob Holding, Krystian Bielik, and Kieran Gibbs. Lots of experience at full-back there.

It would be somewhat baffling if Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka didn’t anchor the midfield, but then again I thought that they would start at Hull. Nothing would surprise me these days. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may get an arm around his shoulders and an opportunity to play in the role vacated by Mesut Ozil, flanked by Lucas Perez and Jeff Reine-Adelaide? If Olivier Giroud isn’t deemed fit to start then Chuba Akpom is likely to get the nod.

Forest themselves have two players who will be keen to produce the goods against their former employers. Henri Lansbury has missed just one match for Forest this season but averages a yellow card every other match. He’ll be remembered for a wonderful goal when a very young Arsenal side whooped Spurs at the Lane in this competition six years ago, so should not get anything other than a warm reception from the travelling Gunners.

It will be interesting to see if the same courtesy is afforded to Nicklas Bendtner. If common sense and application were among his strengths he would surely be sitting this one out awaiting his chance to plunder the Chelsea defence as one of the Premier League’s most feared strikers on Saturday. Instead he has papier-mâché brains and looks set to get his first start for Forest against the club where at his best he would now be undroppable. Forest manager, Philippe Montanier, said of him ahead of the match …

“Nicklas Bendtner is fit and ready to start a match now, he’s a very experienced player. We want him to use his emotion to play well in the game.”

There will be few Gooners who would not be surprised if he did come up with a goal, maybe more, on Tuesday evening, but Forest supporters probably already know enough about him to know he could stink the place out at the weekend, and indeed most weekends, for one reason or another.

The ‘holic pound

Always tricky against decent Championship outfits. Forest have had no trouble scoring goals this season, averaging two a match in the League and EFL Cup, having already knocked out Doncaster Rovers and Millwall away from home. Against a makeshift defence they might grab another two. Have we three in us? Of course we do. One more maybe? Shop around for 2-4 at 33/1, which seems generous despite it undoubtedly being a longshot.

To those making the journey appreciate the quality of the rolling stock that will convey you to Nottingham, a far cry from days thankfully past. And they wondered why people reacted to such conditions. Enjoy what should be an entertaining evening, unless Lord Bendtner and Henri put us to the sword. Let’s hope not, for as maligned as it seems to be these days the League Cup was always a piece of silverware that brought joy to those that won it.

It still would today.

From the intensity of a Champions League evening in Paris we returned to Premier League action in East Yorkshire, definitely not Humberside, as a friendly Tiger corrected me beforehand. Once again the team selection caused consternation and debate in the hour ahead of kick-off. Francis Coquelin retained his place alongside Santi Cazorla, and the rounded Alexis was again asked to occupy the square hole up front.

The tremendous roar of the travelling Gooners greeted the kick-off and Arsenal responded with their customary short passing game around the opposition box. Once Hull had established a foothold the opening phase turned into an edge of box to edge of box at the other end affair, a true midfield war of attrition. The first effort on goal came as the clock ticked past twelve minutes and Alexis scooped a Theo Walcott cross high over the bar.

Five minutes later a break and some sustained pressure brought about the opening goal. The final touch may be adjudged to be an Alex Iwobi drive or an Alexis/Livermore deflection. As I type it matters not. Were it a deflection by the defender it would have been Iwobi’s, but I suspect Alexis will get the credit as an attacker.

Hull City 0-1 Arsenal

Midway through the half Hull’s left flank was again outdone but Walcott’s final effort lacked power and conviction. The fact that he was there though was encouraging. Slowly he is getting back to something resembling the player most want him to be. Another Hector Bellerin cross minutes later offered Iwobi the chance to confirm a goal in his own right, but Jakupovic dived to save superbly and Mesut Ozil drilled the rebound high, wide, and handsome.

At this point Arsenal were an irresistible force, but a second goal was needed to settle the nerves of those who have seen them in this mood before. A careless crossfield pass in his own half by Coquelin illustrated the point and Shkodran Mustafi spared his colleague’s blushes with a superbly timed challenge. A minute later there were smiles all round when Cazorla, of all people, picked up another yellow card for a mistimed challenge on Elmohamady. He may just be ruled out by suspension before he is exhausted!

Ten minutes before the break Snodgrass finally produced an effort on goal for the home side but it provided a comfortable save for Petr Cech. Then a moment that surely should have sealed Hull’s fate. Coquelin broke into the box and his goalbound effort was cleared by the arm of Livermore, who was shown a red card immediately. Under this season’s guidelines deliberate handball is not considered double jeopardy. Alexis unfathomably took over the spot-kicking duty from Cazorla, successful in the last two Premier League fixtures, and duly saw his tame effort find Jakupovic’s right hand. Heads were scratched at that decision.

Hull, however, were not off the hook completely, and it took a desperate last-ditch block by Jakupovic to prevent Elmohamady from glancing a corner into his own net. Hull made a quick adjustment with Mike Phelan sending on defender Maguire for the ineffective Diomande. A second free-kick, albeit a tame one, conceded by Cazorla in added time raised howls of faux anger from the home support, uninformed by replays of all the key moments of the match. The half-time whistle enabled all a chance to inhale deeply and recover.

At the start of the second-half Cazorla had another little tug at Snodgrass and was read the riot act by referee, Roger East. There isn’t a malicious bone in the little Spaniard’s body but he was in danger now of collecting a second yellow under the totting-up procedure.

Continuing Arsenal pressure resulted in a second goal nine minutes after the break. Walcott played a one-two with Iwobi and applied a delightful chipped finish to the Nigerian’s sumptuous back-heel. On the line Maguire could only help the ball in. It was Theo’s one hundredth goal for club and country.

Hull City 0-2 Arsenal

As the hour ticked by we seemed camped around the edge of the Hull box again, and again intricacy was preferred to incisiveness. That isn’t so much a criticism as an oft-expressed observation. We lack ruthlessness so often under these circumstances. On a fleeting break Hernandez, albeit from an offside position, crashed an overhead kick onto the bar, truly a warning shot across the Gunners bows. Cue the obvious substitution of Granit Xhaka for Santi Cazorla with twenty-four minutes remaining.

With twenty minutes remaining the busy Elmohamady matched Alexis on a race into Hull’s box and denied the Chilean another goal. For a while both teams appeared content to knock the ball about in Hull’s half of the pitch. Theo broke the mould with a somewhat optimistic effort from distance that missed the target. Looking for 101 Theo then blazed over from a tight angle in the inside-right channel.

Thirteen minutes from time a much-delayed penalty award gave Arsenal the kick up the backside they deserved. The referee allowed play to continue when substitute Mbokani threw himself over Cech’s lunge for the ball. He was most definitely looking for it, but Cech didn’t make contact with the ball and we would have wanted it up the other end. The yellow card for Cech reflected the double jeopardy principle perfectly. Snodgrass netted comfortably.

Hull City 1-2 Arsenal

A nervous finish was avoided when Alexis set up Walcott for a parried strike on goal, and the Chilean was on hand to drill the ball high into the net from the rebound. At least the scoreline once again reflected the visitors dominance.

Hull City 1-3 Arsenal

Jakupovic’s work for the day wasn’t over. In time added on Xhaka showed what £35 million can buy you with a wonder strike from distance. Clearly he hasn’t yet bought into the tip-tap it round the box method which may explain why Coquelin has been preferred. How dare he put boot through the ball when in range!

Hull City 1-4 Arsenal

The final whistle confirmed another big win for Arsenal at a favourite venue, so it would be churlish now for anyone to say for much of the match it was closer than necessary. In the end we found that ruthless streak. Let that be a sign of things to come.

The trip to Paris now a distant memory, the Gunners face the long schlep up to Humberside in order to record a third consecutive Premiership victory. It would seem to be needed even at this early stage of the season as we seek to keep within five points of Manchester City, likely to make it five wins out of five at home to Bournemouth.

After utilising his squad again on Tuesday night it remains to be seen if Arsene will go with what might be termed as his best starting eleven. I am a big fan of Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but with the other players now available to us that doesn’t include them at the moment. That also means a recall for Petr Cech, although David Ospina showed on Tuesday that you can barely get the proverbial fag paper between them right now.

It is unlikely that the back four will change although Nacho Monreal will be aware that Kieran Gibbs is prepared to step in should the Spaniard’s form take a prolonged dip. It was surprising to hear that Gabriel is back in full training, but quite rightly he is unlikely to be considered until the trip to Nottingham Forest next Tuesday. Surely Rob Holding has edged ahead of him in the first reserve pecking order already?

Whilst Granit Xhaka and Santi Cazorla might seem to be the preferred base to the midfield the latter has been pretty busy in the last week and may appreciate a week to recharge his batteries before pitting his wits against Chelsea. This could be a chance for Mohamed Elneny to forge a new partnership with the player he replaced in the FC Basel midfield in 2012. There seems little likelihood that Alex Iwobi or Mesut Ozil will miss out ahead of them, but Alexis is likely to move to the other flank. That leaves a choice between new boy Lucas Perez or Olivier Giroud up front, with the latter the preferred choice for a first start of the season, perhaps?

The hosts are in very good shape themselves and their only defeat so far came to an injury time goal by Marcus Rashford when Manchester United were the last visitors to the KC stadium. They currently sit level with us on seven points having beaten champions Leicester at home, and Swansea away, before drawing on the road at Burnley. Just three goals conceded in those fixtures speaks volumes for the way Mike Phelan has them set up.

In an attempt to carry more firepower Dieumerci Mbokani is included in the squad for the first time. He scored 7 in 29 appearances on loan to Norwich City last season so knows what lies ahead of him. We could also face Ryan Mason, the latest import from the building site up the road from us. Hull seems to be the destination of choice for those who don’t make it in the marshlands.

We have something of an Indian sign over the Tigers at the moment having beaten them in the FA Cup in the last three seasons, including of course the Final at Wembley in 2014.

The ‘holic pound

Recent history points to a comfortable away win. The last three matches up there have ended 0-4, 1-3, and 0-3, but the home side are probably coming into this one in better spirits than in any of those. This could be a very tight affair but I am backing us to eventually come home with a 0-2 win to cheer those making the taxing journey. 7/1 may seem skinny odds, but appropriate when the home side are being quoted at 11/2 against winning. Everything crossed for a third consecutive Premier League success for the pound.

Thank You

I will take this opportunity to thank again those who have commented in the drinks on yesterday’s anniversary. I have tried to answer all individually but if somehow I missed you then let me offer my appreciation to all of you who have contributed to make this site what it is.  Without you it wouldn’t be worth continuing, so cheers to yo…

Wait. Where are you all going?


Have a great one, ‘holics.

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