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Well, as nights go that was one of the more memorable ones. Tonight we are celebrating reaching the FA Cup semi-finals after the Arsenal once again produced a disciplined display to claim their first victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford since 2006.

I’m aware that half the planet, and therefore the vast majority of you, will probably have seen at least the key moments of the match live, so I will try and avoid the conventional and discuss instead the key points.

Where better to begin than with the starting line-up. If you read my preview you will know I would agreed wholeheartedly with ten of the eleven starters. Arsene gave us something of a surprise with the selection of Danny Welbeck as the focal point of the attack rather than Olivier Giroud. That caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth on Twitter,  but proved to be a match-winning masterstroke.

Giroud gives us strength, and hold-up options that weren’t required tonight. This was all about having Welbeck’s pace and willingness to look for the gaps behind defenders, and looking to thread balls through any gaps that appeared. Understanding that United’s defenders kept a close eye on him, which meant there was space for others to exploit, notably Alexis Sanchez as early as the third minute.

United’s defence was therefore concentrating on other options as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain danced through their massed ranks midway through the half to set up Nacho Monreal for a wonderful near post finish that took De Gea, among others, by surprise. One nil to the Arsenal. To this point we had defended superbly, which made the one major mistake we made all night just three minutes later so frustrating.

Di Maria had a mixed night, but his excellent cross picked out Rooney in the centre of the six yard line, and astonishingly unmarked. On such a night apportioning blame is a churlish exercise for a blogger, but it is something to be addressed at Shenley on Wednesday.

The other talking point of the opening half was a penalty appeal for a tug on Danny Welbeck. Now we have seen them given, and we have seen them not given. Michael Oliver decided it wasn’t. On the basis of his first-half performance it was not a surprise. He booked Hector Bellerin in only the fourth minute for his first foul, and let much go, particularly from Fellaini who tested Francis Coquelin’s broken nose at around the same time and went on to commit several fouls.

My dislike of the current crop of PGMOL officials is well known I think, so I have to hold my hands up and say I thought Oliver’s second-half performance was a blueprint for how matches should be handled. Not once, but twice, he punished obvious dives by Di Maria and Januzaj with a yellow card. Supporters of every club have been crying out for that, and television replays showed that both decisions were spot on. Di Maria objected a little too physically and by the letter of the law earned his second yellow.

By the time Di Maria had seen red though we had secured our passage when Danny feasted on Valencia’s woeful backpass to score in front of the magnificent traveling Gooners, and celebrate a winner how it should be celebrated, bollocks if it is against your old club. Louis van Gaal’s “Welbeck is not the standard required at Manchester United” quote probably warranted such glee.

Eleven against ten we held out comfortably, and the BBC viewers voted for Francis Coquelin as man of the match. Of the three options they offered I thought it a reasonable call, but how on earth was Monreal not in the vote? A scorer at one end, he defended superbly, which is why this amateur wanted him selected ahead of Kieran Gibbs.

The real match winner tonight though was the man we are not allowed to credit, it seems. Arsene doesn’t always get it right, particularly in the big away games in recent years, but just as he did in 2003 he came to Old Trafford, ‘rested’ his main goal threat, got his tactics absolutely right, and saw his team keep their heads while United’s lost theirs.

I would also like to show my appreciation to David De Gea. But for two unbelievable saves from Cazorla and Sanchez United’s embarrassment would have been greater, and I would not be celebrating the third successive ‘holic pound to come in.

Reading or Bradford City it is then. Let’s worry about one of them another day.

Enjoy basking in this one, ‘holics.

The much criticised Monday night meeting of old foes is all but upon us. At the point at which Manchester United’s number was followed out of the drum by Arsenal’s I found myself having a strange reaction. I hissed a very audible “yes”. After all, on our last trip to Manchester had we not finally found the formula to beat a major rival, the champions no less, in their own back yard? It felt as though it was our fate to follow that up at Old Trafford with our first win there in eight and a half years.

Ten days later Monaco turned up at the Grove, one of the easier draws in the last sixteen of the Champions League, and all but humiliated a lacklustre Arsenal. The prospect of advancing to the semi-finals of the FA Cup looked a distant prospect in the days that followed. The ship has been steadied again though with victories against Everton and Queens Park Rangers, not in themselves as strong as Louis van Gaal’s charges, but important in terms of restoring confidence.

The team news is mixed. Gabriel will miss the next few matches with a hamstring injury, and there were late tests planned for Wojciech Szczesny, Nacho Monreal, and Mathieu Flamini. The fact that the former duo appear in photographs of Sunday’s training session suggests they, at least, will be back in the fold. Both would be in my preferred starting line-up, along with Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, and Laurent Koscielny.

Far more interesting will be who Arsene goes with in midfield alongside and ahead of the masked Francis Coquelin. There is a case for restoring Aaron Ramsey, perhaps more used to the role that Santi Cazorla has performed in his absence, but that would then mean a decision between Santi and Mesut Ozil in the role of creator-in-chief. This selection will give a clear indication of our intent. Do we go for the ultra cautious style that was so successful in the blue half of the city? Or is it gung-ho Gunners and hope we deal with their counter-attacking style better than we have done in recent memory.

As he has not featured much of late I think we can rule Theo Walcott out of contention for a start. Alexis will surely patrol the right flank, but there is an interesting choice between Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left, with Ozil in the equation should Ramsey start further back. Olivier Giroud must start, his personal Monaco nightmare put well and truly behind him in the last two matches.

United will be missing ‘Spit’ Evans at the back and Robin van Stapleton up front. On the evidence of current form it is probably fair to say they may be a little stronger as a result. Luke Shaw also faces a late fitness test to determine the extent of his involvement in the tie.

The ‘holic Pound

Determining the object of the ‘holic pound has been harder than usual, and made so by United’s obvious grinding out of results despite not playing well at all this season. Typical was their win at the Grove in November when they had one shot on target and yet won the match 1-2. Should their fortune continue then we face an uphill struggle, and yet there is something in the air. A belief, maybe born out of a misguided sense of hope, that we will do to them what they have done to us so many times.

The blueprint was established at the Etihad. Defend deep, close the man on ball voraciously, hunt on the counter with pace and accuracy of distribution. Invite United on to us as they have have done in reverse so many times. This is the match I am playing in my imagination, and which persuades me that the scoreline which will clinch a hat-trick of ‘holic pounds is 1-2 to the Arsenal, available at a tempting 10/1 with Paddy Power. In a strange win market both teams are odds against. United available at 6/4 while Arsenal are around 2/1. You wouldn’t have got positive odds on United to beat us at Old Trafford in many a year.

To those of you joining the 8600 traveling Gooners I wish you a night to remember. A very fine gentleman offered me a wonderful opportunity to be with you but a big few days at work require me not to fall asleep at my desk on Tuesday. Let’s hope the team can deliver that which is long overdue.

Art of Football Titi Tee Winner

Congratulations to Chris Athanasi who was among those of you who remembered that Edu and Sylvain Wiltord scored the goals by which we beat United 0-2 at Old Trafford in the FA Cup in 2002/3.

Chris wins a teeshirt featuring Thierry Henry’s classic strike against United in October 2000. For those unlucky in the competition we also have a 10% discount code on any design from them, just enter WENGER when prompted on the order screen.

henry_v_man_u_navy_mediumhenry_v_man_u_grey_mediumhenry_v_man_u_white_medium

 

So, congratulations to Chris. I have forwarded your details to Art of Football who will be in touch. Thanks to them for a great prize, and to all of you who entered.

You can also follow Art of Football on Twitter and Facebook.

Not for the first time of late we started slowly at Loftus Road but as the half progressed we came more and more into it, shading the possession and attempts stats, if not the all important goals scored one. The second-half appeared a different story as we made our class pay, but there was yet to be a sting in the tail.

The Gunners made two changes, with Per Mertesacker replacing Laurent Koscielny, and Tomas Rosicky getting the start his recent performances have warranted ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The home side made their intentions clear early on, taking the match to the visitors by any means possible. Henry, Sandro, and Zamora provided the muscle. You have to expect that when playing a side fighting for their Premiership life and hope that the referee clamps down on it. Kevin Friend didn’t. It was up to us to dig in and adapt, and by midway through the half we had.

It was Austin’s effort, saved by David Ospina, that triggered a response. At the other end Green made the first of a number of saves to deny Olivier Giroud, although to be fair this was straightforward. Gabriel and Giroud went close again as we eased into second gear, but the Brazilian was injured in the Hoops next attack and was replaced by Koscielny. Let’s hope it isn’t a bad one because again he looked a quality player.

A hectic end to the half saw Austin drive one inches wide but at the other end Green was at his best to deny Santi Cazorla. The little Spaniard and the increasingly influential Mesut Ozil also had efforts blocked.

Whatever was said in the visitors dressing room at half-time most definitely had the desired effect. We simply overwhelmed Rangers with Hector Bellerin and Rosicky energetically attacking down the right, the wonderful pairing of Cazorla and Ozil centrally, and Keiran Gibbs and Alexis on the left flank.

Within ninety seconds of the restart Ozil had just failed to turn in a Rosicky cross and Alexis brought another save out of Green. The Chilean was then set up by Ozil but put his effort just wide. Rangers attempt to stem the tide was a strange one, sending on Kranjcar for his fellow ex-Spur Sandro. It solved little for them. Indeed it was the substitute who lost the ball in the attacking third when Arsenal broke with pace and purpose for the opener, Gibbs being denied at the near post but Giroud bagging his fifth goal in five games from the second phase.

Twice more Alexis was denied by Green as the floodgates threatened to open, but eventually the little dynamo got his reward with a breathtaking finish at the near post from an oblique angle. With fifteen minutes remaining Ozil looked set to add to our tally, but a combination of Green and the goalpost denied him the goal his performance deserved.

It was one-way traffic, but Arsenal being Arsenal we managed to make it a nail-biter. Phillips cross found Austin and the in-form striker buried the chance with eight minutes remaining. All of a sudden the match was on a knife-edge. Rangers poured forward, as they had at the start of the match, but found a resolute back four and the masked Francis Coquelin equal to anything they could conjure up.

It was more nervous than it should have been, but we had in the end ground out a very important three points with the results elsewhere not going our way.

Oh, and the ‘holic pound was secured for the second consecutive fixture. Happy days!

Titi Tee Competition

Don’t forget our friends at Art of Football have offered one lucky reader the chance to win a teeshirt featuring Thierry Henry’s classic strike against United in October 2000. In addition we also have a 10% discount code on any design from them, just enter WENGER when prompted on the order screen.

Just look back at last night’s preview post to see how to enter the competition for a fabulous prize.

 

The hunt for a Champions League qualifying place moves on to Loftus Road on Wednesday night. For many that means a top three berth because nobody wants the burden of another qualifier in August, and Arsene today set his sights firmly on second place, which most definitely would be a progression on recent seasons.

“The only thing you can say is that it’s very tight. You look in front and Manchester City are four points ahead of us, and you look behind and there’s plenty of people chasing us. If you ask a team who is four points behind us, they will say it’s realistic to try to catch us. Manchester City are four points in front of us, so mathematically of course it is possible.”

Aaron Ramsey is added to the squad that was available for Everton on Sunday, and the medical staff will make the final call on whether or not Francis Coquelin can play, although Arsene was quick to point out earlier that there is “no obvious reason why he should not be available”.

Struggling Rangers could welcome back Sandro in place of the suspended Joey Barton, and there will be late tests on Onuoha and Isla. How I wish the latter’s first name was Pete. They have lost five of their last six league games, while the Gunners have taken maximum points in six of the last seven. One word of caution in the stats however, the Arsenal have only won one of their last seven league matches away to Rangers.

It would not be a surprise to see Alexis back in the starting line-up tomorrow, and it is possible too that Nacho Monreal may be preferred at left-back to Kieran Gibbs to counter the supply of crosses from Matt Phillips to Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora.

The ‘holic pound

Surely the penny has finally dropped at Rangers and they realise they are running out of time to put space between themselves and the bottom three, which they are at present purely on goal difference? It would not be a surprise to see them raise their game markedly for the derby fixture, but I am tipping the Gunners to land a second consecutive ‘holic pound with a 1-2 away win. Paddy Power offer sevens against that, which is what they paid out on Sunday for the 2-0.

Win A Titi Tee Courtesy of Art of Football

While we hope the team will be taking one game at a time there is no escaping the fact that next Monday we face Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarter-final.

Our friends at Art of Football have offered one lucky reader the chance to win a teeshirt featuring Thierry Henry’s classic strike against United in October 2000. In addition we also have a 10% discount code on any design from them, just enter WENGER when prompted on the order screen.

henry_v_man_u_navy_mediumhenry_v_man_u_grey_mediumhenry_v_man_u_white_medium

Available in three colours and five sizes, this striking design is a reminder of a game that brought us a happy outcome against Monday’s opponents. You can see the shirt in more detail here.

To win just answer this question. Who scored the two unanswered goals when we beat United in the FA Cup at Old Trafford in February 2003. (Ironically Thierry was rested that day!). Choose from :-

a) Francis Jeffers and Martin Keown

b) Sol Campbell and Robert Pires

or c) Edu and Sylvain Wiltord

Send your answer (just the one entry please) to competition@goonerholic.com to arrive before midnight (UK time) on Saturday, 7th March and include an email address that I can share with Art of Football so they can contact you re your preferred size and colour.

You can also follow Art of Football on Twitter and Facebook. I most certainly do.

That’s it for tonight, Good luck, ‘holics.

Three points secured, our third place regained, this turned into one of the good days after a shaky start. For half an hour it was noticeable how much time was spent looking left from my vantage point, into the Arsenal half. Everton were on top, and far more adventurous than expected.

The Gunners brought in Gabriel Paulista for Per Mertesacker while Santi Cazorla, still the main link between defence and attack, took the captain’s armband. Gabriel confirmed the impression he made against Boro in the FA Cup. He looks a solid defender indeed and needed to be as the waves of blue came his way early on. He did err once and was grateful to see David Ospina come to his rescue with a parry and slide tackle.

The game swung when the Brazilian robbed Lukaku with a superb sliding challenge. Moments later he had a swing and a miss at a corner but Olivier Giroud buried a glorious strike into the back of the net. It was just what Arsenal, and Giroud in particular, needed. His discomfort on Wednesday was clear, and this was the perfect response.

The second-half followed a similar pattern with Everton pressing for an equaliser, but creating little. Ospina had a nervous early parry for a corner but it was the only blip for him on the day and he did make outstanding saves to deny Lukaku and Lennon.

It wasn’t all one way traffic though as Arsenal started to string some moves together. Giroud had an effort blocked, Ozil and Cazorla both missed the target. In the middle of all this a sickening clash of heads between Giroud and Francis Coquelin left the latter with a bloody and clearly broken nose. He battled on for a while but the next header left him in agony again and he had to be replaced.

In between these incidents Tomas Rosicky came on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and with the aid of a deflection secured the points (and the ‘holic pound) with a drive from the edge of the box.

Arsene knew as well as anybody that the points were more important than the performance.

“What was very important today was that we had a mentally united response and we showed that. We are proud of the response that we showed today. Our defensive concentration was at a much higher level than on Wednesday night. We know that we can do better with the ball but overall what was important for us was to respond with a win.”

Hopefully this will restore a degree of confidence to the team ahead of the trip to Loftus Road on Wednesday. It isn’t often a visiting team has 53% possession at the Grove and it would be disappointing to see QPR grab a similar advantage on Wednesday. Having said that we did dominate the shots tally yesterday so we were more decisive with the ball than the visitors.

This was another good day pre and post match in great company, and made all the more enjoyable by the win, however it was gained.

Come back tomorrow evening for a QPR preview and a chance to win an excellent teeshirt ahead of the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford.

A week that started with us back in the Premiership top three and looking forward with great anticipation ends with yet another bout of navel gazing. Not immune from that I spent a chunk of last evening watching the new Invincibles documentary. In this of all weeks that was probably a mistake.

I make no apology for admitting to dewy eyes as I watched, and listened to, some of the real characters who went an entire League campaign and compiled that astonishing ‘Lost 0′ record. To hear them talk of the pain of missing out on the Champions League that season only serves to emphasise how far the current incarnation are from that holy grail.

I’m not sure we fully appreciated that eleven years ago we were watching a team that could call upon four of the finest players in the world in Vieira, Pires, Henry, and Bergkamp. Football clubs suffer from organisational multiple personality disorder, and it was impossible last night not to compare today’s squad with their forebears.

How many supreme talents do we field today? One could make a case for Alexis being in the top echelon of current footballers. Mesut Ozil is knocking on the door but appears to lack the mental toughness that Alexis exhibits. That mental toughness was in short supply generally on Wednesday as the side imploded so spectacularly against Monaco.

Those who fell in love with the invincibles are now having the depth of their amour tested. My generation fell in love with a ‘Mr Hyde’ version of Arsenal and have learned to live with the fluctuations in fortune that have followed, fully appreciating the years of feast.  Those in their twenties and thirties are discovering that ‘Dr Jekyll’ Arsenal is a fickle mistress.

It isn’t easy to deal with the fragility of today’s Arsenal when one sees the side that turned defeats into draws and draws into wins. Both teams have produced simply breathtaking football, although perhaps a little less this season than previously. Yet just six weeks after what had appeared to be a defining victory at Manchester City the soft underbelly that plagues the latest Arsene Wenger creation has been cruelly exposed.

On Sunday once again a response is required when Everton come to town. To be fair the Gunners have responded to defeats well this season. However, the nature of the capitulation on Wednesday raises questions about our ability to handle teams with defensive organisation and swift counter-attacking capability. Those questions require answers before we face Manchester United and Monaco in eight crucial days.

Everton should provide a good test. They are unlikely to be too adventurous, and will have been encouraged by Monaco’s gameplan. So what does Arsene do differently on Sunday?

“For us what is important is to respond well. We are on a strong run in the Premier League and we have to respond to that disappointment in a strong way on Sunday afternoon, that’s all we can do. We are back in the top three in the Premier League, we have an opportunity to stabilise this position and we want to take it. I have not made any decision yet for Sunday’s game. We will have to rotate a little bit, because we play Sunday and Wednesday. There will certainly be some changes.”

The injury situation is little changed. Jack Wilshere will be missing for ‘days not weeks’ after another procedure was carried out on his ankle. Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini are returning to training but are ‘not completely there’. Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Debuchy are still ‘a few weeks away’.

Basically it is Wednesday’s squad but with a bit of a shake up. The first decision Le Boss has to make is who to play in goal. I feel for David Ospina, criticised in some quarters for his performance on Wednesday, but left exposed by the malfunctioning defensive unit in front of him. Talking of which it would not be a surprise to see a Premier League debut for Gabriel, and a recall for Nacho Monreal, a surprising omission in the week.

Santi Cazorla is not being used in his best position as the box to box man and here is an opportunity to get either Tomas Rosicky or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain involved from the start. If anyone expected to see Olivier Giroud rested after his personal nightmare against Monaco then Arsene has given a strong indication that his main striker will retain his place.

“Olivier’s a strong character. Personally I don’t blame him at all. We lost as a team, we fight for each other as a team and he worked hard for the team even on the night. He didn’t miss the chances on purpose. He wanted to score the goals but that can happen.”

Everton come into the fixture guilty of inconsistency, although they have four away wins to their credit this season, including their last trip to Crystal Palace where they scored the only goal. The visitors are languishing in the bottom half of the table, which must be a frustration after they were among the clubs who pushed Arsenal hard for fourth place last season.

The ‘holic pound

I have to believe we will bounce back on Sunday. As stated above we generally do, so I am on 2-0 to the Gunners again in the hope I was just a match early with the same prediction in the week. Paddy Power offers 7/1 against that outcome.

So which Arsenal will we see on Sunday? Sadly the 2004 vintage isn’t an option, but even in this one season we have witnessed both Jekyll and Hyde versions. I love them both, we can’t change that can we, but obviously would prefer Jekyll to eventually triumph. We may be a little short of steel, but we do still have the ability to produce winning performances. Starting Sunday please.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

A Numbing Night

The last sixteen of the Champions League, generally regarded to have got a favourable draw, Arsenal contrived to fall to the counter-attacking game that Arsene Wenger himself had predicted beforehand.

Monaco offered no surprises. Indeed they were under-strength, missing as they were the likes of Toulalan, Bakayoko, and Raggi. Kurzawa and Ferreira Carrasco only started on the bench, resting niggles.

There were two changes for us, with Hector Bellerin and Kieran Gibbs taking the full-back positions. The former would have been a popular choice given that in his recent appearances he has looked more confident and assured than Calum Chambers.

However the selection of Gibbs over Nacho Monreal came as something of a surprise. Martial and Dirar provided the wide counter-attacking threat predicted and gave both Arsenal full-backs a torrid time.

Careless in possession and distribution the Gunners surrendered an opening goal, and the initiative, at a crucial time as the opening half drifted to a close. Predictably it was a rapid break and we were too easily undone.

Monaco, their tactical plan reinforced, started the second-half happy to invite us on, and on we most certainly went. On another evening Olivier Giroud would have gobbled up at least one of the handful of opportunities as the ball followed him around. Had he done so things would look very different today. He didn’t. We ploughed on, lambs to the slaughter as it turned out.

The nature of the second goal on the break, to Berbatov of all people, exemplified the Gunners naïveté. The goal came not just as a result of a lack of protection for the defence, but more an absence of any sort of defence as we pushed for an equaliser.

There was, Arsenal being Arsenal, a sting in the tail. Even after the Ox had given us the lifeline of halving the deficit in the last minute we still managed to leave ourselves wide open to be hit on the break a third time.

We don’t know if the manager sent his team out unprepared for the Monaco tactics he had predicted, or whether they collectively failed to do their jobs. Not one of the fourteen players would have walked off the pitch happy with their contribution.

We can hope that, despite the evidence of our own eyes last night, this team can go to Monaco and win by three clear goals (or 2-4 or higher by two). I hope for the sake of those paying a small fortune to follow the side out there that we have a damn good go at it, whilst simultaneously retaining some form of defensive shape and discipline. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

More immediately though we have to bounce back from this performance and grab three important points against Everton on Sunday. It’s a fair bet the out of sorts visitors will arrive with exactly the sort of game plan that unhinged us last night and will therefore be ideal preparation for the second leg.

It will be interesting to see what we do differently on Sunday.

“Monaco made 11 points at the group stage, scored four goals and conceded one, so that means they defend very well. That’s what they will certainly try to do tomorrow and they are also very good on the break, quick in transition, so that’s what we expect from them.”

Arsene giving an assessment of his former club which ties in very much with what Andrew Gibney said on the A Bergkamp Wonderland podcast I was privileged to contribute to last week.

That miserly defence is a concern but also the fact that they do like to counter with pace down both flanks. Crystal Palace were allowed far too many crosses on Saturday and one would hope that we have prepared to stop the supply at source more effectively on Wednesday night.

Perhaps surprisingly the two clubs have never met competitively before, although in August the visitors beat Arsenal in the Emirates Cup with a goal from the prolific (cough) Radamel Falcao before his loan move to Old Trafford.

Monaco have injury worries over left-back Layvin Kurzawa and winger Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco. The latter would be a big miss given their likely tactics. Midfielders Jeremy Toulalan and Tiemou Bakayoko, and defenders Ricardo Carvalho (yes, that Ricardo Carvalho!) and Andrea Raggi are out.

The Gunners will be missing Jack Wilshere but should welcome back Hector Bellerin, Tomas Rosicky, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Of the three probably only Bellerin has a chance of starting, otherwise we could be unchanged from the weekend.

The ‘holic pound is persuaded that we could have enough guile and speed of thought in midfield to get a reasonable enough win to defend in the second leg. Unfortunately the bookies agree so the odds are on the short side. I am having a piece of 2-0 to the Arsenal, a skinny 11/2 with Paddy Power, but understandably so.

A word to the wise. I will be at the match so traveling home late tomorrow, and I have a full day on Thursday so the review (rather than a conventional report) will appear at some time on Thursday evening.

Legends Attend The Invincibles Premiere

The ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003/04 is celebrated in a new Arsenal Media documentary released this week.

The film, which took almost two years to complete, includes contributions from Arsène Wenger, Thierry Henry, Jens Lehmann, Sol Campbell, Martin Keown and Ray Parlour.

It premiered at the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead on Monday evening, with members of the Invincibles squad in attendance along with a host of famous fans.

‘Invincibles’ will be aired for the first time on Sky Sports 1 & 5 after Wednesday’s Champions League match with Monaco, with an extended version of the film available on iTunes and DVD from March 30.

The documentary will also be aired in the United States on NBC, with the premiere at 12pm (Eastern Time) on Sunday, March 1 following the Arsenal v Everton match.

It will then be screened again the following day at 9pm, as well as on March 14 on 6am  and at 4pm on March 22 (all Eastern Time).

Many thanks to Arsenal FC for the video and image shown here.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

 

Arsenal sit in third place in the Premier League after an atmospheric afternoon at Selhurst Park. From early on it was clear that we were paying Palace much respect, relying once again on the pragmatic that brought us joy at Eastlands rather than the flourish with which Boro were dismissed last week.

A difficult afternoon for Mark Clattenburg took shape in the fourth minute when Francis Coquelin’s raised boot caught Campbell in the stomach. He can feel himself very fortunate to have escaped with a warning. Invited on, Palace seemed to want to get Zaha running at Nacho Monreal, and the Spanish left-back struggled early on. Thankfully the winger who returned from Manchester United was less than accurate with his delivery.

Arsenal were looking menacing on the break and had the lead on eight minutes when the Palace debutant Souare upended Danny Welbeck around the eighteen yard line. The linesman indicated a penalty and Santi Cazorla found the net comfortably. Cue “One nil to the Arsenal” from the magnificent traveling support, also enjoying a contest of their own with their home counterparts.

Palace responded by working the flanks and a stream of crosses were dealt with comfortably by a resolute Gunners defence, although the fact that more were not prevented by the full-backs is something to be addressed at Shenley before Wednesday. Monaco too are likely to attack from wide. The half-time stats told a story. Not a single Palace effort on target.

That haunted them more as Olivier Giroud grabbed a second for the visitors in time added on at the end of the half. Alexis set Welbeck through and his effort was parried by Speroni only as far as the in-form Frenchman who finished. Palace claimed Welbeck was offside, and it was certainly a close call.

If we had hoped that goal would have knocked the stuffing out of Palace after the break we discovered quickly that it hadn’t. Zaha was denied by Monreal for the first of a string of corners which we defended comfortably. Still Arsenal looked to carry more threat on the break. Mesut Ozil saw his header from an Alexis cross graze the bar and the same player put Alexis through for a one on one with Speroni, but the Chilean stroked the ball inches wide of the far post.

Giroud and Zaha traded chances as Palace continued to send a stream of crosses in without creating any opportunities of note, but the match was far from over. In the fourth added minute the hosts suddenly got the bounce of the ball, and Murray converted a scramble in the six yard box. An incredible comeback was denied them when the scorer saw his last gasp header bounce back off the post and into the grateful arms of the prone Ospina.

The final whistle brought to an end a very strange but fascinating contest. The man of the match vote would be a tough one to call, and I would have no problem with anybody disagreeing with my choice, Danny Welbeck. That call owes as much to the shift he was prepared to put in defensively as well as in attack. He is keeping Theo Walcott out of the side at present and today provided the reason why.

Not emphatic by any means, but the three points were what mattered, and once again we secured them despite not being at our best. That’s a good sign, isn’t it?

Storming The Palace?

I was chatting to a mate last week about my first visit to Selhurst Park in November 1969. It was the first League meeting of the two clubs. We stood at the back of the Whitehorse Lane end, sold in 1981 to make way for a Sainsbury’s supermarket. The pre-match read of the programme was depressing, labelling Arsenal as ‘Punchless’ after a run of twelve matches without a win. In their last ten outings the misfiring Gunners had scored just twice.

A couple of hours later we were making our way home in the warm afterglow of success, a 5-1 pasting  having been dished out, and a search of YouTube found the highlights here. It was great to see Geordie Armstrong, and the recently featured Jon Sammels in that video. Arsenal would go on to land their first trophy in seventeen years at the end of that season, memorably defeating Anderlecht in the European Fairs Cup.

The two clubs have now met 29 times in the top flight, and Palace have won just twice. Their only triumph in front of their own supporters came in 1979 when the only goal of the game was good enough to beat a Gunners team missing Pat Rice and Alan Sunderland. Their other triumph was by 2-1 at Highbury in 1994 when Ian Wright grabbed the goal for the Gunners.

If the Palace of the first half of the season were our opponents tomorrow there would be little reason to anticipate them securing a third triumph, but a managerial change in January has seen something of a revival of fortunes for the South Londoners. The replacement of Neil Warnock and Keith Millen with former Eagle Alan Pardew has seen something of a mini-revival. His first game in charge saw Tottenham defeated 2-1, and they have also won at Burnley (3-2) and Leicester (1-0). Their last two home matches brought a lone goal defeat to Everton, and a 1-1 draw with Pardew’s former club, Newcastle United.

As for the team news, long term absentees Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, and Abou Diaby remain out. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was back in full training today (Friday) and is probably a little short (in Wengerspeak). Hector Bellerin and Mathieu Flamini required late tests but with Calum Chambers and Francis Coquelin fit there is no need to gamble on their fitness.

On the plus side Jack Wilshere is available again and will probably start on the bench. As well as Coquelin it would not be a surprise to see recalls for Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal after last week’s outstanding performance against Boro. More interesting will be whether or not the attacking pack is shuffled to make space for Theo Walcott.

The hosts could welcome back skipper Jedinak after an ankle injury. McArthur may also return but our own Yaya Sanogo is ineligible to face us.

Listeners to last night’s AFC Podcast will know I had to reveal the ‘holic pound a day early. I am waiting though for Paddy Power to improve on 14/1 against a 1-3 win for the visitors before hitting the bet now button. That confident prediction is based on the midfield turning up with the same ambition and conviction displayed last week, rather than the one that sometimes struggles to break down well organised defences.

For those going I hope we do secure the points for you with yet another blistering performance. That sentiment is obviously extended to those of you who will be joining me on a stream hunt at three. I’m looking forward to getting a flavour of the atmosphere as the vociferous home support goes head to head against the magnificent traveling Gooners.

This weekend, as ever, have a good one ‘holics.

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