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Anybody who wondered if the international break had come at a good time for Arsenal has probably had their answer now. The feeling that most of the squad would spend time away forgetting the Chelsea defeat and return ready to start all over again against Hull has been replaced by yet another massive inquest.

It all started on Wednesday when the German FA announced to the world that Mesut Ozil would be out for 10-12 weeks with a ‘partial lateral collateral ligament tear’ in the left knee. Immediately it sunk in that once again he and Aaron Ramsey, so crucially missing for a vital part of the title run-in earlier in the year, are out together again.

Twenty-four hours on and Laurent Koscielny was sent back to Arsenal by France with chronic tendonitis of both ankles. With Mathieu Debuchy already ruled out by injury and Calum Chambers suspended for the next fixture at home to Hull the last thing we needed was another scare involving a back four player.

The reference to the tail end of last season may be unfair. Theo Walcott is close to a return, and his absence was another contributory feature of our spring collapse. The cover for Mesut is there. Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, and more than ever Jack Wilshere, are all capable of fitting into the number ten role. They have not only the returning Theo to work with. In spring we didn’t have Alexis or Danny Welbeck. The forward options are starting to look attractive.

The potential early derailing of another title challenge won’t be down to any attacking weakness. We are, however very much down to the bare bones defensively. All together now. “We knew that. We told you so in August.” Hindsight favours those of a pessimistic hue, as it so often does. They aren’t wrong though. Going into a season with so few acknowledged defensive-minded players was likely to provoke a response if we picked up injuries and suspensions, and we have.

Having said all of that I think it wise to wait and see what happens in the coming weeks before going overboard with any assessment of where we are. Following, lest we forget, only our first Premier League defeat of the season, we have a string of fixtures which should yield enough points to keep us in relative touch with the leaders until the transfer window opens again in the new year. Without doubt we have the cash to buy should quality be available in that window.

Let’s assume we have the desire too, to strengthen further.

Campo Retro Arsenal Shirts

Look, as Arsene would say, the good folk at Campo Retro have offered Goonerholic readers a massive 20% discount off their superb range of shirts in October. You can check them out here. Pick your shirt or shirts of choice and when you checkout enter the code GH20 to secure your discount.

I’m tempted by the 1979 Cup Final shirt. What’s your favourite? Let me know in the drinks.

Taking the day after the match off was a good idea. Leaving the post until the morning after equally so. A strange day ended with us nine points, but not light years, behind Chelsea. You have seen the match, and read other match reports. I’ll give an impression of the day from one perspective rather than add to those.

It turned into a strange day. My inability to read a ticket, and my assumption about the size of the fixture, meant I planned for a 4pm kick-off, only to be told by text that it was the early match while I made a tortuous journey to south-west London. The anticipated sightseeing and lunchtime session turned into a hurried couple of pints before joining the queues to get into the Shed. We were held outside for what stewards advised was an ‘incident’. Once inside all became clear, or rather not. A hint of red in the air, acrid smoke. Some thoughtless plum who presumably knows nobody with COPD or asthma thought it fun to let off a flare in a confined space by the bar.

The resulting shut down of the refreshment facilities meant an early ascent of the upper tier steps to a cramped seat. You can’t all sit at Chelsea, even if you wanted to, and so stand and sing we did. You will have your own take on how it all unfolded, and I will not change entrenched views. Suffice it to say this was far from the embarrassing surrender of last season. We were encouraged early on, but that is to be expected, I suppose. Mourinho has his way of playing big clubs, which involves having all eleven players in their own half for large swathes of the contest, and breaking with lung-bursting pace.

It isn’t pretty, as a million tweeters confirmed, but I can’t help to think back to the latter years of the George Graham reign, when we would do the same to the big sides we faced. Once again the tactic worked, and until Arsene registers a win away to a rival it will continue to be a stick to beat him with. The spat with his irksome opposite number, amusing at the time, is a sign of the tensions he still feels on such occasions, and totally understandable too.

The incident that sparked that confrontation was a vile lunge on Alexis by Cahill. A clear red card offence to all but the hapless official. I’ll be quick to point out others should have followed and he was totally incompetent for both sides. It was a day Atkinson will want to forget, although hopefully his bosses will not let him do so when assessing his performance. That was however a game-changing moment, whereas Welbeck’s equally poor challenge at the end of the match wasn’t.

We had looked more likely to score in the opening 27 minutes but our failure to do so handed Chelsea the opportunity to succeed with their rope-a-dope tactics. Creating little, it was not a surprise they got the advantage with a penalty, when Hazard was alllowed far too easily to make a mazy run into the box and square up Koscielny, drawing the inevitable clumsy challenge. It was a clear penalty from over a hundred yards away on a narrow perch in the gods. Another decision for St Francis of Assisi to duck.

In the aftermath Jack Wishere was quoted on www.arsenal.com thus…

“We are playing against teams who, when you are on top, you have to make it count or they will punish you. That is what they did.”

A perfect summation of the day, and so many recent awaydays against good sides. Had we scored first Chelsea would have faced a decision about when to open up in search of an equaliser and present us with an opportunity to double our advantage. They didn’t need to, and the second-half followed a similar pattern to what had gone before. Jack himself missed the clearest opportunity to level matters, but a rare heavy touch at the wrong moment cost us dearly.

Yet more controversy after the break when Cesc Fabregas batted away Jack’s drive with a flailing arm. That would be a penalty nine times out of ten. This was the tenth. Calum Chambers let fly but cleared the crossbar. It wasn’t our day, a fact confirmed when Costa lobbed the hesitant Szczesny. Presumably the ‘keeper feared another red card situation?

That there were frustrations among some of the traveling faithful can’t be denied. To an extent that is understandable, although the abuse dished out by a very few to our own is not. As stated earlier, until we beat a title rival on the road the undercurrent of dissatisfaction will continue to flow unabated. So huge and diverse is the fanbase it would be remarkable in the extreme if we all largely agreed about the state of the club, at any given point in time.

So once more we ventured out onto Fulham Road, a little despondent rather than distraught. A couple of pints of HSB at Paddington cheered briefly. Match of the Day highlighted Chelsea’s disruptive rotational fouling, and although that is a valid point, we have to learn to deal with it because they are not the only team to engage us so.

There will be better days to come at the Bridge, for sure. I hope I am there then.

My Hornbyesque upbringing in the Thames Valley means Chelsea versus Arsenal was always a much-anticipated fixture. Cheap train travel and cheap admission on the day meant schoolboys could afford the day on pocket money, and join in the great adventures that an ‘away’ game provided. My first was in 1969. Tomorrow’s combined match ticket and coach/train travel far exceed what would be considered pocket money today.

So many have advised I am in for a bad day, and there is no denying that Chelsea have made a very fast start to their Premiership campaign. Only Manchester City, at home, have taken a point against them. On the road Chelsea have beaten Burnley and Everton, whilst at this weekend’s venue they have seen off Leicester (2-0), Swansea (4-2), and Aston Villa (3-0). They have strengthened shrewdly, including Cesc Fabregas of course, but most significant would appear to be the purchase of Diego Costa who already has eight goals to his credit.

You cannot escape mention of last season’s horror story for us, a six goal drubbing on what should have been a happier day for the boss, celebrating a thousand matches in charge of the Arsenal. Our performances away from home against our main rivals have for too long now been a cause for concern. This is an opportunity to show that we have addressed that. Once a fixture we approached with relish, we have now won just twice at the Bridge in the last decade. I get it. We are underdogs.

I also get we were underdogs the last time we won there on a day when the lasting image will be of John Terry chewing the cud as we clinched a remarkable 3-5 triumph three years ago. The team news remains a worry. Only Nacho Monreal is likely to return to the squad that saw off Galatasaray in midweek. Should there be any change to the eleven that started that fixture? Having Santi Cazorla in a deeper central role seemed to work on Tuesday and the attacking trio of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez provided the bullets for Danny Welbeck to fire.

Obviously Chelsea on their own patch are far more formidable than the Turks, and we will have to be far more alert defensively to the sort of counter-attacking game that the loathesome Mourinho so likes to play against us. Having the Ox and Alexis on the flanks provides hard-working cover to full backs who will be sorely tested. If they can do that well, and we can fashion opportunities for Danny at the other end then that is the recipe for pulling off the unexpected, or at least securing the point that will keep the gap between us and the leaders to six points.

As for the ‘holic pound, I was hoping for better than 9/2 for an away win. That looks a little short to me. I’m going instead for what does look super value. Two bookies offer Laurent Koscielny to score anytime at 20/1. I’m on the big man to strike from a set piece.

Engineering works make for an awful journey by taxi, replacement bus, train, and tube. I’m hoping against hope, it would seem, that all will be worthwhile when we depart West London with something from the match. Let’s hope it isn’t just a hangover.

Welbeck In Contention

Happy eighteenth anniversary, Arsene. A potential banana skin of a night became a celebration not just because Galatasaray lined up with an untested formation, but also because those in red and white displayed a sense of purpose and commitment. Almost down to the bare bones, we shall worry tomorrow morning about Alexis’ ankle. His contribution tonight, alongside Mesut Ozil, gave us hints of what lies in store in the coming months. A new team is coming together, slowly but most definitely.

However, it wasn’t Ozil or Alexis who claimed the man of the match plaudits. Danny Welbeck has divided opinion since his deadline day capture for £16m. That looks absurdly good value for an English international striker when you look at the fees paid for one or two other young English players (Luke Shaw *cough*). Manchester United fans must have loved sitting in their front rooms watching their old boy playing in Europe tonight and doing so well.

As a contest it was over by half-time, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a game to raise the blood pressure. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla to the fore in the opening exchanges we showed an appetite sometimes lacking on our frustrating days. Gala threatened on the break, but in truth looked a little lightweight with little support for the experienced Pandev up front. The difference in attacking options were demonstrated little more than twenty minutes in. Alexis played Welbeck in and a toe poke before Melo could intervene put us ahead.

On the half hour he doubled his productivity for the night, shrugging aside Melo again to finish in a style compared to a Highbury legend. Let’s take it easy on that front for his next hundred, or maybe two hundred goals for Arsenal, eh? The name Melo is cropping up time and again. Remember some berating Arsene for not signing him a couple of years back? He should have walked tonight for a savage two footed lunge on Alexis. Quite how he got away with only a yellow card was a mystery to all who witnessed it. Alexis was withdrawn in the second-half and  shown with a precautionary, hopefully, ice pack on his ankle. We’ll need him on Sunday.

Before the half-time cuppas’ were served (ok, it is specially prepared energy drinks now) we had a third. Alexis was played in by Ozil (I thought they couldn’t play together?) and for the third time the ball was slotted inside the far post. The ‘holic pound would have rewarded handsomely at 45 minutes. It was fatally holed just seven minutes into the second-half when Welbeck started and finished the flowing move that saw us four to the good. It was Danny’s first hat-trick in senior football, but all the signs are that more will follow. His speed of thought and foot were impressive tonight. Repeat that on Sunday please, young man.

Of course on an evening when an opponent should have walked for a savage foul, we were bound to lose our Wojciech for another ill-judged but not not malicious challenge. Let me say here I have no problem with the red card he received under the present guidance to referees, but it is ludicrous that Melo should have stayed on the pitch tonight when Szczesny was sent off for a challenge that did not threaten serious damage to a fellow professional. These inconsistent and incompetent referees need highlighting too.

The result of the Pole’s rashness was an appearance from the bench for David Ospina. Beaten from the spot he may have been, but as the nine men ahead of him regrouped he gave a solid display and even produced one save ‘for the cameras’ as the old ‘keepers would say. He will have another opportunity to impress now at Anderlecht in three weeks. Could we be witnessing the arrival of a new number one? We shall see, but not at the bus stop in Fulham on Sunday, I suspect. Nor should we.

So, let’s take a deep breath and think what this means. We have a home win in the Champions League, and so we should. Two more and a performance in Belgium or Turkey (or both) and we are last sixteen material again. I mentioned bare bones earlier, and certainly we are not far from that, but Tomas Rosicky was a second-half substitute tonight, and impressed. Jack Wilshere too. The earlier summons for Ospina probably denied Lukas Podolski a run out. First impressions tonight are, should Alexis not be ruled out, that we have a starting eleven that can give it a go at the bus stop on Sunday. Confident? Not particularly, but the Arsenal have given me some unexpected boosts down the years, and this weekend provides yet another opportunity for them to surprise and delight.

What say you?

 

I have to be honest. In August I didn’t expect six weeks into the new season that I would be previewing our first Champions League group phase home fixture wondering if we could put out a first team squad starting eleven. That sounds dramatic. We can, but only just, and that should be significant.

Galatasaray are back in town and given our opening day performance in Dortmund we need to secure three points, and hopefully avoid further injuries in the process. We cannot gloss over the problems that we face ahead of the match. We have to, for one night only, forget the fact that an important, if not decisive, fixture follows on Sunday. We are missing, wait for it, Debuchy, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Diaby, Gnabry, Walcott, Sanogo, and Giroud.

Those that are available should still be capable, surely, of delivering what Le Boss regards as a crucial three home points?

“Basically the target is always the same in the Champions League. You need to win your home games and you need one good result away from home. We had a disappointing result in Dortmund and the potential is there for us, we don’t lose a lot but we want to find the winning edge together and we have that opportunity against Galatasaray.”

Well nobody can argue with that, agreed? Wojciech Szczesny will surely start behind our only four senior (yes, you are already Calum!) defenders, Calum Chambers, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, and Kieran Gibbs. Arsene has a decision to make about who plays behind and alongside Danny Welbeck. How fit is Jack Wilshere? The answer, if he needs additional rest before Chelsea, is Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Tomas Rosicky, Mathieu Flamini, Mesut Ozil, and Santi Cazorla or Lukas Podolski. The bench might be thin. Apologies kids, and Joel Campbell, I wish you well if you get your opportunity.

I would love to argue the reasons why we will beat Galatasaray. I would love to give you a deep and meaningful tactical appreciation of where they are right now. It would be utter bollocks. I haven’t watched them once this season. I am relying on the old stereotype of Turkish teams travelling badly, and Arsenal historically doing alright at home, to inform my bet on the match, so don’t follow it slavishly. The High Street bookies are all over a low scoring Arsenal win. They are not often wrong, but 1-0 (7/1 at best), 2-0 (15/2), and 2-1 (8/1) don’t represent value for me. I am having a ‘holic pound that I can afford on both 3-0 and 3-1 at 12/1.

On the day, as well as overseeing our Champions League adventure, Arsene will be celebrating eighteen years in charge of THE Arsenal. I seriously thanked him once for what he had done for us, after the Highhbury Farewell. What has followed has caused much debate, and falling out between top people I knew.

Having said that it is time to withdraw to the land of nod. Have a lovely Wednesday all. Let’s pray for a good result tomorrow. Big weekend ahead.

We Love you Arsenal, we do.

Twenty six hours after the event I have finally seen the entire match. The strain on the wifi in the place where I found myself on Saturday meant I saw only the first-half, and that on mute. A second viewing of that first period on Arsenal Player confirmed the impression I had at the time. The midfield that so impressed for much of last season is still taking shape, and we have not hit the ground running. Despite dominating ownership of the football too often our advances were side to side and lacking the urgency that we exhibit when on song.

It would appear reasonable to wonder if continued efforts to shoehorn Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, and Mesut Ozil into the starting eleven are at the heart of the problem. All do their best work in behind the main striker, and it was evident that Ozil was more influential after Ramsey’s unfortunate removal with a hamstring problem. We will perhaps find out in the coming week, or weeks, depending on the diagnosis of the extent of that injury.

The loss of Mikel Arteta too limits our options for the meetings with Galatasaray and Chelsea in the coming days. There is an obvious replacement in Mathieu Flamini, but the old warhorse looked to tire badly against Manchester City in his last start, and was caught in possession for Spurs unlikely opener in this match. Two big games in four days will test his fitness. Arsene said afterwards that Abou Diaby is not yet ready to return and if Jack has a reaction to his ankle knock yesterday, and is also ruled out, then our options are limited.

Indeed it could be that we will be down to almost the bare bones for Wednesday’s Champions League encounter, with Mesut and Santi Cazorla ahead of Flamini, and Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flanks. Pray none of that quintet picks up a knock that rules them out of the important trip to the bus stop in Fulham also.

The improvement in our creative play in the second-half was apparent before Spurs were gifted the lead, and the reaction to that shock was commendable, if ultimately insufficient. The Ox looked rightly thrilled with his equaliser after a magnificent dummy by Danny Welbeck (cough). It looked for all the world as if the axis of Ozil, Cazorla, Alexis, and Gibbs could open up Spurs right flank at will, and with Calum Chambers and the Ox threatening down the opposit flank it did look as though the winner would be found. My heart says we deserved it, my head tells me to be more questioning.

The other significant contributor to the match was Michael Oliver. I know I am harsh in my assessment of our Premier League officials. Because of the general lack of quality we currently have this young man has been fast-tracked, and his appointment to this fixture merely reinforces that view. It was too big a game for him, although to be fair he showed no partiality and had some very difficult calls to make. We will argue that Jack should have had a penalty in the first-half but it happened quickly, and only multiple views of the relays confirmed Rose’s challenge was unfair.

Even harder the decision to deny Per Mertesacker an equaliser. The goal line technology showed the ball in play when Lloris saved, which was not in doubt, but the ball did thereafter go backwards and close at least to over the line. Neither of those non-decisions should result in him being marked down, but his inconsistency in what constituted a yellow card meant that players were free to commit multiple offences, and none more so than Lamela. Oliver cottoned on to this too late, and decided to award yellows for almost any foul in the second-half by anybody not previously booked.

Laughably, Chadli was booked for taunting the schoolboys, girls, and pensioners in the Family enclosure. Since when has being nothing more than a classless prick warranted the award of a yellow card? Frankly, Oliver appeared to lose control, but for clarity, I again emphasise this was not an excuse for dropped points by the hosts. I just hope he is not considered an option to officiate next Sunday, and that is far more important.

Criticism of a side thus far unbeaten in the Premier League might be seen as harsh, but trailing Chelsea by six points after just six matches is a legitimate concern. Next Sunday’s match is too early to be considered pivotal, but more important is that we start to rediscover the consistency of performance in the calendar year of 2013. We have, thankfully, strengthened the squad if not entirely to everyones satisfaction.  We are bedding in some new talent and that is taking a little longer than we might have hoped.

That said we are still not far from fielding a front three of Theo, Welbeck, and Alexis. I am rather looking forward to that. If only they could start in the coming week. Pray for a clean bill of health after Wednesday night.

 

It’s the eve of the match like no other. Our rivals these days may come from the west of London and the north-west of England, but there is something about facing the neighbours that still stirs the blood. I only have to hear the word “Tottenham’ and the memories come flooding back. 1971, 2004, Raddy, Ray, Liam, Alan, Rocky, Charlie, Tony, Thierry, Bobby, Tomas, Theo. Fabulous wins and the odd painful reverse. It’s a fixture that divides families. My late grandfather, a late uncle, and cousin are from the dark side. The rest of the family knew that North London is red.

There was a spell when I would confidently demolish the marsh-dwellers ahead of our meetings, but as the austerity years hit so they have enjoyed the odd isolated triumph, immediately burned onto disc. Their only league win at the Grove came in 2010 when we watched on, almost disbelieving, as a 2-0 half-time lead was tamely surrendered. The following season, on a pivotal day for Arsene Wenger, we were 0-2 down early on. Many felt that had the result gone against us that day we would now have a different man at the helm. Bacary Sagna sparked the fight back, and triggered a five goal salvo that will always be remembered by those who saw it.

A repeat 5-2 the following season gave the lie to the mythical ‘power-shift’ claimed for so long by those well and truly in our shadow. That claim resurfaced last summer. A figure in excess of £100 million was splashed (polite version) on a veritable chest of tat. Olivier Giroud’s 23rd minute strike did for them in the League, and then Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky humbled them in the FA Cup third round tie that was the springboard for us winning the competition.

This season they have yet another manager for Arsene to see off. Mauricio Pochettino looks to have a bit more about him than some of the clowns who Tottenham have appointed in recent years but is starting to realise the challenge that faces him. After beating West Ham and Queens Park Rangers in their opening Premier League fixtures the neighbours have taken just one point from the next three, at Sunderland, and suffered successive defeats to Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion.

Arsene was complimentary in his pre-match presser when quizzed about the visitors and their new manager.

“It’s early in the season to judge a team but they have certainly less introduction of new players. They will benefit from stability and he’s a quality manager. He has shown that at Southampton.”

The team news was much as expected. We remain without Mathieu Debuchy, Nacho Monreal, Theo Walcott, and Olivier Giroud. The temptation to go with the side that won so impressively at Aston Villa last weekend must be huge for Arsene. If there are to be changes one would assume the options revolve around whether to recall Abou Diaby and/or Jack Wishere for Mikel Arteta and/or Santi Cazorla. A little something is telling me Jack for Santi is the likeliest of those two, which would have important ramifications for Mesut Ozil.

The ‘holic pound harks back to a historic result for a historic fixture. In our first double season, 1970-71, we played Tottenham at home in September. Wee Geordie Armstrong scored both goals in a 2-0 win that day, and I fancy a repeat at the Grove. I’ve taken what I consider a generous 10/1 with one High Street bookie.

Unfortunately, for the first time I can remember in years, I will miss the annual ‘rip it out of the neighbours’ in the flesh. I will be at a wedding in a barn in the middle of nowhere, praying for a mobile signal, or better still a wifi link so I can get the match on the phone. As ever I am reminded of an old cricket tale when this game approaches. “If God is on our side we shall win. If he is on their side they will win. But if he keeps his beak out of it we’ll bloody well thrash them”, or words to that effect.

Have a good one ‘holics.

This won’t be a long piece, or a conventional report on the 1-2 defeat to Southampton in tonight’s COCup 3rd round tie at the Grove.

In this, the least valued of the domestic cups, we like many others choose to use the squad available to us to give them first team experience in front of a big crowd. Down the years invariably we have found we have sufficient quality to progress, sometimes to the amazement of many.

Tonight we have seen the other side of the coin. Actually I saw about an hour of it. Another story altogether. I joined the contest at 1-1. Broadband providers are not infallible. As far as the goals were concerned I caught up at half-time. Alexis nailed a wonderful free-kick to give us the lead. Tomas Rosicky caught the quick to collapse Mane and a penalty levelled matters. I had the fortune, or misfortune, to join the match live as Clyne thumped an absolute beauty in from somewhere far south of the North Bank. It was a goal fit to win a game.

If you followed me on Twitter tonight you already know my take on the match. We wondered beforehand about the capability of a makeshift back five to hold out to a full-strength Saints side. Despite the result the answer has to be yes, they did. Debutant goalkeeper David Ospina was protected by four kids, effectively. Hector Bellerin, Calum Chambers, Isaac Hayden, and at 23 the only non-teenager, Francis Coquelin, could not take any blame for a soft penalty conceded by the skipper, or a long range wonder strike. I thought them one of three positives to come from the evening.

Another was obviously Alexis Sanchez. I read some comments at the weekend that we were better for him not being available. I could say poppycock, but I’ll call ‘bollocks’ as I have had a bad day too. The man’s workrate, given he is our second most expensive signing ever, and a true world class star, is astonishing. I cannot wait to see him, Danny, and Theo, playing ahead of Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, with maybe a match fit Abou Diaby in behind. (OK, I’m a dreamer, I’ll grant you.) Big teams will be ripped a new one.

The final positive is actually a result of the negative of the night. Given that the new-look back five held up pretty well it follows that our defeat owes much to the inability of an experienced front six to produce a match-winning performance. Don’t tell me that a combination of Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell, and Alexis, couldn’t have found a way to get us through if all were match fit. It was painfully clear that two or three of those need a game under their belt. No names, no pack drill. Now they have a game behind them and will be better if required in the big couple of weeks to follow.

What more needs to be said? Of course nobody wanted us to go out tonight. I think it a bad thing because if we keep the squad largely fit (and therein lies the rub), this competition provides serious football for those now playing a back-up role. The other side of that coin is that if you do get a first team start, in the three competitions that remain available to us, you had better be prepared to give your all in a bid to keep the cannon on your chest.

Not a good night, maybe, but worse things could have befallen us. The next three matches are much, MUCH, more important.

The COCup approaches, and provides a fascinating challenge to those who like to predict the team that Arsene will put out for this third round tie. If the last round is any guide then Ronald Koeman will bring a strong side to the Grove. Why wouldn’t he, for in all honesty this competition provides the best opportunity now for those outside the top half dozen (yes, I know they are currently second in the table, but they won’t stay there) clubs to qualify for European football.

Arsene would probably like to change all eleven starters from Saturday’s impressive win at Villa Park, but with only three recognised senior defenders plus Saints young ‘old boy’, Calum Chambers he is really clutching at straws in this department. Popular opinion online today, fuelled by Arsene’s presser, has Hector Bellerin coming in at right back, and possibly Isaac Hayden in the centre. People are speculating that Chambers could be the second centre-back, but I have a feeling, and no more, that Per Mertesacker could get that berth and the captain’s armband. If David Ospina gets a likely debut in goal it would be good for him to work with the unofficial leader of the back four (or Laurent Koscielny, of course) and start to build an understanding with him.

Left-back is another big call. With Nacho Monreal do we go with Kieran Gibbs, and hope against hope he doesn’t get another injury, or perhaps ask Mathieu Flamini to reprise his part in the run to the Champions League Final of 2006. If the latter option is taken then the way is clear for a recall for Francis Coquelin in midfield. There cannot be many who thought they would see him in an Arsenal shirt this season, but maybe Arsene has seen some development in him during his loan spell at Freiburg last season. This is an opportunity for him to impress in a holding role where we look short on paper.

The attacking options are less of an issue. A look at those who started on the bench on Saturday reveals potential for immediate promotion, and little reduction in quality. Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, and Lukas Podolski could complete a quintet feeding Alexis Sanchez. Joel Campbell must also be in contention for a place, and Chuba Akpom could get a summons from the bench if we need to freshen things up in the second-half.

So there. All the bases covered, and I probably haven’t stumbled on the correct starting eleven. Invariably we get past this stage of the competition, but this looks a particularly difficult test. We have to hope we have just enough to get past the surprise package of the opening weeks of the Premier league season. When the manager and several of their top players departed for pastures new this summer who would have guessed that the Saints would recover from an unlucky opening day defeat at Anfield, by the odd goal in three, to secure three wins and a draw and trail Chelsea by just three points going into week six.

I have thought long and hard about the ‘holic pound, nervous of the potential outcome given the uncertainty about who will be in the back four. Astute regulars will know I look for value in the anytime goalscorer odds when such encounters occur. As I type Tomas Rosicky is 11/2 to score on the night with one High Street bookie and that is far and away the pick of what I am looking at. Just keep it to your minimum affordable stake. This could be a strange evening, depending on the team selected.

To those who are going, have a wonderful evening. There is a mixture of regulars and occasional match attendees at early rounds of this competition that makes, usually, for an unusual atmosphere at the Grove. Please don’t do that bloody Mexican wave, but do please get behind the eleven in red, whoever they may be. As for the rest of us, will there be a stream? Is any broadcaster showing this game live? Over to you, international ‘holics.

Have a good one.

Sorry about that! For half an hour or so we had an evenly contested match at Villa Park. The nerves prompted by the midweek performance in Dortmund were barely soothed by Villa’s first shot on target being saved by Wojciech Szczesny. The goalkeeper needed to be at his best, and was. His instinctive save from Clark’s point-blank header probably had a big bearing on the outcome.

However, the Pole wasn’t the man who will collect most of the plaudits.  The match was decided by an astonishing 192 seconds which started when Danny Welbeck slotted a through ball between defenders for Mesut Ozil, who finished with what can only be described as ridiculous ease. The World Cup winner has had a mixed start to the season in an unfamiliar role, but restored to the centre of things he influenced proceedings throughout and gave a masterclass in passing.

The German turned provider in the next attack. Aaron Ramsey freed him down the left flank and Mesut’s cross was turned home by Welbeck, opening his account for the Gunners. There will be many more to come, surely. Villa were blown away when Cissokho turned Kieran Gibbs’ cross into his own net. It was a remarkable few minutes and could have turned into four, with both Ramsey and Ozil firing wide as the half drew to a close.

Arsene won’t have had many easier half-time talks. “Keep the ball and do nothing silly”, or something along those lines we can imagine. The boys carried out those instructions to the letter as a deflated Villa offered little in the way of a threat after the break. It was noticeable that they all but stopped pressing the ball, and that may have owed something to a bug, rumoured to have affected a few of their number ahead of kick-off.

Ozil and Welbeck, building a promising understanding, came close to adding to their first-half strikes. For the main part though the Gunners played a simple passing game to deny the hosts any meaningful possession and for once the travelling faithful and screenwatching Gooners had a relatively relaxed forty-five minutes.

After the final whistle Arsene was quick to point out the significant contribution of his playmaker.

“Ozil played today behind their midfield because I thought they made it very tight. But it’s important for us to find Ozil between the lines and move the game forward.”

Any review of the game has to take into account that Villa, despite their impressive opening to the season, lost the heart for the battle after that three goal salvo. That doesn’t detract from the visitors performance, however. Arsenal, searching for form in the opening weeks of the season, found it today and it is hard not to attribute a huge chunk of that to having Ozil in the chief creative role.

Bring on Southampton, also flying right now, in the COCup.

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