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What a strange weekend this is turning into. Football was meant to be played on Saturday afternoons, maybe Sunday as a last resort. Instead he who pays the piper calls the tune and if Sky say we have to play on Monday evening three days before going away to Barysaw (don’t ask!), which in turn is three days before we return to Premier League action against Brighton, then that is what we have to do. Bollocks to the supporters. I think we can safely assume it will be very much a shadow squad which makes the journey to Barysaw (don’t ask!).

With Danny Welbeck ruled out with what looked like a bad groin strain at the bus stop in Fulham the boss has to choose between Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez to replace him against the Baggies. Given the nature of the opposition then Alexis would appear to be the likeliest to get the nod. West Brom play with three centre-backs in a genuine back five and Giroud would give them a player to mark and battle with in the air. Alexis and Alexandre Lacazette being more mobile could cause them problems with playing off them with pace and trickery.

The manager also has one other potential change to the side that played so well at Chelsea. Does Mesut Ozil come in for Alex Iwobi, or do we maintain a formation that worked for us and gave Aaron Ramsey greater involvement at both ends of the pitch? If the youngster its retained I wonder how Ozil will take being on the plane to Barysaw (don’t ask!) on Wednesday. Why do I now hear Jethro in my mind saying “Plane don’t stop Barysaw Wednesdays”?

We start the match a point adrift of the visitors, and the match will see a rapid return to the Grove for Kieran Gibbs. His debut was a goal-less draw at home to West Ham and he was retained for the 1-2 EFL Cup defeat against Manchester City. The visitors started the season with single goal wins against Bournemouth and at Burnley before drawing with Stoke and the Hammers to get eight points on the board to our seven.

Another of our opponents is expected to break Ryan Giggs appearance record in the Premier League. Gareth Barry was a target for Arsene Wenger, as he confirmed this week, before the player went to Manchester City. If Ozil does start the match you can bet Barry will never be far from the German international playmaker.

The ‘holic pound

This is the bit where I regret being bullish on last Monday’s ABW podcast where I tipped a 3-0 win for the Arsenal. I’ll have to stick with that now although it would not be a surprise if the match turns into a war of attrition. Tony Pulis teams don’t do entertaining. I’ve managed to find my original selection at 9/1, a tad skinny methinks, but I’m on it.

As ever, if you are going have a wonderful evening. With holidays thin on the ground I will be in the warm watching in comfort and hopefully not getting riled by the commentary. Have a great one, ‘holics.

Arsenal rang the changes from Sunday’s starting eleven. All eleven in fact. As expected David Ospina lined up behind Calum Chambers, Per Mertesacker, and Rob Holding, with exciting prospects Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the wing-back berths. Jack Wilshere returned alongside Mohamed Elneny in midfield behind a potent looking front three of Theo Walcott, Alexis, and Olivier Giroud.

It was a mix of youth and experience that promised a great deal, but it was the lowly opposition who opened with more intent and Kongolo, on loan from Manchester City, drew a sprawling save from Ospina in the opening minute. Arsenal went to the other end where Walcott was unable to apply the finishing touch from Elneny’s pass.

In the third minute Giroud found himself on the floor in the box screaming for a penalty after he was rugby tackled as a cross was delivered. Astonishingly the officials missed it. The big Frenchman then saw an effort from the edge of the box charged down. He was keen to get the opener and from Wishire’s sublime chip he produced an acrobatic bicycle kick that smashed into the crossbar and over.

Alexis was next to try his luck with a long-range free kick that had Lawlor scrambling to his right to save. Ten minutes in and the Gunners had assumed full control of the game. Wilshere was rolling back the years with a range of passes that were threatening to unlock Doncaster’s determined rearguard action. They did manage to mount a rare break in the nineteenth minute. Coppinger, the sole survivor from the last meeting of the clubs in 2005, drew a save from Ospina but the whistle had already been blown for a free-kick.

Again the Gunners poured forward and Giroud’s header was a coat of paint over the bar. The opener finally arrived in the 25th minute when Alexis cut infield and put Walcott in the clear with a superbly weighted lob and the Englishman applied a chipped finish from the edge of the six yard box.

Arsenal 1-0 Doncaster Rovers

There was no reprieve for the visitors and Wilshere’s fierce drive from distance was deflected for a corner that eventually fell to Giroud on the edge of the box. His volley once more cleared the bar. Another Alexis free-kick sailed into the Doncaster supporters in the Clock End. It drew the loudest cheer yet from the subdued Doncastrians. The Chilean responding by looking to send in Walcott again but Lawlor spotted the danger and claimed the ball first.

The Rovers goalkeeper saved equally comfortably from Elneny’s tame volley from the second of consecutive corners. A rare but ultimately fruitless break served warning that Doncaster could still be dangerous while only a goal behind. A long and winding run from Alexis sadly came to a halt on the edge of the box as he threatened something spectacular. Doncaster ended the half as they had begun it. Kongolo put May clear but the ensuing effort was slammed into the side-netting and the Arsenal advantage was maintained.

At the start of the second-half Josh Dasilva replaced Calum Chambers for his first-team debut. The defensive midfielder slotted into the left side of the back three and Holding went across to the right. A rapid breakout from a Doncaster free-kick saw Giroud put Walcott clear again but he fired his effort over the bar and a golden chance had gone begging.

That sparked something of a revival by the League One club who grew in confidence and applied a ten minute spell of pressure without creating anything clear-cut. Not for the first time Giroud attempted a spectacular overhead kick from an Alexis corner but the effort was blocked. There followed a nervous moment as May outsmarted Nelson and bore down on goal but Maitland-Niles was alert to the danger and outsprinted the Doncaster man to prevent the danger.

Giroud appeared to have been hauled down by Duncan but again no award was forthcoming. In the next attack his cross eventually fell to Nelson who draw an excellent save from Lawlor with an accurate thump from the inside-right channel. Giroud finally got a free-kick when Mason caught him late and earned the only yellow card of the night. He was less fortunate moments later when he picked up a largely self-inflicted injury to his left ankle.

Far from overawed, Rovers again pressed for an equaliser and Butler got on the end of a corner only to head over the target. Cue Alex Iwobi being sent on for Walcott with a quarter of an hour to go. Former Millwall striker Marquis came on for the visitors and had a couple of half chances within a minute of his arrival. The home support appeared understandably nervous. Elneny fired a chance to seal the match into the side-netting.

For a second time Maitland-Niles pace came to the rescue after he himself had made a mistake. The match was gripping, if uncomfortable, if that makes sense? Joe Willock was sent on for Nelson and the side hadn’t settled when Mandeville’s effort was deflected for a corner by Mertesacker. Giroud volleyed another Alexis chip into the side-netting. Jack Wishire was next to try his luck but his ferocious drive was deflected away for a corner.

Four added minutes were announced and started with another wasted Gunners corner. A last Doncaster riposte was seen to safety before Iwobi warmed the palms of the excellent Lawlor. All our missed opportunities hadn’t cost us at the final whistle. For that we can be grateful, but there is some work to be done before those on show tonight get back into the first team for tougher tests.

Although the memories of Chelsea are still fresh in the mind it is time to look forward again to the visit of Doncaster Rovers in the Carabao Cup. Suffice it to say I knew precious little about the current Doncaster Rovers set-up so I’m grateful for the online presence of the club and their local press.

The visitors are currently out of the League One relegation zone only on goal difference having won just one of their opening eight fixtures. However their journey to this tie is more impressive. Hull City were beaten 2-0 in the first round and Rovers won a Yorkshire derby at promotion-chasing Bradford City 2-3 in the second.

Doncaster are managed by Darren Ferguson, son of Arsene Wenger’s old sparring partner at Old Trafford. He sounded as defiant as his father too when asked about the upcoming fixture.

“We are going down there to shock them and in a one-off game you never know, we are not going there for a night out.”

They are captained by James Coppinger, the only survivor of our last meeting which was in the quarter-final of the same competition twelve years ago. We were just seconds away from a shock defeat when Gilberto Silva equalised and we went on to win the penalty shoot-out 1-3.

For the second midweek running there will be an enthusiastic visiting support. They have sold almost all of their allocation of over 5000 tickets so while they will be fewer in number than Cologne I’m sure they will help to create another excellent atmosphere.

As for the Arsenal this time around the manager has already said it will be a similar team to the one that played against Cologne in the Europa League last week. The excellent arsenalyouth.wordpress.com blogger, Jeorge Bird, tweeted that Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Sead Kolasinac and Alexandre Lacazette were rested from today’s training session. Mesut Ozil is still out along with Danny Welbeck, Francis Coquelin, Matthieu Debuchy, and Santi Cazorla.

Expect the team to look something like David Ospina behind a back three of Calum Chambers, Per Mertesacker, and Rob Holding. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson could well be the wing backs.

Mohamed Elneny and Jack Wilshere could be paired up in the engine room behind Alex Iwobi. Theo Walcott is likely to start with Olivier Giroud as the main attacking threat?

The ‘holic pound

If you listened to Monday night’s A Bergkamp Wonderland podcast (see below) you will know I was bullish about the outcome, predicting a 4-0 home win. I have punted on that despite the rather disappointing odds of 15/2. If you are from Donny I suspect the offer of 40/1 against your team winning will be hard to resist.

As ever I hope those who have tickets will thoroughly enjoy another League Cup experience at the Grove. I just hope there will be a stream to be found somewhere.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

In all honesty when you set out for the bus stop in Fulham these days it is with an awareness that this hasn’t been the happiest of trips for a few years. This was no different. A grey morning spent on a train meandering through the home counties didn’t lift the spirits.

At Fulham Broadway, however, we stepped out into the sunshine. A good day was in embryonic form. A few pints in the ‘battle du jour’ and a common sense approach by the doormen made for an enjoyable aperitif.

The main course was far tastier than it has been of late. We started a little slowly, perhaps, but with a smouldering intent. The boss had surprised with his retention of Danny Welbeck at the expense of a recall for Alexis Sanchez. Alex Iwobi for the injured Mesut Ozil was not unexpected.

The result was a nervous start without the two superstars but we grew into the game and could, perhaps should, have led when Welbeck headed Hector Bellerin’s cross wide of the target. The same provider teed up Alex Lacazette who drew a save from Courtois, who also denied the rampaging Kolasinac.

It wasn’t one way traffic by any means although it felt that way in row seven of the lower tier of the Shed. Indeed Cech had to be alert to deny Pedro and that was a reminder that we were away to the reigning champions and would have to remain switched on.

We knuckled down and the ‘holic pound came close to reward when Aaron Ramsey’s effort came back of the post to Lacazette who blazed the ball over the bar.

Morata’s apparent inner ear infection saw him hit the turf with regularity and so Chelsea’s most potent threat was somewhat blunted.

If our best chances had fallen at the other end of the ground before the break we did get to celebrate a goal when Mustafi headed home a lofted free-kick, but we could not see the assistant referees flag raised quite correctly, as it turned out.

Not for the first time against us Chelsea’s indiscipline reared it’s ugly head. The otherwise impressive Luiz had already escaped with just a yellow card for a dangerous high boot on Laurent Koscielny when he lunged in with studs up on Kolasinac and was shown a straight red by a hitherto patient Michael Oliver.

Sadly that red card came too late for us to capitalise on our numerical advantage and a captivating encounter came to a close with honours even, although the Gunners were claiming a moral victory after the calamitous performance at Anfield.

After the match the boss was quoted as being “happy with the performance and disappointed with the point”. That pretty summed up the view of most in the post mortem.

His opposite number offered a reasonable “It was a good, open game with both teams trying to win. Every game against Arsenal is always very tough. We knew very well what type of game we would face. Both teams are great teams, it’s a good draw”.

The performance, if not the result, was celebrated by friends at a couple of pubs in the area. The day left something of a glow. Chelsea has become a trip not dissimilar to Fulham these days. Little menace in the air and supporters of both clubs mixing in some bars close to the venue.

A far cry from our journeys to the other end of the Seven Sisters Road these days.

After five consecutive Premier League defeats at the bus stop in Fulham we make the journey again this Sunday. What has changed to give us some hope? Well, consecutive victories over the same opposition in the FA Cup Final and Community Shield, and two new players to improve the squad.

When we were taken apart at Anfield it was something of a mystery why Sead Kolasinac and Alexandre Lacazette were not in the starting line-up. Surely the team picks itself this weekend, and both of the new boys must start?

Petr Cech returns to his former club behind a likely back three of Laurent Koscielny, Skhodran Mustafi, and Nacho Monreal. Hector Bellerin and Kolasinac should be the wing-backs tasked to be diligent on their defensive duties. There has been much talk about reverting to a flat back four but after those two victories at Wembley with a back three the boss would be making a rod for his own back if he changed the system and it failed.

Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey can be expected to start behind Mesut Ozil with Alexis and Lacazette playing off and ahead of the German. The performance of these five will be critical with the wing-backs being more cautious to deny Chelsea the width they will seek.

The home team’s boss, Antonio Conte, was generous in his pre-match assessment of the Gunners.

“I think that Arsenal is one of the six top teams in England and I think that they have a really good squad and want to fight for something important. For this reason, I think it is a massive game for us.”

His opposite number is only too aware that a third consecutive away defeat at the start of the season would once again heap pressure on him. We haven’t endured such a run since 1954. Beating Bournemouth and Cologne isn’t how the team will be measured going forward. That will be on the performance this weekend.

“I believe that we had a bad performance at Liverpool, which I have never denied. That should be an even greater motivation for us to turn up with a quality performance on Sunday.”

The ‘holic pound

I’m steering clear of the suicidal, jinxing even, correct score market. There is value, perhaps, in Aaron Ramsey to score anytime at 11/2. I’m on it.

I’m hoping to be in the vicinity of the ground by elevenish so hope to see a few of you. For those of you who will be enjoying (or enduring) the match elsewhere I wish you a happy Sunday. Have a great one, ‘holics.

Chaotic scenes in and around the stadium prior to tonight’s Europa League tie forced a one hour delay to kick-off. Reportedly 20k Cologne supporters arrived at the stadium gates despite their allocation being 2900 tickets, the usual number for visiting teams in the Premier League and European competition. Questions about the policing of the travelling supporters, and their access to home tickets, will doubtless be many in the coming days.

When finally the match got underway the manager went with an eleven which was possibly slightly stronger than expected. Ahead of David Ospina we went with Rob Holding, Per Mertesacker, and Nacho Monreal.  Hector Bellerin and Ainsley Maitland-Niles started as the wing-backs outside a central pairing of Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi. Theo Walcott and Alexis were positioned to support Olivier Giroud from the flanks.

The match kicked off in what was clearly a poorly segregated stadium, and that would be a concern throughout. When the game got underway both sets of supporters created a wall of noise. Rob Holding, understandably nervous, avoided a card for two early challenges. The defence didn’t hold firm though when Ospina played a clearance from outside his box to a Cologne player, it deflected to Cordoba who produced a wonderful finish over the retreating goalkeeper from around thirty-five yards out. Nine minutes gone, and we were behind.

Arsenal 0-1 Cologne

Arsenal attempted to level quickly but Giroud’s effort from a Maitland-Niles cross was deflected for a wasted corner. Ospina, with help from Holding, had to be quick to dive at the feet of Hector when he got clear behind Mertesacker. Again Giroud was on the end of a cross, this time from Bellerin, but his header was comfortably pouched by Horn. Then midway through the half Iwobi sent Walcott clear but the rusty winger scuffed his effort across goal.

We survived a penalty shout when Hector went down under an Ospina challenge, but the offside flag had already been raised and with an hour left we were still very much in the match. At the other end Sanchez and Giroud combined to tee up Elneny for a rasping drive wide of the far post. Hector, having attempted to continue, hobbled off with what appeared to be an ankle problem.

Seven minutes from the break Giroud was again on the end of a cross from Alexis after some good approach play by Iwobi. The Frenchman’s glancing header missed the intended spot however. Not only Walcott looked rusty. Alexis was heavy of touch with a number of passes but nobody could accuse him of not putting in a full shift in the opening half. The old Arsenal problem of laboured build-up and excessive square and backwards passing was evident.

The half-time whistle prompted an outbreak of jeers from a frustrated home support. Arsenal’s organisation, or lack of it, on and off the pitch, was clearly lacking to this point. The unfortunate Holding was hooked at the start of the second-half to allow Sead Kolasinac to enable a switch to a back four. Maitland-Niles was pushed in to support Elneny behind Iwobi as the playmaker.

The Arsenal were level when Walcott’s cross was deflected into the path of Kolasinac who smashed home a left foot volley for his second Gunners goal in spectacular style. The crowd found their voice again and “We’re by far the greatest team” replaced a German song to the tune of “the bonny, bonny prince of Loch Lomond”. Inspired substitution?

Arsenal 1-1 Cologne

Bellerin’s cross towards a marauding Walcott found Heintz who prevented any further damage. Cologne broke but Bellerin was too quick for Höger and any danger passed. The young Spaniard was showing a much better level of performance. He appears to be coming back to his best in timely fashion.

Maitland-Niles exchanged a pair of one-twos which resulted in him being one on one with Horn and unfortunately for us the ‘keeper won that particular battle. What a goal it would have been. Jack Wilshere appeared on the sideline for a more than welcome return to first team action. As he stood with the fourth official the Gunners struck again. Iwobi’s pass sent Alexis out to the left flank but the Chilean cut back inside to the edge of the box and curled an absolute beauty into the far top corner of the net. On came Jack for Iwobi.

Arsenal 2-1 Cologne

“Who knows how far the Arsenal could go in this Europa League?” queried John Harrison on commentary. A valid question given a far from first choice eleven were now ahead against what is likely to be our toughest opponents in the group phase. Cordoba galloped clear and drew a fine near post stop from Ospina to preserve the newly gained advantage.

Bellerin, Giroud, and Walcott again opened up Cologne’s left flank but the chip back across goal was cleared somewhat desperately. Alexis was fouled in the aftermath and smashed the free-kick into the hands of Horn. The Arsenal had a sense of purpose again. Wilshere sent Alexis scurrying through but from an offside position the number seven shanked one into the rough.

The sight of Reiss Nelson being prepared for his introduction was uplifting. Without over-hyping the young man he has been knocking on the first team door and should get a number of opportunities in this competition this season. From the West Upper the sound of Maria yelling “Come on you Gunners” confirmed the invading Cologne army had fallen silent. Kolasinac crossed, Wilshere dummied, Walcott’s effort was parried, and Bellerin gilded his night by slotting in the rebound, nutmegging Horn in the process.

Arsenal 3-1 Cologne

The Grove was emptying quickly as those from the home counties headed in the direction of their last trains home. It left the Cologne fans to console themselves with an impressive dirge or two. They had come to celebrate a long awaited return to European football, not to take liberties, but it is likely both clubs will be subject to UEFA fines as a result.

Had Cologne come out to defend their narrow advantage in the second-half, or had we driven them back with the excellence of our performance after the interval?

I don’t know, but our first ever Europa League game resulted in a very impressive win, eventually. Job done.

Hello all. After a long few days it is time to put something together about the impending Europa League bow against Cologne on Thursday evening. I’ve been out of the loop since the weekend so it will be based on what I can speed read tonight and downright invention!

Of most interest I would imagine will be who will start the match. The manager has already revealed that Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey will be rested after their recent international exertions. Everyone is aware we are at the bus stop in Fulham less than sixty-four hours after this match ends.

It’s reasonable to assume that David Ospina will get the nod to keep goal, but the back three? Per Mertesacker, Calum Chambers, and Rob Holding are decidedly short on match fitness, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see at least two of them starting. Chambers might also be considered for right wing-back, although could Theo Walcott be preferred? Reiss Nelson on the left side, anyone?

With Francis Coquelin ruled out by injury this will surely present an opportunity for Mohamed Elneny, and possibly Jack Wilshere, to form the base of the midfield. Alex Iwobi was frequently elevated when Ozil was rested last season and could be given the chance again. Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez are widely tipped to start up front.

It’s a heck of a gamble to go with so many changes against any European opponents, particularly a battle-hardened Bundesliga outfit, but the manager thinks he has strength in depth, and here is an opportunity to find out. A mixture of youth and out-of-favour experience might just be motivated enough to get an impressive result.

The visitors are likely to set up in a 4-4-2 formation and although few of them will be familiar to the majority of Gooners we will have to respect experienced goalkeeper Timo Horn and the likely strike partnership of Yuya Osako, who has six goals in nineteen senior appearances for Japan, and Columbian Jhon Cordoba, an imposing figure up front.

The ‘holic pound

I haven’t  a scooby. The only other time we met Cologne at home in European competition we won 2-1 in what would ultimately be a defeat on away goals over two legs of the UEFA Cup quarter-final in 1971. Maybe lightning does strike twice in the same place so I have taken the 15/2 available against that.

I’ll be following the match online as the holidays for this year have run out. I hope those who have taken advantage of the reduced ticket prices are rewarded with a match to savour.

Have a good one, ‘holics.


Arriving in the bonus sunshine in North London on Saturday lunchtime heralded the start of one of the good days. A really lovely lunch, a quick whizz around the Armoury, and two Junior Gooners were kitted out for an afternoon on the Clock End on a day when the Arsenal returned to winning ways.

There were rumblings beforehand of the potential for some form of protests, but the options were many, vague, confused, and failed to materialise. All of which would be a fair description of Bournemouth’s performance too.

However, you can only beat what is in front of you and the Arsenal did it with the sort of cohesive, balanced performance that we have seen so rarely in the opening weeks. It took but five minutes for a free-flowing Gunners to take the lead. Sead Kolasinac, rightly returned to the left wing-back role, broke free and crossed for Danny Welbeck to beat Begovic with a mix of head and shoulder.

Arsenal 1-0 Bournemouth

It was almost as if we had gone with a balanced back three, and played players where they should be. With Alexis on the bench he was the only player missing from what one imagines would be Arsene Wenger’s strongest available starting eleven. The Gunners continued to impress but found Begovic in inspired form, particularly when getting to a goalbound Mesut Ozil free-kick.

At one-nil the atmosphere was still a little muted. The pessimists are out in force again at the moment, but Alexandre Lacazette, mystifyingly left out at Anfield, produced a wonderful finish from the edge of the box having played a one-two with the lively Welbeck. It was a great moment for our record signing to provide in front of two new young admirers.

Arsenal 2-0 Bournemouth

The French international almost doubled his tally when Welbeck forced an error from Begovic but the ball had burst in the original challenge and the ‘keeper was able to smother it before throwing it out of play.

The second-half was just five minutes old when the match was put beyond the visitors. Aaron Ramsey sent Welbeck clear in the inside-left channel and a precision finish just inside the far post was too good for Begovic. Bournemouth had just enjoyed their best moment when Defoe headed against a post from close range. It was as if we had heeded the warning and responded.

Arsenal 3-0 Bournemouth

At this point it would be fair to say that only fact that he had scored a brace would make Danny the man of the match. Lacazette, Ramsey, Bellerin, and Kolasinac had all impressed with their industry. The latter did visibly tire in the closing stages so may be one to get a rest on Thursday night with Sunday’s visit to the bus stop in Fulham in mind.

Ozil fired wide from a tight angle, and Welbeck lifted a hat-trick opportunity just wide of the far post drawing yet more support from both ends of the Grove. The Arsenal were pressing for more. Midway through the half Ramsey was sensibly replaced by Francis Coquelin, although the Frenchman would not see out the contest.

Jermain Defoe’s withdrawal followed, and a magnanimous home support gave a generous round of applause to the man who had befriended young Bradley Lowery at Sunderland. His previous allegiances melted into insignificance in the moment.

Bournemouth would not have enjoyed the sight of Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez coming on for the final fifteen minutes. Less in awe of the latter were the minority in the crowd who booed the Chilean onto the pitch. A rendition of his song broke out around the stadium, not for the last time. The two combined to almost add a fourth goal but Begovic got something on Giroud’s fierce shot.

There followed the sight of Coquelin breaking down just inside his own half in obvious pain. He knew immediately he had suffered a bad injury and hurled his shirt to the floor as he disappeared down the tunnel. That was a sad end to a cameo in which he saw an attempt to score his first Arsenal goal deflected for a corner.

A tiring ten men were forced onto the back foot briefly but survived the best efforts of the Cherries. With the season only four matches old it would be harsh to predict their return to the Championship, but it is difficult to see where they could pick up points in the near future.

The post mortem attracted friends old and new. Listener’s to the ABW podcast will recognise the dulcet Aussie tones of Dom and it was great to meet him for the first time. Whatever we decided the afternoon meant was long forgotten on the journey home along with some of Cardiff’s finest. This had been one of the good days.

Now for Thursday night football and the visit of Cologne. The ghost of Podolski should make for a good atmosphere for that one, despite the full use of the Gunners squad players, surely?

Thankfully another miserable international break is coming to a close, and I will get my first glimpse of the Gunners in the flesh this season. Bournemouth arrive at the Grove on Saturday to face a team that needs a good result even this early in the campaign.

It will be good to get back to cheering the side again rather than reading endless negative column inches, although not entirely undeserved. The mood must transfer itself from the seats onto the pitch?

It will be interesting to see if the boss sticks with the back three that served us so well at the tail end of last season. Lest we forget that system was introduced to make up for the obvious deficiencies we experienced with a flat back four. Reverting would present us with the same challenges as we have the same personnel available.

The answer to that conundrum may lie in the perceived readiness of Skhodran Mustafi who reportedly wanted to leave the club to be closer to his family, but could not seal a deal with Inter Milan. If he is ready to play he could feature in a three with Laurent Koscielny and either Rob Holding or Nacho Monreal?

Hector Bellerin, another alleged to have wanted to depart the club in the summer, needs to put in a shift on the right, and Sead Kolasinac on the left. Interestingly Reiss Nelson, rapidly becoming the prospect of the moment, is being touted as a potential wing-back in the aftermath of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s departure to Anfield.

The deep-lying midfield pairing may no longer be a given. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey didn’t withstand the waves of pressure that Liverpool applied. Francis Coquelin fared little better after replacing Rambo at half-time so Mohamed Elneny will possibly come into the frame? Jack Wilshere, anyone?

Mesut Ozil should retain the main creative role but what an interesting selection ahead of him. Assuming Alexis has recovered from his current woes he will be a starter but Danny Welbeck, Alex Iwobi, and the aforementioned Nelson could be ready to deputise if necessary.

Hopefully Alexander Lacazette will be recalled but will he be paired with Olivier Giroud or could Theo Walcott be given a first start of the season on the right flank?

The match should be decided by which Arsenal team turns up, but Bournemouth, without a point from their first three games were said to have performed very well against Manchester City a fortnight ago. That sort of performance could trouble an Arsenal side lacking in confidence and form. Remember we had to come back from three down at their ground last season to earn a point.

The ‘holic pound

In normal circumstances I would be looking at Arsenal bullying a team on such a poor run, but can we rediscover our A game to deliver that big win? For once I will be guided by the bookmakers and plump for the favourite, 2-0 to the Arsenal, available at around 8/1.

It’s a first match of the season for the grand’holics too, so I have an extra reason for the team delivering on the day and keeping the atmosphere positive. Clearly beating Bournemouth will not be a sure sign that what ails us has been cured, but not beating them will only intensify the fears that all is not well at the club.

What a good day it would be to start another run of results to lift us to where we should be in the League with the stadium, squad, and fanbase that we have.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

The two defeats leading into the international break has made this fortnight a pretty miserable time. Mesut Ozil, Arsene Wenger, Ivan Gazidis, indeed anybody connected to the football club appears to be a target right now. Not that some of it isn’t warranted. Ivan in particular needs to pay more attention to the messages he is sending out. It wasn’t  too long ago I would not have expected to read pieces like this and this by my peers.

In a world of social media things won’t be getting any more cheerful this side of Saturday’s visit of Bournemouth. Even a victory over the south coast side won’t lessen the tensions to any great degree. Sterner tests will have to be passed but on Saturday, and next Thursday when Cologne come calling for our Europa League bow, will provide us with the opportunity to find some form to take to the bus stop in Fulham on Sunday week.

But for the results at Stoke and Liverpool we would be heading to Stamford Bridge with a reasonable hope of getting what would be a rare victory in recent seasons. Our two wins at Wembley will have instilled some doubt into the minds of Antonio Conte’s charges. but now they will feel capable of avenging those results in emphatic style. Still, let’s take it one game at a time, as the old saying goes.

Talking of Ivan I see he has today been elected to UEFA’s executive committee as one of two representatives from the European Club Association. The ECA is the successor organisation to the G-14 group of Europe’s most powerful clubs and now represents the interests of 220 clubs from 53 countries. Only the politically astute generally earn an invite to UEFA’s top table, so Arsenal’s CEO has clearly been networking with all the right people. A penny for David Dein’s thoughts tonight.

I’ll keep this mercifully brief for now. I’m watching the boys in green against Serbia. I hope they prove more attractive than England were last night.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

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