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A decent team performance enabled Arsenal to end Hull’s FA Cup dream for the second time in eight months, although neither side bore any relation to those that fought out the Final at Wembley last May. We called in David Ospina, Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, Joel Campbell, and Theo Walcott (Good to see him starting a year to the day since sustaining his injury against the neighbours). Hull went further and made ten changes from their New Year’s Day win over Everton.

Both sides started brightly and we should perhaps have been ahead as early as the fourth minute when Alexis Sanchez put Campbell through but Harper saved with his right foot.

Francis Coquelin’s nasty looking challenge on Quinn after ten minutes might have resulted in a yellow card in different circumstances, and the Frenchman should be particularly grateful given he did eventually pick up a deserved card for a lunge on Maguire in the closing stages. Otherwise he did an impressive job in front of the back four although Hull could hardly be described as particularly creative in this area.

Per Mertesacker, skipper in the ongoing absence of Mikel Arteta, did open our account. Alexis, who had twice gone close himself shortly beforehand, finally planted a corner on the German’s head and the BFG wheeled away in delight. Both players were making their twenty-seventh appearance of the season and yet it is popular for some to be critical of the World Cup winner while pleading for a rest for Alexis. Arsene confirmed afterwards that the Chilean had refused a rest and wanted to play. Thank goodness.

Two minutes later Alexis was set up by Tomas Rosicky but McShane recovered brilliantly to slide the ball away for a corner, from which the post denied us a second goal.

McShane was booked for a high boot on Nacho Monreal as the half drew to a close. It is probably fair to say that with two-thirds possession of the ball we should probably have gone in with a bigger advantage and when we started slowly in the second-half the advantage looked a slender one.

Gradually though we awoke from our temporary slumbers. In the 66th minute Alexis was denied by Maguire’s block and a minute later Theo missed a golden opportunity to double our advantage, flicking wide went sent clear by the industrious Chilean.

On 73 minutes Coquelin’s superb through ball presented another opportunity to Walcott but he hasn’t yet got the sharpness, understandably, to convert those opportunities. A couple of minutes later he made way for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and departed to a warm ovation from supporters delighted to see him back, finally.

We finally put the tie out of Hull’s reach in the 82nd minute, and what a finish it was from Alexis (who else) although credit Santi Cazorla for the assist. When those two played in close proximity we looked different class, although sterner challenges await. The ‘holic pound required a response at this point, but the only effort Hull could muster was Huddlestone’s effort which was comfortably saved by Ospina. Full marks for concentration because the ‘keeper was not overworked today.

So we are in the hat for the draw for the last thirty-two. Can we successfully defend the trophy? We need some of the walking wounded to return. Olivier Giroud will be back next week, and hopefully Mesut Ozil is close. Just as well given the knocks that Campbell and the Ox took towards the end of the game today.

A little Bunnahabhain is in order tonight, methinks.

FA Cup third round Saturday passes without a televised fixture. This after Cardiff and Colchester played in a near-deserted stadium on Friday night. On Sunday our match kicks off at 5.30pm, which is really a kick in the teeth for the traveling Hull fans. Liverpool supporters have to journey to London on Monday night for their tie with Wimbledon and West Ham fans make the opposite journey on Tuesday, yes Tuesday, night to play Everton. The Cup retains little of its magic as the guardians of the game have whored it out to the highest bidders.

We face the team we beat at Wembley in May to lift the trophy for the eleventh time although it will be very interesting to see the eleven charged with starting our defence of the trophy. A degree of rotation is expected but we are down to the bare bones right now. Arsene said in his pre-match presser,

“I have to check who is available and who is not. The two keepers, Ospina and Martinez, will come in. After that, we will see. I cannot rotate too much either because we need stability. Who comes back? We have the 18 players, nobody else will play.”

So a worst case could see fit-again David Ospina behind a mix-and match back four of Hector Bellerin, Per Metesacker or Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, and Kieran Gibbs. Might we finally see a start for Theo Walcott, or will Joel Campbell start on the right flank and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left, or might we see a start for Ainsley Maitland-Niles?

If Mathieu Flamini is not fit to return alongside Francis Coquelin then Calum Chambers may get another opportunity to grow into a defensive midfield role. Tomas Rosicky or Santi Cazorla could occupy the role behind Alexis Sanchez, or maybe Chuba Akpom if the boss thinks the Chilean needs a rest. The fact that we have a clear week before the next match could be a factor in the selection.

Hull have half a dozen injuries themselves, but don’t try and tell me that missing Michael Dawson isn’t an advantage for them! If Steve Bruce opts not to rotate his team they could still field a decent looking side, although they haven’t really kicked on from their cup run last season and currently lie in fifteenth place in the Premier League. On the road this season they have beaten QPR and Sunderland, as well as holding Liverpool and ourselves to draws.

I’m sticking with an old favourite for the ‘holic pound. A 2-1 home win is offered by Paddy Power at 15/2. I can hear one of you groaning already!

For those going, have a great day. It looks like it is going to resemble a cooking oil tomorrow, crisp and dry. I will be peeking over the back of the sofa again. After all, we’re not doing things the easy way this season, are we?

Taking time to consider the events of today turned out to be a wise move. What could have been a dream holiday period for us disintegrated at St Mary’s where the hosts deservedly secured for now their top four berth. Going into today all around us had dropped points over the festive period and given the result in the late match we could have grabbed fourth spot and narrowed the gap on the leaders to ten points.

Instead the traveling faithful, on surely the worst day of the year to watch football given the hangovers most were probably nursing, were subjected to one of those appalling performances we produce every now and again. It is perplexing that they seem to come round rather more often this season. Yes, we have an injury (and suspension, Giroud) crisis in midfield and up front. The match was lost today by the defence being pulled out of shape and producing basic errors. That was our first-choice back five today. Thank goodness the transfer window opens on Saturday.

I look for excuses. Did they not get that much protection from the makeshift pairing of Calum Chambers and Francis Coquelin ahead of them? Whilst the jury is out on Chambers at the moment Coquelin put in a pretty full shift and made some important tackles prior to collecting his inevitable yellow card. He is more mobile than, and just as mean-spirited as, Mathieu Flamini, himself an addition to the injured list today.

Ahead of them an unusual mixture as the rarely spotted Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla rotated between left-flank and the ‘hole’. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a day back at his old stomping ground he may prefer to forget, running into blind alleys and surrendering possession too cheaply. Then we had Alexis Sanchez switched to lead the line in the absence of Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, and Yaya Sanogo. He suffered a couple of early ‘reducers’ and a lack of quality supply,  but the advanced role isn’t one he looks comfortable with, being Arshavin-sized.

We weren’t without our chances. Santi didn’t quite get the contact he wanted early doors and the Ox came very close to giving us the lead with a superb swerving effort. Then the defence found itself stretched as the Saints probed our left flank. Kieran Gibbs was caught out of position, Laurent Koscielny made a poor effort to prevent Mane from advancing into the box, and Wojciech Szczesny decided to come, then stop, then retreat into no man’s land as Mane chipped goalwards. That left Per Mertesacker to deal with the danger but he could only help it into his own net.

It might have been worse but Szczesny was more alert to the danger and saved superbly, if unorthodoxly, from Ward-Prowse. Quite what must have been said in the dressing room at half-time is anyones guess, but whatever it was it didn’t work. We had a great chance to level but Forster saved superbly from Alexis and shortly after that we conceded a second soft, comical to non-Gooners, goal. Mathieu Debuchy attempted a pass-back from point-blank range and Szczesny could only poke it to Tadic who accepted the gift of an easy finish.

At 0-2 we needed something to spark a side that frankly looked to be suffering a bigger hangover than some of the supporters. It could have come in the shape of a red card for for Gardos, clearly the last man, and denying Alexis with a cynical foul from behind as the Chilean bore down on goal. Referee Pawson, which indeed was an apt name for the hapless coward, decided it was only a yellow.

Left at eleven against eleven we were clearly second best. Theo Walcott was apparently introduced for the last half an hour but had about as many touches as I did at the Cheltenham Festival last year. The paucity of our options was demonstrated when Chuba Akpom was given six minutes plus stoppage time to save the game. It was beyond his peers for the 84 minutes that had gone before, so he escapes any blame for this poor showing.

On Sunday we start our defence of the FA Cup. We will have to produce a much better display than this if we are to get past last year’s Final opponents, even with the benefit of home advantage. From Saturday and for the remainder of January we will see just how seriously we are taking this season. The squad needs supplementing in very obvious areas. To expect players to maintain form and fitness when as a squad we have a track record that proves the opposite would not be fair to them, or the supporters.

Will we be window-shoppers, or serious buyers. It’s a big month ahead.

New Year’s Day football, a much-needed distraction these days. This time around there is the added hope of a climb into the top four if we can secure the points at Southampton, who currently occupy that (for them) lofty berth.

I don’t think we will be too sorry to see the back of 2014, although that should not take away from finally putting some silverware in the trophy cabinet at the new home of football. The FA Cup and Community Shield add a little shine to the stadium tours these days. Just as much though it will be remembered as the year when one title challenge (if not two) floundered on the rocks of successive injury crises either side of those Wembley triumphs.

In keeping with the passing year our midfield remains devastated, missing as it is Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, and yes, About Diaby (I know!). It seems likely that Mathieu Flamini and Francis Coquelin will anchor the midfield, at least from the start, with the option of bringing Tomas Rosicky on if we need to change focus later on in the match.

Up front Olivier Giroud remains suspended, and both Yaya Sanogo and Danny Welbeck are doubtful. The options to lead the line are Theo Walcott (if fit?), Lukas Podolski, or possibly Alexis Sanchez. None have mastered that position when asked previously, but all are capable of providing the finish that may secure the points for us.

The hosts have surprised most observers after their impressive young squad was decimated in the summer transfer window. What they have achieved this season so far is remarkable and recognised as such by Arsene Wenger.

“Southampton are a good team who have been in the top four since the start of the season – after 19 games that’s not a coincidence, so we have to consider that they are a good side.”

At home they have only been beaten by the two Manchester clubs, and on Sunday they held Chelsea 1-1 at St Mary’s in their last outing. Morgan Schneiderlin is suspended having been red carded against Chelsea. Possibly significantly Jay Rodriguez, linked with us recently, will also be absent through injury, and Nathaniel Cline will have a late test. Their squad depth will be tested, we can but hope.

The ‘holic pound might be put on a draw if that were my style, but it isn’t. A third consecutive 2-1 victory appeals too. Paddy Power offer 17/2 and I have reinvested some of the winnings from the West Ham result on Sunday.

Happy New Year ‘holics

It has been a strange and testing year in many ways, but throughout you have been a constant source of laughter, provoked thoughtful debate, and in some cases delighted with your madness :-)

Can I thank you all, and wish you a very happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.

Well, if someone had offered us a nail-biting 2-1 win at Upton Park while the top three all dropped points I think it is fairly safe to assume we would have collectively ripped their arm off.

Just five minutes in we had to survive a disallowed goal when Alex Song volleyed home from outside the box, and co-commentator Tony Gale reasoned that the goal should have stood because Wojciech Szczesny would not have saved it even if not unsighted by three offside West Ham players in front of him, one of whom hurdled the shot. We do get some idiots employed as so-called experts.

Shortly after came a penalty scare when Sakho went down after backing into Mathieu Debuchy. Replays of both incidents proved that in fact the locals were mistaken and in fact the officials did know what they were doing.

The Hammers were clearly up for the match, and so it has to be said were we. It was very pleasing to watch the visitors more than happy to mix and match a silky passing game with some cold steely determination.

The first warning for West Ham came when Alexis Sanchez headed wide, and only due to the intervention of Laurent Koscielny, equally keen to get involved. At the other end Carroll shoved Mathieu Debuchy out of the way to set up a shooting opportunity but his effort was blocked by Koscielny.

The tackles were flying in which if we are being honest made it even more compelling viewing. Adrian and Szczesny exchanged saves before Tomkins volleyed over when set up by Downing.

Arsenal seized control of the match in less than three amazing minutes towards the end of the first-half. Santi Cazorla forced his way into the box and was upended by Reid. Today there was no concession of the resulting penalty and the playmaker of the moment sent the otherwise impressive Adrian the wrong way. Then Cazorla and Debuchy combined to set Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain free in the right half of the box and from his cross Danny Welbeck applied the tap-in for 0-2.

Before the whistle had blown the amazing Alexis came close to grabbing a third. Arsenal had clearly capitalised on their purple patch.

Less than ten minutes after the restart the Irons were back in it. Tomkins cross was headed home by Kouyate, after Per Mertesacker had denied Carroll with a superb headed clearance under pressure, and an already gripping contest became a more tense watch.

The Ox released Cazorla and only Adrian will be able to tell you how he saved it. From the resulting corner Debuchy headed inches over. Danny Welbeck carried the ball from his own half and just missed with his attempt to seal the points. It was typical of Arsenal’s dangerous counter-attacking throughout the half.

Again Adrian denied Arsenal the clincher with astonishing stops from an Ox header and an Alexis toe-poke, although he was grateful to see Welbeck blaze over when clear on goal. He was the busier of the goalkeepers overall, but Szczesny was also far from redundant as the hosts cranked up the pressure in the closing stages.

Arsenal were well-served by the experience and youth of Mathieu Flamini and Francis Coquelin at the base of the midfield. Flamini hasn’t had the best of seasons but has improved of late and is somewhere close to the player we knew. His young partner, recalled prematurely from a loan spell at Charlton, relished the physical battle and emerged from the match with a late yellow card and no little credit.

Desperate to grab a point, West Ham pushed on in the five added minutes as Arsenal retreated into a defensive shell. Nolan was denied by Szczesny and Valencia headed over but Arsenal had done enough and held out for three deserved points from a tremendous game. Arsene summed up his team’s performance afterwards.

“From ‘keeper to up front, everybody had a fantastic game today… When you have the defenders back that makes a change.”

We end 2014, a very mixed year indeed, in fifth place in the table, and will climb another place if we can start 2015 with a win at Southampton, above us only on goal difference after holding Chelsea 1-1. Here’s to continued spirited performances in the new year.

Boxing Day football used to mean working out if British Rail could get you to wherever the game was being played and back, and then going regardless. We had cheap travel, cheap tickets, and it could be a way to work off the Christmas turkey.

Fast forward two or three decades and the trains won’t take you anywhere on the day, so from the wilds of Staffordshire we watched lunchtime and afternoon matches with assorted pates before tucking into a feast of cold meats and pickles with the Arsenal match courtesy of a telephone company’s television service. Young, impressionable eyes transfixed at the kick-off. Don’t let me down again, Arsenal.

The award of an early penalty eased the tension. “Santi scored the last one Grandad, didn’t he?” Of course he did, so why the fouled player, Alexis Sanchez, took this one with Cazorla on the pitch was a mystery. Rob Green makes saves at the Grove, so this one was no surprise, but two frustrated Junior Gunners groaned.

A free-kick on the edge of the box. “Santi’s good at free-kicks, isn’t he?” Olivier Giroud takes it and Green saves again. “Pass me the game pie, would you?” The assorted pickles were absolutely delicious. Then Alexis got on the end of a Kieran Gibbs cross and finally two lads are allowed to share the outpouring of relief. “Yessssssss!” A discussion about the relative heights of Alexis and Santi followed. Perhaps the right one of the two was in position this time.

Olivier Giroud’s rush of blood to the head, literally, gets a mixed reception. The youngest gives the idiot the doubt. “How can someone the size of Onuoha go down like that from a tap of the forehead?” It only adds to the foolishness of the retaliation. Ferdinand’s stranglehold going unpunished provides a deflection from the Frenchman’s stupidity. Atkinson is in the bottom rung of a particularly poor collection of PGMOL officials. Did you expect anything else?

When Alexis set off on a mazy run to set up the impressive Tomas Rosicky we had already lost the youngest to some virtual car race. Thankfully he came running back in to see the replay. 2-0 to the ten men meant a nervous few minutes for Grandad, praying for a 3-0 result to pay for the Christmas booze, and hopefully Per Mertesacker to score to add a healthy profit.

Atkinson’s penalty award for a perfectly timed Mathieu Debuchy tackle summed up his incompetence, and a young lad returned to his car race. A nervous finish had adults and the oldest lad muttering about “typical Arsenal, this”. The penalty that never was wasn’t so bad when Zamora was ‘negated’ by Gibbs, but we had another couple of decent shouts denied to us also. With everybody but West Ham around us winning this was an important three points, but at what cost?

West Ham Up Next

So we make the short journey to Upton Park with Giroud starting the first of a three match ban, and concerns over the ability of Rosicky to play twice in under 48 hours. There may be returns for Laurent Koscielny (a little chance according to Le Boss), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (a smaller chance), and Theo Walcott (he’s not far away).

Although our two matches in the coming week are away from home both opponents are within reach and two wins would put us back into the top four, at least. Returns for the three players in question would provide a more than welcome lift to the spirits both on and off the pitch.

West Ham, although defeated at Chelsea on Boxing Day when fielding a weakened side, are probably the surprise package of the first half of the season. Alex Song (rested at Stamford Bridge) and Carl Jenkinson (who cannot play against us) have been key contributors to the 31 points haul from 18 matches which have secured fifth place in the table, one ahead of us.

At home they lost their first two in August but have since embarked on an impressive seven match unbeaten run which has included wins against Liverpool (3-1), Manchester City (2-1), and Swansea City (3-1). The prospect of Andy Carroll attacking a less than full strength central defensive partnership isn’t one to think about for too long. Be prepared for another nervous afternoon.

The ‘holic pound assumes we will be able to start a fit Rosicky or Ox alongside Flamini, that Kos will partner the BFG at the back, and that Theo or Poldi will come in for Giroud. I’m on a 1-2 away win, available at eights with Paddy Power.

Right, more cold meat for this old turkey. Have a lovely Sunday, ‘holics.

So the human alarm clocks, aka the grand’holics, started sounding off at around seven o’clock, which was a veritable lie-in for a Christmas morning. Should we survive the day of over-indulgence (the first four bottles of champers are already history) then tomorrow it will be a case of finding a stream that doesn’t buffer like crazy in the back of beyond.

The visit of Queens Park Rangers offers an oportunity to start a crucial festive period of fixtures with three much-needed points. We are getting ever closer to the pointed end of the season when the prizes and places will be decided.

We reach the halfway point of the season at West Ham on Sunday before traveling to Southampton on New Year’s Day. Both teams are currently above us so rarely will two consecutive away wins have been more desirable. Arsene was clear on their importance in his presser on Tuesday.

“There are three games in a very short period of time and we can make points. Our opponents will think that as well, but let’s just put the performances in and capitalise on it. The consistency in that period is what will matter.”

The team news, as of Tuesday, was a little vague. Tomas Rosicky, Yaya Sanogo, and David Ospina are fit to return to the squad. Hector Bellerin and Theo Walcott may or may not make it. Laurent Koscielny may make Sunday but not Boxing Day. The midfield remains decimated with Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, and Abou Diaby all out.

On paper the home match against the team from the Bush looks the easiest of the three. They go into the game just two points above the relegation zone but have taken maximum points from four of their last five home fixtures, as well as holding Manchester City to a draw in the other. On the road, perhaps more significantly, they have taken zero points this season. The closest they came to breaking their duck came at table-topping Chelsea, where they were pipped by the odd goal in three by a late Hazard penalty.

So on what do we lump the yuletide pound? I should say did. I liked the look of Paddy Power’s 8/1 against 3-0 to the Arsenal before setting off yesterday so had an extra few Christmas coppers on it. I might also have a whimsical punt on Per Mertesacker to score at anytime, but will wait to see what the odds are just before kick-off.

Now if you will excuse me I have to lend a hand in the kitchen. Those champagne bottles are heavy, and need to be emptied as fast as possible to lighten the load on the fridge.

Have a great rest of holiday, all of you, and thanks for dropping by.

A change of guest, focus, and style for this piece. Following BtM’s look to the future Neal Milsom looks back, having swapped life in London for the land down under. Thanks Neal, for writing from the heart.

Well, my first blog, and from as far away as you can get from home. Home is a funny word eh? Where on earth is home? Where the heart is? Where the family are? Where you were born? Or where your team is? 

I was sold first time I walked into the North Bank. I had found my home. No longer reading about it in the papers, I was there. Yet forty years later I’m here in Perth, Western Australia.

When I’m down, I think of Michael Thomas and Steve McMahon and his “one minute left”. That lifts me every time. The scousers were the enemy for me then. As if to demonstrate what a funny old world it can be last week my local pub here in Perth was invaded by the WA Manchester United fan club to watch their match against the bin-dippers. They sang their songs taking the mickey (apologies, couldn’t resist) out of the scousers. After seven $5 Stella’s and at half time was I chased out the pub for singing “49 undefeated”. Lucky it was my local and I knew the bouncers so they looked after me!

I remember Liam scoring that goal at White Hart Lane back in Christmas 1978. Like ‘holic I was at Wembley to see us beaten by Luton, of all teams. I was in Spain on a family holiday when we signed Supermac, Malcolm Macdonald, for a British record transfer fee of £333,333. It’s in my scrapbook. I had the Champagne Charlie hair. I saw Jon Jensen score his goal.

I’ve never been to the Emirates/Grove, call it what you will. I never saw Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp or Robert Pires do their stuff in the flesh. Damn it, I missed the Invincibles and couldn’t afford to fly to Paris. Instead I watched the Champions League Final in Koh Samui in a beach bar with fifty other gooners and absolutely loved it, bar those oh so painful last thirteen minutes.

I still get up at 3 am to watch our team. We had a thousand Aussie-based Gooners at the casino in Perth to watch us win the FA Cup Final against Hull City last year. That made up for bloody Luton! My boy wears his Arsenal shirt with pride although the wife doesn’t totally understand.

My point? No matter where in the world I happen to be watching my team my heart, and my home, will always be in the North Bank, Highbury, where first I set foot all those years ago. Once a Gooner, always a Gooner.

Have a great Christmas, those celebrating it, and I wish you a great holiday wherever you are. Cheers ‘holics.

For a second week running Bergkamp the Man is back with a post that will doubtless stimulate as much debate as last week’s piece. He looks at the future and grapples with a question common to many I know. What part will we play in the future and where will we be watching our Arsenal next season? Thank you BtM.

So what does the future hold? What’s that picture beginning to form in the crystal ball? Is that Arsene Wenger I see holding the Champions League trophy aloft? Or is it that young thruster Thierry Henry frowning on the touchline as Arsenal plays the final game of the season needing to beat Wigan away to avoid relegation?

Either of these is quite possible and neither is dependent on the ghost of Arsenal past and red-tinted memories of the good old days when everything was ‘definitely better’. More than ever before, the game will be as much a money game as a football game. Irrespective of its source, from sugar-daddies to hard toil, the quid, the greenback, the lira, the peseta will drive the destination of silver.

The teams who consistently and repeatedly win trophies are distinct in one primary respect. They have more money than the majority. So they can acquire, retain and develop the cream of the players. Best players eventually comprise the best, winning teams. QED. And success can be bought ‘overnight’ in the style of Man City or Chelsea. So, that’s the way to go, isn’t it? “Spend, spend, spend some f*cking money Arsenal and we’ll all be happy and we’ll never bleat again and that’s a promise!”

But there’s the rub. That’s a fork in the road that we see emerging at the end of Holloway Road. Many of us are delighted by the prospect of Arsenal spending but distraught by the notion that an excess of that spend will be our own. The prospect of Silent Stan spending is great – but please, Arsenal, don’t ask us to pay more for seats, beer or foot-long sausages!

So for us fans, customers, clients, bum on seats, income generators (choose your poison) something has to give. The parting of the ways is nigh. There are two choices at different ends of a long red spectrum.

a) We can pay up and applaud as Arsenal grabs deeply into our wallets, justified by financial competitiveness and winning ways on the back of more buys like Ozil and Sanchez.

b) We move off and on. Either to ‘Arsenal Light’ or to watch clubs better suited to our wallets, be they Charlton, Stratford or Bishop’s Stortford.

“But there’s a half-way house” you say! “An idyll in which Arsenal wins, wins, wins and generously cuts the price of seats, beer and sausage to make us feel ‘warm and fuzzy’ again.” I don’t think that will ever happen, don’t hold your breath, but dream on if you wish.

So what does this Arsenal Light look like?

It involves absolutely everything we enjoy today and at a fraction of the cost, but with one exception. We never (or only rarely), go to the stadium – all recovering junkies need the occasional fix.

“So we never watch Arsenal in the company of other Gooners?”

We do, we just do it differently thanks to ever-improving digital media and telecommunications. Put differently, top-notch flat screens linked to satellites at our Gooner locals. Even 3pm kick-offs are available now through savvy publicans, slingbox technology and the likes. The beer’s cheaper and the sausages don’t cost eight quid a pop. Paint your own pictures.

“Hold on”, you say. “That’ll never happen. The stadium will be empty if we’re in the pub and then Arsenal will be forced to reduce prices.”

It won’t be empty. For every one of us who struggles to find the gate money, there’s an emerging Gooner with money to burn looking for a new venue to set the spark. On my first visit, Highbury was mainly an all-white male venue, dads and their boys. Compare that with the multi-cultural diversity of the Emirates faithful today. From a business perspective, that’s a jackpot waiting to pay out. Sign a Chinese, Japanese, Indian or Korean super-star and China Eastern and ANA will be flying weekly charters to Heathrow and sushi and dim sun will be de rigeur alongside Asahi Superdry (our new sponsor) and Suntory shots.

“You’re wrong, BtM, the stadium will be empty, there will be no atmosphere for TV, the networks won’t pay, the bubble will burst, YOU are the dreamer!”

Even if not a single sausage-eater turned up, the show would still go on. Just like sitcoms create atmosphere by exploiting canned laughter, canned singing (absent the cusses to upset Holic’s grandsons) would belt forth. Computer graphics would instantly fill empty stadia (in the style of Spartan warriors in the Persian War movie 300). But that won’t be necessary, the seats will all be full.

I entered earth’s atmosphere in the 50’s. Two billion people lived on the planet then. If I can hang on in there till 2040, the population will have quadrupled to eight billion in my little lifetime. There’s good news, Stan. The market’s growing – but you’re no fool, you knew that all along. You didn’t buy Arsenal on a whim.

There is no shortage of future punters. Wise American and Asian entrepreneurs are investing in football clubs to make their future golden. Maybe we should club together, Holics and buy a club? Leeds United anyone? It’s a great brand, could it be a money machine? Well, there would be tough times and we’d need a brilliant manager to sustain major success at national and European level on a worn-out old shoestring. Do such people even exist? Aaaah, someone like Arsene Wenger, you mean? Maybe we could even get Arsene himself? Nah, if they’re in their right minds, Arsenal will NEVER let him go!

So where will I be in this brave new world, or even next season? Having been turfed out of Arsenal’s premium seats, assaulted and thrown unceremoniously down the stairs and out of the stadium from Arsenal Club, my enthusiasm has been ‘quelled’. I’d ‘save’ seven grand each year by relinquishing my two tickets, staying off the train and drinking and eating at reasonable prices – on home games alone. My local has an increasing appeal and the guv’nor is savvy (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

But surely loss of real fans can’t be the answer for Arsenal can it? Creative restructuring of the Arsenal offer to cater better for different levels of wealth is a must. Equally, delivering value by delivering on the promise of the experience and not assaulting and insulting long-term old timers when in your care might be a reasonable place to start. Come on, Arsenal, you can do much, much better – IF you can be bothered.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Le Professeur Competition Winner

Congratulations to Charles Singer, who correctly identified Tottenham as the team against whom Arsene’s Arsenal secured their third Premiership title. Thank you to those who entered. You can still buy a copy of the book via the Amazon ad in the sidebar.

On a strange afternoon at Anfield Arsenal ended up bringing home a point that frankly didn’t look likely for all but the last of the opening 45 minutes. That they only brought home a point is equally astonishing after taking the lead in the second-half and seeing the hosts reduced to ten men in the second of nine added minutes.

The first half was a tense experience as Liverpool flooded the midfield and dominated possession. A subdued Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mathieu Flamini struggled to contain the lively Lallana and Coutinho, while Calum Chambers was finding the marauding Markovic a real handful.

Gerrard and Lallana were off target with the earliest opportunities but Wojciech Szczesny was required to save from Markovic before the same player again missed the target from a good position. A goal never felt far away and arrived in the final minute of the half when Coutinho found a yard of space on the edge of the box and fired in off the far post.

In all honesty Liverpool deserved the advantage at the break, but were denied it when Gerard fouled Alexis and the resulting free-kick eventually saw Mathieu Debuchy claim his first goal in an Arsenal shirt as he climbed above Skrtel to head in at the far post.

Whatever was said at half-time appeared to have an effect in the second-half. The one way traffic of the opening period gave way to a more end to end pattern as Arsenal got closer to their opponents and started to move the ball around with a little more certainty themselves. Coutinho and Santi Cazorla traded chances but both were off target. Then came what would prove to be a pivotal moment as Giroud accidentally trod on the head of the prone Skrtel, and six minutes of treatment ensued that would come back to haunt the Gunners.

Lucas and Gerrard both missed the target, as did Cazorla and the increasingly influential Giroud. The Frenchman did not miss, however, when finding himself unmarked in front of goal to convert Cazorla’s glorious cut-back. Harsh on Liverpool in the context of the match as a whole, but somewhat deserved for the much-improved visitors.

Not surprisingly Liverpool pushed on in search of the equaliser but created little of consequence. Gerrard brought a save out of Szczesny and Lucas again sliced wide. The introduction of Francis Coquelin for the goalscorer suggested we were preparing to dig in to secure the win, but in a frantic last minute of the ninety the Ox called to the bench to withdraw him. He and Alexis made way for Monreal and Campbell.

Borini now became the central figure in this phase, bringing an excellent save out of Szczesny, earning a yellow card somewhat foolishly for dissent, then a second yellow (it surely should have been a straight red?) for aiming his studs into Santi’s chest. Although seven of the nine added minutes remained that should have sealed Liverpool’s fate. It didn’t.

In the 97th minute Liverpool won a corner, the errant Kieran Gibbs strayed from his post, the out-of-sorts Per Mertesacker cowered under the challenge of the unmarked and onrushing Skrtel. The header was inside the vacant post and three points became one. The BFG is missing his mate, Laurent Koscielny, and can be forgiven for having the odd off-day given the demands being placed on him as the only fit central defender we have. It might not be a bad idea to get Nigel Winterburn to come in and work with Gibbs. If he thinks he has made it, he needs to think again.

Collectively those on the pitch failed at a crucial moment, of that there is no doubt. As someone rather dryly observed on Twitter (sorry I cannot remember who to credit) we probably don’t get much practice at defending corners given our inability to deliver one. Again today that failing was evident. However at half-time if someone had offered us a point I’m sure many would have taken it.

Twelve points adrift of both Chelsea and City at Christmas. It isn’t what we wanted in August, but isn’t terminal, although the five points gap to Manchester United in third place should perhaps occupy our immediate focus. Well that, and some extra training on taking and defending corners on Christmas Day.

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