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The coming together of a number of like-minded souls, the first time in a number of years for some, gave a home fixture against Stoke something of an attraction that has been lacking in recent seasons. Indeed the sinking of pints (and some Icelandic firewater, thanks Zaph) and the recalling of memories were infinitely more enjoyable than most of the football on offer.

With one eye on Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final against CSKA the manager left Laurent Koscielny, Granit Xhaka, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Alexandre Lacazette out of the starting eleven. The latter trio would have to come off the bench to transform what for at least an hour was a very poor performance.

Stoke were set up to defend deep and counter at will and set about it in a disciplined way. Indeed they carved out an early chance to snatch the lead but mercifully Shaqiri’s effort went the wrong side of the post. The same player repeated the threat as the half developed. It didn’t make for pretty viewing. Our first meaningful effort fell to Aaron Ramsey who lifted a deft shot onto the crossbar and behind.

We didn’t register our first corner until most half an hour had passed and although Skhodran Mustafi won the header his effort provided a comfortable save for Butland. That the half-time whistle was greeted by a chorus of boos wasn’t a surprise.

The second-half started with more of the same. The crowd became increasingly frustrated by the number of times we elected to pass the ball sideways or backwards. Mohamed Elneny and Nacho Monreal were denied in quick succession but the Arsenal were not creating enough chances. The manager needed to shake this up and elected to send on Lacazette for Danny Welbeck. The luckless Shaqiri saw his corner-kick bounce back off a goalpost as Stoke continued to threaten.

Then a moment that turned the match on it’s head. Mesut Ozil was brought down in the box by Martins Indi. From fifty yards away in real time it looked the correct call although television replays appeared to show the ball being taken before the man. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you might not. This is Stoke we’re talking about. Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang struck the spot-kick confidently and decisively. One nil to the good guys.

A double substitution ensued, with Mkhitaryan and Xhaka coming on for Jack Wilshere and Mohamed Elneny. A dour afternoon was about to be transformed. Butland had to be at his best to prevent Ramsey and then Mkhitaryan from doubling the advantage. Stoke sought an equaliser but Ndiaye was narrowly wide of the mark. Butland was called upon again to save from Mkhitaryan and Ozil. All of a sudden the Arsenal were a dangerous, cohesive unit.

Aubamayang secured the points with four minutes remaining when a corner was flicked onto him at the far post and he fashioned an excellent right foot volley into the far corner. With two goals to his credit, and a first Gunners hat-trick up for grabs what happened in the final minute spoke volumes about the character of the man. As Lacazette chased a through ball into the box he was charged to the floor by Ndiaye. Aubamayang let Lacazette have a comeback goal from the spot, explaining afterwards,

“I know that Laca is back and I’d scored twice, so I wanted to let him score. It’s normal. I think it’s good for his confidence, and that’s why.”

That hints at the pairing linking up with mutual respect and admiration, which will send a warning to the rest of the Premier League next season. That they were so impressive in their cameo together that whoever is at the helm next season will surely consider making the partnership more permanent.

The last fifteen minutes most definitely lifted the gloom that had descended earlier.

The Gooner Fanzine 2018/19

Good news today. The Gooner fanzine has hit it’s target of 1000 subscriptions and will remain in print next season. That means that the deadline of tonight for subscribing no longer applies and you can sign up any time pre-season.

One person who won’t need to is our competition winner, Peter Carbery from Wembley. Congratulations Peter, and thanks to all who entered and who knew that Charlie Nicholas bagged a brace in the 1987 Littlewoods Cup Final.

The link for the unlucky entrants to subscribe is here.

International breaks are a funny thing. Generally as you get older everything passes more quickly than ever. Yet the gaps in the season created by meaningless friendlies for the national sides seem to generate a time-warp which increases as each one occurs. I don’t need to tell you how good it will be to get back to the Grove tomorrow even though the prospect of watching Stoke again will never be attractive.

We can put another nail in their Premier League coffin however if we can extend our current run of wins to four. We would be doing ourselves something of a favour too, as Burnley today cut the gap on us to just two points. Yes, I did type Burnley. That does put our season into perspective. The good news is that we have everybody but Santi Cazorla available for selection.

I’m sure many Gooners, this old boy included, would love to see us line-up in a 4-1-3-2 formation and experiment with both our expensive strikers. Alexandre Lacazette needs to get some minutes in before we encounter CSKA in the Europa League quarter-final. It’s likely though that the manager will not tinker with his formation at this stage of the season. Petr Cech will start behind a quartet of Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, and Nacho Monreal.

In midfield the manager has choices to be made. Likeliest combination is Granit Xhaka (yes, I would start Mohamed Elneny too!) and Aaron Ramsey behind Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jack Wilshire, and Mesut Ozil. Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang is the likeliest starter up top. Hopefully we will see Laca up with him for the last half hour?

Stoke for once will arrive with a bigger injury list than us. They are missing Choupa-Moting, Cameron, Grant, and Ireland through injury. The hot-headed Adam starts a three match suspension for his latest sending off, and former Barca player Afellay has been placed on gardening leave by relatively new manager. Paul Lambert. They could well start Crouch for his potential to cause mayhem at set pieces. Shaqiri will need watching closely, most likely by Xhaka.

The ‘holic pound

Stoke have won just once away from home all season, and haven’t won at the Arsenal since 1981. They haven’t won in their last seven Premier League matches and if we do not avenge our single goal defeat at Middle Earth in August then it would be a huge surprise. They will surely be fighting for their Premier League place but confidence must be at rock bottom.

Last season we beat them home and away with an aggregate score of 7-2. I’m looking at a repeat of the 3-1 scoreline at the Grove which is available at tens. That’s the same price that Stoke are to win.

A final reminder for The Gooner fanzine competition

To be in with a chance of winning a subscription to the Gooner fanzine for next season just answer the following question.

In 1987 who scored the two goals at Wembley to win us the Littlewoods Cup against Liverpool?

Send your answer to competition@goonerholic.com to arrive by midnight uk time on Sunday 1st April. One randomly drawn correct winner on Monday will win the subscription for next season’s The Gooner. There is no cash alternative. I will announce the winner so you can still buy your own subscription before midnight on Monday.

With your answer can you also let me have your full name and address, your phone number and email address so I can fill the subscription form if you are the lucky winner. Good luck.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

In the 1970s an irreverent new type of alternative publication appeared briefly. FOUL was terrace humour in print form and survived from 1972 to 1976. It would be another decade before supporters would pick up the obvious gap in the market and create the new fanzines. Many have come and gone, but one that has blossomed from the smallest acorn into a resplendent oak tree is The Gooner.

The Arsenal Football Supporters club have claimed that Gunflash was the first fanzine, and although it certainly was a most successful publication it wasn’t really what came into being in the late 80s. Gunflash produced some fine articles, match reports, and interviews. It was as close to an official club publication as you could wish for, and totally lacking in the caustic, earthy wit that the new wave of productions excelled in.

Those that didn’t adapt with their audience as they matured passed into history. The Gooner, however, has aged like a fine wine. There were always high quality offerings in it’s pages. Amy Lawrence, Jon Spurling, Layth Yousif, and Tim Stillman cut their writing teeth in it’s pages. The caustic wit remains and the Gooner has trodden a fine line between the sincerely held beliefs of the rival factions around the club.

There was talk of the publication closing it’s print version on reaching their thirtieth anniversary season but the response to that persuaded Kevin and his hard-working team to move to a new model to ensure the continuation of a loved publication. From next season, if a thousand subscribers can be found at £30 (£42 if you are overseas) by next Monday then you can receive six shiny new copies of the improved 64 page Gooner through your letter box next season.

I gather they are tantalisingly close to that target so I am going to add to that number by buying a subscription for one of you. To be in with a chance of winning just answer the following question.

In 1987 who scored the two goals at Wembley to win us the Littlewoods Cup against Liverpool?

Send your answer to competition@goonerholic.com to arrive by midnight uk time on Sunday 1st April. One randomly drawn correct winner on Monday will win the subscription for next season’s The Gooner. There is no cash alternative.

With your answer can you also let me have your full name and address, your phone number and email address so I can fill the subscription form if you are the lucky winner. Good luck.

You can still buy a subscription

If you want to secure your subscription before Monday then you will find the application form and payment options here.

Here’s to another season of wonderful Gooner coverage.

 

What Next For Jack?

What should have been a big few days for Jack Wilshere has turned into yet another setback for his hopes of making England’s World Cup squad this summer. Selected for the friendly matches in Holland and against Italy at Wembley, the Gunners midfielder was hoping to show he was back to international form. Instead a knee injury picked up in training stopped him from boarding the plane to Amsterdam and now he knows he will not return to the squad for the Italian job.

It comes at the end of a week in which he revealed that Arsene Wenger had told him in August that we would not be renewing his contract and he was free to go if he could find another club. Following his initial upset Jack opted to stay and fight for his Arsenal future and to his credit he worked his way back into the first team and was appointed captain against Milan in the Europa League.

A measure of his comeback at the Arsenal is that he was also quoted this week as wanting to be the next Gunners captain. His affection for the club has never been in question, and his recovery has prompted the club to have made him a new contract offer. Unfortunately for Jack the word is that he is being offered a basic pay cut on the region of £20k to 30k per week but with appearance payments that will give him a significant pay rise if he stays fit and maintains his form.

As with all issues at the club right now opinions are divided on the offer between those who have been critical of the club for extending contracts to the likes of Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky, and those who feel Jack has proven himself this season and we should give him what he wants to stay. It will be costly to replace a top homegrown talent but the club are taking a huge gamble that Jack’s heart will keep him a Gunner.

All the aces are in Jack’s hand right now. At 26 he might have perhaps two contracts left with which to maximise his earnings. There is little doubt that other clubs will have followed his progress this season and may feel encouraged to make him a highly paid transfer target. That would have been cemented by a return to the England team he was winning rave reviews for, particularly when winning six man of the match awards in qualifying for the Euros 2016. Instead this latest knock may have taken one or two potential suitors out of the frame.

For this old romantic I would love to see Jack running out with the cannon on his chest next season, but I do understand totally the club’s stance. There is severe pressure on our wage bill with the recent decision to drop the socialist wage structure, and we cannot afford to be paying big money to injured players. The risk with Jack is one the club want him to take. He’ll still be on £80 to 90k per week, apparently. Only time will tell.

Jack’s loyalty faces the ultimate test this summer.

The Arsenal Shirts

Those not running an adblocker will have noticed a new addition to the header of the blog. Goonerholic has a new partner in www.thearsenalshirts.com which has been launched by Gav of SheWore fame in the wake of his losing the right to sell a range of merchandise featuring the old Gunners emblems. The popularity of the Adidas and Nike shirts of the last 25 years and longer is no surprise. Luckily I have kept most of mine, although not all will still fit! Keep an eye on the new venture for your favourite shirts from the Gunners past at good prices compared to other sellers of those shirts without Gav’s affection for the Arsenal. Check out his legend-signed items also.

Have a good one ‘holics.

You could be forgiven for not knowing that the U18 class of 2018 were playing the first leg of their FA Youth Cup semi-final this evening. It was something of a surprise that the match was not televised live. Perhaps Blackpool expected to take more in gate money (it was free to season ticket holders, £4 for adults and £2 concessions) than tv income? Perhaps both clubs underestimated the interest in the fixture?

In the end the match was captured in the Twitter feed of @BlackpoolFC and the excellent @jeorgebird of arsenalyouth.wordpress.com fame and is a story of what might have been. As a bit of background to the tie Blackpool had previously beaten three Category One and three Category Three academies to reach this stage, the Arsenal being the fourth Category One scalp they were looking for.

The Arsenal went into the match without goalkeeper Joao Virginia and the prolific Emile Smith-Rowe. Blackpool too were missing their main man, Rowan Roache, called up by the Republic of Ireland’s U19 squad.

The match itself was a slow burner with not a single strike on target until the 26th minute when Fin Sinclair-Smith fired an effort straight at the Gunners schoolboy goalkeeper, Arthur Okonkwo.

That stung the Gunners into a response and the opening goal, Tyreece John-Jules finishing from close range following a corner. Folarin Balogun, and John-Jules again, both hit efforts wide and the young Gunners would pay for their profligacy. Blackpool levelled on the brink of half-time through Dylan Sumner. Kwame Ampadu would have already had his interval team talk prepared but presumably needed to change his message.

As the hour mark approached we had reason to be grateful to our inexperienced young goalkeeper. The Blackpool Twitter feed reported “58′ – Big save from Okonkwo to keep out a header from Dunne. Watkinson is then denied on the rebound.” We again responded, and Xavier Amaechi finished off a counter-attack with aplomb. 1-2 to the Arsenal, and then we were awarded a penalty-kick to seal the first-leg deal. However Craig Thordarson saved the spot-kick and that would prove to be significant.

Ben Jacobson struck with just sixteen minutes remaining to level an intriguing tie for the second time. Sinclair-Smith missed the target twice in the closing stages as the hosts sought an unlikely triumph, but a tight contest was destined to end in a deadlock in which the Arsenal’s two away goals may yet prove important.

The second-leg will be at the Grove on 16th April at 7pm. Hopefully Arsenal Player will show it live for supporters from far away to keep up with the action. This is the premier trophy for developing footballers and should be presented as such by the clubs and/or the FA. We have had some wonderful evenings in the FA Youth Cup down the years and this could be yet another.

Cheers, ‘holics.

“If they score first the game could turn into a very nerve-wracking affair.”

Having typed that in the preview it bore repetition in the pub pre-match and drew general agreement. The post-match gathering saw a wonderful mix of people from both sides of the pond looking forward to a juicy contest between two of Europe’s misfiring finest. This is too often the best part of a matchday experience these days and it was great to see so many friends under one roof yet again.

There was however to be an incredible surge of enthusiasm and joy as the match progressed. Not that we didn’t go through that nervous spell when the visitors opened the scoring on the night with a sumptuous Calhanoglu strike from thirty yards. We were right in line with the swerving shot and the moment it left his boot we knew it was in. To be honest it was no more then the Italians deserved at that point.

In the opening half an hour they had looked the more ambitious and aggressive of the combatants. People write them off as fallen giants, but in truth their biggest problem by far is the lack of a regular goalscorer. As last week they created many opportunities last night but either they fell to the wrong players or they don’t have the finisher that would complete them.

We would have to fight back quickly, and mercifully did, although in the most controversial of circumstances. A trademark exchange of quick incisive passes on the edge of the box put Danny Welbeck clear in the inside-right channel. From fifty yards away what happened next in real time looked like he got a clip on the heel and a helpful hand to ground. The referee awarded nothing immediately but then pointed to the spot apparently on the advice of his fifth official.

Cue mayhem and hysterical reaction from the bulk of the Milan team. To his credit the fascinating Gattuso implored his charges to calm down. He will understand better than most that indiscipline can cost a side dear. Once the decision was given they were putting only their continued participation at risk. It was only during the interval that those returning from their half-time break confirmed that any contact had been minimal and Welbeck had gone to ground far too easily.

I didn’t see any repeats of the incident until this morning. The first view from the normal cameras sighted above the centre of the pitch were a high level of the view we enjoyed in block 32 and showed what I thought I had seen. However, the video shot from behind the goal (the fifth official’s view almost) showed precious little contact and certainly insufficient to send a big strong fella to ground.

I’ve condemned the serial offenders who are encouraged by their respective managers to seek an advantage in such circumstances as “part of the game”, and the same applies to one who is I’m sure a first-time offender. I don’t want to see The Arsenal players doing it.

To read some of the most outrageous and absurd nonsense I have today about it affecting the outcome of the match and causing shame and embarrassment to English football is such a ludicrous over-reaction, especially when put in context of the lack of similar emotive language aimed at those we know are cheating on an industrial scale every week. It had echoes in the appalling hounding of Eduardo, who won a legitimate penalty against Celtic, but was subjected to the baying hounds of the click-baiting fourth estate. The Arsenal sell papers, full-stop.

Enough of that nonsense. Danny himself, recalled by England earlier in the day, took the spot-kick, and it is fair to say that not all in the ground were confident of him netting the equaliser. Oh ye of little faith. He sent Donnarumma the wrong way. We had a psychological lift but to be fair had reacted to the Milan goal with positivity and determination before drawing level.

We carried that intent into the second-half. The defence, notionally weakened when Laurent Koscielny hobbled out of the game to be replaced by Calum Chambers, were looking solid enough behind the improving Granit Xhaka. Milan fashioned a couple of half-chances and were defending superbly but with around twenty minutes remaining a Donnarumma howler put the Gunners out of reach. Xhaka’s long-range strike was decent enough but the young goalkeeper parried it across his own body at the foot of the near post and watched it spin just inside his far post.

That’s the ‘holic pound secured, thought this fool. The crowd settled into party mood. Then the most wonderful thing. The visiting support, three thousand strong and vociferous all game broke out with a chant that had a hypnotic chorus. It was the Italian pronunciation of AC Milan but tens of thousands of Gooners latched immediately onto it’s similarity to “Oooooospina!”. For a precious few minutes the entire stadium collectively embraced the amazing amotsphere spontaneously created. It was a magical few moments on the sort of European night we have enjoyed so seldom of late.

Welbeck, who else, snatched the correct score winnings from my grasp as the tie petered out. Donnarumma saved Aaron Ramsey’s point-blank header and the Mancunian headed the rebound home. It was a night that will have done much for his confidence on the pitch, if not off it.

So into the night we scurried to make the late homeward journeys but with that little ear worm niggling away at our senses.

“Oooospina, Oooospina. Oooospina, Oooospina.”

I begin this preview during the half-time break in the Women’s FA Continental Cup Final. The Arsenal are 1-0 up against Manchester City Ladies which would be no mean achievement if they could maintain that advantage against the Cup holders.

In 24 hours The Arsenal kick-off their Europa League second-leg at home to AC Milan. I’m so looking forward to seeing them again. So many were quick to condemn them as a poor side after our impressive win in the San Siro. I believe they overlooked the fact that we played very well against a very good side. Milan responded by winning their seventh straight Series A fixture at Genoa. After a dreadful start they are now just six points off a Champions League spot.

The injury news from Arsene Wenger in his pre-match press conference is that apart from Alexander Lacazette (and Santi Cazorla, obviously) everyone is available. That gives the manager a serious option of playing a back three again although he is likely to go with the system that worked so well last Thursday. That would have David Ospina starting behind a likely four of Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, and Nacho Monreal.

The temptation to stay with the midfield and striker from last week must be strong, so Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey notionally behind Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshire, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Danny Welbeck must start up front as Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang is cup-tied. Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training today and should be available again after the international break.

Update on the Conti Cup Final. Goalscorer Vivianne Miedema has just been substituted with 18 minutes remaining. We are holding on to that most Arsenal of scorelines.

The manager was also asked about keeping Jack Wilshere beyond the end of the season. He repeated that there is an offer on the table and he would like Jack to stay. It is believed however that the offer is heavily weighted on the player being available and playing. There is a thought that Jack will receive considerably better from elsewhere as he is a free agent this summer. Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso’s assessment will have boosted Wilshere’s belief in his ability.

“He is a very different sort of player – he has got the personality of English football but with the qualities of a Spanish player. Two different cultures and I like him a lot. He may not be super-fast, but he has got great skills and is super-tactical. He has good ball circulation. When he gets the ball he knows exactly where to send it. He knows exactly the right pace and can change the pace of the game.”

The ‘holic pound

I don’t mind to retaining a little concern about this one. Milan are a better side than we allowed them to be last week. If they score first the game could turn into a very nerve-wracking affair. The bookies favourite scoreline is 1-1 which tells you they still consider Milan a difficult side to beat. I have decided to re-invest a little of my Cheltenham profit from the first two days of the festival on the second favourite, 2-1 to the Arsenal, at 15/2.

The Gunners Win The Continental Cup

As I type the Arsenal Women have been presented with the trophy after beating Favourites Manchester City 1-0 in the Final at Wycombe’s Adams Park. Congratulations to them on a fantastic achievement, and Joe Montemurro on his first trophy as an Arsenal manager.

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I am massively indebted to Gary Lawrence, (@garythegooner56 on Twitter) for tonight’s post remembering a significant figure in the youth of a generation of Arsenal supporters, as well as a fund of memories from Pat Rice and David Miles. Thank you very much Gary, and all the “Friends of Alex”.

Last summer in the first Arsenal programme of the season there was an article about the sad passing of Constable Alex Morgan, who sung for many years on match days at Highbury accompanied by the Metropolitan Police Band. I posted the article on Twitter and so many older Arsenal fans responded speaking fondly about our singing policeman. A group of us got chatting, including ‘holic, and we thought as Alex was such a unique part of the Highbury match day experience it would be great if there was some sort of memorial to him so that he’ll always be remembered and younger fans would know who he was and what he did at Highbury.

Gavin (@SheWore) started a small group on WhatsApp and called it “Friends of Alex” and we discussed maybe getting a memorial tile by the Thierry Henry statue, then someone suggested contacting the club first to see if they had any plans to do something to remember Alex.

I contacted the club and spoke to Tom Bennett who works there. He said it sounded like a great idea and he would sound out some of the older members of staff like Ken Friar and get back to me. Following a series of e-mails between myself and Tom and later another colleague of Tom’s, Andrew Pigott, the dialogue was maintained over the last six months. The club eventually arranged with Highbury Square to put up a memorial plaque for Alex in the very spot he used to sing from, which was as you probably know in the corner of the East Stand where it met the Clock End which was perfect.

Andrew kindly asked me if I’d like to attend the ceremony and I gladly accepted the club’s invitation, on behalf of the “Friends of Alex” to meet at the marble halls at 10am before the game against Watford. He said Alex Morgan’s family would be attending as well as somebody from the club.

It meant an early start and an old familiar journey to Highbury by tube that I hadn’t made for some years as these days I usually drive there. I arrived at Arsenal Station and as I walked up the tunnel it brought back memories of the time we played West Ham many years ago, when I was about 12 years old. I recalled walking down the tunnel with my Arsenal scarf wrapped around my neck when a big West Ham skinhead, aged about 18, grabbed the end of my scarf tugged it and sent me spinning like a top as he ran down the tunnel disappearing into the distance with my scarf in his hand!

I arrived at the marble halls early and was soon joined by Andrew Pigott. Shortly after that Arsenal Secretary David Miles turned up accompanied by Arsenal legend Pat Rice. Both looking very smart with club ties and jackets on. Standing in the marble halls stimulated the conversation to talking about the past. David Miles pointed out where he nervously sat 47 years ago waiting to be interviewed for a job at Arsenal. He said you could never go upstairs to see Ken Friar or Bob Wall without wearing a jacket. Pat Rice simply said it was standards and class.

We talked about queuing up for Cup Final tickets with the vouchers. Fans walking down the line saying has anybody got a spare voucher number six! We laughed about how fans tried to get away with photocopying missing vouchers or altering a three into an eight if they were one short.

I told them I was on the pitch at White Hart Lane after clinching the Title in 1971 and that I dug up a bit of the pitch and have still kept it all these years later. Pat laughed and said it was like a home game for them that night. David Miles then told a great story that Ken Friar had told him about that night. Bertie Mee in the dressing room after the game was told the fans were calling for him on the pitch but they were very rowdy. Bertie stood up proudly all 5 foot 4 inches of him and said “Sometimes a man has to do what a man has to do” and marched out to greet the Arsenal fans. Three minutes later he returned glasses on his head Eric Morecambe style, jacket pulled all over the place looking very dishevelled. “They’re animals” said Bertie.

We then talked about some of Pat’s old teammates. We all agreed what a brilliant player Geordie Armstrong was, and David said the club always look out for their old players and their families and that they always invite the Armstrong family along to the Emirates once a year as their guests. I think that shows the class of our club. I said I was gutted when Liam Brady left the club and Pat said he was a fantastic player no doubt about that. I said had we kept him and Frank Stapleton, adding Kenny Sansom, we’d probably have won the Title and Pat agreed with me. I said David O’Leary was deceptively quick and Pat said he was so fast that I used to say to Willie Young you just go and head everything. Don’t worry about the ball going past you Spider will take care of that. I said I thought we’d had it when Manchester United got back to 2-2 in 1979 FA Cup Final. Pat looked at me and said “You’d thought we’d had it, imagine how we felt!” But he said we always had a chance with players like Liam, Rixy and Sundy in our side.

We then spoke about that week in 1980 when we got beat in two finals. It was such a hard slog playing 70 matches that season. Pat said Billy Bingham the Northern Ireland manager phoned him at the end of that season and said we’d love you to come on tour to Australia and give you your 50th cap. Pat said there’s no way I can do that as I’m physically and mentally exhausted.

I mentioned it was a shame the captains choice on long or shorts sleeves seems to have disappeared. Pat said there could be freezing conditions with snow and ice but if Tony Adams said short sleeves today lads, everyone wore short sleeves 100% with no exceptions.

We were then joined by David Price one of the club’s official photographers, before a big contingent of Alex Morgan’s family arrived. They were absolutely delighted that the club were doing this for them and were chuffed to bits at seeing Pat Rice there. Brief introductions and some family photos were taken with Pat next to Herbert Chapman by David Price and then we were off down what was once the players tunnel leading down to the pitch. It took me back to the time when Pat was our skipper and he’d kick a football out onto the pitch from the tunnel. These days Pat has to walk with the aid of a cane. Time catches up with all of us even club legends like Pat.

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Pat with some of Alex Morgan’s family in the marble halls

As we walked down to where Alex’s memorial plaque was situated Pat pointed out to us where he used to bunk into Highbury as a kid! I said were you at Highbury when the Busby Babes played their last game in England. Oh yes said Pat the famous 5-4 match, yes I was there I bunked in that day as well!

Then we reached the memorial and it was time to do what we’d all come here for to honour the memory of Constable Alex Morgan. The family placed a wreath underneath the plaque, as well as a framed photo of Alex singing at Highbury on the day of the final match there against Wigan. One of Alex Morgan’s grand-daughters then put out a small speaker that plays music from a phone and the unmistakable voice of Alex singing at that last game came through it loud and clear. After Alex finished singing everybody spontaneously applauded. One of Alex Morgan’s sons then made a short speech thanking us all for making the day possible and ended with him saying what a classy and special club The Arsenal were. After that the family got some more family photos taken with Pat next to the plaque. David Miles and Pat then shook hands with everybody and said they had to go as Pat had to get back to the Emirates to meet and greet some more people before the game. Let’s hope we get three points today said Pat as they left Highbury Square.

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Pat with some more of the Morgan family members

I then said my goodbyes to the Morgan clan as well. We all have a moan about the club and I’m no exception, but it’s things like this that The Arsenal do so well. The Football Club handled the whole thing with a touch of class. I’m so pleased that our little group the “Friends of Alex” came up with the suggestion to do it, because Constable Alex Morgan and the Metropolitan Police Band were as much a part of Highbury’s history as the Commissionaire on duty at the Main Entrance to the East Stand, and as much a part as the marble hall itself, with the red cannon, the Chapman bust and the beautiful staircase.

Now there is a permanent reminder of our singing policeman there as well.

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The Alex Morgan plaque

As if to prove that I really am going senile I have just opened a message from Steve T asking why no Watford report? Odd, I thought, I wrote it when I got home on Saturday night. What a shame I didn’t remember to hit the publish button as well! So, for the first part of a double-header tonight here it is, but probably not better late than never!

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Well that was an enjoyable afternoon. There was a degree of rotation with David Ospina, Calum Chambers, Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, and Danny Welbeck making way. Thankfully that left us with Shkodran Mustafi who hobbled off towards the end and had to allow Troy Deeney out of his pocket as he did so. A makeshift defence was outstanding and full marks to Rob Holding who was a very vociferous and accomplished part of that.

This will surely be one of those tee-shirt days a la John Jensen. I was there the day Petr Cech saved a penalty! Sorry, it isn’t intended to be anything other than a fun recollection of the afternoon. Cech’s 200th Premier League clean sheet is testament to the standards the big man has set himself at the bus stop in Fulham and with us.

It started well. Mustafi’s excellent header from a Mesut Ozil free-kick gave us an early advantage to build on. The Arsenal being the Arsenal meant that we followed it up with some pleasing on the eye football with no end product. In truth we should have gone in three of four to the good at the half, but we lack that killer instinct so often.

It threatened to be an entirely different afternoon at the start of the second-half as the Hornets, clearly having got a huge rocket at half-time, started to apply pressure almost entirely missing from their first-half display. That little bit of negativity in all of us was prodded, but eventually subdued.

At this point a word to the pairing of the oft-maligned Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny, often competitors for a starting shirt, but paired today in the absence of Ramsey and Wilshere. They played a full part in this victory and gave Arsene Wenger food for thought. With their help we weathered the storm and doubled our advantage when the Dortmund connection was re-opened and Henrikh Mkhitaryan threaded one through for Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang to round the ‘keeper and slot home.

An hour gone, we could relax and play a bit. Watford had other ideas and were happy to make the contest more physical. Martin Atkinson isn’t the referee you need when this happens. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, shunted into the right-back berth, apparently felled Pereyra. A rare blemish, if indeed it was, on another fine performance. Up stepped pantomime villain Deeney to take the spot-kick against the man who doesn’t save penalties. Petr Cech went right and parried the tame kick away. Cue the roar of the day.

It didn’t end there. Mkhitaryan should have had a penalty but received a return of compliment from Aubamayang and netted a third for the Gunners, definitely in Jekkyl mode once more. 3-0 to the Arsenal and another ‘holic pound in shreds!

It has to be said that days like today make nearly all who see them wonder why this Arsenal squad struggle in the way it has this season. The players who stepped up were quite outstanding. We found a way to support Ozil and Mkhitaryan in the same midfield, and it looked like both enjoyed each others company.

Roll on Thursday, and a rare midweek visit to the newish home of football. Keep it going lads. This is enjoyable.

Do come back later tonight for a guest post from Gary the Gooner that will register with a lot of our readers of ‘advanced years’.

Sunday lunchtime, not one for a full roast this weekend, but for the visit of Watford. The Hornets are fast becoming a bogey team but will Arsene Wenger rest key players ahead of the second-leg of the Europa League tie against Milan? With Burnley now just two points behind us we can ill afford to get the selection wrong.

Petr Cech is set to return in goal behind two makeshift full-backs. With Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal ruled out and Sead Kolasinac doubtful it looks like Calum Chambers and Ainsley Maitland-Niles will flank two from Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, or Rob Holding.

Who will be considered for a rest from the midfield? Should it be Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil then expect appearances for Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi. The obvious switch will be made up front where Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang is sure to start. There are some snaps of a laughing Aubamayang emerging from the training ground this week so lets hope he has a confidence-boosting game.

The visitors have won on their last two visits to the Grove and have recovered a semblance of form having lost it after beating us in the reverse fixture in October. Now it is us who need to rally in the Premier League after some bad defeats in 2018. The manager unusually put his players in the front line with his pre-match comments.

“Criticism is part of the fact that we don’t win the games. Then there is just one way to respond, which is what we did against Milan. It’s to be together, to show our pride and character and the desire to play for the club.”

There was a world of difference in the apparent desire to play in Milan compared to, say Brighton as just one of many examples this season. Having said that surely his pre-match speech has been done for him by Troy Deeney’s post-match comments in October. Just pin them up in every booth in the home dressing room. Lads, you know what you have to do.

The ‘holic pound 

Although a little concerned at the extent to which we might rest our match-winners I’ll be guided by the fact that they will surely be available to call from the bench if required. That 2-1 scoreline runs through this fixture of late and I fancy us to stop Watford achieving four in three seasons. The bookies agree with that. It is the favourite scoreline at between 7 and 8/1.

If you are there I hope to bump into you somewhere. Mike from the Gooners in USA podcast is over so I might just let him buy me a Guinness and Jameson or two. Let’s hope the post-match drinks are a celebration of another winning performance from the Arsenal.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

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