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As Saturdays go that wasn’t a great one if you are still praying for the annual neighbours meltdown. At Arsene’s press conference on Friday the point was made that we are actually two points better off after 29 matches than we were last season. Two points isn’t that much progress when the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, and the two Manchester clubs have been much more consistent than a year ago.

All that pales into insignificance when you consider that the neighbours need just five wins from their last seven matches to postpone St Totteringham’s Day for the first time in 22 years. Somewhat ironically the team from the bus stop in Fulham also need to win five of their last seven to clinch the Premier League title after their win at Bournemouth.

All Arsenal can do is extend that victory over West Ham into a winning run and keep the pressure up on those around us. Crystal Palace, who hauled themselves three points clear of the relegation zone with that shock win at Chelsea last week, will surely come into the game with confidence anew. Welcome to the pointed end of the season, which we usually do pretty well.

Emiliano Martinez will get another chance in goal at Selhurst Park on Monday night, and is likely to be behind the same back four as Laurent Koscielny is still ruled out, thankfully with a less serious injury than was originally feared. Francis Coquelin is available again but such was the performance of Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka against West Ham it is hard to see that formation not being given another chance.

The only change that is likely from last Wednesday is surely Olivier Giroud for Danny Welbeck. The Frenchman’s wonderful strike when he came on as a second-half substitute was a clear indication that he is somewhere close to his best and a little frustrated at spending so much time on the bench.

Palace themselves are being stretched to their limit. A quick check on physioroom.com shows they are missing eleven players at the moment, although James McArthur may return if he passes a fitness test. No wonder they might struggle without the likes of Cabaye, Remy, Tomkins, Dann, and van Aanholt. Sam Allardyce might not be everyones cup of tea, but to get the points last week with so many out shows he has the players that are fit buying into his methods and tactics.

The danger men could be the pacy Puncheon and in-form Zaha, particularly as Hector Bellerin is seemingly restricted at the moment. We will also want to cut out the supply line to the centre-forward for the second game in a row. Benteke shares a number of traits with Andy Carroll and must be respected.

The ‘holic pound

I’ve read that back. I hope it does not make for a depressing read, for that isn’t the intention. I do think we should carry good form and confidence from the last match into the next. I do think we can score another three goals at Selhust Park. Having taken the advice of one who knows better I am switching my recent run of punts from 3-2 to 3-1 in our favour. Shop around to get this scoreline at 14/1.

Have a blast, all who are fortunate enough to have tickets for Monday. Let it be the second win in our end of season twelve wins in a row!

As forecast on Tuesday Arsene Wenger was forced to pick Emiliano Martinez in goal with Gabriel drafted in for the injured skipper, Laurent Koscielny. Mohamed Elneny came in for Francis Coquelin but otherwise the team was the one that drew with Manchester City on Sunday. Matt Macey, the fourth choice goalkeeper, was recalled from Luton Town to take his place on the bench.

First to try his luck was Alexis, cutting in from the left flank to fire wide of the far post in the fourth minute. The same player tripped Noble two minutes later giving West Ham their first opportunity to cross the ball at Carroll. Fortunately they overhit the ball. They went closer from another free-kick soon after but Lanzini’s effort cleared the bar.

After Noble and Alexis traded off-target attempts a Hector Bellerin break in the fifteenth minute ended with captain for the night Theo Walcott testing Randolph. The goalkeeper saved comfortably.

Arsene Wenger and the home support were not happy to see Martin Atkinson wave away appeals for a penalty when Walcott was clearly pushed to the ground by Masuaku in the box. Just seconds later the refereee was quick to rightly show the yellow card to Bellerin for dragging down Antonio. The Spaniard seems to have lost a yard of pace since his last injury.

On the half hour Walcott found himself clear on the right hand side of the box but he hurried his effort and sliced it wide of the near post. Referee Atkinson drew a round of ironic applause when he awarded a free-kick for Ayew’s chopping down of Nacho Monreal, but turned away again when Danny Welbeck was clearly brought down after the ensuing free-kick. Finally he saw Lanzini’s bad challenge on Walcott and produced a yellow card.

Four minutes from the break West Ham blocked successive goal-bound efforts from Bellerin and Mohamed Elneny. From the corner that followed Welbeck’s header brought another save out of Randolph. Arsenal were finishing the half strongly and Randolph had to be brave to save at the feet of a flying Walcott. Alexis teed up an offside Ozil who struck the near post.

Carroll’s elbow in the face of Skhodran Mustafi in the two added minutes drew a furious reaction from his colleague Gabriel but no action from Atkinson, deservedly booed off as he made his way down the tunnel. It was a sour end to a half that had picked up after a slow start. Arsenal would have been disappointed not to be taking an advantage into the dressing room.

Less than five minutes after half-time Alexis found Ozil in the box but Collins last ditch lunge kept the game goal-less. Next to try his luck was Mustafi following a corner but his right-footed effort eased wide of the post. Arsenal were in control but not for the first time of late ponderous in attack. Kouyate sent Ozil crashing to ground and Atkinson just encouraged the German international to get up. That just made him angry. From the inside right channel on the edge of the box Ozil curled a left footer under the diving Randolph.

Arsenal 1-0 West Ham

The lead could have been doubled when Walcott wriggled through to put Welbeck in on goal, but Randolph atoned for his earlier error with a smart save. At the other end Mustafi was the next recipient of a yellow card for a lunge and despite his reaction I don’t think the big man could complain. With nearly half an hour remaining Carroll was hooked. To be fair he had been feeding on scraps all night.

Alexis and Ozil combined to set up a headed opportunity for Mohamed Elneny but his downward effort bounced into the arms of Randolph. On the brink of a fifth consecutive defeat the visitors sat deep and their lack of ambition cost them when Alexis and Ozil again combined to tee up Walcott’s calm sidefoot finish.

Arsenal 2-0 West Ham 

A third was so close when a superbly lofted cross from Alexis was met by a galloping Bellerin but in his excitement the right-back steered his effort wide. Broken, West Ham appeared happy to let Arsenal have the ball in front of them and the Gunners were happy to play keep-ball up a series of blind alleys. Welbeck made way for Olivier Giroud in the 74th minute. Almost immediately a distracted Arsenal were woken up by Lanzini’s effort which drew a smart save out of Martinez. That was a tribute to the young man’s powers of concentration.

Byram’s awful challenge from behind on Sanchez as a through ball was played earned only a yellow card and more ironic cheers from a now cheerier crowd. A chorus Of the Rocky Rocastle song suggested the warring factions had put their differences to one side in support of the team. I was eighty miles away so somebody in the ground may correct that impression. I hope not.

We were denied what appeared to be another good penalty appeal for a crude challenge by Collins. Personally I had ceased to be surprised at anything that Atkinson did or did not give. The benefit of a two goal advantage perhaps? Walcott and the impressive Elneny were replaced by the returning duo, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Ox immediately set up Giroud for the strike of the night, a magnificent curling left footer from the inside-right channel inside the far post.

Arsenal 3-0 West Ham

Mr Atkinson’s selective vision did not extend to another Byram downing of Alexis so the young man remained on the pitch. Perhaps he wanted to be put out of his misery? To complete the evening Byram cleaned out Monreal in the box. Another blatant penalty turned down and the thug who committed the challenge remained on the pitch. It was a mystery to all in the ground and those watching on streams.

It’s got to be said that this is one of the worst West Ham teams of the Premier League years, so we shouldn’t over estimate our dominance tonight, but this performance surely has to restore a level of confidence and belief in the Gunners squad. The three points have kept the Arsenal on the fringe of the battle for Champions League places, but sterner tests lie in wait starting at Selhurst Park next Monday. Until then let’s enjoy this result and stay relaxed for a few days.

Here’s hoping, however, that the incompetent Atkinson has earned a week off, or was that his intention?

Time To Press The Irons

A full midweek programme of Premier League fixtures throws together two under-pressure managers as the Gunners host West Ham United. Arsene Wenger would not have wanted a deepening injury crisis but that is exactly what he appears to be facing.

With Petr Cech ruled out already the news that David Ospina is also a doubt puts the spotlight on third choice goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez. In front of him there is another enforced change as Laurent Koscielny is ruled out with an achilles injury. Given that we are likely to be facing Andy Carroll it is an important selection. Gabriel is likely to get the nod to start alongside Hector Bellerin, Skhodran Mustafi, and Nacho Monreal.

There will hopefully be better news in midfield if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey have passed fitness tests earlier. It is likely that one of these will replace Francis Coquelin, and the boss must also be considering Mohamed Elneny to give Granit Xhaka a breather. Mesut Ozil, with ninety minutes against Manchester City behind him, will hopefully provide the ammunition to his forward colleagues.

Which three will get the nod? I suspect one change from Sunday, with Olivier Giroud replacing Danny Welbeck up top. Danny’s recovery needs to be managed and the Frenchman is surely fired up and ready to show what we have missed in his absence.

One win and Sunday’s draw in the last six fixtures is a worrying statistic going into a fixture we lost last season 0-2. To counter that the visitors have lost their last four matches and are even lower on form and confidence than we appear to be. Memories of our 5-1 win at their new Meccano stadium in December will still be fresh. They were short defensively that day and Alexis notched a hat-trick. Lets hope he is as dominant this time around.

Slaven Bilic has had the dreaded vote of confidence and defeat in this one could see him getting a taxi home, P45 in hand. It’s a shame. Once tipped to succeed Arsene Wenger this loveable rogue has had to deal with the issues surrounding the new stadium as well as having star man Dimitri Payet sold in the January transfer window. He just didn’t seem to understand. You can also tell he hasn’t watched much of us in recent weeks.

“Arsenal have their problems, but they are still a team with a lot of pace, a team you can’t afford to lose the ball against in your own half because the transition and pace they have up front is unbelievable.”

It’s a long time since we have seen that transition and pace. Will our high intensity pressing game get a rare outing? Talking of pace, the tricky winger Antonio returns after a hamstring energy and will test Hector Bellerin. The last thing we need to see is a string of crosses to Carroll.

The ‘holic pound

It’s hard to see us keeping a clean sheet so I am relying on us out-scoring them once again. For the third time in a row I am drawn to the 3-2 to the Arsenal. Let it be third time lucky at a fairly priced 18/1.

To those going, I hope as always that the boys will put on a  show for you. Goodness knows it’s overdue.

Have a good one ‘holics.

With apologies for the delay here are a few thoughts on the draw against Manchester City. My day was certainly more enjoyable than a lot of others according to what I saw on social media on the homeward journey. A stroll around the spiritual home that is Highbury always provokes the best memories, and maybe a happy tear or two.

I had arranged to meet Mike, the face behind the GoonersinUSA podcast, at the Gunners and delighted to meet many more visitors from across the pond in situ. After saying hello to Ted we took to the beer garden to exchange tales of following the Arsenal while enjoying pints of muscle-relaxing lubricant. It was a lot of fun.

As was the welcome at the Tollie from one of our own. Bergkamp the Man, the ‘holic not the non-flying Dutchman at the bar. “What’ll ye have?” before we talked of our hopes and fears for the afternoon and weeks ahead. A pleasant stroll to the stadium and as we entered the ground there were distant and muted chants of “We want Wenger out”.

Whilst having some sympathy with their cries for change, as a step-grandfather I cannot commend the poisonous atmosphere that is created around the stadium. Neither can I support the level of vitriol being expelled at an honourable man who deserves to leave the club with appreciation ringing in his ears. I understand that this situation is one created by the board and the manager not clarifying the situation in a timely fashion. I am going over old ground. The point here is that the protesters are choosing to make their day unpleasant. To their credit though the support inside the stadium was excellent as a fanbase united behind the team.

Another glass of something tasty, and a chat with some of those we are fortunate enough to share Block 32 with, and so to our seats. We usually play better with the sun on our backs but far too soon we are behind. There is little point in me adding to the criticism of the back four at this late stage. Perhaps one of our holding midfielders might have filled in for Skhodran Mustafi when he advanced to meet the long clearance? Credit too the excellent Sane for his wonderful control and finish at pace.

Whilst the split of togetherness isn’t as it was in the early months of the season there was no visible dropping of heads as we looked to claw our way back into the contest. When we did it was hardly a surprise that Gael Clichy contributed to Theo Walcott’s opportunism by sitting in when his colleagues advanced in search of an offside flag. Walcott deserved his goal for his early endeavours which included a most un-Walcott like challenge which surprised the referee so much he forgot to award a free-kick!

But Arsenal 2017, being Arsenal 2017, immediately found themselves behind again. As the move built there was a sense of ‘City can score when they want and are going to do just that’ about it. I’m told that we supporters don’t know enough about the game to be critical of players or the manager. I know that over fifty years of watching football at the top level has given me an opinion that you really shouldn’t leave Aguero unmarked to finish some wonderful work by De Bruyne.

Credit the Gunners though for digging in and trading blows with the visitors after the break. Mustafi’s wonderful header earned us the point I genuinely believe we deserved, but the celebrations told a story. Alexis beckoned the half of the team that had gone back to their positions for the restart to join the scorer in front of Red Action. Francis Coquelin hesitantly made it half of the distance. It furthers the impression of a squad at war with itself.

Selfishly I prayed for us to find an unlikely winner. The neighbour shared my regular ‘cash-out’ checks. At best I was offered £40 against potential winnings of £290. I stayed stubborn, over-estimating the qualities of my team. “You should have took the forty.”

The post mortem in the pub was less ‘lively’ than what was going on back at the stadium. There’s an air of resignation around the place. We needed the three points but remain perilously poised in sixth place. A couple of pints later everything was put into perspective and I walked back to begin the journey home, passing the now sunlit and becalmed stadium and it’s usual smattering of supporters hoping to catch a glimpse, or more, of the team and manager as they depart.

We used to meet players in the pubs after matches. The times they are a changin’.

The return of real football is imminent, and what a task faces the recently misfiring Gunners at home to Manchester City. With all that is going on around the club at the moment you could be forgiven for thinking that the team will be up against more than just City and their supporters on Sunday.

Recent results have been disappointing to say the least, although the possession statistics suggest we remain dominant in individual matches a leaking defence making basic errors is costing us dearly. That point was not lost on the manager pre-match.

“We have conceded too many goals. For a long period in the season we were quite stable, but recently I’ve felt that we have conceded goals at important moments in the game. That’s where we want to improve, without losing our drive going forward.”

So is that a hint that we have finally dedicated some time on the training ground working on the back four, or are changes in the air this weekend? The latter would be something of a surprise. With Petr Cech ruled out David Ospina will start in goal. If there is to be a change the defence that might be Kieran Gibbs for Nacho Monreal. City have a real threat down the flanks with Sane and Sterling so that is a decision Arsene must get right.

We also have to have the midfield functioning again, and that means we face a decision about the formation also. Mesut Ozil is likely to return so we may revert to Granit Xhaka and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain behind him, Aaron Ramsey or Theo Walcott and Alexis outside him, with Olivier Giroud or Danny Welbeck leading the line.

Like us, City have been vulnerable defensively this season. It’s been another frustrating season for their talisman, Kompany. He has reportedly been fit and available for a few weeks now but it would appear that Pep Guardiola is worried about his injury record and is nursing him through to his return.

City have gone seven league games without defeat but their record at Arsenal is not encouraging, with only one Premier League triumph four years ago. Last season the Gunners produced a fine display to win 2-1 despite the absence of Alexis. Mesut Ozil was the star of the match, making both goals for Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. A repeat of that result would put us within four points of the team currently sitting third in the table, and we have a game in hand. Lose again, and I think we all know what will follow.

The ‘holic pound

Blind faith rather than any degree of conviction inspires an unlikely punt on 3-2 to the hosts in an end to end thriller. At 25/1 you don’t have to wager a fortune to cover the cost of the day.

Rocky

The anniversary of the passing of David Carlyle Rocastle has been an emotional day for many. I’m sure at some part of the day all our thoughts were with the lovely family he left behind. Alan Smith captured the respect and affection that Rocky inspired in his piece for football.london today. One deserving of the description as a gentleman and a gentle man (off the pitch!).

What truly gifted footballer he was. I am so looking forward to see the BT Sport documentary about Rocky and Wrighty on Saturday night. It will bring some very happy memories back for sure.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

I’m not sure if I am progressing joylessly into my latter years turning prematurely Meldrew, or if things really are utterly depressing at the moment.

I’ll not dwell on Brexit on this platform other than to say I firmly believe we would have been better off trying to change Europe’s clear issues from the inside than the outside. Rather than risk losing 52% of the countrymen who vote to read me now and again I’ll leave it at that. (Although thank you for the falling pound that has followed, thus increasing the portion of my life-savings held in US shares!)

I don’t want to be one of those people who comment negatively on the Arsenal situation every five minutes. I’ve made my current views known on here a couple of times, and on a couple of podcasts in the last month or so. Regardless of what happens, and the word is now very strong that Mr Wenger is signing a contract extension, most of us will, I’m sure, continue to support the Arsenal. If he stays it must be the final opportunity for him to create further memories and leave the club in the manner he deserves for all that he has achieved.

As I have said before the Arsenal supporters will be around long after the current custodians of our great club have moved on. All we ask is that you do make every effort to run the football club with a view to giving pleasure and delight to those who will always be the backbone of this great club. Please don’t mistake the unrest as some greater sense of entitlement by more than a few. We have lived through longer spells than 13 years without a league title and stayed loyal. Never before though has the club been so financially blessed and surely capable of delivering a genuine challenge beyond February and March?

What’s Going On At The 71-2004 Memorial Stadium?

Enough, miserable old git. Find some positives, for goodness sake. I have to confess to a smile when reading of the neighbours potentially spending another season in N17. The clear and obvious implication that the reconstruction of Castle Cock-Up is not going to plan brings real joy into this old heart of mine (with thanks to Holland–Dozier–Holland and Sylvia Moy). It would be sad if anything were to go wrong in the redevelopment of the stadium where we won more league titles than they did. If only there were an example of a club in the capital delivering such a project on-budget and in time. What? Oh!

Video Refs Are Here To Stay

Yes, the France versus Spain friendly last night (Tuesday) also caused a brief feeling of pleasure to return. I know the debate will continue for a while to come. Some people for whom I have a lot of time feel differently to me, and why not. It was, however, very satisfying to watching Spain win the match 2-0 rather than draw it 1-1 had the video assistant referee not been trialling.

The pleasure at watching obvious wrongs righted before the game would have restarted anyway was immense. My views on the standard of refereeing in the Premier League are well known, and I have long argued that we have to give the men in the middle every assistance. Further trials are scheduled, but the undeniable evidence of last evening is that some form of instant video assistance is inevitably coming. Yippee!

Just caught myself smiling again. Sorry about that. I’ll get back to the despair of Twitter immediately.

We are a week away from the first of two crucial fixtures against Manchester City in the month of April. Whilst next week we will be looking for three valuable points in our fading bid for a top four finish the second meeting will provide the opportunity to progress to a third FA Cup Final in four seasons.

Perhaps surprisingly it will be the first meeting of the clubs in the premier cup competition since 1971, a night this blogger will always recall with great pleasure. To put the fifth round tie into context we had been drawn away to the champions of 1968, the FA Cup winners of 1969, and the European Cup Winners Cup winners of 1970. In short City were firm favourites to progress.

Former Gunner Joe Mercer was the manager, and alongside coach Malcolm Allison had fashioned a wonderfully entertaining side at Maine Road. Like their neighbours who boasted the holy trinity of Law, Best, and Charlton, City had their own in Lee, Bell, and Summerbee. All three had been plundered from the lower divisions. Bell, nicknamed Nijinsky after the racehorse rather than the ballet dancer, had phenomenal stamina and was one of the best box to box midfielders I ever saw. Lee and Summerbee, from Bolton and Swindon respectively, were equally at home on the flanks or in front of goal.

Arsenal had won the European Fairs Cup in the previous season, our first trophy in seventeen years, and although we were locked in combat with Leeds United for the League title we really were given little hope of progressing. It was a very wet spring indeed. The fifth round tie was scheduled for a Saturday afternoon kick-off but for the second time in the competition that season an Arsenal tie was washed out by an absolute downpour which rendered the pitch unplayable.

On the following Wednesday it was played on a drenched and muddy pitch that looked like a skating rink under the floodlights. The grainy footage (see below) scarcely did justice to the conditions. Charlie George had missed much of the season after breaking his ankle with Everton goalkeeper Gordon West on the opening day of the season (of course he scored!).

His return was to lift the Gunners to the eventual triumph in the competition. In his comeback he scored in a fourth round replay against Portsmouth. He would go on to head the only goal against Leicester City in a quarter final replay. With one of the last shots of a remarkable season he would beat England goalkeeper Ray Clemence from twenty yards to secure an incredible double.

But it was at Maine Road that Charlie proved his greatness in the biggest of fixtures. A first-half free kick from the edge of the box put the visiting Gunners in the driving seat. His second was a hint of what would happen at Wembley nearly three months later. Strike partner John Radford sent Charlie skipping clear of the City back line and having slotted the ball past another England international goalkeeper, Joe Corrigan, Charlie gave us all a preview of his most famous celebration.

Colin Bell’s consolation strike wasn’t enough to spoil one of the biggest Arsenal victories in my lifetime. Charlie explained his celebration of the winner thus,

“As I laid on the floor, I was looking over to Malcolm Allison, Manchester City’s coach. Frank McLintock came in the dressing-room before the game and said: ‘I’ve been talking to Malcolm and Malcolm thinks you’re crap’. When the game started, I was the best player. That’s why I looked at Malcolm.”

Allison hadn’t said anything of the sort and was taken aback at the abuse Charlie aimed his way at the final whistle. Pure Mclintock genius!

A wonderful evening, and I have known ever since that I was lucky Mum and Dad let me stay up to watch the highlights that school night. Enjoy Charlie’s goals with contributions from him and the wonderful Jon Sammels who was also in the side that night.

 

So, extremely tired, I thought I would watch Germany playing England last night. I have taken to not watching them all the time now because frankly watching England in 2017 reflects watching Arsenal in 2017. They rarely play attractive football and psychologically they are way below the level they need to be at.

However I don’t mind admitting to enjoying the performance, and the match, rather more than I expected. For an hour I thought England were by far the better side and if Vardy or All could finish we could have been two or three up. Germany, being Germany, punished us for letting them off the hook with a solid end to the contest.

The game was played in the spirit of a testimonial for that once a Gunner, always a Gunner, Lukas Podolski. Following several sighters he scored the sensational goal the German crowd wanted so much and even I cheered. I know Arsene Wenger lost faith in him for his laissez-faire attitude to tracking back but we couldn’t help but take the smiling Poldi to our hearts. When in the mood he was also a wonderful finisher, and last night showed he still packs a thunderous shot on him.

The only downside to the evening was another boorish display by a number of the travelling England contingent. I wonder how many of them will be foolish enough to repeat such scenes at Moscow 2018? Thank you to the good folk of Germany who lit up the Brandenburg Gate in the colours of the Union Jack following the events in Westminster yesterday. The vast majority of English people were repulsed by the few hundred mindless idiots who spoiled an otherwise excellent occasion.

Anyway, all in all that was an encouraging start for Gareth Southgate and I may just watch England again on Sunday against Lithuania. It’s a shame it’s ten days until Arsenal have a chance to show they can produce a surprisingly good performance against Manchester City.

It’s going to be a long ten days.

Has this two week international break come at a good time for Arsenal? For the football club, possibly, but not where the supporters are concerned. It’s a fortnight before the players, rightly condemned for their no-show at the Hawthorns on Saturday, can show they have the ability to bounce back from a dreadful run of form. That is time in which egos can be stroked, and weaknesses tackled behind the closed gates at Shenley.

The break provides an opportunity for the squad, or at least those not called up by their respective countries, to work on rediscovering form, confidence, and most importantly desire. There is a job here for the club captain. Per Mertesacker should pull his squad together and tell them a few home truths about performing for their reputations, and the supporters, if not for the manager.

On Sunday week we will face the first of two matches in April against Manchester City. Lose that one and a top four place could sail away into the distance. Lose the second and the last hope of silverware this season would evaporate.

How unwelcome is this break for those on both extremes of the Wenger in/out argument, and those subjected to their escalating spat on social media. Thankfully I no longer have the time to keep up with all the shenanigans during the working day, but within minutes of getting home this evening there were more virtual wars being waged. If there is one thing more depressing than Arsenal’s form at the moment it is watching groups of like-minded web warriors turning on fellow Gooners who have the nerve to hold views that differ from theirs.

It’s a poisonous atmosphere that infiltrates the grounds where we play now, and may well have an affect on the problems the team are facing right now. Fair enough, everyone has the right to protest, peacefully and with respect. That respect is being shown less and less, however, both in the grounds and online. What’s it all about, Alfie?

I think you are all aware that I have swung round to the view that we should not be offering our greatest ever manager a new contract. That doesn’t mean I think that those who still support the man are all unthinking loons. Far from it. There are good and bad on both sides. I do believe it would do the club a lot of good right now if that announcement were made so as to instantly improve the atmosphere at matches and enable the supporters to unite in appreciation of the job Arsene has done.

Today it seems possible that the contract offer is not only still on the table but may even have been signed already. If either of those happens to be true then it is perfectly understandable that a weak and seemingly powerless board is looking to delay any announcement. All I do know for certain is that nobody on Twitter, or Facebook, or any of the other social platforms knows the truth.

For fellow supporters to be abusing each other over something that isn’t known and hasn’t happened is so utterly pointless. Lots (and I’ll hold my hand up here) have been very good at talking but not listening. Closed minds encourage barbed and uninformed responses, and it all escalates from there.

Whatever happens I will still support Arsenal, albeit differently next season. The season ticket will be the first sacrifice if another groundhog season is on offer. I’ll still be able to pick and choose the matches I want to be at next season in support of the team on the pitch. I’ll still enjoy a few pints with people on both sides of the divide who can debate all things Arsenal without going red-faced with rage.

But that changes the nature of this post to being about me. That is something we all need to consider at the moment. How much of what we are all saying and doing right now is all about us? That’s really worth more than a moment’s consideration, no?

Victoria concordia crescit.

News broke early that Mesut Ozil would miss the trip to the Hawthorns. Arsenal Wenger explained that he had picked up a minor hamstring niggle in training yesterday. The manager also opted for a very flexible potential front three of Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, and Alexis. I doubt the players would have seen Thierry Henry’s view ahead of the match which was damning of the current squad.

“Is the Arsenal shirt too heavy for you? Stop hiding behind Arsene Wenger and be more than mediocre.”

The opening phases of play suggested that the Baggies would be more than content to sit deep and let us have all the sideways possession we wanted in front of them. They soon showed their menace on the break as left-back Nyom went on a powerful marauding run down the left before cutting a dangerous ball across the face of the goal.

Theo Walcott was denied at point-blank range by Foster following a Nacho Monreal cross as we produced our first moment of menace. When Alexis gave the ball away, not for the first time, in the twelfth minute McClean’s drive was parried away for a corner. When the set piece was delivered Dawson out-muscled Laurent Koscielny and out-jumped a hesitant Cech to head home. Who expected West Brom to be a threat from set pieces?

West Brom 1-0 Arsenal

The advantage didn’t last long. Granit Xhaka picked out a surprisingly unmarked Alexis on the left hand side of the box. The Chilean did what he does best, wriggling inside before lifting the ball high into the net.

West Brom 1-1 Arsenal

Alexis was becoming the focal point of the match and McAuley avoided censure for pulling him back in the next attack. Livermore went one better, pulling his shirt then tripping him up without even seeing a free-kick awarded. Rondon was next to join in the clearly rotational fouling of the Gunners main man. Referee Swarbrick was showing no sign of getting a grip of the situation.

The football was proving less of a distraction than the two competing aircraft carrying anti and pro-Wenger sentiments. They were both absurd and embarrassing.

A prolonged spell of painfully slow possession ended on the half hour mark when Rondon got on the end of a direct through ball and dragged his effort just wide of Cech’s far post. That sparked the Arsenal into life and Foster had to go full length to his left to deny Aaron Ramsey. Theo Walcott was unable to convert the parry. West Brom responded with a Fletcher effort that drew a fine save by Cech.

The goalkeeper hobbled off a couple of minutes later after appearing to pick up a muscle problem. David Ospina entered the fray from the bench. A brutal late ‘challenge’ on Alexis by McClean resulted in just a yellow card. Would that be sufficient to deter the next Baggies thug from assaulting the Gunners most influential player in the first-half?

It was the visitors who earned the first corner of the second-half when, for the first time, Walcott found enough space to play a dangerous ball across the face of the goal. Back came the Baggies and Rondon again out-muscled the skipper to glance a header just wide of the far post.

Just eight minutes after the break Robson-Kanu came on for Rondon who looked disappointed to say the least. Little more than a minute later he put the hosts ahead again when Ospina failed to deal with a one on one with McClean and the substitute poked the ball through the legs of McClean, by now in an offside position having shoved Bellerin over his prone goalkeeper, and into the net. After a consultation with his assistant Swarbrick awarded the goal. To be fair I would have wanted it given at the other end.

West Brom 2-1 Arsenal

With twenty-five minutes to go the anonymous Walcott made way for Olivier Giroud. From the following corner Danny Welbeck thumped a header against the crossbar. Was that to be a sign of things to come? We survived what would have been a killer third goal for the Baggies when Ospina denied Robson-Kanu and Chadli’s follow-up was kicked off the line by Mustafi.

The surprising lack of an increase in tempo from the Arsenal spoke volumes. Thierry’s plea to be ‘more than mediocre’ went unheeded. The humiliation was complete when Dawson repeated his first-half header from a corner. Arsenal’s players, almost to a man, raised their hands whilst looking to blame each other. It was a pathetic surrender to a bang average side. “You’re getting sacked in the morning” taunted the Baggies support.

West Brom 3-1 Arsenal

The substitution of Alex Iwobi for a limping Alexis wasn’t appreciated by the travelling Gooners. Unaware that the Chilean was still suffering they roared out “You don’t know what you’re doing”. With every passing poor performance the pressure on Arsene Wenger is understandably building. Four defeats in five Premier League matches, with two of them against Watford and West Brom is not a blip. It’s indicative of a greater malaise around the club right now.

The ole’s rang out as the home side strung together a succession of passes against dispirited, gutless opponents in the closing stages. Typing as the match is in progress even I cannot find any sense of perspective watching this. It is painful. Top four? Not like this we won’t.

Something has to change.

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