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What a strange but largely enjoyable day. That it ended with no Champions League place for the first time in nineteen years seemed to have been accepted long before we took to the pitch. My view of the day may differ from others because I had the advantage of an extremely tasty tapas lunch with the grand’holics before taking my seat in the sunshine to watch what proved to be a fascinating ninety minutes of football.

We needed an early goal  to settle any nerves and when it arrived courtesy of Hector Bellerin it felt as though one of the good days was unfolding. Then came the moment that will be remembered about this match for a long time. Valencia’s run was brought to a halt by Laurent Koscielny’s misjudged challenge. Michael Oliver, knowing full well that the Cup Final is next week, could have shown the compassion he later demonstrated to the visitors in spades. Instead he applied the letter of the law and the skipper was correctly shown the red card.

Down to ten men, we somehow adapted to a 3-3-3 and continued to trade attacking blows with superior numbers, and were rewarded when Alexis was on the end of Welbeck’s ball in to apply the finish. It was no more than we deserved. In the minutes that followed the news of Liverpool and Manchester City doing what they needed to do seeped through.

Then came a moment that would be repeated sporadically throughout the rest of the afternoon. From the North Bank a chant of “Stan Kroenke, get out of our club” grew to a crescendo as huge numbers of those present joined in. It seemed a significant moment because few of the Wenger out protests have attracted such a level of support, and I cannot help but think that most felt that at last the real problem with our club was getting the long overdue heat.

Gabriel’s injury as he challenged Valencia was immediately recognisable as a bad one, and another likely Cup Final absentee. The award of a yellow card as he was stretchered off was frankly unbelievable in the light of what Oliver had overlooked elsewhere. That was compounded when Alexis slumped to the turf for the second match  running, and his afternoon was over. Prayers will be said in the coming week for his availability next Saturday.

Aaron Ramsey appeared to be brought down on the edge of the box but play was allowed to continue and at the other end Rob Holding was pinged for a handball. Lukaku despatched the penalty and I frantically tried to log in to my bookie to cash-out on the 2-1 punt, to no avail. The 4G at the Grove is patchy on a matchday!

Rambo denied me the punt with a simply wonderful strike in time added on. It was a sublime finish and enabled the end of season lap of appreciation to take place in better spirits than some had envisaged. That was helped by the manager watching on from the sidelines.

And so to the pub for one last time this season. Martin and Louise once again laid on the sausage and chips, and a table of drinkers past and present debated the issues of the day with smiles and laughter. One more trip to London remains, and perhaps the hope some of us were feeling before yesterday has lessened as a result of the injuries and suspension that the day cost us.

That is for another day.

It seems like the League started yesterday, when an under-prepared team were edged out in a seven goal exchange with Liverpool. How pivotal it looks as though that result was now. Despite the nineteen match unbeaten run that followed it we find ourselves going into the last game of the season relying on an extremely unlikely result at Liverpool (or an even unlikelier one at Watford) to get into the Champions League qualifying round.

All we can do is beat Everton, which is no mean feat at the moment, and keep everything crossed that the news from elsewhere is unexpected. It wouldn’t be the first time after all. A second Lasagnagate is what’s required. Chefs of Liverpool and Manchester, do not let us down!

If you have listened to this week’s A Bergkamp Wonderland Podcast (it’s below) you will have heard a plea for us to go with the back three again, resorting to a flat back four only if required, as in the last half a dozen matches. It’s a formation we have looked more confident in and will raise the spirits ahead of our bid to at least lift the FA Cup at Wembley next week.

Laurent Koscielny is an unlikely starter this weekend so the boss has to decide whether to bring in Gabriel or keep Nacho Monreal in the back three. It’s important we are comfortable defensively as there is a little sub-plot to the match with Everton’s Lukaku, as well as our own Alexis, looking to overtake Harry Kane on the final day to win the golden boot.

Aaron Ramsey has apparently recovered from the thigh strain that forced him off against Sunderland on Tuesday, but there must be a temptation to rest him to ensure he starts at Wembley. Francis Coquelin played very well at Stoke and could partner Granit Xhaka again.

It is unlikely that the starting attacking trio will change with Mesut Ozil coming back to form and both Olivier Giroud and Alexis bagging a brace in the last week. They will need to be at their best to crack a Ronald Koeman defence, as we discovered when the former Dutch international was at Southampton.

The ‘holic pound

It is likely to be a nerve-wracking afternoon. Although Everton cannot improve on their seventh place, and qualification for the Europa League, I fully expect them to put up a disciplined and gritty defence. They will want to give Lukaku and Barkley, both expected to leave in the summer, a good send-off. We are not the only club risking losing our best players in the transfer window.

All of that leads me to the opinion that we could nick a very tight affair 2-1 late on. A market best of 17/2 has attracted my infamous quid.

By the final whistle I suspect our fate will have been decided elsewhere. If things go against us and our unbroken twenty years of Champions League football is suspended I hope those in the stadium will remember we have a big match to come next weekend.

Many present will not have Wembley tickets and will want to show appreciation to some who they may not see at Arsenal again. What a shame we don’t know who will and won’t be here next season for exactly that reason. It could be an emotional and atmospheric afternoon for all manner of reasons.

The Arsenal Foundation’s Night To Inspire

Talking of emotional it was great to see the interaction between the Arsenal players and staff with the supporters who attended last night’s event at the stadium. Those present raised an incredible record total of £464,841, so well done all who were in attendance. What a great event it appeared to be on my Twitter timeline.

That’s enough for a packed piece. Wherever you will be watching on Sunday I hope it is enjoyable and we get an unexpected ending to the season. I know a couple of young lads on their annual visit to the Grove will be absolutely thrilled if it happens. So will their Grandad Dave!

Have a great one, ‘holics.

Alexis was declared fit to start against Sunderland, possibly by himself! The Gunners showed two changes from the eleven that started at Stoke. Kieran Gibbs, as expected, came in for Laurent Koscielny with Nacho Montreal switching to the back three. Aaron Ramsey returned in place of Francis Coquelin. With Manchester City hosting West Brom it was important we secured the three points on offer.

The first statement of intent came when Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud combined to give Alexis a shooting chance from the edge of the box but his sighter flew over the target. There followed early controversy when Giroud, attempting to protect himself from another fierce Alexis drive, was adjudged to have committed a handball which deflected the ball into the net.

Moments later Pickford twice reacted instinctively to deny Giroud at point-blank range. Next to try his luck was Hector Bellerin who sent an effort whistling narrowly over the bar with his left foot after cutting in from the right flank.

Alexis and Mesut Ozil tried to tee up Ramsey but the final ball was overhit and Pickford saved comfortably. A sign of the Arsenal’s early dominance was the sight of Rob Holding advancing to a shooting position only to see his effort blocked. Granit Xhaka was next to test Pickford’s hands but the in-demand young goalkeeper was equal to the effort. Not discouraged the Swiss international thumped another rasping drive just wide of the post.

We appealed in vain for penalties when Ramsey was tugged back trying to convert Giroud’s pass, then when Giroud himself claimed that Koné had held him down. The replays supported both claims. When Sunderland attempted a rare and rapid break Bellerin took a yellow card for a deliberate handball on the halfway line.

Just past the half-hour mark Cech sprinted out of his area to beat Defoe to a long ball. Back came Arsenal only for Alexis to mis-control a sliderule Ozil pass. Cech was called upon to save at his near post when Defoe sent Ndong clear through for Sunderland’s first shot of note. Ndong repaid the favour and Cech had to go full length to deny Defoe. Was that a warning to us to convert our clear dominance into a lead?

Giroud, attempting to create half a yard in the box, tumbled a little theatrically and appealed for a penalty in vain again. Without the benefit of a replay I thought in real time it probably wasn’t one. Xhaka’s third attempt on goal from a prodigious distance sailed over the bar. Bellerin galloped through in the inside-right channel but blasted his effort into the side-netting. One could sense the frustration growing in a far from full stadium.

An intricate build up involving Ozil, Bellerin and Ramsey ended with the latter’s effort being deflected for a corner from which Rob Holding’s free header went straight at Pickford. The half-time whistle brought to an end 45 minutes in which we had 18 shots to Sunderland’s 2 and 8 corners to Sunderland’s 1. How on earth was it 0-0?

The second-half did not start well. Monreal’s careless backpass had to be scrambled round the post by Cech at the cost of a free-kick that Xhaka did well to head over his own crossbar. Larsson’s scythe through the back of Ramsey went strangely unpunished. Ozil’s ball across the face of goal just evaded Ramsey and Alexis as we looked to up the tempo again.

When Larsson was tripped by Monreal the yellow card was found again, and brandished not only at Monreal but to Ozil too, presumably for pointing out Mr East’s inconsistency. Finally he showed the card to O’Shea for yet another foul on Ramsey. When they let him run Ramsey took the chance to shoot but again Pickford pulled off the save. Mustafi’s goal bound was scrambled away for yet another corner.

Ramsey again was clattered from behind by Cattermole who astonishingly went unpunished. From the free-kick Alexis hit the wall and claimed a handball similar to that awarded against Giroud in the first-half. No doing. The crowd tried to lift the team with a strong chorus of ‘Red Army’ but Sunderland were throttling the life out of the game.

A more direct approach saw Ozil just fail to get an effort away at full stretch in a one on one with Pickford. A couple of times Bellerin found space on the right but could not produce an accurate ball in. From a rare Rob Holding cross from deep Giroud’s glancing header from the penalty spot just cleared the far post.

As the clock ticked through 68 minutes Danny Welbeck came on for Ramsey who had gone down possibly with a recurring strain injury? Alex Iwobi replaced Kieran Gibbs at the same time and we switched to a flat back four.

Welbeck’s first shot brought a very good save from Pickford but the turning point was around the corner. Xhaka picked out the run from Ozil on the left and the German slid the ball into the path of Alexis who accepted the invitation to tap the ball in.

Arsenal 1-0 Sunderland

Alexis was denied twice by Pickford as well as a handball and an offside flag as the siege continued. Cattermole was hauled off before he was sent off to be replaced by Gooch. Giroud was denied another penalty claim much to the ire of the home crowd. Pickford’s wonderful night continued as he denied Xhaka’s placed effort, and followed that up with another brilliant save from Iwobi.

Sanchez was felled in the box by a tangle of legs with Ndong. I think to concede a penalty one of the Sunderland players would have had to carry out an unprovoked assault with a baseball bat! The Chilean got his revenge when he was presented with another tap-in as Pickford’s luck finally ran out.

Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland

With the points safe Arsenal pushed on with more verve. Welbeck fired wide of the far post before Theo Walcott was sent on for Giroud. Skhodran Mustafi’s header brought another excellent finger tip on to the bar by Pickford. Even Nacho Monreal saw a long range effort pass the far post. Walcott, perhaps rusty, failed to convert a great opportunity.

Borini’s overhead attempt at a consolation goal in the last of three added minutes summed up Sunderland’s night. So near, yet so far. The Arsenal were just grateful to have secured the three points and Sunday’s final game against Everton will have some meaning. We are relying on Middlesbrough sneaking at least a draw at Anfield, so mobile phones will be in evidence, for sure. I remember when it was radios!

Will We Mackem Suffer?

Can we do it on a balmy Tuesday night in North London? More in hope than in expectation we have to put already-relegated Sunderland to the sword to take the slim possibility of fourth place to Sunday. Arsene Wenger summed up our predicament when asked in the pre-match press conference about us being outsiders for the Champions League places.

“We are mathematically, and it doesn’t only depend on us. The only influence we can have is to win our games.”

We may have to do it without Laurent Koscielny and Alexis, both of whom will require further checks before a decision is made on their availability. Should the skipper not make it then we could see Nacho Montreal on the left hand side of the back three, with Keiran Gibbs recalled at left wing-back. Replacing Alexis could be either Danny Welbeck or Theo Walcott.

Regardless of who plays we should be looking to maintain the improved form of late. We need to carry this momentum through to the FA Cup Final on Saturday week. Watching the way we reacted to Stoke’s strong arm tactics in the second-half on Saturday there can be little doubt the squad is back in a good place mentally. Some of the supporters are probably more downbeat about the situation

Usually we wonder which Arsenal will turn up, but Sunderland’s performances since their relegation was confirmed have been Jekkyl and Hyde to say the least. They had a giant say in who joined them in the Championship next season when winning 2-0 at Hull City before tamely surrendering at home to Swansea City by the same score at the weekend. We should be ruthless, given the disadvantage in goal difference we have compared to Liverpool and Manchester City.

David Moyes would appear to be have been given the chance to bring them back at the first attempt. It looks likely that he will lose the services of his only goalscorer who has shown occasional glimpses of his old form this season. Jermaine Defoe has a get-out clause in his contract that may see him rock up at, perhaps, Bournemouth next season. I’m sure the former Spurs and West Ham man would love to knock one in against us.

The ‘holic pound

We whacked the Mackems 4-1 at the Stadium of Light back in October and should rack up another good win, surely? Remember when we used to beat teams 7-0 in the early half of the Wenger reign. If ever we are going to do it again it will be here, so I have taken the 55/1 offered by Paddy Power. At those odds you can get a handsome return on a very small punt.

Ray Parlour In Indonesia

If you missed this when it was released on Friday the video of Ray Parlour’s visit to Indonesia can be seen below. Ray visited one of the most disadvantaged slum communities in North Jakarta, Indonesia, to meet children involved in the Arsenal Foundation’s new football programme. As part of his visit, Ray played football with the children and joined training sessions run by Arsenal Soccer School coach Drew Tyler.

The Arsenal Foundation and global charity partner Save the Children use football as a way to empower children in parts of the world where those opportunities are few and far between.We have every reason to be proud at the efforts of the club in their charitable endeavours.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

There were four changes for the trip to Stoke. Laurent Koscielny returned to the back three so Nacho Monreal replaced Kieran Gibbs at left wing-back, and Hector Bellerin replaced the rested Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as expected. Francis Coquelin got the nod over Aaron Ramsey, and Olivier Giroud came in for Danny Welbeck up front.

As ever there was a raucous early atmosphere as the Gunners set about an energetic high pressing game without the ball, and a familiar careful passing game with it. Alexis was denied the first opportunity in the fifth minute by a combination of Stoke goalkeeper Butland and the offside flag.  We also won the first corner of the match two minutes later which the home side dealt with comfortably.

A second corner two minutes later saw Shkodran Mustafi’s near post header brilliantly tipped over at full stretch by Butland. Next to try his luck was Monreal when put in at the far post by Mesut Ozil, but the Spaniards first touch was heavy and the deadlock remained. He came even closer in the seventeenth minute when his far post header was stopped only by the goalpost. Stoke’s massed ranks of defenders were living a charmed life.

With the possession stats showing 70% for the Arsenal after twenty minutes it was no surprise that the travelling Gooners were making considerably more noise than the subdued home support. When finally Stoke broke to the edge of the Arsenal box Mustafi snapped into a challenge on Shaqiri and was rightly the recipient of a yellow card. Arnautovic hit the free-kick over the bar.

On the half hour Allen made progress in the Arsenal box before Koscielny took control and thumped the ball clear. Arsenal went straight back at the hosts and Alexis smashed a drive into the side-netting. The goal we so richly deserved arrived when Bellerin sprang the offside trap and transferred Coquelin’s through ball to Giroud for a tap-in three minutes before the break. “One-nil to the football team.”

Stoke City 0-1 Arsenal

The visitors were surprisingly slow coming out of the blocks in the second-half as the match became more subdued. The magic returned nearly ten minutes in when Sanchez sent Ozil galloping in behind the defence to lift the ball beyond Butland and into the far corner.

Stoke City 0-2 Arsenal

The usual suspect, Shawcross, avoided censure by Mike Dean when he aimed a straight elbow into Giroud’s cheek. When Diouf’s close range header wriggled past the far post Mark Hughes decided it was time to send Crouch into battle. The Gunners opted to protect their advantage and Stoke earned a number of corners as they went for an aerial assault. The tactic worked when Crouch shoved Mustafi out of the way, handled the ball into the net, and the loathsome Dean awarded the goal.

Stoke City 1-2 Arsenal

It was Stevie Wonder’s birthday and he saw more of this match than Mike Dean, who then missed Arnautovic smash an elbow into the back of Mustafi’s head as the Gunners went in search of a third goal. The temperature was raised as the hosts set about their annual attempt to bully their way to a result. The sight of Alexis signalling to be replaced with what appeared to be a deadleg delivered in a challenge from behind moments earlier.

What happened next was astonishing. Alexis hobbled at the Stoke defence in the inside right channel and his drive was deflected into the far corner off Shawcross. The Gunners were surely safe now?

Stoke City 1-3 Arsenal

Arsenal were on the rampage with the clear advantage restored. Ramsey came on for Alexis and drew a sprawling save from Butland but the fourth goal had only been delayed. Ramsey wriggled clear on the right flank and crossed for Giroud to slide home his second. After years of hurt the Arsenal were handing their heavy-handed opponents a savage beating.

Stoke City 1-4 Arsenal

Welbeck came on for Ozil before Giroud was denied his hat-trick when he was substituted by Theo Walcott. He received a thoroughly deserved standing ovation from the only section of the Britannia that wasn’t evacuating rapidly. Those travelling Gunners were enjoying the day to the full and offered a fairly accurate observation on the quality of the opposition. There were ducking grit, apparently!

As the game drew to a close Couch launched into a scything ‘challenge’ from behind on Xhaka and received just a yellow card for his ‘effort’. The sense of satisfaction at a job well done was evident at the end. The Arsenal faithful were having a party and proclaiming the fact loudly.

So, we’re a point adrift of Liverpool in fourth place, although our hopes rest on West Ham at least holding Klopp’s team on Sunday. Everything crossed here.

“We have to show character again. We know we have to play to win the games, so let’s keep the focus on the way we want to play and on our team spirit.”

Arsene Wenger knows that the trip to Stoke represents, in theory, the toughest of our remaining three must-win matches in the Premier League. It has become a bogey ground for us, and there is always an undercurrent to be felt at a fixture where the two sets of supporters have a mutual dislike at best. It will be atmospheric, and tense, and a real test of character for the visitors.

Too often of late we have not shown enough of the manager’s oft-quoted mental strength at the Britannia. We have not won there since February 2010 when Arsenal, aggrieved at the assault committed by Shawcross on Aaron Ramsey, came from behind to win 1-3. Since that day we have secured three points in six visits and the bad blood that was ramped up that day remains.

All of which should count for nought when the latest incarnations of the two sides get out on the pitch on Saturday evening. We should be prepared for Stoke raising their game against us, as usual, and start with confidence, determination, and positivity. We should know that there will be an air of hostility and ignore it, or even use it to fire ourselves up in a disciplined fashion.

The team news is that Laurent Koscielny may be fit to return in which case we could see Nacho Montreal switched to left wing-back, assuming we are staying with the formation that has produced four wins in five matches. Although the news was better than expected for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain it would be a surprise if he were pressed into service again so soon, so Hector Bellerin could be in line for a recall.

Olivier Giroud may be preferred to Danny Welbeck for his aerial ability at both ends of the pitch in a match in which Stoke always provide a threat from set pieces. Having Welbeck and Theo Walcott to come off the bench and run at tiring defenders in the latter stages is an attractive proposition.

As for Stoke they are not exactly firing on all cylinders at the moment with just one win in their last nine matches. They are without the injured Afellay and Ireland but will otherwise be at full strength.

The ‘holic pound

The law of averages suggests they are due a league win, and similarly that we are due a win up there. That being the case the bookies have made a 1-1 draw the most likely outcome. Stoke are safe from the threat of relegation and look set to end up in mid-table. I have to believe our hunger for the points will tip things in our favour so I am going for us to win it 1-2, the second favourite at a best 0f 8/1.

Congratulations Are Due

I pray you don’t see this again, but congratulations to Chelsea for their success tonight. The best team over 38 games deserves the title. So only one team in North London or Middlesex could stop them from winning the double.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

Arsene Wenger made the one expected change for the visit to St Mary’s Stadium, bringing in fit-again Skhodran Mustafi for the injured Laurent Koscielny. The captain’s armband was taken by Petr Cech in Koscielny’s absence.

In the opening minute we survived a scare when Bertrand’s fierce cross from the left flank drew a smart stop from Cech. A couple of minutes later Redmond found Davis in space outside of the area but his long range effort sailed over the bar. Redmond and Bertrand had further efforts as the hosts made all the early running. The Gunners slow start was an early concern.

Finally we made inroads at the other end as the quarter of an hour mark approached and Aaron Ramsey swept an effort just wide of the near post following an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cross. A break saw Gabbiadini fire another low cross from the left flank to which Cech was fortunately equal.

Ramsey and Mesut Ozil combined to feed the Ox who saw his drive blocked by the massed ranks of the Saints defence. Alexis too found his effort from the other flank blocked as the Gunners started to dominate the possession and probe for the opener.

A rare break just before the half hour saw Southampton win a corner in a goalmouth scramble, but the set piece came to nought. We survived another scare when Cech made a fine block with his outstretched left leg to deny Gabbiadini at point-blank range. Back came Arsenal only for Stephens to deny Ozil with a wonderful sliding tackle in the box.

The sight of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being treated for what looked like a hamstring problem meant an early end to his return to his former employers. What a shame he suffers recurring injuries of this nature when he is so close to fulfilling his early promise this season. On came Hector Bellerin for the final 55 minutes.

When Mustafi’s sliding tackle was adjudged to be worthy of a free-kick Gabbiadini hooked his lob well wide of the target, thus preventing a controversy. Three minutes before the break Redmond’s superb thirty yarder brought the best out of Cech as Southampton came back strongly.

As the half drew to a close Danny Welbeck looked to be bursting clear on goal but he was cynically felled by Ward-Prowse for the first yellow card of the match. Ozil’s free-kick found Mustafi but Forster clutched his header with ease. With the last meaningful attack of the half Bellerin almost turned provider for Welbeck with a driven cross at the near post. The deadlock was unbroken, the nerves were growing, so important were all three points to the Arsenal.

Once again Southampton started the second-half the brighter, and Davis fired another effort over Cech’s crossbar in the opening minute. Ward-Prowse felled Nacho Monreal with a flailing elbow and on another day might have seen a second yellow card. Referee Jon Moss was in generous mood.

Five minutes in Ramsey’s volley from a Bellerin cross was deflected wide of the mark by Welbeck, who had absolutely no chance of getting out of the way. Alexis played a chip in the direction of Ozil who couldn’t quite reach the ball with an attempted backheel. The Gunners build-up, not for the first time, lacked pace and creativity. As the hour mark approached surely a greater sense of urgency would appear?

It did and it was inevitably Alexis, fed in by Ozil, who conjured up a finish that gave the team something to defend. So typical of the Chilean who had not enjoyed the best of games up to that point. Some pretty special Gunners have scored at Southampton down the years, but few of those goals were as potentially significant as this one.

Southampton 0-1 Arsenal

Granit Xhaka stung the palms of Forster with a superb effort as the Gunners favoured attack as the best form of defence. In a bid to shake things up Claude Puel, a Ligue 1 winner as a player under Arsene Wenger at Monaco, sent on Boufal and Long for Ward-Prowse and Redmond. It almost worked immediately but the visitors survived another goalmouth scramble. A second goal was needed at this point.

Ozil picked up a rare yellow card for a foul on Boufal as the Gunners dug in to preserve that precious lead. When the same player laboured over the taking of a corner with thirteen minutes remaining he risked the further wrath of Mr Moss. Again the official took the lenient view and indicated he was adding on the time.

Southampton sent on Rodriguez for Tadic and Olivier Giroud replaced Welbeck with just over ten tense minutes to go. John Champion was overly keen to point out that the Arsenal were hanging on for what would be their first league win at Southampton for fourteen years. That looked nailed on when Giroud, with almost his first touch, headed beyond Forster at the far post when teed up perfectly by Ramsey.

Southampton 0-2 Arsenal

Francis Coquelin’s introduction for Ozil as the clock ticked down gave the travelling faithful the chance to serenade the World Cup winner in appreciation of his efforts on the evening. Three added minutes provided no consolation for the home team which would have provided a very tidy return for the ‘holic pound. A near miss for sure.

Far more important were the three points that carried us over Manchester United into fifth place. One more to go? At least we are still in it. Stoke on Saturday will be no easier than tonight. I hope the fingernails grow back in time!

It has been an interesting day as people have been digesting and assessing Arsene Wenger’s press conference ahead of the visit to Southampton on Wednesday evening. It is yet another ‘must win’ fixture for the Gunners as the pressure builds both on and off the pitch, it would appear.

The team news centred around fitness tests this afternoon for Laurent Koscielny and Granit Xhaka with the boss suggesting that the latter was in better shape. Both would be a big miss but either Shkodran Mustafi or Gabriel will be ready to step back into the side if required. Mohamed Elneny or Francis Coquelin will also be able to deputise in midfield. As Arsene also said today the whole squad will have to be ready to contribute if we are to win the final four league games in eleven days.

As for Southampton there could be a return for Charlie Austin who made his comeback from a dislocated shoulder in an under 23 match on Friday night. So too did Matt Targett following a hamstring injury. In demand defender van Dijk is ruled out for the rest of the season. Interestingly manager Claude Puel has suggested that fatigue may be a consideration in his selection as his team, like Arsenal, played on Sunday.

The ‘holic pound

Despite our sensational win at St Mary’s in the FA Cup this season we have not won on our last five league trips the Saints stadium. On the basis that such runs are made to be broken I am sticking with the prediction I made on the Bergkamp Wonderland podcast last week, so a 1-2 away win inspired by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against his former employers. Shop around for 17/2 against that scoreline.

“There’s Been Talk Of Restructuring At The Club…”

“No, no, no, sorry no.”

Arsene Wenger seemingly contradicted the message that Ivan Gazidis shared with attendees of a recent Supporters Forum meeting at the Arsenal. The official minutes of that meeting are rather less detailed than I understand was discussed, but do suggest that the answer is very much yes, yes, yes!

‘He (Gazidis) acknowledged we are not where we want to be… We need to use this as a “catalyst for change” and think carefully about the right steps we need to take to move the club forward. He said the most important thing is that we evaluate accurately and carefully and that we make the right decisions.’

The manager’s agitated response followed an utter denial that there would be a director of football at the club if he is still manager next season. That in itself appears to be generating the headlines and recent rumours of a power struggle at the club will not go away while conflicting messages are being broadcast in the mainstream media.

The summer is set to be pivotal for the club. Gazidis was employed at the suggestion of Stan Kroenke prior to his acquisition of the majority shareholding in the club. His public silence since that Supporters forum meeting is not helping the atmosphere around the club at present.

If the manager and the CEO are at odds about the future set-up then it seems inconceivable that both can survive this summer. The club deserves better than outright civil war between Highbury House and Shenley, and a hands-off owner.

Where did that come from? What a difference a week makes. Humiliated by the neighbours a week ago, an entirely different Arsenal turned up to end Arsene Wenger’s ‘never beaten Mourinho in the Premier League’ record.

This was a performance to savour too. A rare beast of late, and one that owed much to players who are used to being in the shadows. I was told that Aaron Ramsey won the ‘man of the match’ award, and impressive he was, but alongside him Granit Xhaka appeared to control proceedings from where I sat, ably assisted by a right flank pairing of Rob Holding and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The weakened United eleven promised by Mourinho was packed with experience, with the exception perhaps of Tuanzebe. Perhaps too much experience in Wayne Rooney’s case. I wonder if Rashford had started ahead of him if the visitors would have been so easily contained? Petr Cech was called upon to make a couple of saves in the first-half, but de Gea looked the busier of the pair.

United withstood our best efforts in the opening half, but were undone by two goals in three minutes in the second. True, there was an element of good fortune about the first, but sometimes you earn your luck and Xhaka most definitely did. When his long range drive took a deflection off Herrera and looped just under the crossbar it was the spark for huge scenes of joy and relief around the stadium.

That feeling was multiplied when Danny Welbeck, of all people, got on the end of an Oxlade-Chamberlain cross following a great challenge by Holding and headed home powerfully for the second. It was a moment the former United man enjoyed to the full. Particularly apt after the United fans taunt of the Robin van Persie chant was returned with gusto by Gooners singing Danny’s name.

The points were important, particularly after Liverpool dropped a couple in the early kick-off against Southampton. To be honest the gap still looks too big, We trail them by seven points, and Manchester City by six, with just one match in hand and only four to play for us. Whilst the performance yesterday provided a lift it has in all honesty come too late, but is none the less welcome for that.

The berating of this team for a lack of results against those around them in the top six was justified, but now in one season we have beaten Chelsea and Manchester United at home, and Manchester City in a Wembley semi-final. Hopefully this raises the level of belief in the squad ahead of the FA Cup Final. Few give us a chance against Chelsea, but it should come as no surprise if this inconsistent team does pull off the unexpected.

Few post-match celebrations have been as enjoyable as yesterday. Let’s hope there are at least a couple more to follow. This was a day when the poor performances in the second-half of the season became even more mystifying. The Arsenal still have something about them.

With all that is going on around him at the moment I doubt Arsene Wenger is overly thrilled to come up against a manager he has yet to beat in a Premier League fixture. The loathsome Mourinho brings what he says will be a squad team to the Grove on Sunday. The situation is not dissimilar to last season’s match at Old Trafford when we got beaten by a below strength United side.

The difference is that, by his own admission, the Arsenal manager knows this is a must-win fixture for his team. Progress to the FA Cup Final is something to savour, but the top four place so cherished in the last nineteen years is at risk of escaping our grasp and United are one of the teams we have to reel in if we are to salvage that consolation.

It looks very much from the pre-match comments as though we will persist with the back three that brought successive victories against Middlesbrough, Manchester City, and Leicester, but was horrifyingly exposed in the North London derby.

If that is the case then Skhodran Mustafi could make an immediate return from injury in the centre of the three enabling Nacho Monreal to return to the left wing-back position he looked to have enjoyed in those three wins. Failing that surely Rob Holding deserves another chance?

There is a problem in the centre of midfield as Granit Xhaka has been ruled out by injury. Mohamed Elneny might enjoy a return alongside Aaron Ramsey, but the boss has utilised Francis Coquelin ahead of the Egyptian international on occasion this season.

With no word of Lucas Perez then a decision needs to be taken about who partners Alexis and Mesut Ozil in the most advanced roles. Olivier Giroud? Theo Walcott? Danny Welbeck? Or perhaps Alex Iwobi on the left with Alexis returning to the centre? Your guess is as good as mine.

As for United, looking good for a place in the Europa League Final, they are definitely without the suspended Fellaini, and the injured Rojo, Ibrahimovic, and Young. They are also likely to rest key players for the home leg of their Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo. They know that winning that competition guarantees them a Champions League place next season.

The ‘holic pound

A home win would take us to within two points of United with a game in hand, but we also have to overhaul at least one of Manchester City and Liverpool who currently sit third and fourth. Anything less and we will have all but mathematically condemned our top four bid with just four matches left to play. Therefore I have to back that first Wenger win over Mourinho, but regardless of the eleven they put out they will provide determined resistance.

Listeners to the Bergkamp Wonderland podcast this week (see below) will know I am on a hard fought 1-0 win for the Gunners. I’ve taken 15/2 on the bookies second favourite outcome. They are more drawn to a 1-1 scoreline.

There, that’s about as positive as I could be. I will see some of you there on Sunday, hopefully.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

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