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Villa Up Next

A long and exhausting day necessitates the briefest of late previews of the Villa home match.

The starting eleven? I stress I am guessing at who Unai Emery will pick, not who I would.  Bernd Leno behind Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, David Luiz, and Sead Kolasinac. Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi behind Nicolas Pepe, Mesut Ozil, and Bukayo Saka. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up top.

The ‘holic pound

I have to place my bet tonight. I have to pray he will keep faith with Saka who must be floating on air after Frankfurt. It is purely that performance that has me on 3-1. That is available at a best of 11/1.

The ABW Preview

Danny and Nicky Wilson look ahead to the match.

Unai Emery surprised a few with his selection of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. With Alexandre Lacazette ruled out until October was it a risk too many? Only time would tell if his inclusion was required for possibly our toughest fixture in the group phase of the Europa League. Could we become the first English club to win in Frankfurt?

Indeed the first clear chance of the match fell to Lucas Torreira in the fifth minute but arriving at speed in the box he could not control his first-time shot.

Emiiano Martinez was called on to save a shot straight at him and a hopeful da Costa cross. His was an impressive start. In the fifteenth minute Bukayo Saka had a great chance to either score or feed an unmarked Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Sadly both proved to be beyond him in the moment. It was an encouraging break however and a hint at what would happen later.

At the other end Silva drove through the centre and slipped it to Kostic who could only find the side netting. A warning, perhaps. The same player drew a superb save from Martinez at the mid-point of the half.

On the half hour Aubameyang presented Joe Willock with a fine opportunity but sadly the youngster was off target. His time would come. We looked a threat every time we went forward at this point. Emile Smith Rowe was denied by an excellent save from former PSG goalkeeper, Trapp. We had a deserved lead seven minutes from the break when Saka fed Willock who cut inside and fired a deflected effort in off the crossbar.

Eintracht Frankfurt 0-1 The Arsenal

As the half drew to a close Martinez again showed his class with a great save from Silva. Both teams had enjoyed opportunities but The Arsenal deserved their narrow advantage for me.

Not surprisingly Frankfurt started the second-half strongly but we were defensively sound, yes really, and Martinez produced another fine save. A magnificent break from Willock and a perfect pass to Aubameyang looked like providing a second for the visitors but Hinteregger made an amazing block. Twice more in quick succession Martinez was tested by da Costa and Kostic and not found wanting.

Ten minutes in we were inches from a second when Granit Xhaka’s free-kick bounced off the bar with Trapp beaten. The atmosphere in the stadium was both impressive and hostile. As the hour approached Nicolas Pepe was sent on for Smith Rowe. I hope both have a huge future at the club. Pepe had an early chance but he was offloaded by Hasebe.

Midway through the half Frankfurt brought on their leading goalscorer, Paciencia, for Dost. It was the Gunners who had the next opportunity however and Willock was denied a second by Trapp. Back came the hosts and Kostic fired narrowly wide. Then Martinez again denied the free-scoring substitute. Could we keep up this unexpected defensive solidity?

A magnificent crossfield pass from Calum Chambers gave Aubameyang a wonderful opportunity but unusually the striker’s first touch was poor and our slender advantage remained. Chandler was introduced for da Costa as Frankfurt sought the equaliser.

Dani Ceballos replaced Willock as we looked for fresh legs in midfield. Sead Kolasinac saw a very harsh yellow card for ‘time=wasting’ at a throw in. It put him on an unnecessary tightrope for the final fifteen minutes or so.

Trapp produced another vital save when Saka seemed all set to kill the game. The end to end nature of the game made for a great watch. The hosts suffered when Kohr drew a second yellow card for bringing down Saka. Immediately we sent Ainsley Maitland-Niles on for Kolasinac in case he suffered a similar fate.

The lead was doubled in spectacular fashion when Martinez sent Xhaka racing through midfield. He passed to Pepe who cut the ball back for Saka to produce a wonderful far post drive from distance. It was no more than the youngster deserved for his evening’s efforts.

Eintracht Frankfurt 0-2 The Arsenal

Remarkably two became three courtesy of, surprise surprise, Aubameyang. Obviously the assist was provided by Saka. He deserves another crack at it on Sunday, perhaps?

Eintracht Frankfurt 0-3 The Arsenal

The final scoreline may have flattered us, but this was a memorable European away day. I’m so happy for the travelling faithful. All credit to Martinez and Saka. Well played both.

My least favourite preview post of the season. Why? I haven’t a clue who Emery will pick, and that obviously informs the pound. Frankfurt could be our toughest away game in the group stage but the players left at home tell a story.

Let me hazard a guess at the starting eleven. Emiliano Martinez to start behind Shkodran Mustafi, Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, and Sead Kolasinac. If I am right there I would pair Lucas Torreira and David Luiz in front of them. Get Luiz out of our box and the ‘captain’ out of the team.

The midfield trio will be a real poser. Perhaps Joe Willock, Emile Smith Rowe, and Reiss Nelson? Don’t be surprised to see Bukayo Saka start up front with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench if really needed.

Forgive the brevity of the preview, but I know nothing of Frankfurt other than they sit ninth in the Bundesliga after two wins and two defeats in their opening four matches.

The ‘holic pound

Not a clue. I’m guided by the odds. 1-2 to the Arsenal is 17/2. That’ll do me.

Have a great one ‘holics.

I got ten of the starting eleven right. Never did I expect Dani Ceballos and Mesut Ozil to be starting together. A penny for Reiss Nelson’s thoughts.

After a disjointed start the first attempt on goal arrived in the sixth minute and Bernd Leno comfortably saved from Deulofeu. We had a chance when Holebas cleaned out Nicolas Pepe, but Ozil’s free-kick was headed to safety by Dawson.

Cleverley’s attempt, similar to that of Deulofeu, curled into the safe hands of Leno. Watford were perhaps enjoying more possession than they may have expected. Holebas fired high and wide from the edge of the box after Deulofeu again tortured Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

In the twentieth minute we enjoyed a rare break when Matteo Guendouzi sent Pepe clear on the left. He cut in and saw his left foot effort deflected wide of the mark. A minute later we were ahead with another stunning break. Sead Kolasinac powered forward and fed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who swivelled and slotted home in one classy movement.

Watford 0-1 The Arsenal

Now the Gunners were waking up. Ozil’s deflected cross was a whisker away from Aubameyang. We were taking control of the midfield for the first time in the match. Aubameyang doubled up when Ozil freed Maitland-Niles on the right and his cross provided the sharer of last season’s golden boot with a tap in. Well played Mesut.

Watford 0-2 The Arsenal

We had a let-off when Guendouzi was caught when attempting to deal with a short Leno pass. We need to learn when and when not to play this tippy tappy stuff from the box. Encouraged, Watford gained a second wind and looked to end the half strongly. Kolasinac was yellow carded for a rash challenge on Hughes a couple of minutes before half-time.

Handbags ended the half when Holebas clashed with Pepe and the Gunners, most notably Guendouzi, poured in to support their man. The Watford man and the young Frenchman saw yellow. It was like days past. All for one etc.. Strangely for a side with such an advantage we were probably happier to hear the half-time whistle.

In the opening minute of the second-half Leno was called on to make the first save when dropping on to a cross from the right. Would this half match that which preceded it? Ozil had other ideas. A wonderful piece of skill and strength saw him tee up Granit Xhaka for something of a wild effort from 25 yards out.

Our absolute inability to play out from the back cost us dear eight minutes in. A clown shoes ball from Sokratis Papastathopoulos was deflected to Cleverley who accepted the gift with glee and fired Watford back into the contest.

Watford 1-2 The Arsenal

Kiko saw yellow for pulling the shirt of Ozil as we sought an immediate response. Those who had doubted the German’s inclusion, me included, were being proven wrong. It was so good to see. Deulofeu and Kiko both fired efforts off target as Watford sought an equaliser.

Unai Emery opted to withdraw Ceballos for Joe Willock on the hour much to the chagrin of the travelling faithful. Ceballo is a firm favourite already, but in truth was having little influence on this match. Fitting him and Ozil in the same eleven will be a puzzle for Emery to solve if we are to clinch the top four berth we desire.

Deulofeu fed Sarr who fired narrowly wide of the target. The bottom club were causing us far too many problems and we (and the ‘holic pound!) required us to get a third. Again the travelling faithful were far from happy when Lucas Torreira was sent on for Guendouzi. Immediately Deulofeu fired another effort just wide. What a game he was enjoying.

Again Emery surprised when sending Nelson on for Ozil on 70 minutes. He probably felt he had to do something, anything, to turn the tide, and Nelson immediately tested Foster with a rare Gunners strike in the second-half. Not surprisingly Deulofeu tested Leno at the other end. Leno was then booked for time-wasting. Why do opposing goalkeepers never get booked against us until injury time?

Janmaat was sent on for the excitable Holebas by Watford, which was probably a smart move. Torreira was the unlikely provider of a an excellent strike on goal, but Foster was equal to it. A minute later the hapless David Luiz blundered into another stupid challenge in the box on Pereyra who slotted home the leveller from the spot himself.

Watford 2-2 The Arsenal

We looked down and out when Doucoure played a one two with Sarr and Leno produced a wonderful save to deny what had looked inevitable. The final whistle was a merciful release. We need better in the coming weeks Unai.

I cannot lie. The loss of Alexandre Lacazette until October seems significant. He is the only forward we have who can play with his back to goal. I fear he will be badly missed. It happens and it is up to us to deal with it. Perhaps the second interlull will not be such a bad thing after all.

We know therefore we go with a slightly changed formation at Watford on Sunday. Some will suggest a 3-5-2. My guess is Unai Emery will want to persist with a four at the back, two holding ahead of them, and three supporting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Bernd Leno therefore starts behind an an unchanged four of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, David Luiz, and Sead Kolasinac. As Lucas Torreira has been back to South America expect Granit Xhaka (sorry) and Matteo Guendouzi to pair up ahead of them.

Nicolas Pepe must be a given on the right of the three. It’s a coin toss between Dani Ceballos and Mesut Ozil in the ‘ten’, and Reiss Nelson is likely to get the nod over Joe Willock on the left, but how good was it to read of Willock putting pen to paper on a new contract?

The results today, Manchester City’s defeat at Norwich aside, have made it imperative that we don’t mess this one up. A win will take us back into third place above the Middlesex Nomads and Manchester United. As a friend has just tweeted 11-0 will take us second above City. Right! Actually goal difference is a concern right now so cautious Unai may have to have a word with himself.

Watford may be rock bottom but could inflict the new manager bounce back effect as Quique Sanchez Flores returns for a second spell with the club. He didn’t do that bad a job with them the last time.

The ‘holic pound

Again, this could be anything, but hopefully we will be set up to present Aubameyang with the chances in behind that he craves. I am on 1-3 to the visitors at 13/1. Let’s do it lads, eh?

The ABW preview

The lads from Gooners in the USA joined Danny for the preview. It’s here.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

An Internationals View

How does one make an interlull piece less tedious? Well, rather than try and cover every game featuring a Gunner I’ll talk about the three matches I did watch, with no presence from The Arsenal whatsoever. Apologies if you are in Wales or outside the United Kingdom.

Monday was spent in front of two screens watching simultaneous broadcasts of Scotland versus Belgium, and Northern Ireland against Germany. I have a confession to make that will not endear me to my most antagonistic contemporaries either side of Hadrian’s Wall. I have, ridiculously perhaps, developed quite an affection for the motherland, home of my Caledonian cousins.

I can identify with a team that is once again very much an underdog on the international stage. Mum lived in a mining village just outside Stirling and so it was natural when we went to visit family when I was about ten or eleven years old I asked to go and see Stirling Albion. They lost at home to East Fife, 1-2, but oh those red shirts with white sleeves, and my first scotch pie at half-time. A pastry case filled with boiling water from what I could gather. I was hooked for life and am now a member of the supporters trust that runs the club.

Stirling are a poor side again this season, and so too the national side on the evidence of the last two matches. After losing to Russia, the world ranked number one Belgium was always going to be a tough ask. Therefore imagine the springing forth of unreasonable hope when Scotland started the brighter, knocking the ball about with purpose and enthusiasm.

Unfortunately the latter evaporated before ten minutes had passed when Lukaku opened the floodgates. The Scots do not so much have a thin under-belly as the thinning skin of a ninety year old fishwife. From this point its became a question of how many the visitors would run in. Thomas Vermaelen (distant Arsenal connection) and Alderweireld (boooo!) made it three before the break. In the second half they took their foot off the gas but man of the match de Bruyne completed the rout. ‘We shall rise again’.

Norn Iron, threatening to reach a major tournament again, were knocked off the top spot by the Germans. Between them Washington and Dallas (I kid you not, my American friends) squandered three great chances to score for the hosts. They would prove to be costly as Halstenberg and Serge Gnabry, remember him, scored at either end of the second-half to secure the points. Northern Ireland will be looking to bounce back from that.

So to England against Kosovo, a team on a fifteen match unbeaten run and only a point behind the Three Lions at kick-off. My goodness me, what a match to watch if not for the purist. I summed up the strengths and weaknesses on Twitter as being England’s superb front three against Kosovo’s technically superior and effective midfield taking on two defences that couldn’t catch a beachball in a telephone box. I may have phrased it slightly differently on the night.

In under a minute we attempted to play out from the back with all of the assurance of Dean Martin on his third bottle. Keane played in Berisha, 0-1 Kosovo. Wakey wake! And wakey wake we did. Keane’s second assist set up man-of-the match Sterling for a headed equaliser. I’m more impressed with that fella every time I watch him play, damn Manchester City’s luck.

“I never dive” Kane, a Vojvoda own goal, and a brace from young Sancho had us secure, 5-1 to the good at the break. It was all over, surely. Except nobody told Kosovo that. Within ten minutes of the restart Berisha and Muriqi (from the spot after the world’s most expensive defender could not sort out his clown shoes) had reduced the gap to two.

The crowd, and millions of television viewers were transfixed as Kosovo poured forward at every opportunity. The finish was nervier than it should have been thanks to “he never misses from the spot” Kane having a poorly struck penalty saved, but England clung on to their one hundred percent record.

Good news was reported  earlier today that all our international players flew out, and came back, unharmed. Let’s get back to real football and Stirling Albion. “Mon the Binos”.

International Round-Up

A busy old week ended with The ABW podcast on Thursday (see below), A day on a wonderful golf course at Chipping Norton yesterday, and watching England’s cricket and football teams endure or enjoy mixed fortunes today (Saturday).

Bulgaria didn’t looks too bad a side going forward at Wembley but they were something of a parody of The Arsenal at the back. They were unhinged by a careless moment of attempting to play out from the back, and not one but two carelessly conceded penalties. Gareth Southgate’s England continue to be flat track bullies, but can they now carry their impressive record through, rather than just into, next summer’s Euros?

Those who know of my ‘motherland’ will understand the first result I looked for when returning from the golf course at half past midnight this morning was Scotland’s. Imagine my disappointment when I saw that despite taking an early lead Russia hit back twice to take the points. These are tough times for Scotland. Head coach Steve Clarke, for all that he tried to sound positive after the match, has a thin looking squad. With Belgium up next things don’t look too good.

Ryan Giggs Wales team appear to have suffered a turgid evening with an own goal and a late Gareth Bale winner seeing them past Azerbaijan. They have it all to do if they are to overhaul Croatia and Hungary in Group E. Most eye catching result was the Netherlands 2-4 win in Germany, for whom  Serge Gnabry scored a ninth minute opener.

On Thursday evening four current Gunners were involved. Granit Xhaka featured in Switzerland’s 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland which saw them remain six points behind the men in green. Dani Ceballos was influential and enjoyed a pre-assist for the winner in Spain’s defeat of Romania. Sead Kolasinac played for Bosnia & Herzegovina who hit five goals past scoreless Liechtenstein. Sokratitis Papastathopoulos represented Greece as they fell to the only goal of the game against Finland.

More to follow in the week before we face Watford at Vicarage Road next Sunday. The bottom of the table Hornets sacked Javi Garcia today and immediately announced that they had re-appointed his predecessor, Quique Sanchez Flores as manager. Bounce back, anyone?

It’s hard to know where to begin with an account of the first North London derby of the season. I suppose chronologically to set the scene. I arrived at 12.30 (I didn’t want to miss the kick-off!) and spent a pleasant pub crawl in great company sipping rather unusually at refreshing Bloody Marys. It was evident from the time I arrived that a raucous atmosphere was building. It transferred into the Grove.

So the supporters most definitely did their bit, but what they witnessed was an astonishing contest. Both sides seemed out of sorts with the exception of Matteo Guendouzi for us and Son for Middlesex. Having said that we most definitely started on the front foot and Nicolas Pepe’s effort that just cleared the target hinted at better to come. Unfortunately it was the visitors who took the lead after a comedy of errors at the back, too many to mention, where we still have serious problems. Eriksen knocked home a tap-in.

That knocked us out of our stride. I had hoped beforehand to see a 4-2-1-3 but Unai Emery picked all three of the men of whom I thought two should start. That was amplified when Granit Xhaka threw himself into one of those absurd lunges in the area and presented Kane with the opportunity to double the lead. Remarkably the Swiss international avoided a card of any description although frankly he could not have complained if he had seen red.

Before the ball hit the net I had escaped to the bar. Fortunately they show the game on a big screen so I did not miss the moment when Guendouzi and Pepe combined to put in Alexandre Lacazette. With two exquisite touches he teed himself up to smash the ball past the helpless Loris and that would have lifted the spirits at the break.

The bulk of the second-half was all about us. How often do we come from behind to beat them. We have a mental hold over them at home. Would it be another 5-2? Frankly it should have been, particularly after we sent on Dani Ceballos for Lucas Torreira. Most thought it should have been Xhaka hooked so the Uruguayan was afforded a sympathetic standing ovation for a relatively average performance by his standards.

The midfield immediately had a better balance. The substitute himself saw a fine drive tipped over by Loris, Sead Kolasinac was a whisker away from a far post tap-in, and then a moment of magic. Guendouzi drove forward and played an unbelievable ball to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who got a stud on the ball to volley just inside the near post. 2-2 and game on.

The atmosphere had been outstanding throughout and now we were threatening to lift the roof off the stadium. Credit to the home support for their uplifting efforts. They should have been rewarded and thought a winner had arrived from the unlikely source of Sokratis Papastathopoulos, but had missed the assistant referee’s raised flag for Kolasinac being offside in the build-up.

Harry Kane once again demonstrated his chronic inner ear infection seeking to win yet another penalty as he stepped across Sokratis and hit the deck in theatrical fashion. No surprise there then.

The substitution of Lacazette by Henrikh Mkhitaryan was jeered by many but the striker had indicated that he had a problem and would need to come off. The choice of substitute appeared bizarre earlier today when Mkhitaryan departed on loan to Roma. Perhaps the manager thought Reiss Nelson a little too inexperienced for a tempestuous derby which nearly boiled over a couple of times.

The closing moments were surprisingly open and either side frankly could have nicked it. Neither did so two points were shared, although it felt like we had dropped two. We shouldn’t be happy at anything other than a win at home to them, and whilst I understand the degree of relief at the way it panned out they were most definitely there for the taking.

Let’s set the tone early here. Tottenham have only won two of their 27 Premier League away matches versus The Arsenal. There are rumblings that all is not well in the Middlesex camp. Forgive me if I plead with Unai Emery to throw the kitchen sink at them on Sunday afternoon.

The loss of Nacho Monreal (good luck with Sociedad, Nacho, and thank you for being a Gunner) means promotion for Sead Kolasinac, one would imagine. The pairing in front of the back four (please Unai) will be interesting. Matteo Guendouzi has looked an improved player in the early matches, Lucas Torreira looks eager and refreshed, but Granit Xhaka is one of the five captains. I suspect the latter pairing may win out.

Although Mesut Ozil is available for the first time this season it would be harsh for him to displace Dani Ceballos in such a game, although in his favour he does know what to expect from the North London derby. What would be really good to see is a full array of attacking talent in Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

As well as Nacho we have seen Mohamed Elneny depart on loan to Besiktas and we wish him all the best on his travels too.

Whilst we have our obvious injury problems the neighbours too are affected. Walker-Peters, Foyth, Ndombele and Sessegnon are ruled out. Dier and the loathsome Alli will be tested beforehand. Their biggest issue will be whether to start Eriksen, a player clearly unhappy and looking to leave before the European transfer window shuts.

Much may depend on our new faces. David Luiz must understand the depth of feeling involved and I hope he doesn’t give the referee a decision to make about his participation in the contest. Ceballos and Pepe have hopefully been prepared for what the match and atmosphere will be.

The ‘holic pound

Of course THE derby can throw form out of the window. Hackles will be raised. Yet the omens are all in our favour. I have but one slight concern. When you are leading 2-1 at home to Burnley and your two best players are taken off to protect the lead you can ride it out. Get 2-1 up on Sunday and go for the throat please Unai. Middlesex have players who would love to snatch a late equaliser in such circumstances.

I’m praying with a front three we could do just that so I am on 3-1 to The Gunners at 17/1.

The ABW preview

Here it is, thanks Danny.

 

It’s another brief review of what is happening news wise (but not politically here, I promise!). Where to start but the North London derby? I have to say that when a Uruguayan talks of the match in such passionate terms we have a better understanding of just how much others realise it matters. Lucas Torreira had this to say about his first experience of the game last season. You are officially a Gooner, young man.

“You don’t realise how special and unique that game is until you’re in the middle of it. A few people had tried to tell me about the passion, but it was an eye-opener for me. This just isn’t a normal game.”

Good lad. Now just ensure that Nicolas Pepe, Dani Ceballos, David Luiz, Gabriel Martinelli et al are in the loop too. Reputations will be made or burned on Sunday.

Eddie, Eddie, Eddie!

Eddie Nketiah continues to impress on his loan at Leeds. He made only his second start but grabbed his third goal for the Elland Road outfit as they came back from two down to Stoke City in a Carabao Cup clash last night (Tuesday). Sadly it wasn’t possible for both teams to lose, but Eddie’s appearances in white this season mean Stoke’s ultimate triumph on penalties was the more regrettable outcome.

He is probably some distance from returning to the fold as a first team starter but this season should provide him with invaluable experience, and it would be wonderful to create our first academy striking talent since, erm, Lord Bendtner?

Mo on the brink?

A Besiktas source revealed that Mohamed Elneny is a target and that they have contacted Arsenal about a loan move. They have also held talks with Elneny who is open to playing football in Turkey. It seems inevitable that he will go somewhere after Unai Emery made his situation, along with Shkodran Mustafi, so public. I doubt that we are keen on the loan situation but our position is extremely weak in the circumstances.

I’ll admit that I will be sorry to see him go. I see a footballer in him who could have certainly challenged Granit Xhaka for his place in the side, although neither inspire complete confidence if we are talking of title challenges. I think he has sadly ended up with the brown and sticky end of the stick.

Nacho, Nacho man

The Mail (I know!) are reporting that Unai Emery wants Nacho Monreal to resolve a £3million move to Real Sociedad but wants that to go through before the weekend so he can settle on his squad. If you had suggested this to me at the end of last season I would probably have been less vexed with it than today.

Kieran Tierney is apparently closer to fitness than we had originally been told, and a Celtic friend assures me we have bought the best left-back in Britain, when he’s fit. I hope he is right and the lad stays fit. I also hope we hang on to Nacho until January at least. I have had the good fortune to interview him and he is a top man as well as a defender who seems in the opening weeks of this season to have rediscovered his mojo. He provides us with options in a back three or four that frankly Sead Kolasinac does not.

If you choose to go Nacho, know that you will be missed, and thanks for being an absolute star in the red and white.

Roll on Sunday.

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