Feed on
Posts
Comments

So here we are again. Preview time. Simple enough really. Quote from Arsene maybe, team news, praise the midfield, predict a victory, wish everybody a good one. Job done.

Except there is a very different feel surrounding Saturday teatime’s visit of Manchester City in the wake of a drubbing at the bus stop in Fulham and a dire home draw with Swansea in the last week.

It has been open week on Arsene Wenger and one or two of his players on social media sites this week. Human nature being what it is for some there has to be more than a rational expressing of disappointment at the premature passing of a title challenge.

After a week of carefully controlled media exposure the boss came back today with more positivity than many who really would love to see nothing more than an Arsenal victory.

“It’s all to go for I think, for everybody. Everybody speaks about Everton coming back on us. Why should we then not come back on the teams who are in front of us.”

Of course he has to talk up our chances in public, and attempt to instill confidence and belief in his charges, but he must look at the injury list and wonder what he did to deserve reaching the pointed end of the season with eight players ruled out.

In truth probably only three or four would be considered for a start on Saturday. Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, and Theo Walcott are all big misses, squad-wise, and the much-lauded midfield now looks a little unbalanced as a result.

City arrive in impressive shape, fresh from a comfortable win at Old Trafford, and having apparently put right what ailed them on their travels earlier in the season.

On the face of it we are in for a long hard day but years of watching this game have left memories of sporadic unlikely triumphs against the odds. Quite what to expect tactically I don’t know. We have looked to have a very soft centre in the past week so possibly a more pragmatic approach such as that which earned us so many points at the tail end of last season.

Have we the players to keep it tight and hope to nick something on the break? It is a conundrum. Thomas Vermaelen is a natural replacement for Koscielny, but Dzeko will have noted the fact that Bony had the beating of the skipper in the air more than once on Tuesday.

In midfield do we go with the partnership of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini in order to try and protect or gamble again on the Ox who hopefully learned some big lessons at Stamford Bridge? Perhaps the young England international wil be used out wide again, with Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky for company?

Up front Olivier Giroud is getting among the goals again, but looked to be running on empty recently. Yaya Sanogo unsettled the Liverpool defenders on his first start but it would be asking a lot of him to do something similar against Kompany.

Depressed? OK, here is the bright spot. Accomplished as he is Kompany has been alongside Demichelis who isn’t the most assured defender. City are not watertight, although they have shown a devastating ability and willingness to outscore anybody. Keep it tight at the back and we might just see that little chink of light at the end of a very long tunnel come into view. Oh, and no Aguero, which can’t be bad.

So to the ‘holic pound. I’m steering clear of a scorecast. the away game ended 6-3 and could frankly have been any option up to 7-7. I don’t expect anything similar, but a punt on, say, 1-0 could very quickly be sunk. I’m looking at the 11/4 offered against an Arsenal win. It is a little skinnier than I expected but, ever the optimist, I have to take it.

The crowd will get behind Arsenal from the start tomorrow, and will remain so as long as they see the team giving their all. A win would earn them some breathing space ahead of another tricky trip, to Everton, next week. It might also make Twitter a happier place to be on Saturday night. That will make a refreshing change after some of the spiteful stuff of the last few days.

What was the last thing? Oh yes. Have a good one. ‘holics.

At the final whistle I tweeted the line from Fever Pitch that is probably more applicable today than it was back in 1989. No, bollocks to probably. That is a superfluous word.

“After a while, it all gets mixed up in your head, and you can’t remember whether life’s shit because Arsenal are shit or the other way around.”

As the season has moved into the eighth of nine months we have surrendered what had promised for so long to be a title challenge that would see us involved to the final week or two. In four simply awful days. Arsenal, as Nick Hornby might tell you today, have thrown undying affection back in the faces of those who can care for no other. Not for the first time we have to deal with it and move on.

The love between supporter and club is binding and there is now some serious soul searching going on. The situation is complicated because the Arsenal has many devoted suitors who seek different solutions to what ails us and all are convinced they are right. There is barely concealed confrontation on a number of fronts. At the heart of the debate now is the question of a new contract for a man who has been indelibly imprinted on the club’s history.

Now I don’t know Arsene at all. I did have the good fortune to shake his hand at the Highbury farewell and thank him for what he had done. It seems so many with blogs and on social media sites know him much better from the stuff I read. I do however chat with some who certainly have greater access to him and there is a growing feeling that he is considering his future long and hard. On that basis I wonder if the events of recent days will have influenced whatever decision he arrives at when the time for signing the contract or not is reached?

At Chelsea we were left with the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the team he sent out did not perform for the man celebrating his one thousandth match in charge of our heritage. For much of tonight it felt different. There was more application, more effort, but nonetheless a shortage of guile and, somewhat surprisingly, leadership. Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky provided energy and graft, but not enough final product. Bacary Sagna once again forced himself forward at every opportunity, only to cross to a box devoid of an attacking colleague, or to receive the ball in a cul-de-sac.

We were behind from the eleventh minute when Bony got head and shoulders above the skipper to head home the nervous visitors first chance. They were nervous no more. By the end of the half I suspect the manager and coaching staff were desperate to get everybody together in the dressing room to resolve whatever was going on. Swansea were worth the advantage. Surely from the restart our desire for the points allied to our greater quality would see a turnaround?

It didn’t. Just twelve minutes into the second half Lukas Podolski was summoned from the bench, somewhat surprisingly for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and that could have proved to be the masterstroke. Kieran Gibbs set up Poldi to equalise, and little more than a minute later we were ahead as scorer turned provider. The beneficiary was Olivier Giroud, and hopefully that will restore a chunk of the confidence so lacking in him to that point. We need him to come good again, and had he notched the winner then that may have been the case.

Sadly that golden 66 seconds was to prove the highlight of the evening. For most of this season the Arsenal have demonstrated an ability to see out matches like that. The law of sod dictates that when you need it most, that talent deserts you, and the equaliser was about as cruel as it gets. Mathieu Flamini, sorely missed from the start at Stamford Bridge, deserved better than to be the one who inadvertently deflected the ball into his own net as the clock passed ninety minutes.

Now I don’t buy the line that the title was lost tonight. The Premier League was surrendered on Saturday, and tamely so. However we should still be targeting the top three in a World Cup summer, and what tonight has done has thrown into some doubt even the prospect of a top four berth and a Champions League qualifier in August. Manchester City at home and Everton away in the next two fixtures represent a challenge that must be met head on. Then comes Wembley.

That is the light at the end of the tunnel. Get these next two Premier League weekends out of the way and the picture looks rosier, potentially. Hopefully by the time Wigan are on the horizon we will have Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, at least, back in the reckoning. The league fixtures that follow the FA Cup semi-final do not look daunting, on paper (I know, don’t say it now!). The prospect of an FA Cup Final against the Tigers or the Blades remains a tease.

That prospect, however, seems a long way off tonight. So much promise. It seemed so different. How the fuckity fuck did it all go so horribly wrong? (With apologies, but I’m sure you understand.)

Where to start? Having taken time out to let the immediate reaction subside I guess the first thing is to hold our hands up and accept we got well and truly humbled on a very big day. We spoke beforehand about the possible recall of Mathieu Flamini to ‘fight for every scrap of possession in midfield’. However Tomas Rosicky passed his fitness test and Arsene chose to start with the eleven players who secured three points at Tottenham last weekend.

There is a logic to that decision, but the performance those eleven players produced made the selection, with a huge portion of hindsight I agree, a questionable one. Arsenal appeared to start with an attacking intent that could even have yielded the opening goal, so often crucial in the big matches. Olivier Giroud had a fourth minute opportunity saved by Cech but three minutes later we were two down, having surrendered possession twice and getting hit on the counter. That became a recurring theme of the afternoon.

The third goal ten minutes later provided the ‘noise’ that would enable some deflection of the painfully obvious. That Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain handled in the box is beyond doubt, however Andre Marriner did not see it, and his linesman did not flag for it. Cue shots of the referee engaging in conversation on his headset, awarding the penalty, and sending off Kieran Gibbs in a case of mistaken identity. The whole incident viewed in close up suggested a critical contribution from the fourth official, Anthony Taylor. There is also a question mark about the validity of the sending off given the effort was not on target and therefore a goalscoring opportunity had not been denied.

All of which doesn’t excuse that we would have been beaten with eleven on the pitch, but with ten we were ripped apart with even more ease than Liverpool and Manchester City had already achieved earlier in the season. Never before has a Mourinho Chelsea side won a Premier League fixture by more than four goals. Never before has any Chelsea side beaten Arsenal by the six that eventually arrived.

First and foremost it has to be said the players who have brought Arsenal to this stage of the season let their manager down on the big day. The midfield has lifted Arsenal to the dizzy heights of a title challenge that surely passed into history today. Ninety minutes of underperforming temporarily erased much of the pleasure they have given for the last seven months, lest we forget. An exposed defence, shorn of their starting left back through no fault of his own for most of the game, struggled in a way seen only in matches away to their three principal rivals this season.

Then there is Olivier Giroud. Harshly singled out for criticism in some quarters, but clearly now feeling the effects of being effectively our only trusted striker for an entire season. Tired and out of touch, he looks a different player to the one who started the season so confidently. That will inevitably lead to yet more debates about whether or not we should have invested in some support or competition for him last summer, or indeed in January. That debate is for another day. It remains a stick with which to beat the man who did not enjoy his one thousandth game in charge of a great club, and who shouldered responsibility afterwards.

“This is my fault, we got a good hiding. You don’t prepare all week to experience that.”

For now Arsene has until Tuesday to find a squad fit enough to face Swansea. Three points are important if we are to continue to contest a top three berth, for who wants a Champions League play-off that fourth place provides in a World Cup summer? The boss has to find a side that will show considerably more spine than the one today. The buck does stop with the manager, but we have enough experienced internationals to produce a mature response to a dire display at the bus stop in Fulham, and justify at least some of the faith he has placed in them.

The FA Cup remains a potential distraction, but one that should not be allowed to intrude on the league fixtures coming up. Nine points are at stake against Swansea, Manchester City, and Everton before we can start concentrating on Wembley. Confidence needs rebuilding, starting on Tuesday. A big couple of weeks approaches for the club. Have we the resources to cope at the pointed end of the season?

When the first game of the season was lost if you had offered us the possibility of closing the gap on the current Premier League leaders to a point in the penultimate weekend of March I suspect both of your arms would have been ripped off. I also suspect you might have expected the said fixture to involve a Manchester club. Mourinho’s little horse leads the way, however, and in his one thousandth match in charge of Arsenal Le Boss has to outwit the odious and arrogant one.

Credit where it is due. Chelsea haven’t lost to their title rivals this season, and frankly we really need to do something about that at the bus stop in Fulham. Whilst not mathematically impossible it would be difficult to come back from four or even (whisper it) seven points behind with just eight games remaining, particularly given the involvement of Manchester City and Liverpool in the chase.

Now we could grumble that the injury Gods have not been kind to us. Tomas Rosicky is the latest to be a doubt for the game, but a reshuffle involving a recall for Mathieu Flamini was probably on the cards for this one anyway. Chelsea don’t do expansive. We are going to have to be resilient and prepared to join in the fight for every scrap of possession in midfield. Flamini and Mikel Arteta anchoring, the Ox and Lukas Podolski out wide, with little Santi Cazorla pulling the strings behind Olivier Giroud. It could just work.

Last weekend we got within range courtesy of a win at the brown and sticky end of Seven Sisters Road after Chelsea had surprisingly come a cropper at Villa Park. Few, even Gooners, expect us to land the title, but Arsene was keen to make it clear as long as we are in the mix we have a chance.

“The most consistent team, the one who can win a game on the day where they are not at their best, will win it in the end. This league is so competitive that anybody can drop points everywhere. Let’s just focus on the next game and win it.”

That is all we can do. Chelsea may not have lost a big domestic fixture so far, but over ninety minutes if we go out there with a can-do attitude and get our destructive fast accurate passing game going then we do have what it takes to get a result. We need one against a title rival quite frankly. I’m not sure we thought of Liverpool being in that category when we beat them at home. This would be a massive scalp with which to celebrate Arsene’s remarkable achievement.

The ‘holic pound has to be guided by the heart, and not the head. I’m grabbing the 15/4 against an away win offered by one bookie. There is a back-up pound on 1-2 offered at an astonishing 16/1 by the same bookie. They don’t give us a prayer, but I will be before hitting the sack tonight.

Now, I know Arsene provokes an enormous range of opinion and emotion among Arsenal supporters, to the surprise and amusement of followers of other clubs. I understand the reasoning behind the views of those who disagree about his where his future should be, but for one day at least could we unite behind an appreciation of the thousand games milestone. It’s a day for turning the guns outwards again. It’s a day for praying that the values that he and Arsenal have demonstrated can overcome those exhibited under the current regime at the Bridge.

Have a great day, traveling Gooners and ‘holics all.

999 And Counting

Midweek. Worse than that, a midweek without a game. Fortunately the afterglow of winning at the Lane remains to keep the spirits somewhere north of the equator.

Much of the talk has turned to our second consecutive trip in the capital when we visit Chelsea on Saturday, and the fact that it will be Arsene Wenger’s one thousandth competitive fixture in charge of the club. I believe I may have read that somewhere today anyway.

The subject of his best and worst composite elevens has been well covered, and I see no benefit in adding my view because a) we have seen how difficult it is to pick between Lauren and Lee Dixon, and b) nobody gives a toss about what I think. Quite right too. To be fair to the piece that started the discussion I don’t think Amy Lawrence got a lot wrong.

I did like our very own zicoinexile’s questions in the drinks however, and have considered them longer and in more depth than was perhaps good for me. For those that have yet to see them the good Doctor asked of the last 999 matches what was…

(a) The best result in terms of achievement versus expectation

(b) The best ever performance (assuming (a) does not equal (b) )

Now there have been some fine cases already made for both. Amazing Champions League nights such as the 5-1 in the San Siro, beating Real Madrid in their pomp at the Bernabeu, and of course Barcelona at The Grove. Then in the Premier League scoring five at the bus stop in Fulham (more of the same on Saturday please boys), the five goal recovery from two down against Tottenham, and winning the League at Old Trafford. Maybe Thierry almost single-handedly saving the invincibles against Liverpool at Highbury?

I would like to throw another one into the mix. Rewind to 1997-98, Arsene’s first full season. In the previous campaign we had lost the big matches against Liverpool and Manchester United as early season promise evaporated. When Manchester United arrived at Highbury in November we were missing Dennis Bergkamp and Emmanuel Petit through suspension, and Martin Keown was injured. Gilles Grimandi, David Platt, and a young Nicolas Anelka came in.

Not many of our number were confident, but astonishingly we were two up inside half an hour, thanks to Anelka and Patrick Vieira. Could we keep it up? Of course not. Old foe Teddy (the Berkeley hunt) Sheringham scored twice before the half-time whistle and to make matters worse Vieira was injured and replaced by Stevie Bould. We were ripe for the taking, or so the pundits thought. They reckoned without Arsenal’s new found steel, and an unlikely flying header from David Platt seven minutes from time. The form demonstrated by that first win against title rivals was franked the following May with the club’s second double.

That match would probably be the answer to (a) for me. and I will accept any of the others as the second answer. I’ll also thank Ray for giving me something to blog about on this strange Wednesday.

Finally a word too for our Trev, who some of you have seen in various degrees of pain in recent weeks, held up only by crutches and a steely determination. It’s a new knee for him on Friday. Good luck my friend, and break a leg, er, or rather don’t.

Cheers ‘holics.

Well, what can one say about that? The strangest of derby days for this old boy. In need of some thinking time I made for a park in town and felt completely calm ahead of a fixture that usually gnaws away at the stomach. I used to love going to the Lane in the days when we had a decent allocation, or the game was not all-ticket. These days it is pints and sofa territory.

The calm was only stirred some 72 seconds into the match. Tomas Rosicky broke at pace, played a one two with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and produced an effort I can only describe as ‘a little bit Liam at the Lane’. A howitzer, and we had the earliest advantage ever in a north London derby, apparently.

The goal for the visitors set up a cracking opening half. Tottenham dominated possession as we reverted to the sort of rope-a-dope performance that yielded so many points in the opening half of the season. Despite that the clearer chances fell to Arsenal on the breakaway. Three of them to the Ox, but sadly his shooting boots were in for recalibration.

Inevitably it was Adebayor who came closest for the neighbours, but Per Mertesacker, one half of the solid centre of the Gunners defence, did enough to distract the occasionally motivated one. I’m not sure what the half-time team talk was, obviously, but it appeared on the face of it as though it was a plea for more of the same.

A draw wasn’t a lot of use to either side, and so Tottenham not surprisingly doubled their efforts to get back in the game, and we seemingly retreated ever deeper in order to preserve our lead. Chadli should perhaps have done better but the BFG and Laurent Koscielny once again formed an impenetrable barrier to preserve our advantage.

Against the run of play, it has to be said, we almost sealed the deal when the omnipresent rather large German brought the best out of Lloris in the closing stages. The last word was Szczesny’s, diving to keep out another Adebayor effort. The points were secured, and the best away support in the country were celebrating long and loud, as you can see below.

A word too for the referee. Mike Dean isn’t a favourite around our way, and for very good reason. However today he left a really good impression. He got the big calls right although both sides probably thought earlier punishments could have been handed out to one or two players, no names, no pack drill. I am usually the first to coat him off, so today, well played that man.

As Sunday becomes St Patrick’s Day we find ourselves three points closer to next weekend’s opponents at the head of affairs. Win Arsene’s 1000th game in charge of Arsenal and we will be a point behind the boys from the bus stop in Fulham with a game in hand. Title challengers? You bet we are, although we might just need more than one goal next week!

Here’s to Wojciech and the boys taking selfies at the Bridge. Bless the neighbours too. Six points and a comfortable passage to the fourth round of the FA Cup. How much more generous could they have been this season?

Can’t Smile Without You

The evolution of North London derby previews tells me a number of things about Arsenal and I over the last eight years. They have gone from utterly contemptuous and dismissive of the neighbours to a period of acknowledging the family links for those of us born in the vicinity, and on to today which should be “I haven’t got a bloody clue what will happen on Sunday”. No longer can we take for granted that we will come back from the swamp with a result, but this must be a great opportunity for us to do just that, despite our lengthy injury list.

The neighbours have had a week from hell, losing to Chelsea in the League and Benfica in the nobody gives a shit cup, shipping seven goals in the process. The dead man walking currently in charge has pissed off his players by shifting all of the blame onto them and is coming under serious fire from the hard of thinking that follow the champions of 53 years ago. We’re two out of two against them in League and FA Cup this season. They are not looking forward to Sunday.

Both teams have a number of injuries and doubts, although we can probably lay claim to the larger number of likely starters who will be absent on the day. Aaron Ramsey’s setback, plus the recent injuries to Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere, the long term absence of Theo Walcott, and the question mark about Kieran Gibbs are having an impact on our confidence and consistency. However, as listener’s to this weeks live Arsecast will have heard, that leaves us with a formidable midfield and a choice of where to start Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who really made an impact in Munich.

Tottenham’s injury list must be a mixed bag for them. Who out of Michael Dawson, Vlad Chiriches and Etienne Capoue is a real miss? According to the BBC the chuckle brothers that are Walker and Rose also lack match fitness. How could you tell with that pair? I’m having a little fun, ok, but the general point is fair, no?

Both teams are desperate for all three points on Sunday so I am expecting the game to open up even if the opening phase is cautious. Chelsea and City look to have winnable away games, but Liverpool may encounter some difficulty at Old Trafford. The ‘holic pound has to be punted on an away win in Middlesex. I can see us causing them problems on the break if we can get the Ox and others counter-attacking at pace after inviting them on. Similarly I can see them giving it a real go just because they have to, so a value high-scoring game is my pick. I am on 2-3 to the Arsenal at 33′s.

My thoughts are with the traveling Gooners who will hopefully witness another win in the marshlands. For once it has been a while coming but if we turn up and play as we did against Everton last week we will be fine. At very least matching Chelsea’s result is important given our visit to the bus stop in Fulham next Saturday. How can you not get up for these two games?

COME ON YOU RIPROARING!

So for a second year running we achieved a better result in Munich than at home, but again it was not enough to get past a side widely regarded as the best in the game right now. Given that we were missing Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, and Theo Walcott, among others, I think it is fair to say we gave a better-than-expected account of ourselves.

It was important not to concede early on, and to get to the break on level terms was not the worst thing to happen. Any side visiting Munich will have to put up an effective barrier and to be fair the hosts were on top for most of the half. They failed to capitalise on that largely because of Arsenal’s application and discipline. There was a spine to the Gunners built on Lukasz Fabianski, Per Mertesacker, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, that teased us into believing the miracle was possible. The Ox provided the most positive outlet for us and a couple of mazy runs hinted at a way for us to perhaps pinch an unlikely result on the night.

Interestingly Santi Cazorla was played centrally and charged with negating Schweinsteiger, pushing Mesut Ozil into a right-sided role unfamiliar to him. It was something of a surprise that Schweinsteiger avoided a yellow card in the first half for two blatant fouls and kicking the ball away after conceding one of those free-kicks, an offence that saw Lukas Podolski rightly carded. Schweinsteiger was guilty of another couple of bad challenges after the break so it was more than a little frustrating to see him open the scoring less than ten minutes into the second-half.

Ozil didn’t make that second-half, victim of a hamstring problem that seemed evident long before the whistle. For one established journalist to type at the end “even injury cannot excuse such a lacklustre display” was pretty poor, frankly. We will see the benefit of him as a playmaker, one of the best around, and not limping in an unfamiliar role providing cover for his full-back against Ribery. Unfortunately that may be weeks away, according to the boss tonight.

The Bayern goal proved to be sufficient to see them through, but rather than buckle Arsenal made a spirited response. Lukas Podolski got the better of Lahm, not the only Bayern player with balance problems on the night, and smashed the equaliser in at the near post. We were still alive, and the introduction of Serge Gnabry gave us another attacking option. Chances were created and gave us false hope until the closing stages.

There remained one moment of satisfaction. Not for the first time the brittle Robben folded under a gust of wind in the box and won his team a penalty. It is that behaviour which causes Bayern not to get the recognition they probably deserve. They are a fabulous side, but also well versed in the dark arts. Muller’s penalty was saved by the excellent Fabianski, surely on his way this summer, but a much-improved and genuine contender for the number one shirt.

And now this fossil has to wait another fourteen months at least to complete the set. There is still, however, a double to fight for, a fourth one in my lifetime. It would be the most satisfying. The neighbours are next up on Sunday. A huge game for both clubs. More on that in the coming days.

Congratulations

The two winners of the Junior Gunners Chelsea v Arsenal screening competition are Daniel Chapman and Shezan Vayani. I hope you both enjoy the day and are able to celebrate a significant triumph in the race for the Premier League title.

Cheers ‘holics.

 

Right then, with a Wembley semi-final secured in one competition it is now time for the small matter of overturning a two goal deficit against the reigning European champions in their own stadium. In a strange way the pressure is off us a little bit because few consider us likely to match last season’s 2-0 triumph in the same stadium. If we go out we can point at the sending off for Wojciech Szczesny in the first leg as the moment this tie swung massively in favour of Bayern Munich.

Bayern coach Pep Guardiola is well aware of last season’s performance and whilst setting out a good case for us to retain some hope for the tie, also made it pretty clear his side will not be as unprepared as a year ago.

“They can create two or three really great chances in two or three minutes. If you play in a really good team like Arsenal and are 2-0 down, anything is possible. This is not an easy game. We have to attack, give our best, be aggressive without the ball.”

I’m reminded a little of Anfield 1989. As long as we don’t concede we are in with a shout of creating those two or three great chances of which Guardiola spoke. 0-0 at half-time would be fine. Arsene Wenger obviously has to say the right things in advance, but must hope that his side will set about their task in the right frame of mind.

“History is important in our belief. We know we can do it, because we have already done it. It is a possible task, that is the most important thing. My team has quality and ambition.”

What his team does not have is Kieran Gibbs or Yaya Sanogo, injured against Everton at the weekend. That will mean a recall for fit again Laurent Koscielny with Thomas Vermaelen likely to switch to left back. It should also ensure a start for Olivier Giroud, back to his best in his weekend cameo. Coincidentally it was Giroud and Koscielny who scored the goals in the Allianz Arena last March. With Szczesny suspended Lukasz Fabianski will retain his place in goal.

Like ourselves Bayern boast an abundance of riches in midfield, and their form this season has been astonishing. At home they are averaging over three goals a game in the Bundesliga, a competition they have turned into a procession. They are twenty points clear with ten matches to play. It pays not to research too deeply. They are an awesome side at present.

And yet the eternal optimist that occupies a tiny corner of my grey matter is inevitably drawn to the away win when thoughts turn to the placement of the ‘holic pound. The 9/1 on offer for us to win on the night is just too good to ignore in a two horse race. It would also be a small consolation should we win by one and still go out of the competition.

For us to repeat last season’s heroics will require us to at very least match the effort Bayern will surely put in to closing opponents down all over the pitch. We have to match their desire, and then take at least two of those opportunities that will come our way. However unlikely it is that we actually pull it off it will still make for gripping viewing for as long as we are level, or even (whisper it) ahead.

And whatever happens, here’s hoping the thousands of Gooners who have made their way out to Munich for the game are given a performance to appreciate, and a night afterwards of high spirits and great fun.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

There is something about pre-match refreshments in the spring sunshine. The talk was of team selection with some wonderful cricketing memories thrown in for good measure. Twitter revealed the team news. Lukasz Fabianski and Yaya Sanogo in, but a strong looking eleven it was.

The feelgood factor was raised further just seven minutes in when Santi Cazorla teed up Mesut Ozil for a superb pass inside the far post. The playmaker has come in for some over-the-top criticism in the press but showed again yesterday what he brings to the side. As well as his creative gifts yesterday he was more often than not the go-to outlet when we needed to relieve pressure. Several runs down the left flank got us on the front foot again.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic though, and Everton kept the tension levels high. One-nil is a nervous scoreline, and the advantage was lost when Lukaku knocked in a scruffy equaliser. A classic cup tie was taking shape, and the tension was evident as passes went astray from both sides. Much credit is due to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, rivaling Ozil for the man of the match award, who was guilty of gifting the ball to Everton but showed tremendous determination to get it back and nullify any danger.

The half-time interval was brightened by the appearance of Pat Rice, looking very well indeed and sounding back to form. He got the reception and the acclaim he duly deserved.

The second half started as the first had finished, with chances for Barkley and Cazorla being traded. Ozil remained a threat that the visitors couldn’t quite quell. The substitution of Olivier Giroud for Sanogo was to prove decisive. We were two-one to the good when Barry brought down the Ox, freed by Ozil in the box, and twice Mikel Arteta held his nerve to score, the first being ruled out for encroachment by Giroud. Is that really a yellow card offence?

Everton were forced to come out in search of a second equaliser and were picked off as the minutes ebbed away. First Bacary Sagna cut in from the right and waited for Giroud to find the perfect spot from which to convert. The scoring was completed by a goal described later on Twitter as ‘sumptuous’, and it was. Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, and Ozil combined to tee up Giroud for a confidence-boosting second.

So back to that sunny beer garden we went to work out the options for Wembley and generally enjoy what had just taken place. The only hint of a dark cloud came with the substitution of Keiran Gibbs late on, clearly in some discomfort. Let’s hope whatever it was will not threaten his appearing in Munich on Tuesday. The representatives from the Kingdom of Fife kept my glasses charged, and provided some fine recollections of football in Scotland back in the day. The ‘holics were in good spirits. It was fun to see and be a part of.

Ninety minutes from the FA Cup Final. Is there a better way of ending what had been a tough, tough week?

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »