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Swansea away, probably not the ideal fixture to follow Tuesday’s events,  but a happy hunting ground for us last season thanks to a 1-2 success.

Those who would argue that the same side should be offered the opportunity to redeem themselves will have read by now the news of the skippers absence with a hamstring injury. Fit again Jack Wilshere is a likely replacement which may mean either Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Aaron Ramsey is asked to start alongside Mathieu Flamini in the shielding role, and Santi Cazorla is switched back to the flank. Arsene insisted that Theo Walcott is not yet ready to start a fixture, which may frustrate those to see him teamed up with Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welback in a flying front three.

Swansea will field FA Cup winning goalkeeper Lukas Fabianski, facing us for the first time since his summer move to find regular first-team football. He matured during his time with us and that is validated by his five clean sheets this season, a statistic bettered by only one Premiership goalkeeper (and that isn’t Wojciech Szczesny). The Swans would leapfrog us in the table with a win. They have been in decent form this season beating Burnley, West Brom, and Leicester at home following an opening day success at Old Trafford. They have also drawn at Sunderland and Everton as well as at home to Newcastle.

Let’s face it, we haven’t a clue which Arsenal will turn up for this one. I’ve looked long and hard at the odds to decide on the ‘holic pound. The bookies favourite 1-1, followed by 0-1 and 1-2 away wins. I am tempted by the latter, a repeat of last season’s scoreline. A small punt is on at a generous looking 17/2.

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Have a good weekend, ‘holics.

Time to rewrite the report on the first-half, already committed to the page at half-time in an attempt to publish soon after the final whistle and to enable a relaxing early night. Gone the talk of the visitors playing into our hands with their adventurous approach to the contest. Full marks to Anderlecht for turning up with a positive attitude.

The result of the visitors ambition meant trading of opportunities early on. Santi Cazorla, Acheampong, Alexis Sanchez, Praet, and Aaron Ramsey all had efforts blocked as an end to end contest took shape.

Midway through the half Alexis fed Danny Welbeck in and the striker was bundled over in the box by Mangulu. Mikel Arteta waited for Proto to move before chipping the ball just underneath the bar. Within four minutes the lead was doubled, and by who else but Alexis. His free-kick came back to him off the wall but he smashed the rebound into the bottom corner. It all looked so comfortable. Perhaps too comfortable.

I don’t know what the team talk was at half-time, but I would wager it didn’t bear any relationship to what actually happened in the second-half. To be fair it could not have gone better for fifteen minutes or so. The Ox and Danny Welbeck were denied, but when Alexis was allowed a challenge from behind and dispossessed his man he freed the Ox for a stunning third goal. I mention the Alexis challenge as it gains in relevance when the clock has advanced less than three minutes.

3-0 up and half an hour to go. We have had some fortune with our third goal perhaps, but this is a position Arsene must have dreamt of last night. With Dortmund also winning we have last 16 qualification in our grasp with two matches to spare. What followed beggared belief.

If Anderlecht were upset about our third goal we had every right to feel aggrieved about the one that Vanden Borre netted from a clear offside position to give them what was surely just a consolation in the 61st minute. Within a minute Mikel Arteta hobbled from the action and was replaced by Mathieu Flamini. According to what I have seen on Twitter since we have our scapegoat right there, but Flamini wasn’t one of those around him who continued to bomb forward whilst failing to offer a makeshift back four any protection.

Buoyed, Anderlecht started to take control of the game. Per Mertesacker and Flamini had to be alert to concede corners at the near post as twice Anderlecht broke down their left. We got temporary respite with a Welbeck header, comfortably saved. Then Mitrovic was grabbed by Monreal in the box and needed no second invitation to go down. We would have wanted a penalty at the other end so I have no issue with the award here, and Nacho can feel relieved his subsequent grab of the referees arm was deemed just a yellow card by Clement Turpin.

Those of you who know my opinion of referees, particularly in the Premier League right now, may be surprised by my assessment of the man in the middle tonight. Although he was let down badly by his assistant for Anderlecht’s opener I thought his overall performance excellent. There, I’ve said it. I particularly liked him demanding that Mitrovic should stand up and look him in the eye when lecturing he and the BFG for a clash on the touchline.

He also gave me an opportunity to write a positive paragraph in my recollection of the worst half an hour of football I have seen an Arsenal side produce in a long, long time. Even at 3-2 you would think we could shut up shop against a team that had only enthusiasm and the naivete of youth going for them, wouldn’t you?

And so in the 90th minute why did we allow them to play the ball unhindered from left-back to right wing, and allow Najar to cross unchallenged? (Yes, Poldi, I’m looking at you, among others.) Mitrovic got ahead of the BFG and the comeback was completed. Where was the discipline, the desire, the defending from the front? Basically anything starting with a d.

And what did the boss have to say?

“I was never completely sure that we were not in danger because all game you could see we didn’t defend well. It’s hugely disappointing.”

If only we had some strength in depth defensively, eh boss? Mea culpa, and all that.

Sorry, did you come here for perspective. Sometimes it escapes even me.

With apologies to Poirot obsessives, two weeks on from our astonishing smash and grab in Brussels we go head to head with Anderlecht again. We will need to start the way we ended against Burnley at the weekend.  If the anticipated home wins transpire then Dortmund and ourselves will have secured the last sixteen berths from group D with two matches to spare although the battle for first and second place will remain.

I think it is safe to assume that the Belgians will offer more of a threat than we faced on Saturday. After we made a bright start in the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium we were penned back for long periods, particularly in the second-half. Although we look stronger offensively we must make sure of providing cover for what is still, lest we forget, a bit of a makeshift back four.

I was critical of starting both Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini against Burnley, but with the benefit of hindsight that may well have been a dry run for this match. Start them both, and unleash Theo at tiring defenders after an hour. I like that thinking a lot more in the context of Tuesday night.

It will be interesting to see if Arsene fiddles with the four advanced players from Saturday. Alexis surely cannot continue to put in the shifts he is currently, twice a week? The skipper summed him up perfectly in today’s (Monday) presser.

“He’s a bull – he goes again and again. That’s the only secret with Alexis, he wants to get better and better. That’s the way he is.”

I would stick with the form man who was our one stand-out performer in Brussels and who has played so very well for weeks now, and possibly allow Theo to give him a rest for the last half an hour if the situation allows. Aaron Ramsey and Lukas Podolski are perhaps alternatives to Santi Cazorla and the Ox? Tomas Rosicky will surely make a contribution before long. For all that I suspect we might see an unchanged starting eleven.

The ‘holic pound usually seeks value. I think somewhere along the line we will give someone a fearful beating, but not on Wednesday probably. The decent value kicks in with us scoring four or more in the correct score markets. I’m indebted to a friend, John on Twitter, for putting me back on to a punt that has yielded rich pickings before. 25/1 is available for Anderlecht to be leading at half-time, and Arsenal to win. Given our recent performances that looks a possibility, and not too remote.

I realise I should be there in person, reliving that night over 44 years ago when first I saw us lift a European trophy against the same opponents. Good as they were in the first match, however, this Anderlecht don’t have the same appeal as their 1970 ancestors. I have grand’holics to treat to a Manchester United fixture at current day prices. Sky Sports 5 it is.

For those going I hope you get a performance to savour, and a safe journey home. The forecast is for a sunny afternoon and a chilly but dry evening. Welcome to autumn. For the rest of you watching television or streams, hopefully not from behind the sofa, it’s ok to raise a glass to the boys on match nights.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

The morning after the night before. The ‘holics, as ever, have been a bad influence, clearly. It was good, however, to be celebrating what became a comfortable win once Arsene worked out that Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini were in excess of the required number of holding players against limited opposition to the tune of one.

For over an hour Burnley clung to the point they so desperately craved by fair means or foul. Again we cannot blame them for that. We can once more bemoan the refereeing weakness that allows constant disruption to the flow of the game and the timewasting antics of the goalkeeper. He also missed a blatant penalty when the already booked Boyd palmed a Santi Cazorla corner to safety.

Breaking the frustration however was the outstanding Alexis. His appetite for work, whether attacking or defending from the front, is astonishing. No surprise then that he was close to opening our account, along with near misses for Danny Welbeck and Cazorla.

With Sean Dyche constantly urging his troops back into their defensive trenches I thought we might see a half-time change. It was just past the hour mark when finally we introduced Aaron Ramsey for the skipper and the match was almost instantly transformed.

The long overdue lead was secured when Chambers sent in a glorious cross from the right flank and the outstanding Alexis placed his header to perfection inside the post. It was no more than he deserved. Provider turned scorer minutes later when Chambers pounced on a blocked Welbeck effort to drill home the second.

Theo is back

The arrival, as substitutes, of Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski added to our firepower in the closing stages and both were desperately unlucky not to add to our tally as we cut loose. In stoppage time the scoreline was made more representative of the gulf in class between the teams when Alexis, who else, grabbed his second goal courtesy of a Gibbs set-up.

There seemed little disagreement in the post match discussions in the pub. Most, it seemed were surprised we went with two holding players for so long. Alexis and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were outstanding and pretty much everybody else was competent at least. There were special mentions too for Nacho Monreal, again performing better than expected alongside Per Mertesacker, although he will face sterner tests than Burnley were able to provide.

It will be interesting to see when first we will start with Theo, Alexis, and Danny Welbeck. This coming week would be good, boss.

All in all a good day spent in very good company.

A Burnley Brief

The law of averages suggests that somewhere along the line Burnley will win a match. Dare I risk mentioning that if it happens on Saturday, however unlikely that may seem to so many, the law of sod will have been proven once more. When first I remember watching Arsenal this Saturday’s opponents were a force in the top flight. These days when I hear Burnley I think Jimmy Anderson (cricket reference, sorry my transatlantic friends).

With apologies, this preview will be brief. It is nearly 10 pm on the eve of the match. Your scribe has imbibed, and I intend to both pre and post match on Saturday. The team news is what we have come to expect. Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs have joined the walking wounded and only the latter is given a fighting chance of being passed fit.

That leaves us with a starting line up that includes a back four of Bellerin, Mertesacker, Chambers, and Monreal. Think on that for more than a second or two. Those who called for some strengthening of the back line in the close season will be close to muttering “told you so”. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

Now consider you are a Burnley supporter. They are approaching all manner of records for not winning a league match from the start of the season. As a football supporter I pray they win next week against Hull, but as an Arsenal supporter I pray not this weekend. That’s how it works, isn’t it?

The visitors have secured four draws this season, at home to Manchester United and Sunderland, and away to Crystal Palace and Leicester. The ‘holic pound clearly seeks value in the home win, but not from complacency. I have seen us make a mess of such encounters. Arsenal to win by a low margin isn’t great, but if it is a winner why wouldn’t 3-1 at a best of 11/1 represent value. I’m on it.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the local of choice. For those further afield I wish you a lovely weekend. Let’s hope nothing silly happens this weekend.

Up the Arsenal !

Jon Sammels Remembered

Three points secured the previous day, the clocks have gone back so it is dark early. What do you do on the longest Sunday evening for six months? This Gooner reached for the dvd of our first double season, 1970-71.

The triumphs that season were made all the more remarkable by the fact that the club went into the season with a squad of seventeen players, which they did not supplement at any stage. Astonishing as after the opening day of the League season they had three players out with long term injuries. Of the other fourteen one, the reserve goalkeeper Geoff Barnett, did not make a single appearance all season. Two others, Peter Marinello and Sammy Nelson, started just one and three matches in the campaign. You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out that the other eleven were pretty busy for a while. And we think we are down to the bare bones now.

On 21st November 1970 we welcomed central defender Peter Simpson and midfielder Jon Sammels back into the team for the first time in what would become an historic season. At Ipswich we secured a one-nil win courtesy of Geordie Armstrong’s second-half strike, but more importantly we now had more than a dozen outfield players to pick from. Sammels, scorer of the clincher in the previous season’s European Fairs Cup triumph was a welcome addition to a functional midfield shorn of his passing ability and fierce shot.

A week later Jon featured again in a 2-0 win over Liverpool but the substitute was George Graham, who went on to score. There were mutterings in the crowd now used to seeing Peter Storey and Eddie Kelly battling whoever wanted to stop us playing, while George Graham strolled forward to telling affect and Geordie Armstrong supplied a stream of crosses on which the twin battering rams of John Radford and Ray Kennedy feasted.

It seemed that Jon was contesting a place with ‘Gorgeous George’, and although more skillful the former was struggling to regain match fitness. Graham’s goals gave him the edge although he too did not enjoy universal acclaim from a tough Highbury crowd frustrated at both for a perceived casual approach at times.

Jon replaced Eddie Kelly for the next match, a 4-0 romp against Beveren Waas, and stood in for George again for the impressive 2-0 defeat of Manchester City at Maine Road. There followed a run of seventeen matches when Bertie Mee decided to go for a blend of beauty and the beast where Jon replaced Eddie Kelly in the starting line-up. At the start of February Charlie George, who had broken his ankle on the opening day of the season, returned in an FA Cup replay against Portsmouth. George Graham lost the number eleven shirt and Jon held on to his place until a Fairs Cup nightmare against Cologne in March.The boo boys got to him and the more prolific scorer returned to the team.

He would not start a game in an Arsenal shirt again, although ironically in the next match, at Crystal Palace when he was dropped to the bench, he came on to score a typical Sammels strike in a 2-0 win. That was his last goal for the club. He made two further appearances from the bench, firstly in the FA Cup semi-final which Peter Storey turned round single-handedly against Stoke, and finally at the end of April in a 2-2 draw at West Bromwich which I attended.

I wish I had known I wouldn’t see him in red and white again. In the wake of the Fairs Cup Final triumph a year earlier I had written to him asking for advice on striking a football (he had the fiercest shot on him) and how to improve my game. I didn’t expect a response, and certainly not a hand-written one that stretched to four pages of velum. I was already a fan, but at thirteen I was understandably overwhelmed at his kindness.

As the double was secured Jon had already decided he could no longer accept his treatment from the segment of the Highbury crowd who had turned on him. Bob Wilson was quoted in Jon Spurling’s excellent Highbury: The Story Of Arsenal In N5 thus,

“Jon was my room-mate and the night before the FA Cup final, he was seriously choked up. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for him to miss out on the climax to the Double season, after he’d been at Highbury all those years. You hate to hear one of your team-mates receiving criticism from the crowd. Fans have a much bigger influence on players than they think.”

It the ensuing summer Jimmy Bloomfield, an experienced player at Arsenal when the teenage Sammels surfaced, paid £100,000 to take him to Leicester, where Jon would stay for seven seasons as a mainstay of what many Foxes supporters would argue to be their most exciting side. Many Arsenal supporters would care to remember what had gone before.

A boyhood Arsenal supporter in his native Suffolk, Jon joined Arsenal as a 16 year old in 1961. He made his debut at 17 and scored in a 2-3 defeat at Blackpool. He finally established himself in the 1965-66 season, sharing the playmaking duties with George Eastham, an England international. In November of that season Arsenal played a Brazil XI, preparing for the World Cup tournament won by England the following summer. Jon scored in each half as Arsenal beat the reigning world champions 2-0.

With Eastham’s departure Jon became the Gunners playmaker and soon found himself surrounded with familiar faces as Bertie Mee increasingly gave responsibility to the youth assembled largely around the Billy Wright era. Bob Wilson, Peter Storey, Peter Simpson, John Radford, Geordie Armstrong. He won admirers as a stylish passer with good control in either foot and a devastating shot. I was in the Clock End in 1969 when he slammed the goal of the season past Manchester United’s Alex Stepney from over thirty yards out. I can see it today. A special memory.

That season ended with his glorious chest down and cross shot inside the far post against Anderlecht, thus securing the first trophy my generation saw the Arsenal win. For that reason alone he would live in the memory, but the man who went on to become a driving instructor in Leicester (let that sink in David Bentley and your ilk) will always be fondly remembered by most who saw him proudly wearing the cannon on his chest.

So sad that an ignorant few deprived us of a talent that may have helped us avoid the all too quick return to temporary mediocrity so soon after that double triumph.

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I think I have said before, and probably more than once, that if the mark of a good side is one that picks up wins when playing badly, then we must be world-beaters. Quite frankly right now we’ll take the three points any way we can get them, whilst offering up prayers to all of the Gods thanking them for Alexis Sanchez and his continuing fitness.

For the second match running we scored twice away from home to seal victory, but this was not a smash and grab of the type witnessed in Brussels. This was a win ground out by a squad desperately looking to gel, and owed much to Sunderland’s current crisis of confidence.

To be fair to the mackems they started brightly and Arsenal’s defence, again incorporating Nacho Monreal as a central defender, held firm. Arsene had presumably anticipated as much, and paired Mikel Arteta with Mathieu Flamini in front of the back four as added insurance. An interesting decision, for certain, and the end result provides justification for that selection.

The contest was developing with a hint of an edge after Rodwell’s awful lunge on Calum Chambers resulted in nothing more than a talking to from Kevin Friend, who went on to book three players from each side for less serious offences. These continuing inconsistencies frustrate supporters everywhere and once again chants of “You don’t know what your doing” rang around the ground.

As Arsenal imposed themselves on the match Danny Welbeck hit a curler from outside the box just over. Santi Cazorla was off target looking to test a nervous looking former Gunner, Vito Mannone. Generally though we struggled to create much against Sunderland’s massed ranks of defence until they actually did it for us. Wes Brown’s horrendous mis-hit backpass sent the industrious Alexis scampering clear to lift the ball over Mannone’s left shoulder. One nil to the Arsenal, and a bit early for the ‘holic pound I thought at the time.

The first half, and what was to follow as the match drew to a close, was a demonstration of how valuable the Chilean has already become for us. He allies pace, wonderful technical ability, calm finishing, and a work ethic bettered by not one of his colleagues. He works his socks off for the side. When eventually we have got a functioning midfield he could be an absolute revelation. That we haven’t was evident and must remain a mystery to the manager and his coaching staff.

Sunderland again came out determined after the break and Rodwell’s header was as close as they would come to getting an equaliser. Oh the irony had it gone in. The fierce undercurrent remained. Steven Fletcher hobbled off and was followed by Kieran Gibbs, Just what we needed, another defensive injury. Per Mertesacker didn’t look to be moving too freely, but then does he ever? He remained the rock on which our back four hangs, surrounded by three full-backs, one a rookie.

I used the word soporific to describe events in Belgium and the same adjective describes this second-half. The longer it went on the more we retreated and looked to hit on the break. Tired legs were replaced too late I thought, Ramsey and Rosicky coming on for Arteta and the out of sorts Ox in the closing minutes.

There remained the sight of Mannone making a complete and utter hash of controlling a ball and presenting the ever alert Alexis with his second goal, and denying me a tidy little win into the bargain.

Not surprisingly the manager was keen to praise the matchwinner afterwards.

“He took advantage of the mistakes they made, but as well, he has super quality, Sanchez. He has has quick feet and that’s why he wins many balls that normal players don’t win. In transition from offence to defence, he is very quick and wins the ball back very quickly, and you can take advantage of that.”

He certainly dug us out of a hole today. Let’s hope we can build on our improving fortune, and our yet to improve form.

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So we are looking for a turning point. Or did that arrive in the final two minutes in Brussels? Arsenal’s need for three points at Sunderland this weekend is more about establishing, or maintaining, some momentum. We had hoped that the win at Villa Park would be the springboard for a healthy run of confidence-boosting performances. It wasn’t. As Arsene conceded in his press conference we are consistent, but not yet efficient. That’s one way of putting it.

Sunderland have good reason to produce the sort of concerted defensive performance against which we have struggled so far this season. Last week’s eight goal drubbing at Southampton could affect them in a number of ways. With the attacking otions available to us we should really go for the jugular, but ruthless we have not been thus far. Have the manager and his coaching staff got the message right this week? A purple patch will materialise, and the sooner the better.

The team news is that Jack Wilshere is ruled out by suspension, and only Wojciech Szczesny will be back, although Theo Walcott should hopefully be available next week. The Polish ‘keeper will probably return behind an unchanged back four, Nacho Monreal’s experience likely to give him the edge over a recall for Hector Bellerin.

It is in midfield where the interesting selections lie. The engine room was the strength of the side when we clicked last season but it is fair, I think, to say they haven’t hit the ground running as yet this season. It would not be a surprise to see Mikel Arteta return in place of the shouting, pointing, and clapping leader that is Mathieu Flamini. Aaron Ramsey probably has a box to box role nailed on, Which means a choice between Santi Cazorla or Tomas Rosicky in as a ‘number ten’.

Alexis must be the first name on the teamsheet on one flank, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may get the other, although Lukas Podolski will be hoping his last-gasp winner against Anderlecht will see him in the frame to link up with Danny Welbeck.

Sunderland have their own injury problems, particularly at the back. Does that sound familiar. They don’t have the bodies to make wholesale changes to the side humbled last week, but we all know that under such circumstances a team can produce a reaction.

It is important that Arsenal start brightly and pressurise a Mackem side who will surely start nervously. Allowing them an early foothold would encourage those on the pitch and in the stands alike. The home support is key to restoring confidence to their heroes. Let’s keep them quiet and apply pressure from the off.

The ‘holic pound is guided by caution, made nervous by our two wins in eight league starts. Sunderland will attempt to defend in depth and strike on the counter. We have lacked creativity largely so far. A famous scoreline appeals. One nil to the Arsenal is also the bookies favourite, but 7/1 looks decent value to me.

To those making the long jouney to the north-east, have a good trip and here’s hoping the boys put on a performance for you and secure a second consecutive win. To the rest of you let’s hope that there are some decent streams around to enable us to follow the action from afar.

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Don’t forget that you can get your favourite classic retro shirts with 20% off at Campo Retro. Check the range out here, and use the discount code FLASH20 this weekend to secure a great deal on your favourite shirt.

Have a great weekend, ‘holics.

Football books sell. It is why we have such a choice of Arsenal titles in recent months. Books about your favourite clubs, players even, have a magnetic attraction. More people, it seems, write about the Arsenal than any other club and so there should be no surprise at the number of books about the Gunners that have hit the shelves in recent months. There have been some crackers too, from Arseblog’s Together through to Dave Seager’s much anticipated Geordie Armstrong On The Wing in tandem with Geordie’s daughter, Jill.

The former is a celebration of Arsenal’s undefeated Premier League season from the supporters viewpoint, and today (Thursday as I write) saw the release of Amy Lawrence’s excellent view of that same historic campaign through the eyes of those who planned, directed, and delivered an unequalled achievement in modern football at the highest level.

In fourteen gripping chapters Invincible, well what else would you call it, relives an historic season through interviews, match reports of the day, and a subtle guiding hand from the rather less than impartial, but always objective, Amy. Her access to the characters involved enables this season to be relived by those of us fortunate to have witnessed it, but reveals the things we didn’t know, or have since forgotten.

The perfect foreword is provided by Arsene Wenger. Under pressure, certainly, at present, but the man who put together the squad that would fulfil what seemed an absurd target.

“I knew I had a special team in 2003-04 at Arsenal. It had always been my dream to go through a season without losing, even though it is not a normal ambition.”

And so to part one of the book, although the temptation to jump to and fro to capture special memories is great. I wanted to get to Liverpool at home and Totttenham away as soon as possible. Try instead though to follow it as written because the introductory chapter introduces the rivalry that existed between Manchester United and us, and puts into context that infamous Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty miss, and the subsequent events. Read Martin Keown proclaiming himself as Patrick Vieira’s minder. That speaks volumes about Martin, and the sheer physical presence of that team. This is not a strictly chronological account, but a well constructed appreciation of the characters and events that impacted so many of us for life.

Again by means of setting the scene David Dein waxes lyrical about the decision, not taken when George Graham left in 1995 but when his successor Bruce Rioch departed little more than a year later, to appoint Arsene Wenger to the post of Arsenal manager. Regardless of what has happened since, Dein’s recollections and his role in the appointment warrant an acknowledgement of his vision at that time.

The characters introduced, and the context set, let yourself follow the unfolding drama through the words of Sol Campbell (re Thierry Henry) “He was very delicate sometimes, like an artist. I’m sure he would be like some kind of Picasso.” Or perhaps Freddie Ljungberg, “I didn’t understand a word Ray Parlour in his cockney accent was trying to say when I first got there, but I learned, because everybody tried to interact with each other in their language.”

Before long you will find yourself at the pivotal part of the season, and the author rebuilds the feelings when successive cup defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea were followed by a half-time deficit to Liverpool in the Premier League. No quotes about this, you will have to buy the book, but I feel a chill down my spine one more time. Will anybody who witnessed the events of that week ever forget what was arguably Thierry’s finest half in an Arsenal shirt?

I cautioned against jumping ahead of yourself earlier, but if you cannot resist then you might care to read the early chapters and then leapfrog to chapter ten. Here the capture of the ultimate prize in English football is also set in context. Be prepared to join Pat Rice on a journey from 1971 to 2004. For this old boy it evokes wonderful memories of a night spent on the Shelf watching us secure the title for the first time in my life. Who then would have dared to dream we would repeat the achievement?

And that is the essence of the book. No matter your age in 2004, prepare to have deep rooted memories brought back to the forefront of the mind. I sat reading my idols words as they would have spoken them. Skillfully strung together, and still provoking the odd emotion that no man should admit to.

If you were there in 71 and/or 2004, buy the book. If only now do you appreciate that we probably had four of the six best payers on the planet back then, buy the book and read their words. Let me make it simple. If you are an Arsenal supporter, buy the book.

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Thanks all. Sunderland preview to follow on Friday. Have a good end of week, ‘holics.

What looked like being a humiliating evening was turned on it’s head in the last two minutes in Brussels as Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski turned a single goal deficit around in remarkable fashion. A sluggish (Alexis Sanchez aside) Arsenal found two moments of inspiration after a very pedestrian performance to that point.

In the early stages the first chance was created by Alexis with a glorious cut-back into the path of Santi Cazorla who was unfortunately high, wide, and handsome with his shinned effort. As early as the eighth minute Nacho Monreal was yellow-carded for a body check on Cryiac, which put the stand-in central defender on a tightrope for the rest of the match. On eleven minutes Santi was presented with another chance when Danny Welbeck was upended on the edge of the box, but the free-kick hit the wall.

On fifteen minutes Alexis again crossed from the right and a stretching Welbeck just failed to get enough on the header. That miss heralded a sloppy phase with players on both sides lucky not to join Nacho in the referee’s notebook. Emiliano Martinez made his first save fom Praet’s deflected effort. As the half drew to a close Per Mertesacker headed Santi’s corner over the top at the near post. In truth it was soporific stuff.

The opening minute of the second-half saw Welbeck come close to wriggling free along the goal-line but a ricocheted clearance found the Anderlecht ‘keeper. After Conte’s effort was deflected wide it was Arsenal who came close again. Alexis’ flicked ‘shoulder’ from nigh on point-blank range once again nestled in Proto’s arms. Ten minutes into the half and fit-again Aaron Ramsey scuffed an efort wide with that man Alexis once more the provider.

The 58th minute saw Martinez called on to produce another save and momentarily the home crowd were lifted. Four minutes later Praet blazed one high over the top and that was repeated by Alexis at the other end after Cazorla was denied by Proto. Welbeck’s night was summed up by a booking minutes later as he chased back in the centre circle. His work rate is second to none, but with the supply scarce he cut a frustrated figure.

So did 1100 visiting supporters on 71 minutes when Najar was left free to head home after Monreal and Mertesacker were dragged out of the centre to cover Kieran Gibbs flank to no avail. One could be forgiven for thinking Monreal’s poor attempt to cut out the cross owed a lot to his early booking. Cue a double substitution of Oxlade-Chamberlain for Flamini, and Campbell for Welbeck. I don’t mind I was scratching my head at the choice of the two players hooked. With Flamini missing we miraculously avoided having the deficit doubled on the break when Vanden Borre’s effort hit the woodwork and Najar fired into the side netting.

Into the final ten minutes Deschacht was the first home player into the book for a foul on Jack Wilshere, and the Alexis free-kick was desperately close, but not close enough. At the other end young Martinez kept Arsenal’s hopes alive as the defence in front of him crumbled. Then astonishingly the full-backs, struggling defensively, combined for a spectacular equaliser with just two minutes left on the clock. Kieran Gibbs finish was exquisite.

Unbelievably as the clock passed ninety minutes Lukas Podolski, brought on late for Jack Wilshere was the beneficiary of another Sanchez set-up and stole the three points for the visitors, and doubtless left sub-editors scrambling to change the crisis headlines and remove the broken cannons from the back pages. In truth though there was no doubt that this was pure smash and grab by the visitors. Struggling for form, ravaged by injuries, could the club now draw strength and confidence from that final telling two minutes?

Happy birthday Arsene. Here is hoping this is a turning point.

PS, Invincible out now

As I type you can now buy Amy Lawrence’s excellent book Invincible, packed with the recollections of those who engineered and achieved the unbeaten Premier League season in 2003/4. A fuller review will be the next post on Goonerholic. For now the easiest way for UK subscribers to buy is to click on the Amazon ad in the sidebar of this blog. Trust me, it will be money well spent.

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