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An Air Of Expectation

Knocking on a wee bit I may be, but there is something about the start of this season that has me regressing, and in a good way. When was the last time the buzz was this strong? I cannot honestly say but it is most certainly what some would label ‘a while’.

A World Cup summer means there hasn’t been much of a break for the best players, or indeed the best clubs. Yet in that time Arsenal have done some excellent business and although we are probably in need of another couple of additions to strengthen our title claims further there is a look of quality and depth in the squad. If you haven’t already you can hear more of my thoughts on this week’s excellent Arsecast, which also features the always chatty and excellent Philippe Auclair.

That Laurent Koscielny is expected to be fit has eased the only nagging doubt about the starting eleven for the visit of Crystal Palace. With Per Mertesacker and his World Cup winning colleagues ruled out it is important that the Kos is able to line up alongside Calum Chambers in the heart of the defence.

Trickiest selection headache for Arsene is in midfield. Even without Mesut Ozil there is some real quality fighting for essentially three places. I would imagine if all are fit then Arsene will go with the Community Shield winning trio of Mikel Arteta holding, Aaron Ramsey from box to box, and Jack Wilshire at the pointed end.

Rambo aside, I am most looking forward to see a likely starting attacking trio of Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, and Santi Cazorla. There is a potentially amazing blend of pace, trickery, and strength in that combination. Of course Alexis has to get used to his new team mates but there were signs at Wembley last week that we have a really hardworking talent who will support Mathieu Debuchy as well as pose defenders serious problems when we are going forward.

What sort of state Palace arrive in is anyones guess. The eleventh hour departure of Tony Pulis could work both ways. Most of the preparation will have been done by Thursday night, and it may dawn on the visitors that they are now auditioning for a new gaffer. Similarly they may feel rudderless. Think what you will of Pulis, and I will never forget him for his behaviour post Rambo’s broken leg and subsequently, he performed something of a miracle keeping Palace up last season. As Liverpool discovered, hilariously to many, the South Londoners were no pushover come the end of the season.

The first ‘holic pound of the new season (I don’t count Rambo to score last week. It was inevitable) is punted on a positive outcome, not surprisingly to you I’m sure. Our recent history on opening day isn’t good, I know, but I am going for a complete reversal of that trend. To get any value at all I’m on 5-0 to the Gunners at 28/1. That’s more than double the ludicrously short odds on winning 4 or less to nil.

To those who are going it looks as though the forecast is for a warm and sunny August Saturday afternoon. Perfect for lazing in the pub garden with a half pint or two of something refreshing beforehand. I’ll see some of you there. The first day of any seaon always starts with a great sense of expectation. It doesn’t always end so but there is something in the air, a better atmosphere it seems. Let’s get of to a flier and maintain that positivity.

A reminder for Fantasy League enthusiasts The Goonerholic FPL has now been set up for the coming season, so please feel free to join us for a bit of fun at http://fantasy.premierleague.com. The code for joining the league is 1429286-330554.

Have a good one ‘holics.

Well that was fun, wasn’t it? Arsenal (no mention of the missing World Cup Germans or that we started with Olivier Giroud on the bench) thrashed a (media emphasis, much-weakened) Manchester City 3-0.

Arsene surprised a few with his selection of Yaya Sanogo to start in the main striking role, and although the former Auxerre youngster missed a golden opportunity to double Arsenal’s advantage in the first-half he contributed two assists as a rampant Arsenal simply overpowered the City midfield, Yaya Toure and a certain Mr Nasri included.

From the off the Gunners coveted possession and City were reduced to attempt countering on the occasional break. Arsenal’s right flank, with new boys Mathieu Debuchy and Alexis Sanchez prominent asked questions that the champions couldn’t find the answers to. Early chances were traded, Clichy heading clear under pressure from Sanogo and then Debuchy and Alexis retreated to thwart Nasri and Fernando respectively.

The lead that Arsenal richly deserved came in the 21st minute. Alexis fed Sanogo on the edge of the box and he found Santi Cazorla who made room for a left foot drive into the far corner. Remember the play, because you will see more of the same this season, I’m sure. In fact we did just 22 minutes later. Alexis burst down the right with pace and fed Sanogo on the edge of the box who in turn set up Aaron Ramsey for yet another Wembley finish from the scorer of the FA Cup winner in May.

It was mesmeric stuff, an intoxicating blend of passing and movement at pace with the ball, and solid defending with new boy Calum Chambers catching the eye alongside Laurent Koscielny. Few wanted the half-time whistle to arrive, but it did and signalled a trio of substitutions by Arsene. That of Nacho Monreal for Koscielny is the most concerning, given that it was because of an Achilles problem for the French international. With Per Mertesacker unlikely to figure next weekend it means we could face Palace with the Chambers and Nacho Monreal partnership that played the second-half at Wembley.

Alexis made way for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and, most significantly, Giroud came on for Sanogo. After City had twice tested Szczesny it was the big Frenchman who calmed the nerves, thumping a glorious left footer home from 22 yards out while surrounded by three blue-shirted defenders. In truth that knocked the stuffing out of a dispirited City. Their half-hearted attacks foundered more often than not on the rock that was Chambers today. He may struggle to get a game when we are back to full strength, but how often do we stay in that happy state?

Indeed looking at all three new boys who started today it seems clear that the squad is stronger already, although another couple of quality acquisitions would be welcome. Chambers, if as versatile as he is being touted, could do a more than adequate job in three roles. Debuchy I thought was excellent as an attacking wing-back. The quality of his crossing was a delight to the eye, but defensively he may need to concentrate a little more, having been beaten a little too easily a couple of times in the first-half. Nobody will be surprised, I’m sure, to hear me being effusive about Alexis. He seems to have so many qualities, and all allied to a willingness to work his socks off from back to front, on the right, and in the centre of the park. I’m salivating at the prospect of watching him play with Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott.

Yet from effusive it is time to plant one’s feet firmly on the ground again. Thirty-eight Premier League matches lie ahead. Beating the champions in a friendly, albeit a competitive and prestigious friendly, doesn’t put any points on the board. In the coming nine months we will hopefully close the gap on City that existed last season. We were the best team of the calendar year of 2013. Now let’s convert that to being the best team for a season, just for the fourteenth time.

 

The return of the domestic season brings with it a familiar old routine. Listen to Arsene’s presser, and put together a preview bigging up the Gunners chances of success in the fixture to come. Or maybe not, this week. It is the last week until next May when the result is secondary to the performance. We meet the reigning champions at Wembley for the Community Shield. Silverware it may be, but not important enough to be painted on a hoarding at the Grove.

What we do need to do is serve notice to Manchester City, and our other rivals in the coming months, that the soft centre brutally exposed by others on occasion last season is a thing of the past, even without our three World Cup winners. It will be more than a little interesting to see the eleven that Arsene starts with after the mixed messages he would have got last weekend. After what would be regarded as a second string had dismantled Benfica, a senior eleven failed to see off the challenge of Monaco.

If I were to guess how we we line-up I would imagine this might be an opportunity for David Ospina to make his debut in goal. Arsene knows well the shape that Wojciech Szczesny is in and the Pole is surely starting the season as number one, but a first appearance at Wembley would be quite the way to start the Colombian’s acclimatisation to English football. With Per Mertesacker missing there is an opportunity for Calum Chambers to partner Laurent Koscielny in the centre of defence, flanked by Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs.

Most intriguing of all are the midfield options. If Arsene sticks with his preferred formation from last season then Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey could form the base, with Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla flanking Tomas Rosicky in the main playmaking role. Given their respective performances last weekend there must be a temptation for Arsene to start Yaya Sanogo ahead of Olivier Giroud up front, but my hunch is that the latter will get the nod in a bid to get his match fitness closer to the expected level.

Even without our Germans that would leave a strong looking bench including Szczesny, Nacho Monreal, Jack Wilshere, Mathieu Flamini, Joel Campbell, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as well as the in-form Hector Bellerin. The Arsenal old boys, or Manchester City as they prefer to be known, provide a stern test, and as it is only a prelude to the new season I will not be risking the ‘holic pound on the outcome. Having said that, Aaron Ramsey to score at anytime looks an interesting proposition at 4/1.

To those going, I hope you have a wonderful day out, as ever.

Farewell skipper

It was as inevitable as it was sad that Thomas Vermaelen’s association with the club ended today with a move to our other old boys, Barcelona. Thomas was an excellent servant and a quality central defender unlucky to be around at the same time as we had Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. From captain to back-up must be a very difficult adaptation to make, but I saw at first hand his positive and enthusiastic approach at the club’s pre-Cup Final presser. At 28 the Belgian international wants regular first team football and at Barca he has an excellent chance of achieving that. Yes, we need a replacement, but that is for another day. For now can we just wish the departing Vermaelen all the best for his future, and thanks for what he brought to Arsenal Football Club.

The Goonerholic Fantasy Premier League

This has now been set up for the coming season, so please feel free to join us for a bit of fun at http://fantasy.premierleague.com. The code for joining the league is 1429286-330554.

That’s it for now. Have a great Sunday, ‘holics.

A Brief Friday Round Up

A long week has passed, and in truth has there been much concrete news to comment on? The only thing you can say with any certainty tonight (Friday) is that we will face Besiktas in the Champions League qualifier. On the face of it the draw has been kind, but are there any easy games in Turkey these days? There is a nice little sub-plot to the fixture with former young Gunner, Oggy Ozyakup, set to play against the club who sold him to Besiktas two years ago. Perhaps it is wise to introduce a note of caution. The Turks qualified with a 5-2 aggregate thumping of Feyenoord. Enough of a warning against any complacency, surely.

There have been no further major additions to the squad this week and the boss appeared to rule out a move for Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira, although it is hard to believe that any links were entirely orchestrated by the player’s agent in this particular instance. Further activity is anticipated, both in and out. I couldn’t help but smile when I read reports, as yet unconfirmed, that we had accepted a smaller offer from Barcelona than Manchester United for Thomas Vermaelen. Having said that the Catalans, unlike the Lancastrians, are rivals in Europe this season…

Moving swiftly on. Those who attended, and remember (yes, I saw the tweets!) yesterday’s Members Day at Arsenal seem well pleased with the entertainment provided, either at the stadium or in a local hostelry or two afterwards. The Junior Gunners in particularly were well looked after, and some enjoyed taking on their idols on the pitch as can be seen below. Thank you to Arsenal for sharing the images of the day.

All of which leaves the preview of Sunday’s Community Shield encounter with Manchester City until tomorrow. There is some talk tonight of Bacary Sagna not featuring for his new club. We shall see.

Have a fabulous Saturday, all.

I was struck by a hint of deja vu this afternoon. Forty-three years ago, almost to the day, I was at Highbury to see Arsenal beat a cracking Benfica side, including the great Eusebio, 6-2 in a pre-season friendly. Nobody expected that degree of victory that day, and Arsenal would go on to surprise and delight in the opening months of that season with their interpretation of total football, made fashionable by the great Ajax side of the era.

Today the new look, and decidedly under-strength Gunners almost repeated the achievement, mastering the Europa League finalists 5-1, and again it has to be said the manner of the victory was as unexpected as it was impressive. Arsenal took to the field minus their holidaying three German World Cup winners, and started with something of a who’s who on the bench comprising, among others, new boys Mathieu Debuchy and Alexis Sanchez, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, plus Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, and Olivier Giroud.

Some idea of the potential strength of the squad was evidenced by the performances of a number of squad players plus new signing Calum Chambers, a right back at Southampton last season, but paired with left-back Nacho Monreal in the centre of the Gunners defence. From the right flank of that defence Hector Bellerin gave an impressive display, getting forward at every opportunity. Behind them Damian Martinez, presumably still third choice goalkeeper following the arrival of David Ospina, produced a string of smart saves as the visitors broke dangerously.

The midfield saw Mathieu Flamini anchoring and thereby allowing attacking freedom to Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky, both of whom showed enormous energy and enthusiasm chasing back as well as probing further forward. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and (at last) Joel Campbell worked the flanks. Campbell looked unfortunate not to get a very early penalty, but his time would come.

Yaya Sanogo got the nod to start as the central striker. A bit of a Marmite figure for the supporter base with his failure to score last season, although his chances were few and far between and usually in high-pressure fixtures against good opposition. Today he gave a hint of what he could become. An early attempt from a Bellerin cross missed the target, but his next four efforts required retrieving from the back of the net. Bellerin and Ramsey combined to set him up for the first in the 25th minute, a simple backheel flick.

Sanogo then combined with Bellerin to set up Campbell for a superb volley and we had doubled our advantage. There followed an astonishing four minute burst either side of the break which saw Sanogo plunder another three goals as Benfica fell apart. Campbell provided the assist for number three after cleverly avoiding the offside trap, Kieran Gibbs set up the pick of Sanogo’s goals, an intricate near-post finish under pressure, before he was gifted an opportunity to start the second-half with another from a parried Moraes save.

The midfield was substituted just before the hour, and from a set piece Arsenal’s lack of height and organisation allowed Gaitan to head home a consolation. Were this not a makeshift back four one might have been inclined to worry more. The players will doubtless go over what happened in the week before a stronger defence lines up against Manchester City at Wembley. A word for new boy Chambers. He’ll have more strenuous tests of his ability than a demoralised Benfica provided after a lively intial burst, but what he did was assured and he must be in the frame to partner Laurent Koscielny at Wembley next week.

There was time for the moment most in attendance came to see. Alexis was intoduced on the left flank for the final seventeen minutes, and showed some wonderful touches. He has undoubted class and will bring pace and trickery to the attack this season. Should Campbell and Sanogo build on today, Podolski and Giroud gain fitness quickly, and Theo Walcott return before long, our attacking options suddenly look much rosier. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t expect us to add a proven goalscorer should one become available, but we look much better stocked than this time last year.

Beforehand I spoke of the need to sit back and take a wider view of the performances this weekend. As a draw or defeat with this starting eleven would not have been a cause for pitchforks and torches, so the impressive win should not provoke too much celebration and expectation. By half-time Benfica had visibly crumbled, and most Premier League opponents will test us more severely. However they were reduced to that level by some astonishing attacking football from Arsenal, and some quality finishing from Campbell and Sanogo. It’s where we would want to be tonight.

Football Is Coming Home

So with friendlies in the contrasting settings of Boreham Wood and New York behind us the bar is raised just a little for the return of the Emirates Cup. Arsenal face Benfica on Saturday and AS Monaco on Sunday in front of two sell-out crowds. The two visiting sides will also play Valencia. Hopefully a decent weekend of football lies in store.

Of course the supporters will be looking forward to grabbing a look at the available new signings. Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy, and Calum Chambers are all expected to feature although new goalkeeper David Ospina is ruled out with a thigh injury picked up against Brazil in the World Cup. Arsene confirmed that Joel Campbell will also feature so here is hoping he impresses in an area that remains under question for us.

Our World Cup winners are still on holiday getting a well-earned rest so there will be an opportunity for some other squad members to stake a claim for starting berths when the Premier League season kicks off in a fortnight. Ignasi Miquel may get at least one start alongside Laurent Koscielny with Thomas Vermaelen also ruled out by injury. Maybe Chambers will also get a chance to show his versatility in that position.

Mesut Ozil’s playmaker role should fall to Tomas Rosicky or Santi Cazorla. I can see Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta being paired at the base at least once, with maybe an opportunity for Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini in the other fixture. In the absence of Lukas Podolski it would not be a surprise to see Alexis starting on the left flank opposite the Ox on the other wing.

The accepted practice is for Twitter and Facebook to provide a minute by minute assessment of where we stand. Try instead sitting back, taking a wider view of the matches. These will not be played with a full intensity given the stage of preparation we have reached. Consider them more as opportunities to get the new faces accustomed to what is expected of them, and the old heads to sharpen up physically. As Arsene himself said,

“It is a real test of fitness and of tactical preparation. I am more interested in the fitness.”

Arsenal last won their own tournament four years ago. Last year Galatasaray took the trophy with two late goals against us in the Sunday decider. As we went on to get the no silverware in x years monkey off our shoulder I think we can agree that success this weekend is merely an optional extra.

If you are going then have a great day or weekend. I am ruled out until the opening Premiership fixture against Crystal Palace so I will be envious of you tomorrow. I must admit I would love to be there for a first glimpse of Alexis, potentially a great addition to the squad.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Friends made, Arsenal’s makeshift squad departed New York having lost to the Red Bulls in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Sadly not all ticket holders reached the stadium but those that did gave tremendous vocal backing to the touring Gunners.

In truth they got a very watered down Arsenal experience in return, but one that was necessitated by the absence of so many of Arsenal’s World Cup stars. We started with Tomas Rosicky up front, and with Nacho Monreal partnering Isaac Hayden in the centre of defence.

The pleasure of seeing Thierry Henry once more was counter-balanced by the sight of Tim Cahill launching into reckless challenges. This was not a friendly in his eyes, clearly. Henry it was who had the first clear opportunity and Wojciech Szczesny was grateful to turn the effort wide. Bradley, son of Ian Wright Wright Wright, failed from a similar angle and both Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey went close for the visitors.

The goal that would decide the match arrived just past the half hour when Wright-Phillips applied the finishing touch to an Oyongo knock down from point blank range. Had we been fielding two experienced central defenders that goal would have rung alarm bells, but under the circumstances it was a minor irritant. Our best chance to level came shortly afterwards when Jack Wilshire was denied by the excellent Robles in the Red Bulls goal.

Not surprisingly Arsene rung the changes at half-time and the introduction of, among others, Abou Diaby gave us a different shape. The injury-plagued Frenchman had the ball in the net only to have his celebrations cut short by an offside flag.

At least we did field a striker in the second-half. Chuba Akpom, like Wilshere before him, found Robles in the way when put clear. In truth though chances at either end were few and far between as the game petered out.

As a football exercise we probably gained little. I felt for Zelalem, built up pre-match, a wonderful creator of chances but with no striker to pick out. A little too for Monreal, like a fish out of water at centre-half. Such observations seem harsh. With so many good players yet to feature we have yet to take shape. Three big weeks lie ahead.

In diplomatic mood the boss praised Thierry and our hosts afterwards.

“For us it was a great experience, everybody enjoyed it and nobody wants to go home. It was a short trip but a very exciting one because New York is a special city. But what is even more special for us is how popular football is now.”

Therein lies the reality. This was an exercise in promoting football in general, and Arsenal in particular, in a valuable market. The sight of so many Arsenal shirts in the crowd last night was proof that the objectives had been achieved.

Welcome David Ospina

It is good to see confirmation of the signing of Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina from Nice. I think anybody who witnessed his performances in the World Cup will agree we have definitely strengthened a key position. At 25 his best years lie ahead and he will surely push Wojciech Szczesny hard for a starting berth.

Huge thanks to our own, inimitable, Bergkamp the Man for a unique account and pics of his Saturday out at Boreham Wood. I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I. Thank you maestro.

With no other sporting event of any real significance on offer in this very fine, ‘Better Together’, United Kingdom, what other option could take precedence for a footie starved Gooner over the annual trip to Boreham Wood? “A10 to Potters Bar, take the first right and you can’t miss Meadow Park” (Well, you can, actually but that’s another story).

When, in 1948, Boreham Rovers and Royal Retournez pooled their resources to form the mighty “Wood”, little could they have realized that 66 years later they’d open a brand spanking new West Stand in the presence of Lord Wenger, in temperatures that nearly melted the very fibre of the new structure itself. Nor could they have dreamt that the young Welsh Wizard himself, Aaron Aragorn Ramsey, would captain The Arsenal for the first time, but by no means the last time, in a career that promises previously unreached pinnacles, exhaltation and euphoric reverberation throughout the valleys filled with leeks.

The local Hertfordshire Blackhead sheep flock had munched the Meadow perfectly and uniformly to a luxurious emerald carpet. Rows and flows of angel hair drifted across and sky of azure blue perfection and ‘Alexis’ shirts were too numerous to count on tiny Gooners, smaller than the number 17 on their backs. The atmosphere was carnival, lacking toffee apples and steam-engine-powered organ chords, but supplemented instead by the inevitable chorus of “if you hate, Tottenham….” all washed down with chilled, secretly smuggled, Guinness. ‘Hic’

And suddenly, there they were, resplendent in Puma and ready to pounce, The Arsenal, in their new blue and yellow away kit. Younger, and in several cases, difficult to recognize, “Who’s that playing Number 12 for us?”, but The Arsenal, nevertheless, unequivocally. “Wojcieck, Wojcieck, give us a wave”, an exchange of pennants, a shrill whistle and we were off to the races.

The Arsenal dominated the first half, but frankly, rarely looked like scoring. “Were we trying to?”, I wondered. Wonderboy Zelalem started well but faded quickly. Jenkinson had more acres than Donald Trump but didn’t do much with them. Sanogo worked hard and should have scored but failed to remove the albatross of “hasn’t yet converted” from around his neck. Ramsey’s quality lacked the spark of an equal or an Ozil to fire the exceptional. Jon Toral, doing a very fine impersonation of Aaron Ramsey, caught the eye, but not sufficiently to merit inclusion in the first team squad for the coming season. Try harder to impose yourself, young man. You have what it takes. Nacho impressed in a defense that was never really threatened.

These warm-ups provide the luxury of an entirely new eleven at the manager’s whim and so “All change” commanded Arsene after 45 minutes. And it was a different, much more purposeful Arsenal that the sunburned legions witnessed for the second segment, even without the Wunderkinder, Serge Gnabry and Eisfeld the Iceman.

Iggi Miguel has doubled his body mass since I saw him last (in the seven-goaler at Reading). He played well. Gibbsy stayed in second gear and was untroubled. Our number 8 (who was he? I never knew) was solid. Bellerin was outstanding and the Corporal will be really challenged for the right back berth if Debuchy goes lame. Flamini and Rosicky started where they left off last season and were excellent. Olsson, Afobe and Akpom (who really grew in confidence as the half progressed) looked sharper than tacks and before we knew it, we’d won 2-0 without ever needing to fire up more than five of our twelve cylinders.

But wait! This wouldn’t be a BtM report without a mention of the finest box-to-box midfielder that the world has never seen at his peak. I was very nervous for Abou Diaby from the first warm-up leap, through the first tackle, the first stretch and then the first kick. Abou is like your best china. You want to take him out and show him off but you’re scared shitless that he’ll break or chip and you’ll be left heart-broken.

I needn’t have worried. Diaby was imperious. He oozed quality, didn’t put a foot wrong and was the heartbeat of the second-half team. If he can stay fit, Sami Khedira will spend next season sitting on the bench beside Arsene watching in awe. “Will he?” is the big question.

The whistle blew. Abou swapped shirts. He looked over to where I was standing and gave me the “I’ll be absolutely fine this season, BtM” wink. You heard it FIRST right here on Goonerholic. Abou Diaby is going to play a MAJOR roll for The Arsenal this season AND I’m back on the double. (Champagne on me at the Tolly next May!)

Enjoy it, Holics! We have an amazingly strong squad and there’s more, much more, quality to come. It just keeps getting better over here on the sunny side. COYRRRs.

Arsenal Are Back, Again

3pm Saturday. A small but enthusiastic crowd gathers in Hertfordshire to witness the seasonal bow of the Arsenal squad, albeit with significant absentees in this World Cup summer. Arsenal are back, again, and hopefully to prepare for a season in which we build on the FA Cup triumph of a couple of months ago.

Most will have seen the match at Boreham Wood live, or on Arsenal Player, or will be catching up on the highlights. In a nutshell we fielded a side of young hopefuls surrounding a core of Wojciech Szczesny, Carl Jenkinson, Nacho Monreal, and Aaron Ramsey in a goal-less first half. Gedion Zelalem caught the eye with his ability to play defence-splitting passes as he did at this stage of last season.

There is a danger of reading too much into just one half of what is basically a step up from a training match. Zelalem remains an unpolished diamond and by the end of August our already impressive midfield options may have been strengthened further. The other side of the ‘too early to judge’ coin is the performance of Yaya Sanogo, slated on some tweets I saw. I don’t mind him missing chances against non-league opposition in the warm July sun. The fact he was in position so often is more encouraging.

After the break a fresh eleven built around Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Flamini, Abou Diaby, and Tomas Rosicky took the game to tiring opponents and eventually delivered the victory to send the largely Arsenal supporting crowd home happy. Diaby and the impressive Chuba Akpom both drew excellent saves from Russell in the Wood goal before Rosicky took on the mantle of master passer to set up Kris Olsson for a neat dinked finish over the goalkeeper midway through the half.

The winning margin was doubled in the closing minutes when Benik Afobe was bundled over in the six yard box and the same player netted comfortably from the spot.

In the aftermath Arsene Wenger signed autographs for the supporters and chatted with the assembled journalists. The inevitable topic of transfers came up.

“Sometimes players that you want are available very late. You refer maybe to the Ozil case but at the same period last year he was not available, and became available very late. We’ll do the deals when it’s possible.”

Of course we are in a much better position than this time last year with Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona, and this week Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle, added to the squad. These are quality signings that send out a strong message, but with improved commercial deals and an extra three percent of revenue from the supporters pockets in the bank clearly there is no reason why further quality additions won’t be made. An exciting few weeks lie ahead.

Meanwhile an exciting few days lie ahead of me in South Devon. I mention it only because last year internet connectivity in that particular part of the south west was something of a hit and miss affair. It may be a quiet week in advance of next weekend’s fixture in New York, by which time we may have yet more new signings confirmed.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

As Ian Poulter goes through his final preparations for The Open this weekend, the Englishman experienced a rather unusual encounter from a passionate group of Arsenal supporters.  The Golfing Gooner was given a little help from his fellow fans who brought some terrace atmosphere to the normally quieter golfing fairways.  The day became even more interesting when Poulter found Arsenal legend Freddie Ljungberg had taken the place of his caddie.

Ian Poulter once said home support really drives him on when he plays tournament golf in Britain, especially at The Open or Ryder Cup.  With his passion for football, PUMA arranged for an Arsenal contingent to give him a special send off for Hoylake.

Ian Poulter said: “Home support means a lot to me in England, it’s always inspiring and motivating to hear the fans cheering you on through eighteen holes on home soil. Obviously I’ve seen Arsenal play a lot throughout my life, and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in some very passionate Ryder Cup matches in recent years, so being part of this film that brought Arsenal fans together with a very different spectator sport like golf was a fantastic and unique experience.”

Well played PUMA for the enthusiastic approach to their new partnership with Arsenal. I might not have quite the right shape for the new shirt, but loving the promotion you are bringing to the club we all love.

Arsenal in the Community 2014 Awards

Arsenal in the Community held their annual awards ceremony in the Woolwich Suite at Emirates Stadium on Monday afternoon.

The event took place to recognise the achievements and work of 350 Arsenal in the Community participants over the course of the 2013/14 season. Among the projects celebrated were the club’s education initiative the Arsenal Double Club, the social inclusion programmes Kicks and Positive Futures and the long running Arsenal Bowles programme.

Arsenal legends Alan Smith and Perry Groves were on hand to congratulate the winners, along with representatives from Islington Council. A video message from Gunners midfielder Abou Diaby was also played out.

Another former Arsenal player, Roy Pack, was recognised for his contribution to the club’s community work. Roy, who played for the club in the 1960s, now volunteers with Arsenal’s mental health programme Imagine Your Goals.

After the ceremony, attendees had the opportunity to have their picture taken with the FA Cup. As luck would have it I missed out, unable to accept my invite, but I do still have a snap of a younger and fitter me with the Premier League trophy, FA Cup, and Community Shield from 2002. Some consolation, I think you will agree.

Head of Arsenal in the Community Alan Sefton said: “These awards are a great way for us to celebrate the achievements of the young people we work with, and to take stock of what we’ve achieved together over the past year. There are hundreds of people who make Arsenal in the Community what it is, and it’s brilliant to be able to thank them here at Emirates Stadium.”

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