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Driven To Distraction

I don’t get to too many away games, and so tend to look forward to them when I do get lucky with a ticket. This was my second of the season, and following the draw at Chelsea I was definitely anticipating the match at Watford despite having to drive up from the West Country due to the current failings of Network Rail.

It started well. Lunch with a number of good people, an early stroll to a very different Vicarage Road to the one I last visited, and we took the lead after one of the tactical masters behind me had stated to all, but nobody in particular, “the first goal will win this”.

Per Mertesacker’s header six minutes before the break came out of the blue after we had controlled the first-half but only with a very static performance. The manager opted for Alex Iwobi over Mesut Ozil, but he was not a direct swap, and the young man spent an uncomfortable match on the right hand side looking every inch a learner with a confidence issue, not the player who shone at Stamford Bridge.

He became a lightening rod for the angry travelling Gooners, which was unfair because around him were others going through the motions as if this were a training exercise. Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny are individually good players but collectively a pairing lacking a spark. We were ambling through a match so important in relation to what had happened earlier in the day. We look a long way from a title challenge in October.

The captain’s marvellous header gave the half-time scoreline a veneer of respectability, but what happened in the closing eighteen minutes had a familiar feeling. We hadn’t made the most of our control of the match, mainly because the eventually introduced Ozil hit a tame effort straight at Gomez when put clear through on goal.

The equaliser came from the award of what the manager referred to as a ‘scandalous’ penalty award. From a hundred yards away the considered opinion was that it was an appalling decision, and the highlights on MotD confirmed that Richarlison dived. It proved to be a match changer but it would be wrong to put the final result down to that one incident. An ever more ragged Arsenal were in full self-destruct mode by then, lacking in movement and cohesive attacking intent.

Watford were denied when the excellent Mertesacker deflected a long-range effort onto the post. They would not be denied in time added on. Cech initially thwarted them in a goalmouth scramble only for the ball to end up landing perfectly for Cleverly, adjacent to a static Xhaka, to lash home the winner.

The travelling Gooners reaction was predictable. “We want Wenger out” rang around an emptying away end. I have been at matches where this would have sparked a response from those of a different view. Not this time. There is a general air of acceptance that this is where we are as a club. I have felt it before. In the mid-70s, the mid-80s, and the mid-90s. We are a team praying for cup success because we do not have the consistency to compete for league titles any more.

I enjoyed fantastic times with this club, indeed this manager, after those dark days and I’m sure they will return, but under Arsene, with this owner? I can’t honestly see it.

I haven’t been to Vicarage Road since the eighties, so when a good friend offered me a ticket for this weekend’s match I answered in the affirmative. I’m looking forward to see the transformed version of what was always a quirky stadium. Those were the days of Elton John and Graham Taylor. We lost there more than once, as I recall.

We travel for this latest instalment on the back of a seven match unbeaten run sadly interrupted by the international break. The break has not been kind to us and the loss of Skhodran Mustafi to injury has understandably frustrated. At one point this week we thought we might also be without the services of Laurent Koscielny and Sead Kolasinac but both trained today and if there is no reaction for the skipper he can come into the back three as a straight swap for Mustafi, and Kolasinac can man the opposite flank to Hector Bellerin.

There is a boost in midfield too with Mesut Ozil training today and tweeting to the effect that he was ready to play again. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey could feature behind him but Mohamed Elneny will be buoyed by Egypt’s qualification for the World Cup in Russia and he may get the nod. The front two will be a real poser for the manager. Danny Welbeck, preferred in the early matches, is fit quicker than expected and available. As for Alexis much will rest on his mood following Chile’s exit from the biggest competition of all. Expect one of those to partner Alexandre Lacazette.

Watford of late has been a good ground for us, but this season they have quietly gone about their business, and have lost just once in the Premier League. That was by 0-6 to a rampant Manchester City in their last home match. Their other two home games ended all-square against Liverpool (3-3) and Brighton (0-0). Lest we forget we are looking to avenge our last meeting at the Grove in January when Watford took all three points, winning 1-2 on a grim January evening.

The ‘holic pound

Not discounting the fact that the Hornets currently trail us by a solitary point I am feeling very positive about this one. The friend who came up trumps takes us to win this 1-3, a repeat of the scoreline on our last visit here in August 2016. I’m backing that too at a best of 12/1. Those who are going, I hope to bump into you at some point of the day. The fact that BT Sport 1 are showing the game live means there should be no shortage of streams for those who do not have a sports subscription package.

So, I’m backing the team that hasn’t won an away League match to beat the team who haven’t won a home League match. Have a good one ‘holics.

Today Arsenal were involved in a remarkable U-turn from recent policy and have been reported to have been negotiating new deals with the players who are just about still at the club. Dick Law has been reportedly whizzing round Shenley like Lovejoy at a jumble sale looking to secure the bargains of the week.

First came the news that Calum Chambers had put pen to paper on a deal that ties him to the club until 2021. With the club fast running out of fit central defenders this could be the start of a new lease of life at the Gunners for the 22 year old.

As Gareth Southgate pointed out in the week he hasn’t got to many homegrown players to pick from in the Premier League. If Calum gets a chance and grabs it with both, er feet, he could yet make the plane for England’s triumphal flight to World Cup glory.

If the old ticker hadn’t been jolted enough for one day Mesut Ozil’s agent, Dr. Erkut Sogut, allegedly revealed to Turkish media sources …

“Ozil wants to play another 2-3 years in the Premier League. Talks with Arsenal are ongoing regarding a new deal. What I can say right now is that negotiations are going well.”

On the face of it good news, but lest we forget Mesut has also been linked with his former employer, Jose Mourinho, at Old Trafford. It’s not looking likely at this stage that United will be relegated this season so that will remain a concern, probably until January.

Stand by for further shocks in the coming days and weeks? A new deal and comeback for Matthieu Debuchy perchance? Then the burning question of them all. Could Alexis be persuaded to go to Paris in exchange for Julian Draxler in the January window? Why wouldn’t he opt for that when next summer he could trouser his transfer fee to join his old boss, also in Manchester.

Talking of Alexis I see he will be fresh at the start of next season for whoever fills his wallet in a summer where he will be free to talk to potential new employers after Chile’s failure to qualify for the World Cup.

My one serious point of this evening concerns those who have questioned his motivation for the rest of the season. He may or may not be a disruptive force in the dressing room but one thing he has always done, wherever he has played, is to give a hundred percent every time he crossed the line. He loves playing football. That isn’t likely to change.

Also having a quiet summer will be Aaron Ramsey after Wales last gasp failure to make the play-offs. He does appear to be one who will need an arm around his shoulder and lifting. This will be a test for the manager and his staff in the coming days. Hopefully Rambo will want to take his disappointment out on our future opponents, starting at Watford on Saturday.

Come back on Friday evening for reports of further contract signings, a new director of  football, and a preview of the Watford match.

A late afternoon was spent watching England and Scotland, so forgive the international flavour of the blog. I understand well that many are now disenchanted with internationals for the way they interrupt the League season. I was, maybe still am, but I have taken some pleasure in the performance of the home nations in this World Cup qualifying campaign.

Stangely that enthusiasm is less for the land of my birth. They have romped a poor group on paper with eight wins and two draws from their ten matches. The figures hide the fact that we have done so by playing largely functional football and getting moments of luck. Today, for example, the eighth win owed everything to what looked suspiciously like a Dele Alli dive against Lithuania.

I have some sympathy for Gareth Southgate, but not for his insistence that he doesn’t have the number of English players to pick from as most of his predecessors. Go tell that to Gordon Strachan, Michael O’Neill, or Chris Coleman. Scotland were eventually denied a play-off place by an injury time equaliser by Harry Kane at Hampden. Northern Ireland have made it and Wales play the Republic of Ireland tomorrow (Monday) in a fixture that will assure one of them a play-off place at least.

Go tell that to Heimir Hallgrímsson who has taken the Iceland team England fans will remember with a shudder to within a win of topping a group that includes Croatia, Ukraine, and Turkey. Southgate has a number of players that many off his peers would love to have. What we lack is quality, not quantity. What we have is the determination of our supposedly lesser neighbours who ally a work ethic with a willingness to play to their strengths.

Some will point to that qualifying campaign and say we should go with confidence, but whilst I would love us to reach the latter stages of the World Cup at least surely this group of players will not go to Russia with false praise and raised expectations. That might be a benefit. To not have the pressure of a confident nation and press pack behind them may just encourage them to dig deep and aim to prove us wrong. I would honestly love to see that. I’d also love to see Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere busting a gut to make the plane for we can only benefit as a club from that.

It’s impossible to do a piece on World Cup qualifiers without mentioning Alex Iwobi, scorer of the goal that booked Nigeria’s place at the tournament next summer. He impressed a great deal when somewhat unexpectedly handed a number of matches the season before last. Maybe he too suffered from the raised expectations of Arsenal supporters, including me, when he was trusted to deputise for Mesut Ozil on occasion.

He had some tough times in the second half of last season but surely that was to be expected. It is all part of a young footballers development. Alex has knuckled down, seems to have done something about his stamina, and has bulked up. He has looked back to somewhere close to his best this season and a World Cup to look forward to should lift him further. Let’s hope he is on his way to becoming that player we think he could be.

Since Arseblog News broke the story about Stan Kroenke’s bid for Alisher Usmanov’s shares we have been waiting for a response from the Arsenal’s second largest shareholder. Today that response came and after a quick scan social media responded positively to the apparent rejection of Kroenke’s bid.

“In recent days there has been speculation relating to a possible offer for my 30% stake in Arsenal. As part of that I can understand the anxiety that these rumours are causing to the fans as reflected by the Arsenal Supporters Trust. In light of this, I would like to be clear that I am not holding any talks with Mr Kroenke about a sale. My interest in Arsenal from the beginning was long term and my intention has always been to buy additional shares should they become available. I have always been, and will always continue to be, an ardent supporter of Arsenal and I see my 30% stake as an important aspect in protecting the best interests of the fans in the club. “

That’s clear then, or is it? Lest we forget, the Uzbek is in an awkward position as a major stakeholder with absolutely no say in the running of the club. What he currently claims to be a long-term investment is tying up money in an organisation which he cannot influence. The thought that he might be some sort of white knight protecting the club from falling totally into the hands of Kroenke is naive at best. But wait, in the next breath he adds,

It has been well documented that I have no say in the running of the club, that my views differ from those of the majority shareholder and that I would take a different approach to delivering footballing success. I would like to assure supporters that I am open to various future scenarios: a constructive partnership with the majority shareholder, the purchase of his stake either alone or in a consortium, or if a party appears who shares my and undoubtedly the majority of fans’ vision for the club, I could consider the question of selling my stake.”

So, he is open to selling his stake, and make no mistake, there is probably only one buyer who would pay top dollar for that 30% stake. What appears to be happening now are the first public signs of a negotiation. Two exceedingly rich men are playing a deadly serious game of The Price Is Right. The first bid and counter-bid are in and that is the base line set in stone. Now we wait, and hopefully wait some more, and then some, to see which of the two will blink first.

Kroenke holds all the aces.

A very unusual day, from the absurdly early departure to catch a coach because in the 21st century we cannot get a train from Swindon to London before lunchtime, to the equally tortuous journey home down the M4. What happened in between, footballistically and socially, was extremely enjoyable. The only downer on the best parts of the day being the reports and videos of the Spanish police brutality against people they insist are their own.

I digress, perhaps, and should concern myself only things Arsenal? I’ll try. In my preview I wondered if we might be missing the busy Shkodran Mustafi for the visit of Brighton but he played, and credit to the manager for selecting Rob Holding to replace the injured Laurent Koscielny. The young man needs his confidence rebuilding and will be feeling better about his game, and life, tonight.

Alex Iwobi got the nod to deputise for Mesut Ozil again, and that was another sound decision. The youngster is bulking up, gaining in strength and stamina. It was needed to be fair. He would have enjoyed the moment he put an end to the Seagulls chances of upsetting the odds at the Grove with a superb second goal for the Gunners. It was an end to end move reminiscent of the best days of Wengerball and the set-up from Alexis will be worth watching over and over.

We had taken the lead through another unlikely source, but how Nacho Monreal deserves that strike after fellow defenders Mustafi and Hector Bellerin saw their goal-bound efforts blocked. Add that to a sumptuous Alexandre Lacazette strike which came back off the inside of the post and you might have the impression that Brighton were cannon fodder. Anything but.

The visitors too had a spectacular effort, from March, thump into a goalpost as they showed a willingness to drive forward when allowed. Sitting behind their manager, Chris Hughton, on a relatively quiet Emirates lunchtime his every instruction could be heard. He wanted his charges on the front foot, and for long spells they were.

In the end Arsenal were like that very intelligent pupil who does just what he needs to do to achieve the result he wants. This was not an exam we approached with determination, despite answering the early questions with ease and no little panache.

There is something that stops this team from ruthlessly routing the lesser lights. In his first decade the manager had teams who would frankly have ripped Brighton a new one today. Flat track bullies they were called. Utter nonsense. They were winners who wanted to assert themselves on all. The current incarnation will bust a gut for matches when most needed. To perform as they did at Chelsea after the Anfield debacle was admirable. This was one level of desire and determination lower. I say that as an observation, not a condemnation.

Anyway, the final whistle brought an unusual stroll back to an old haunt from the 70s so I could be closer to Finsbury Park Station, and thereafter Victoria. I don’t drink enough with Moggy and Sonia, and I’m sorry I was so easily distracted by Ted on ‘his’ stool!

And as I wind this piece up the news has started. The scenes I am seeing in Barcelona make me seethe. The grandchildren are growing up in a world that would be much better were Trump not effectively in charge of the free world, and if another European conflict was not a real possibility. Perhaps I had best leave it there.

At some point I have probably been critical of people drawing conclusions about who will play in an upcoming fixture based on the training snaps on the club’s official website. However today guess what I found myself doing while Manchester City’s trip to Chelsea was unfolding on my laptop.

Now Arsene has pre-empted the where’s Mesut and Kos queries. More interesting is the possible absence from the session of Skhodran Mustafi. That may be just to give him an extra day of recovery after he played full matches on Monday and Thursday. It does raise the possibility of Rob Holding and Per Mertesacker being asked to play for the second time in under three days alongside Nacho Monreal and in front of Peter Cech.

There is a possibility of something similar in midfield where Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka could be reunited behind either Alex Iwobi, or possibly Jack Wilshere, so impressive against Bate Borisov. Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac should return as wing-backs. That leaves, presumably, Alexis Sanchez to provide real firepower up front with Alexandre Lacazette.

With another interminable international break looming, and Brighton looking weakened up front by the three match ban for Tomer Hemed, the manager may feel he can afford a little rotation as both his league and cup teams appear to be playing with a degree of confidence right now.

What the visitors will bring to the Grove will be a defensive operation martialed by Chris Hughton, who has previous for defeating us with a newly promoted club during his stint at Newcastle. Arsene Wenger conceded pre-match,

“I think it will be difficult to break them down because they are very well organised, they are very disciplined as well. Their team keeps the ball well and from what I’ve seen they have a good technical quality, they try to play everywhere and it is a different challenge for us.”

They had a tough start to life in the top flight with consecutive 2-0 defeats against Manchester City and Leicester before opening their account with a point from a goal-less draw at Watford. They scored their first goals and secured their first win three weeks ago when beating West Brom 3-1 at home. Defeated twice at local rivals Bournemouth in League and EFL Cup, they bounced back last week scoring the only goal of their home match with Newcastle United.

The ‘holic pound

The head is telling me 2-0 after a determined resistance by the Seagulls, but at a best of 11/2 (it is the favourite with the bookies) I am off in hunt of the best value and being led by my heart. 4-1 at 18/1 is too good to ignore and at our fluid best, with a makeshift defence, we are perfectly capable of delivering something in that area.

Travelling From The West Country?

If you are coming to the match from the west by rail do double-check your options before setting off. There isn’t a train from Swindon, nor Bath I believe, which will get you to the capital before kick-off. I’ve booked with National Express coaches which are a little bit more expensive but should get me to the match on time.

As ever, ‘holics, have a good one.

An hour after the match has finished I am trying to retrieve the details of a contest I would normally have written up in real time. I have the disadvantage of a full tank of Guinness, courtesy of a very special manager’s leaving drinks, but the advantage of a sobering kebab roll. Kebabs really should be available on the National Health Service.

The little gathering was conveniently hosted in my local, with a big screen on one wall and an empty table right in front of it. At times it felt like I was playing, and to be fair in the first hour my presence would not have detracted from Arsenal’s performance as Jack Wilshere and his apprentices led the hosts a merry dance. Theo Walcott was the main beneficiary of Wilshere’s genius.

Set up for the first time Theo could only strike the post but when Jack repeated the invite the chance was snapped up by a grateful Walcott. Just nine minutes in we had the dream start. Theo doubled the advantage before the midpoint of the half when Bate goalkeeper Scherbitski (no relation to Bernie Winters’ dog – Google it if you’re young) passed the ball inexplicably to the England winger who happily secured his brace.

Three minutes later it was three. Rob Holding the unexpected scorer when Per Mertesacker’s glancing header from a corner was shinned over the line by his young partner in defence for his first competitive Gunners goal. At this point the question was not if Arsenal would win, but by how many. But, Arsenal being Arsenal…

Just three minutes further in we were caught cold and Ivanic arrived unmarked into the box to head the ball through the arms of David Ospina. At last the home support had something to cheer and they took full advantage of the fact. It was a rare foray into Gunners territory and we attempted to fashion a response with youngsters Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, and Joe Willock catching the eye with Wilshere.

Theo Walcott saw his hat-trick attempt tipped past the post for a corner and Holding, his appetite for goalscoring awoken, struck a post. Quite how were were only 1-3 to the good at the half was something of a mystery. It didn’t take long in the second-half to restore the three goal advantage. An unusual penalty award gave Olivier Giroud the chance to score his one hundredth goal for the Gunners. Afterwards Theo revealed he had let the Frenchman have the spot-kick to reach his milestone. That should have been it, but Arsenal being Arsenal…

We did appear to run out of steam around the hour mark. Not that surprising really when you consider the make-up of the team, but midway through the half the gap was reduced when a series of defensive errors allowed Gordeichuk to smash home Bate’s second from close range. All of a sudden we were disjointed and lacking our earlier drive and cohesion. The hosts had a great chance to get within a goal of us but thankfully Volodko was off target and we managed to see the game out rather more nervously than necessary.

There is a danger of being rather too critical of a performance when a squad team has won an away match in Europe by four goals to two. We took a gamble on the strength of team to play in Belarus and in the cold light of day we will regard that as a risk worth taking and well managed. The team that takes the field against Brighton on Sunday lunchtime will be better prepared and more confident as a result. The club is on a roll again. Five wins, and a draw at Chelsea, since the Liverpool debacle.

The manager will be feeling a mixture of relief and satisfaction that his teams have settled into a good run, for now. He will also be aware the expectation is that they continue that sequence. Roll on Sunday.

To Belarus With Love

You’ve been waiting for this, I can tell. Come on then, what do we need to know about Bate Borisov? I can hear those chuckles. Well, I can read their website with Google translate, so I can tell you some stuff.

Their home ground is even newer than the Grove and built as a result of the club continually qualifying for European competition but having to play away from their own unsuitable ground. With a capacity of 13,126 (they have averaged 5633 this season) the Borisov Arena in Barysaw was opened in May 2014.

The season in Belarus opened in March and runs until the end of November. Bate are currently third in the Belorusian League two points behind Miner and one adrift of their deadly rivals, Dinamo Minsk, with seven matches left to play. They are bidding to lift the title for twelve consecutive seasons, quite the achievement.

Their most famous ex-player will be a familiar face to most of you, Alex Hleb. He was aiming to meet up with Arsene Wenger ahead of Thursday evening’s fixture. Their current head coach, Alexsandr Yermakovich, provided this respectful piece for Layth Yousif in the Islington Gazette and rather than me thieve quotes from it do give the article a read.

As Mr Yermakovich points out he doesn’t know what side Arsenal will play, which is actually different from our oft-repeated query as to what Arsenal will turn up on the day.

It is certain that David Ospina will start in goal, if fit. Our back three against Cologne was Rob Holding, Per Mertesacker, and Nacho Monreal. As we saw on Monday Nacho has become our most accomplished defender so far this season and it might be better to keep him fit and go with Shkodran Mustafi instead?

Hector Bellerin played as right wing-back against Cologne But Ainsley Maitland-Niles may play this one with Reiss Nelson on the left, as against Doncaster. That would enable Mohamed Elneny and Jack Wilshere to play behind Alex Iwobi in the middle of the park. (Edit – @clockendsniper tells me Iwobi probably didn’t travel. Chance for Alexis to play as the ten?) Up front perm two from Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, and Alexis Sanchez?

The ‘holic pound

Yet another stab in the dark. A fortnight ago they held Red Star to a 1-1 draw in Belgrade. If that is a fair reflection then they deserve being treated with some respect and caution. We could go with a team just good enough to get a result. There is little value in 1-2 which is my suspicion so I’ll let positive me have a few bob on 1-3 to the Arsenal at 12/1.

There you go, short and sweet. To those awesome Gooners in Belarus tonight I say stay safe and have some fun. As for the rest of you, have a good one ‘holics.

The expected back three and wing-backs were named in the starting eleven, but the midfield was re-arranged with Mohamed Elneny stepping alongside Granit Xhaka, This enabled Aaron Ramsey to be played in support of Alexis Sanchez and Alex Lacazette. Interestingly Jack Wilshere was next to Mesut Ozil on the bench and there was no place for Alex Iwobi.

Gareth Barry broke the Premier League record for appearances when he stepped onto the pitch for a 633rd time in the top flight. In the technical area stood a familiar baseball cap wearing slightly more than middle aged man.

The first big opportunity came the way of an Alexis free-kick from just outside the left hand side of the box which curled agonisingly wide of the far post. Out of the blue Rodriguez found himself one on one against Shkodran Mustafi in the box and was clearly brought down by the German international. He was up in a flash and got away a shot that Cech did well to turn onto the far post. Livermore hit the rebound wide when a goal seemed more likely. A let off indeed.

After Aaron Ramsey had put a near post header wide of the mark the next to try his luck was Kieran Gibbs. Fortunately the former Gunner blazed his effort high and wide. He had got a warm reception from the home support before the match.

Not for the first time at the Grove Ben Foster took an age to take goal-kicks and of course Bobby Madley made no early caution to nip the blatant time-wasting in the bud. It has to be said  though that the visitors were rather more energetic in their pressing of the ball from front to back, but for how long could they keep that up?

Evans, an Arsenal target in the transfer window, tripped the lively Elneny on the edge of the box. Alexis went closer this time, hitting the bar full on, and Lacazette headed the rebound into the empty net. Twenty minutes in we had the early goal to settle the nerves.

Arsenal 1-0 West Brom

The Arsenal were warming to the task with Ramsey and Elneny prompting and Alexis never far from the action, but it was Nacho Monreal who was denied a goal by a desperate Nyom challenge. The referee would have had a decision to make had Nacho dropped to the floor. Alexis sent Ramsey clear but his attempt at a quick cross was claimed by Foster, strangely still in no rush to get it back into play.

Another clear penalty was denied when Krychowiak clearly pulled Alexis to the floor but the referees eyesight recovered sufficiently to spot Evans nasty challenge on Lacazette and the first yellow card of the night was produced. Alexis was again very close to the target with the resulting free-kick.

Arsenal owed a debt of gratitude to Monreal for a spectacular goal-line clearance when Rodriguez was gifted a free header at the far post. The same player was within inches of connecting with another cross from point-blank range. As the visitors pressed again Kolasinac was pushed to the floor by Dawson and picked the ball up expecting a free-kick. Mr Madley awarded the handball which drew a furious reaction from Alexis. The yellow card count was levelled.

Rodriguez, proving himself a real handful, was once again close as the half drew to a close. A scramble at the near post was eventually scrambled behind by a combination of the Baggies striker and Petr Cech. The former new neighbour reported that Cech was giving Alexis a real dressing down as the teams left the pitch.

The second-half was barely three minutes old when Dawson scythed through the back of Alexis to make the yellow card count 1-2.  Five minutes in Elneny teed up Lacazette for a drive that was deflected over the crossbar for an unproductive corner. Elneny’s frequent sojourns into the attack were impressive, but leaving the back three exposed with just Xhaka for cover.

We almost converted a corner in an unlikely fashion when Mustafi sprinted to the near post for a deft flick which tested the alertness of Foster. Rodriguez somehow avoided censure for smashing an elbow into Monreal’s cheek as the Spaniard cleared one down the line. Next to go through the back of his man was Krychowiak on Elneny. The Baggies thereby extended their lead in the yellow card count. Dawson’s next challenge on Alexis drew a free-kick but not a second yellow card.

A stunning turn and cross by Alexis sadly counted for nought when Ramsey couldn’t help his cross into the path of Lacazette in a crowded box. The visitors sent on the experienced Morrison for Livermore in a bid to keep up the pressing game, and almost immediately he also put on Rondon for Robson-Kanu.

Almost midway through the half Ramsey sprinted clear of Nyom by the touchline and the full-back shoved Rambo over. The deadly Lacazette drilled his spot-kick beyond the dive of Carson. Thoughts turned to the ‘holic pound. One more please!

Arsenal 2-0 West Brom

Looking for his first hat-trick in a Gunners shirt Lacazette then magnificently controlled a superb lofted through ball from Alexis but sliced his effort over the target. On the touchline a slightly more than middle-aged man in a track suit and baseball cap was apoplectic. He ranted incoherently at his assistants and on came Phillips for the hapless Nyom. With his first touch he drew a save from Cech.

With twelve minutes left Dawson avoided a second yellow again for another savage assault from behind on Alexis. It’s hard to know what goes through the referee’s mind on such an occasion. St Francis of Assisi would have sent him off. On the Gunners ploughed against understandably tiring opponents. Hector Bellerin’s powerful shot was deflected for a corner. Cue the introduction of Giroud and Ozil for Lacazette and Alexis to standing ovations. Those were good to see in the light of recent circumstances.

Now totally in control the third perhaps should have fallen to Xhaka when teed up by Giroud. In his excitement he fired it over the bar. I was hoping for the delivery of the coup de grace, for obvious reasons. I was to be (mildly) disappointed. This was a solid Arsenal performance, grinding down a tough opposition before asserting their obvious superiority.

West Brom deserve some credit for being rather more adventurous than we might have otherwise expected, but leopards don’t change their spots and once again a team managed by a slightly more than middle-aged man in a baseball cap had demonstrably been shown that the Arsenal aren’t the soft touch he believes they are with his bully boy instructions.

In closing, a word for Gibbo. Well played son. Have a great future.

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