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Blackpool versus The Arsenal is a fixture that dates back to 1896/7. In the 1930s, 40s, and 50s it was usually a clash of the titans. Our first FA Cup date with Blackpool saw us defeated 2-1 at Highbury in a 1953 quarter-final, a championship winning season for us. That Blackpool team went on to win the Matthews Final (Google it if you don’t know!) Then in a 1970 third round replay Blackpool came from 0-2 down at home to win 3-2 in injury time. Am I scaring you yet?

In 1999/2000 the tide turned when we beat them 3-1 at Highbury, our sole FA Cup success against them, and of course earlier this season we squeezed past them 2-1 in the Carabao Cup. Let’s not think we just have to turn up to win, particularly with a shadow squad. Blackpool may be languishing in League One these days, having won a solitary point from their last five league matches, but they are free from any sort of expectation this weekend and could be inspired by the opposition.

The Arsenal team is likely to be without several rested key players, or they may just make up the substitutes bench. Petr Cech will presumably return as the cup-tie ‘keeper, but what of the defence ahead of him? Konstantinos Mavropanos trained yesterday and this game may have come too soon for him. Carl Jenkinson is a likely starter on the right, and Sead Kolasinac is likely to be retained on the left.

The central defenders could be anyone. Julio Pleguezuelo, Ben Sheaf, and Zech Medley are the youthful options and it’s possible that one may get the nod to possibly partner Laurent Koscielny, the skipper who needs to work on his match-fitness.

Ahead of them Ainsley Maitland-Niles could pair up with Mohamed Elneny. Juve bound Aaron Ramsey could play alongside Joe Willock and Bukayo Saka, and behind Eddie Nketiah? Like Mavropanos, Emile Smith Rowe returned to training yesterday and may be considered a little short of fitness for this one.

If that is something like the starting eleven expect the outfield options on the bench to feature Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Skhodran Mustafi, Matteo Guendouzi, Alex Iwobi, Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang, and Alexandre Lacazette.

The atmosphere will be unusual, to say the least. Blackpool supporters have spent many years boycotting the club due to the asset-stripping activities of the owning Oyston family. They have sold only 2000 of the 7000 tickets that have been snapped up so far for a stadium that holds 20,000. There will certainly be much more vocal support for the visitors.

In the League Cup tie at the Grove the Tangerines were playing mostly through the former Liverpool player, Jay Spearing, in the centre of midfield. He remains the major threat.

The ‘holic pound

Our surprise third round exit at Nottingham Forest last season demonstrates that nothing can be taken for granted in this competition that continually throws up a few surprises. I am reverting to my old friend, 1-2 to the Arsenal, at a boosted 17/2.

Have a safe journey all who are venturing to the chilly but dry north-west. I will again be watching from the warmth of the office/recording studio/box room.

Have a great one ‘holics.

Unai Emery opted to retain Bernd Leno and reverted to a back three of Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Skhodran Mustafi, and Laurent Koscielny for the visit of Fulham. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac flanked Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi with Lucas Torreira dropping to the bench. Alex Iwobi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and (Hallelujah!) Alexandre Lacazette were selected as the attacking trio. There was no sign of Mesut Ozil.

As early as the second minute a flowing move opened up Fulham’s right flank but Aubameyang couldn’t keep his flick from Iwobi’s cross below crossbar height.

A ninth minute rampage down the same flank by Kolasinac resulted in a corner that Xhaka carelessly swung out of play. Fulham’s first clear break saw Sessegnon sprint clear for a one on one with Leno but mercifully he pulled his curling effort wide of the far post. A warning sign indeed and met with  the first rumblings of discontent from the home support.

Guendouzi’s attempt to free Lacazette was appreciated by the striker but it fell comfortably for Fulham goalkeeper, Rico. Again Sessegnon was put clear by Schurrle but miskicked and his second big miss was to prove costly moments later when Xhaka was put in a similar position by Iwobi and calmly finished to give us the lead on 25 minutes.

The Arsenal 1-0 Fulham

Leno was called on to save when Mitrovic out-muscled our entire back three to send a close range header on target. Back we surged through Iwobi and Kolasinac who teed up Xhaka once more. Rico somehow kept it out, more by luck than design.

Next up everybody had to do a double-take as Sokratis set of on a mazy run, cut-in, and fierce drive that was blocked. Yes, Sokratis! We were a coat of paint away from a second when Lacazette and Iwobi teed up Aubameyang for a near post header.

Next to be put in the clear was Lacazette but Rico scrambled the ball clear with his right leg as the Gunners attempted to tighten the screw. A strong finish to the half hinted at a second-half to be enjoyed.

Lucas Torreira was introduced at half-time for Mustafi and we kicked-off set-up with a flat back four, although Xhaka was quick to double back aas Fulham started the stronger after the break.

Ten minutes into the half the Gunners struck against the run of play when Kolasinac, Iwobi, and Aubameyang opened Fulham up again and laid it on a plate for Lacazette who made no mistake with his right foot. That’s why he should be starting matches!

The Arsenal 2-0 Fulham

Lacazette was denied a second in quick succession by Rico as The Arsenal attempted to cut loose. Claudio Ranieri made all three substitutions in a five minute spell to disrup the Gunners flow. One of those substitutes, Seri, caught Lacazette with a flailing arm in the box. No penalty resulted, surprisingly.

Presented with yet another close range header Mitrovic headed straight at Leno but Fulham were back in it after Seri was adjudged not to have fouled Torreira, and Kamara was presented with a tap in at an unguarded far post by Sessegnon as the defenders just stopped playing to the whistle.

The Arsenal 2-1 Fulham

Emery withdrew Lacazette to make way for the departing Ramsey. The reaction of the crowd emphasised their displeasure at the substitution. In a midfield scramble that followed Fosu-Mensah went over the top on Xhaka and was fortunate perhaaps that the colour of the card was just yellow.

Ramsey, ironically, eased the nerve netting our third from the rebound after Aubameyang’s shot from a Kolasinac cross cannoned back into his path.

The Arsenal 3-1 Fulham

Guendouzi sprung Aubameyang once more but once again Rico came out on top in the one on one. That delayed the inevitable. Sokratis teed him up for a deflected effort, and Aubameyang cartwheeled once more. It was cash-out time for the ‘holic pound.

The Arsenal 4-1 Fulham

The cash-out proved unnecessary but I was not about to risk a couple of hundred quid on either defence. A happy if unconvincing start to 2019 for the Gunners. Better days await, hopefully.

The shockwaves of what happened at Anfield are still being felt, but if you could select an opponent to face on New Years Day it would be Fulham at home, bless them. They may be unbeaten in three vital matches against two of their fellow relegation candidates plus a home match with Wolves (a draw that was beyond the Middlesex Nomads at the weekend), but this is looking like it will be a long hard season for them. I pray they survive. The Cottage is a great away day.

Unai Emery faces some serious selection issues, not least of which appears to be in goal where Petr Cech lost the number one spot purely because of injury. He was in very good form prior to that and over Christmas Bernd Leno has looked anything but an Arsenal goalkeeper. Similarly at right-back Stephan Lichsteiner’s shortcomings were exposed on Merseyside.

Defensively we are still without Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding. If we are to stick with a flat back four perhaps Ainsley Maitland-Niles may drop into the right-back berth? Sokratis Papastathopoulos right and Laurent Koscielny on the left may be the preferred central partnership?

The midfield is again possibly shorn of Mesut Ozil (doubtful) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. As long as he is our player I would start Aaron Ramsey in the absence of Ozil ahead of the defensive pairing of Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira. Alex Iwobi was excellent for an hour at Anfield and should get the opportunity to partner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang AND ALEXANDRE LACAZETTE in the attacking roles. I find it incredible that we are routinely leaving our best player with his back to goal on the bench.

It seems astonishing that after a 22 match unbeaten run the new head coach should be coming under a degree of pressure on social media. Everything has a degree of immediacy about it, I get, but comparisons with Bruce Rioch appear to be premature to say the least. He deserves time and at least three transfer windows to impose his style on the team. That said whatever his style is seems a way off right now.

If I appeared too dismissive of the visitors earlier then I apologise. They do have proven goalscorers in Mitrovic and Schurrle who might enjoy taking on our current much-weakened set-up. The fact remains they are leaking even more goals than us, and it is only a dozen weeks since we put five past them at the Cottage. This should be a tough afternoon for them. If we are to challenge for a top four place we should be winning this one comfortably.

The ‘holic pound

We are such strong favourites to win the match that the bookies favourite scoreline, 2-1 to the Arsenal, surprises. I’m tipping the wounded animal to bite back harder than that, and have opted for the 18/1 against a 4-1 home win.

Pasta has been enjoyed as ground bait for the New Year celebrations to follow. It’s time for me to thank you all for reading this nonsense for another year. A number of you have become trusted and firm friends. I wish you all a very happy, and more importantly healthy, 2019. Let’s pray the club of our hearts also delivers an improvement in the months ahead.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

Embarrassing

Unai Emery opted to start Stephan Lichsteiner, the unexpectedly fit Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and Sead Kolasinac in a back four with Laurent Koscielny on the bench. If that made one nervous at least Granit Xhaka was reunited with Lucas Torreira and Emery reinforced the right flank with Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

Disappointingly Alexandre Lacazette was once again left on the bench as Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi started either side of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Also on the bench we had a mix of youth and experience in Petr Cech, Mohamed Elneny, Matteo Guendouzi, Joe Willock, and Bukayo Saka. It was good to see the team wearing black armbands in memory of Peter Hill-Wood.

Not surprisingly Liverpool started on the front foot and Firmino’s drilled shot was flicked a coat of paint wide of the near post by Salah. Mane, complaining about an unseen alleged elbow by Lichsteiner, was a lucky boy to avoid punishment for putting a choke hold on the experienced defender.

A rapid break by Iwobi saw our first opportunity saved by Alisson at his near post. Then from nowhere Iwobi teed up Maitland-Niles at the far post for a tap in. It was the young utility player’s first goal for the Gunners.

Liverpool 0-1 The Arsenal

The lead lasted less than three minutes. Lichsteiner’s attempt to clear Salah’s hopeful ball ricocheted off the unfortunate Mustafi and Firmino tapped the ball into the empty net hastily vacated by Leno.

Liverpool 1-1 The Arsenal

Just ninety seconds later we were behind when Torreira gifted the ball to Liverpool, Firmino danced between weak challenges by Mustafi and Sokratis, and found the bottom corner. I don’t know if Unai Emery was more angry or embarrassed by such schoolboy defending.

Liverpool 2-1 The Arsenal

We avoided further embarrassment when Mane turned the cumbersome Lichsteiner but mercifully shot straight at Leno, who was then called into action as a sweeper when once again a straightforward long ball threatened to open us up.

With just 25 minutes on the clock the travelling faithful were singing the Lacazette song, urging Emery into early action. Robertson hacked down Maitland-Niles as the Gunners threatened down the right and Michael Oliver awarded him the first yellow card of the contest. The free-kick came to nothing because Mustafi wandered offside.

That straightforward long ball unhinged an atrocious defence in the 32nd minute. Salah galloped behind Lichsteiner, who appeared to be towing a full brewery cart, and squared the ball for Mane, who had trotted in front of Sokratis. It was unmissable. From The Arsenal’s point of view it was inexplicable. A slaughter was building.

Liverpool 3-1 The Arsenal

As the half petered out Maitland-Niles looked to double his goal tally before his cross was volleyed over the bar by Ramsey. At least we were showing some, if limited, ambition. Maitland-Niles and Iwobi sent hopeful crosses into the box but another long ball opened up the left side of our defence. Salah dribbled into the box, got the wrong side of Sokratis and inevitably hit the deck despite little, if any, contact.

He took the resulting penalty and smashed it down the middle as Leno dived left. Embarrassing didn’t cover it now. As the teams walked off at the break Sokratis was clearly exchanging frank views with Salah about his inner ear infection.

Liverpool 4-1 The Arsenal

Somehow Lichsteiner survived the break and started the second-half. Mustafi didn’t and Koscielny came on for the German. Two minutes in Sokratis made a superb last ditch challenge to deny the dancing feet of Mane a fifth goal for the hosts. Less than a minute later Salah sped past Koscielny only to be denied by an alert Leno.

We came farcically close to reducing the arrears when Xhaka put Ramsey in the clear in the box. He clipped it goalwards and Aubameyang somehow volleyed it over the bar from point-blank range. The Gabonese striker’s blushes were spared by an erroneous offside flag.

A we pushed forward we were again caught on the break by Mane and fortunately Alexander-Arnold’s shot from his pass was deflected for a corner. That came to nought and Mane was replaced by Henderson. Klopp clearly had an eye on their New Year fixture against Manchester City.

Salah’s backheel gave Fabinho a clear chance but Leno was at full stretch to save. That only delayed the inevitable. From the resulting corner Kolasinac appeared to shove Lovren who tumbled theatrically but Micheal Oliver had no option but to award the penalty this time. Firmino competed his hat-trick. If we were a horse we would have been shot at this point.

Liverpool 5-1 The Arsenal

The long overdue introduction of Lacazette with 20 minutes remaining was made more baffling as he replaced not the ineffective Ramsey, but the starved-of-service Aubameyang. I suppose at 5-1 Emery could claim to have been saving the Premier League’s top scorer for another day? Lacazette engineered space for a shot that was deflected for a corner. Before the corner could be taken Matteo Guendouzi was sent on in place of Kolasinac. Presumably Emery simply forgot that Lichsteiner and Ramsey were still on the pitch?

Lacazette was then clearly brought down by substitute Clyne and even the super-biased McManaman admitted it was a penalty. At 5-1 I suppose it doesn’t matter in the greater scheme of things, but dear oh dear.

To put it in perspective we were playing with only one of our best four defenders but that doesn’t alter the fact that Emery’s gamble with a rickety flat back four misfired spectacularly. It was, frankly, more than just a bad day at the office.

It’s not unusual, as someone once sang, for me to be sitting at the keyboard on a Friday evening having downed several pints of delicious ale and a superb Chinese meal and about to put my thoughts into print. Tonight feels different, and there is much to contemplate. Let’s start with a Saturday evening visit to Anfield to face a club we ended as a title winning force either side of their last championship success in 1990.

They are very much back in contention once more, being six points clear of the Middlesex Nomads, and seven clear of Manchester City, going into the second half of the season. We are thirteen points behind them and the consequences of that growing to sixteen are clear and obvious.

We were saying similar things when they came to us back at the start of November. This would be where our thirteen match unbeaten run would end, according to popular opinion. We had to settle for a point, courtesy of a late Lacazette strike after Milner had scored for the visitors, but our performance that day was probably bettered only by our 4-2 battering of the once neighbours that followed.

However the scousers have won every Premier League fixture since that day and if we are not similarly motivated at Anfield another difficult match at what has now become a bogey venue is a certainty. Our defensive options remain stretched to the limit, and possibly beyond. Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Rob Holding, and probably Shkodran Mustafi are ruled out. Our first choice back four is likely to be missing in it’s entirety.

A back three of some sort would be preferred even if it incorporates the recovering Laurent Koscielny, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and midfielder Granit Xhaka. It would be a better option perhaps to start Mohamed Elneny and allow Xhaka to return to partnering Lucas Torreira at the base of the midfield inside Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac?

So what of the front three ahead of them. Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should start, but I fear only one will. If both do there are cases to be made for Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, and Alex Iwobi to claim the creative starting berth. We don’t have an in-form candidate. I fear Iwobi and Ramsey may be paired behind Aubameyang and we will be limited to how much we can keep the ball in Liverpool’s half.

That sounds negative for me, I know. I can make next to no case for us getting a result this weekend other than we have been there, done that, and worn the teeshirt. Blind faith says we can cause what would undoubtedly be our biggest upset at Anfield since 26/5/89.

The ‘holic pound

If ever there was a game where it made sense to throw a hail Mary at a ludicrous bet, this is it. I have scoured the odds on every market, and not for the first time this season I have an itch that needs scratching. Sokratis is a brute of a defender who is due a goal when we have a set piece, surely? He is 25/1 to score at anytime in this match, and for once that seems to make more sense than the usual score forecast. Isn’t that worth a pound of anyones money? As long as he is on the pitch the punt is open.

Peter Hill-Wood

The passing of the last in the family line to have been chairman of The Arsenal may not have been a surprise, but nonetheless was a saddening experience this morning (Friday). Peter was a member of the board for 51 years, and for 31 of them became our longest serving chairman. He oversaw the appointments of George Graham and Arsene Wenger and in so doing presided over two of the most successful periods in the history of The Arsenal Football Club.

In the world of social media he sometimes raised hackles when AGM time came around, but it isn’t hard to see why if one reflects on those affairs from the opposing viewpoints. Old school, I would prefer to recall his steady hand on the tiller as we negotiated some troubled waters that surrounded managerial changes and moving the club to Ashburton Grove from our spiritual home.

Mostly though I prefer to remember, topically, those moments after Anfield 89 when in the aftermath of an unlikely triumph he puffed on that magnificent cigar and uttered the immortal line, “Never in doubt”.

I’m sure all our thoughts are with his wife, Sally, and his children, Sarah, Julian, and Charlie.

Thank you for everything, Peter.

Getting home 24 hours after the event enables me to take a different view to many others on the undoubted disappointment of Brighton away. That doesn’t mean I’m right or they are wrong. It’s a view I actually formed quickly after the match last evening as the pre-supper beer and vino took hold, and as I enjoyed watching us with the eldest of the resident grand’holics, the recipient of a signed Mesut Ozil photo on Christmas morn.

We started very well, we agreed. Unusually, this season, we were very much on the front foot in the early exchanges. The first goal seemed inevitable, and arrived courtesy of the dogged determination of Alexandre Lacazette, and a sublime finish from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. This pair enjoys each others company and in moments such as that we understand why. In a cozy front room we relaxed and looked forward to a totally dominant performance.

It appeared that in the aftermath of the goal we were suddenly looking for a way of controlling the game without the degree of risk that had accompanied our early probing of the Seagulls defence, both laterally and centrally. Lichtenstein and Kolasinac were no longer freed as they bombed forward. We looked to find team mates with safe passes. The creativity evaporated.

That didn’t raise any alarm bells initially, but Brighton forged more and more chances when we lacked concentration. Murray netted having clearly kicked the ball from the grasp of Bernd Leno. How on earth is that not a card? Then one hopeful long ball, Lichsteiner’s misplaced header at full stretch, and Locadia was allowed to easily go round Leno to slot home the equaliser.

At the whistle we have to accept that was probably what we deserved, if not the hosts. A grand’holic took a break to grab some food and a drink. By the time he came back I had to inform him that Mesut Ozil, provider of that oh so important signature, had been replaced at the break. “Why, grandad?” I had to say that the new manager reacts quickly if he doesn’t like what he sees in the first-half and for now we must trust his judgement.

The second-half has been a happy hunting ground for us in most matches this season, but a turgid contest remained just that. We huffed and puffed, and the manager decided the answer was to send on a fourth midfielder, Aaron Ramsey, for Lacazette, the glue that holds our striking options together. If that sounds too critical it isn’t meant to. As I tweeted later the manager is getting used to us, and vice versa. This is how things were likely to pan out on occasion.

A final throw of the dice saw us replace Laurent Koscielny with Ainsley Maitland-Niles. At some point we switched to a back three and indeed the last of the substitutes looked to have given us a fresh option. However, with ten minutes remaining it seemed only one team was likely to nick it and so for the second match running the ‘holic pound profited, albeit modestly, from an early cashout.

Briefly were into the top four, but nobody around the buffet table in a Black country village expected Watford to help us out in the late kick-off, and we were not surprised at their defeat by the bus stop in Fulham. As well as ourselves the west London club will, however, be looking at the ever-increasing gap to the top three. If we are to retrieve what looks an improbable situation it is at least in our hands, starting at Anfield on Saturday evening. That looks to be a supreme test of where we are right now, in all honesty.

And yet we need to take a step back and consider the circumstances. Once more we are in something of an injury nightmare, an issue that was laid firmly at the feet of the former manager and his medical team in recent years. Few teams could cope with being stripped of it’s defensive backbone to such a degree. We have a fledgling manager (as far as the Premier League is concerned) and he has got more right than he has wrong.

Brighton wasn’t a good game for him, but in the greater scheme of things it is a fixture we genuinely did lose last season. We may be falling away from the title battle before we get to the pointed end of the season, but we are far from being out of contention for a Champions League qualifying berth. The FA Cup third round is about to launch, and we are comfortably through to the knock-out phase of the Europa League.

It seems too easy for the negativity to take a hold, but how many times did most call for a degree of patience with the new regime back in the summer? That was the correct call then, and remains so today.

We love you Arsenal, we do.

Gunners Win A Battle

We went with a mixed bag of a back four of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Nacho Monreal and fit again Sead Kolasinac. Burnley not surprisingly opted for two up front. The recalled Mohamed Elneny slipped into a midfield three alongside Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi, with Lucas Torreira dropping to the bench. Unfortunately he has been ill and we needed him to get booked today. Mesut Ozil was recalled in attack with Pierre Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette finally reunited.

The Arsenal had an early chance to strike but Tarkowski’s last gasp challenge denied Aubameyang the opportunity to apply a finish to Maitland-Niles cross. A warning shot across our bows from Barnes was superbly saved by Bernd Leno. It was a lively opening.

Xhaka, enjoying his return to midfield duty, unleashed a long range effort that Hart claimed at full stretch. Then Lacazette, seemingly alternating on both flanks, engineered a cross that Elneny met but his header was blocked by Daniels.

Surely the opening goal was coming? Cue Mesut Ozil’s sublime pass to Kolasinac and his cross was lashed home by Aubameyang. That’s why we need Ozil, if you needed to ask. The early goal gave us a platform to work from.

The Arsenal 1-0 Burnley

Another Kolasinac raid down the left ended with Maitland-Niles getting a shot away but unfortunately it was straight at Hart. Both full-backs looked far more comfortable attacking. Interestingly after the goal on a number of occasions Mohamed Elneny or Granit Xhaka dropped into a back three. This was probably to allow the wing-backs to continue to prosper. It was intelligent use of our highly adaptable team.

In the 35th minute a flashpoint arrived when the constantly moaning Barnes pinned Sokratis to the floor and refused to release him. Kevin Friend took a lenient view of the incident and just booked the clumsy striker. Straight after that Nacho Monreal made an early exit to be replaced by Stephan Lichsteiner. Surely yet another injury to a Gunners defender?

The Sokratis versus Barnes clash was reignited when the Gunners defender hauled the striker down. Another yellow card, and no complaints. Kevin Friend is far from a favourite official of mine, but he was having a good half on the whole. Burnley came closest to an equaliser when Xhaka’s back-header threatened to sail over the leaping Leno, grateful to reach the ball in time.

As added time approached Lacazette was denied by another desperate but legal challenge. The scoreline was an accurate reflection of a match that started brightly but faded into a degree of tedium after the goal.

We had a lively start to the second-half. Leno came out of his area to clear a long ball through to Wood who kicked the goalkeeper in the chest. Whether there was intent or not the Burnley man was correctly carded for dangerous play.

Kolasinac and Lacazette combined to tee up Aubameyang and his fierce deflected effort flew past Hart to double the Gunners advantage.

The Arsenal 2-0 Burnley

The loathsome Barnes jumped early and smashed a knee into Guendouzi’s back, and appeared to pull his hair on the way down. Mr Friend turned a blind eye to what should surely have been a second yellow for the Burnley man.

A Burnley free-kick saw at least four of them not given offside but Sokratis made a heroic last ditch challenge. Then Barnes, again, fouled Guendouzi and stamped on the fallen Gunner in full view of Mr Friend who again did his best Blind Pew impersonation. Guess who did see the next yellow card? Guendouzi when Hendricks took a spectacular tumble. It was time to send on the little gladiator, Torreira, for Elneny.

The battle raged. Cork went over the top at the unfortunate Guendouzi and Ben Mee scythed down Aubameyang. Both were rightly booked. There was a distinct edge to the match but the likes of Sokratis and Kolasinac were giving as good as they got.

Just past the hour Barnes, incredibly lucky to be on the pitch, was in the right place to finish a goalmouth scramble at the far post.

The Arsenal 2-1 Burnley

Scrambles ensued at both ends before Barnes pulled down Lichsteiner and again avoided further censure from Friend. Westwood’s lunge through the back of Xhaka drew no more than a talking to. The referee had long since lost control of a niggly affair. With neither defence looking in command I cashed out the ‘holic pound for a respectable 3/1.

Wood left a foot in on Guendouzi, a human pin-cushion in  the second-half. Again Friend did not produce a second yellow card to a second Burnley player. It was hard to believe the evidence on the screen. Sean Dyche cleverly withdrew his two offending strikers and sent on Vokes and Vydra. Alex Iwobi was sent on for Lacazette who left the field to warm applause from an appreciative crowd and head coach.

Burnley’s final change saw Lowton on for Bardsley, hardly a sign of attacking intent but we were far from sure of holding on. Burnley had successfully disrupted our rhythm and couldn’t be blamed for doing what they were allowed to get away with. It is the job of the referee to manage the game. I’ll leave that there for you to consider.

We played some useful keep-ball as the final minutes ticked over. Another moment of Ozil magic left Iwobi in the clear to grab a clincher in added time. Westwood overdid the offside claim and was booked. The cashout proved to be a good one!

The Arsenal 3-1 Burnley

To call this a hard-fought win would be to capture it in a nutshell. Three important points were secured but not without a few scares. The next unbeaten run has begun, but at what cost today?

The eve of the last home match before Christmas. The holiday has officially started for me but the management team and the players will not be getting much of a break at this busy time of the year. Burnley arrive at the Grove with every reason to want to stop us securing what have become three important points. Our defeat at Southampton sent the clarets into the bottom three.

Our injury list continues to be an issue, particularly in defence. The options for changing the back three that started in midweek are all young and unproven, although the temptation to play Zech Medley in order that Granit Xhaka can resume his partnership with Lucas Torreira must be fairly strong.

Mesut Ozil has been recalled to the squad and could slot into the vacancy created by an injury to Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Will Alexandre Lacazette be recalled, possibly in place of Alex Iwobi? All things are possible.

Last weekend Sean Dyche employed a 3-4-3 formation against the Middlesex Nomads at Wembley and only fell to a solitary goal defeat in time added on at the end. That may give them belief of getting something from us after our successive defeats this week.

Winger Aaron Lennon has had an operation on his wafer knee which will keep him out until the New Year. On the plus side Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Robbie Brady could be available again after injury.

The ‘holic pound

Burnley’s performance at Wembley warrants respect, but it is likely that Unai Emery will have encouraged a far more determined performance from his charges than we could produce on Wednesday. A clean sheet seems beyond us at the moment so BtM will be delighted I have taken tens against a trusted favourite, 2-1 to The Arsenal.

For those that are going I hope the boys do indeed put on a show for you. I will be missing as I am getting four new tyres on the trusty motor in readiness for Sunday’s trip to the Black Country. If you are watching from home you will be able to catch me soon after the final whistle on ABW Live. The link will be posted on Twitter when we go live, or you can subscribe to the ABW YouTube channel here.

Unai Emery went with a strong, but not his strongest, eleven for the Carabao Cup quarter-final. Petr Cech started in goal behind a back four of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Granit Xhaka, and Nacho Monreal. Ahead of them started the youthful pairing of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Alex Iwobi flanked Aaron Ramsey behind lone striker Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang

The visitors also switched to their cup tie goalkeeper, Gazzaniga, and relegated Harry Kane to the bench. It was interesting to see how the first North London derby to be played with VAR would turn out.

It took 90 seconds for an already hot atmosphere to ramp up a notch, Winks conceded a corner when the ball brushed his arm unintentionally. Xhaka’s near post delivery was flicked narrowly wide of the far post by the head of Mkhitaryan. Iwobi and Ramsey then combined down the left which resulted in the latter fizzing one just wide of the other far post.

The Nomads first attempt was thwarted by Maitland-Niles who blocked Eriksen’s shot in the eleventh minute. A huge roar went up when at the other end when Mkhitaryan played a one two with Ramsey but hit his shot too close to Gazzaniga and the scoresheet remained blank. Eriksen tried again but cleared the bar by some distance. This was a lively opening.

We were unhinged in the 20th minute when Alli sent a narrowly onside Son scampering through to beat Cech with a low and accurate finish. This first real test of VAR proved the onside call was a good one.

Back came the Gunners through Guendouzi’s feed to Aubameyang who drove the ball wide of the far post. Our early lack of accuracy was evident. The homeless from Middlesex almost doubled their lead in controversial circumstances when Moura and Mkhitaryan ended up on the deck at one end whilst a rapid break to the other end resulted in Sissoko blazing a fine chance into the North Bank. VAR said no penalty for us, fair enough.

With the Gunners losing too many individual battles towards the end of the half the home support were clearly exalting their team to show more fight. When a hard earned corner reached Maitland-Niles he sliced it wide of the penalty area, then Ramsey had a chance to finish Aubameyang’s block but back-heeled the ball to a grateful defender. Ramsey tried again, a glorious effort brilliantly tipped on to the post by Gazzaniga. At last, an effort on target.

The Gunners were finishing the half with much better determination. Sokratis powered another header wide of the far post. It was  a recurring theme. Then Maitland-Niles’ misdirected cross almost caught out the visiting ‘keeper. Ramsey had another shot blocked by Alderweireld.

The last action of the half saw Guendouzi bring down Moura, Jon Moss reacted to being surrounding by the bitching Alderweireld and Davies waving imaginary cards. Guendouzi was duly shown the first yellow card. In all though I thought the referee and his team had enjoyed a good half.

At half-time Laurent Koscielny came on for the injured Mkhitaryan and the Gunners reverted to a back three. How much longer would we have to wait to see Alexandre Lacazette? Iwobi’s ball across the box reached Maitland-Niles but his toe-poke was easily blocked. Iwobi, frustratingly inconsistent but hungry for the ball, was proving to be our most creative force.

Cech was called upon to save an Eriksen free-kick, then a Son cross from an offside position which would have been overturned had anything more come of it. At the other end Xhaka’s free-kick joined Sissoko’s earlier attempt high in the North Bank. Cue the arrival from the bench of Lacazette and Kane for Iwobi and Moura respectively.

Immediately Kane sent Alli in behind the high line of the back three and we were two down at a moment when we had been looking to be in the ascendency.

One sensed it might be one of those nights when Aubameyang found Lacazette who saw his first attempt bounce off a goalpost. Emery knew he had to throw the kitchen sink at the nomads now and sent on Eddie Nketiah for Guendouzi. 3-4-3 with three strikers for the hosts. The air turned blue as the home crowd raucously reminded the visitors of their lack of trophies.

Against our new set up the visitors decided to take as much time out of the game as they could, and they were aided by some idiot in the East Stand who hit Alli in the head with a light missile of some description. He took his opportunity to milk the moment to the full, but he was the one wronged.

Aubameyang struck the crossbar with a mishit cross, then Xhaka handled the ball and screamed at the linesman earning himself a deserved yellow card and taking yet more seconds off the clock. Brainless.

With eight minutes to go you would have thought we would have been knocking on the door, but Cech was called on to deal with another snapshot from Eriksen. The headless Xhaka confronted Alli for blatant time-wasting after he was pinged for offside. Luckily only Alli saw the resulting card. Kane avoided the same award when he too killed the game.

To be fair the Nomads were doing what I hope we will do when the roles are reversed at Wembley/White Hart Lane/Milton Keynes later in the season. Eriksen earned another yellow for blocking a free-kick from a yard away. Tonight was their night after their humiliation in the Premier League game 17 days ago. We move on.

Go For It Boss, Please

It’s been nagging away at you all day, hasn’t it? I know it because it has nagging away at the hordes of Gooners on social media all day. Does Unai Emery understand that large numbers of us expect our strongest fit starting eleven against the Middlesex Nomads in the Carabao Cup quarter-final? Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac have joined the injury list, and Skhodran Mustafi is 50/50 so it would be best to err on the side of caution with him.

For what it’s worth, which is pretty much nothing, I think Unai gets it totally but will go his own way regardless with a team he thinks might be able to do the job. That’s based on nothing other than a hunch that he has an unflinching belief in his priorities, and that is no bad thing.

The performance and medical staff will have a view too about what is an acceptable load for the key players as the fixtures pile up either side of Christmas. They are supposed to have drilled these players to a peak they did’t reach, allegedly, under the Arsene Wenger reign. Let them prove it then.

I would play Laurent Koscielny, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and Nacho Monreal in a back three in front of Petr Cech. Ahead of them Stephane Lichsteiner, Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. A recall for Aaron Ramsey in the centre joined by Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, both behind Alexandre Lacazette.

My hunch is that Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Guendouzi will get a start, as could Mesut Ozil, Emile Smith Rowe, and Eddie Nketiah. I’ll wager it has been nagging away at Unai Emery too. Will the visitors come with a full strength team? It is likely it will be very close. They haven’t much strength in depth. Pochettino knows a trophy is missing off his cv and the combatants on Wednesday evening are just three matches away from a Wembley Final.

It’s going to be a nervous day tomorrow, for certain.

The ‘holic pound

As I looked at the prices it dawned on me that a punt I used to use in the North London derby had come in the 4-2 Premier League win just over two weeks ago. They say lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but actually it really does. The Arsenal to be losing at half-time, but win in 90 minutes, is available at 28/1 in a couple of places. I’m on it.

Mourinho-ho-ho-ho

I cannot let the opportunity go to have one last chuckle at the specialist in failure’s sacking by Manchester United. There are millions of reasons why he may have engineered the situation, but he is unlikely to get another high-profile job with his reputation in tatters. Meanwhile Pochettino is keeping his lips sealed about the Old Trafford vacancy. Tottenham need money for the new stadium. A big money double deal for Pochettino and Kane might appeal right now?

Have a good one ‘holics.

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