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Arsene Wenger opted to play a flat back four in Milan. David Ospina returned between the posts behind the back four that struggled at Brighton on Sunday. Aaron Ramsey returned to the midfield in place of Alex Iwobi, and Danny Welbeck came in for the ineligible Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang. The manager said ahead of the game, suggesting that line-up would have to pay attention to getting our defending right first.

“You have to keep your philosophy but sometimes you have to come back with pragmatic things.”

After an emotional minute of remembrance for former Milan academy graduate Davide Astori the rossoneri were quickly into their flow and won the first three corners of the match in the opening three minutes. From the second Bonaventura was a whisker away from a cross whipped into the far post. As if a warning was needed that was certainly one.

Calhanoglu’s coming together with Calum Chambers was adjudged an accidental one by the French referee. It sparked a moment of intent as the Gunners engineered a shooting chance for Henrikh Mkhitaryan who could only find the side netting. We survived a tenth minute scare when Chambers, under pressure, presented the ball to Calhanoglu who sent Cutrone through to also find the side netting.

A couple of minutes later we avoided a penalty award when Ospina rashly came to challenge Calhanoglu and the striker chose to stay on his feet rather than do a Tottenham. It proved costly for the hosts. Mesut Ozil picked out Mkhitaryan on the left and the Armenian wriggled into a shooting position. The strike deflected off Bonucci and beyond Donnarumma to silence the crowd.

Milan 0-1 The Arsenal

The disciplined Gunners were appearing in their Jekkyl personality at this point, full of industry and willingness to work hard in defence and attack. When Milan attacked and that was often, Xhaka made up a back five and the midfield players retreated to form a second line of defence. Look at our corner in the twenty-eighth minute. We were attacking with eight players. There was a long time to go but this was an impressive start.

A horrendous collision left both Ospina and Shkodran Mustafi in a heap, but fortunately both were fit to continue. Ramsey was adjudged to have brought down Calhanoglu but the resulting free-kick was headed clear by the busy Xhaka. At the other end Chambers cross was a whisker away from the head of Welbeck and Bonucci put the ball out for a fruitless corner.

Chambers himself had the next effort and drew an impressive save from Donnarumma at full stretch. The Arsenal were hunting a second goal in packs and Welbeck, freed by the impressive Mkhitaryan, forced Donnarumma into another save. Bonucci’s flying header from a corner was glanced wide of the far post and Susso’s free-kick found only a resolute Arsenal wall. Welbeck returned the favour and set up Mkhitaryan who curled his effort onto the crossbar.

The Gunners were bossing things completely and in the last of four added minutes Ozil’s slide-rule pass put Ramsey clear to round Donnarumma and slide home the second. Unbelievable stuff. An unexpectedly excellent half of football by the Gunners.

Milan 0-2 The Arsenal

Less than four minutes after the break Donnarumma had to race out of his goal to deny Welbeck a third goal after a dreadful miskick by Kessié. Ospina then dropped on a tame effort from distance by Bonaventura. The same player then thumped a golden opportunity over the bar from close range. He then had a third effort deflected one over the bar for a corner. Clearly Gattuso had fired his team up during the interval but the Arsenal were still resolute at the back.

Milan too had switched to a four at the back instead of a very successful three and we were finding holes where few had been expected. The luckless Bonaventura sent another hopeful long range effort into the fence in front of the Curva Sud. The sight of Kolasinac, recipient of an absurd yellow card, signalling to come off was a blow. He had been excellent on the night and Ainsley Maitland-Niles deputised. Milan took the opportunity to make an attacking change sending on former Blackburn Rover Kalinic for Calhanoglu.

As the midpoint of the half we were being pegged back as the rossoneri, determined to get something out of the night, dominated long spells of possession. Ramsey was the recipient of another dubious yellow card when the theatrical Biglia performed a double-pike under the referee’s nose. Again the wall stayed firm from the resulting free-kick. The visitors were giving a defensive masterclass to the one-time kings of defending.

The chants of “Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal” reverberated around the San Siro from two thousand throats as Milan prepared to send on  former Liverpool man Borini for Calabria. That was the cue for us to waste a few more precious seconds by replacing Ozil with Rob Holding. A proper back three now in operation as the Gunners looked to close out a thoroughly professional performance.

Ospina was quick to play the sweeper when finally Milan set Kalinic free down the centre-forward channel. Chambers hobbled off to make way for Mohamed Elneny who had five minutes plus stoppages to do a passable impersonation of a right-back. Impressively we took the view that attack was the best form of defence in the final five minutes. It is a while since we have seen such a spirited performance from the lads and there will have been raised eyebrows around Europe at this performance.

Five added minutes were signalled and forward came Milan again. The not so thin blue line, superbly martialled by skipper Laurent Koscielny, were in the form of their life tonight and held firm. Where has this Arsenal been of late? Will they turn up against Watford on Sunday? Let’s see then. For tonight let’s just enjoy a fantastic performance from an under-fire team.

It’s twenty past ten on Wednesday night. In less than twenty hours we travel to Milan for the next instalment of the one competition that theoretically we can still win and qualify for the Champions League. They are enjoying an incredible revival under the old warhorse Gennaro Gattuso. They are unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions and have started beating the teams above them, winning six straight games and booking their place in the Coppa Italia final.

Of course the reason for the late post is that I have just watched the neighbours crumble at the last sixteen stage of the Champions League that became our Achilles heel. Yes, I have gloated, for that is what we do. Now it is sinking in though. We somehow believe that English clubs can turn over their Italian counterparts because we play at a faster tempo, because they don’t travel well.

We even have a track record of some wonderful nights in the San Siro (but some horrors too, don’t forget), and shorn of confidence and strikers we are not in the best shape going into this one. It is hard to make a logical case for us progressing here, but an Arsenal team playing with discipline and commitment should do just that. This is a real test of the ability of this manager to bring the best out of this squad of players.

Let’s be honest, we have to start with Danny Welbeck as our only striker. That means a back five, forget this back three smoke and mirrors. Leave gaps for Milan to exploit and we are in for a painful night. With no Nacho we are missing our best defender (and of late our best striker too!), but Per Mertesacker or Rob Holding should be added to Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny in the centre of the defence.

With Hector Belllerin ruled out, for whatever reason, we need the next best option. In an attacking set-up I would be tempted to give Reiss Nelson a go, but defending will be the prime requirement. Calum Chambers may have struggled at Brighton, but the lad has got experience there and is likely to get the gig. On the left too we have the option of the young Ainsley Maitland-Niles or the experienced Sead Kolasinac. Kola has struggled like the rest of the side of late, but knows what he needs to do in this vital contest.

If we are five strong at the back and Danny up top we have to get the midfield quartet right. A diamond would suit our attacking players, but this is not a match to deny the defence the best protection we can give them. We don’t have any defensive midfielders in truth since the departure of Coquelin (well, Gilberto Silva to be fair). Granit Xhaka has been the lightning rod of late and might be best taken out of the firing line. Mohamed Elneny and Aaron Ramsey might just be the choice in front of the defence with firm instructions given that one must always stay at home.

That leaves two places for Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. They are the intelligent players that Arsene Wenger talks about. Trust them to slot into the places right and left that they need to when we counter attack, drop to block the obvious passing lines when we are defending. Spring with pace when we have the ball and always be available. That is what £350,000 a week should buy you.

Finally, use Welbeck wisely. He isn’t Olivier Giroud, so balls lumped up in his general direction will not stick. Look for the gaps between the defenders that he will appreciate. The very same passes we haven’t provided for the injured Alexander Lacazette and the ineligible Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang so far. This is absolutely key and is a lesson we need to carry forward beyond the San Siro.

The ‘holic pound

Our current form means I am making weekly donations to the likes of Paddy and Victor. The bare minimum pound is to be staked on my forecast in this week’s ABW podcast which you will find below. 38 years on from our dramatic Cup-Winners Cup semi-final win at Juve with a last minute header from the young Paul Vaessen I am trusting in the fact that lightning can indeed strike twice. We were given no chance that night either. With a little bit of tongue in cheek I am on the Gunners to win 1-0, with a back-up pound on the goalscorer to be Eddie Nketiah from the bench.

Whether you are in Milan, or stuck in front of a televisual device, at 6.oo pm UK time have a great one ‘holics. Everything crossed.

Well, Arsene Wenger did ring the changes and for whatever reason Hector Bellerin, Aaron Ramsey, and Danny Welbeck made way for Calum Chambers, Jack Wilshere, and Alex Iwobi. With a trip to Milan looming on Thursday the Arsenal were seeking a confidence boosting three points.

The visitors started well and had the first meaningful effort, Mesut Ozil curling one over from the inside-right channel in the fourth minute. Then Henrykh Mkhitaryan’s whipped cross was sliced over his own goal by Dunk. It proved to be a false dawn however. Petr Cech flapped at Brighton’s first corner, under some questionable pressure from Duffy, and the ball dropped at the feet of Dunk who found the target at the right end.

Brighton 1-0 The Arsenal

A brief spell of pressure and further Brighton corners were weathered but the Gunners lapsed into that oh so familiar slow build up with lots of possession but no penetration routine. Bereft of confidence and stung by an early set-back we looked in need of a moment of inspiration, but from whom?

In the twentieth minute Laurent Koscielny’s careless pass gifted the Seagulls a golden opportunity to double their lead. Knockaert’s side foot effort lacked the power to beat Cech. Another corner resulted in a free header, fortunately over the top, from Duffy. These were warnings not heeded by the Arsenal defence. In came another cross and Murray, in the huge gap between Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi, planted his header under Cech. Schoolboy defending all round.

Brighton 2-0 The Arsenal

The pattern of the first-half had been set and the mood of the travelling faithful was turning again. “We want Wenger out” rang around the Amex. It is hard to argue that this group of players is of a mind to fight for the manager. That is as damning an indictment of them as it is of him. Jack Wilshere’s nasty lunge on Knockaert summed up the frustration felt by many and earned him a deserved yellow card.

Rampant Brighton were launching wave after wave of attacks against the Gunners badly protected rearguard. Lulled into a sense of security they fell to a sucker punch inspired by Ozil dropping to the halfway line to help out his defence. The move ended with Granit Xhaka finding Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang, who finished with a deft flick from point-blank range. Would that be the moment that turned things around. The muted celebration spoke volumes about the spirit in the camp at that moment.

Brighton 2-1 The Arsenal

That certainly signalled a momentary change in approach by the visitors and we could have scrambled an equaliser at the end of the half when Koscielny’s deflected header came back off a post. Where there was misery, there now was hope.

The start of the second-half was worrying as Brighton picked up where they left off in the first, and we didn’t look like a team that had been lifted or shamed into putting in more effort. Xhaka was next to see yellow for a pointless trip on Bong. We mounted a rare breakout which ended with Alex Iwobi forcing a save by Ryan. A light had been turned on. Wilshere and Ozil powered forward and the latter forced another excellent save by the Brighton custodian.

Aubamayang rounded Ryan but the goalkeeper got aa hand to his attempted cross. Stephens felled Wilshere 24 yards out and saw yellow but Xhaka fired the resulting free-kick straight into the wall. Mustafi headed a corner straight at Ryan. It was like watching a different team. Schelotto’s dreadful lunge at Xhaka saw him the latest to receive a booking.

For the first time in the match Brighton were hanging on. Then all hell broke loose. Sead Kolasinac, carded for dissent in the first-half, collided with Schelotto sparking handbags all round. Brighton fans, not privy to the replays that showed both players only had eyes for the ball. Their xenophobic chant in the minutes that followed did them no credit. Schelotto and Kolasinac shook hands as the Brighton player was led away for treatment.

Danny Welbeck was sent on for Iwobi, and Brighton March replaced the petulant Knockaert, prominent in the earlier handbags and throwing his toys out of his pram on the bench. Murray was the next to earn the displeasure of the referee for another lunge on Wilshere. The hosts were desperately trying to upset the Gunners tempo.

Wenger’s last throw of the dice was to send on Bellerin for Chambers and Eddie N’ketiah for Mkhitaryan. Their momentum had been broken by an intelligent Brighton side, but with Wilshere prominently involved we tried to build a head of steam again. N’ketiah was on the end of a cross but his header lacked power and Ryan snapped it up. Ozil’s shot was deflected away for a corner by Bruno and Wilshire blasted one wide as seven added minutes was signalled.

Trying to capture the feelings as this match progressed was an insight. I won’t change what I wrote in the first hour, but without doubt this team did show a reaction in the final third of the contest. Quite how this team can turn from Hyde to Jekkyl like that is as much a mystery to Wenger as it is to the rest of us. Aubamayanf fired on target, but too close to Ryan.

Bellerin won a race to deny the Seagulls on a rare breakout. Mustafi fouled Murray giving Brighton the chance to run down the clock with the resulting free-kick. We had run out of steam and The whistle blew on another defeat for this inconsistent and broken team. Who can lift them? That is the question tonight, tomorrow, and this week.

A week from hell is passing into history, although it is possible the repercussions have yet to be fully felt. Following two comprehensive defeats to a very good Manchester City team we have had the apparent briefing of members of the fourth estate by disgruntled players. If true then there is only one outcome.

A new week, a new challenge for a team with confidence at rock bottom. Brighton have a game based on breaking quickly and on both flanks which is exactly where City unhinged us on Thursday. They do have a plan B too. They won’t hesitate to hit long balls for Glenn Murray to scrap for. If Shkodran Mustafi felt bullied by Sergio Aguero then he may have further problems tomorrow.

Brighton, managed by the rarest of animals, a likeable ex-Llilywhite, have had a wonderful February, winning three and drawing one in League and Cup. In the process they have scored eleven goals and conceded just four. In their three home games in the month they were 10-3. To say they are on form is to underestimate them.

Under-fire Arsene Wenger is said to be considering changes to the team and it will be interesting to see who he might leave out. Those rumoured to be unhappy with how the club is run are some of the ones we could least do without on Sunday. I think he realises that the need for points is so great the changes will actually be few and far between.

David Ospina for Petr Cech would have been more likely if both hadn’t conceded three against City in the last week. It is more likely that Ainsley Maitland_Niles will come in for Sead Kolasinac. Mohamed Elneny for Granit Xhaka would be popular. Alex Iwobi might be on standby if Danny Welbeck is ruled out as has been rumoured today.

Our record at the Amex has been very good, which also suggests that Brighton are due their first home win against us since 1982. The Seagulls are looking to equal their Premier League record of three consecutive home wins whilst the visitors will hopefully be determined not to equal their record of four consecutive away defeats.

The ‘holic pound

We have to hope that the players meeting will galvanise the team in the same way as happened in the double season of 1970-71. After a 5-0 thumping at Stoke Frank Mclintock called his team together for a ‘no holds barred’ exchange of views in Highbury’s halfway house. We don’t have a Mclintock in this squad but there are senior players who should have been sharing some home truths with those not producing right now.

I will assume for the purpose of the punt that we will see a squad persuaded to stop feeling sorry for themselves and to give every last drop of effort to secure a win that would be far more significant than the three points up for grabs. After ten matches without a blank sheet I am calling on Petr Cech to ensure his new record in this one, with a single goal victory secured hopefully by Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang. The man is class and must surely start showing it soon.

Going to the game?

If you are one of the travelling Gooners it looks as the Southern Rail and the weather are doing their damndest to make it a potential problem. If you are on Twitter check out @GrampianGooner who is now nine hours into his trip from Falkirk High and is somewhere between Newcastle and York. I wish his travelling companion and him, and all of you well. It will be a tough journey and I pray the team turns up for those of you who complete the journey.

Arsene Wenger reverted to a back four and as expected relegated Calum Chambers to the bench. Petr Cech returned behind Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny,  ans Sead Kolasinac. Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka lined up behind Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Ozil, and perhaps surprisingly Danny Welbeck. Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang was retained up front.

Those players owed the hardy support who were able to attend a spirited response to their no-show in Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final. Quite why this match was played under the circumstances defied common sense. The threadbare crowd told a tale of the travel chaos facing so many supporters, as well as a degree of disillusionment among the Gooners.

A second minute burst by Aubamayang was thwarted by City’s sweeper-keeper, Ederson, and the custodian came out on top when Ramsey tried to play the ex-Dortmund striker again five minutes later. In the same move Welbeck claimed to have been tripped over in the box by Kompany, but nothing was given.

With twelve minutes gone Ramsey and Ozil combined to present a shooting opportunity for Mkhitaryan but once more Ederson was equal to the effort. However two minutes later Sane exploded into life and laid the ball to Bernardo Silva who sent a curling effort inside Cech’s far post. It was tough on the hosts who had started brightly enough.

The Arsenal 0-1 Manchester City 

“This is a real test of Arsenal’s character” said Gary Neville, so critical of the team at Wembley on Sunday. Otamendi saw yellow when blocking Welbeck’s promising break as we sought to respond. Xhaka’s free-kick was saved by the City ‘goalkeeper at the expense of a corner. The overlapping Bellerin found Ramsey on the edge of the box and turned a shot that tested but didn’t beat the busy Ederson.

For all that the Arsenal were playing with a deal more positivity it was City who doubled their advantage when Sane and Aguero linked up to play in David Silva who beat Cech comfortably. You have to applaud the visitors, worthy champions-elect.

The Arsenal 0-2 Manchester City

In the thirty-third minute the match was effectively ended as a contest, and this time it was Sane as scorer rather than provider. The boos rang out from a disgruntled if sparse home support. There were a number of empty seats shown in the directors box. They are happy to let the manager be the lightning rod for the bolts of anger from a toxic crowd.

The Arsenal 0-3 Manchester City

But for Cech it could have been four when Aguero found himself in the clear at point blank range. At the other end Ozil’s effort was blocked for a corner. A friend noted we were having so many chances but not taking them. It really could have been 3-3 at this point. Xhaka tried his luck once more but inevitably Ederson was right behind it.

The half-time whistle brought with it more jeers and I just made out a small chant of “you don’t know what you’re doing” as the team walked off. Perhaps it was being directed at the manager? Whilst understanding the mood surrounding the club at the moment I thought that particular chant more relevent to last Sunday’s performance than tonight. We had run into a very, very good City team playing like us in our pomp over a decade ago.

Six minutes into the second-half Otamendi, already booked, tripped Mkitaryan in the box, avoided a second caution, and presented Aubamayang with his first penalty-kick for the Gunners. It won’t live in the memory long. The outstanding Ederson was equal to the expensive striker’s poor spot-kick. Auba had the chance to make amends but volleyed Ramsey’s clever chip wide of the target.

Champions need a hard core and their defenders were all prepared to leave a little on opponents in equal challenges. It’s one of the things you have to admire in them. We used to have players who did the same. Now the Citizens have a defence well versed in the dark arts. That is an observation, not a criticism. It’s up to the referee to put a stop to it. Mr Marriner showed no inclination to do so.

City made the first substitution and Walker, who had bullied Welbeck throughout the half, made way for Zinchenko. That Wenger hadn’t brought anyone off with Sunday in mind was something of a mystery. We can win that one, maybe. This match had long since flown. Guardiola was barking out instructions to his team while Arsene sat looking more unwell than we have seen for a while. This run is taking it’s toll on a proud man.

Cech’s right hand was big enough to palm another Aguero strike to safety as a quiet second-half petered out. City had far too easily throttled the life out of the game by this point and after an encouraging hour the Gunners looked resigned to their fate. Aguero was spared for City’s weekend fixture and Yaya Toure got a rare outing as a substitute in the snow. The City fans, many of whom are not unfamiliar with white powder, chanted the Toure song loud and proud. Gabriel Jesus was introduced for David Silva.

A quiet but enthusiastic chant of “Eddiie, Eddie” was probably intended to remind the manager that he had a substitutes bench behind him. “One Arsene Wenger” chanted the away end. Half and half offering of respect and derision perhaps? They don’t expect to face him again.

The final whistle yielded the expected additional chorus of boos for manager and team from very few remaining supporters. You can’t deny them that. They made great efforts to get there tonight, and in the second-half were let down badly. These are torrid days to be a Gooner. I have lived through worse though. Devoid of belief this side has to produce something on Sunday.

When you’ve fallen off a horse the best thing you can do, some say, is to get right back on it. Weather permitting we will be back on tomorrow, and what’s more taking on the same thoroughbreds who gave us a severe beating at Wembley on Sunday. With apologies for the necessary brevity of this piece let’s preview the match.

What can Arsene Wenger do differently? He is forced into one change with Nacho Monreal ruled out with a back injury. The temptation to leave out Calum Chambers, go with a flat back four, and strengthen the midfield must be a strong one for the manager. In that case Petr Cech can expect a recall behind Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, and Sead Kolasinac.

That would allow the selection of Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka behind a trio of Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Hopefully the latter can help bring the best out of Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang up front.

Manchester City will be without Fernandinho, who suffered a hamstring strain at Wembley. Raheem Sterling surely won’t be risked and Fabian Delph serves the second of his three-match ban.

City’s plan to travel down by train on the day of the fixture has provided the great wits of social media with the opportunity to say them not making it through the severe weather on time is our only chance of getting the three points. For sure the Arsenal will face a very difficult task if the fixture survives the predicted snowfall but it remains a fact that the Gunners have by and large played well in front of the home fans this season.

The ‘holic pound

On the High Street the hosts can be backed at 19/5 just to win the match which shows how confident the bookies are of a City win. I have been tempted into that punt rather than second-guessing the score.

Those planning to attend will not need telling to wrap up. The forecast temperature is around zero degrees but it will feel much colder in the breeze. There’s around a 10% chance of copping snow showers too. Here’s hoping the Arsenal turn up with the intention and confidence to make amends for their no-show on Sunday.

If you can, have a good one ‘holics.

The beauty of being at Wembley yesterday was not being able to post a review of the match last night. Looking at the press and other blogs today it seems that nearly everybody saw the same game that I did.

Let me take that a bit further. The beauty of yesterday was the taxi turning up on time, the train running on time, a first pint in the Queens Head in Pinner. Followed by a superb three course Sunday lunch with a bottle of Pino Grigio, and another of the delicious Ribera del Duero, at the excellent Friends restaurant with good friends.

The stroll up the slope at the stadium end of Wembley Way and there we were, among a sea of red clad supporters smiling, laughing, exchanging pleasantries. I even got to meet Nick Feldman (thanks Steve), a gentleman. I was in a dance hall daze!

Then it was into my seat in row 40, not a bad view I thought. This felt positive. Then the first signs that it might not be too enjoyable an afternoon. “Sit Down!” echoed around. At Cup Finals I’m expecting to be standing up in the lower tier behind the goal. Then the atmosphere. The songs started but petered out more often than not. Swathes of people not contributing vocally.

The game started ok. We might even have had the lead to celebrate had Pierre-Emerich Aubamayang found a finish to the first big chance of the match although VAR would probably have come to City’s aid. He looked to be offside. Then the first goal arrived. Not for the first time we were unhinged by a long ball down the centre of the pitch. Skhodran Mustafi got it all wrong, the cover had gone AWOL, Aguero of all people had the simple task of lobbing David Ospina.

What followed was seventy minutes or so of mind-numbing ineptitude. The lack of effort on the pitch being largely reflected off it. So many silent ‘customers’. A wee hip flask of Laphroaig kept the cold at bay during the half-time break. We’ll come out suitably chastised and have a proper go at them in the second-half, I tried to convince myself. Of course we didn’t.

Now I have been at many big match defeats in the past. Swindon Town, Ipswich Town, West Ham United, Luton Town, Birmingham City, all at Wembley. Yet in nearly fifty years of Finals at Wembley that was the standout as our worst performance of them all. We weren’t great against Leeds United in 1972, and like yesterday we were playing a very good team, but at least we have the memory of Charlie George crashing a shot against the crossbar that could have taken us to extra-time.

The third goal yesterday from David Silva, just seven minutes after Vincent Kompany had struck the second, sparked a steady flow of dispirited Gooners for the exit gates. I couldn’t blame them. I held on thinking a miracle might still happen in the twenty five remaining minutes. A quarter of an hour later I joined them. The new Wembley is a nightmare to depart at the end. I was in Paddington Station before the City celebrations were over.

Yesterday, however, wasn’t about supporters growing level of apathy. It wasn’t even about the players who seemingly could not get up for a Wembley Final. Yesterday was about the cruel exposure of one man. City are a fabulous team, they will be worthy champions, they would probably have found another gear had the Arsenal set about them with enthusiasm, discipline, pace of thought and body. We didn’t. Arsene can’t motivate this squad any longer. They have heard everything he has to say.

I always dreaded it ending this way. He changed football in England and treated us to some of the finest football, and footballers, we have ever had the pleasure to witness. He played a major part in dragging the club into the twenty-first century. He has had his opportunities to bow out a winner in the last five years. The Europa League may yet afford him one last such opportunity, but looking at his squad in 2018 it is tough to see that becoming a reality.

So I have added to the forest of negativity present everywhere today. I want to apologise, but for what? From what I have seen today, this year, this season, so many have now come to the view that we are witnessing the final months of the reign of a remarkable man. This isn’t how it should have been, and I take no pleasure from it, but for the good of our club it’s time for the change that has already been put in motion by the restructuring of the organisation.

Just let the man depart, his dignity intact, with the cheers of appreciation so utterly deserved for past successes ringing in his ears. We were so lucky to have him.

The EFL Cup has provided mixed emotions for supporters of my generation. We have played in seven finals and won just two of them to date. It may be the lowest in our list of priorities these days, but it is a trophy and one many would love to see us win again.

My first in the flesh was our second, a day when huge underdogs Swindon Town beat us 3-1 after extra time on a quagmire of a pitch. That was 49 years ago. This year, if the popular press are to be believed, it is us going in as the massive underdogs against champions elect Manchester City. The bookies agree quoting City at 8/13 and us at 9/2.

Less than a year ago we overcame City with a resolute display in the FA Cup semi-final. The switch to a back three gave us a degree of defensive solidity that few expected. We need another performance like that against a team now clearly the best in the country by some distance. As we should know, having lost to Swindon, Luton, and Birmingham in previous Finals, underdogs often do have their day at Wembley. Ask City, reminded only last Monday of their FA Cup Final defeat by Wigan.

It will be a boost to welcome back Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang following his Europa League ineligibility. Fresh and raring to go our ability to give him the service he can thrive on may hold the key to an unexpected third EFL Cup for the Gunners. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan out cup-tied much of the creative spotlight will fall on Mesut Ozil.

So, how do we line up ahead of the cup tie goalkeeper, David Ospina? I would follow the example of last years formation and start our best back three of Laurent Koscielny, Skhodran Mustafi, and Nacho Monreal. Hector Bellerin on one flank and toss a coin between Sead Kolasinac or Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the other. Perhaps the more experienced player may get the nod this time?

In midfield it may be time to re-unite Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka behind Ozil and Jack Wilshere. They have to provide the ammunition for Aubamayang to make his name in English football. That side is about as good as we can put out at the moment and they must be prepared to work extremely hard for each other both in attacking and defensive situations.

City will be missing the injured Sterling and the suspended Delph, but may welcome back the dangerous Gabriel Jesus. Kevin De Bruyne, enjoying an excellent season, is but one of the many dangers to us. Leroy Sane, David and Bernardo Silva, and the prolific Sergio Kun Aguero would test any team.

We have had our best moments at home this season but a cold early evening at Wembley could see us land an eleventh trophy under Arsene Wenger, and a clean sweep of domestic trophies under the Frenchman’s management. The discussions about his future can be put on hold this weekend. It’s time to get behind a team who will need our full and most vocal support inside the stadium.

The ‘holic pound

Regardless of who we pick and what system to play you have to expect City to score a goal or two, especially as they will be stinging after their unlikely defeat at Wigan in the FA Cup on Monday. Therefore I am backing us to outscore them, which means the pound is split between 2-1 at 17/1, and 3-2 at a massive 40/1. Which brings us back to Aubamayang. Big money players deliver in big games, and it is time to show he is just that.

My confidence level is fluctuating by the minute to be honest, but in the last three FA Cup Finals Bath, Bergkamp the Man, and I, have enjoyed a pre-Wembley meal at the same restaurant. We have drunk the same excellent red wine before staggering up the slope at the end of Wembley Way to watch our team win the trophy. You don’t fix what isn’t broken so we will once again take our seats in that same wonderful eatery before the long march to triumph.

For those of you watching at home I hope we are able to sing the team to a triumph to make your day as well as ours.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

The Arsenal went with a stronger eleven than was expected by some. Ahead of David Ospina was a back four of Hector Bellerin, Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, and Sead Kolasinac. Ainsley Maitland-Niles got a second opportunity to partner Mohamed Elneny behind a trio of Alex Iwobi, Jack Wilshere, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Danny Welbeck was given the chance to regain some more match-fitness.

The visitors started more positively than a week ago and earned a corner in the opening minute. Wilshere headed clear at the near post. Three minutes later a goal bound strike by Hopcutt was blocked by Calum Chambers and scrambled to safety. The first corner for Arsenal followed as Papagiannopoulos deflected behind a through ball intended for Danny Welbeck. Not only did we clear the near post for once, but the far post too!

Before ten minutes were on the clock Ghoddos put his captain, Nouri, free in the box but fortunately for us his first-touch surrendered a great opportunity. Were the Gunners heeding these warnings? Iwobi’s attempt from the inside-left channel sailed high and wide of the far post. At least we had engineered an opening.

Midway through the first half the Arsenal defence was caught out of shape twice in little over a minute. First Aiesh was freed in space on the right flank, cut in and saw his effort deflected inside the far post by Chambers. It didn’t get better for the young defender. Sema turned him rather too easily and smashed a left footed effort wide off Ospina’s left hand. 3-2 on aggregate looked a narrow advantage at this stage.

On the half-hour Edwards had a go from outside the box, but thankfully his fine drive was narrowly wide of the target. There was only one team attacking with purpose. When Iwobi won a free-kick in the attacking third Mkhitaryan’s cross was flicked on by Welbeck, took a deflection off a defender, and ended up in the arms of the Ostersund goalkeeper, Keita, at the second attempt.

Three minutes before half-time Keita dropped Mkhitaryan’s free-kick at the feet of Wilshere but the skipper blazed his half volley into row Z of the Clock End. Ostersund drove forward again, Maitland-Niles took a yellow card for the team at the cost of a free-kick that Ghoddos got on target but Ospina was equal to. An enormous chorus of boos not unexpectedly greeted the half-time whistle. Martin Keown spoke of his embarrassment at our performance during the interval.

The Arsenal response was to send on Granit Xhaka for the unfortunate Maitland-Niles. A flowing attack ended with Bellerin crossing to the far post for Kolasinac to smash home the goal that calmed the nerves. A two goal cushion restored, we finally showed some purpose. Welbeck broke free down the left and attempted to chip Keita from an impossible angle. The goalkeeper saved comfortably.

Six minutes into the half goalscorer Aiesh hobbled off to be replaced by Tekie. Potential disaster was averted when Ospina bravely dived at the feet of Mukiibi when a glancing header dropped invitingly between the two. It was another warning that the contest was far from over. The possibility of defeat on away goals hung in the air.

Elneny’s foray into Ostersunds territory ended with a drive that stung Keita’s palms. Midway through the half Iwobi created space to cross onto the head of Welbeck, but the out-of-touch striker guided his effort straight at Keita from six yards out. Xhaka teed up Kolasinac for a volley but the Full-back was denied a brace by a mishit finish. Mukiibi made way for an attacker, Islamovic. We responded by sending on Joe Willock for Wilshere who was not moving too well.

Ten minutes from the end Chambers connected with a Xhaka corner at the near post but sent his header over the top. That allowed the visitors to make their final change, Arhin for the impressive Hopcutt. Ghoddos played a beautiful curling cross in which Islamovic came close to converting. Back came the Gunners only for Iwobi to chip one over the target.

As the match petered out in front of a rapidly diminishing crowd Mkhitaryan picked up a needlesss yellow card for a late challenge and the biggest cheer of the night greeted the referee taking a spectacular tumble. The luckless Welbeck made room to hit a left foot effort straight at Keita. Iwobi, suffering from cramp, was substituted by Reiss Nelson and the final whistle put an end to our fifth consecutive home defeat in the knock out stages of European competitions.

Verdict at the end of the night. Must do better. Bigger and better teams lie in wait in the last sixteen.

After our very solid three goal triumph in Ostersund last week, and with the Carabao Cup Final to look forward to on Sunday, Arsene Wenger hinted that a very young team supplemented with a few wise heads will start the second-leg on Thursday evening.

David Ospina has been confirmed as the starting goalkeeper for both Thursday and Sunday. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, cup-tied for Sunday, will start as well as Danny Welbeck. It’s unclear if the manager will start any first-choice defenders? Konstantinos Mavropanos trained with the first team and could be in line for a first team debut, possibly alongside Rob Holding, with Calum Chambers and Sead Kolasinac starting in the full-back berths.

Ainsley-Maitland Niles may get another opportunity to play in a holding midfield pairing with either Granit Xhaka or Mohamed Elneny. It would not be a surprise to see Mkhitaryan flanked by Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock playmaking behind Welbeck.

In case things take a turn for the worse on the night it might be an idea to have the likes of Hector Bellerin, Skhodran Mustafi, Nacho Monreal, Jack Wilshere, and Alex Iwobi on the bench with Matt Macey and Eddie Nketiah. Ostersunds didn’t look a bad side after the opening half an hour last week and we will have to strengthen if they find a way back into the tie.

Mesut Ozil is ruled out after spending a couple more days in bed with illness. The boy is a wonderful footballer but he needs to up his intake of vitamin C. Aaron Ramsey did return to training today (Wednesday) but is considered ‘a bit short’ for this match. He may yet feature on Sunday depending on his progress in the coming days.

Asked about his approach to the competition in his pre-match press conference the manager outlined his priorities.

“We have to focus on the Premier League. The Europa League is one of the priorities we have, but ideally we want to come back to the Champions League through the Premier League.”

Whilst we will understand that he has to say that the top four horse seems to have bolted and will take some catching. This competition is our best chance of returning to the top table of European football despite the fact that some very difficult opposition lies in wait from the last sixteen onwards.

The ‘holic pound

Ostersund have nothing to lose and I’m not expecting us to keep a clean sheet, but I am hopeful that an admittedly weakened Gunners line-up will feel they have a point to prove and will produce a performance. I’ve grabbed the 19/2 offered by one High Street bookie against a 3-1 home win.

It will be a little warmer at the Grove tomorrow night than it was in Sweden last week, but you will still need to wrap up with temperatures set to drop to two degrees. As ever, have a good one ‘holics.

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