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A Thursday night in March. It must be the Europa League again, but we need to produce a performance to repair the damage done in Rennes last week if we are to book our place in the quarter-finals. Unai Emery seems to be in a positive mood ahead of the match.

“We do have confidence that we’re going to give a very big performance tomorrow and go through to the next round.”

Much though most, I suspect, would like to see an unchanged team from Sunday we will be without the suspended Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Presumably that will mean a recall for Shkodran Mustafi? Petr Cech will likely start in goal. Alexandre Lacazette’s successful appeal against the severity of his suspension means we could play he and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang together again.

We had a good look at what Rennes can do last week and will be aware of the blistering pace of Sarr and the guile of Ben Arfa. The French side will have gained confidence from their 3-1 triumph last week but it should be remembered that until Sokratis was sent off we were in complete control of the match and looking to build on our one goal advantage. That away goal may yet prove crucial.

The ‘holic pound

I’m basing my punt on this match on the selection of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil as well as Lacazette and Aubameyang. They gave Manchester United a torrid time at the weekend and Rennes will not fancy facing our most attacking line-up. With a two goal advantage we can expect Rennes to be safety first and hope to utilise the pace of Sarr on the occasional break.

The bookmakers make 2-0 home win the favourite at a best price of 13/2 and that would be enough to take us through on away goals. I’ve been bullish for some weeks now and I have taken 8/1 against us winning 3-0.

It will be good to watch an 8pm kick-off in this competition again. Hopefully that will encourage a nearly full stadium and a positive atmosphere. I wish those of you that are going a very enjoyable evening.

Have a good one. ‘holics.

I think back just over a month to Sunday, 3rd February. At the Emptihad we are humbled by Manchester City, 3-1. This is not in itself surprising, nor unexpected. We have gone into the game, as we have so many of late, without our two most creative forces. Aaron Ramsey gets on with 24 minutes to go by which time the final score has been achieved. We are sixth, and surely will finish in that place?

Social media is full of bewilderment about what exactly Unai Emery’s vision is. I have to say I share that view at that point in time. We appear to have regressed. Devoid of imagination we don’t look likely to secure a Champions League berth via the Premier League. How can this dysfunctional team even hope to land the Europa League? But was this a turning point that the head coach had in his mind all along?

Or was it the following week when we went to clearly doomed Huddersfield, grabbed a two goal advantage, and ended up relieved to claim the points after a torrid second-half display? Perhaps the away leg at Bate Borisov? Aaron is still injured, and Mesut is absent for whatever reason, and that is not casting any aspersions one way or the other. His situation has been more complex than most Gooners know, possibly.

For the second leg against Bate Emery feels able to include Ozil. We’re ahead and should finish the job at home, surely? A comfortable 3-0 win ensues and the performance encourages. The opposition though, not the best, eh? Most of us are pessimists at heart.

Southampton at home follows. A banana skin when we played them away. Aaron is fit again. He can’t play with Mesut though, can he? Ramsey starts, and again we are looking more like The Arsenal. Early goals from Lacazette and the rejuvenated Mkhitaryan put an end to the contest and Ozil is introduced for Rambo as the game reaches a satisfactory conclusion. We are up to fourth place with eleven matches to play. It’s a good day.

Bournemouth have proved a handful on occasion, but Emery trusts Ozil to start. He still can’t play with Rambo, can he? The Welshman is on the bench. Mesut is the magician, the creator in chief as we knock in five in a display that has been coming. Creative? This is what we pay to watch. “Mesut helped us with his quality and work,” Emery said afterwards. “All the players should be proud tonight and it is the same for Mesut.”

And so to March. The Middlesex Nomads away. Unai again goes with a choice of one or the other. He gets it right in as much as Aaron opens the scoring as we give the enemy the biggest 1-1 thrashing of the season. They hadn’t drawn a League match until this, and nobody who saw it will understand how they got a point from this one.

Forgive me if I quickly swerve the next game. Mesut starts in Rennes and is doing what we expect until the first-half red card for Sokratis. I believe we call this a blip.

Sunday afternoon. Gary Neville breaks an embargo and tweets a team sheet for the big match of the day. The Arsenal versus Manchester United for fourth place in the table. Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey? That has to be a photoshop surely? Only it isn’t.

I would love to think that one of two things has happened. Either Emery has been manipulating his most talented midfielders for precisely the situation we find ourselves in, or he has been persuaded by popular opinion that The Arsenal need more than just a work ethic to succeed. Looking at the shift both players put in as United were swatted aside I am inclined to the Emery as cajoler theory.

Whatever, we have a few weeks left to enjoy Aaron who is leaving for reasons entirely unknown to most, and Mesut has shown he is capable of producing what his head coach has wanted from him in the wake of a World Cup nightmare. The creativity that we lacked either side of Christmas is well and truly back. Whisper it softly, but we are very much in the hunt for top three, and no Champions League qualifier in August, again.

Unai, playmakers, thank you. It’s all we could ask for right now.

Unai Emery’s selection took many by surprise when it was confirmed an hour before kick-off. From the defeat in Rennes out went Petr Cech, Shkodran Mustafi, Lucas Torreira (suspended), Alex Iwobi, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (back). Promoted to a very attacking looking eleven were Bernd Leno, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sead Kolasinac, Aaron Ramsey, and Alexandre Lacazette.

We started with a 3-4-1-2 formation but the ability to quickly switch that was probably in Emery’s mind. The first big chance fell to Lacazette with less than two minutes on the clock but he was unable to apply the finishing touch to a whipped in cross from Kolasinac. The Gunners started well and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang tried his luck with a volley that cleared the target.

We were duly warned however when Lukaku somehow hit the crossbar from point-blank range in the ninth minute. With so much attacking talent on the pitch this was promising to be a high-scoring affair. In the 12th minute Maitland-Niles and Lacazette combined to tee up Granit Xhaka for a twenty yarder that swerved into the net with de Gea wrong-footed. Cue “One nil, to The Arsenal” ringing out around the stadium.

The Arsenal 1-0 Manchester United

Three minutes later it could have been two. Mesut Ozil played in Lacazette who saw his deflected effort caught by de Gea. We had another warning shot across the bows when Fred thumped a drive against the outside of Leno’s left-hand post. A richly entertaining contest was taking shape.

A sweeping move from one end to the other ended with Ramsey skying a Maitland-Niles cross that was just under his feet. More of this please. Lacazette found another shooting opportunity which was deflected away for an unproductive corner.

Pogba’s long-range effort was safely pouched by Leno and Rashford failed to get to a hopeful far post cross as the visitors attempted to get on terms. Back came the Gunners with Aubameyang fizzing a ball across the face of goal a yard ahead of Lacazette. We needed, and probably deserved, a second goal. Lacazette tried his luck again when snatching at Aubameyang’s pass under pressure from Young.

Lukaku’s strange afternoon continued when he wriggled free at the far post only to be denied by a scrambling Leno. The fragility of the one goal advantage was again evident. Sokratis was adjudged to have fouled Pogba and booked by referee Jon Moss. For the second consecutive match he would be walking a disciplinary tightrope. The referee was having a reasonable game but his assistants were upsetting the home support with some highly questionable flags.

The moment I typed that Xhaka cleared a threatening United break and was clattered by Rashford as he did so. Kolasinac set up a three on three counter attack situation but Mr Moss whistled to allow the stricken Xhaka some treatment. It was a dramatic end to a wonderfully entertaining first-half. How would we follow that?

Leno was called upon to play sweeper-keeper when Lukaku was left in the clear in the inside-left channel. He had to make an even better save to deny the same striker when he was given the ball inside the six yard box. It was an ominous opening to the half for the hosts.

Astonishingly Pogba was allowed to haul Ramsey down with a choke hold right in front of the referee. There was no further action taken than the award of the free-kick. Aubameyang brought down Pogba on the edge of the box and Rashford lashed the free-kick mercifully wide of the mark. An hour on the clock, and the run of play had definitely changed.

We responded through a blocked Aubameyang shot and a wayward Xhaka effort. That raised the temperature in the ground again. Pressure was applied again and once more Leno was called on to smother Rashford’s effort in a one on one.

The half turned on it’s head in the 68th minute when Fred halted Lacazette’s run into the box illegally. Aubameyang, the miss at Tottenham fresh in the mind, stepped up and sent de Gea the wrong way. We had that seemingly vital second goal. It was sad to see some utter numbskulls invading the pitch, particularly after what had happened earlier at Birmingham.

The Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United

Almost immediately Lindelof misjudged a bouncing ball and Lacazette was clear but just pulled his shot wide when a third goal looked likely. We were back on the front foot. Sokratis headed a corner into the centre of the goal area and United somehow scrambled it clear.

As we rampaged forward again Pogba flattened Xhaka and finally saw the yellow card that was the minimum he should have seen earlier. Unai Emery took the opportunity to withdraw Ozil to a standing ovation from an appreciative home support. On came Iwobi. Aubameyang too was afforded his ovation and Denis Suarez came on for the final ten minutes plus stoppage time.

Suarez and Iwobi opened up United’s left flank and they had to scramble the ball away for another corner. Whisper it softly, but we were seeing the game out with some assured possession football. That hasn’t always been the case, has it? Lacazette got his standing ovation too when withdrawn for Eddie Nketiah. That was the signal for the heavens to open. The Gunners were singing in the rain. “Tottenham Hotspur, we’re coming for you”.

Kolasinac got a last minute yellow for preventing a United break. Five additional minutes were signalled as Nketiah sent Iwobi dashing down the left flank to test Young. Leno was in the right place to gather the unmarked Rashford’s header. Obviously a United goal would not have been unwelcome given the ‘holic pound, but The Arsenal are running into a rich vein of form again in the League, and this welcome clean sheet was a demonstration of that improvement.

Tottenham Hotspur, we’re coming for you.

The Middlesex Nomads defeat at Southampton has added a little spice to our remaining nine Premier League fixtures, the toughest on paper of which falls on Sunday when in-form Manchester United come to the North London club. The match now offers the winners a real shot at third place.

We will be without the suspended Lucas Torreira as well as the long-term injured Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, and former red devil Danny Welbeck. United are missing our former player Sanchez, Lingard, Mata, and Valencia.

It wouldn’t be a big surprise if Unai Emery started the same eleven so unlucky not to get all three points at Tottenham, so Bernd Leno behind a back four of Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal. Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi anchoring the midfield behind Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey, and Alex Iwobi. Alexandre Lacazette to lead the line.

After Sunday we don’t play another Premier League match until April Fools Day, when we will entertain Newcastle. Of those last eight fixtures none are against fellow top six clubs although five are away from home. This is a golden opportunity to grab Champions League football next season, and all the more sweet if achieved at the expense of the Nomads.

United are on a very impressive run under Solskjaer and it is surely inconceivable that he will not be given the job on a full-time basis. He has turned around the fortunes of a club that looked drab and dysfunctional under the loathsome Mourinho.

The ‘holic pound

This match is about as difficult to predict as ever it was. Although we have won two of the last three home League fixtures United did beat us rather too easily in the FA Cup earlier this year. Bookmakers can be funny people and although United are favourites to win in ninety minutes the odds on winning Gunners scorelines are looking skimpy.

1-1 is the market favourite but I will go with the second favourite, a popular choice with BtM of 2-1 to The Arsenal at a boosted 17/2. Be lucky.

To those going tomorrow I apologise for not joining you, but I’m not well enough yet to make the journey and survive ninety tense minutes. I hope the boys put on a show for you and the rest of us who will view the action via a selection of electronic conduits.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Unai Emery started a stronger eleven than anticipated eleven in Rennes so making clear his Europa League ambitions for this season. Petr Cech started behind a back four of Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal. Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira started behind a midfield trio of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Ozil, and Alex Iwobi. As expected Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the lone striker.

It took just three minutes for Iwobi to stun the hosts when he exchanged passes with Monreal and curled a delightful attempt just inside the far post. What a start for The Arsenal.

Stade Rennais 0-1 The Arsenal

Iwobi then looked to turn provider but Aubameyang couldn’t control the through ball and the lead remained at one. He followed up by teeing up Torreira but the Uruguayan’s fierce drive was parried clear by Koubek in the Rennes goal.

Rennes first attempt was a Grenier free-kick which just cleared the bar. The same player shot wide from the edge of the box when Koscielny only half cleared a Ben Arfa free-kick. At the other end Aubameyang tried his luck but lacked the power and accuracy to trouble Koubek.

Less than twenty minutes in Mustafi, clearly struggling after a coming together with Ben Arfa, hobbled off for a second time. How much longer could he last? Rennes clear injection of pace was limiting our time on the ball but with Xhaka looking calm and assured in the centre of the park we were zipping the ball around with authority.

Mustafi featured again when Torreira provided him with an opportunity to shoot but he pulled his effort just wide of the far post. Back came the hosts, stopped only by a challenge on Ben Arfa on the edge of the box that earned Sokratis a yellow card. Ben Arfa’s free-kick was pushed out by former Rennes goalkeeper, Cech.

Next into the referee’s notebook was Bourigeaud for a nasty stamp down the back of Torreira’s leg. Ben Arfa sold a dummy in the Arsenal defence and opened up a shooting chance on his right foot but he dallied and the chance was gone.

Five minutes before half-time we were down to ten men when Sokratis saw a harsh second yellow card having been adjudged to have brought down Sarr. It was an expensive decision all round. The resulting free-kick from Bourigeaud rebounded off the wall and the taker unleashed un unstoppable rising drive through a crowded box and just inside the post.

Stade Rennais 1-1 The Arsenal

Unai Emery made no change at half-time, trusting Mustafi to switch alongside Koscielny and Mkhitaryan dropping back to right-back. Iwobi joined Xhaka and Torreira in front of the back four, and even Ozil was dropping back to help out as Rennes attempted to turn the screw after the break.

We survived a fine move which saw Sarr sprint clear and cut the ball back for Bourigeaud who drew a smart save out of Cech. That was the cue for Emery to send on Matteo Guendouzi for Iwobi to attempt to provide us with more protection down our left flank. It didn’t work immediately as Saar again raided and cut the ball back which Koscielny fortunately deflected to safety.

Bourigeaud and Sarr both brought full length saves out of Cech before Sarr threw himself to the floor in an attempt to win a penalty. The referee wasn’t fooled. Xhaka received a yellow card and Ben Arfa’s resulting free-kick again brought the best out of Cech. A desperate rearguard action was breached when Monreal’s hip deflected a Zeffane cross beyond the reach of Cech.

Stade Rennais 2-1 The Arsenal

Thrust forward by Guendouzi, we attempted to level when Aubameyang and Ozil combined for the latter to shoot straight at the goalkeeper. It was a rare break and Ben Arfa, not for the first time, drew a diving save from Cech. Our second change was a straight swap of Aaron Ramsey for Ozil. Rennes responded sending on Siliki for Bourigeaud.

We appealed for a penalty when a Monreal cross was deflected for a corner and the referee was probably right that ball went to hand rather than the other way round. Monreal had enjoyed an excellent first-half but Sarr was extracting his revenge with a display of blistering pace in the second. It was no surprise to see Emery briefing Kolasinac on the touchline. He came on for Aubameyang who had, in all honesty, struggled to get into the game throughout. Without his friend, Alexandre Lacazette, he cut a lonely looking figure.

Xhaka avoided our second red card of the evening despite going clean through Siliki. He looked more deserving of that punishment than Sokratis. On the break Ramsey’s effort was deflected for a corner from which we faced a rapid counter-attack that Mkhitaryan did well to nip in the bud. Another yellow card was brandished at Zeffane for hauling down Guendouzi.

With a little over two minutes remaining Saliki crossed to an unmarked Sarr at the far post and his header gave the French club a two goal cushion. Defender Gelin came on for midfielder Grenier.

Stade Rennais 3-1 The Arsenal

The away goal may prove crucial in next week’s second-leg but at the final whistle tonight it was but a little consolation. We had gone with a strong team and self-destructed on an important night. The fault for that shouldn’t lie at the door of the head coach.

The beauty of the Europa League preview. What do I know about Stade Rennais? I seem to recall that Hatem Ben Arfa rocked up there and Sylvain Wiltord came through their academy, but that’s about it. Google comes to the rescue. They qualified for the competition by finishing 5th in Ligue 1 last season, but currently sit in 10th place. They came through the group phase as runners up to Dynamo Kiev, and then defeated Real Betis in the round of 32 having only drawn the first leg at home.

More concerning is what team will Unai Emery select to face them in the Roazhon Park. A very strong squad has travelled, but with one eye on Manchester United at the weekend we will probably once again utilise the squad players. Petr Cech is a given to start in goal. Emery’s recent preference for a back four rather than a three could provide opportunities for Carl Jenkinson, Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and Sead Kolasinac.

Lucas Torreira is suspended for three Premier League matches and so seems a certain starter here, possibly with Matteo Guendouzi alongside. The attacking midfield trio is the hardest to predict. Aaron Ramsey may be spared for Sunday. Mesut Ozil could play in between Alex Iwobi and Denis Suarez, surely due a start? As Alexandre Lacazette is suspended Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang seems certain to get the nod ahead of Eddie Nketiah.

That eleven should be strong enough to secure a result in a potentially tricky first leg.

The ‘holic pound

I’m having to be guided by the bookmakers on this one. They nervously have us as slight favourites and top of the correct score markets is a 1-1 draw. I have been slightly more optimistic and taken the unusual odds of 33/4 against a 1-2 away win.

Apologies for the brevity of this post. Have a good one ‘holics.

Unai Emery opted to stick with the 4-2-3-1 and as expected left Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil, as well as Lucas Torreira, on the bench. It caused Martin Keown and Rio Ferdinand a real problem as they made clear on commentary on BT Sport.

There were less than two minutes on the clock when the first chance of the match fell to Alexandre Lacazette but he pulled the ball wide of the mark. It was Aaron Ramsey, playing in his last North London derby, who sprinted clear onto a Lacazette through ball to round Lloris and give the Gunners the lead a quarter of an hour in.

Middlesex Nomads 0-1 The Arsenal

Eight minutes later Harry Kane was rightly flagged offside when he thought he had maintained his record of scoring in the derby. It was the first threat from a home team we had successfully subdued in the opening quarter of the match. When Son threatened to dance through the visitors defence Nacho Monreal made a timely intervention. It was Eriksen who had their first legal effort but he shot wide of the target.

The Gunners were being forced onto the back foot in the second quarter of the match but looking pleasingly solid in defence. Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Laurent Koscielny were looking like an established pairing rather than an experimental combination. When we were caught on the break after successive corners had been won Henrikh Mkhitaryan got back to avert the danger.

Vertonghen picked off a Guendouzi crossfield pass and tried his luck from distance but the ball sailed harmlessly wide. Back came The Arsenal through an Alex Iwobi curling right-footer which Lloris was just about equal to with a flapping right hand. Then came the moment of the half. Eriksen’s point-blank effort was magnificently blocked by Leno who then reacted quite magnificently to reach the follow-up effort from Sissoko. That was the German’s finest moment in a Gunners shirt.We remained ahead at the break as a result.

At the start of the second-half Unai Emery sent on Lucas Torreira for Matteo Guendouzi. We really should have been two up when Iwobi sent Monreal galloping through and his cut-back was again sliced wide of the far post by Lacazette. The French striker was having a most uncharacteristic day in front of goal. At the other end Alderweireld’s volley from a tight angle found just the side-netting.

Lacazette not surprisingly was withdrawn to make way for Aubameyang. How fortunate are we to have two strikers of their undoubted quality? Mkhitaryan saw the first yellow card of the game for taking Kane out from behind. As the hour mark approached The Nomads sent on Lamela for Wanyama. His first contribution was a dive which Anthony Taylor didn’t buy.

Rose clattered into the back of Mkhitaryan’s ankles but a free-kick was punishment enough for Mr Taylor. Lamela scythed through Xhaka and did see the second yellow. Might it have been worthy of more?

Iwobi worked a yard of space on the left but saw his shot deflected out for a corner that yielded nought. Lamela’s attempted response was slammed wide of the far post which was well covered by Leno just in case. In a goalmouth scramble Rose studs slammed into Leno’s chest and he rightly received the next yellow card.

Mkhitaryan fed in Aubameyang but he was all too easily dispossessed. We paid the penalty when a clearly offside Kane was bundled over by the clumsy Mustafi. Xhaka was booked for dissent and Llorente’s Kane himself despatched the diabolical award for the equaliser.

Middlesex Nomads 1-1 The Arsenal

Just before the penalty Ramsey had departed his final derby as the Gunners highest scorer in the fixture in the Premier League era. Mesut Ozil was now on with a golden opportunity to right a wrong. The hosts sent Llorente on for Son. He soon saw yellow for an elbow on Koscielny.

The nerves finally clicked in as we entered the final five minutes. Both sides were wasteful in possession but when Mkhitaryan again sent Aubameyang clear Sanchez hauled the Gabonese striker down. Penalty for the Gunners which Aubameyang himself took but he hit it too close to Lloris and the chance of a thoroughly deserved winner was denied when he failed to convert the follow-up effort and Vertonghen cleared.

The agony wasn’t over. Torreira was shown a controversial red card when his momentum carried him through a successful tackle into Rose who needs no invitation to make a drama out of a crisis. Even Jermaine Jenas called it as a mistake by Taylor.

Full marks to the visitors who had been dominant almost throughout but to say just getting a point was frustrating would be understating the bleeding obvious. Nine games to go, we trail the Nomads by four points.  It ain’t over yet, as they say.

There are evenings in different phases of your life where you will want to get to sleep in order to wake up to something exciting. Typically Christmas, or a birthday, or a holiday as you progress. Then there is that which cannot be adequately explained in words. The eve of the North London derby. I know some hate it, but in my lifetime our record in all competitions against the Middlesex Nomads is won 60, drawn 39, and lost 42. I love it!

The nervous among you acknowledge that we are without an away Premier League win in the fixture in five years although Matthieu Flamini ripped them a new one in the League Cup the following season. As Arseblog quite rightly pointed out this morning the law of averages says we are due a win in front of the marshdwellers. I share his optimism going into this one.

Unai Emery faces the most unusual of challenges as he prepares for his second Premier League meeting against the Middlesex Nomads. Only the three long-term injured are denied to him. He has to wrestle with a formation, and then which eleven players to fit into it. Our recent improved form has been based on a flat back four allowing a creative number ten. Yet our 4-2 massacre of the same opponents in December was achieved with a back three and a workmanlike midfield behind a lone striker.

I have had a gut feel about what he would do for most matches this season. This time I am less sure but think he could stick with a four of Carl Jenkinson, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Laurent Koscielny, and Sead Kolasinac (Nacho Monreal for me but I’m not the experienced boss). Granit Xhaka will be recalled and may start alongside Lucas Torreira ahead of them.

A playmaker is likely to be involved and I suspect Aaron Ramsey may get the nod over Mesut Ozil. Despite Ozil’s superb performance against Bournemouth there is still the nagging doubt that Emery doesn’t rate him in the bigger fixtures. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi have probably played themselves into the inside right and left channels. That means a place on the bench for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as we will surely need Alexandre Lacazette’s ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play at Wembley?

Not surprisingly Harry ‘headbutt’ Kane has returned prematurely from injury in time to look to add to his goal tally in this fixture. Alli and Dier are still likely to be out. Vertonghen and Winks will face late assessments before the match. A week after they were being proclaimed as potential champions consecutive defeats at Turf Moor and the bus stop in Fulham have abruptly stopped any such absurd notions. They are ‘Spursing’ it up again.

The ‘holic pound

There is an outlier of 14/1 against a 1-2 away win at Bet365, and I have grabbed a mighty good piece of that. Generally the bookies have 1-1 as the favourite score closely followed by a number of low margin home wins. I’m not sure they have judged the mood of the two camps as well as they usually do. We have the momentum going into the match, but they probably consider three defeats on the spin for the Nomads unlikely.

We will know who is right soon enough. I’m back to that hope for a quick evening and a long, peaceful sleep.

Forever in our shadow!

Unai Emery made six changes from the team that beat Southampton, explaining that he needed players with “more energy” tonight. It took Mesut Ozil just over three minutes to open our account when put clear in the inside-left channel by Sead Kolasinac. Just the start needed to lift a far from full house.

The Arsenal 1-0 Bournemouth

Eddie Howe reacted early on by strengthening his midfield. That enabled them to get a little more of the ball and King headed Mepham’s cross just over the bar. Then Fraser burst clear to be denied by the sprawling Bernd Leno. Laurent Koscielny superbly blocked the rebound effort from Gosling. Bournemouth were giving due warning that the balance of this game was changing.

Just past twenty-six minutes Smith surrendered possession with a needless crossfield pass, Henrikh Mkhitaryan played a one-two with Ozil, and slammed home the second.

The Arsenal 2-0 Bournemouth

The Arsenal almost immediately repaid the favour. Matteo Guendouzi was mugged in the box and Mousset slotted home Gosling’s pass. Some poor defending on show at both ends.

The Arsenal 2-1 Bournemouth

At the other end Guendouzi attempted to make amends, the ball fell to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and his goal-bound strike was blocked. Bournemouth countered, King went down in the box, and saw yellow for the dive.

Sokratis clattered into Fraser and was rightly penalised with the second yellow card of the night. The referee, Chris Kavanagh, was enjoying a good opening half, unlike a number of the players around him. I’ll bet you didn’t expect me to write that! Despite ramping up the pressure for the remainder of the half the Gunners advantage remained as slender as it gets.

It didn’t take long for us to extend that advantage in the second-half. Ozil sent Mkhitaryan scampering clear on the right and from his cross Koscielny’s deflected effort restored our two goal advantage.

The Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth

Ozil almost made it four, hitting the frame of the goal with a superb effort from the right. After Gosling hit the Gunners crossbar Kolasinac was withdrawn early and Alex Iwobi was added to our armoury. Within moments we had four. Mkhitaryan, running the show with Ozil tonight, supplied the assist for Aubameyang to pull within one goal of Salah and Aguero in the hunt for the golden boot. The ‘holic pound died at the same time.

The Arsenal 4-1 Bournemouth

Mkhitaryan was withdrawn to a standing ovation and on came Alexandre Lacazette. With around half an hour to go that could not have been worse viewing for the visiting Cherries.

Unsurprisingly Lacazette had the next chance and Boruc was somewhat grateful to Ake for distracting the striker and enabling him to save the attempt. As Bournemouth attempted to break Lucas Torreira took a yellow for the team for bringing down Smith. Smith was immediately substituted, tactically not enforced, by Rico.

Aubameyang departed the contest with twenty minutes remaining to give Denis Suarez another chance to acclimatise to the Premier League. At this point it became all about not losing anybody important for Saturday’s visit to Middlesex. That didn’t stop us working our socks off. A mention at this juncture for Carl Jenkinson. I see a lot of Pat Rice in him. Not the most technically gifted of players, but gives 100% every time he appears. A great squad player.

A free-kick awarded for a chop on Torreira enabled Lacazette to produce a sumptuous finish from 23 yards out. Boruc got a hand to it but had no chance of affecting the outcome.

The Arsenal 5-1 Bournemouth

A quick glance at the scoreline at the bus stop in Fulham at this point made for daydreams. Can we get within a point of Middlesex on Saturday? Stop it, lad. Mesut teed up Lacazette for an extravagant volley that disappeared into the North Bank.

Then, horror of horrors, King’s studs reduced Koscielny to a screaming mess. Gary O’Driscoll could be seen mouthing “he’s alright” after treatment. Much relief all round. Already booked, King could consider himself fortunate.

Yes, we would be expected to beat Southampton and Bournemouth, but we haven’t always. Full marks to the boys for their first-half performance on Sunday, and their second-half performance tonight. Back at the Grove we ripped Tottenham a new one with a very special performance. Dare we dream of another on Saturday?

May the fourth (if not third) be with us.

How Much Do We Want It?

Eleven matches to go. March is around the corner. We have at least fourth place in our own hands. How much do we want it? Bournemouth at home on a clement Wednesday evening. They will be no walkover, for certain, but bearing in mind our next two Premier League opponents this is not a test we need to fail.

It is time to remind ourselves that one of the reasons for us being fourth was the 4-0 hiding handed out by the Cherries to Chelsea at the end of last month. They have struggled since that, however, beaten at Cardiff and Liverpool and being held at home by Wolves (who wasn’t?). They sit comfortably in tenth place free from the fear of relegation for another season. Howe do they do it?

The visitors are probably the only Premier team to have suffered more injuries than us this season. We will assess Alex Iwobi and Stephan Lichsteiner ahead of the match. Ainsley Maitland-Niles is back in full training but the back four that finished against Southampton, with Shkodran Mustafi at right-back, could be worth a further look from the start.

Ahead of them it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Matteo Guendouzi start alongside Lucas Torreira with Granit Xhaka getting a rest before the Saturday trip to Middlesex. Mesut Ozil is more likely to start this one than on Saturday and if Alex Iwobi still has an ankle problem Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang will be a likelier replacement than Denis Suarez.

We saw on Sunday for 45 minutes what Unai Emery’s Arsenal are capable of. Can we produce it for longer on Wednesday night? We may need to in order to complete the double over opponents we beat 2-1 in the reverse fixture with an Aubameyang winner.

The ‘holic pound

I have to believe we have another half decent performance in us although I do expect Bournemouth to make us work hard for it in the opening hour or so. I think we have enough quality on the bench to introduce a game changer or two from the bench against tiring battlers. I’m having the best of 11/1 against a 3-1 home win.

Thanks to all who have kept in touch about my health. The new antibiotics certainly gave me a better day today but obviously I still won’t make the game. I’ve been told to expect to miss an Arsenal three weeks, so I may make the last home game of the season!

Have a good one, ‘holics.

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