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What a weekend to be away. Yet another Arsenal capitulation, yet more points senselessly dropped. I may have only seen the highlights but mountains have been written about this game, so although everything may have been said I will briefly add my tuppence. It may add little that most haven’t already said or validated.

I only caught Twitter once during the match. David Luiz flicked home an Alexandre Lacazette glancing header to double our advantage after Sokratis Papastathopoulos had finished superbly at the near post. 2-0 look like a statement. No messing around today. We need and must get a result.

For whatever reason we reverted to The Arsenal mode of the last, let’s say year, after the freak 22 match unbeaten run last season. We find it difficult against poor sides away from home and now those same jitters appear to afflict us at The Grove too. Palace were gifted an equaliser and only the hapless Martin Atkinson saw a dive by Zaha. It was a clear penalty and Palace were back in the match, and deservedly so by all accounts.

There was an air of predictability about an equaliser arriving, and so it proved when Ayew cleverly backed into oceans of unmanned space at the back post to head home McArthur’s cross. I’m told they had as many chances as use to take all three points as us although there is some  confusion, even today, as to why we were denied a Sokratis winner by VAR.

So to the aftermath. Granit Xhaka is an obvious starting point. One cannot avoid the feeling that Unai Emery was looking for a lightning conductor on the pitch when he appointed the casual Swiss as his Number one captain (of five?). If that was the intention he succeeded spectacularly. Instead of a leader on the pitch he has a player never trusted by the faithful who imploded spectacularly here.

I have to say the trend to handing down vitriolic abuse from those wearing the cannon on the field of play will never sit comfortably with me. That said the reaction from an Arsenal captain went beyond that of Gallas at St Andrews in 2008. He was stripped of the job, something that should also befall Xhaka, along with his place in the team until he demonstrates an ability to act with the class of an Arsenal player.

Yet what does that say of Emery? I have said on Twitter, I believe, that people are wrongly accrediting him as ‘the manager’. Under the new business model he was appointed as head coach. My definition of that is that his sole responsibility is to get his side playing to the maximum of their ability, consistently. For me he has to achieve the former before he can deliver the latter.

In a year has he shown any likelihood of doing that? Without detailing my fairly obvious viewpoint I’m reading from a majority of people a similar opinion. Are we wrong?

Let’s face it, there won’t be much in the way of change to the team for the visit of Crystal Palace after Thursday.

Bernd Leno likely starts behind Calum Chambers, Sokratis Papasthopoulos, David Luiz, and Sead Kolasinac.

Granit Xhaka to patrner Matteo Guendouzi behind Mesut, just kidding, Dani Ceballos.

Bukayo Saka will surely join Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and  Nicolas Pepe up top.

With Palace just a point behind us the result looks less convincing than pre-match last season when The Eagles inflicted a Champions League denying win at The Grove.

The ‘holic pound

My money is hopefully on 2-1 to The Gunners at 8/1.

Have good one, ‘holics.

A team of mixed levels of experience turned out for the Arsenal. A back four of Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, and Kieran Tierney started. Lucas Torreira started in midfield and Alexandre Lacazette was up front. All of which suggests these players these players will not feature against Crystal Palace on Sunday. Oh dear. There was still promising youth in the shape of Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Emile Smith Rowe, and Gabriel Martinelli.

In the 4th minute Vitoria Guimaraes had the first shot on target which thankfully was straight at Emilano Martinez. Four minutes later they had the lead when Marcus Edwards, ironically a one-time Middlesex academy player, added insult to injury with a comfortable strike from pretty close range without one of the experienced Gunners defenders close enough to distract him or block the effort This wasn’t in the script, was it?.

As twenty minutes approached The Arsenal remembered that they have been playing well in the cup competitions with pretty much this team. Smith Rowe’s effort was blocked. Lacazette also had an effort blocked. All the time though the visitors, though less effective, were looking a threat.

Just past the half hour we were level, and who else but the astonishing Martinelli who got it with a smart header. Guess who provided the assist. Yes, Keiran Tierney with an inch-perfect cross from the left flank.1-1, we were on our way, weren’t we?

No. Nine minutes before the break Edwards hit the left hand post, Martinez was up quickly, but the ball fell to Duarte who powered  a drive inside the near post of the motionless Martinez. Hang on a minute, what was going on here? 1-2 to Vitoria.

At half-time Unai Emery decided changes were in order. Off came Willock and Maitland-Niles to be replaced by Matteo Guendouzi and Dani Ceballos. Harsh on the youngsters? Time would tell.

The first chance of the half fell to Mustafi who climbed high enough to win a header from a set piece but directed his header wide of the mark. Another excellent cross from Tierney was deflected to Smith Rowe who unfortunately sliced the ball wide of the far post. Just before an hour had passed handbags broke out. Lacazette hit the deck knowing that Garcia had leaned towards him with the head and over came our new breed of feisty players to remonstrate. Garcia got a yellow card and on we went.

Sixteen minutes remains when Lacazette again went down claiming a foul just outside the area. Again he remonstrated with the referee as he had when Garcia unquestionably fouled him prior to the handbags incident. The referee had had enough of his histrionics and booked him. Within a minute he was hooked to make way for Nicolas Pepe. Four minutes later we had a glimpse of why Pepe was worth so much. His magnificent free-kick found the bottom corner of the net. We were level again,

We were alive agin, Martinelli’s  left footed shot from the centre of the box brought a wonderful block by Vitoria’s goalkeeper, Mustafi again missed the target with a header. The hunger and spirit had returned. As we approached the last of three added minutes Guendouzi was fouled on the edge, Ceballos stood over the ball, but only one man was taking this kick. Pepe advanced and repeated his previous strike.

3-2 to the Arsenal. What an astonishing strike again!

Last season’s final weeks dispelled the majority of the positive Arsenal feelings I’d squirreled away. The prospect of this coming season left me underwhelmed. And then there were droplets of good news. Celtic had agreed to our offer for Kieran Tierney. William Saliba was coming (and then going, of-course, it wouldn’t be Arsenal otherwise), a barrow load of dead and decaying wood was offloaded. Martinelli was coming and he was better than anyone had ever been. Ceballos, the future of Spain was coming. And finally, we signed Pepe, a mega star so mega that I’d never even heard of him in his galaxy beyond the stars!

And even better, our young players, Willock, Saka and Nelson, looked so, so promising in pre-season. All of a sudden, my mood changed and the arrow on the Arsenal barometer swung right round the clock face to “Sunny without a cloud in sight – piss of Sp*rs.” And it just kept getting better, we actually won an away game at Newcastle. At this rate it could only be a matter of time before we saw the green stuff inside Steve T’s wallet by the bar at the Tolly!

But life with Arsenal never flies forward on a constant upward vector. The current Arsenal are masters at installing a leaden lining in the fluffiest of silver clouds. And that little hole in the ceiling began to let in the first few droplets at the very mention of the word Watford and since then it has begun to look like it’s going to take more than a bottle of Brasso and some elbow grease to put a shine on anything that glitters silver unless there are some very fundamental changes in, well, just about everything except the Thursday nigh team. Which brings me beautifully to tonight’s game. See what I did there?

It is absolutely sluicing down here in East Herts making the prospect of the long March from the Faltering Fullback to the stadium one which is likely to fill shoes to the ankles with water. But Thursday night games have turned out to be well worth the physical discomfort and late mid-week annoyance. The Thursday night team plays like Arsenal for goodness sake. The goalkeeper doesn’t make three yard passes inside his box. The two full backs can actually defend. More, both can get forward at pace and cross accurate, dangerous balls which tee up shots and headers on goal. Xhaka doesn’t play on Thursdays and neither does Kolasinac but Rob Holding does.

We get to see Joe Willock do what Joe Willock does in a box to box role. How can someone glide so effortlessly and quickly over such an acreage and still get back to intercept dangerous attacks? Our man from Frey Bentos makes beefy challenges in his best role on Thursdays and Ainsley Maitland-Niles gets run outs in the midfield role that will one day be his.

And none of that is all. Did I tell you about up front? No? Well, up front is the best bit because we get to see the irrepressible Martinelli. We get to see Auba or Laca, we get to see Saka and when he’s not one get Nelson. And it is all so much different from the weekend team because this team plays Wengerball or Emery’s version thereof and it is actually a pleasure to be in the ground. The exact opposite of the second half versus Boureouth of last Monday’s wet night out in Sheffield.

So I’m looking forward to being soaked to the skin. It will be well worth it to see Kieran Tierney float balls into Martinelli to backheel to Laca to put us into dreamland and secure that Holic pound.

Am I a little worried that Holding, Tierney and Torreira tonight might mean they don’t start on Sunday? I’ll worry about that on Sunday, get back to me then.

 

Brief Doesn’t Cover It

I understand when Ive been  around for the last twelve years I have never missed a preview and it’s been something that’s been planned I have got a drinker to step into the breach. Here we are at 9.30 for whatever, and now, hopefully just this once I am not in a position to do the full preview and surely it’s too late to ask a drinker to take over at this short notice and particularly.

I am only writing this because people will still want to discount the ‘holic pound from their bet tomorrow, when hopefully the Europa League team is back and they can repeat the form they have shown so far and achieve whtincreasingly and worryingly is beyond our Premier League team for whatever reason.

The’holic pound is on a hopeful 3-0 to the Gunners. I’ve got 15/2.

Oops so tired I forgot to hit send on an explanation.

A surprising selection saw Unai Emery play the same team as last time out with the exception of Joe Willock in for Dani Ceballos. Kieran Tierney, Rob Holding, Lucas Torreira, and Alex Lacazette all started on the bench.

The hosts started on the offensive but a break for Nicolas Pepe and his cross was inches away from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the box. Sokratis Papastathopoulos got the wrong side of Egan and was clearly hauled back by the shirt, but who really expected Mike Dean to award the blatant penalty?

Fleck’s late chop on Aubameyang brought about the first yellow card of the evening. Mercifully the goalscorer was able to continue, albeit treading carefully for a while. Against the run of play Pepe starting a glorious counter-attack but he squandered the opportunity from a Kolasinac cross at the conclusion of a free-flowing move.

A the half hour arrived we once again fell apart at the back post. The ball was headed across the face of goal by O’Connell and there was an unmarked Mousset for the simplest of tap-ins. Welcome to a struggling side, The Arsenal, let’s gift them an opener.

Basham appeared to upend Bukayo Saka. It looked as though an ankle was clipped but Saka made the most of the contact and somewhat harshly received a yellow card. Freddie Ljungberg saw the same card for the vehemence of his protest at the hapless officials. O’Connell’s blatant body check on Pepe saw yet another booking dished out.

As the half drew to a close Xhaka tried his luck with a long range volley which was comfortably parried clear by Henderson in the Blades goal. The same player’s header from the resulting corner popped over join of bar and post and yet another poor half from The Gunners drew to a disappointing close.

The introduction for the second-half of Dani Ceballos in place of Willock was only to be expected. Would that provide us with the shred of creativity sorely missing until this point? Mousset’s handball when unmarked again at the far post was both a let-off and another warning. We had started the half with more control of possession  then at any other point but again no bite from outside the box.

Mousset was withdrawn and local boy Sharp was thrust into the Blades attack. He almost immediately set the rampaging Baldock free at the far post but a hurried drive sliced wide of the target. At last an opportunity fell our way but Ceballos hit tamely at Henderson. 1-0 it remained. Fleck was not far from doubling the advantage but his rasping drive found the wrong side of the side-netting.

At least Dean displayed a degree of consistency when booking McGoldrick for diving when untouched by Matthieu Guendouzi. At long last Emery sent Lacazette into the action with just over twenty minutes remaining. Why it had taken this long goodness only knows. Xhaka was rightly hooked.

Twice in quick succession Pepe tried his luck. A free-kick was pouched comfortably by Henderson and a follow-up went wide of the mark. In the aftermath Henderson was the latest to find himself in Dean’s notebook for time-wasting. The final change for the visitors saw Gabriel Martinelli sent on for the luckless Pepe. A familiar face, Luke Freeman came on for United’s McGoldrick. We poured yellow shirts forward but still there was too much, forward, back, sideways, further sideways.

The Yorkshiremen made one last change with McBurnie replacing Norwood. Fresh legs with less than five minutes to go. Sokratis picked up a yellow for his challenge on the aforementioned McBurnie. The ball was deep in Arsenal territory with three minutes remaining. That was pretty much where it remained until the added five minute which predictably went the way of what had gone before. Calum Chambers was carded for dissent and the better team saw out a deserved victory.

If you normally come here for a dash of perspective then I apologise. I now tire of a team that isn’t playing a style of football the sum of which it’s individual parts should most certainly deliver much. much better. Emery will surely get the rest of the season to deliver more, but if we mess up for a second consecutive season then it will be hard to argue for him getting a final season. It feels as though this would be that finale under those circumstances.

It’s been a full day, one way or another, and a preview post awaits. Let’s see what we can do at this hour of the night. Positives to take into Monday night? Middlesex, Yanited, and ‘Pool have all dropped points this weekend. Tougher is that we need to win at Bramall Lane to reclaim our top four berth having been overhauled by Chelsea and Leicester, both with home wins by the narrowest of margins on Saturday.

The good news is that we are back to full strength, Reiss Nelson aside. Now Unai Emery really starts to earn his corn. Bernd Leno will retain his place in goal, but oh, the options ahead of him. Does he bring both full-backs together after their extended injury breaks? With Calum Chambers in surprisingly good form in recent weeks there is no need to take any chances on the right, but Kieran Tierney seems to be an irresistible option on the left.

In the centre of the defence, where we can expect some considerable pressure on Monday, the hardest choice of all remains. Rob Holding has come back looking in decent form but his problem is that he is a left-sided player as is David Luiz. Perhaps the experienced Luiz could switch to the right to take Sokratis Papastathopoulos out of the firing line, but it would be a risk. Shkodran Mustafi, impressive in the cups this season remains the great question mark.

With Granit Xhaka somehow being a given for the head coach his partner at the base of the midfield will be the improving Matteo Guendouzi or the hopefully more defensive-minded Lucas Torreira. The latter may be preferred for a cold Monday night battle in South Yorkshire. By the same logic Dani Ceballos should see off a potential return for Mesut Ozil as the German and Emery make conciliatory noises to each other.

If Alexandre Lacazette is deemed fully fit then he surely returns alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe up front. Harsh on Bukayo Saka? Probably not. His time will come again and he will surely return a far more confident member of the side.

The Blades made a confident return to the top flight and whilst giving a good account of themselves early on three consecutive defeats have seen them slip to a point clear of the relegation places. They are a better side than that suggests as manager Chris Wilder pointed out pre-match.

“We are competitive and we fancy our chances and we are bullish. At the same time, however, understanding the threat and pace and power that Arsenal have in the top end of the pitch, we must respect that.”

The ‘holic pound

If we are being honest a draw looks very tempting, but when have I ever backed the status quo? If there is to be a result this has all the makings of a single goal triumph either way. 0-1 or 1-2? I’ve wrestled with it but have a feeling the hosts will force one over the line, so I’m on 1-2 at a best of 8/1.

If you are making the journey you have my admiration. I remember doing midweek trips up north many moons ago and the journeys home were generally unenjoyable affairs involving milk trains. Do they still run?

Here’s hoping all of us will be celebrating a return to form away from home just before ten.

Have a good one, holics.

The accursed interlull. This one crept up on me to be honest. This will probably sound incredible but it simply slipped from my mind at the backend of last week into Saturday. Normally, as you know, I would try to watch as many home nations matches plus as many as I can where Gunners are likely to feature.

I still cannot believe England were playing on Friday and I simply didn’t know or hadn’t registered it. As it turns out it was to prove a turgid affair and I missed the Three Lions first qualifying defeat in ten years. Is that true? Although I’m obviously aware we have been producing the goods under Southgate that statistic caught me by surprise.

My first game I discovered by accident. Bored as bored gets I did a little surf of the channels and came across the pre-amble to Scotland versus San Marino. They spoke of the Scots dismal recent record (tell me about it) and of England’s unexpected defeat in the Czech Republic (What? Where? When?). It was no surprise, but pleasing nonetheless for the hosts to roll over the weakest nation in world football in atrocious conditions. May this bring with it continued improvement against the mildly improved opposition to follow.

Wales scrapped admirably for a point against the World Cup finalists. So to Monday night and the talking point of the break. At this point I must warn of an abrupt end to this piece not originally intended.

England’s visit to Bulgaria would always have two focal points it seemed not unreasonable to assume. As for the match itself, it followed the path set out by Scotland a day earlier. If you get a poor side in front of you then all you can do is put them to the sword and draw some confidence and belief from a 6-0 win. The scoreline did not flatter the visitors who in truth should have had double figures.

Sadly the game will be remembered long as justifying the pre-match fears of racist behaviour by the hosts. Even with a chunk of one end of the stadium closed as punishment for previous infringements of the same nature we both saw and heard some pretty disgusting stuff. I wholeheartedly concur with the condemnation delivered during and after the match.

However, my sudden ending is covered by a tweet I published earlier. This is not just a problem with the rest of Europe which some of ours would have you believe. Examples of anti-social behaviour can be found behind the entire pyramid structure here as well and before those involved join in with the condemnation of Bulgaria I offered this opinion, correction, fact.

“Fully agree with the condemnation of the Bulgarians, unless you are guilty of hissing at the marshmen and singing all the Y word songs. That makes you equally as bad. Anti-racism/anti-semitism starts at home. Wake up.”

Can anyone disagree with that?

Here is the post I had hoped to run with last night, but was probably best left for a day, as things turn out. It is a bit me, me, me for a while I’m afraid, but it’s an international break so there isn’t much fresh football news to discuss, and eventually it reaches a point I hope will resonate with many of you.

By now most of you will know I have not been at my best of late and it is beholden on me me first and foremost to thank so, so very many of you for your good wishes and uplifting messages which have kept me out of dark places while with your great help I have been dealing with things. That seems particularly fitting on World Mental Health Day. If you know anyone who shows signs of suffering as such be available to talk to them.

Today I have taken a phone call that has changed entirely my perception of where the investigations I have undergone were I thought leading me. However I am a very lucky individual. The diagnosis I expected required that I change my diet and give up alcohol which I did a fortnight ago. By complete good fortune the actual diagnosis requires exactly the same, so I have a head start on the future.

Which leads me in a roundabout way to the world of social media. Stick with me, I think it will be worth it. It will be evident to my followers that my time on Twitter (I really was a rare dipper-in to Facebook anyway) has been massively reduced. The reasons are many and varied. First and foremost I am not suffering fools gladly right now and for all that I have handpicked who I follow, so many lovely people, I do get utter lamebrains retweeted onto my timeline.

I don’t blame those who do this. Some of the nonsense on there is incredulous and I understand astonished folk sharing what they find unbelievable. I also tend to get dragged into political stuff that I try to ignore but cannot if utter tripe’s being tweeted. I get and respect we have different views of the world, possibly better than most as a once one nation Tory who believed in a property owning democracy now utterly appalled by the far right rabble who have assumed power and are so busy abusing it. I digress.

In the early hours of the morning i try to catch up with who is saying what in case it provides a talking point for the blog, footballistically as it were. I see people who share my new hours and wonder what they are going through. On the odd occasion I’ll drop a friend a line to check all is ok, for this is where social media can do great good. So we reach a segway.

Last season when Crystal Palace came to The Arsenal they followed up on a walk they had already made to an away match. At Fulham as it happens. The organiser, Paul, a friendly, energetic young soul wanted to know if I would help to promote the walk and possibly get Arsenal supporters to join their Palace counterparts along the way. The cause was not fund-raising as such, but to raise awareness of mental health issues in  young men who tend to bottle things, and often end up paying the ultimate price.

Not only was I happy to help, but I also expressed a desire to join at least a part of the walk and shake his hand. Even then, although I didn’t have a clue why, that proved beyond me. “I’ll join you next season” I said, if it is run again. Little did I know what lay ahead at that point.

It is happening again, and this time Paul has acquired the backing of the Samaritans and CALM, thoroughly deserved endorsements. You’ll see a graphic below which sums the event up better than ever I could. I will add but this. Indeed a number of ours did join last years event, making for a better atmosphere, new friendships, and a different and thoroughly enjoyable pre-match experience.

Perhaps it is something you might consider? (Apologies, I am unable to shrink the graphic to fit the page size but check out @HC15OnTour on Twitter for the whole image. Thank you.)

The team pretty much was as expected for the visit of Bournemouth. I had speculated about Joe Willock and Gabriel Martinelli having opportunities but Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pepe held on to their Premier League starting status.

We went close in the sixth minute with a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang effort from the inside-left channel that missed the far post by inches. We had started the brighter but this was the first real opportunity. Two minutes later we had the lead with a glancing header from David Luiz, his first goal for The Arsenal, from Pepe’s perfectly flighted corner.

The Arsenal 1-0 Bournemouth

We were served due warning that Bournemouth had some ambition when Solanke headed just wide of the target on seventeen minutes. A one goal lead is never comfortable, is it? Pepe attempted to double the lead with a delightful curler that just avoided corner off post and crossbar.

Midway through the half Aubameyang’s goal-bound effort was blocked to safety. Remarkably Martin Atkinson denied Pepe what appeared to be a blatant penalty, and VAR deemed it not to be a clear and obvious error, when he was brought down by Rico. Fair enough, you live by VAR and sometimes die by it too.

Granit Xhaka avoided a yellow card that would have earned him a suspension for a lazy trip on Wilson. Stacey was not as fortunate when he hauled back Sead Kolasinac.

Bukayo Saka lifted the spirits with a driving run at the Bournemouth left-back but he couldn’t cut the ball back and the ball was smothered at the near post by Ramsdale. Calum Chambers attempted a nigh on impossible volley from the inside-right channel and was closer than anyone expected. The half-time whistle should have seen a greater advantage, but didn’t.

The industrious Saka denied Solanke on the edge of our box as Bournemouth attempted to level affairs. The visitors had clearly come out with a little more appetite for the battle. Wilson all but equalised when he rounded Leno but cut the ball back square and Chambers cleared, much to everyone’s relief. Stacey drew a vital parry from Leno from a tight angle. How we needed that second goal.

Just past the hour mark the crowd were lifted by the sight of Gabriel Martinelli getting prepared for his Premier League debut. Pepe made way with another assist to his name. Bournemouth sent on Fraser (remember him?) for Solanke. Immediately Chambers had to be alert to deny Fraser as the Cherries again sought an opportunity.

Martinelli’s first involvement saw him get a yellow card for bringing down Wilson from behind. Joe Willock joined him on the pitch with a quarter of an hour to go in place of Ceballos, largely ineffective in the second-half. Bournemouth too rang the changes, with Stacey and Wilson replaced by Groeneveld and Francis.

Martinelli’s sighter was narrowly high and wide before Unai Emery decided to protect our slender advantage by sending on Lucas Torreira for Saka, who had enjoyed a mixed afternoon. It’s all a part of life’s rich learning curve. The signal of five additional minutes did nothing to settle the nerves. Chambers, outstanding on the day, teed up Aubameyang but for once the golden boot winner misfired.

We held on, and were treated to the sight of Wolves taking a last gasp 0-2 winner at the Emptihad. In the end not a bad day, eh? Third place and closing in on the Citizens.

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