Arsenal Versus West Brom: The Final Curtain

I was driving down the A367 yesterday afternoon on the way to a garden centre. A part of the ancient Fosse Way, the A367 once rang to the hob nailed Caligae of the Roman Legions but nowadays is home to a series of pedestrian crossings and a seemingly unending sequence of roadworks. In short it’s an venerable right of way which has evolved into a very ordinary traffic clogged artery between two insignificant west country towns in a north eastern backwater of a quiet west country county.

We passed a recreation ground where three young men were idly tossing a rugby ball to one another. Children spun lazily on a roundabout, their mothers sat chatting while a dog walker skirted the edge of the field his German Shepherd trailing behind him sniffing the perimeter fence, the both of them lost in their own thoughts. The scene was bathed in late spring sunshine and was transferred from my retinas to my brain in a matter of seconds as our Vauxhall Zafira rolled quietly past. Why did this image remain with me as I took the right turn into Charlton Road and slowed in anticipation of the new twenty miles an hour limit? It wasn’t, after all, remarkable in any way and was probably being repeated with minor variations in small parks all the way from Porthleven to Barwick-In-Elmet.

It wasn’t so much what I saw as what I didn’t. It wasn’t what was in the field as what wasn’t. Norton Hill Recreation Ground would, on any given Saturday afternoon for the preceding nine months, have been a scene of bustling, earnest endeavour. Twenty two men of varying ages and encompassing a wide spectrum of physical beauty from youthful muscular elegance to forty something balding lumpen middle age would have been grunting and puffing in pursuit of a regulation size five football. Even on the days when they were absent the goal posts would at least stand in mute indication that here, on this uneven muddy rectangle of grass, football has been played, and come the weekend it shall be played again.

No more. The goal posts have been pulled. The only evidence they were ever there at all, two churned brown potholed semi circles which mark the areas of greatest activity: the goal mouths. I realised as I headed towards the compost and camellias that this would be Saturday from now onwards. After today the league season will have ended. Another league season, the forty fifth league season in fact since I first started paying attention to such things and my forty fourth as an Arsenal fan. And do you know what? The feeling of emptiness is precisely the same today as it was when I was six. The long barren summer stretches off into infinity and the hollow chores with which once my mother and now my wife will hope to fill my time are like ashes in my mouth.

Thank God for the FA Cup final. I was an unaffiliated football watcher for the 1969 – 70 season when this all began. I just enjoyed moving teams up and down the little slotted league ladder that came with my Score magazine. Or was it Scorcher? They eventually merged into Scorcher and Score so it’s all the same really. Anyway, when it all came to an abrupt end I had at least Chelsea and Leeds at Wembley to which I could look forward. When the game went to a replay I was ecstatic. The inevitable had been postponed for one more game, there would be more football.

Obviously being a neutral wasn’t enough of a fix for me and I spent the summer deciding who to support and, well, you win nothing for guessing how that decision went. No matter how many times you experience it, that last game feeling never leaves you. Many are of course dead rubbers. The league positions are decided, neither team has anything to which they can aspire nor from which they wish to escape. In other years the very outcome of the league title itself is decided, sometimes European football is the prize and sometimes it’s finishing above the neighbours that excites us most. The truly climactic last games in our recent history have been the title decider at Anfield in 1989 and the home game against Leicester on May 15th 2004 which sealed the unbeaten season.

There will be no such drama this afternoon. The only hint of spice in an otherwise bland footballing stew is the visit of one of football’s most reviled figures. Tony Pulis used to be a bit of a hero to me. A Bristol Rovers stalwart, he was part of the same golden generation as the mercurial Ian Holloway. Pulis then blotted his copybook by moving to Ashton Gate to manage the loathsome red half of the city. However, his tenure there was so brief that he swiftly faded from memory, only resurfacing as the Gothmog of Stoke, lieutenant of Minas Morgul leader of Orcs and all round destroyer of the beautiful game. He sent his players out to kick the opposition and kick them they did. The most famous assault was of course carried out on our own Welsh wonder and it is something of a footballing miracle that he is still with us and still one of the greatest talents in the game.

Should Aaron, Santi and Mesut be rested today to protect them from getting Pulisterised before our big game in six days time, the biggest of our season? I don’t know what Arsène thinks – I’m no more qualified to second guess the greatest mind in football than any other blogger – but personally I wouldn’t let them within a mile of a Pulis team this close to a season defining encounter. To be fair I don’t know if his West Bromwich side plays like Stoke or not. I haven’t seen much of them this season but a glance at their recent results shows them capable of beating Man United and Chelsea, drawing with Liverpool and yet getting stuffed by an execrable Queens Park Rangers side.

Their captain is none other than Darren Fletcher and that is reason enough to protect our most valuable assets. Darren actually feels much the same about his manager as I do. In a newspaper interview he is alleged to have said “From my point of view he is an infectious manager” and I must confess I’d have thought that as good a reason as any to steer well clear. He apparently went on to suggest that the rationale behind his move away from Old Trafford was all down to Arsène snapping up Danny Wellbeck so maybe his judgement isn’t so badly flawed after all.

I don’t think we should read too much into today’s game. That end of season oddness which has pervaded our recent fixtures may will cling on for another ninety minutes. I certainly hope not because I feel the players deserve some recompense for all the hard work they’ve put in for so little reward lately. Drawing two and losing one is not a fair reflection of the football they’ve produced nor the effort they’ve expended. It has however cemented third place and so far the lads have come through their labours unscathed and that’s probably the most important thing. A nice free flowing game with an avalanche of goals for the home team featuring ninety minutes from Tomáš Rosický would suit me just fine but to be honest I’ll just be glad if everyone survives and the cameraman doesn’t waste any time pointing his equipment towards the visitors technical area.

So here we are. My final paragraph warning light has come on so I suppose it’s once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. May I just say it’s been a heck of a ride. The euphoria of last May might have fizzled a bit during our difficult start but the manager never lost his nerve and the team came good. I hope we can all enjoy our afternoon’s entertainment and wrap things up nicely with our accustomed aplomb. I will return for my final match preview next weekend but as far as the league goes this is, as people are so fond of saying, it.


Do You Want Arsenal To Win For You Or Them ?

Sometimes I wonder why I bother with this site. What  porpose does it have? I have written dozens of articles and said nothing new, original or educational. The regulars in the comments section , on the whole, know more about football and Arsenal than I do. I cant write like any of the other authors that contribute, so why bother?

Then my friends I read some comments and think “that’s why”. These people are why ! These people are what makes it worth the effort.

From ianspace2014

“My point is I would rather achieve 4th place with OUR team than win the league with an eleven of other peoples players. There is nothing wrong with the Mesuts and Alexis of this world but each player coming in must feel like an ARSENAL player dedicated to us and combining with our youth players.”

Then I read Kelly (alabamagooner)  , she had this to say.

“Finally. Someone is able to express things that Hunter{Ed. Hunter is a regular poster} makes me too mad to articulate. So, I’m going to give it another go, to try to explain to Hunter and to everyone else.

I don’t care if we never win another PL title. There. I said it. If I cared about that, I’d support Chelsea. I have no historical connection to either club, so who cares, right? Just pick Chelsea instead, right? Here’s why I don’t do that: Arsenal mean something to me. The club, and its way of doing things, MEAN something. And that something isn’t to be the biggest bullies in the league, to destroy everyone on sight in some sort of macho rutting contest. What means something to me is to see a group of men work hard to achieve something. To weather the ups and downs together. To clearly care about each other and about their leader. A leader, (I’ll remind Hunter, who to his immense credit may be AW’s biggest fan) who sets this tone as the way he wants his football team to operate. Do I want to Arsenal to win the league? Of course I do! But I want it for them. Not for me. And that’s where I differ from many.

Yes, of course Hunter you are right. There are certainly better players out there than we have. There are better players in every single position. I can’t possibly argue that point with you. But I don’t love them. Of course the pundits say Arsenal need x,y, z players. They don’t care whether we get them or not. They aren’t attached to the team. They aren’t rooting for the team we have to pull together and achieve the very best that they can. I am. That’s the emotion of sport. That’s why I care about it. I hurt for them when they lose, and rejoice for them when they win. It’s not about me. That’s why I never get angry when we lose. Only sad.

We’ll buy players in the summer. We’ll lose players in the summer. I will mourn those who leave, and embrace those who come. But you will never, ever hear me say we should ditch a player we have for a better, flashier model. That’s not the way I see things. If you do…well, ok, that’s your way. You’re a better competitor than me. It’s a good thing I don’t run the club. But I wonder if you enjoy it like I do. If one little passing move that comes off in the midst of a game where nothing is going right can make you cheer and clap your hands. If seeing players and manager smile in training after a horribly disappointing weekend makes you feel everything is ok again. Or if you just want to string them all up until they perform to your exacting standards.

There. I’ve bared my soul…and it’s 3:00 in the morning in England, so no one is even going to read it. A shout into the void.”

And that dear reader is why this site exists. Not as a vehicle for my ego. But for a place that lovers of Arsenal can come and express that love , free from the barracking of entitled fans that demand Arsenal provide them with bragging rights and buy them success and silverware.

We all have hopes and dreams for Arsenal, but when they become expectations and demands that is when we cross the line between real fans and entitled customers.

When we scream for new players, a different manager or demand different tactics, again we are leaving behind the fan aspect and turning into customers playing Football Manager.

Those that shout the loudest , know the least. Its the same in most walks of life. I find the fans that think they have the answers don’t even understand the questions.

Its very obvious that the people who thought we played badly against Swansea and Sunderland don’t understand football or sport at all. But, boy oh boy, can they SHOUT


Sunderland Was Not A Bad Performance !

A guest post from Double Canister.
Sunderland came and earned the point that makes them safe, Arsenal, despite numerous efforts to do more, managed to earn the point that should deliver 3rd place – leaving any chance of closing in on City for second place impossible now on the final day of the season. Wenger made a couple of changes to the team that didn’t weaken it at all, Jack gave a very lively hour of work showing us once again that he still has so much more to give to this club.
We have seen many times before teams who believe they have cracked a system on how to get out of the Emirates with at least a point; frustrate Arsenal: break up attacks, mess around on throw-ins and goal kicks, foul rotationally under the watching eye of a ref who has convinced himself the pitch always needs a slight tilting in the plucky northern underdogs favour (never ever, for the home team!) deep defending in numbers – all that sort of thing.
Sunderland did all of the above, and none very well. I can’t imagine ever seeing a team defending so deep, they were practically lining up the defensive back 6 on the goal line – which explains why some of our shots didn’t go in. Some will criticise the Arsenal team sent out for failing to crack this difficult Makem nut, but I can’t really do so – and neither should any reasonably rational Arsenal supporter. The only realistic way to counter this tactic from away teams at the emirates is to be as patient as hell and keep redoing and redoing the drills and patterns until the bus parking side cracks under the pressure, usually by conceding a penalty or a free kick.
Gibbs and Bellerin could not have had easier days out, both were always right up the top of the pitch acting as auxiliary wingers, and very rarely had to drift back to help out a very comfortable centreback pairing, such was the lack of desire by the visitors to risk leaving their own half of the pitch. When Gibbs or Bellerin had to provide protection their speed made cover for the defence quite easy to deliver. There was no way to counter attack a team who didn’t want to expose their own defensive weaknesses, they had an extra 2 or 3 men between the Arsenal player on the ball and their own overcrowded penalty box, there were no pathways in behind that could be prised opened until the arrival of a very effervescent Theo Walcott. Rosicky’s magic touch for the final 10 minutes could do it either. Perhaps if the Ox was fit something different could have been applied, of one of Arteta imperious quarterback passes over the top.
Were Santi, Ramsey, Alexis and Özil a tad jaded?  perhaps so, Old Trafford is aways a hard away match. Giroud wasn’t delivering but he was living on scraps, as as far as I could see John O’Shea was virtually wearing the same shorts as him. Arsene may be a modern manager but the joys of rotation a squad are alien to him at times, perhaps he really does think the players coming back from injury are not really as match ready as us Gooners down the pub have told ourselves? The same old patterns of disgruntlement could be heard upon leaving the Clockend last night after the game from the never-will-be-happy-ever-again-since-we-left-Highbury gang. Certainly none of the long distance shots came anywhere near the target for us either. near post runs were not being made, the best use of the effective width wasn’t being used. Some days it just doesn’t go to plan for you.
All in all a hard worked draw, plenty of opportunities were there to make it a 1-0 night to the Arsenal, none were forthcoming thanks to the luck and lately found tenacity of the opposition. By the way, by my count that’s the 5th time Arsenal have been inflicted with the presence of Mr. Anthony Taylor of South Manchester this season, a statistical anomaly. He must be pleasing his masters mightily with his performances, but he isn’t making too many friends in the Emirates stands. Some decisions were quite inexplicably given against us, and I think when he booked Ramsey for a nothing challenge the rest of the team got the message and just eased-off a little – no one wants to miss a cup final due to a mendacious PGMOL official’s whimsy. He did however equally miss Koscielny using some part of his upper arm (accidentally?) which deflected a rare Makem shot away from our goal.
From what we can see, there is a fair amount of work still to do to prepare for the cup final, but at least we can sleep easier knowing Darth Pulis can’t cause us too much anguish on the last day of the season. Arsenal had effective control of the whole game last night from minutes 1 to 93, however it does look like goal chances have dried up over the last few weeks, is there something lacking with the team like a killer bite or raw aggression? (Courtesy of Hunter’s recent comments) or is it just tiredness? I say the latter.
Is this progress over the last fee seasons, is the team and squad really moving towards a title challenge and a longer stay in the Champion’s League next season?
I really believe so, but a little bit depends on what Arsenal PLC will do during the summer, a few small adjustments might happen to the squad, more emphasis in rest and medial attention to the team will be one of the best benefits of a longer summer break from the Premier (oh do stop that crap for once and for all will you please, Skysports, BT and BBC) League. The unknowable is what our rivals will do, Man Utd. still have hundreds of millions of US taxpayers money to throw away like they did last Summer, Chelsea will look at ways of making Jose’s team even more mean with the ball, City will be desperate to be back on the glory hunting trail and whoever replaces Brendan Rodgers has a massive headache to content with at Anfield.
I reackon Arsène has the nicest job this summer.

Arsenal Versus Sunderland: Missing The Point

What a different Arsenal team this is from the one which faced Sunderland all those weeks ago. Months ago in fact. I don’t know if your memory stretches all the way back to October when we last played the Black Cats but I had to go and look up the game to remember it – possibly the result of so many hours of footy consumed in the intervening period, possibly the simple degenerative effects of great age, who knows? What I discovered was this starting line up













and it made me realise that I have an idea of the Arsenal first team now, an idea I didn’t have for much of the last season or the one before that. Just look at that list. I only count four players who we now consider as first choice and one of those started out of position. What does this tell us? Well not a whole lot to be fair. Just that when Arsène has most of his players fit he isn’t the kind of manager to tinker and rotate for the hell of it. If you get a place in the starting line up then as long as you keep doing the right things you will keep it. In truth the comparisons between the side to which we’ve become accustomed and the one that travelled to the Stadium of Light last year tells us the story of our season.

Back then we were ravaged by injury. Players were on and off the physio’s table, swapping positions, never getting a chance to build partnerships and understandings. There were new faces trying to fit into a disrupted squad and some older faces struggling to find their best form, players were in and out like a dog in a butcher’s doorway. Once things settled down and people began to return from the knackers yard and actually remained fit for more than two games the season took on an entirely different aspect. The embattled, struggling, disparate ensemble of 2014 became the slick, mean winning machine of 2015.

Granted we’ve stumbled in the last couple of games and it would be absolutely peachy if we could get back into the swing and win our final three, that would set up next season just beautifully. As you know I missed the live match on Sunday but I managed to get to the highlights without hearing the score. Sadly some chump did announce that Man U were leading and a glance at the old Timex told me the game was well into the second half so it was pretty much ruined for me as a spectacle. Never mind, it was good to see Theo score albeit through a deflection. Would I have swapped that lucky break for one against Swansea at home? Probably not. If we had to lose against one of those two I’d rather it wasn’t the red Mancs.

By the way if you were listening to the incoherent rambling with which I fill the space in between the music during my radio show you’ll have heard the precise moment at which I remembered that we have a game tonight and I had a blog to write today.  Please accept my apologies therefore if things come across a little rushed and sleep deprived but as I get older I find it harder to function properly on anything less than twelve hours kip per day. How could I have forgotten we were playing? Well I have started to ease away from social media now that all people want to do is fantasise about breaking up our wonderful team and buying everyone else’s players. It’s boring. I can do without reading it and of course I avoid the radio and the papers for the sake of my sanity.

 As far as tonight goes my exhaustive research indicates that Laurent Koscielny’s fitness is in doubt. All I can say is I hope he gets better in time for Wembley. Such an unsung hero deserves the reward of a final, as does young Hector and judging by Arsène’s comments Debuchy’s frustrating first season looks like continuing. He definitely won’t feature tonight and so must be uncertain of playing again before the summer break. Talking of which I am for the first time in a long time looking forward to a bit of time away from the footy. Foreverheady pointed out recently that with the World Cup filling last summer this has been a marathon of football virtually unbroken since August 2013. If Santi looked a little jaded in the first half on Sunday it’s no surprise. I only have to watch him and I’m starting to feel the strain a little. Thank goodness we have the Ashes this summer, it’s just a shame the tour doesn’t start a little earlier.

This is a strange time of year isn’t it? A sort of post pre season period where odd results can and do get thrown up. Aston Villa got tonked the other day as, so I’m told, did Chelsea. There is a sense of players performing with one eye on the deck chair. Blogs are moving over to summer transfer insanity leaving actual football behind them until the autumn and the ribbons are being ironed in preparation for Wembley and the descent of the final curtain. The generously proportioned lady may be gargling the warm honey but our boys still have a job of work to do.

Sunderland certainly won’t come and lie down, they need a point from their last two games to be safe and if they don’t get it against us they have to get it at Stamford Bridge. Of course Hull may do them a favour and lose at Old Trafford but our visitors cannot be certain and so will fight every bit as hard as Swansea did. We will need to be on our game tonight and I’m confident that we will be. Surely we will have better fortune in front of goal than we did last Monday. As much as I love an exciting game I don’t want to go through another night of hammering at the door and fumbling for the key. A first half goal will suit me just fine and of course the over riding prayer is no injuries, please.

Although Sunderland find themselves in danger of going down, they have been in reasonably good nick lately. Of their last six games they’ve lost only one and are unbeaten in their previous four. The league positions can be deceptive, that’s all I’m saying, sides at the bottom can be tough to play against in the final fixtures. Which is why I don’t think we’ll see wholesale rotation tonight. Enforced changes of course but don’t expect to see a Carling Cup line up when we still need a point and are facing a determined, motivated side.

I’m sorry but there really isn’t much more to say. I could guess the starting line up (Theo and Gabriel in, Santi and Kos out) advise Arsène on tactics (score more than the opposition) and tell you next weeks winning lottery numbers (08, 14, 15, 22, 31, 33, 40 bonus ball 19) but you know and I know that all the other Arsenal blogs do that sort of thing so much better than I ever could so what would be the point?

Truth be told I expect a similar experience to that which we enjoyed last Monday evening, and if we can cap the great football with some goals then it’ll be a lot more relaxing to watch. Win tonight and we can all look forward to the visit of Pulis in our pre cup final last game jamboree on Sunday. Actually that scares me more than the thought of losing tonight. The idea of that man sending his troops out to kick our lads before such a massive game is so horrific that I really, really want the job done and dusted tonight. Perhaps then we can encase certain players in bubble wrap and leave them on the shelf on Sunday and let their understudies face West Brom. You never know I might get to see my beloved Tomáš start just one more time. That would be a treat all in itself. Anyhoo,  I’m off to put the coffee on and begin the long countdown to the match.  Hmm, ten hours to go. Maybe I can get in a little power nap between now and kick off – give me a shove if you haven’t heard from me by eight o’ clock would you?


More Advise For Arsenal


Third Place Reeled In


Morning Positive people and it is raining heavily in Norfolk this Monday morning.

Despite that damp start to the week a satisfactory footballing start to the week with our CL qualification to the group stages all but* confirmed by Mr Dean’s final whistle and two games to scrape the point that will place our name in the pot in Nyon on the 5th August.

The game yesterday ? Well having emphasised the ‘special’ nature of the Manc fixture in my comment on Stew’s excellent piece yesterday I sat glumly through the first half, watching what was a long way away from a good game of football. The home side defended deep and solidly, our passing was off target, our threat on De Gea’s goal totally missing. It just seemed our players not communicating as you would expect of a group have played together game after game in recent weeks. I can’t recall Santi knocking so many wrong passes in one half of football. I suspect after all the football he has played this season the man from the Asturias requires a rest.

My congratulations though to Phil Jones for the highlight of the first half pictured above, and provided by the Indy this morning. The boy has a talent for the ridiculous.

Manyoo were not any better during these exchanges  and it was surprising that they actually managed to hit the target after half an hour. Not even a bad tackle to spark things up and get the crowd roaring. Barely noticed Dean all afternoon.

Half time came and went and in the opening of the second period the torpor continued, Manyoo hesitant to chase a second, and us not still not clicking into gear.

And then, as so often happens in the mystery that is football, Robin came on at 61 minutes, Radamael waved a wistful paw at the unimpressed Trafford Park tourists for the final time, and we finally came to life. The passes found their target, the Mancs missed tackles and spilled possession. They weakened and we became stronger and more confident. Co-incidence ? The mechanism of cosmic balance for man’s wrongs to be expiated ? The sinister influence of Malaysian gambling interests perhaps ? No idea.

And in that final half hour I thought we were pretty damn good. I sensed a certain tension when RvP arrived and fear among even some stout hearted Positivatas that the bastard would score a second. In truth he was shockingly feeble, barely touched the ball. For us Mesut had been very quiet but was now in space and picking out passes and crosses. Giroud’s battering of the centre backs had drawn blood, Roja and De Gea departed, and we controlled the game as we have not done in a while at their place. For all you Aaron fans out there it was Christmas Day in that final 30 minutes.

The equalizer was inevitable although the part Blackett played was unlucky for the boy, though slightly less unlucky that Kieran Gibbs similar deflection that upset the Ems match for us in November.

Those final 12 minutes or so we pressed, the Mancs covered up and clung on. Flamini arrived and we knew it was a single point rather than the three that would be our reward for the afternoon’s work. Herrera finally got Dean to wave his card in the 94th minute just prior to the final whistle.

And that was that. Some second half quality, not much incident or controversy. A professional performance.

It is just a short step to the Black Cats so enjoy the week.

* touches wood


Arsenal Versus Man United: Sitting This One Out

I shan’t be watching this afternoon. My wife has made other plans for me and if you’ve ever met my wife then you know how wise I am to smile sweetly and just miss the match. To be honest it’s only Man United and I shouldn’t have a problem avoiding the score until the game shows on Arsenal Player. Used to be this would chap my arse in a most disagreeable fashion and I’d be entirely out of sorts until I’d caught up with the match. Used to be I didn’t really enjoy the recording either. Not being able to interact via the net with other supporters took the spice out of the occasion, the sense that everyone else already knew the result and I was late to the party hung like a pall over the game.

Not any more. Interacting with all but one or two people during a live match adds nothing to the experience and often serves only to detract from my enjoyment. It has become apparent over the years that supporters lose their perspective and the ability to enjoy what they’re watching. Most simply cannot wait to show the world just how hopeless they are, in fact to share just how little they actually enjoy the act of watching a football match.

Combine this with the quite astonishing tendency people have to write off a performance if the result goes against us and I wonder if I shouldn’t just watch all the games a day later on Arsenal Player. Take our fabulous display against Swansea. I was completely gripped, the tension was incredible, the attacking play relentless, ingenious, fast and intricate. It was mesmerizing to watch – goodness only knows what it must have been to defend against. The Swansea midfield and defence probably felt as if they’d been run over by a truck at the end of that game. I was a little flat going into the match but ended up riveted. Sadly it seems that because Swansea defended so well and with more than a whiff of good fortune and then took their chance to snatch an extraordinarily unlikely victory our own fans have written us off and ignored the wonderful football we produced. The old adage ‘it’s the result that matters’ was wheeled out and whilst this feeble mantra has an attraction as a kind of subnormal logic which would appeal to a brain dead rock it seems to me that when we decide to immerse ourselves in ninety minutes of excitement and entertainment then the excitement and entertainment are surely of the greatest import.

I am, obviously, in a minority. If you don’t take any pleasure watching the match and believe only in the result then I say to you (again, I’ve said this often and will continue to say it) then just wait until the middle of May and go online and read the scores. There is no need for you to watch any football nor join in any discussion. If the result and the points are really all that count then count them and leave the rest of us the hell alone. Please.

The main reason I don’t mind missing the live game today is it’s against Man United. Even though most of the worst of their villainous crew have departed and the sorcerer in chief has retired to enjoy his wine and horses I still can’t warm to the lesser of the Manchester sides. It’s true I am growing a little fond of their manager. He has a disdain for the press which rivals my own contempt and says nice things about Arsène Wenger and that always gets my attention. He is struggling to force some pretty substandard players into the style in which he believes and has achieved stupefying success given the squad he inherited. I think getting a top four finish (the dreamed of Nirvana for every premiership team at the start of the season, and a huge achievement for everyone, except it seems, Arsenal) with the players he has should have seen him crowned manager of the season without any opposition. A truly astounding achievement.

So can we do the unthinkable today? In my absence will you be watching Arsène take a side to Manchester and return victorious for the third time in a season? I don’t see any logical reason why not. We are in scintillating form – just ask any Swansea defender! We have a fantastic group of players and the greatest manager you and I have ever known. However this is Manchester United. The thorn in our side for as long as I can remember. This is Old Trafford the graveyard of so many of our dreams over the years and a team who have, this season, surely led the most charmed existence of any side in the history of the game. A team who have been outclassed and outplayed over and again and yet still come away with three points. Make no mistake this will not be the walk over it ought to be. If it is then I will of course make a public apology for such a rash and baseless prediction. After all, that’s what bloggers do when they get it wrong isn’t it? When their wild speculation which they pass off as fact is found out by events they always issue a grovelling retraction, right?

Anyway, on to the standard pre match stuff. Formwise we have plummeted, having sat on top of the table for so long that I began to wonder if something had broken and we’d got stuck. We now sit in fourth position behind Leicester, Swansea and some other team. But as three sides are all on 13 points that’s a little bit misleading. Our opponents today are ninth having won three and lost three, so going on current form we should be a good bet for at least a draw. I’m sure Arsène will send his players out to win though. One of the purest delights of watching Arsenal since the great man came along is that you know we set out neither to draw nor to minimise damage in defeat. I love that if we go three down it might well end up being six or eight because that means we have gone all out to try to get back in the game no matter what the odds. When it works you end up with a match to savour, an event to live long in the memory, when it doesn’t you just forget the defeat and move on. That is why being a football fan is such fun. You don’t have to wallow in the negatives, to relive failure. The moment the final whistle blew on Monday I was looking forward to the next game. Yes I still remember the dazzling pass and move football with which we tried (unsuccessfully as it turned out) to break down the visitors but the result has been washed away. Any fan who spends any of their time scrutinising defeat has mental health problems and probably killed their pets when they were a child.

So you’re on your own this afternoon, I won’t be there to share the triumph or the tears and I hope you won’t go texting me the score before I get chance to catch up on Monday, that would be mean. Three points would be great but once again please try to remember you watch football for the joy of watching football not like a train spotter to just collect data. The game at its best is a living, breathing, unpredictable, unscripted blend of athleticism and physical art. We are lucky to have on the side we’ve chosen to support some of the greatest proponents of that art so why not do yourself a favour and actually enjoy watching them perform?


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