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Arsenal: “Winning Beautiful”

0fb268de6d4d1cfce49f00e7b22f38f4Good morning Positives old and young,

There is a concept much bandied about by the punditti of “Winning Ugly” which, on most occasions as far as I can see, involves a team playing poorly, having a slice of luck, clinging on like grim death to fortune’s undeserved award and making off with the points.

Well last night I think our lads may have coined/created the new concept of “Winning Beautiful”. Let me elaborate. I have in mind Arsenal were playing football of the highest quality from the start of the match, dominating the opposition all over the pitch for 92 minutes, scoring two delightful and entirely deserved goals. There was no fouling, diving or cheating, and we earned an entirely justified reward. Every man of the 14 who played was a credit to the club, to the fans and to their old Mums. So Mr Shearer, Mr Murphy and Mr Lineker poke that up your collective pipe of inane jargon for future reference.

Of the game itself I had the advantage of not seeing it live and suffered no distractions from social media. Santi buzzed like a hornet and I doubt he has had a more influential game in the past three seasons. Hector showed an attacking, creative flair that makes me wonder whether a Philip Lahm style move forward into midfield might not be in his future ( if of course we did not have such a plethora of talent across our middle regions). Another defensive masterclass from Kosc and Mustafi, with it taking an hour for the Swiss to land a shot of goal, and even that was from outside the box. Credit to Ospina, called from his slumber just once but his sharp Colombian hand saved the one decent effort from the Toblerone toilers.

But you are waiting for me to come to the two men on whom our evening pivoted, nay I would say “pirouetted”. I think we now all know why Arsene decide to persevere with Alexis as a striker don’t we ? The system just about clicked perfectly into place last night, with balls wedged over the top of the Basel defence to the Chilean, not too hard, not too soft, just perfect. And when it did not go over the Basel defence, Sanchez dropped short and went through them. It has taken five/six games to really work as well as it did last night, and for Santi, Mesut, Theo and Alex Iwobi to find the right wavelength but the reception as clear as a bell last night.

And top of the class our reborn right winger, the man of the moment, who can’t stop banging then in Theo Walcott. He absolutely terrified the Swiss left back Traore from the first whistle. The visitors never found an answer to his running. What struck me is there was so much confidence in the player last night, a certainty that when he took on man he would pass him, or hit a shot it would be on target.

For our visitors Vaclik was outstanding and the reason a 2-0 win was not 5.

It would have been pleasant to see a score that reflected our dominance, and the one irritation of the evening was the number of presentable chances that were not converted. Sanchez hoofing the advertising hoarding in frustration on 89 minutes indicated that he was not satisfied. That may however be a feature of “Winning Beautiful” – less is more.

Highly competent referee – young chap, just 33 – Danny Makkelie – I bet we hear more of him.

So onward to Turf Moor on Sunday and no doubt a rousing, meat and potato pie throwing welcome from Lancashire’s finest. A little rotation in order you ask ? We shall see. One tinkers with such precision engineering very carefully.

Enjoy your week.

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Arsenal Versus Basel: More Of The Same Please

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I tend to avoid giving the idiots among us too much oxygen, the great leveller that is social media already ensures their vapid discharge receives more than enough attention. One theme which has somehow made it into the office past my secretary is the idea that as Arsène paid a lot of money for his new signings he should bloody well play them. With all the self righteous anger of the entitled, these infantile hysterics who have spent years demanding new signings finally get them, and guess what? The so called expert in charge refuses to pick them.

Of course they neatly cherry pick their arguments to fit the pre conceived narrative and so fail to mention Shkodran Mustafi who has gone straight into the team and has pretty rapidly shown us why. They just cannot understand why Lucas Pérez and Granit Xhaka don’t start every game and why we sent Joel on loan and kept Theo.

Now before I go on let me just say, in parenthesis, we here at PA claim no expertise. Nada, nix, zilch. We, unlike the drooling hordes of mindless trend followers who so pollute the atmosphere of any modern debate, are happy, nay delighted to accept that Arsène Wenger and all of his staff know infinitely more about running every aspect of a football club than we do or ever will. The only things we express here are skewed, narrow, prejudicial opinions based on no more than our gut instincts. I have an idea, an uninformed guess as to why the manager hasn’t automatically thrown the new boys into the pot all at once and it is no more than that.

Given the injury situation I believe he had to play Mustafi straight away. It would have destabilised the team to have too many new faces all at once and would hardly have been effective man management to ditch established quality first team players just because he had some shiny new ones in his back pocket.But there is a much bigger point. Arsène didn’t buy these players because Arsenal was desperate. We didn’t finish way off the pace in seventh, eighth or ninth position in the league last year. We came second. We had an excellent group of players albeit a squad with a few gaps in it due to the retirement of our skipper and a couple of old hands moving on to a quiet semi retirement.

Unlike other clubs we didn’t need to buy saviours because we weren’t in dire straits. We bought players to augment an already successful, top class outfit. Man United in contradistinction flung an obscene amount of cash at one player because they needed a talisman, someone to ignite belief that they might just still be in with a shout of rejoining the big boys club. It’s a club they and Liverpool left some time ago and pretenders like Spurs are making serious efforts to join. Arsenal, needless to say, has been a member for ever single year of Arsène’s time in charge.

So no, the manager doesn’t need to throw all his new trains straight onto the Hornby OO gauge track. Neither does he need to take any chances with those coming back from injuries. He can smooth the transition to the Premier League for the new faces and he can ease the wounded back into the fray. He is, in short, building from a position of strength.

Similarly the cup team we fielded against Forest was noticeably stronger than in recent seasons. In fact our cup side and our league side may start to appear quite distinct from one another, with Ospina or Martinez starting in goal and perhaps Lucas up front, Elneny being first first choice in midfield. Then again we have the option to field differing strength cup teams depending upon the perceived strength of our opponents – the permutations are quite fascinating – not to say mouth watering.

Our opposition this evening, while, in theory, not as formidable as Paris St Germain, cannot be taken for granted whatever the make up of our first eleven. Let’s face it, no one in the Champion’s League intends to roll over no matter who they play and Basel have form when it comes to shattering the illusions of cocky Premier League clubs. Unbeaten this season and with a 100% record in the league they have featured in one or other of the European competitions every year since 1999. So they are experienced, in fine form and have no reason to fear any British team.

I mention all this to dispel any of the ridiculous foregone conclusion, gung-ho nonsense some of our fellow fans mistake for positivity and confidence. Saying we ought to murder them just so that you can then berate your own side if you fail to bury the opposition under an avalanche of goals isn’t positivity it is a symptom of an unbalanced mind.

I am positive about tonight. I believe we are in great form both individually and collectively. I believe also that we have players on the bench and occasionally not even in track suits who are extremely capable and desperate to prove their worth if given the opportunity. Whether any of them will get that chance tonight remains to be seen but nothing would surprise me. We have the classic potential banana skin on Sunday with a trip oop north on the weekend following a Champion’s League tie. Under these circumstances we need players to be fresh and sharp. Having said that the season is yet young, the players supremely fit, and they don’t have to travel half way around the globe this evening so an unchanged side, Coquelin and Ospina excepted cannot be discounted.

As I sip from the lucky mug and contemplate another night of European football it is a relief to know that in you I have someone to share the moment, someone who doesn’t believe they know more than the manager but above all someone who recognises what a phenomenal achievement it has been simply to be here yet again. A top four finish isn’t some kind of booby prize it’s the holy grail of every club in the Premier League and we are lucky enough to a follow a team managed by a man who has delivered  on this goal year after year after year.

If you’re at the match I trust you’ll be in good voice, if not I’ll see you here at 7.45. Ćao za sada.

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Arsenal: Is this Streak For Real?

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Post Chelsea, in his usual wise manner the manager observed there is only 24-hours to savor a victory, even over a historic rival, after which it is time to focus on the hard work of winning the next game. See interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN7btWOQJ3g

In contrast with Arsene, now that Arsenal is on a 5 game unbeaten run of 4 wins and 1 draw, even seasoned Black Scarfists are trying to locate a seat on the bandwagon rapidly filling-up at various way stations.

Intuitively, as supporters we are happy with a winning streak. But Saturday’s victory have sparked the usual over exuberant headlines and tweets.

Bleacher report could hardly contain themselves:
Chelsea Have Become a Fugazi, and Being Humiliated by Arsenal Proves It

Our good colleagues at Suburban Gooners, like so many of us, crowed that:
Arsenal are getting their swagger back

Those of us, who are seasoned supporters of Arsenal Football Club and observers of the ebb and flow of emotion among fans, know that often this show of support is simply a desire to not to appear irrelevant while the team is winning. Once there is the inevitable setback, all teeth will be bared and the attack dogs will be let loose all over Wenger and the club in direct contradiction to the underlying trends.

So does a 5 game unbeaten streak suggest we are in anyway close to winning the title? As usual it is important to review the underlying historical data, never afraid to recognize that: “In the silent statistical world, there are no headlines. There are no narratives. No excuses. No hope and no despair. Just data.”

As in the stock market, when there is an increase in the share price of a company there are usually thousands of punters piling-in further bidding up the prices in the hope the market will soar upward infinitely, a similar pattern is observed when a football team is on a good run. Such is the reaction of our fickle, celebrity fans like Piers.This piling-in, in the words of my mentors, is often a case of “unjustifiable” sensationalism based on irrational expectations.

To counter such irrational emotions, my task is to research the historical data to help reveal where exactly Arsenal is positioned. Hopefully you my readers will draw the appropriate conclusions. Fortunately for us http://www.statto.com maintains several years of data on “Season Longest Win Streak” in the PL which we can apply to AFC. As usual I divide the data between the Highbury and Emirates eras.

Highbury Years

W D L CS FtS Lge Pos
1996-97 4 2 2 5 2 3
1997-98 10 2 2 8 3 1
1998-99 5 4 1 6 3 2
1999-00 8 1 2 2 1 2
2000-01 5 2 2 4 3 2
2001-02 13 2 1 4 0 1
2002-03 5 2 2 3 1 2
2003-04 9 3 0 2 1 1
2004-05 5 2 1 4 1 2
2005-06 4 2 3 5 3 4
Min 4 1 0 2 0
Max 13 4 3 8 3
Mean 7 2 2 4 2

In their pomp at at Highbury, during Arsene’s winning years, the club would go on some statistically significant winning streaks, i.e. they were substantially above the mean averages in Wins (W). The 2001-02 season, in particular, Arsenal went on a rampage of 13 Wins out of 16 games which was marred by only 2 draws and 1 loss. By doing so they clearly separated the men from the boys.

During that era it is evident that Draws (D), Losses (L), Clean Sheets (CS) and Failed to Score (FtS) data did not seem to have any statistical significance in winning the title so long as they were kept on or around the mean average. Even the 2003-04 season, which was important for serving up zero (0) losses all season, during our best 12-game stretch Arsenal could only maintain two (2) Clean Sheets.  Remember that fact when this season you read or hear pundits, bloggers and podcasters panicking when opponents occasionally breach Arsenal’s defense and score a goal. While it is important to keep clean sheets, the championship years demonstrated it is more critical to be on the front-foot and amass those Wins. Worrying about Clean Sheets is just another case of “unjustified” sensationalism which helps to induce fear among Arsenal fans.

Compare and contrast Highbury with the barren championship years at the Emirates.

Emirate Years
W D L CS FtS Lge Pos
2006-07 5 2 3 2 2 4
2007-08 7 4 1 2 1 3
2008-09 5 5 2 4 4 4
2009-10 6 1 2 2 2 3
2010-11 3 3 2 4 1 4
2011-12 7 3 3 2 2 3
2012-13 4 2 2 3 2 4
2013-14 5 2 1 4 1 4
2014-15 8 3 2 3 1 3
2015-16 5 2 2 3 3 2
Min 3 1 1 2 1
Max 8 5 3 4 4
Mean 6 3 2 3 2

Not surprisingly the various metrics for longest winning streak are inferior to the Highbury years. Interestingly, in those years when the club exceeded the 10-year average of 6-Wins in a streak, i.e. in 2007-08 and 2014-15, they were good value for coming 3rd.  In contrast, even though Arsenal came 2nd last season, it is clear and apparent why this generated very little excitement among many fans; in its best winning streak the club could only amass a below average 5 Wins in comparison to a 10-year average of 6-Ws.

The biggest takeaway from the data of the last 10 years at the Emirates has been the Club’s inability to achieve an above-average run of Wins, of similar magnitude to  10, 13 and 9 which characterized the title-winning years of 1997-98, 2001-02 and 2003-04 respectively. Until the current squad can reach those heights, unlike the opportunistic Mr. Morgan, we at Positively Arsenal should curb the over-exuberance and keep the champagne on ice.

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Arsenal: The Trinity Of Excellence

cartier-bresson-giochi

Dila mshvidobisa Positivistas,

What a fine morning to be alive as an Arsenal supporter.

The milestone of Arsene’s 20th anniversary at the helm of our football club celebrated in glorious and emphatic fashion. An opponent club who have stood, and arguably still stand, for much of what is rotten in modern football flattened. The evening lit up by what is good in football, art, athletic excellence, intelligence, concentration, the unity of purpose of players working as one body, one mind.

Of the details of yesterday’s game against Chelsea? As I invariably say, you all saw it, but bear with me.

Three aspects of Arsenal stood out for me and each of which I think led to our overwhelming victory. First and foremost, an exceptionally disciplined defensive performance by our back five, aided by first Le Coq then Granit, in which no player lapsed. No one, literally no one, put a foot wrong until the 83rd minute when Batshuayai managed to nick the ball and break on goal, and Petr made his first save of the afternoon. 83 minutes! We tackled cleanly, we headed decisively, we cleared without hesitation, we ignored the Costasaurus and his increasingly absurd antics.

Many times have I, have WE indeed, seen a bright Arsenal performance undone by a silly defensive error, a half second of irresolution or a misdirected clearance. Against CFC, I hesitate to say, we have had a tendency more often than probably any other club over the past few years. Well not last night, not once, not one sniff of weakness. Entirely professional, not one petulant retaliation or response to provocation, we were faultless. That was an exceptional defensive base to build from.

And build we did. Second up two individual performances that stood out from Mesut and from Theo. The former has been ‘quiet’ since the start of this season, good of course but not quite the decisive game-changer week in and week out that we became used to. He roared back yesterday against a team that, in previous contests, he has found it difficult to get into the game against. He oozed class, he bamboozled, Ozil gave them the ‘eyes’, and they fell for them.  My second individual award to Theo who played what was his best ever game last night. As an attacking player he tore holes in the visitors all night and was unfortunate not to have more than one goal to his name. At least as impressive when we did not have the ball TW was constantly busy, chasing, denying space, putting in tackles and working seamlessly with Hector.

The third block on which the victory was built was the strength of our bench and the timing and the quality of our replacements. Returning to point one, if we have suffered self-inflicted defensive errors our efforts in so many games have also been undone by a sudden injury and the exit from the field of a key (midfield) player. Often an exact replacement has not been available, the disruption has killed our positive momentum in the game and, in the end, it has cost us. Xhaka for Le Coq caused barely a ripple. Straight off the bench and down to work. A tough, tackling midfielder for a tough, tackling midfielder. Like a clock mechanism, old spring out, new spring in. If the change of Xhaka was enforced then the introduction of Gibbs and the stability that brought to the left hand side was freely chosen and beautifully timed. Iwobi was tiring, Nacho had had a hard afternoon against Willian. Whatever Chels might have made of opportunities down that side was snuffed out, and to his credit Kieran not only assisted with defensive duties but put in a couple of creative touches that nearly added a fourth. And young Kieran is another man who has found previous games against Chelsea ‘problematic’. Goodness me Arsene got his choice of sub and the timing right.

As you can tell the seam of superlative descriptors has been heavily mined over the past hour, or should that be descriptive superlatives – and why not?

We stride purposefully into the 21st year of the reign of Mr Wenger at the club. Let our pace be assured, and our heads held high. There are great days ahead.

Enjoy Sunday.

 

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Arsenal Versus Chelsea : Mentioning No Names

dick-dastasrdly

I was hoping to get through this morning’s epistle without mention of Chelsea’s erstwhile manager. Not the interim incumbent, I don’t mean him, I mean the one in charge when they started their title defence last season. I told myself that he is no longer there and is therefore no longer relevant and is the subject of so much journalistic and blogging hot air that it doesn’t need me to blow any more up his skirt.

There is a problem though. I simply can’t decide if Chelsea with him means the same as it does without him. In terms of rivalry it is of course a London derby between two of the capital’s biggest teams and as such will always carry more weight than a more humdrum fixture. Even without the Graceless One in the dugout or prowling the touchline there are still players likely to pull on the blue jersey for whom we can feel no love. There is one in particular who has built a reputation for scoring goals when many observers wonder how he is still on the pitch to score them such is his otherworldly ingenuity for unpunished foul play.

Despite the presence of such malevolent incarnations of footballing villainy the fixture has, for me, lost a little of its sting. I never hated Chelsea for being another London club. Neither living in nor hailing from the Big Smoke I shan’t add that hypocrisy to my list of faults. I disliked them for their association with the sudden jarring influx of unearned dirty money which so distorted the competitiveness of the league. I disliked many of their players in that pantomime way we fans have of caricaturing certain footballers from other teams. But mainly I didn’t like that oafish, pestilential sore of a man who so utterly epitomises all that is abhorrent in the modern game.

And now he’s gone. From Stamford Bridge at least. And with him a whiff of corruption has been lifted from today’s opponents. I don’t know a great deal about signore Conte except what I saw on the touchline at the recent European championships. His CV is pretty impressive though and we’d all do well to be wary of any side he manages, especially one which, along with the notable scoundrels, contains some extremely talented footballers.

They’ve started in a remarkably similar vein to us this season. Losing to Liverpool, picking up one away draw and winning the rest. Apart from beating Burnley by three their victories and defeat have been decided by the odd goal. What little we can deduce from these early season stats suggests they aren’t scoring by the bucket load but neither are they leaking many at the other end. A gambling man might think a draw the likely result.

I’m not a gambler. I have an inelegant sufficiency of other vices thank you very much, but were I to fancy a flutter I must confess to a certain bullish premonition on this fine autumnal morning. I think we’re due a bit of an upturn in our fortunes against Fulham’s finest. There is something about Arsenal this season which might give other sides pause for thought. A certain irascible refusal to bow to injurious destiny even in the face of such shockingly adverse circumstances as going a goal behind in the first minute in Paris.

Call it the silly superstitions of a foolish old man but I have a good feeling about Arsenal right now, a feeling which extends beyond the usual wishful thinking. The last time I had this positive tingle we went on to win the FA Cup so who knows? Of course come seven thirty this evening my upbeat mood may have taken a dent, sport is anything but an exact science, but win lose or draw today I can’t help thinking this squad has all the necessary elements to achieve something special.

The potential return of our Gallic heartthrob up front will give Arsène the kind of selection headache managers are reputed to enjoy, but we are in such a position of strength right now that he could easily decide to leave his number one striker on the bench rather than risk him from the start. Alexis has shown he is more than capable of playing up front. As the team adjusts to the more fluid style of a central striker who drifts around the line, he looks like an increasingly lethal option. Theo especially dovetails well with him, coming in off the wing when our Chilean dynamo leaves space in the middle. The other option, now his dreaded first goal is out of the way, is our new signing. Alexis, Pérez, Walcott would be a scarily fast front three, if a little on the diminutive side.

Of course which striker we choose won’t matter a hoot if Granit Xhaka gets a game. Just give him the ball anywhere on the pitch and if you’re stood in front of him for goodness sake duck. Should he start though? To my mind Santi hasn’t done anything to get himself dropped but with a European game on the horizon and with his understudy in compelling, goal scoring form maybe he gets a rest today. Maybe not. Whoever starts I’m happy to trust the judgement of those with the plan. As we say every week, second guessing the boss is a mugs game so let’s be content to wait and see.

Andy Nic’s friend with the whistle needs to have a good game today. The result may be unpredictable but what we can know for certain is one Chelsea player will be trying to get someone sent off from the moment the first ball is kicked. It is the kind of childish, odious approach to the game which deserves a disrepute charge, but no matter how unjust and no matter how righteous their cause our players simply cannot afford to react to his sly, niggling provocation. The rules of the game do not allow for self imposed justice, we have no choice but to hope that for once the officials are actually equal to the task and can prevent him from ruining what ought to be an excellent sporting contest.

Right, that’s enough from me, I have hash browns to prepare. If you’re at the game today I hope you’re in good voice, if not I’ll see you here at five thirty. Salut!

 

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Arsenal: Positive Intent on the Trent

Good Morning Positive Arsenal,

And how are each of you this fine Wednesday morning ?

Quite chipper I’d guess !

I suspect a lot of you, endured the fluctuations of technology while watching last night’s game, with streams coming and going, and providing a timely reminder of what reliable and comprehensive football coverage provides us. We may despise those damned TV corporations, bloodsuckers, leeches etc, but if that is the alternative their business model is safe for the foreseeable future.

Having dealt with that broadcasting foible a thoroughly enjoyable game took place. Our line up provoked a predictable mix of enthusiasm tinged with caution, with the mix of new faces, old’ish hands and promotions from the youngsters, and even in those promotions the position of Maitland-Niles at right back was a surprise to me. Perhaps the boldest initiative was the bench, with six teenagers in situ. As George said last night with a bench like that the Arsenal game plan is “shit or bust”.

Of the game itself and how these Wengerian schemes might work, or not perhaps? To quote Brian Clough “We talk about it for 20 minutes and then we decide I was right” and so Wenger’s selections and team set up proved that managerial aphorism almost perfectly, with Granit thumping in the first goal just 3 minutes shy of Old Big Head’s proposed schedule. Stand off the player 30 yards out and you will be punished. Did no one at Forest watch the Hull game ?

It is so, so important if you have a mix of young and experienced players that that first goal. After it went in we relaxed and every player had a little more confidence on the ball. Equally after a decent start Forest deflated after going a goal behind, the crowd noise sagged, the night for the home side slowly began to unravel. Very much a contrast to events at Hillsborough in our previous League Cup game.

Having gone ahead Forest kept up their end until half time, with a number of agricultural challenges that on another night might have led to greater official retribution. Martinez was never really troubled once week ahead. NF had one genuinely good player in Pereira, I thought. The rest were worker bees, willing but limited.

As a result, and as you saw, in the second 45 we strolled through the game. I was pleased to see Perez assert himself with a good aggressive goal. It is a long time since I have seen a centre back bullied off the ball like that. I thought his penalty was good as well. Almost like he practiced putting it beyond the keeper and into the corner !

Goal four for the Ox rounded off the evening, good for him and a boost to his still fragile confidence. His passing in the first half was, to put it bluntly, on occasions “wild”. A deep breath required young man.

All round a thoroughly competent performance. Young players all gained valuable experience, Elneny and Xhaka proving a cameo of an alternative high quality midfield pairing, Perez showed he is more than happy to “do it” on a Tuesday night in Nottingham. And NO injuries. Now that is a bonus.

Given it was the 12th anniversary of the death of Mr Clough I thought I would close with a second quote from that gentleman, made on the day the Invincibles passed the Forest unbeaten League record;

“I’m loath to confess they could be as good as us. They are brilliant. It sticks in the craw a little bit because nobody likes Arsenal! Of course there’s a Frenchman in charge, Wenger, and not many English people like Frenchmen. He is a top, top manager”

Enjoy the midweek. We have work on Saturday to look forward to.

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Arsenal Versus Forest: Keeping The Plates Spinning

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I’ve just discovered what EFL actually stands for. I’d long since given up paying too much attention to all the names by which the League Cup has styled itself. I never warmed to the Milk Cup, Littlewoods Cup nor the Rumbelows Cup, and by the time Coca-Cola got on board I’d had it with the corporate name changes and just stuck the the good old fashioned League Cup. So when I first saw EFL I assumed it was probably some multi national energy conglomerate or Chinese baby food manufacturer and, like a man at a buffet table who reaches a tray of undercooked and rapidly cooling eggs, I moved swiftly on.

You may readily imagine my surprise on discovering that, far from the Ezhou First-foods Laboratories or Energie Für Leben corporation, EFL simply stands for English Football League. Why then, given this simple return to a football based name, could they not have simply called the bloody thing the League Cup? Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

This is a competition which has always ruffled the feathers. Born a only couple of years before I was it was conceived as a consolation prize for those knocked out of the FA Cup. As such it has always been a poor relation to its illustrious forebear and occupied a similar place in the football hierarchy as the Europa League does today. Worth winning yes, but very much the silver medal contest. In fact clubs often disdained even to take part, until compelled to in the 1971-72 season. The ‘big’ clubs, an amorphous description if ever there was one, only really sat up and took any notice of it when the final moved to Wembley and the winners were guaranteed a place in European competition.

So when anyone suggests that Arsenal are disrespecting a venerable competition by fielding a second or even third string team you may blow a long, wet and noisome raspberry at them. When launched back in the early sixties the average attendance at League Cup games was about that of a third division match. I don’t actually believe that Arsène disrespects any competition. In fact I’m not entirely sure an imaginary construct such as a football tournament can be disrespected. It can’t exactly take offence can it? In any event our manager is competitive by nature, prizing winners above all other sportsmen and would want to win every match, every competition in which his side takes part.

I enjoy the League Cup enormously. There is slightly less pressure around it and given the presence of fringe players and ebullient youth we have been treated to many exciting matches during Arsène’s reign. I always want us to make it to the final if for no other reason than to see the likes of Jeff, Noddy Holding, Chuba and Ospina get a good run of games. Also it is the perfect opportunity to settle new faces into the first team away from the intensity of the Premier League.

Tonight we travel to the City Ground Nottingham where we’ll face, among others, one of our old League Cup alumni, Henri Lansbury. Lansbury’s most famous moment came when he scored against the Tiny Totts in the 2010 iteration of the competition and I confess to thinking that surely here was a future star of the Arsenal first team. His, and the experience of many others before and since, is not merely a salutary warning to those of us who think we can see into a young player’s future. It also serves as a timely reminder as to just how breathtakingly good the likes of Hector and Alex Iwobi are to make it through from the youth teams to the first.

Raw talent is not enough. Scoring against frail and second rate opposition like Spurs in a third rate tournament is not enough. The blend of composure, skill, strength and whatever the magic X factor is which only Arsène can see are so rare that it is incredibly difficult to correctly predict which of the youngsters will go on to make the grade. Given our increased muscle in the transfer market, the gap through which they must squeeze has now become even more narrow.

So my advice is to enjoy watching the kids that manage to make it into the League Cup side and don’t bother looking too much farther ahead. This may be the only night or the only season they get to shine for us and so we should take their performances at face value and not project too much of a future for them. Of course, given the depth of our squad and the quality of players who cannot even be guaranteed a place on the subs bench these days there may not be too many fresh faces in the first eleven anyway.

What of our opponents tonight? Managed by Philippe Montanier, after eight Championship matches they suffer the indignity of sitting below the second best team in Bristol. They are, on their day, a free scoring side who have racked up eleven goals in the three league games they’ve won this season. They won both of their previous League Cup matches away from home and, despite setbacks at Brighton and Brentford, should not be underestimated.

Montanier has come under some criticism for his policy of rotation having used more players than any other Championship manager so far this season. While I accept that a settled first eleven which can build real and deep understandings all over the pitch is as important an element in a winning team as any other, I believe that in the modern game learning to manage and employ a big squad is a vital skill. With playing staff pushed to the absolute peak of fitness injuries seem almost inevitable. With so many matches being played and at such a ferocious pace players have to be rested in order to maximise their potential. It’s a balancing act and keeping all those plates spinning is the lot of the modern manager.

Apart from Henri Lansbury another familiar name on the Forest books is Armand Traore. Still only twenty six, Traore was another League Cup player from our academy who never quite bridged the gap to the top level. Oh and there is one other you may remember. Six feet four inches tall, twenty eight years old,  former star of both Tårnby Boldklub and Kjøbenhavns Boldklub, Danish international, top knot wearing, tattooed, hat-trick scoring star of one of our greatest ever League Cup triumphs, the five nil drubbing of Leyton Orient. I speak of none other than Lord Bendtner of Copenhagen.

Love him or really love him, I will always remember with great fondness his winner against Spurs after coming on as a substitute way back in 2007. He high fived Emmanuel Eboué, trotted into the penalty area and scored with a Roy Of The Rovers header. Timed at 1.8 seconds (the clock only started ticking when the corner was taken) it remains the fastest ever goal from a substitute.

Well, that’s enough from me. Enjoy the fun and games if you can, I’m not sure who if anyone is screening the match. I have a band practice tonight so will be going dark until the highlights are posted online. Ciao for now Positivistas.