Arsenal versus Reading: A Royal Flush


I don’t know what Arsène wanted for his birthday, there is in any case little about this most cerebral of football managers to suggest he is particularly motivated by material possessions. I’ll bet he didn’t have a nil nil draw with Middlesbrough particularly high on the list though.

Fortunately we weren’t the only club with a little bit European hangover at the weekend and the players have the opportunity to present their boss with a belated gift much more to his liking. Reading are the visitors tonight and they will be looking for their first victory against Arsenal, a victory which would surely rank among the great cup surprises were they to pull it off. We’ve played ten won ten against the boys from Berkshire and scored thirty five goals along the way – seven of those coming when last we met them in this very competition.

Whilst that crazy game has been on people’s minds of late I’ve been enjoying memories of Alexis Sanchez’s winner in the FA Cup semi final. I don’t know what it is about the football fan’s plumbless appetite for schadenfreude but there is a particular pleasure to be derived from winning with precisely the species of goal by which we would most hate to lose.

Hopefully Reading won’t still be chafing about Gabriel’s handball – overlooked by the ref with the scores at one all, nor that Alexis pass back to Adam Federici which somehow ended in the back of the keeper’s net. It’s possible they may be motivated by such historical considerations but somehow I doubt it. Like Arsenal they will draw inspiration from looking at the fourth round fixtures, thinking to themselves that a few decent sides will be absent from the last eight.

The matches have fallen in such a way to guarantee that three from Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, Man City, Man United and West Ham will be going out of the competition this week, leaving a potentially enticing quarter final for this evening’s winner. Of course I hope it will be Arsenal. In fact, you’re probably wondering why I feel the need to say that at all.

There are, you see, some among us who would be quite content to leave the League Cup to other people. Too many fixtures they cry, too many other competitions needful of our attention to worry about the Mickey Mouse tournament. Odd that it is Mickey who has become synonymous with things deemed unimportant and trifling. Why I wonder of all  Disney’s creations should the most venerable of his animated stars be so derided by association? From now on I think you should refer to the League Cup as a Chicken Little of a tournament, but even if you do I still love it.

There is far less pressure surrounding the games so that awful dread of defeat doesn’t eat the stomach lining in the same corrosive fashion as it does during league or FA Cup ties. There are sneak previews of great young players like Jazzy-Jeff Reine-Adelaide to look forward to. There are first team fringe players like Kieran Gibbs and Gabriel, Noddy Holding and Corporal Jenks all of whom I really like and want to watch. And, gosh darn it, when all is said and done there is a trip to Wembley and a trophy at the end of it no matter how much of a Jiminy Cricket Cup you might consider it to be.

Arsène has rather taken the wind out the sails of us football blog artists by revealing much of his team in advance. The name which most excited me was of course Olivier Giroud. Our Gallic heartthrob has been sorely missed lately. Never more so than when we needed a different kind of threat against ‘boro at the weekend. His defensive work from corners and his aerial threat from crosses are always a massive plus but love him as I do the manager was cagey over what part he will play, merely saying “I think Olivier will be included”.

He went on in much less equivocal style where others were concerned saying “Gabriel, Holding, Jenkinson will play. Jeff Reine-Adelaide will play, I think Iwobi, Lucas, Oxlade-Chamberlain will also play. Gibbs – who captained the team at Forest – will do it again on Tuesday.” Factor in that Martinez will certainly start in goal and that’s nine of the eleven starters already down. I’ll leave the other two places for you to argue over, I’m content to wait. I’ll be happy if Olivier comes through unscathed. With him and Aaron coming back into contention the squad begins to look very strong indeed.

Our visitors’ form is a mish-mash right now.They win a couple, lose one, draw a couple, lose one and win one, which is a stark contrast to our long unbeaten run. Their manager Jaap Stam (yes that Jaap Stam – come on do you know any other Jaap Stams?) has made all the right noises, those you’d expect him to make and their squad is not without premier league experience. Captain Paul McShane has played for three top flight clubs and has thirty three caps for the Republic of Ireland, Chris Gunter will be familiar to all who followed Aaron and his mates as they frolicked through to the  semi finals of the European Championships, and Tyler Blackett and Stephen Quinn are similarly experienced at a higher level.

Our side will, necessarily, be less familiar with one another and therein lies Reading’s best hope of progressing to the next round. As we discovered in Sheffield this time last year a blend of youth and experience, no matter how strong in theory,  can come unstuck against determined, united opposition. The difference this year is, I believe, the strength of our squad. The guys pulling on the shirt tonight have a real incentive to impress their manager especially as the first team are doing so well.

That Wednesday match was significant chiefly for the injuries we suffered to both Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott rather than the disappointment of the result. Losing two such similar players at such a stage in the season had a huge impact and it is only recently that either player has returned to full form and fitness. So let’s hope for a relaxing, enjoyable evening, above all no injuries please, and if we can maintain our one hundred percent record against The Royals then I shall go to bed a happy man tonight.


Arsenal: If Only We Had Santi Cazorla


Cazorla large.jpg

Last Saturday’s disappointing nil-all draw with Middlesbrough had many of us fans, including yours truly, rushing en masse to the comforting refuge of captain hindsight; somehow the result would surely have been better if only we had Santi Cazorla. I don’t blame fans for thinking this way given the pernicious effect of “Recency bias” on our psyche.

Recency bias is the phenomenon of a person most easily remembering something that has happened recently, compared to remembering something that may have occurred a while back.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that for most fans our strongest memory of last season, is the period up to the the end of November, nearly midway, with Santi pulling the strings Arsenal was atop the table. But after that nasty injury at Norwich, which resulted in him not playing again until the final game in May, our season went into a relative tailspin as demonstrated in the table below. Although not completely coincidental, Santi’s injury in late November is close enough to compare mid-season with full-season.

With Santi 19 12 3 4 33 18 15 39 2.05
Without Santi 19 8 8 3 32 18 14 32 1.68
Full- Season 38 20 11 7 65 36 29 71 1.87

There is no denying there was a fall-off in results after December 2015, evident in an 18% decline in PPG between the first and second half of the season. But was Santi’s absence the cause or correlation. (Up to November 29th the actual PPG with Santi was 2.14 but it was time-consuming to do the additional research.)

One must note that the post-December decline also coincided with short to medium term injuries to key players. Alexis Sanchez also went down on November 30th and missed 7 games. Even though he returned on January 7th it took him weeks to regain the form he showed pre-injury. Aaron Ramsey had two major absences that season; the first was pre-Santi’s and the second, a thigh injury, was for 27 days between March 8th and April 4th. Özil also had time-off post Santi’s with ankle problems late March. Arteta and Rosicky, then squad players, were crocked for all of the post December period. Surely the cumulative effect of injuries must have played a part in Arsenal’s eventual demise.

But even with Carzola in the first-eleven Arsenal’s PPG was only 2.05 (or 2.14). In a previous blog I highlighted that an average PPG of 2.32 is the magic number for all premier League winners in the 12-year period since 2003-04. Evidently with him in the side AFC was not playing championship level football at least not on a consistent basis. So what of the prior years with Santi playing?

2012-13 38 12 11 21 6 10 73 1.92 1.92
2013-14 31 4 8 20 6 5 65 2.24 2.08
2014-15 37 7 11 22 7 8 74 2.06 1.97
2015-16 14 0 3 9 3 3 30 2.14 1.87

Before diving into the data, in one of the classic transfer mind games played by Arsene Wenger, he cleverly downplayed the signing of Cazorla from Malaga, days before it was made official, when asked by the assembled media in Malaysia (where the team was on tour):

No [we are not close]. Maybe we will sign a Malaysian player!

Without a trace of irony, Arsene then turned around and played him in all 38 premier league games that ensuing season (as well as champions league and FA cup fixtures).

From the table above, it is obvious that Santi Cazorla has been the cornerstone of the rebuild of the current Arsenal squad after the break-up of project youth starting with the unfriendly divestment of Fabregas and Nasri in the summer of 2011 and the acrimonious denouement by Robin Van Persie in 2012. In the ensuing 3.5 years, until November 2015, Santi has been omnipresent in central midfield assisting with 33 goals and himself scoring 23.

Two separate columns are used to demarcate PPG(s) with Santi-playing and PPG(t) for team overall. Almost every season with Santi-playing the PPG is better than the team overall except for 2012-13 when by definition it had to be the same as Santi played every game. Except for year-one the PPG(s) exceeded 2 points peaking in 2013-14. Much can be made of why the PPG fell in ensuing years but my main concern is the overall team PPG was inferior without Santi. Surely he is the player who “greases the gears” to quote Wenger.

Despite Santi’s obvious role in making the team better, it is significant at no point did his or the team’s overall PPG hit that magic number of 2.32 which I have demonstrated here is the statistically tested number to hit if Arsenal is to have a 95% guaranteed chance of winning the championship. Since Cazorla’s injury last autumn Wenger has strengthened midfied with Elneny and Xhaka, defence with Mustafi and Holding and forward line with Lucas. Is this sufficient firepower along with the rest of the existing squad to take us over the line?

Comment as you see fit.


Arsenal: Pointing in the Right Direction


Good morning Positives,

An interesting afternoon at the Ems I am sure you will agree, and once my pulse had slowed to a respectable rate courtesy of Mr Dean’s final whistle, supplemented a bout of traditional self medication using the traditional method, a game to look back on as genuinely entertaining.I shall take the point.

Needless to say I set myself up for a bumpy afternoon quoting the OneBoro website on Friday concerning the best expectation of the visitors was a good “do-ing”, as their correspondent so succinctly put it. Fool that I am, listening to football bloggers. I was not the only one though. The bookmakers had Boro at 12/1 before kick-off yesterday. In fact the Tees-side club were by no means done. While I guess Karanka and his boys went home thoroughly satisfied on another day, with a keeper facing them less sharp than Cech, it could have been their famous victory. Another clean sheet, four so far, and if he keeps up his average it will be another set of Golden Gloves come May.

Of the game itself ? In spite of the result I thought we played well as a team. As you all saw we faced a well organised side who defended deep and denied Sanchez any space to do his work in the final third all afternoon. Every time we got into the final third we faced a wall of nine blue shirts, a bank of five behind a bank of four, as well as Valdes all day. With our Chilean tiger mostly leashed, and only one scramble and one late burst that got him in on goal, we relied on the players behind him to come through, in both senses. The players behind Alexis I think stepped up, tried to create, tried to take on the Boro defenders and make space and time when very little was available. Iwobi, Theo and Ozil can all take credit for their contribution. My only criticism of them was they perhaps could have tried to get more into the box themselves as targets. I felt that when Perez and the Ox came on we shifted the gear up a notch and for the first time had numbers in the box and the MFC back line wobbled.

The base of our midfield Le Coq and Elneny worked hard and again I did not see much wrong there. We missed the eye of Santi but I would not put down our lack of a goal to his absence, it would be too simple. We did not solve the Middlesbrough puzzle.

Of the visitors  ? Adama Traore was a name that rang a bell although even the Arsenal website had no picture of him. I remember him coming on for the final five minutes in our game at Villa last season, by which point we were home and hosed, and him running past Nacho twice. I remember (honest) puzzling why they had not put the youngster on earlier as he looked deadly. So it proved yesterday, with the boy beating Kosc and Bellerin for speed – THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN! (the only man to beat Hector for speed once was Neymar as far as I know). Bizarrely, until his start yesterday Traore had played only twice, from the bench, for Boro since his arrival in August. A great display of strong, very fast attacking football. And just 20 – I hear the rustling of football agents in the undergrowth!

Teams are accused of “parking the bus”. It is a term of abuse apparently, invented by that Portuguese clown. Accordingly I am not sure what the term means. Boro are not Barca or Bayern. I could see that if they turned up at the Ems, played one man up, held on and celebrated with their fans a 0-0 draw they could be accused of failing to play the football they were capable of, and spoiling a potentially entertaining spectacle. However I don’t really see a team in the position that our visitors are in the PL, with the players they have, rolling up at the Emirates, doing other than they did yesterday.

So as the ashes of one PL game smoulder and gently fades away we have but a short break before Tuesday and Reading. In the meantime enjoy your day of rest and the fresh air of a mild Autumn day.




Arsenal Versus Boro: Discipline and Fizz


Let’s get the grovelling out of the way first. And the excuses, let’s get those out of the way first too. Oh heck. Is there a mathematician in the house? Can I have two first things? Even if I can you’d need to discount the preceding five sentences wouldn’t you? All I was going to say is I am writing at a disadvantage after an heroic dosage of pain killers intended to alleviate the old nerve problem but actually just causing a dense fog to descend.

Also I’ve been forced very much against my will to take up gainful employment again. As a defence mechanism and the only way I can prevent my brain from imploding under the twin weights of tedium and loathing I have to switch off all but the basic cognitive functions from breakfast to bedtime. This means that the usual hunt for interesting or at least diverting topics with which to pad out my pre match ramblings have been suspended along with all other philosophical musings.

I hope the team doesn’t suffer a similar lack of motivation nor paucity of inspiration today. Surely they won’t. Surely they’ll be floating on cloud nine after their joyful six session with those tricksy Bulgarian visitors on Wednesday evening. If there is a problem with an improbably long winning run it is quite simply in our nervous and worried minds. We struggle not to harbour the superstitious dread that the longer it goes on the closer the inevitable hiccup, crash, fall from grace – call it what you will – must surely be. Granted it isn’t all superstition. If we accept that the winning run will not in fact last until the end of time then of course it must be interrupted at some point.

I believe the trick is not to think too hard about that. I also believe that for the players the key will be how they respond. Treat it as a bump in the road and they’ll be fine. Allow their morale to collapse à la Tottenham after the Chelsea result last season and things might become a little uncomfortable for all concerned. This is where having a manager who has been there and long since taken over the t-shirt factory, never mind just bought one, becomes a resource of incalculable value.

Pochettino, for all his undoubted talents, couldn’t transmit the necessary calm to his charges when the ordure and the air conditioning came into contact at Stamford Bridge last season. I’m guessing of course but I suspect that is down to not having been in such rarefied air before. Arsène has. He knows how a near miss feels and he knows the sweet taste of ultimate success. He has learned what works and what doesn’t and when the blip happens we should be grateful to have him at the helm to steer the ship back on course in double quick time.

But I don’t want to contemplate defeat just yet. I’m quite content to clamber up on the virtual surf board and enjoy the ride as long as the wave keeps rolling on in. If confidence is the huge intangible which drives all successful teams then we must have a full tank of the stuff right now. The victory on Wednesday, or least the margin of victory which seemed so improbable for much of the first half, must have done much for both the individual and collective spirit in the squad.

I have to give special credit to Arsène. His timing was impeccable. Sooner or later we all knew he would have to rest some players and would have to give others a start in the first team. That he chose to do so in the Champions League is a mark of a manager confident in the ability of his second string. It also must have helped boost their own confidence that they were so trusted to carry on the good work, much of which they’d had to watch from a seat in the wings.

The hunger on show from the understudies was to be expected but what impressed more was the quiet assurance with which they went about their business. From Kieran Gibbs’ seamless transition from bench to starting berth to the Ox’s sublime finish and on to Lucas Pérez’s wonderful little cameo they all showed the manager what they can do and did it with aplomb. The only reason I don’t mention David Ospina in the same sentence as those others is because I believe he deserved one all of his own. Sod it, I’m giving him this one too – viva Ospina!

I honestly don’t know if these guys are waiting for injuries to take their toll or whether Arsène has plans to gradually increase the involvement of some players as the season progresses. It is an intriguing prospect. Of all of them Pérez is the one I think most likely to feature with sustained regularity. Like George I really like what I’ve seen. His work-rate and intensity are high, his speed of thought and decision making impressive. That he can score as well as provide for others augers well. Above all he just looks the part.

The most compelling battle for selection is between Coquelin and Xhaka – unless of course they end up playing together. It’s Coquelin all the way for me. The most underrated, or perhaps the least overrated, player in our squad by some margin. Caricatured as no more than a hard tackling defensive midfielder, he actually prefers an Arteta style interception, his positional play is extraordinary, appearing to have stolen the opposition’s blueprints before kick off, and his close control and passing are far from that of a boneheaded midfield hatchet man. I give him the edge over Xhaka by dint of not being suspended today.

Middlesbrough haven’t won since back in August. In fairness they’ve not been properly turned over since then, losing the majority of their games by the odd goal. Regardless of their recent form any Premier League team has the ability to beat any other. If we’re going to see Shotta’s streak continue we will need the ruthlessness Arsène is so fond of calling for. With the usual faces absent and Santi a doubt following his early departure on Wednesday we may see Elneny and Coquelin at the heart of our midfield. As big a loss as our tiny Spanish giant may be I’d be quite happy to see them on the team sheet together. Discipline and fizz. They could have their own prime-time show. Other than that as much as I think the Ox deserves another run out I suspect Arsène will stick to his winning team. But what do I know?

If you’re at the game sing one for me, if not I’ll see you here at three.


Wanted: More Streakers At Arsenal


By now readers are familiar with my research on the importance of winning streaks as a predictor of Arsenal winning the league (read my first and second blog on the subject).  So after last weekend the streak now stands at 6-wins and the league table now reads:

Position 2nd
Games played 8
Wins 6
Loss 1
Draws 1
Points 19
Points Per Game 2.38

So  despite the hysteria and portents of doom by the emotionally driven majority in the fanbase, after a slow start the club has rapidly made up ground on a now stumbling Manchester City and is only second place in the league by dint of goal difference.

Historically Arsenal have won the title by streaking; 13 games in 2001/02, 10 games in 1997/98 and 9 games in 2003/04. Should the current winning streak continue, I concluded it would be a massive indicator of a serious title challenge. Currently the data is not conclusive and I would urge fans to not pop any champagne bottles, at least not just yet.

Why my caution? Because history shows, since last winning a title in 2003/04, the club has had a habit of starting very well and fading down the homestretch.  This is evident in the data for Points Per Games (ppg) mid-season and full-season:

Mid Season Full Season
2004-05 2.16 2.18
2005-06 1.74 1.76
2006-07 2.06 2.04
2007-08 2.35 2.18
2008-09 1.75 1.89
2009-10 2.16 1.97
2010-11 1.89 1.79
2011-12 1.89 1.84
2012-13 1.74 1.92
2013-14 2.21 2.08
2014-15 1.74 1.97
2015-16 2.05 1.87
Average 1.98 1.96

In raw numbers it may seem to be a mere 2 basis points difference but proportionately it is a 10% negative swing. Mathematically that is significant reversal; from an average of 38 points in the first half of the season to 36 points in the second, gives a season average total of 74 points. Over the same period the winning team in the EPL averaged 2.30 ppg or a season total of 87 points, a whopping 13 point superiority over Arsenal.

Despite years of wilful misinformation by the mainstream media and so-called Arsenal bloggers, in their desire to have Arsene Wenger sacked, the primary reason why the club faded over the stretch was not having sufficient resources to build a squad of with the requisite quality and depth, given the priority of having to pay for a new stadium. I have spent several blogs doing the pre-Emirates vs post-Emirates comparison to show Wenger was both a genius for winning titles at Highbury as well keeping Arsenal competitive post-Emirates despite being massively outspent by his main rivals. The data is unchallenged and bears no repeating.

But despite the spending handicap over the past 12 years, the club has occasionally out-competed the entire league at the start of season; sitting at the top midway but eventually fading. However final league position has progressively improved over the last three years, from 4th in 12/13 to 2nd in 15/16.  The graph below illustrates.


Average Points Per Game (PPG)

But the number I found to be significant, streak or no-streak, is the average ppg. After 8 games AFC is literally steaming at 2.38 ppg. Continue at this rate and the club will approach averages last seen in the Invincible year, which was a steady 2.37 ppg both midway and full  season.  Since those heady days, the next best was the average 2.35 ppg midway 2007-08, the year when our title challenge was literally smashed with the multiple fracture of Eduardo’s leg at Birmingham City in March 2008.

Average PPG – Premier League Champions

Mid Season Full Season
2004-05 2.42 2.50
2005-06 2.75 2.38
2006-07 2.47 2.34
2007-08 2.18 2.26
2008-09 2.25 2.37
2009-10 2.25 2.26
2010-11 2.11 2.11
2011-12 2.37 2.34
2012-13 2.45 2.34
2013-14 2.16 2.25
2014-15 2.42 2.29
2015-16 2.05 2.13
Average 2.32 2.30

As the table above illustrates, since 2004 the average winner of the PL title has averaged 2.32 and 2.30 ppg midway and full-season respectively. Interestingly the most dominant mid season performance was Chelsea’s in 2005-06, a year they suffered only one loss, coming very close to matching the Invincibles. The least dominant mid-season performance was last year’s, by Leicester, at 2.05 ppg. They were however able to improve their average point-haul by 39% in the second half of the season. In contrast over the 12 year period, most clubs set out to dominate in the first half of the season and suffer some tailing off in the 2nd. This happened 7 out of 12 times. But surely anything above the mid-season 2.32 ppg average is statistically significant.

In my opinion it is too early to come to any conclusions about the current streak. We are just half way into the first half of the season with ten more games to go. Clearly some patterns are beginning to show which we can all track and measure. I leave it to you dear readers to speculate.


Arsenal – Goals Are The Simplest Form Of Gratitude


добро утро (dobro utro) Positive friends and fans of The Arsenal,

Yet another pleasant Autumn morning here in Norfolk as I scribble the further instalment in what is turning into a very pleasant season indeed, on all fronts. Oh yes the pen is flowing across the page like warm creamy custard over a fresh peeled banana.

Of last night’s game Ludogorets came and, for the opening 30 minutes, gave a good account of themselves. They had done their homework and understood that to get something from the evening required a swift smash and grab of a goal, or better still two, then a retreat behind the barricades and let us do out worst. Those opening few minutes I would have to say their tactics nearly came off, with Wanderson, Cafu, Misidjan and Marcelinho ( I wrote the names down so as not to forget) buzzing around our half of the pitch and our defenders, and even Le Coq, hard pressed to keep a grip on them.

On two occasions in the opening 20 minutes Ospina pulled off saves that kept Johnny Bulgar at bay. Yet again the patient Colombian was called into immediate action after games on the bench and responded impeccably. Let in an unexpected goal at home early on CL night and it can be a long, long evening. Looking at the final score line one might forget our keeper’s key saves at a time when the game was very much in the balance. It would be wrong to do so.

Our first goal, delightful as it was, only temporarily halted them back and even then they pushed forward. Up the 41st minute this game was still a real contest, though one we were gaining a stranglehold of.

Our second goal however, young Theo’s unexpected but deadly strike from 25 yards to the top right hand corner, rocked the visitors. The flicker of hope which had sustained their energy through a bright first half was extinguished. They knew at 2-0 down that there was no realistic chance of restoring parity. Probably the timing of Theo’s goal meant that what would have been an upbeat orange sucking half time in the Ludogorets dressing room at just 0-1, was a much more sombre, “backs-to-the-wall-lads”, conversation.

Goals 3,4,5 and 6. The second half we dominated without, oddly enough, really hitting our best game I thought. As the visitors tired larger and larger spaces appeared and we have players who just love space and know what to do with it. In other games and so comfortably ahead we have sat back more but not last might, and the Ox and then Mesut helped themselves to the next four as we all saw. To a degree part of the shellacking the Bulgarians eventually suffered was down to a couple of questionable saves from the unfortunate Stoyanov but even we occasionally run into a keeper not at his best. An 11 minute hat-trick ? Ridiculous, but enjoy it when it comes to you son.

Match ball for Mesut. Relaxed end to the evening, everyone went home happy, probably even those 000’s who left at 4-0.

The game played in the right spirit. No cards, no diving, no obvious rough stuff. Hard but fair from both sides. Referee Dias a good effort. Who knew that Ludogorets have a London fan club !?! I see them as well able to steal third place from Basel. The only jarring note last night was some bizarre punditry on BT. I will not bother to name names or repeat the absurdities. You know who they are.

Two days break before Boro, a team whose confidence has sunk like a stone since a couple of decent opening results in August. A fragile opponent. I fancy our momentum will continue onward and upward. Whose to say when our scoring spree may end.

Enjoy your Thursday


Arsenal Versus Ludogorets: Odd Man Out


One of the barbed suggestions bandied about wherever Arsenal fans are scoring points off one another (and as I write this I must confess to the warm blush of shame because I seem to remember employing it myself on more than one occasion) is “If that’s how you feel then you are following the wrong sport”. The longer my dalliance with internet based support lasts the more I wonder if that pithy phrase isn’t one I ought more appropriately to have levelled at myself.

I never seem to quite be able to judge the tone, am never quite in step with my peers. Take Saturday morning’s little bit of fluff, dashed off before breakfast it was intended as a light rebuke to myself, a reminder to enjoy the game for its own sake and not allow the peripheral flim flam to obfuscate the simple pleasures which are the foundation of a supporter’s obsession. And yet several people told me they took it as a rebuke, a ‘smack on the wrist’, as if I were handing out poor marks in Arsenal class.

I misjudge, my darts fly awry.

Similarly after the dastardly Mr Moss provided us all with a suitable villain to gather around and bash like a verbal piñata I rolled up with my big stick ready to start swinging. But what did I find? Nearly everyone had erected a statue to the sainted whistle and card merchant and were genuflecting before their poor misunderstood and wrongly maligned hero.

I miss the beat, come in on the wrong note.

This latest reminder of my inability to properly bond with the gang is a mere synecdoche to the larger script of my life and I didn’t ought to be surprised when it applies to a hobby such as football. My favourite politicians are hounded, lambasted and hated by their own side as much as by their enemies, my favourite football manager is treated with revulsion by the majority of the football world and my favourite team never seems to receive recognition for its achievements, is damned with the faintest of praise and overlooked unless there is a negative tale to tell.

So what to do? I can’t alter my allegiances. Not when they arise from somewhere so deep and visceral. I can’t pretend to love the divisive politics of hate and contempt just so that the mainstream media will reflect my views. I can’t pretend that referees are just ‘failing every now and then because they have such a difficult job’ when their incompetence or poisoned hearts are on naked display week in week out, and I can’t start wearing a Liverpool scarf or Tottenham shirt just to experience the approval of sports journalists and pundits everywhere.

Now it seems I can’t even write an Arsenal blog without making it all about me when it’s supposed to be about the team and written for everyone.  Or can I?  I’ll tell you what, just for a minor diversion, for a ‘giggle’ as Londoners are so fond of saying, let’s see if I can get in step with the rest of world and not feel so horribly isolated and adrift. I’m going to write a proper football blog for a change.

Here goes.

Tonight the Emirates stadium will be packed with dozens of empty seats for the visit of Bulgarian no hopers Ludogorets. With the price of seats and the match live on BT Sports not to mention the shaky home form since the first half against Chelsea I can’t blame fans for staying at home. Even after struggling to convince against relegation fodder such as Burnley and league strugglers Swansea I can’t imagine even Wenger can pick a team unable to win and win easy tonight and not struggle against Euro group strugglers Ludogrets. Honestly scraping a lucky draw against PSG and then failing to build on a good opening against Basel when their defence was holey like a holey Swiss cheese isn’t good enough and unless something changes and changes tonight we will be lucky to scrape second place YET AGAIN in our group. The experiment with Sanchez down the middle has failed. Yes he has scored a few but he has played so far out of position for most of the games that even Theo Walcott found himself further forward twice and scored where a centre forward ought to of been. For that reason I cannot see why Wenger won’t start Lucas Perez tonight. I mean to say, why sign a centre forward then play a winger down the middle? We needed a replacement for Giroud who is slow and simply NOT GOOD ENOUGH. We did not need to move Sanchez around he was doing just fine where he was. It is like Arshavin and Podolski all over again. Monreal had an absolute nightmare on Saturday against a complete unknown and it was only bringing on Gibbs that saved us from further embarrassment down that side. For this reason I believe it is time for Gibbs to get his chance. The boy has done nothing wrong and MUST start tonight. I saw the Ox on Sky and it is obvious he is not happy. Why spend so much money on a player and not play him? It is Perez all over again. He must be given his chance. I would play him on the wing instead of Theo who missed three sitters on Saturday. Don’t let a couple of tap in goals fool you he is not Arsenal quality and never has been it is like Aliadiare all over again so for that reason Ox MUST start tonight. Xhaka has scored a couple of good goals but on Saturday showed his true colours and is not to be trusted in our midfield. Because Wenger failed to strengthen in that area again we have no choice but to start Elneny even though it is obvious Wenger doesn’t trust him or if he did he would of picked him more and anyway he will go the the cup of Africa Nationals soon anyway. My team would be Cech Bellerin Gibbs Mustafi Kos Elneny Santi Ozil Sanchez Perez Ox but I know Wenger will play the midget Colombian in goals no matter what the fans want but I cannot see how there can be any other changes from my line up there. This is a MUST WIN game. We deserve a better performance than which we have lately been seeing but honestly three points will do no matter how we get them. In fact three points is all that matters. I can’t see us losing to a bunch of Balkan part timers who no one has ever heard of but this is Arsenal and we only do things the hard way don’t we?