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Arsenal Versus Stoke: Sparky’s Magic Piano

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The last time we enjoyed an extravagant midweek score and performance in the Champion’s League we returned to earth with a bump at the weekend. Despatching a Ludogorets side (which has proven to be far better than the naysayers ever suggested) with style and six of the best, we returned to face Middlesbrough at the Emirates. Most of us were salivating at the prospect of more of the same but instead were treated to an hour and half’s frustration as the team from the North east put in as organised and determined a defensive display as one could hope to see.

Stoke City have the potential to pose similar problems today. Sitting in the middle of the table they are well used to frustrating more illustrious opponents and on occasions even embarrassing them. I’m hoping that the experience against ‘boro will stand the team in good stead although to be fair we didn’t fail to beat them due to a lack of effort, we just had an off day.

The team Stoke will face today are in very good form both individually and collectively and the confidence with which they went about their work on Wednesday will surely inform the way they go about it today. Alexis is the outstanding player at the moment playing with the kind of verve and audacious invention which cannot help but remind us all of heroes from a bygone era.

Like everyone else his partnership with Özil has tempted me into comparisons with the days of the Henry/Bergkamp axis. I’ve decided not to go down that particular avenue of analogy simply because I’d rather enjoy the here and now. Also I have a sneaking suspicion that there is mischief in the motivation of those drawing such parallels. Set our players a ridiculously high bar and they can easily be dubbed as failures should they fail to clear it.

Now I know there are some of you who enjoy the comfortable indulgence of middle brow middle ground moral superiority and will see such thoughts as more evidence of an unhinged paranoid fantasy. It is what makes Positively Arsenal such a broad church and far from decrying your chosen position I salute your ability to shuck off and dismiss the mounting evidence all around you. However when each month brings a new media campaign against our club it is surely forgiveable if some of us begin to question much of what is said about us.

The Black November stories have now been replaced with the destabilising ‘want away stars’ transfer stories. I can only assume the hope is any drop in form from our leading lights will result in negative reactions on the terraces and online. The stick to beat them has been provided and already I’ve read comments comparing Sanchez with Van Persie so it seems to be working.

The manager and the players have to cope with this phenomenon as best they can and just get on with their jobs. It must surely bring at least a rueful smile when they see the Heroic Harry headlines which accompanied Spurs ignominious exit from the Champion’s League. Still, overcoming adversity is part of the make up of all top sportsmen and if they can shrug it off so must we. Like the penalty embargo and opposition players being allowed to kick ours with impunity, it is wrong, unfair and there is bugger all we can do but suck it up. Or pretend it isn’t happening. It’s all about your chosen coping strategy I suppose.

Hopefully Stoke will come to play football and not kick their way to a point. I confess I’ve not seen much of them this season but in the interest of research and because I’ve been too ill to move from the chair I spent a little time catching up with their last couple of matches. In Arnautovic, Adam and Shawcross they have some renowned brutality to call upon if they sense any slackness from the referee. However Shaquiri and Allen are both skilful, capable players, and this isn’t the same one dimensional Stoke side we once knew.

Mark Hughes suggested Shawcross may not travel to London today so that’s encouraging. He also seemed confused when interviewed as to why his team can win at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, but not the Emirates. I suspect it’s down to them scoring less goals than us but I’m not an expert and lack his experience in the game. Stoke have been attempting to emulate the Welsh national teams 3-4-3 formation which served them so well in the Euros this summer. Asked whether this experiment would continue against Arsenal Hughes suggested that his tactics might be dictated by the players he had available to him.

So much for research. The simple fact is top teams don’t react to their opponents. Rather they try to impose their own style of play onto the match forcing the other side to adapt. Whatever the tactical approach Arsène will have seen it before and the players have the experience to deal with it. I sometimes wonder if confidence and current form don’t play a bigger role in any case. I’m not suggesting that if you played nine up front and one in midfield that it would all work out as long as the team was feeling chipper that day, just that there are more variables at play than how the line up looks on paper.

Anyway, the kettle has boiled and I need another Lemsip so I’m going to shuffle off back to bed and leave you to enjoy your Saturday. Here’s to three points and some scintillating football. See you at three.

 

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Facts, Damn Facts And Statistics

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Yesterday on PA Shottagunner posted a great thought provoking piece looking at some of the numbers behind Arsenal’s current achievements and also the tepid, if not a little wayward, response by the media to it.

Although a tad ‘stat-lite’ compared to his recent other excellent pieces, upon reading it I felt 98.8% of readers would, like me, be giving it the mid-week nod of approval, even if not everyone has the time to comment, being a school day and all that.

It is a sound article which, when taken in context with the earlier Shotta contributions, can be seen to have been almost predictive in nature, but is in danger now of appearing to state the obvious, as his earlier predictions have lined themselves up with our current realities.

That’s the nature of great predictions!

Not to intentionally do down anything Shotta has been writing in recent weeks, I’m not personally a huge fan of stats.

Whilst Shotta’s enumerations are not in any way invalid I prefer to look in addition at actual changes rather than the statistical runs. Why? Well, a side can put in a great 10 game unbeaten run but if most of the sides played are sitting in the lower half of the league, the stats become skewed by the absence of results against the top half. By a similar token, a side can have 60% possession in a game and still lose. I’m not saying Shotta has done this, merely pointing out the need for an element of caution when perusing the numbers (a caution I’m sure Shotta would echo, in any case).

So what would I have us look at?

Well, for a start, we evidently ‘won’ the transfer window, much to the mortification of United, at least. We spent record sums on some, we spent tiny numbers on others and we went for players with mid-range price tags on their boots. Significantly, the impact of so many of our buys from the last 18 months who have hit the ground running is hard to exaggerate, but in particular the integration of Xhaka, Mustafi and Elneny alone are of huge significance in adding to the grit already provided by the likes of Kos, Coq and Giroud. Ordinarily, in the past, we’d be worried about Stoke at the weekend but I think they will be more worried about us, because of this. So that’s a break from the past.

Next up – November. It saw us play a range of football against varying levels of competitors but, aside from the League Cup, it saw us undefeated and, for me of greater significance, little was added to the injury stats. We are as well placed, fitness-wise (even with the loss of Santi and Welbeck) as any other early December of recent years, and considerably better than most. So we survived November.

Apart from sitting very pretty in second place in the Premiership, we also topped the group in the Champions League, something we’ve not done for a number of years and have done so in some style, with few trips or stumbles. Yes, it’s a statement of where we are but it’s a symptom also, of our confidence, our expectations and our belief. None of us are surprised we did it although it took PSG to throw away an undeserved statistical advantage to allow it. A favourable home draw awaits us in the new year. Nice.

There is additionally, the small matter of the outstanding form of stalwarts such as Sanchez and Ozil. But also the no-less important contributions of relative ‘bit-part’ players – Gibbs, Giroud, Holding, to mention just 3 – who, with others, have brought true meaning to the phrase ‘strength in depth’ when applied to our ‘exceptionally exceptional’ squad. The return of Bellerin, Welbeck and Santi in addition to our existing personnel suggests that we have less to fear from the Injury Gods going forward. So form AND fitness are in welcome alignment for once.

And that’s also something that’s not been the case in recent years.

I mention all of this to back up Shotta’s analysis; these are the facts that led to the stats that got us to here.

It’s true, we’ve won nothing yet but we are winning against (or at least are not being beaten by) what has been put in front of us so far. As the above hopefully makes clear – and Shotta’s stats confirm – nothing about where we are today is down to one ‘lucky’ factor. It’s not just about Alexis turning it on as a ‘one man team’. Or, as happened for Leicester last term, an abnormal run of penalties ‘won’ under dubious circumstances. [*coughsspudscoughcough* – ed]

Arsenal are evidently reaping the rewards of a perfect storm. A storm that is, for once, so far working all in our favour. And 9 out of 10 fans capable of independent thought would probably thank the Wenger for that.

Even if the media or the WOB really aren’t up for it, just yet.

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Arsenal’s Deplorable Unbeaten Streak

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The silence is deafening. No media headlines, none of the uber bloggers beating the drum. Nobody seems to know that in the Premier League:

  • Arsenal are  unbeaten in the last 13.
  • Arsenal are unbeaten at Home in the last 6.
  • Arsenal are unbeaten Away in the last 7.

Nothing to see here? So it would seem if one relied on the Mainstream Media for significant, accurate football information. Not surprisingly a quick Google search for the dominant headlines relating to Arsenal FC revealed the usual putrid menu of mindless transfer rumour, sensationalism, conjecture and downright lies  dressed up as news by supposedly responsible newspapers and websites.

According to The Telegraph:

Arsenal willing to sell Mesut Ozil if he does not lower wage demands

The click-baiting Metro is not to be outdone:

Arsenal fans lose the plot as Alexis Sanchez is linked with Chelsea

The Mirror faithfully reflects The Telegraph:

Arsenal willing to listen to offers for Mesut Ozil?

Any of us with a modicum of common-sense and knowledge of how these players were persuaded by Arsene Wenger to join AFC will readily dismiss these headlines and stories as “fake news” peddled by the very Establishment media which is now hypocritically branding alternative non-mainstream sources as fake. This is something we Arsenal supporters are all too familiar with, having experienced ten years of them serving up the vilest calumnies and misrepresentations about Wenger and the Board during the post-Highbury years; woefully failing to explain to the public the importance of the club’s leadership giving emphasis to paying for a new stadium while competing with sugar-daddy clubs spending obscene amounts of outside money to buy their way to a title.

I can confirm that there was absolutely no headline from Google News highlighting the club’s 13 games unbeaten run. Yet if Arsenal was a heavyweight boxer there would be headlines screaming that this was an up and coming champion.  This is another reminder that sensationalism sells, at least in the short run.

But PA readers who follow my data-oriented analysis of the club’s progress and prospects are aware that establishing and maintaining a streak is one of the most important predictors of a title –winning team and certainly this has been the case of Arsenal under Arsene Wenger. I have only done three blogs on the subject (first, second and third), giving new meaning to the old adage that “repetition is the mother of learning”.  Some of my findings:

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. 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.

In contrast to Highbury, the Emirates has been characterized by:

…. 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.

I concluded two months ago from the recent streak that the barren years at the Emirates was coming to an end:

Now that Arsene/Arsenal is able to consistently spend on top-top quality players as well as patiently develop those coming through the academy, only the rabid anti-Wenger WOBs and weak-willed fans, who allow themselves to become victims of groundless doom-mongering by the media, would bet against Wenger at least regaining the ground lost over the past ten-years.

Two weeks later, when the club achieved an 8-game winning streak, I further opined:

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 with the requisite quality and depth, given the priority of having to pay for a new stadium.

Confirming it now had the resources to address a recurring deficiency, the club last summer made one of its largest ever splurges in the transfer market, acquiring a £35 million central defender who is a starter on the world-cup winning German national team, a £34 million midfielder from a highly rated champions-league level club, a £12 million pound striker who was among the top-11 in La Liga in 2015-16 and, best of all, a £2 million young central defender who can be called on to help out with the first-eleven at any time.

The fact that Arsenal, in last Tuesday’s decisive champions league match with Basel, could have six regular starters sitting on the bench yet win so decisively, provides the clearest possible evidence that the club has both quantity and quality resources to withstand the usual spate of injuries that in recent years have destroyed any real run at the title in the second-half of the season.

There will be the usual weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the media and blogs as the Orcs from Stoke roll into the Emirates this Saturday. While football is a notorious enemy of complacency and hubris, given how Wenger was able to rotate the squad and keep bodies and minds healthy and sharp, anything less than a victory for the Gunners would count as a massive surprise.

In the mean time, let the mainstream media continue to ignore and downplay the club’s current form and sucker witless punters into believing their porkies that Ozil and Sanchez  are heading for a big payday in China. Let’s revel in the Rodney Dangerfield role of no respect.

 

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Arsenal Gleam in the Fog on the Rhine

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Guete Morge Positives,

Yet another spectacular night from our lads with Basel swept aside within 16 minutes. It was obvious from the team selection and the energy that we immediately put into the opening few moments that this contest was no “dead rubber”. This was handbrake off from referee de Sousa’s first whistle*. Whatever happened in Paris, whether the 10% chance Arsene had referred to as our prospect of finish top of Group A was more than feint whimsy, we were going to take it.

I do not think our hosts were really expecting our vigorous approach. Why would they ? Basel are not a bad side. Against English sides they have a good record at their lively St Jakob home. They no doubt anticipated a difficult match for sure but one that, with patience, they could nick a goal and take their place in the Europa League that would have been expected when the group was drawn in August.

Within that 16 minutes however, as we all saw, the Swiss were on their back, torn apart by some exquisite passing and movement, pure Wengerball. I attach below the passing diagram for the second goal. 32 or 33 consecutive passes I am told. I don’t know about you but as I was watching that move after c. the 24th or 25th pass, with Basel’s head spinning, I thought something ‘sinister’ is about to happen. I think Ferguson described that sort of football as being on a “carousel”. And when the merry go-round stopped the ball was in the net. All that was needed to complete the drama was the music from Jaws;

 

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I do not say for a moment that our football did not shine after that 16th minute, and I could rhapsodize about Perez’s third, Sanchez’s free kick and twist of delicious fortune that allowed Iwobi’s goal scoring salvation for his OG at the Ems. It is just that after the 16th minute the game, as a serious contest, was over and the Swiss were beaten.

As is usual for me on a night in which we dominate the opposition it is very difficult to pick out individual performances. I would fail in my duty however if I did not name Lucas Perez in the report. Three shots on target, three goals! I am sure it has been a fairly frustrating time for the Spaniard since September, but he has waited for his chance to play Champions League football and it is a night he will not forget in his career. In his honour therefore the headline photo. You have earned the accolade young man.

Having performed as well as we were able in Basel the evening took a more remarkable turn as the score filtered through from Parc de Princes. 0-1, 1-1, was more or less as expected but 1-2 in the 70th minute was not. That “10% chance” to top the Group suddenly took on a much more substantial form. In fact, despite a late Parisian equalizer, the Bulgarians held on. Having watched the highlights The Bulgars earned a fully deserved point and it was not a game in which PSG dominated.

Thus the football gods smile upon us in Switzerland. May their good humour extend to Saturday and more meaty encounters to take place in North London.

Enjoy your Wednesday.

*I have no idea what happened to referee de Dousa by the way as I never heard or saw him for the remainder of the evening. I had to look up his name this morning. He clearly is a highly competent referee. Lee Mason please note.

 

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Arsenal Versus Basel: What Year Is This? Who Is The President?

I Give Up

I must confess you’ve caught me with my pants down this morning. I woke up still reeling from a stinging rebuke delivered by our very own Foreverheady, which reproof came in response to some perhaps ill advised and waspish comments I made last night. I was responding to the childish and frankly embarrassing shambles which was the BBC’s idea of how to present an FA Cup draw. The puerile humour, the schoolboy giggling, the whole flatulent, uncomfortable performance was in such contrast to the measured, solemn, suited draws of memory that I felt moved to pass comment.

I have only myself to blame. Why was I watching it anyway? The matches won’t be played until next year and I am fairly confident I would have heard the details of the fixtures before then. In any case Tim thought I was being a little snobbish in my reaction and if I came across like that I apologise. I have nothing against inarticulate working classes cocking their legs in the palaces of the mighty. In fact, I’m all for it.

What gets my goat is when the media is deliberately designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It is a phenomenon which gives rise to the likes of Robbie Savage and Michael Owen. It patronises and insults the audience and actively assists the growth of a society in which a minister of the crown can state that “people in this country have had enough of experts” and not damage the cause for which he is campaigning.

Anyway, I think I deduced among the barnyard mooing, clucking and cooing that Arsenal will face a trip to Deepdale where they’ll play Preston North End. There was once a time when this would have been a clash of footballing titans, a ‘super Sunday’ in the revolting modern parlance, but such are the vagaries of the sport that Preston now languish in the second division.

Had we played them in the first ever league season we would have been very much the underdogs. Preston went on to win the title without losing a match and the FA Cup without conceding a goal. As it is the game will be the clash of the only two invincible teams in the history of the English game.

But that is all for the future. I mentioned at the top of the page that you had caught me somewhat in flagrante. This is because, as I strapped on my sleep apnoea mask last night and commenced an attempt at seven hours of the dreamless restorative, little did I suspect that at seven forty five ack emma on the following day I’d be bashing away at the old Logitech trying to think of something to say about football. I had it in my head that we were playing on Wednesday. Or that today was Monday. Or that this world is in fact an illusion and that I am merely an aspect of a greater consciousness experiencing itself in an abstract and fanciful manner.

Whichever excuse fits best, rest assured that I had forgotten there was a blog to write. It appears that tonight sees the final act in this season’s Champion’s League group stage. A stage the manager and his charges can look back on with no small satisfaction. Unbeaten, even by the favourites, separated from them only by the most ludicrous rule in football, we are already guaranteed to progress to the knock-out phase.

It is a moot point as to whether finishing first or second will be an advantage this year but do you know what? If we want to reach the final we’re going to need to beat a couple of decent teams along the way so there’s no point in bleating about when that might happen.

The very little reading I’ve done on tonight’s fixture in what passes, laughably, for research suggests two things. One, there is no point in playing as we are already certain to finish second. This is at best illogical, untrue, counter factual and just plain made up. Two, Arsène had better play a very much weakened team or else there are going to be some terribly cross people on twitter tonight.

I view the proceedings somewhat differently. The people who say we are bound to come second are in all probability the same people who told us we’d finish below Spurs last season. They need to throw out the ouija board and just let events unfold. As far as team selection goes I have a very strong suspicion that the manager, his coaches, fitness staff and medical team will all feed into the ultimate decision and they will bring knowledge to bear that even the most widely read and respected Arsenal bloggers simply do not have.

I let the mechanic tell me what’s wrong with my car, I let the surgeon decide which bits to chop out of me and I let the club’s greatest ever manager pick the team. I’m not saying it isn’t fun to speculate, of course it is. I’d accept favourable odds that many of you are busy wondering just what is going to be under the Christmas tree this year. Speculation is fun, and we all indulge.

The point isn’t that you shouldn’t enjoy hypothesising over the line up. It is rather that it’s silly to praise or criticise the manager about it without having the faintest idea of the reasoning behind his decisions. It is up to Santa what he brings you and it’s up to Arsène who he picks. You don’t have the relevant information to second guess either of these fine old men as they go about a job you simply are not qualified to do in their place.

Well that’s enough of all that, I have to get my porridge cooking and I have to go to work this evening and have much to achieve in the interim. I will not get any of it done trying to fill this page. Fancy starting a new job on a Tuesday evening when Arsenal play in the Champion’s League. What a fool. Unless of course I’m supposed to start tomorrow. I’m really not very good at all this you know.

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Arsenal : Sanchez inflicts Hammer Horror

 

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早晨 (Jóusàhn) Positivistas,

A most pleasant trip to Stratford last night I am sure we can all agree. The hosts, as has happened so often in the past 20 years, putting on a display that made the journey entirely worthwhile. How they manage it season after season I shall never know. New restaurant, same menu. To be fair our lads, confronted with such abundant generosity, did themselves proud.

Of our display I was particularly impressed that they we took command of midfield within seconds of the kick off, and never gave it up for the following 95 minutes. Even before the words “we’re missing Santi” ( banned sobbing face, banned sobbing face) could be posted on Twitter Le Coq and Granit were into gear, capturing the ball , pushing it forward for Theo, Ox and Ozil to twist their way toward the ‘Ammers goal.

On the odd occasion the ‘Ammers managed to get hold of the ball a swarm of yellow shirts was onto them, denying them time to look up or pick a pass, flicking the ball away before sweeping back towards Randolph’s goal, poor soul.

And having grasped the initiative in that opening few minutes I do not think that we ever let it go at any time in the evening. Two players who stood out in the first half were Ox and Monreal, both of whom have had a lot of criticism in recent weeks. They worked together as well as any full back/winger combination I can remember when attacking. If they did have a West Ham player against them on the wing to defend against I have no idea who he was because he never made any impression with or without the football.

The opening goal was as simple as it was inevitable. Ironically it was a recklessly misplaced pass out of defence from West Ham that Le Coq cut out that finally sank them. That it took 24 minutes to finally arrive was the result of some desperate defending and a weakness on our part to translate overwhelming control in the final third to a killer pass or clear shot on goal.

I sensed, and I am sure you did, that having got the first goal that the metaphorical floodgates would open and we would rattle in a few more by half time. As is the way of football however we did not translate our domination into that important second goal.

Half time slowed us down and afterward we had an occasional attach by the Ammers to deal. At just 1-0 there was that uncomfortable feeling that a silly error, a Payet free kick or even Mr Pawson might even the score unless we moved the scoreboard on.

I need not have worried and the best player on the pitch, probably the best player in the Premier League this past month, struck decisively on 70 minutes. Despite his size Sanchez used his strength to break tackles and make space in the West Ham box before steering the ball past Randolph. He brushed off two WH defenders like dust. It was exactly the same type of strength that Costa had used at the Etihad earlier in the day. I look forward to him applying the same physical rigour to Ottamendi, Stones and Kolarov in three weeks time.

Having scored the second there then followed the next three, each a peach in its own way. For the Ox he badly needed a goal, even a really good shot on target, and the goal he managed was both and perfect. Alexis’ final solo effort, with THAT STEPOVER brought the curtain down on our biggest win against the Ammers away from home in my life time, and perhaps ever. By that stage the London Stadium was more than half empty, the home supporters unable to bear the crushing humiliation.

Normally I am able to single out opposition players for praise, generous opponent that I am. It is difficult this week. Other than Randolph, and the ever so lonely Fletcher, they were collectively and individually rubbish. Fucking amateurs. At least the ball boys had the right idea.

So onwards to Basel and I anticipate a second string squad. I also expect a win. It is on Tuesday so we shall know soon enough.

Enjoy your Sunday.

 

 

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Arsenal Versus West Ham: Esprit De Corps

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I was lying in my bath last night reading a yellowing, dog eared paperback when something unexpected popped up. The tome in question, I should add, is the rather excellent To Sea In A Sieve by Peter Bull. First published in 1956 it is an unvarnished account of the author’s experience in the Royal Navy throughout World War Two.

I enjoy these little known, unfashionable books for their own sake and for the necessary colour and detail they bring to our understanding of that terrible conflict. One cannot properly appreciate the almost abstract nature of historical accounts when they glibly speak of hundreds of men here and thousands of men there, but when you read an everyday and above all ordinary tale of the day to day experiences of just one of the combatants it puts flesh on the otherwise cold statistical bones.

Anyway, the thing which popped up you’ll no doubt be delighted to learn was a coincidence and nothing more shocking than that. The author was recounting time spent in his tiny craft at anchor in Anzio Bay, almost entirely defenceless from the shelling of shore batteries and surrounded by air dropped mines. He was understandably completely terrified, and, as the days dragged into weeks, he staved off the urge to leap into the sea and swim away by, among other things, games of patience.

He would make appalling bets on the outcome of these games. If I fail to get out this time we will be sunk today, if I succeed we’ll survive, that kind of thing. It struck me how similar our behaviours can be in times of dreadful torment as in times of relative comfort and tranquillity.

I have, for as long as I’ve followed football, been prey to silly superstitions which I would laugh at in any other aspect of my life. Go to the toilet in the pub during a game and I am guaranteed to miss a goal. If my wife enters the room and the opposition contrive somehow to score then clearly it is her fault. This last has become so ingrained that Liz happily accepts responsibility now whereas once she may have protested. She claims it’s worth it for the times she causes an Arsenal goal to be scored by walking in or phoning at the decisive moment.

I too have played games of chance or skill before a match convinced that the outcome of one depends upon my fortune in the other. It’s ridiculous I know,  but reading of that poor man, an actor in civilian life who found himself suddenly faced with the prospect of not only his own violent death but also that of those men he’d grown to know and revere above all others, behaving in the self same way reassured me that perhaps I was, if not sane, then at least not alone.

I don’t know what rituals you may feel necessary to bring about a return to winning ways after the rather damp squib of a game on Wednesday, but I hope they prove successful. The end of an unbeaten run is of course a depressing turn of events and I wonder if we don’t feel every disappointment a little more keenly in 2016 given what a dreadful year it has been. The obituary writers have been working flat out, the political landscape has been painted in dark and drear tones and at such times the distraction of sport seems like a convenient piece of buoyant flotsam to a man adrift.

In many ways I find the contrast between the life and death struggles people endure now and those others have endured in the past shines an unflattering if not downright embarrassing light onto our silly tantrums over what is at the end of the day just a game. It’s not much of an excuse to say that we have invested a lot of years or much money in our fervent support when truly we ought to be grateful to have lived lives so free from genuine harm to enable us to indulge ourselves in such frippery.

But then I read how passionate were the games of both baseball and cricket between the crews of the British ship and their American allies during moments away from the action, and I realise that they took their sport every bit as seriously as we do now. So as you fill your lucky mug, wonder if a late kick off is a charmed or unlucky thing, put on your lucky socks or offer up a sacrifice of burnt toast this morning don’t be alarmed at your palpably loopy behaviour. It is perfectly natural.

When the outcome of that which we endow with great importance is beyond our control. When we feel powerless. When our own pathetic insignificance in the grand tragedy of human existence is brought forcibly home to us. These are the times when we turn to the supernatural no matter how rational we might prefer to think ourselves to be.

We happy few cannot hope to influence events at the London Stadium today. Not beyond countering the negative miasma through which the players must peer if they make the mistake of perusing the on-line Arsenal debate. Maybe one or two will be able to raise a cheer of encouragement from the stands but otherwise we will not be of much import when the teams face off at five thirty this afternoon.

You know and I know that it is down to the eleven men on the field to get the job done today and put that smile back on our faces. They won’t do it for that reason – of course not – they’ll do it because they’re professional sportsmen who hate to lose, because of camaraderie, team spirit and for the manager who has placed his faith in them.

None of which is actually far removed from the reasons Peter Bull gave for the stubborn refusal to break which he and the young men under his command displayed as the shells fell around them in that beautiful Italian bay all those years ago. Win or lose today we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that it really isn’t life or death. There are no ‘must win’ games and perhaps we might count our blessings that the happiness and despair of our lives hinge on such indescribably petty and above all transient events.