38 Comments

Arsenal Versus Chelsea: End Of The Beginning

chelsea

Three FA Cup finals in four years and a team so consistently excellent that finishing fifth is seen as a major disappointment. What a gloriously happy accident that my seven year old self should have chosen to support the side in the red shirts and white sleeves all those very many years ago. Was I seduced by Alan Hudson’s flowing locks? By Peter Osgood’s bushy grips? Not on your Nelly. Not while Bob Wilson gazed flint eyed from beneath his goalie’s cap, not while Frank McLintock strode the muddy pitches like a colossus, defining my callow concept of masculinity, and never for a moment would the brutish Ron Harris nor the agricultural David Webb inspire or seduce me while Charlie George flicked the lazy fringe from his eyes and strolled with a careless nonchalance from the pitch and into my dreams.

The strand which connects this ageing, aching old man to the bewildered, excited child is unbroken. Nothing else in my life has lasted as long nor enjoyed so many reinventions. The cup final morning in 1971 runs seamlessly forward through cruel uncaring time to this expectant May morning. It is a path littered with noble victories and bitter defeats. From George Armstrong through Alan Ball to Liam Brady the team evolved, my heroes changed faces, shirt numbers and positions but The Arsenal remained constant. From David O’ Leary to Tony Adams, David Rocastle to Anders Limpar, Dennis Bergkamp to Tomáš Rosický the thread has unspooled until here we are today licking our lips at the prospect of watching Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey on the Wembley turf in the most hallowed of our footballing traditions, the final of the FA Cup.

Am I really as excited as a seven year old? Is it even possible to compare this creaking wreck of a man with the fresh elasticity of an unspoiled boy? Only in this. Only on cup final morning. And no matter how the machinations of mega powerful international money men nor the spiteful insolence of the modern internet supporter try to force me from the game, I cannot conceive of a cup final morning which won’t matter to me – as long as Arsenal are on the ticket.

Today the ineffable powers which control the football fates have dealt us an unenviable hand. Losing players to injury, suspension and illness in the week before such a game and all of them from the same vital position on the pitch is a wicked doom to befall Arsène Wenger. The re-jigged formation which so altered our league form will now either need to be scrapped or placed into the hands of players unfamiliar with one another’s strengths and shortcomings. Players who will face the champions of England, a side in their pomp, playing with supreme confidence and who’s boundless riches have seen them assemble a collection of the world’s very best.

So can we approach the match with hope in our hearts? Dare we dream of victory? Of wresting back our record from Manchester United? I say emphatically yes. Whatever the shortcomings of our back five in terms of familiarity and match fitness they are still fine footballers. Not only that but the pointy end of our side is producing some of the most eye catching play we’ve seen in years. Aaron and Granit understand each other as well as they ever have, Mesut and Alexis are both at their peerless best right now and either Danny’s pace and guile or Larry’s strength and finishing can provide the perfect foil for both. With Theo and AOC waiting in the wings to provide blistering finishing pace to the game we have no reason to fear the outcome.

So to those of you at Wembley today I wish you may have a final to remember. A day to stitch to the tapestry of your supporting life. A cup final which reaches back to past glories just as it will stretch on into the future. I hope to be back from work in time to join the worldwide television audience. My thoughts will, however, be with my little nephew for whom this game marks the end of his first season supporting the Arsenal. I envy him that leap into the unknown, the foundations of nostalgia he lays today on which his life cheering the boys in red and white will be built.

It’s just another final for us old fogeys but for him this is the biggest match ever. The greatest moment in his supporting life. These years are, for him, the golden age. What a journey he has set out on, I pray it begins in harmony and with a victory.

17 Comments

The Simplicity Of Arsenal’s Simpletons

IMG_2075.JPG

I am firmly on team “Quiet efficiency”. How many here know who the CEOs and owners of the very many organisations, whose products and services we patronise, are? I have no idea who the owners and CEO of Tesco are and I spend more on the supermarket than I do on Arsenal. A lot more. The only time we should be interested in these people is when they have done something wrong (as was the case with a sexism controversy around the CEO of Tesco not too long ago). I don’t want the CEO or owner of any company I do business with to be in my face. Their job isn’t to be cheer leaders for their company; that is what the PR arms of organisations are for.

I am going to disagree with those that feel the club’s top echelon should engage with the fans. What purpose is it going to serve? I cannot see any good coming from it; I can only see lots of bad. The fans who are likely to appreciate the gesture are exactly the type who wouldn’t clamour for it. Those clamouring for it are only looking for opportunity to grandstand and get cheap popularity by asking populist but stupid questions aimed at embarrassing these men. We see enough of this at the AGMs.

Look, let’s not over-analyse this issue, okay? There is one and only one problem here: the cry babies (and in my opinion, pathetic losers) are interested in one thing and one thing only. They want the club to win either the PL or the CL. Anything short of either of these 2 will always be branded as failure. I hear the cry of “Arsenal regressing” and I keep having to check my sanity and dictionary. In the last 4 seasons, Arsenal have come 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 5th in the league getting over 70 points in each season. We have won 2 FA cup and in the final of the 3rd. Look at these and tell me that the PL and CL aren’t the cause of the whining. Just take a look!

The most satisfying trophy Arsenal has ever won (for me) is the 2014 FA cup because of the obsession with and constant repetition of “no trophy in X years” meme. We won 2 in the next 3 years (including the Community Shield in both subsequent season but we have been told those don’t count – unless we failed to win them). We improved our league standing from 4th to 2nd but even before our final 5th finish last week, the cry had been about us going backward.

These people aren’t interested in any dialogue or explanation. They want their trophies – PL & CL only – and nothing other than that will satisfy them. They use the words: “challenge”, “compete” etc but this is bullshit. They only want either of these trophies and nothing else. The fact that the teams led by Wenger haven’t won either in the last 13 years has solidify the believe that Wenger, being the only common denominator, is the problem and if he is removed, then the PL (or CL) will just be forwarded straight to the Emirates. Removing Wenger will enable the team, managed by ANYBODY else, to just simply collect the title.

Simple!

You see, we are dealing with idiots and simpletons here and to idiots, everything is simple; unless you ask them to do it and then it is the hardest thing in the world. Case in point, Donald Trump. All he ever did before he was (still) inexplicably elected president of the US was shit on the efforts of people who are infinitely more intelligent and competent than him. Lo and behold as soon as he was given the task, we are not only horrified by his stupidity and ineptitude but the orange buffoon himself is perpetually whining about how difficult the job is and how complicated issues like healthcare etc are (despite sensible people all over the world having always known that POTUS is a very difficult job).

Every time I hear anybody trivialise a complicated issue, I know s/he is a moron. Running an organisation the size of Arsenal is so complicated that I cannot even begin to fathom what it must take to do it as well it has been done consistently for decades. I am immensely proud of and grateful for the efforts of the people running the club. Managing a top team on Arsenal’s calibre is complicated. That is why managers of top teams earn millions to do it. If, as we get told regularly by the twitterers and bloggers, anybody can see what needed to be done to manage these, why would their boards be paying the top managers that much to do it? A key indicator of intelligence is understanding of one’s limitations and appreciation other people’s expertise.

The stupidity of the noise makers is also exposed by the campaigns they engage in. They tried to get the manager sacked. They failed after several years of effort and now they move on to getting the company owner to sell his shares to rival. One must wonder at this point how people this dumb are allowed to walk about on their own.

End of rant.

I have nicked this from the comments section without the permission of @Bootoomee. 

Pedantic George (a.k.a. @Blackburngeorge )

85 Comments

Arsenal: Stan Kroenke Is Not Your Sugar Daddy

sugar_daddy.jpg.scaled1000

I hold no brief for Stan Kroenke. I’ve never met the man and doubt I ever will. He is a billionaire; I struggle from paycheck to paycheck. He owns sports franchises, I can’t afford a sports car. He owns massive ranches; I can barely keep my mortgage current. He directs several corporations, I barely direct my household.

But there is one thread that binds us together; he happens to be the majority owner of the football club I support. There are millions of other plebs, like meself, in England and worldwide who depend on him for his proper stewardship of the club to whom we devote our recreational time and disposable income. This is a symbiotic relationship from which he benefits financially. There is an implied contract; as long as Stan takes care of AFC we are loyal, undying supporters of the club. That is why supporters have a vested interest in an objective analysis of whether Stan’s ownership is beneficial to the football club.

But apparently the name Stan Kroenke is a dog whistle that automatically triggers anything but a reasoned, measured response among several Arsenal fans. To the contrary, yell his name and there is an immediate rabid, noisy, fevered reaction that exceeds any pack of canines. Apparently rounding on Stan Kroenke is guaranteed to get emotions worked-up and generate attention for any blogger, twitter, ex-player, or malcontent seeking to tap into the need for a scapegoat on whom all blame can be pointed for the ills of the club particularly its recent falling out of the top-four for the first time in 20 years.

This was exactly what happened this past week when news emerged that Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov had made a bid of $1.3 billion to buy out Kroenke’s majority stake. In reaction to this attempted takeover, one of the top Arsenal bloggers, who has been knocking Kroenke for ages, to the approval of his acolytes,  made the following declaration:

“Arsenal will continue to stagnate under Kroenke’s stewardship, he’s had majority control of the club for years now, and we understand his model of ownership is not really about achieving sporting success.”

As usual, I decided to test this grand declaration by measuring how it stacks up against the unbiased data.

Spending under Kroenke

One important measure of Stan’s commitment to Arsenal’s “sporting success” is the history of transfer spending since he became majority owner. Unlike the wild, baseless, emotive, incendiary assertions of various bloggers, tweeters and podcasters I prefer the unbiased data. From transfermarkt.co.uk I obtained the following information on transfer spending since the 2011-12 season when Kroenke became majority owner. (Figures below are in £-million.)

Year Ins Outs Net Lge Pos
2011-12 55.65 66.55 -10.90 3
2012-13 47.60 55.97 -8.37 4
2013-14 41.86 10.33 31.53 4
2014-15 101.13 23.63 77.50 3
2015-16 22.53 2.13 20.40 2
2016-17 96.05 8.80 87.25 5
Total £364.82 £167.41 £197.41 4

In six full seasons net transfer spend has totaled nearly £200 million rising from negative £11 million in 2011-12 to nearly £90 million last season, a more than 1000% increase. In contrast, over the previous 6 years, net transfer spend totaled negative £11 million. Yup, prior to Kroenke, the club was generating more from selling players than spending on transfers. Since he took over there has been a revolutionary reversal. This is an inconvenient truth which neither the mainstream media nor supposedly pro-Arsenal bloggers choose to emphasize, preferring to indulge in spreading fake news casting Kroenke as literally a “deadbeat” Dad who neglects his Arsenal children

Maybe deadbeat Kroenke is worse than his other top-six rivals in transfer spending?

Ins Outs Net Lge Pos
Man City 661.13 185.92 475.21 2
Man Utd 832.97 386.13 446.84 4
Arsenal 364.82 167.41 197.41 4
Chelsea 592.89 405.69 187.2 5
Lpool 469.18 289.45 179.73 6
Spurs 345.56 366.31 -20.75 4

Once again the data belies the nonsense that is spouted in social media. In the past six seasons Arsenal net-spend was third amongst its peers. Only Manchester City, with full access to the petro-dollars of the sheiks of Abu Dhabi, and Manchester United, with its enormous commercial revenue, was able to outspend Arsenal on a net basis. Chelsea, it must be said, has engaged in some serious transfer voodoo over the period, outlaying nearly £0.5 billion on buying players but showing a remarkable ability, in excess of all its peers, to make recoveries via sales to other clubs. Hmm.

Not only has Arsenal under Kroenke been competitive in the transfer market but it has been effective spending based on average league position. Only City has enjoyed better league position in the long run. AFC is in a close bunch with United and Spurs. Unlike those two other clubs the Gunners can point to two FA cups over the same period and a chance for a third this weekend. Not bad for a club who until recently was selling its best players and replacing them with callow inexperienced youth.

If AFC is “stagnating” then it is among some glorious company. They too should take the advice of Arsenal’s foremost blogger and start agitating for a change of ownership.

Despite calumnies and mendacious reporting, Stan has not taken money out of the club except for a one time-payment to Kroenke Sports Enterprises for services rendered. Resources have been allocated to Arsene Wenger and the club’s management to improve the club. Since 2013 world class players such as Ozil and Alexis were brought into the team at great cost and under the nose of bigger, more resourced clubs. The Emirates has been Arsenalized, London Colney and Hale End have been expanded and modernized, a new health and fitness complex constructed and StatDNA acquired. These are all significant capital investments which empty, vacuous fans take for granted.

Standards under Kroenke

The record shows that Kroenke became majority owner of the club in April 2011 when he increased his shareholding in Arsenal to 62.89% by purchasing the stakes of Danny Fiszman and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith. The blogger, like many, conveniently glosses over the historical fact that Danny Fiszman, who was at one point the biggest single shareholder and the driving force behind the new stadium over the objections of David Dein, whom he helped removed from the board, engineered Kroenke’s takeover by selling him his final holdings on his deathbed in clear preference over Usmanov. Yup, the real “Mr. Arsenal” preferred Kroenke’s plans for Arsenal over that of his rival.

It was former chairman Peter Hill-Wood who revealed that Kroenke was viewed favorably by Fiszman and the rest of the Board because had agreed to maintain the standards of the club:

“We have never been in better shape financially and do not want anybody to buy the club, but if Kroenke wanted to buy it he would understand it and how to maintain the standards.”

It is well known throughout the 131 year history of Arsenal that, while it has been a pioneer of great innovations on and off the field, the club has never engaged in financial excesses and has never put winning a title above financial prudence. As any adult with two neurons and a working synapse is aware these are the sort of practices that have destroyed many football clubs (and businesses) whether in England, Europe, Asia, Africa or the Americas. To the contrary Arsenal has been a model of a self-sufficient, self-sustaining club. Apparently this is the “stagnation” that is so objectionable to the blogger and others.

Kroenke’s crime it appears is to steadfastly refuse using his own money to finance the club’s operations especially transfer spending. There is this infantile mentality that it is scandalous for a billionaire to treat Arsenal as a “serious long-term investment” rather than the play thing of a rich sugar daddy.

Apparently it is preferable to some that Kroenke does what the sugar-daddy owners at Manchester City and Chelsea do routinely. To wit, achieve the glory of winning titles by pouring external money in the club to support massive transfer without a care for the long term viability of the club. None of these advocates of short-term glory, those seeking the favors and pampering of that rich old geezer, have learnt anything from real life; what the sugar-daddy giveth he also taketh away.

As recent as last month I shared with readers the ultimate fate of one of the biggest sugar-daddy projects in world football, Silvio Berlusconi’s AC Milan. After 30 years of winning eight league titles, one Italian Cup, seven Super Cups as well as five Champions League trophies and five UEFA Super Cups. But due to Milan’s growing debt and Berlusconi’s falling financial fortunes, the club was forced to sell some of its best players year after year without significant reinvestment, leaving them floundering. In a span of just two years, Milan lost world class players like Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Pippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso, Mark Van Bommel and Gianluca Zambrotta, who were then followed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. Berlusconi finally had to sell up to the Chinese for €700 million earlier this year. Milan finished 6th in the recently finished Scudetto, a far cry from their glory years.

I greatly doubt the data and recent history I have provided will do much to arrest the anti-Kroenke mania that several bloggers have done their best to cultivate over several years. Perhaps the clear statement by Kroenke on Monday that his stake in the club is not even remotely up for sale will convince some of the futility of their efforts to separate him for the club. The best one can hope for is they will move on to some easier target for their vapid bile and vituperations.

Even Stan’s severest critics will eventually realize he is no soft touch, he is nobody’s sugar daddy.

72 Comments

Arsenal: Part The Glories Of This Happy Day

 

IMG_2832.jpgGood morning Positives,

A fine afternoon rounded off our league campaign in style. We opened as though we were going to put five past the visitors by half time, then Laurent went a bit wild and became the first of Enver Valencia’s three victims of the afternoon. My goodness that boy can writhe and roll when the mood takes him, cant he? Just 15 minutes gone, hot afternoon, a talented Everton side with a good goal-scoring record in recent weeks ………..!  A fair bit of teeth sucking on my part I admit.

With that slight setback we had to grind out a routine win that called on every Arsenal player to put in a determined contribution – I saw none of them waver. As was mentioned on the TV last night it was difficult at times to tell which side had 11 players and which 10.  And when the Toffees did manage to clamber through the defensive barriers to get a clear strike on goal our man in the hat was in commanding form. As fautless a display as I have seen all season. The notion that Cech will not be our Number One ‘keeper next season I believe is not plausible.

Of our other lads the MoTM award is shared between Hector and Mesut. Hector is very much back to his best. Is it a coincidence that post–concussion syndrome symptoms can last up to thee months and Hector’s skull was smashed on the 4th February at the Bridge?

There is no such thing as coincidence.

If the Ox is fit for Wembley I have no idea which player Arsene will choose as right wing back.

For Mesut a game in which, despite some fairly robust handling in midfield, he became stronger and more influential.  He is a pleasure to watch.  The perfect footballing package.

And in the 92nd minute the boy from Caerphilly hit a beauty into the top corner.

For our opponents Robles had a rather good game didn’t he? Second keeper in a row to keep us at bay.  We shall be third time lucky I am sure.

A day to savour.  A result to enjoy, even if it did not quite bring us the fourth place finish that we all hoped for.

A busy week in prospect.  Arsene’s focus I guess will be on putting together the best back three to face Chelsea and ensuring they have time to work together in training. We have good defensive players. What a year for Rob Holding? This time last year relegated with Bolton, probably in seven days time walking out in a Cup final.

That FA Cup final is the important horizon at present for the club, the players and, I hope, for the fans. What comes after we shall see, in the medium and the long term.

Enjoy your Monday.

 

 

158 Comments

Arsenal Versus Everton: Touch and Go

DSCF4796.JPG

And so here we are. The final curtain call of yet another season is upon us. Elsewhere the thing has been done and dusted for some time now. My neighbourhood team have long since taken in the goal posts. There’s a travelling funfair on the pitch, dodgem cars racing around the goal mouth, the Waltzer spins upon the centre circle.  All around trees are in full and verdant leaf, chicks swell in the nests and family fun days are washed out in the early summer rains.

In the classrooms exam bound school children are dreaming of the beach, of camp sites, of late nights and waking up at noon. Gardening granddads and bumbling bees are busy in back yards and farmers survey silage through half closed eyes and contemplate the first cut. But the Premier League hasn’t quite finished with us yet. There is one last act to play out and all eyes are on just two matches.

It’s true that a defeat for Man City and a goal avalanche for Arsenal would render Liverpool’s contest with Middlesbrough irrelevant but of the unlikely scenarios this seems to present the most vanishingly small chance of success.

Despite our collective disappointment at watching Chelsea run away with the league it is undeniably exciting to be arrive at the ultimate day of the season and still have something to play for. I do like it when a league campaign keeps me interested right to the bitter’s end.

Now I’m not one to pad out a piece with extensive quotations nor to indulge in such ego caressing narcissism as to quote myself but then I’m not one to miss the final match because I’m attending a vegan festival in the heart of Bristol either but all of these things are about to happen.

As the end of term mood imbues my Sunday morning thoughts I couldn’t help but reflect on how short a time it seems since all this started again and yet how very much has happened. Here is what I had to say in my very first blog of the season

“I always hope for the best of all possible outcomes. If that ends up meaning fourth place or a Europa league position or just avoiding relegation then that’s what I’ll be cheering for at the death.

Not this time though. Having been stung by the season which followed the World Cup I watched in horror as the Euros dragged on to see all those Arsenal players not getting a break, not resting and recharging. I  realised that this would be a difficult season. Now it seems that we will not only have to catch up after a slow start but also assimilate all sorts of new faces into the squad, which, when allied to the inevitable injuries ( a knock on effect of the international bullshit we all had to endure) simply means disruption and disjointed performances.”

I know what you’re thinking – crystal ball stuff isn’t it? But not really, it was all easily predictable and a disrupted season has produced mixed results. It is of course not all over yet, not in the league nor in the FA Cup and getting to within sniffing distance of the top four and to a Wembley final in such a difficult season is no mean feat and the manager and his staff deserve credit for this.

So where do we go from here? I don’t believe we need another influx of new players to disrupt the squad yet again we just need people not to get injured all the time. The players are good enough, but the results have simply been insufficiently consistent to mount a serious challenge. Despite a very good run, which lasted until just before Christmas when Everton and City took six points from us in consecutive games, we just didn’t hold it together for long enough. Those six points would have robbed us of our fun today but would have put an entirely different complexion on our season.

I know, I know, it’s all ifs and buts, but then that’s what we do at this time of year isn’t it? Like an impotent man with a big arse, there is so little in front and so much behind us that some reflection is only natural. However, I’ll put my short term nostalgia on hold and try to focus on the game today.

We owe Everton one don’t we? We deserved at least a draw at Goodison and need to pay them back this afternoon. Our visitors are in reasonable to middling nick right now. They’ve lost two of their previous six and won three. But then, they were in a dreadful run of form when last we played them and we were unbeaten in fourteen league games and we all know how that panned out.

There has been a huge improvement in our performances of late, and confidence appears to be returning to the side. Kieran Gibbs has shored up our vulnerable left flank and our mercurial Chilean has found his passing and shooting boots. We have the fire-power, the resilience and the belief we need to do our bit, the question is can ‘boro lift themselves and do to Liverpool what Newcastle did to Spurs?

Despite my seeming ability to see into the future the truth is I don’t know what will happen today. Last games are like opening games – a bugger to predict. In any case I’ve never gone in for that psychic stuff. For what it’s worth I believe we’ll do it with aplomb and both Liverpool and City will lose and an awful lot of humble pie will be eaten come five o’clock today. Not by me I hasten to add, I’ll be eating an Indonesian jackfruit curry followed by breaded seitan and tofu wrap washed down with a Sorrel smoothie. Possibly.

Anyway that’s enough from me, I’ll see you one last time for my cup final preview but that is all I have for another league season. I’m sorry I’ve failed to discuss take over bids, ex players comments to the press, and the manager’s contracts, but you see none of that is of any interest or relevance to us. All we have to do is to sit and enjoy the game. So let’s do that shall we? One more time.

178 Comments

Arsenal: Cruising past the Cats

PAR93323.jpg

Good morning Positive fans far and near,

The penultimate hurdle of the Premier League season safely skipped over last night. A predictable result for us. The two goal margin hardly reflected our control for long periods of the game and the siege of the Black Cats’ goal. Our performance was as easy on the eye as any home game this season, and a good deal more pleasant than some dour bus parking events. Fair play to Pickford, and all the Sunlun defence, who gave their best and were a good deal more competent than I have seen them in their other diabolical excuses for professional football this season.

Of our lads;

Another very good evening for Xhaka, from ‘zero’ to ‘Arsenal legend’ in just four games. His diagonal, long passing game is exquisite at times. Hector had another impressive match and it is very difficult to see quite where he and the Ox are going to fit onto down that side when both are fit. Both can play at right wing back and do it well. Where their combination leaves Theo I am not sure, sweating presumably? Ozil and Sanchez’s instinctive appreciation of each other’s position and intention sparkled, and Larry battled throughout.

Very disappointing to see Aaron succumb to what looked like another muscular injury. Hopefully the Welshman’s withdrawal was precautionary as he is a man who is made for Wembley.

I suppose the only slight question mark in the course of the evening was whether we really, REALLY, required a three centre back set up against the PL’s weakest team, and who play only Defoe up front ? One advantage the approach had was that, at various times, Rob, Shkodran and Nacho all carried the ball forward and were prominent in attacks. The centre backs were a bit cautious for my taste but the job was done. We will certainly play three at the back against Everton and against Chelsea so it may just be ensuring the players are as used to the system as possible. I suspect that Arsene will have the defence in this morning for an hour of “passing back to the goalkeeper” practice. (Bloody Nacho !)

So the dice are set to roll on at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Top Four or Thursday, Madrid or the Moldovan Post Office team ? We press onward with hope, as ever.

Enjoy Wednesday.

183 Comments

Arsenal Versus Sunderland: Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

Hallowed Ground

Sorry but I’m struggling to get my head into football mode for you this morning. Don’t panic, I haven’t gone all Jose Mourinho,  I don’t regard the final fixtures of a season as any less interesting or important than the first, it isn’t that. I’m just buried in another project and it’s demanding all of my time. I’ve missed watching the last three matches live and may well be working while watching this one so it’s becoming something of a habit as we hurtle towards a football free summer.

Luckily enough there is a website which allows me to watch the games without having to wait for the club to put them up and of course without knowing the result – something the official site seems to delight in sharing. I’ve had my suspicions after each game that we had won because one of the young men I support from time to time is an Arsenal fan and he can’t resist texting me a simple ‘Up the Arsenal’ message at around the time of the final whistle, something I suspect wouldn’t happen had we lost.

I shall at least be working from home this evening and so ought to be able to keep one eye on the action. It’ll be interesting to see if the game follows the pattern of our recent outings. Seems to me Arsène has bemused opponents by being less direct, less gung ho from the kick off playing a little deeper and gradually winding up the tempo as the game goes on. Teams who set out to park the bus must be confused to find their opponents content to slide the ball around among themselves as they peer from over the barricades wondering if the attack will ever come and if so, how it will transpire.

When your entire strategy is based upon tempting nine red and white shirts forward then instigating a long ball counter attack designed to drag the remaining central defender wide thus leaving a hole for others to romp through, it must be at least a little disconcerting to suddenly find three centre backs facing you and two wing backs pelting home to help them. It certainly seems to be working.

It needs to work twice more and we need City and Liverpool to screw up for our league ambitions to be realised. We all know the history, it’s happened before and who’s to say it won’t happen again? Of course it’s unlikely but if we don’t allow our dreams to draw us forward then our fears will surely drag us down. I would love another nail biting last day like last year, it rounds off a season rather wonderfully to confound one’s critics at the death. It would certainly provide the perfect aperitif to the cup final feast.

Standing in our way this evening is a Sunderland side who have had the kind of season they’d want to forget. It is in fact the kind of season that the small minority of so called fans, that gibbering, Wenger hating flock of self aggrandising, self important, attention seeking, septic sores on the beautiful face of our great club, seem to think Arsenal has endured. Having said that even if we were rooted at the foot of the table they’d still be over the top in their criticisms, so far from reality have they strayed.

Poor Sunderland are actually in the mire for real and not just in the imaginations of a few escaped lunatics. They cannot save themselves, their future is in the Championship but then so was that of Newcastle at a similar stage of last season and look how they performed against a certain Middlesex team who had it all still to play for. It’s a curious time of any campaign and weird results can and do happen. I just hope they don’t happen to us.

My real concern is the fitness of the players after a gruelling run of matches. There must be tiredness in some of the legs and with the cup final looming it would be such a shame for any of them to miss out. It would be especially galling for Alexis as he has just returned to form. Much like Aaron Ramsey the Chilean has that tenacious quality to keep trying to play his best possible football even when out of form and out of touch. Neither player likes to look for the simple option and both keep their heads up and keep plugging away until their natural game returns. Both have shown signs of getting back to their energetic, creative best and I will be keeping everything crossed that we see them at Wembley.

Sorry there I go again getting ahead of myself. It is difficult to maintain focus with an FA Cup final just around the corner. Even though Arsène keeps on getting us to Wembley I never tire of the occasion. However, Champion’s League qualification is, in some ways, as big a target and one we cannot give up until all hope is gone. Three points tonight keeps the flame alight and a favour from that most unlikely source – a certain Mr Pulis – will make the last day anything but boring.

If you’re at the match have a wonderful evening, if like me you’re watching online I hope the God of the dodgy internet stream smiles upon you and keeps you virus free. For the penultimate time in this league campaign I shall bid you farewell. Up the Arsenal!