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Thank You Arsenal 1st Team, We’re Moving On Up

 

george-and-weezy

Arsenal 1st Team
Arsenal Football Club
Highbury House
75 Drayton Park
LONDON N5 1BU

 Hi Guys,

I won’t be presumptuous. In the unlikely event any of you saw my open letter last week, either through the Arsenal media office or through your PR person, you may be aware that many of us Gooners have not given up on the season and are anxious to convey this to you. With 17 games to go, despite the usual nonsense from journos in mainstream media and the self-appointed experts in blogs and on twitter, an eight (8) point gap with Chelsea is not insurmountable.

I spent a lot of time in my last letter showing in the 1997/98 season, after New Year’s Day, Arsenal was dead and buried, in 5th place, 12 points behind Manchester United:

Club P W D L GF GA GD Pts
Man United 20 14 4 2 47 13 34 46
Blackburn Rovers 21 11 8 2 38 21 17 41
Chelsea 21 12 3 6 46 21 25 39
Liverpool 20 11 4 5 36 19 17 37
Leeds United 21 10 5 6 30 23 7 35
Arsenal 20 9 7 4 35 23 12 34

By the end of the season Arsenal had made up the difference to beat United to the title by one solitary point:

Club P W D L GF GA GD Pts
Arsenal 38 23 9 6 68 33 35 78
Man United 38 23 8 7 73 26 47 77
Liverpool 38 18 11 9 68 42 26 65
Chelsea 38 20 3 15 71 43 28 63

A win against Leicester in late December 1997 was to be the start of a remarkable 48 points from 18 league games. You should take hope that yesterday’s win against Swansea is the start of a similar run by the class of 2017.

I would suggest that you face an equal if not slightly less of a challenge than the class of 1998. As of the completion of round 20 on January 4, the table read as follows:

Club P W D L GF GA GD Pts
Chelsea 20 16 1 3 42 15 27 49
Liverpool 20 13 5 2 48 23 25 44
Tottenham 20 12 6 2 39 14 25 42
Man City 20 13 3 4 41 22 19 42
Arsenal 20 12 5 3 44 22 22 41

That is only eight (8) points, compared to 12. Some people will try to convince you that things have changed; this time it is different because Chelsea have spent so much money on quality players. Bollocks. Let’s rely on the words of the Boss, when he described the competitive environment of 1997-98:

“I soon realized when I came to Arsenal that teams raise their levels when they play against us. I would watch opponents on video tape and then see a completely different performance when we played them because Arsenal is such a big club and other sides badly want to beat us.”

This was the exact scenario in Saturday’s match vs Swansea. In the first half they came at you with guns blazing, similar to Bournemouth in the previous PL game. But you guys reacted beautifully. Soaked up the pressure, limited their chances, gradually took control of the game, hit them on the counter and score goals repeatedly. Four (4) goals on the road and a clean sheet to boot. As the Boss said you were “relentless” to the end.

As most of you guys know from experience, things can change very quickly in football. In one round of matches, after 21 games, Arsenal has moved from 4th to 5th, snapping at the heels of  both Liverpool and Tottenham who at 45 are only one point ahead. Trust me, none of those two teams immediately above us have the depth in quality players as the Gunners and sooner or later the cream will rise to the top.

Despite the margin of that victory over Swansea, the usual infantile, barely literate gaggle of ex-pros who pose as unbiased pundits in mainstream media were doing their best to belittle your chances. Now most of them, you think, having played and suffered against the Arsenal, would be intimately knowledgeable of recent 20-year history under Arsene Wenger.

  • Arsenal has finished an average of 3rd; no other club except Manchester United has a better average.
  • No other team has a better absolute deviation from their average league position than Arsenal at 0.985, meaning that on the average the club’s position will deviate by less than 1. United is the next best at 1.28.
  • All other big -6 team have in 20 years finished lower than Arsenal; City fell away to as low as 47th, way down into the 3rd
  • Arsenal has never finished less than 4th.
  • Arsenal has never finished below Tottenham

Yet last Saturday, after you guys hammered Swansea, Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves and Robbie Savage came up with the lame trope that the top-six is more competitive than ever and Arsenal will fall out of the top-four. From the mouth of Scholes on BT Sport:

“I’ll go for Tottenham and Arsenal, fifth and sixth,

“Because I think the other teams are better than them.

“Simple as that, yeah.”

Knowing as we do the unbiased data of the past 20-years, this is truly the opinion of a simpleton, yeah.

Savage is no better:

“I’m going to say Man City because Man City fans absolutely love me and I’m going to go with Scholesy, Arsenal.”

Equally a part of the blind, stupid herd was Hargreaves:

“Yeah I don’t think Arsenal are going to make it this year,”

Those of us on the western side of the pond are similarly afflicted by this mindless punditry by, of course, ex-pros from the English game. We had to put up with the two Robbies of NBC-Soccer (Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe) who discounted your demolition of Swansea and kept bigging up Spurs as title contenders. These are guys who played for clubs which in their day were regularly thrashed by Arsenal. Uhm. Do you see a pattern here?

(A friend of mine on twitter (The Big Apple@lagrossepomme) described this as “Pret-a-Porter” analysis, meaning ready to consume, standardized opinions-analyses that follow the same narrative.)

Like us fans, you guys must be wondering how silly these guys feel when, less than 24-hours later, their favorite team Manchester City is routed 4-nil by Everton, giving another shambolic display of defending. How bad was it? The Toffees had 4 shots on target; all of them scored. As for league position, the only team that moved up and into the top-four  over the weekend was The Arsenal. Ouch!

There is still a long way to go in this season but there are hopeful signs. As someone noted on twitter:

” Xhaka/Ramsey pivot have played 312 minutes together we’ve scored 13 (one every 24 min.) 2 against.”

In my opinion, while this is a small sample size it is a good omen. I am sure you guys will build on that. With Santi looking set to once again go under the knife, Elneny at the AFCON until late January and Coquelin recovering from injury, Rambo and Xhaka will simply have to grow up in the heat of battle. You all know they can’t do it alone in central midfield. Teamwork is essential to overcome any weaknesses in our set-up. Fortunately you are a stronger group than last year. At the same time last January you had to depend on good old Flamini (god bless his pointy-shouty efforts) while Elneny was feeling his way into the league.

Have no fear, Chelsea is due their run of bad games. Every club has a dip in this Premier League marathon of a season.  Based on the data, if the injury gods can rein peace on us, you the class of 2017 will make this a real title-race. I am convinced of this, especially because you are under the leadership of the greatest manager in the league, whose been there, done that.

Up The Arsenal!

Positively yours

@shotta_gooner, The Contrarian

95 Comments

Arsenal : Rumble in the Mumbles

231Bore da Welsh speaking Positive people and good morning to any others who have stumbled across the threshold,

A foul, wet morning in Norfolk which does nothing to deflect my good mood and optimism this Sunday.

Of yesterday’s game it provided probably the easiest three points we have earned all season. Given the thumping we administered to the ‘Ammers that is saying something but I say yesterday had the edge in terms of easy contest.

Admittedly the afternoon started a little differently. With the shiny new Mr Clement in charge, hair neatly cut and black overcoat tightly buttoned, I anticipated a vigorous workout against a club who have had the ‘eye’ (¤) on us in recent seasons.

Our hosts starting purposefully, playing a bit of real passing football, harrying our lads with intent for half an hour. As is our usual modus operandi we allowed the Welsh dragon to run out of puff about the 30  and then imposed ourselves to take control of the game. Sanchez. The opener before half time was inevitable I think as by that stage Sanchez and Ozil had run off the rust that had accumulated from their lengthy holidays and both were able to find space and receive enough ball to weave their respective magic spells.

The kerfuffle that Olivier’s ankle caused following the goal was a bit mystifying, but not as mystifying at first sight as the card that young Ki picked up for diving in our box. HOWEVER, having had the opportunity to review the incident from a number of different angles while I see contact, yes. I do not see contact sufficient to fell the player in the manner observed. Good call referee and a considerable relief to go in 1-0 up after what had been a strong finish to the half by our hosts. On such small details victories pivot.

If Mr Jones eagle eyed wisdom in spotting the South Korean’s deceit was an omen the Welsh failed to heed its portent. Instead, as the game sparked back into life in the second half, they found themselves pinned in their half by a mighty hurricane in black and fluorescent yellow. We really turned up the game to top gear and the Swans could not live with it.

Over the next 20 minutes they disintegrated like an upset jigsaw puzzle when the fates turned against them. And what fates they were on the day! The goals themselves I acknowledge were hardly classic Wengerball, and I admit a certain sympathy for our former keeper as he plucked the ball out from the second own goal. Rage at the moon all you like Lukasz, with our lads banging in accurate shots from all around the box there is a probability that one day the deflection will be in our favour, and yesterday the luck fell our way.

Of our lads ? As I think was said yesterday by several contributors on here Alex Iwobi had an outstanding game and the longer the game went on the stronger he got. Four shots in the box – that is what I want to see. The first time that Aaron has started two consecutive games this season and that continuity was reflected in his greater influence and more certain touch. I thought Monreal was great yesterday. I thoroughly enjoyed the physical battle he and Dyer and Naughton got into. And finally a word of praise for Gabriel who, as he always does, came in and did his job thoroughly and quietly.

Of our opponents Sigurdsson is a good player. He will find suitors knocking if, as seems probable, Swansea slip away in May. The rest ? Over to Mr Clement for some hard work.

Hwyl fawr am nawr and enjoy your Sunday!

172 Comments

Arsenal Versus Swansea: On The Tip Of The Tongue Of The Year

Mumbles Lighthouse

When I saw the pictures of the Arsenal training in wintry snow ahead of today’s trip to Swansea I confess to harbouring a certain sympathy for them. As my Scottish uncle used to say to me that snell wind makes everone fair jeelit. The sympathy has evaporated this morning as I sit in my frozen writing shed stabbing with numb fingers at my frost hardened Smith-Corona. But on I plough.

It wasn’t only compassion which moved in my breast at the sight of poor Danny Welbeck muffled in his muffler. I also felt a twang of envy. You see I rather like the town of Swansea and I was a little jealous of the players and fans who will get to visit today. I should imagine the beach at Rhossili will be a bit parky this weekend so I doubt a trip to the Gower is on the cards, but I do urge you to make a weekend of it if you are travelling and at least have a little tour.

Swansea City FC, we are told, has done much to put the ‘ugly, lovely town’ on the map. Since their ascendency to the higher reaches they’ve earned plaudits for playing the game as many of us like to see it played. A fashionable football team allied with a popular university can encourage an enlightened view of what had previously been regarded as a somewhat grim industrial setting.

Sadly the Swans have been struggling of late. I’ll leave you to decide whether the managerial merry go round in which they’ve indulged themselves has been cause or effect of this unwelcome downturn in  their fortunes. Personally I think it is always a mistake in life to panic, to chop and change when things are going badly.

An unfashionable view in a footballing world where many seem to crave change simply for the sake of change itself. I can only assume that decades of consumer culture, of an economy built on endless growth, demands we throw away and replace at every opportunity. This is not the road to happiness, merely the endless dissatisfaction of the spoilt child given too much, too often.

So while I am grateful for any advantage to the team I support I am also saddened to see one of the few smaller clubs to actually beat us by coming and out playing football going through hard times. I believe the league is improved by keeping the good guys and losing the dross and not the other way around.

Improvement of the league isn’t the concern of most of you, I know this. All that matters is three points and that is of course your prerogative. Just as it is the prerogative of those who take a more holistic view to want to be part of a culture of excellence rather than a lowest common denominator tactical dirge, which, if given too much rope, will strangle the golden goose as audiences eventually tire and turn away.

So Swansea are all at sea and should be there for the taking. Surely an away win is such a guaranteed result that there is no point in even watching. Just go bung a tenner on us at the bookies and collect your one pence winnings at ten to five. Well perhaps. Perhaps if you’d never watched a season of football from start to finish. Maybe this is your reality. In my reality teams who are struggling need to be put to the sword a little before their fragile confidence is exposed.

Concede an unlucky goal such as that fortuitous, bobbling, pinball series of deflections which gifted Preston the lead the other day and that fragile confidence will cease to be a factor. A team in decline can still surprise you and we will need to be sharp and up to the scratch from the moment Mr Jones emits his primary peep.

What of the teams? Swansea will be without Neil Taylor after having his cheekbone broken in training on Wednesday. I don’t know much about the estimable Mr Taylor but as he played every minute of the Welsh teams heroic failure in the Euros I’m sure Kelly, our resident Cymru expert, can fill us in on the details. Losing a first choice international full back against an Arsenal team rightly famed for their fast, wide attacking game cannot be a good thing.

They will also be missing Jefferson Antonio Montero Vite who is one player and not four as you might think. He is a fast and dangerous wingers and one that the home team will surely miss. Talking of flyers we still see no sign of Theo nor of Hector and I am just beginning to worry that Theo’s small, irrelevant, only keeping him out as a precaution, niggle might be turning into something more significant. It is a mark of the quality in our squad that we can miss these two hugely important players and still approach any fixture with confidence.

Given Gabriel’s flawless understudy shift when Hector first joined the sick list and seeing just what a player Arsène signed in Lucas Perez I don’t think we need to be overly concerned. Of course we want our first choice players fit and healthy but Perez in particular excites me and so I’ll be happy to see him step up in Theo’s absence.

With Danny back and raring to go we have a superfluity of striking options which ought to make us blush. Sanchez and Giroud are in stunning scoring form, Mesut has also stepped up in front of goal this season and we all know the boy Iwobi can find the net when the fancy takes him. Add to that the goals Aaron can get us running from midfield and the Swansea defence ought to be in for a trying time this afternoon.

I shan’t be watching with you today as I have been thoroughly duped by my ever resourceful wife into attending what I’d assumed was an evening event but transpires to start at three and finish at seven thirty. That will teach me not to listen when I’m trying to concentrate on Doom Three Hell On Earth. Lesson learned. Press pause and get all of the details before saying yes to anything.

If you are lucky enough to be in beautiful South Wales today then wrap up warm and should you bump into me at Longleat’s Festival Of Lights don’t tell me the score, it wouldn’t enhance our friendship.

124 Comments

An Open Letter to The Arsenal 1st Team

arsenal-1st-team-squad-20162017-1

Arsenal 1st Team
Arsenal Football Club
Highbury House
75 Drayton Park
LONDON N5 1BU

Dear Fellow Gooner,

I write to you as one minor member of the worldwide legion of Arsenal supporters whom you represent week-after-week on the football fields of England and Europe. You may be aware, according to the most recent research (2011), there were 113 million Arsenal fans worldwide, the fourth highest number for any football club on earth. Six years later those numbers could easily have doubled. In other words you are carrying the hopes and dreams of nearly 200 million people worldwide. I am certain you would agree it is an awesome responsibility.

But this letter is not to burden you with the weight of fan expectation. We know there is a minority who expect you will win every match, day-in, day-out. The majority of us know such results are unrealistic. While you may try to win every game, we know that Arsenal Football Club is competing against wealthier clubs with just as many if not more fantastic players, whom they can acquire by paying much larger transfer fees and wages.  There are times when results go against us because our best players are unavailable due to injury. Sometimes, as in the real world, there are days when despite doing your best as a professional, events do not favor the team, whether due to human error on our part or by the officials. As the boss correctly says, (and he is hardly ever wrong) it takes enormous “mental strength” to consistently compete at the top-level as every Arsenal 1st team has done for the past 20 years.

So now that we are midway the 2016-17 season, what are the realistic expectations of you the 1st team? Arsenal is lying in 5th place in the league, 8 points behind the leader, Chelsea, who just completed a 13-game win streak. In the last 20 years of the premier league, no team with a 13-game streak has failed to win the title. In the last 13 years of the premier league, the league winner has either been 1st or 2nd at the half-way point. Surely Arsenal stands no chance?

But records were meant to be broken. In 2013-14, Liverpool was the first team to go on an 11-game unbeaten streak and fail to win the title. Last year, Leicester was the first team in the history of the English top-flight to go from last place to being champions in 13 months. In January 2016 BREXIT was dead and buried in the polls, so was Donald Trump months later.  In one year, contrary to conventional thinking, despite the “expert” pundits in the mainstream media , the army of negative nellies on twitter and social media,  the underdog made the impossible possible.

Why can’t this Arsenal 1st Team make history? It is not as if it wasn’t done before. In the history of the premier league Arsenal is the only club who have come from as far back as 6th place midway the season to grab title and win the FA cup as well, Arsene Wenger’s first ever double. According to this source it was a season:

“…one which few would have dared dream about, particularly during the dark months of November and December when a midseason slump led to rumours of dressing room disharmony and a seemingly unbridgeable gap to league leaders Manchester United.”

Haven’t you the 1st Team have mid-season slump last December with back-to-back losses to Everton and Manchester City followed by a draw with Bournemouth?

That 97/98 Arsenal team did not recover their mojo until February 1998 after the legendary in-house meeting. According to Arseweb:

“…. the team and Wenger had a “thrash it out” meeting during which Adams demanded that the defence receive more protection from the midfield. The response from the central midfield pairing of Vieira and Petit was magnificent, and aided by better on and off field communication due to the Frenchmen’s improving English, Arsenal embarked on an unbeaten run which would eventually carry them all the way to the league title.”  

This 1st team already had a 14-game unbeaten run between August and November. Surely if the weaknesses evident at Bournemouth and Preston North End , are “thrashed-out”, couldn’t this team sustain another run and put the current league leaders under serious pressure?

As we lesser mortals, who have no hope of ever being professional footballers, can attest, it is easy to wallow in doubt and fear, after a string of bad results. Frankly for this Arsenal 1st team, there is no reason to be fearful. This is the deepest and best squad the professor has put together since the barren years while paying for the new stadium. According to transfermkt over the past five years AFC has spent £210.70m to gradually improve the squad.

You the Arsenal 1st Team may be missing Santi Cazorla, the technical leader, but in return you can welcome Aaron Ramsey who is the beating heart of the British core, the player who Arsene Wenger most trust to do what is necessary for the team to win. In 97-98, midway the season the club lost to suspension, the magical Dennis Berkgamp, and after his return took a while to find its groove. Similarly this 1st team is about to welcome back from illness a future midfield legend by way of Mesut Özil, a player who earlier this week demonstrated in no uncertain fashion his commitment to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. In 97/98, it was not because the players in the squad were the best in the premier league; Alex Manninger was certainly not. Seemingly more critical, as one looks back, they had the commitment and mental strength.

Will you, the Arsenal 1st team, seize the spirit of 97-98 and make the impossible possible. To paraphrase the words of the great bard, Shakespeare:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our Gooner dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;

Respectfully yours,

@Shotta_Gooner, The Contrarian

39 Comments

No Arsene – No Ozil – No Party

880277151-frank_gallagher___shameless_by_bezerkartwerk-d6kpv0xI wonder if Arsene Wenger is between little bit rock and a hard place?

Re-signing for two years is unlikely to cut it with Ozil – or potential new signings. A two year extension could potentially have a paralysing effect on our short-term team-building activities.

But the man himself may not want more than two years.

He may have doubts regarding fan reception to the news of an extended extension. He may be weary of the near existential crisis that occurs everytime we drop a point or three.

The toxicity of a small minority can not be ignored; what they lack in size or credibility in the eyes of most, they more than make up for with noise – not least in ways  highlighted in this comment from Eddy in the comments section from yesterday’s blog:

The thing is, can we really blame the media, journos and pundits etc, when a whole host of people who claim to love Arsenal are running blogs and twitter accounts dedicated to attacking all things Arsenal, everything from the major shareholders, the board, the manager, the coaches, the scouts, the fitness and medical people, the players, even our youth players, for God’s sake even our ladies team, everything the club does is dismissed at best and attacked at worst.  These people have put their 15 minutes of fame ahead of the thing they claim to love.

The fact [is] complete and utter scumbags can get fame by being caricature fans on AFTV, and be made legit by the main stream media who interview them, or reprint their views in major publications.

Some have been very smart about it, they spotted that one of the biggest and most successful Arsenal sites for years was Arsenal News Review (ANR), and it’s run by a Chelsea fan, who [has] seen by the success of his book about Arsene Wenger, that Arsenal fans were there to be exploited and make him money, and like Pyles Malmer, the others have seen ways to make money out of it. Some,  like AFTV and some blogs, have been making money from sponsorship and the clicks.  Others have got jobs with the bigger media outlets. bLeGrove is the bench mark for how negativity sells, and many Arsenal blogs abandoned their even-handed outlook and went negative to try and get a piece of it, and others appeared on the scene trying to get their bit too. We even have one blog that only ever publishes a new article after a bad result, they do not have a single word to say when we play well and have a good win.

And let’s not forget the likes of the AST (when was the last time they had a good word to say about the club) and other so called supporters’ groups that have been set up with the sole purpose of attacking the club – BSM are one that springs to mind.

Not to mention the outfit that use a bit of Twitter fame to sell Arsenal related goods,
whilst not forgetting that RedAction, a group that was set up to improve support, abandoned any semblance of credibility when they actually supported the A4 protest last season.

So can we blame the media for its agenda against Arsenal?”

The idiot minority have made themselves the story in the eyes of an entirely mercenary and opportunistic media. That alone could be incredibly draining for anyone, even if they are allowed – even encouraged – to ignore it.

The delays to Ozil’s contract are a concern and Arsene’s apparent indecision is surprising in as far as he’s the last person who would allow the club to be damaged by his own actions.

The delays to Ozil’s contract may not just be about whether Arsene re-signs.

It could also be about who follows Arsene if he does not.

Equally, it could all be sorted one week after the end of the season.

But short of winning the PL or the CL, would Arsene himself feel the team had done enough to justify a 3+ years contract extension?

The WOB’s noisy little campaign has the potential to scyth down the club’s short and medium-term prospects with a devastating example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Yes, we’ve been made aware of Ozil’s doubts.

But how many others like Ozil are waiting on current outcomes. How many would happily jump ship to escape one of the PL’s most odious fanbases. Sure, it’s a minority of trolls making a racket but the failure of the majority of fans to effectively shout them down suggests complicity.

What was that saying about all it takes for evil to prevail …?

And how many players at one time or another have been the subject of vile abuse from ‘supporters? It’s by no means a short list, is it?

I’d suggest these are perilous moments for the club and we may now be at an ominous fork in the road. I’d also suggest we – the fans and the club – have much more to lose than Mr Wenger.

Not least because, as I believe someone may have already pointed out.

No Arsene, no party.

Stolen from Arsenal Andrew by lazy old me – George.

94 Comments

Arsenal: Preston Floored By Larry’s Sword

c0wiijaxuaaglbhGood morning Positive Arsenalists.

Another grey morning over Norfolk but a familiar sensation of satisfaction as an Arsenal fan still lingers after last night’s game in the North West.

Yes, yes I know we were pretty dire in the first half. The home side rushed into us with great energy and not a little skill at times and made us look a bit little silly. On several occasions they opened up our defence in a manner only PSG had done previously this season. When we did have the ball some of our passing and efforts to use possession constructively were discomforting to watch, so inept was the outcome. I see even Arsene said the only positive was that it was only 1-0 as the players went down the half time tunnel. He knows, you know.

I have no real understanding of what was going on in our players’ heads during the opening 45. I can only point to the lack of experience of Rambo, Xhaka, Mustafi and Gabby + the youngster AMN, in actually playing together before, that might explain the spaces and gaps that Preston were allowed. Why we seemed unable to hit an accurate 5 yard pass I don’t know, but let us not dwell too deeply. One interesting point was that in spite of the difficulties we had there was no rowing between the players, everyone just got on with the game. No Sanchez=no scrapping (perhaps) !

HOWEVER whatever the reason for that collective early confusion, after the break we turned out as a team transformed. I have no idea if the manager stamped his foot, or Steve Bould identified and corrected the tactical defensive mistakes that had disrupted us. Whatever switch had been flicked however after Mr Madeley blew his whistle Preston were hardly in the game again. Our defence became resolute, our passing text book Wengerball. After peppering our goal in the first half they created nothing in the second, with Ospina a spectator. The home side adopted the posture of a boxer pushed back around the ring by jabs, short straight punches and the occasional hook, backed into the corner and, eventually, floored. As with so many things in football however the timing of our equaliser, with Preston minds still not focussed on the pitch, was crucial. Lovely goal from Rambo, lovely set up by Iwobi.

For the remainder of the second half it was increasingly desperate defence by the home side and, to their credit, their defenders were well organised and flung their bodies in again and again to block shots, headers and deny our clever flicks and short passing. The home crowd roared them on, a replay at the Ems a tasty prize if they could just cling on. As our hosts energy gradually drained however, up stepped Larry. Ah Larry, a performer, a worker, a leader. A man who recently has been the decisive weapon, and yesterday he put the blade through Preston hearts.

It had to be, it was Fate.

Of our lads I thought Perez, Larry, the Ox and Iwobi stood out. Aaron’s goal was excellent and he stamped his authority on the second half, an intelligent game from the Welshman. AMN was getting some stick but I though he did fine, as did all the back 4 after their early discombobulation.

Of Preston? Their central defender Clarke and their winger and goalscorer Robinson were good. With the transfer window open you could see the national limelight probably inspired a few of them to greater heights.

No complaints about Madeley last night – 7/10.

The third round of the Cup safely negotiated and a lazyish Sunday in prospects with our fingers crossed in the hope of some embarrassment for Tottingham or Chels. It would be a big turn up if either gave up their Wembley ambitions but that is the magic of the Cup isn’t it – that little spark of hope?

Finally while I had a good day yesterday others may have enjoyed 3rd round day even more:

http://www.lep.co.uk/sport/football/preston-north-end/teenager-to-says-thanks-to-wenger-for-sickbed-message-1-8321949

Lovely story, enjoy your Sunday.

(opening photo by @rebeccaherber44 – good innit?)

188 Comments

Arsenal Versus Preston North End: The Decider

H and SV

The Clash of the Invincibles takes place at historic Deepdale this evening. Quite rightly held back until the less significant fixtures have finished, this is the unquestioned jewel of the third round. A meeting of two venerable clubs, both famous for their contributions to the English game and both special for achieving unbeaten success at the pinnacle of the league.

Their fortunes have varied in recent years. Arsenal have become a byword for consistency. While other clubs have risen and fallen, enjoying their moments in the limelight, North London’s pre-eminent sporting establishment has been an ever present in the heady atmosphere of the upper echelons of top class football.

Preston North End have been quietly working their way back towards the top flight. Their rise from the fourth to second tier has been achieved in a steady fashion winning the promotion as champions twice in four years and finishing in the top five of League One (and Championship after it’s name change in 2004) no less than five times. This season they’re sitting in eleventh place having won ten, lost nine and drawn six.

What can we expect from them? Reading a Preston forum their fans seem to think Arsène is either arrogantly resting players or frightened his pampered softies will be scared of getting a kicking from the North End midfield. How refreshing such forward thinking attitudes are still prevalent in the modern game. In fairness most of them were bemoaning the absence of Sanchez, feeling deprived of witnessing at first hand one of the game’s true greats. This is odd when you consider that the real treat they are being deprived of is the sight of Mesut Özil. I suppose this just shows the influence the media have on the opinions of fans.

We are of course anything but arrogant and entirely aware of the possibilities for a lower division team to overturn the odds and beat one of the nations greatest ever clubs. Cup competitions thrive on such tales. Needless to say it is a romance we as Arsenal fans indulge in only when someone else is on the receiving end. My only concern is whether the side will gel. We all know the reserves are good enough individually but we saw against Southampton in the League cup how a patched together eleven can lack understanding and cohesion, but I don’t expect a repetition today.

I await the team sheet with interest. We know who won’t be there but the question is who steps up? Everyone assumes a Xhaka Ramsey central partnership but how about the forward line? I really want to see more of Lucas Perez but he is little bit ankle nobbled or something. I hope it isn’t serious and he gets to play – ideally alongside Olivier Giroud.

While it’s true that Giroud almost single handedly dragged us back into contention on Tuesday and could have taken a twenty minute naked lap of honour as far as I’m concerned so herculean were his efforts, it was his partnership with Perez that most caught the eye.

It was almost an old fashioned forward pairing, with the big guy winning the ball and the smaller bloke running off him. That is the kind of set up even footballing illiterates like me can understand. Of course the skill set of our number twelve is way in advance of the old big bruising centre forwards who used mainly to provide the knock downs on which their trickster little cohorts would feed. However I don’t want to get too side tracked into talking about players as I usually end up wasting words on guys who then don’t even make the bench.

For romantics the FA Cup got off to the worst possible start yesterday with the oil rich money burners flattening plucky little West Ham like a steam roller taking on a bag of Maltesers. It was clear from the team sheet that Man City were not going to mess about and I wasn’t surprised Guardiola took the tie so seriously – even fielding a proper keeper for a change.

With so many so called top managers and so many of the world’s best players crammed into the Premier league and with all the rabid, out of control fan bases demanding the league title as a minimum price for their support, the FA Cup has taken on ever greater significance. As long as only one team can finish first the scrabble to get the second most important crown in English football becomes increasingly frantic. I don’t anticipate the giant killings of yore, the tournament is simply too important to the top clubs to risk making a bollocks of their first round.

This just means getting to Wembley will be that little bit harder for Arsenal this season, but the journey will be all the more enjoyable for it. I hope we start today with an emphatic victory to make the pundits weep but most of all I just want us to win without any more injuries. Please.

If you’re making your way to the Clash of the Invincibles I wish you a safe journey. I’ll be schooling my nephew in the significance of his first ever FA Cup tie, safe and warm by the radiator. And for those Preston fans mourning the absence of a certain sulky Chilean – chin up – this may actually be the day you get to tell your grandchildren about. The day you saw Alex Iwobi in the flesh.