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Beer, fine company and The Arsenal.  What it’s all about. Goonerholics Forever….

The 2022/23 Premier League campaign drew to a close on Sunday as Arsenal concluded their splendid season with a 5-0 mauling of Wolves on a sun-soaked early summer’s evening in North London. The Gunners already knew they were guaranteed a second place finish but a win would see Mikel Arteta’s side beat their previous Emirates era points tally by a point (83 points achieved in 2007/08) and do that they did. 

Arteta named an unchanged starting eleven from the side that finally conceded the title to the (alleged) financial dopers of East Manchester at Forest last week. That has been a common theme for Arsenal this season, Arteta has made just 38 alterations to his 38 starting line ups this campaign which is the lowest in the division. Compare that to a certain mid table club in SW3 who have made a whopping 131 tinkers to their comical excuse for a football team. We got off to a flyer as the soon-to-be departing Granit Xhaka nodded us into an early lead following an excellent cross from Gabriel Jesús from the right-hand side. It has been widely reported that the Swiss international will be signing for Bayer Leverkusen after seven rollercoaster years in North London. Few players have divided opinion quite like Xhaka, the outrageous character assassination he has endured from the parasitical English media, most notably the odious Gary Neville, most definitely affected him to some extent. And who can blame him? Xhaka accrued an unfair reputation as a dirty player who often lunged into reckless tackles. He was once branded by Neville as “a brainless idiot” “(ironic) and “uncoachable”. You decide which of these comments is the most idiotic. But Granit soon had another goal on his leaving party. Saka drove into the box, his cross took a nick off a Wolverhampton defender, and Xhaka passed the ball into the net to double his tally. 

Arsenal were now in party mode and their opponents were on the beach. We made it three on the half hour following some precise exchanges between Trossard and Ødegaard. It was the Belgian whose ninth assist of the season found Saka, who took one touch to push the ball onto his left peg before blasting an emphatic finish into the far bottom corner. Not a bad way to celebrate signing a new contract. We were well and truly on Easy Street. 

No changes were made at the break as we looked to add to our lead. We thought we had a fourth after Partey scrambled home following a corner but it was disallowed for a push on Jose Sá from Ben White. Replays showed VAR had got it right for a change. But moments later we did have a fourth. Jorginho played a sumptuous ball over the top for Trossard to run onto. He checked his run a couple of times, and swung in a teasing cross to the far post with his “weak foot” and Jesús was there to head home from a difficult angle. A really high quality goal from start to finish. We made a few subs, the game plodded along at the pace you would expect for a dead rubber game on the final day but there was time for a fifth as Jakub Kiwior notched his first goal for the club, scrambling in from a corner. Sá probably should’ve kept it out, and you could argue it was actually an own goal but life is too short for all that faff and nonsense. That was our eighty-eighth goal in the league this season which is a club record for a 38 game season. Our 19th different scorer too. Not too shabby.

So there we have it, another season done and dusted. A season where we led the way for some 249 days before the Financial Fair Play Oil Riggers of Middle East Manchester, eventually showed their quality. But the history books will read: The Arsenal in Second place with 84 points, 26 wins, 6 draws and 6 defeats. We are finally out of the Thursday Night Ropey League and after a long exile we are back in the Mostly Not Champions League which is no longer brought to you by Gazprom. We collectively look forward to being drawn in a group with our old friends Bayern Munich, Barcelona and of course, Olympiakos. Is that possible? Well no, but I’m sure those honourable trustworthy guys over at UEFA will get the hot balls out. To be perfectly honest we’ve been out of it for so long we’ll probably turn up on a Thursday and go to Baku instead of Barcelona. But at least we will be in it, and we didn’t make a song and dance about it unlike the Marshdwellers did a year ago. I wonder what European competition they’ll be in next year. Anyone know? Thankfully the continent will be safe from those gormless oddballs for the next twelve months. 

I suppose the end of a season does provide an opportunity for some evaluation. Did we achieve our preseason objective of finishing in the top four? Yes. With quite some distinction. Have we progressed from the previous season? Massively. Are we coming out of the campaign with a touch of disappointment we did not achieve more? Somewhat, yes. It goes without saying that if you had offered any rational Arsenal fan second place and a title challenge before the season began you would’ve been laughed at even by the most optimistic Gooner. But then the season kicked off and right from the first minute of that warm evening at Selhurst Park we could all see something had shifted in these players. We were playing with a swagger we had not seen at this club for bordering on two decades. And we demonstrated this was no fluke. We won our first five games for the first time in a long time. Nine of the first ten became sixteen out of nineteen. Fifty points won from a possible fifty-seven. Not even The Invincibles could boast such a rapid start. Had we continued at the same rate for the second half of the campaign we would’ve won the title by a comfortable margin. It was an incredible ride until the start of April and that ought to be remembered. Throughout the season we on GHF have basked in the warm glow of being proud supporters of a club which is well and truly on the up after a gradual but elongated demise. We have perhaps grown closer as a small community in the ocean that is the Arsenal universe. Pre-match we met up with GSD (as illustrated above) and we all enjoyed great conversations and laughs on both Arsenal and non-Arsenal related topics. And this is what football is about; bringing people together who would otherwise be strangers to one another. And I suppose this has been aided by the positive vibes around our club right now. 

I will finish by wishing you all an enjoyable summer. Try not to spend all day refreshing Arsenal NewsNow waiting to see if we’ve agreed a fee for Gonzalo Higuain or if Yann M’Villa has completed his medical yet. Now we face the prospect of two long months without The Arsenal and we must attempt to lead lives outside of the seasonal calendar that runs from August-May. I hope you have all enjoyed this season as much as I have. We go again in August.


Apologies – well, not really – for the rather awkward title. It’s two titles actually – two song titles – and the fact is I couldn’t decide which one to consign to the digital bin. They are closely related but just don’t mesh comfortably into one.

Sunday 28th May, at home against Wolves, marks the end of another season which always inevitably involves a degree of retrospection. 

It’s a little under three and a half years since our friend and founder of the Goonerholic community sadly passed away. His death came soon after the departure of Arsene Wenger and the end of an era which came to a slightly overdue but all too distasteful close. As that circle closed, a new one began which led to the gestation and re-birth of this blog, very much in his name and, hopefully, in a style of which he would approve. Another season’s writing has left those of us who now share the load marvelling at how Dave, all by himself, ever produced such volume and quality.

Following the Wenger era and a difficult period of adjustment, another new circle has begun and we have been thrilled this season to see the rebirth of our club, the emergence of a new Arsenal man in Mikel Arteta, and a team playing in a style that we can all love and be proud of. What a shame Dave is not here to share it.

When I started to think about this piece, the second song seemed a good idea. My Way, or with some licence in the final line, We Did It Our Way, would serve to amplify the differences in how we and Manchester City operate, especially as we would have taken them right to the wire in the last game of the season, or even been league champions. Unfortunately, we have done it in what has become Our Way in recent times. There are good reasons for it, but our performances and results have dropped to the extent that they have won the title with points to spare. However, second place represents fantastic progress for us and is beyond what almost any of us would have expected this season.

It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It ………

Oh, another song but one that is relevant, as the season closes, to the fortunes of two clubs at opposite ends of the table. Luton Town are in the Championship play-off final to try to secure promotion back to the Premier League after 15 years in the footballing wilderness into which they were cast in the 2008/09 season, by virtue of a 30 point deduction handed to them for financial and other irregularities.

The problems began for them in early 2008 when manager Mike Newell asked the board what had happened to the £13+ million profit they had made on recent transfer business, as it had certainly not been reinvested in the team, and was sacked for his trouble. Allegations of kickbacks and bungs to agents were made, and evidently proven, for which the club was given a 10 point deduction. After a change of ownership, more financial mismanagement and a fire sale of their best assets, the club had got itself into a right old mess and went into administration. Despite claims that in the ensuing period there was no evidence of tax avoidance, no obfuscation of the club’s affairs and no further breaking of any rules, Luton were handed an additional 20 point deduction at the beginning of the 2008/09 season for not exiting administration “in the correct manner”. Starting the season at -30 points they were inevitably relegated, went into a spiral of decline and 3 years later found themselves in the Conference Premier.

So what’s all this got to do with the price of fish ?  

Well, really it’s about comparing the price of different fish. It’s now well known that the Premier League have uncovered 115 cases of financial irregularities committed by Manchester City but it seems that City suddenly become very sensitive about the propriety of proceedings when actually under investigation and getting the club into court is proving difficult. Unlike Luton, City can hire the most expensive lawyers to delay and obstruct proceedings, something they have already done by disputing the legality of Murray Rosen KC, as head of the Premier League’s independent judicial panel, on the grounds that he is an Arsenal supporter!

City’s ‘most expensive lawyer’ is the aptly named Lord Pannick – interestingly the man employed to fight Boris Johnson’s allegations of rule breaking during COVID-19. If he fails and City are eventually found guilty, punishment could even amount to expulsion from the Premier League, but some predictions are that it could take up to 4 years to complete proceedings.

It’s not as though City don’t have history in these matters. In February 2020 they were banned from the Champions League for 2 years by UEFA after being found guilty of breaking the financial rules of the competition and misleading the European governing body. They appealed, of course, and the ban was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) as it was ruled that some of the charges were time barred – time gobbled up by their legal people – as FFP breaches had to be prosecuted within 5 years. 

Incredibly, considering their objections to Murray Rosen mentioned above, Manchester City appointed two of the three members on the CAS panel, including its chairman, and won a 2:1 majority vote in their favour. It is important to note though, that City were not cleared of those time barred accusations against them, they paid millions of pounds in uncontested fines, and some allegations were left unanswered.

My own naive view is that the Premier League should be the ultimate authority in their own competition, with the power to bring whatever sanction is deemed necessary if their rules are broken. It seemed a simple enough process when “little” Luton were involved. It is vital for competition in the Premier League that no club, however powerful, is able to unfairly buy complete domination of it.

Bet fair …? Not if you’re a player !

Last week, Brentford striker Ivan Toney was banned “from all football” for eight months with IMMEDIATE effect. That was for over 200 gambling indiscretions which were made public knowledge several months ago. So why the rush to ban him so quickly, right now, two games before the end of the season ? 

Well, coincidentally Man City play Brentford on Sunday in the last game of the season. The immediate ban means that, were Arsenal still, by some mathematical miracle, in with a chance of winning the league, Brentford’s main goal threat against City has been parked safely out of the way – just in case they needed any more help. Am I just bitter about Man City ? You bet ! (oops, sorry, Ivan!)

The teams

It honestly feels a bit pointless to go into any sort of detail about player availability, formations and tactics for this game. Wolves are safe from relegation in 13th place – (one behind Chelsea 🤣) after a remarkable reverse in their fortunes since Julen Lopetegui took the reins in the new year. They were bottom at Christmas but have won 41% of their games since he took over.

The Arsenal are secure in second place, 40 points ahead of our opponents (38 points ahead of Chelsea, and 24 ahead of Tottenham 🤣). I guess the main question is whether Mikel Arteta will give playing time to some of the young players who have recently been on the bench, in order to protect those who are to be leaving this summer. The composition of our squad will provide some very strong clues as to who they will be.

There have been some cries on the dreaded social media this week for Mikel Arteta to be sacked following our failure to win the league. Some people really are indescribably stupid. I am not able to be at the stadium myself on Sunday but I sincerely hope that all those who are will give their continued, fantastic support to the manager and all our players who have given us a wonderful season and a tremendous platform on which to continue building.

The Holic Pound
No suggestions from me for this game. In any event you could write everything I know about gambling twice on a postage stamp, but you would have to be a very committed punter to put money on the outcome of this one where there is “nothing” at stake and team selections are anybody’s guess.

However, finally …..

Despite the excellent service they provide and the seemingly quiet dedication of his devotees, shock news is emerging from Castle Ned where it seems some things are not quite as they might be with one of the monks in Ned’s Trappist order. Apparently the monks are allowed to break their silence once every ten years and on the tenth anniversary of his joining, Brother Thomas was asked if there was anything he wanted to say – 

“Yes, Father Ned, I was wondering if I might be able to have a little milk with my cornflakes each morning ?”, he asked.
“I’m sure that can be arranged”, Ned replied, and Thomas returned to his duties within the order.
After another ten years he was asked again if there was anything he wished to say –
“Well, Father Ned, I was wondering if I might also be able to have a little sugar with my cornflakes ?”, he asked.
Again Ned agreed and Thomas returned to his duties ….After a further ten years he was summoned to see Ned once more.
“So, Thomas”, said Ned, “you have now been with us for thirty years. Is there anything you would like to say today ?”
“Yes, there is,” said Thomas, “I’m leaving ! I’ve tried and tried but conditions here are appalling. I can’t stand it anymore and I want to go !”
“Well, thank God for that !”, Ned replied, “It will be a relief when you’ve gone as you’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here !”

Enjoy the game for the final time this season – TTG will be next up with his season review. Have a good summer !

Earlier in the winter when Mikel was asked if Arsenal could sustain their excellence towards an originally unpredicted attempt at winning the league, Arenal manager had surmised that we would need to be perfect until the end of the season in every aspect to sustain such an ambition. One suspects he knew what he was talking about, especially given his past proximity to the title-winning machine – I am intentionally keeping aside the discussions about the ethical/legal dimensions of how that machine was built, for the Arsenal manager and the squad can have no control over the arc of that development – that was at that time chasing us, a few points behind and with a couple of games in hand. 

The prescience in that observation has lately been demonstrated as Mikel’s young squad – especially after losing a few of their key personnel to injuries – had started to falter at the final weeks of an exhilarating campaign, whereas the machine kept up its inexhaustible march. 

Arsenal traveled up to the land of Robin Hood (and Friar Tuck) with the hopes of a final twist in this league season’s tale, a twist that was to be no less legendary in proportion than one of Robin’s escapes. While the silk-and-steel dominance over high flying Newcastle had rekindled such a hope just a couple of weeks back, last Sunday’s capitulation at home against a clever and spirited Brighton side highlighted the difficulties of sustaining that level of excellence in the closing days of the campaign. 

Saliba’s back injury has turned out to be season-ending and his absence has proven to generate a negative domino effect along the spine of the side, earlier forcing Partey to take up more responsibilities and covering more space in the middle which most likely had contributed to his mistakes, and subsequent loss of form. Whereas Jorginho has played very well indeed in place of Thomas, he doesn’t quite provide the incision and verticality of the Ghanaian and we had started to look more labored in transition. Then came the loss of Zinchenko and only in his absence came we to appreciate truly why Mikel persisted with him even when the odd defensive mistakes started to pile up, sometimes even leading to conceding goals: a tight technical control of the midfield, variety of passing, and clever manipulation of spaces. Whereas Tierney is a wonderful left back, the Arsenal team this season had become used to relying on the creative unpredictability that the Zinchenko — Xhaka – Martinelli axis of controlled chaos brings. Gabi too has now been sidelined for the rest of the season after being hacked down in the Brighton match. 

Credit to Mikel to try to solve this problem with tactical innovation by deciding to play Partey in a kind of “right flank Zinchenko” role, weighing the loss of Saka-White understanding on the right flank against the potential gain in midfield control by playing Partey-Jorginho-Xhaka together.    


White – Kiwior — Gabriel

Partey – Ødegaard –Jorginho — Xhaka

Saka – Jesus – Trossard

The bench didn’t include Reiss-Nelson due to illness, but in addition to the usual suspects had three academy players: Walters (who is indeed not an entirely unfamiliar sight anymore), Bandeira and the highly promising Cozier-Duberry. 

We were playing against a team that for a long time this season seemed to be headed straight back to the championship, despite (or maybe even because of) amassing a significant number of experienced and quality players, albeit some of them past their primes. However, a recent run of good performances and results especially at their City Ground home had brought them to a stage where they just needed one more win to stay up, and as the match started it was evident that they were determined to make the home advantage count and ensure their survival without having to stay in the fight through the final day madness. 

In contrast, Arsenal looked labored on the ball and surprisingly bereft of confidence in their movements and passing. Possibly that was due to the change in shape, or the pressure of knowing that a win was absolutely necessary if we were to retain any hope of winning the title, or loss of confidence because of last weekend’s result, or tiredness of body and mind that had now started to take over as the adrenaline of hope rapidly recedes, or maybe a combination of all of these.

The Nottingham Forest players were faster to react to fifty-fifty balls, and more alert on transitions, especially the pair of Gibbs-White and Awoniyi who combined to score their goal at the nineteenth minute, the former interrupting an uncharacteristically lazy cross-field pass from Ødegaard to release the latter on the outside of Gabriel, and even though our Brazilian defender used his pace to cover the ground well and put in a well-timed tackle, the ball bounced against the Nigerian’s shin and bobbled up and past an onrushing Ramsdale. There may have been an element of fortuitousness in the manner of the goal, but it was a well-deserved one from Forest who had started well and by then had sensed a tentativeness in Arsenal’s approach that they were ready to exploit. 

Nottingham Forest 1 ( Awoniyi 19’) – Arsenal 0

Arsenal was dominating possession, but much of that dominance was wasted in possession without purpose or penetration, moving the ball around in the now dreaded horseshoe shape which had at times still crept into our game. We missed Martinelli’s directness, White’s overlapping runs (Partey refusing or unable to combine with Saka in that role), Zinchenko’s movements and passing, and it seemed we would need a moment or two of individual brilliance to bring us back into the match. 

Though Saka, Jesús, Trossard and Ødegaard all tried their very best – and there were a few times when some of the passing around the penalty box did resemble the best of Arsenal this season – there was a degree of turgidity and sloppiness on the ball that stopped us from building any sustained goalmouth pressure.  Even then we should have earned a penalty as Jesus – trying to latch on to a well-placed long pass from the deep – was hauled down in the penalty box when he was the closest to the ball and was going to find himself in a goalscoring position. I would like to say that it remained a mystery why VAR didn’t take a closer look. But we all know that ineptitude, when demonstrated repeatedly, loses its ability to surprise. Power often resides on the barrel of low expectations. 

The first half ended without much of a hope for Arsenal. It was felt that Mikel may want to switch the formation/personnel to bring back a modicum of fluency to our play. The beginning of the second half showed that unless he did so the match was likely to slip away. Around the 63rd minute he made his first substitutions: bringing in Tierney for Kiwior and Nketiah for Xhaka. In Tierney we finally had someone willing to combine with his forward on the outside and stretch their defense away from the congested central areas. His wing-play inspired a few decent crosses from others as well, though Keylor Navas (Joel Campbell’s Costa Rican teammate, a pointless bit of Arsenal trivia) was dominant enough in the air to handle all those assuredly. Saka tried his best, and maybe a few years from now when he is at his absolute peak he will be able to manufacture a moment of pure individual magic in a match like this to haul us back into contention when we are playing this poorly, but even his best efforts didn’t create enough to swing back the momentum. He did bring out a good save from Navas, and Jorginho had an attempt from a corner that was deflected over. Martin – so often the orchestrator extraordinaire, demonstrating abilities, desire and intelligence – and Trossard both were disappointingly well below their best, and the well-known limitation in Jesús’s otherwise well-rounded game, the inconsistency in his ability to create scoring chances for himself even when things are not going well, did not help. 

We earned a flurry of corners that we didn’t create much from, and the only other substitution made by Mikel – Vieira for Trossard – failed to influence the game. Fabio is a wonderful talent on the ball, but the questions remain if he can really handle the pace and physicality of this league. We Arsenal fans have had seen fair share of diminutive young playmakers with supreme abilities on the ball, and even though you would choose none of them to defend you in a fistfight, on the football pitch they were not at all easy to push off the ball the way Vieira is. I am sure Mikel’s coaching staff have a special plan for him in pre-season. 

As the game ended in the loss that ended our title challenge – and the Forest fans and player erupted in joy at their own survival in the top flight – and much of the football media started to masticate on regurgitated cliches, I myself have nothing but love, pride and admiration for this team. Not many people are mentioning the immensity of their achievement, the fact that we are likely to end up with a points total that is bettered only by one other team in Arsenal’s glorious history, a points total that in an era of a more level-playing field of financially un-doped teams would have been more than adequate to win the league, that while the pre-season predictions had us mostly outside the CL positions we had secured Champions League football with weeks to spare, that we had played some of the most scintillating, innovative, enterprising football the league has ever seen, and put on more remarkable comeback performances in one season than most clubs would need a few decades to combine. All with the youngest team in the league, and the youngest (or second youngest) manager in his first managerial job.

Thank you Arsenal! Looking forward to an old-fashioned final day thumping of Wolves, and the continued upward curve in the seasons to come. 

In a parallel universe, Everton thrashed City last weekend, we beat Brighton, and hopes of a Premier League title remain vibrant. In the harsh reality of the City Ground, Nottingham, late Saturday afternoon, a crestfallen team must pick itself up, knowing that anything less than a win against the hosts will hand the blue Mancs the title that evening — and the first leg of the treble they are so expensively chasing — without having to kick a ball and that even a win will only require them to beat Chelsea at the Emptihad the next day.

Once the final two games are done, there will be time to reflect on what might have been and needs to be done. For now, the best we can hope is that Arteta’s tyros use their final two outings of the season to lay down a marker of intent for next term. Out with a bang, not a whimper, is the rallying cry.

The last time a Forest preview fell my way was in January 2022. It was a prelude to a shock 1-0 FA Cup Third Round defeat. I noted that the hosts, resurgent after a terrible start to their Championship season, could well be promoted to the Premiership for the first time since 1998-99. They are now clinging to that new-found status, occupying 16th place, three points above the drop zone. Survival is in their own hands, but they will go into the match knowing they will need four points from their final two games to be sure of staying up, although one draw would do it if Leeds and Leicester both lose this weekend.

Manager Steve Cooper, who worked magic last season following Chris Houghton’s sacking after taking a single point from Forest’s first seven games, made 30 changes — yes, 30 — to his squad on winning promotion, although a lengthy succession of injuries — ten is the current count — has trimmed the available number.

Of those we faced in the Cup in January 2022, only Brennan Johnson will likely be in the Forest squad, let alone start on Saturday. Goal scorer Lewis Grabban was one of those let go and is now without a club. That said, only Ben White, Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka are likely to survive from our side that day, which featured a back four of Cedric Soares, Rob Holding, White and Nuno Tavares in front of Bernd Leno, with Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari and Said Kolasinac on the bench. So much has changed — for so much the better.

A bit of history

We avenged the Cup defeat in the home league game last October, 5-0. That was the first time we had scored five against Forest since the final day of 1960 when we beat them 3-5 at the City Ground, David Herd scoring a hat-trick. 

The historical curiosity of that game was that it was Frank O’Neill’s debut. Who, I hear you ask. You could be forgiven for missing the rest of his career. The Irish right-winger made his last and only other appearance in the Football League against Blackpool in April 1961. He then returned to Ireland, enjoying a long career with Shamrock Rovers and winning 20 caps for Ireland, still the most by a player at a League of Ireland club.

In both games, O’Neill came in for the injured Danny Clapton, who in November 1958 played for England against Wales in Birmingham and Arsenal against Juventus at Highbury on the same day, as did Jack Kelsey, who had been in goal for Wales. A police escort from Euston got the two men to Highbury three minutes before kick-off. And modern players complain about being overplayed!

The opposition

Cooper reverted to the three-man defence for last weekend’s draw at the Bus Stop, a formation that served him well in the Championship but which he largely eschewed in the Premiership until of late. However, the word from our monk on the banks of the Trent is that against us, he will deploy the 4-3-3 that brought the crucial win over Southampton two weeks ago. Four at the back and no wingbacks make room for Johnson to play alongside Morgan Gibbs-White and joint-top scorer Taiwo Awoniyi in attack. Johnson’s pace will be key if Forest is to get behind our high defensive line. Now that the well-oiled blue Mancs and chip-stealing Seagulls have shown that playing rope-a-dope at the back and then going long is a way to beat our high press, every man and his dog will try it.

In midfield, expect Ryan Yates, Orel Mangala and Danilo, the in-form young Brazilian who arrived in January from Palmeiras and scores more goals than might be expected of a DM. They will be ahead of a back four of ex-Spud Serge Aurier, the veteran Brazilian Felipe, also a January arrival, from Atletico Madrid, Moussa Niakhate, a French-born Senegal international, and Renan Lodi, another Atletico alumnus. Ex-PSG and Real Madrid stopper Keylor Navas will be between the sticks; Dean Henderson is on a long-term-injured list that includes Neco Williams, Scott McKenna, Jack Colback, Omar Richards, Giulian Biancone and Chris Wood. Yes, you can’t see Wood for the Forest (I’ll get my coat!)

However, watch for Niakhate’s long, looping throws into the penalty area. They caused Liverpool and Chelsea some grief.

The Arsenal

Will Arteta let his stalwarts atone for their Brighton disappointment? Or will he shuffle the pack? I have no idea. Martinelli and Zinchenko join Saliba, Tomiyasu and Elneny as off-games for the rest of the season.

Without Zinchenko and KT3 not being a one-for-one substitute, we struggle to control the midfield, especially with Partey so off-form that he cannot get into the starting XI. Xhaka has to play deeper, where his lack of pace is more exposed, and Ødegaard becomes more muted. It might be time for more than a bit-part role for ESR. Yet, it is difficult to see where he would fit in, as it increasingly does for next season, too. In his pre-game press conference, Arteta talked of players that ‘we haven’t had the best out of this season’ and ‘a few players who haven’t had the minutes or the performances’. That seems to sum up the Croydon De Bruyne.

I expect the starting XI to be:


White, Kiwior, Gabriel, Tierney

Jorginho, Ødegaard, Xhaka

Saka, Jesus, Trossard

Second place is secure, but with only two wins in our past seven games, we need to re-establish the winning habit. Did I mention that we should not end this season with a whimper?

The ‘holics pound

The game is Forest’s final home game of the season. Twenty-seven of their 34 points have been won at the City Ground, a haul that may explain why the gentlemen of the turf have us as favourites but at not particularly generous odds. There is little value in an away win unless we score four, with 4-1 at 20s. If you think Ramsdale will celebrate his contract extension with a clean sheet, you can find 4-0 at 25s. 

Enjoy the game, ‘holics, near and far.

Arsenal stumbled to a depressing and deserved defeat against a classy and very streetwise Brighton side who scored two avoidable (very avoidable) second half goals embellished by a late breakaway goal by Estupinan to earn a victory which delighted the ghastly Gary Neville. His enjoyment of Arsenal’s demise was tangible.

I have had a very strange, not to say unpleasant, last few weeks and my belief in our ability to win the title evaporated completely when we were outclassed at the Emptihad. So, the last few games have been played (for me) in a strange atmosphere where results, while ostensibly important, have been irrelevant. We’ve been certain of finishing second for a long while, but anything more exciting is out of reach. We’ve still produced encouraging moments leavened with some inexplicable ones (3-3 against Southampton).

Our game with Brighton followed Citeh’s comfortable win at Goodison and my sense from my sofa was that the atmosphere in the stadium had been killed a bit by events in Liverpool. If we had a chance, today was it and if Citeh had dropped points the Grove would have been rocking. 

Instead the game began in a soporific atmosphere. We had left out Zinchenko and retained Jorginho and within a few minutes had to replace Martinelli. The whinging Manchester turd, Gary Neville (backed up later by Roy Keane) saw much more offence in a mid-air challenge from Martinelli on Mitoma which Caicedo took umbrage to, than I did. Caicedo chopped down Martinelli a few minutes later and he was eventually replaced after 23 minutes by Trossard coming in to face his old club.

Brighton are a very capable side who dominate possession and were the more assertive side in the first half. They play possession football at speed and here we saw Mitoma skin White regularly while Caicedo provided the strength and thrust that would have been very useful to us and may be next season. Today we had a whole cluster of players who had shockers. Xhaka was pedestrian in midfield, White had no clue how to deal with Mitoma, nobody in midfield had the zip or quality to contend with Brighton. Trossard had a poor substitute appearance and Jesús lacked the physicality to take on the Brighton defence.

I will avoid reciting the litany of chances for both sides. Brighton dominated first half possession but created fewer chances although Enciso missed a great opportunity after Mitoma skinned White. Ødegaard drilled wide, Trossard had a shot deflected onto the bar and Steele saved from Jesús at the near post. The big difference between the sides was confidence. Brighton were assertive and positive; Arsenal, with Ødegaard subdued, had less rhythm and Saka who has worked incredibly hard this year seems to have lost his spark.

Arsenal’s best period was added time in the first half where they developed some momentum and saw Ødegaard and Saka go close. The referee Andy Madley confirmed the regular impression that he gives me that he is out of his depth in dealing with Premier League players. He misinterpreted several situations, and should certainly have booked Caicedo. Brighton were very quick to foul tactically (especially Enciso) but they probably felt the more comfortable of the two teams at half-time. 

Half-time Arsenal 0 Brighton 0

Arsenal began the second half quickly but soon lapsed back into the pedestrian and cautious approach we saw today. This was a cue for Brighton to dominate. They took the lead on 50 minutes when Enciso headed home from a central position with Kiwior seemingly injured after sustained pressure in the air from the Seagulls.

Arsenal 0 Brighton 1 (50 minutes ) 

Arsenal’s response was much more subdued than usual and involved a string of substitutions. Partey, Nelson, Nketiah and Smith Rowe replaced Xhaka, Jorginho, Ødegaard and Jesús. The reluctance to harness the drive that Smith Rowe gives us was hard to understand and he entered the game at a desperate stage. What are the plans for him? 

We started to take greater passing gambles and a weak flick from Trossard who had moved into midfield rebounded to Undav who lobbed Ramsdale on 85 minutes. 

Arsenal 0 Brighton 2 (85 minutes)

Neville was almost priapic as Brighton exploited the space Arsenal were leaving and may well have achieved orgasm in added time when Ramsdale pushed out a long-distance shot to Estupinan who joyfully netted. 

Arsenal 0 Brighton 3 (90 + 3 minutes) 

Arsenal’s effort did not drop and a couple of shouts for penalties (highly optimistic) went rightly unheeded by the hapless Madley. Sky seemed to want to turn the moment into a realisation that Citeh had won the title although in reality that happened weeks ago at the Etihad.

Final score – Arsenal 0 Brighton 3 

3-0 home defeats are thankfully rare and when they happen create huge concern. It is easy to overreact after a wonderful season where we have exceeded our expectations massively. But this was a poor performanceThe team seemed to lack energy, direction and personality. Partey was a bit part(ey) player today but seems to have radically lost his mojo. Xhaka was totally ineffective and the side generally lacked mobility and incisiveness. I suspect the anti-climactic atmosphere had something to do with this and this Arsenal team is still, lest we forget, a work in progress. Let’s view this result with that perspective and hope that the key deficiencies today are ones that Arteta can remedy. Certainly, despite a wonderful season there is always more to do. 

Let’s enjoy our last two matches and regard today as a blip, hopefully one from which we can learn. As for Brighton, they clearly have an extraordinary scouting system, a clear if pragmatic, tactical approach which produces exciting football and several players I’d like to see in red and white next season. I desperately hope we do not get the negative critics piling in having had to wait patiently for months to round on Arteta. Premier League football is demanding and I think we can excuse one shocker. But a good end to the season is very much required after this.

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