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We have a new author in our stable, aka CER The Younger. Welcome, 21st Century Gooner!

Courtesy of womblesofficial.com

The Gunners take on AFC Wimbledon on Wednesday night in the third round of the Carabao Cup. We can probably expect a heavily rotated side, as after picking up back-to-back wins and clean sheets following the international break the pressure has eased on Mikel Arteta somewhat. This coupled with the fact that we have a meeting with that lot down the road on the weekend. But that’s not to say the boss will take the visitors lightly. We have already seen that Arteta is a man who takes the cup competitions seriously. Since being appointed in 2019 he has enjoyed a good record in non-premier league games. We, of course, won the FA Cup in 2020 after beating Manchester City and Chelsea, won the Charity Shield a few weeks later and made the semi-finals of the Europa champions league last season. At the same time, we can hope to see a couple of the lads from Hale End get a run out.

But what do we know about our South West London visitors other than they live underground, overground wombling free? Well, they are a relatively new club, having risen from the ashes of the former Wimbledon FC in 2002 after their controversial relocation to Milton Keynes 50 miles north of their SW17 home. Their fans were understandably furious about this, so they decided to do something about it, forming the phoenix club AFC Wimbledon. They had to begin at the bottom way down in the ninth tier of the English football pyramid. They have been promoted an impressive six times since then and since 2016 they have plied their trade in league one (that’s division three in old money) just two divisions below the Premier League. Impressive. They also have the record of being the only club in the football league formed in the 21st century. So, despite their brief history, this is a club with great pride in their club and what they have achieved. We can expect to see a side with a lot of togetherness and fighting spirit, who will be eager to compete and not just happy to be playing top class opposition (now we’ve stormed to the dizzy heights of 13th). That said this is a game we really should be winning.

But what kind of team can we expect to see? Arteta surprised many with his strong selection in the previous round with Aubameyang, Pepe and Saka all starting. We romped to a 6-0 win that night although this was partially because West Brom played the kids. We will not get that benefit against this AFC Wimbledon side, with many of their players quite possibly viewing this game as a chance to put themselves in the shop window. Following Leno being usurped by Aaron Ramsdale for the PL team, it is more than likely the German will start in goal. At the back it may well be the out of favour Cedric Soares on the right-hand side with the chuckle brothers, Holding and Mari in the middle. Then on the left it’s a toss-up between the dynamic and rangy Tavares and part-time minder Sead Kolasinac. Bearing in mind we have just signed the former and are trying to offload the latter you would expect Arteta to go with the Portugal U-21 international.

Onto the midfield. Will it be 4-3-3? For the first time in a long while on Saturday, the boss went with his preferred 4-3-3 which was effective in the first half before waning in the second half as the Ginger Testicle’s Orcs set about playing the Tony Pulis school of neanderthal football. Much like they say, “Thursday is the new Friday”, Burnley are the new Stoke. Anyway, I digress. It is likely that we will see the Egyptian Pirlo sitting in the middle of the park orchestrating the game with his five yards sideways passing to the centre backs. We may well see one of Ainsley Maitland Niles or Albert Sambi Lokonga sitting next to Elneny with both players coming on as second half substitutes at Turf Moor. It will be interesting to see who plays in the creative midfielder role. It is unlikely Arteta will want to risk either Emile Smith Rowe or Martin Odegaard ahead of next week’s derby but if not highly rated 17-year-old Charlie Patino may get a run out. The teenager impressed in the U-21’s 2-1 defeat at Swindon in the Papa John’s last week and many scouts have said that he is set to go down “the Phil Foden route”, where instead of being a flat track bully in youth football he will be given opportunities with the first team. How soon those chances will present themselves remains to be seen, but he is certainly tipped for a very bright future. Clearly the BFG is making sure these kids are eating their Weetabix.

Up front, Arteta has a plethora of options. Hopefully we see Martinelli on the left, with a bit of luck the Brazilian can get a goal or two to kickstart his season. Up top it may well be Lacazette leading the line. The Frenchman has rarely got a look in this season due to a combination of Covid and falling out of favour. He will almost certainly be leaving on a Bosman at the end of the campaign so in all fairness it would make more sense to play those who are part of the long-term project. So again, it could be anyone out of the Frenchman or Nketiah or Balogun who has returned to academy football since that chastening evening at Brentford. There’s the classic, too good for youth football but not ready for topflight football. Quite the dilemma. A loan to a top half championship club and regular first team action would do him the world of good. Then we could see Pepe on the right perhaps. He has had a strange start to the season, but he is finally getting a regular run of games this year it seems. Again, Arteta will not want to run the risk of an injury to a key player ahead of such a huge game, but we are lacking in right wingers with Nelson off in Holland on loan.

So, it is all set up to be an interesting evening under the lights in N5. A chance for those who can’t regularly attend to go and watch their heroes in action and another chance for Arsenal to continue the momentum ahead of the derby. COYG!

Photo credit: Gooner fanzine editor and journalist @laythy29

I like 3pm away day kick offs, even when a 380 mile round trip is part of the day. You don’t have to get up in the middle of the night, and you’re home in time to watch Match Of The Day. We left St Ives on a glorious morning at around 9am. A splendid breakfast was taken in an American Diner on the A1 somewhere near Newark. After a trouble free journey we found ourselves rolling into Burnley not long after 1pm. To pick up our tickets we had been told to go to Burnley Cricket Club, home of the great Jimmy Anderson, the Burnley Lara. A ten minute stroll and we were there, with the Gooner travelling faithful enjoying themselves in the sun and boosting the bar takings for BCC.

A beer and some greetings to friends old and new (including the guy who sells the Gooner under the railway bridge on the Hornsey Road) and it was time to walk the five minutes to the ground (as the picture shows, it really is right next door to Turf Moor). In we went. The picture at the top of this piece shows the Arsenal fans taking up half of the stand behind the goal at one end, with what proved to be the most vociferous Burnley fans by the side of us, kept apart only by a thin dividing line. More of this anon. 

We had all been delighted by the team announced. The same back five as against Norwich, Partey holding and then a very attacking front five of Pepe, Saka, Odegaard, Auba and ESR. The gladiators came onto the pitch, weirdly, from different ends of the ground. Sean Dyche, hot from his new four year contract, strutted across the grass to his dugout in a bright white shirt and looked King of all he surveyed.

We started brightly, with Tierney frequently in action on the left and Pepe seeing a lot of ball on the right. Partey was looking imperious in midfield, shrugging off tackles and making intelligent passes into space. At our end, although Burnley were pumping in crosses to Wood, we dealt with them well, Ramsdale frequently coming and catching, not punching the ball. Bob Wilson would have been delighted. On the half hour, we saw the first really significant move from Saka. He picked up the ball just inside the Burnley half and ran straight at the Burnley defence, who scattered in panic. He was just shaping to shoot when he was cynically chopped down by Westwood. 

Three players gathered around the ball, Partey, Pepe and Odegaard. We were right behind the ball, and so had a great view as Odegaard stepped up and delivered a fabulous shot, up and over the wall and right into the top corner, giving Pope no chance. A real moment of magic, of fabulous quality, which brought back memories of Santi at Wembley. The Arsenal faithful went absolutely ballistic – to the extent that your correspondent was sent sprawling into the next row. Many came to my rescue as my 16 stone was hauled back into position. Thanks guys!

We saw out the first half and took a one nil lead into the interval. 

Burnley had clearly had a half time talking to from the ginger testicle because they came out with more purpose. The centre backs, Tomi and Partey continued to mop up the crosses, with Ramsdale again dealing well and confidently with anything coming his way. But we were struggling to get out. We bypassed the first press with ease, but kept losing the ball around the half way line, inviting Burnley back onto us. On 60 minutes, White, who had done well in the air, but struggled with his distribution, turned and passed back to Ramsdale. The pass was woefully short and as Ramsdale came charging out at Vydra. He took a tumble and Taylor gave the penalty. Ramsdale furiously disputed the decision and VAR invited Taylor to take another look. Now when the ref is invited to go and look at the screen, it’s usually a sign that he is being asked to overturn his decision. So it proved. Ramsdale had just got a touch on the ball (MOTD showed me) and so, correctly, no penalty. We had the incredibly pleasant sight of Dyche standing, hands on hips, looking furious. The travelling faithful greeted this with joy and hilarity. The local faithful, to our left, rather less so.

It was at that point that it kicked off. No, not on the field, but in the stand. Plastic bottles were hurled across the dividing line and threats were loudly exchanged. The stewards, caught in an unenviable position, struggled to contain it. I have no idea who started it, but both sides were giving it plenty. Yes it was largely harmless plastic bottles and coffee cups, but the lad in front of me was hit (fortunately in the chest and not the head) by a 10mm spanner. Who brings a spanner to a football game? I avoided any damage, but was hit by a packet containing stuffed olives; cheese and what I think were sun dried tomatoes. I could be wrong, but I think it was friendly fire. I’m not sure if Burnley even has a Waitrose! 

Meanwhile on the pitch, our gallant defenders continued to repel all boarders. Ramsdale made one incredible save. Up front, Burnley’s increasing desperation was leaving counter attack possibilities for us. But it just wasn’t clicking. We butchered half a dozen three on two positions. ESR did get sight of goal, but shot weakly. Time and again we tried intricate passes that were mispaced or misplaced, or our close control was poor and the chance was wasted.  I saw a bit of the later Villa game on the way home, in a pub in Doncaster where we were having some supper. Two of Villa’s three goals came from shooting when they had sight of goal. Our lads kept refusing to put their laces through the ball. We need to sort this out. 

Well, as you know, we saw it through. Gabriel, Ramsdale and Tomi were simply magnificent. Standing up to the physical challenge, putting their bodies on the line, apart from that Ben White backpass we never looked like crumbling in the face of the onslaught. I read somewhere that we had 75 successful challenges in the game.  Partey was excellent until he came off (he and KT3 were apparently cramping and were replaced by Lokonga and Tavares. ESR seemed to pick up a knock and was replaced by AMN.) I give Odegaard more than a pass because of that sublime goal, but Saka, ESR, Pepe and Auba had poor games. 

Also, plastic bottle throwing apart (which evidently continued after the game), the away fans were magnificent, as they have been in all the games this season. Very loud and constantly supportive. This was a day for cheering crosses headed away, tackles made and blocks put in, rather than beautiful football around the opposition penalty area. 

I would have taken a one nil win away to Burnley like a shot before the game. Now we have a midweek Carabao Cup home game against AFC Wimbledon (will we see Patino?) before the NLD next weekend.

Now, how do you get olive and tomato stains out of a t-shirt?

Embed from Getty Images

Arsenal’s old faces surround a Burnley player at Turf Moor in February 2020

To say that Arsenal are a club and a team in transition these days is about the most definitive thing you can say about them.  That is why I chose the particular photo I chose for this piece.  It was only a couple of seasons ago when all of those faces featured prominently from week to week in the Arsenal team.  But not one of those players now remains a fixture in this Arsenal team.  True, one or two of them may still be out on loan, or still with the club in the case of a few others, but the turnover we have seen in key personnel since Mikel Arteta was appointed head coach is head-spinning, to say the least.  Realistically, of the pictured outfield players from 19 months ago, and with Lacazette having turned 30 near the end of last season, only Martinelli can still be considered a potentially important player in Arsenal’s medium- or long-term future.

But to focus on the matter at hand, Turf Moor will be the venue of this fifth fixture of Arsenal’s young season.  Considering the post-interlull period only, following our opening trifecta of defeats, Arsenal play only their second match with a reunited group of players aiming to reset their season onto a more stable course.  Having just managed to coax a magic three points out of last Saturday’s home match against rock-bottom Norwich City, Arsenal at least come into this match knowing they have won and scored a (solitary) goal in the league this season.

Arsenal XI

This Summer Arsenal spent a reported £140 in transfer fees on new signings including Ramsdale, White, Sambi, Tavares, Tomi and Odegaard, so Mikel Arteta will be tempted to give all of them minutes to figure out how they can best help improve the team.  But the way he used the new players last Saturday provides some clue going forward.  Against Norwich Arteta opted for a back four of Tierney, Gabriel, White and Tomi.  But this weekend the Gunners will likely face a much more physical battle so Arteta could shift his formation to include an extra centre-back.  If that is the case the flexible Tomi could shift over one spot to help with the high balls Burnley can be expected to launch into the area.  Another player of considerable flexibility, AMN, could move into a right wing-back spot in front of Saka, who could be alternating wings with Smith Rowe either side of playmaker Odegaard.  We should expect our Gabonese talisman to take his spot up top as the lone striker and wing-back Tierney to cover the flank and provide an array of crosses on the left.

Also in contention for a midfield berth is Sambi Lokonga, and Nicolas Pepe could be a useful attack-minded substitute if we need a late goal or two.

Ramsdale

Tomi  White  Gabriel

AMN  Thomas  Tierney

Saka  Odegaard  Smith Rowe

Aubameyang

The opposition

Burnley last played on Monday evening against Everton so the Gunners will try to take advantage of their two extra days rest since playing Norwich on Saturday.  The Clarets’ defence at Everton, which looked strong enough until halftime, suffered a collective second half collapse when the Toffees suddenly became an attacking juggernaut with three goals in six minutes shortly after Burnley took a 1-0 lead.  So the open question now is, Will Arsenal be able to exploit the Clarets’ defensive frailties as effectively as the Toffees were able to do?

If there’s any remaining doubt about what sort of match Arsenal can expect, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp gave some indication after his club’s August game against Burnley when he observed: “If you like that sort of thing, watch wrestling.”  Somewhat worryingly, as it should be for the more reasonable folk among us, Sean Dyche responded to Klopp’s wrestling comment by pointing out that Mike Dean “didn’t book anyone. So it is quite bizarre … how [Klopp] could suggest there were some untoward challenges.”

The referees neglected to give Burnley a single red card last season, in contrast to the five (5) red cards they awarded to Arsenal.  So far this season they have already given Arsenal one red card (Xhaka at Manchester City) in four games played while they have again given Burnley the sum total of zero despite Tarkowski’s red card-worthy challenge on Richarlison last week.  Let’s hope they choose Turf Moor as the site to begin rectifying their wrongs.  Anthony Taylor will referee the match, and Lee Mason will be the all-knowing VAR official.

The Clarets are sniffing and snorting to find a path toward a better start than last season when they managed to win only one of their opening 10 Premier League games before improving thereafter to avoid relegation, and finishing in 17th position.  To this point the Clarets have made another slow start on their sixth season in the top flight with Sean Dyche at the helm.  They suffered a home defeat to Brighton and an away defeat at Liverpool before tallying their only point in a home draw with Leeds and then slipping again in the away defeat at Everton.

Burnley have managed to improve on Arsenal’s attacking frailty so far, with three goals to their credit (Tarkowski header against Brighton, Wood rebound strike against Leeds and Mee header at Everton).  But the Clarets are joint next to last in the table, and one of only four clubs, along with Leeds, Newcastle and Norwich, with a points total lower than Arsenal.  It doesn’t do much to reassure me that this game will be straightforward but Burnley have won just four of their last 23 league games, having drawn six and lost the rest.  

The ‘holic pound

Arsenal’s defenders will certainly need to keep an eye on Chris Wood, who has been involved in 12 of Burnley’s last 17 league goals, with nine goals and three assists, and is likely to score Burnley’s only goal. Did I mention that we should watch out for their set pieces? If we do a reasonable job on those Burnley is not likely to score more than the one.

Optimism must be running high in the Arsenal side, with all the new faces contributing to the cause and the chance to go on an actual winning streak, there can be no thinking about a draw or a loss.  I’m predicting Burnley 1-3 Arsenal, with a grinning Gabonese and a downbeat Dyche walking off the Turf Moor pitch at the end of this one.  

Enjoy every moment you can, ‘holics.

Slightly blurry image courtesy of Countryman 100, taken from the North Bank

My thanks to Dr Faustus for his excellent and erudite preview which set the scene nicely. So the car was pointed down the M11 towards The Emirates. I parked up about 2pm and strolled to the ground. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and there was an excited buzz in the air. As I walked in through gate D, there was a huge roar. Distinguished old boy Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace had just gone two up against our undistinguished neighbours down the Tottenham High Road. Attaboy Paddy. The Vieira chant rang round the concourse. 

Now part of the joy of this blog is the occasional meet up with fellow Arsenal fanatics, especially those who are long time contributors to this fine emporium. This time it was a great pleasure to meet Steve T. Longtime friend of our founding Father, Dave Faber, he was there with his son Ben. Steve’s season tickets are just three blocks away from mine. We learnt that we shared a passion about cricket as well as Arsenal, and also discovered that all three of us either were (me and Steve) or was currently (Ben) wicketkeepers! We shared reminisces of our favourite glovemen. Steve comes originally from the West Country and knew Jack Russell, via Stroud CC. “Mad as a bag of spanners but what a player.”

The clock was creeping towards 3pm so I made my way to block seven and walked down the steps into the sun filled stadium. Aaron Ramsdale had been preferred to Bernd Leno in goals (good) and, following on from the very warm welcome we gave him against WBA, greeted the North Bank like a long lost friend, a gesture that was warmly reciprocated. Our debutant, whom I will call Tomi-san (from Osaka Matt’s current homeland) graced the right back birth, White and Gabriel were the centre back pairing, Lokonga and AMN were the midfield duo (hurray, no Xhaka, thanks to his stupid red card at Manchester City). Up front we saw Ǿdegaard, Saka, Pepe and Auba.

This report is of my impressions during the game. I have seen the brief highlights on MOTD, but no more and I may make mistakes. I am sure any errors will be corrected in the drinks. We started well. Lively passing and crossing, with Tomi-san covering miles up and down the right wing. Somebody put Auba clean through (Ǿdegaard?) and he was one on one with the goalkeeper. Could this be it? Tim Krull saved well. In the first 20 minutes we dominated, with Norwich rarely passing the half way line. Crosses and shots rained in, with Pepe, KT3, Tomi-san and Saka particularly involved. 

But the Canaries saw out this first period and began to get more involved in the game. Pukki was looking constantly dangerous. A cross was met by McLean and just flashed wide, probably their best moment of the game. Norwich break quickly, using wide men, but our defence stood firm, with our Japanese debutant looking good and the centre backs dealing well with any threat. Tomi, by the way, is a big old lad (for height, not weight) and looked pretty good in the air. Best right back we’ve had in the air since Sagna, was the general consensus. As the half ended, Kieran threw in a cross, it went over Pepe’s head and fell to Tomi on the volley. He hit it sweet as a nut, with great power, but just over Krull’s bar. What an entrance that would have been. 

HT: Arsenal 0-0 Norwich

The second half began and again it was all Arsenal. Buzzing around the box, forcing saves and blocks from the Norwich defence. I enjoyed seeing a free kick just outside the area and Tomi and Ben White, both over 6ft, overloading the back stick. Nothing came of it but I predict we may score a few more goals from set pieces this season. 

On 60 minutes (approximately) came the changes. Tomi came off (he only joined the club on Friday) and AMN moved to right back. ESR, held back at the start due to illness during the week, moved into attacking midfield and Thomas Partey came on for the admirable Sambi. Hopefully it won’t be long before we see them in partnership. We now had a front five consisting of Ǿdegaard (largely on the left), ESR (largely on the right) Pepe, Saka and Auba. I would argue that that’s our most creative five players all playing together. It really showed as we went up a gear and dominated the rest of the game. My mind went back to that season when Santi, Alexi and Özil were all playing well, playing little triangles round the edge of the box. This was like that, with ESR driving in straight runs and Pepe looking dangerous all the time.

Pepe is far from the world’s tidiest player but whilst he can miscontrol on occasion and choose wrong options on others, he puts the fear of God into defences. It was his contribution that led to our first goal of the season. Another interchange on the right, led to Pepe making space and swinging in a shot which Krull touched onto the far post. From there, the ball caroomed back across goal for Pepe to hit it onto the near post, from which it then bounced onto the still prone Krull who knocked it back across the goalmouth to Auba who couldn’t miss from one yard out. I have to say that Auba looked dangerously close to offside and Norwich surrounded Michael Oliver but VAR confirmed the goal. Watching later on MOTD it was clear that in the final movement, either Pepe or Krull played the ball backwards to Auba, who was therefore onside. Cue huge celebrations. 

Arsenal 1-0 Norwich (Aubamayang 66)

The crowd had been loud, magnificent and very supportive through the whole game (a point later made by Arteta) and now came into their own. After celebrating the goal, the following songs rent the air in quick succession:

One nil to The Arsenal

We scored a goal, we scored a goal, we scored a goal!

And then, reflecting the gallows humour which had been present amongst the Emirates faithful all afternoon

We are staying up, say we are staying up!

The attacks flowed on and several times Norwich defenders made Tony Adams like blocks to prevent seemingly certain goals. Auba and Pepe could both have had hat tricks, ESR could have had a couple, but the Norwich goal bore a charmed life. It was of course still only 1-0 and Norwich got a little more ambitious, bringing on a massive striker (didn’t catch his name) to whom they launched long balls. A couple of Norwich players took a tumble in the box but Michael Oliver was having none of it. I can’t really comment as it was 100 yards away. 

As the time ticked down Arteta brought on Cedric Soares for AMN (WTF?) but we safely saw the game out. Yes we had only won 1-0 and you could call it a narrow victory, but we had 30 shots on goal, 8 of them on target and really could have put 4 or 5 past them. What we have been saying, possibly more in hope than expectation, was that once we got the first team on the pitch, this would look a different team. The midfield looked so much quicker and direct without Xhaka and we pressed well. All that was missing was clinical finishing.  Hopefully that will come.

FT: Arsenal 1-0 Norwich

On to Burnley next week. 

I must admit that it is very hard to resist the temptations of wondering how significant this fourth weekend of the 2021/2022 Premier League season is going to be for the next stage of the Arsenal football club. The league, or, far more relevant to us (nowadays), the much coveted trophy of a Champions League spot, may not be won in the first weekend of September but anything less than three points would make the challenge look dispiritingly difficult staring up from the bottom of the league table. For a club with an already deliriously vocal (albeit minority) segment of the fanbase who thrive on incessant negativity in an ever amplifying feedback loop of resonance with a press not known to be kindly to Arsenal (in times both good and bad), anything other than a convincing three points at home against a newly promoted team, especially given what had transpired in the first three matches, is likely to create an atmosphere of toxicity around the club that would most likely claim a victim or two. Despite the fixity of purpose and confidence in the long-term vision — and self-confidence that they themselves will be fully trusted to execute that vision — exuded by Arteta and Edu in their latest communications, I am certain that they are also aware of how sometimes results, and results alone, matter in football. The knee-jerk reaction to results – especially in the pressure cooker of modern-day top-level football – is neither rational nor salubrious to psychological health, but tens of millions of people around the world maniacally following a group of athletes kicking around a spherical object from one side of a field to another is in itself neither a rational nor an emotionally healthy phenomenon. Just like most human pursuits of pleasure. Probably. 

If you wanted uninterrupted peace in your life, you wouldn’t be passionately following football, let alone Arsenal. 

It is to their credit that both Arteta and Edu fully accept the maddening reality of their jobs and aren’t looking for easy excuses or sympathies. And I myself would support them – while freely but constructively expressing my criticisms of their words and actions – as long as they are in their respective roles guiding Arsenal back into the upper echelons of English and European football, for I believe they do have the best intentions and while they both are evidently learning on the job, they have both demonstrated the possibility of their own growth in their respective current roles. Would their respective evolution be swift and efficient enough to satisfy the delicate balance of achieving short term results while moving steadily towards the long-term vision? I wish them the best, for if they are successful so would be Arsenal. 

If we are in need of perspectives about the fluctuating fortunes of a football club, our opponents this weekend provide a fascinating case study. One of the “yo-yo” clubs of English football in recent years, even though they had earned their first promotion to the top tier of English football only as recently as in 1972, since then they have dropped down and come back up with an uncannily consistent periodicity. Relegated in 73-74, promoted back for 75-76; relegated in 80-81, promoted back for 82-83; relegated in 84-85, promoted back for 86-87. In the premier league era, they have been promoted altogether six times, all of those coming in this millennium, often spending only one season in the Championship before coming back up, as they did for this season. 

In recent years we have enjoyed good performances against Norwich and scored possibly one of our best ever team goals, Jack Wilshere finishing off a mesmerizing string of passes exchanged with Cazorla and Giroud. There have also been memorable finishes from Ramsey in recent years, including a spectacular volley. 

Arteta had played with both Jack and Aaron, and I am sure he hopes to see that kind of inventiveness and skills from his midfield players. And we hope to see that flair and creativity, hope for that sheer joy of watching our favorite team play to be back in our Arsenal supporting lives. Hopefully starting this weekend… 

Based on the latest report all players away on international duty seem to have returned more or less unscathed. Though Emile Smith-Rowe is suffering from illness (which is not COVID – phew!), and Sambi Lokonga may have picked up a niggle while playing for Belgium. Gabriel and White – obviously Mikel’s first choice center-half pairing – both seem to be fit and have enjoyed some time together in a closed-door practice match against Brentford. Partey too has fully recovered, and a lot is expected from him this season not only as the midfield maestro but also as a key leader of the team guiding the young talents around him. 

If ESR is still recovering from illness I don’t think Mikel will take any risk with him. Even though our new (“versatile”, to quote Mikel) and ambipedal right back signing Takehiro Tomiyasu arrived safe and sound – after a starring role in helping Japan to beat China in World Cup qualifier – and obtained his work permit, I suspect this match will come too soon for him and the highly talented Hale End graduate Ainsley Maitland-Niles will get a chance to make his case once more, hopefully shaking off any remnants of the positional uncertainty that has held back his Arsenal career. If Sambi is fit I think AMN will start at right back, but if Sambi needs to recover from any niggles AMN will take the midfield pivot role alongside Partey and Chambers will play at right back. Guessing (hoping too) that Sambi is fit, and guessing that Mikel will not risk ESR at all, my predicted line-up would be:

Leno 

AMN – White – Gabriel – Tierney

Sambi – Partey   

Pépé – Ødegaard – Saka

Aubameyang

While Lacazette, Martinelli, Eddie and/or Balogun would provide attacking options from the bench, we might see “Tomi” coming on as a sub later in the game to help see the match out. 

Norwich play positive, slick football built on moving the ball fast through the lines, and credit to Daniel Farke that they never really try to focus on stifling the opposition. I think this will be an entertaining match with Arsenal making their attacking superiority count. It would be great if Arsenal can win by a big margin to recover a bit from the depressing -9 goal difference, but I think this will be a much more closely fought game for that to happen and my prediction is Arsenal winning convincingly but by a narrow margin of 3-1. 

Happy viewing everyone! Come on Arsenal!

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