Feed on
Posts
Comments

And so to St James’ Park.

Fourth place is still in our hands, if barely, after Thursday’s fiasco and Burnley’s VAR-assisted Sunday lunchtime defeat at the Armitage Shanks. With the neighbours’ remaining game being at Norwich, we need, as the Chinese say, a win-win situation,

Our renascent Monday evening hosts will be keen to sign off their final home game in style after reality-check defeats by ‘Pool and Citeh. We have no choice but to ruin the party by leaving with all three points.

Our first visit to the second-oldest ground in the Premiership was inauspicious. On September 30 1893, we were trounced 6-0, a defeat of even greater magnitude than predicted by Newcastle’s captain William Graham after the reverse fixture 28 days earlier — our historic first match in the Football League, as Woolwich Arsenal and at the Manor Field (not yet Ground) in Plumstead. 

After the 2-2 home draw — Graham claimed Arsenal’s second goal should not have stood because of offside; plus ça change — the Geordies’ skipper had fancied that, once back up North, his team would ‘prove at least four goals [Woolwich Arsenal’s] superior’. And so they did, thanks to interlaced hat-tricks by Willie Thompson and Joe Wallace. 

Our record in Gallowgate is considerably better of late, one defeat in nine visits since the infamous 4-4 draw in 2011. In those nine games, we conceded only three goals. We have not given up a goal to Newcastle anywhere since 2018 and only four since the unforgettable 7-3 win at the Emirates in 2012 when Mikel Arteta anchored a midfield of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and the Ox. 

I watched that game in a New York bar. By the end the Geordies were singing, Take your shoe off if you support the ‘Toon, while standing on one leg and waving the shoe from the other in the air. It must have been a cultural thing, or the beer.

The opposition

It had looked at one point this season as if our visit to St James’ might be the game that consigned Newcastle to relegation. The arrival of Eddie Howe and Saudi owners and their cash nullified that prospect. 

Howe has hauled the Magpies up from bottom three to mid-table safety. Spending £85m on five players in the January transfer window helped, although the most important of those arrivals, Kieren Trippier from Atletico Madrid, was almost immediately sidelined by injury. 

The Amersham Ancelotti has bought organisation, purpose and team spirit on the field, while the new owners appear to have done the same off the pitch. That must be a confusing experience for the fans of a club previously owned by Mike Ashley. 

Success on the field has washed away, if not cleansed, accusations of sports washing by the new ownership. Newcastle’s choice of green and white — the Saudi national colours — for their away kit next season may be premature.

A further sartorial footnote: Newcastle originally played in red, the colours of their antecedent club, Newcastle East End. As it happened, they played the Plumstead game in 1893 in their reserve team’s black and white striped shirts because of the colour clash. They adopted what would become their iconic first-team shirt as their own the following season. 

Howe’s Magpies will probably set up in the 4-3-3 he favours at home against sides that can be expected not to park the bus. With Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Willock, formerly of this parish, out injured for the rest of the season. Howe will likely field Sean Longstaff in midfield alongside Bruno Guimarães and Joelinton to feed the mercurial but potentially dangerous Almirón and Saint-Maximin ahead of them out wide. Either the muscular Chris Wood or the more athletic Calum Wilson will be the spearhead. 

At the back, Trippier, who, like Wilson, returned from a lengthy injury by coming on as a second-half substitute against Manchester City, will, if, judged fit enough to start, replace Emil Krafth at right back to complete a back four of Matt Targett, Dan Burn and club captain Jamaal Lascelles or Fabian Schlar. The dependable Martin Dubravka should be between the sticks. 

Issac Hayden, also formerly of this parish, is a long-term absentee following knee surgery in January.

The Arsenal

The task is straightforward: win. Then wash, rinse and repeat against the Toffees. 

With KT3 and Thomas Partey out for the season and Capitola Rob suspended for his two yellows, we look threadbare at the back, the more so if either or both of Gabriel and Ben White are unavailable. We won’t know until the team sheet is announced.

Arteta spurned two opportunities to bring on White on Thursday, first when Holding was sent off and then when our Brazilian centre back limped off with a quarter of an hour to go. Prudence, or an indication of persisting injury? Arteta’s subsequent comments suggest the later.

Saka is also a doubt, and he looks cream crackered. He has played more minutes than anyone else in the squad.

Assuming the walking wounded can be patched up to play, I would hope Arteta could send out:

Ramsdale

Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Cedric

Elneny, Xhaka

Saka, Ødergaard, Martinelli

Nketiah

Bench: Leno, Lokonga, Smith Rowe, Tavares, Pepe, Lacazette and some youngsters permed from Marcelo Flores, Charlie Patino, Salah-Eddine, Zak Swanson and Jonathan Dinzeyi, the set that trained with the first-team ahead of the game.

If Gabriel is gone in the fetlock, Plan B would be for Tomi to move to centre back, where he has played for Japan, alongside Ben White, with Tavares on the left and Cedric on the right (up against Saint-Maximin; what could go wrong?). ESR would come in for Saka, if necessary.

If both first-choice centre backs are unavailable, Plan C might be to play Tomi and Xhaka at the back — I can’t see Dinzeyi or Swanson starting a game of this consequence — flanked by Cedric and Tavares, with Lokoneny as the double six. Yikes!

This game will test Arteta’s vaunted powers of inspiration, pre-game preparation and in-game management as much as his young team’s quality, intensity, and discipline. 

Will St Totteringham’s Day arrive after an absence of six years, bringing additional blessings this year? I still hold the faith, just as the team holds its fate in its hands. The footballing gods can be cruel.

The ‘holics pound

The biscuits have us narrow odds-on favourites. There is not much value in the score betting until a 3-0 or 3-1 away win, both available at around 16s. My instinct is for a narrower and nervy win.

Courage, mes braves, near and far.

“Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams” – W.B. Yeats

Having stayed busy all day in order not to have to think about the game, around 7pm tonight, my thoughts began to turn to the great North London derbies at the predecessor to The Armitage Shanks. Of course, May ‘71 will live long in the memory whether you were there or, as in my case, were probably tucked up in bed by kick off time; December ‘78 and the 5-0 at the Lane with Brady scoring THAT goal; ‘04 and the ridiculous way that their fans treated a draw, meaning that we had won the league, as if they had achieved anything at all.   Then again, it hasn’t all been good. I was there in April ‘83 for a 5-0 drubbing followed by more than a gentle jog back the mile to Seven Sisters encouraged, as a fox by a pack of hounds, by their sweet-smelling fans. Which set of memories would be added to tonight?

The teams came out and I was delighted to see an unchanged side from the defeat of Leeds, with the return of Ben White to the bench adding weight and strength there. For their part, they were missing Romero, who has been talked up by the media and recalled Sanchez to take his place. For the first time in a while, our bench also looked the stronger with theirs seemingly populated by a series of unfamiliar names.

We started brightly, pressing them all over the pitch which was encouraging. They performed a trademark break in the 5thminute with Kulusevski being well marshalled by Gabriel and resulting in some petulance on the part of the former when he didn’t get a penalty. In many ways this was to set the tone of the evening.

Arsenal continued their bright start and in the 8th minute fashioned a chance for Saka who unfortunately slipped over. Is it me or do our players tend to slip more than others? Perhaps we can hire a studs coach to ensure the right level of grip on the pitch. I am only half joking. 

In the 10th minute, we had the first of the tussles, you can’t really describe them as more than that between Holding and Son. With Tomi playing left back, it seemed to me that Arteta, rightly, did not want to allow Son time to turn and run at Cedric so Holding was tasked with pushing right up on him when he received the ball back to goal in midfield. Son of course used this first coming together as an opportunity to roll around as though hit by a sniper when in fact it was some minor contact from Holding. Manc miserabilist Gary Neville tried to talk this up on Sky commentary, as he would and again, the tone had been set..

A couple of minutes later Son, not being allowed to get his own way, deliberately tried to wind up Holding, after some more handbags, with Holding laughing at him. Once again Neville, the high priest of fair play himself, said it ought to have resulted in a booking. This is the Gary Neville who kicked Reyes off the park. The referee was by now beginning to climb into Son’s pocket, perhaps encouraged by the vociferous crowd. 

In the 15th minute, we had an excellent break resulting from a superb ball inside the Tottenham right fullback from Xhaka to Martinelli, but it came to nought, followed in short order by a booking for Davies in the left back position deliberately clamping on Saka, having been nudged off the ball by the former and preventing a run towards goal.

Slowly though, the pendulum began to swing their way and in the 20th minute, the referee correctly gave a penalty for a pretty crass push in the back by Cedric on Son, who, clearly thinking it was Easter, had risen from the afterlife following his previous rolling around on the floor to get into a great position for a header from an excellent cross.  Kane took it and the result was never in doubt.

1-0 Spurs.

The 25th minute saw the renewed battle between Holding and Son this time resulting in a booking for Holding, with which I won’t quibble. Holding should now have been advised to minimise contact. The goal and booking had us rattled and we began to revert to sloppy play, losing the ball in poor positions as they pressed us, with Tomi making an excellent tackle to block a shot from Kane on 26.

Then the night was well and truly decided as in the 32nd minute, Holding was sent off. An aerial through ball towards Son was clearly going over both his head and that of Holding to the keeper, Ramsdale. However rather than simply watching it, Holding stepped across Kane and appeared to lean into him with his shoulder. Never one to pass up an opportunity, Son took this as his cue to roll around and the inevitable second yellow was brandished. The referee could have simply given a foul since the ball was clearly harmless and the contact was not exactly that of a Roberto Duran right hook. However, he had by now been conditioned by Son, and in fairness Holding’s impetuousness did nothing to alleviate this, to see it as a serious foul and so the die was cast.

It was then only a matter of time and Kane scored a goal from a corner, crouching to nod in a knock on, with Eddie sleeping rather than tracking his man. We had gone to pieces. 

2-0 Spurs

We staged a brief attempt at a comeback shortly before half time with what I believe was our first shot on target in the 42nd minute by Nketiah, followed by an appalling hash from Odegaard after splendid work from Martinelli in the 44th.

Half Time Sp*rs 2 Arsenal 0

The players came out for the second half and most noticeable from my perspective was that there was still no sign of Ben White. Perhaps this was Arteta mentally consigning the game to the dustbin of history. I prefer to hope this is the case, rather than that White is not yet fit enough to play. Either way, we started like an old Austin Morris after it had been parked in a field for 30 years with the lights on and conceded another soft goal in the 47th minute to our nemesis, Son. If the game were not already lost, it was now. 

Spurs 3 Arsenal 0

In truth there was little to talk about in the second half, beyond the fact that Gabriel had to go off after 79 mins with what looked like a hamstring strain. As if the evening hadn’t already treated us like an unwanted guest.

Final Score Spurs 3 Arsenal 0

Conclusions

With Gabriel going off injured, Holding banned and White seemingly not rated as fit enough, we are struggling for Monday night. At the end of the season the chickens are coming home to roost in terms of squad size, but let’s remember we have made considerable progress this season even to be in with a shout for 4th place. The other concern is that the squad needs to be smarter. Holding has been around long enough now to know what Son is all about and that the combination of noisy crowd, known play actor and weak referee would need to be managed. These are the kind of issues which the manager now has to deal with, having got rid of nearly all of the dross and built an excellent team spirit.

Onwards and northwards to Newcastle.

COYG.

The penultimate away fixture for this season takes us to the other end of the Seven Sisters Road, to finally play the COVID delayed north London derby at the Armitage Shanks Arena – that name is official, by the way – just try Googling the aforementioned arena and up pops our header photo!

We go to the Armitage Shanks four points clear of our rivals, knowing that a win will guarantee us Champions League football next season after a five year absence, and a first St. Totteringham’s Day since 2016. Chelsea sit a mere one point ahead of us as I write this, and look eminently catchable in third place. Who’da thunk that after our injury and COVID ravaged start to the season that saw us bottom of the pile after the first three games? A draw would mean we would need one more win to be sure of a top four finish, and after that it becomes too complicated and too tense to even warrant thinking about.

End of season fixtures with “top” facing “bottom” are a lottery, as top teams have to deal with the pressure of winning a seat at football’s top table and the commensurate financial gains, while those at the bottom are fighting for their lives and don’t much care how they do it. Throw in the ever present inconsistencies of the referees and VAR and a season’s dreams can go up in smoke in a few mad seconds.

I have to say I took the Arsenal’s offer of a season ticket holiday this season due to COVID, the threat of infection from a 60,000 crowd and late, overcrowded trains – but it seems I’ve missed a lot of fun. The atmosphere has clearly been much improved this season, according both to those who have been going to matches and the noisy evidence from the TV coverage. Maybe those taking the holiday have opened the door for other supporters to take their chance to attend matches, and they have enjoyed the experience, an emerging team and the new unity within the club, and have sung out loud and proud.

The Arsenal appears to be a happy club again and that is great to see after too many years of turmoil at the end of Arsene Wenger’s reign, and four years of challenging transition under Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta. Arteta has now accepted a contract extension until the end of 2025, which is great news for stability in the upcoming transfer window and the longer term plans for the club. He has done a terrific job in remodelling the squad, setting the standards for those who want to play for this club, rejuvenating the team and giving it a new identity with the way he insists on playing. It hasn’t been easy, and not always wonderful to watch, but a lot of lessons have had to be learnt and there is now the genuine prospect of something very exciting happening with his new young team.

This season has been, in Arteta’s words, “a rollercoaster” but it has certainly been more fun – so here are some links to even more fun to get us in the mood for the trip to the toilet bowl –

Dancing monkeys – on oldie but goldie, always worth a watch, and as well as Tottenham, has a dig at Chelsea too

Fine Wine – by The Laughing Gooners – an Arsenal take on the Morecombe and Wise theme, featuring some great wins over the Spuds, and others

A New Generation – an absolutely brilliant video and soundtrack (Sweet Disposition, by The Temper Trap) telling the story of this season. If you don’t mind a large lump in your throat and tears in your eyes, watch this!
(there is probably an advert to clear first)

The Angel – by Louis Dunford If there’s anyone who still doesn’t know, this is Louis Dunford’s autobiographical song about the Arsenal, the surrounding area and what growing up in it means to him. There’s a lot of hope that at least the chorus of this song could become the new Arsenal anthem. Enjoy!

The Teams

It appears to be only Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey who will be unavailable for us. Ben White and Bukayo Saka are both ok. I imagine Tomiyasu will revert to right back to defend against Son, so the decision for the manager is whether to move Cedric to left back for his experience, or go with Tavares in his more natural position?

Update: White and Saka to face late assessments – dot com saying today (11/5) there are some doubts about the pair. I would expect Holding and Smith-Rowe to come in if necessary – not Pepe after last weekend.

Granit Xhaka and Mo Elneny look certain to continue in central midfield – the latter has just signed a new contract until 2025, which completes for him a remarkable comeback from his loan spell at Besiktas. Not many players re-establish themselves having been told they should look for a new club, but he has stepped in at a crucial time for us and played really well. He is an uncomplaining, loyal squad member and deserves his extension on current form. My main worry, in what is bound to be a fierce encounter, is that Xhaka will retaliate against a bit of treatment designed to wind him up and get sent off. Please, please just don’t. Rob Holding also deserves a shoutout for the way he has played while Ben White was injured. Another uncomplaining, solid squad member, and I hope he will be here next season to complete our compliment of centre backs with a returning William Saliba.

In attack it seems unlikely that Mikel Arteta will deviate from his recent first choice quartet of Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli and Nketiah. I would expect this side to start –

Ramsdale; Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Cedric; Elneny, Xhaka; Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli; Nketiah.

Tottenham are definitely without the quartet of Reguilon, Doherty, Tanganga and Skipp for the rest of the season. Harry Kane will hopefully be suffering mentally from the knock-back of knowing that Manchester City, where he’s yearned to be for almost two years now, have signed Erling Haaland, so he’s maybe looking at yet another year of trophy-less life in the toilet bowl. I have also taken the liberty of sending a little gift to Son Heung-Min. It’s a specially prepared lasagna from spin-off recipe box company Hello Not So Fresh!

😏

The Holic Pound

Paddy Power have Spurs at 11/10 to win, Arsenal at 23/10 and 5/2 the draw. Ladbrokes make Spurs 21/20 favourites to win, with Arsenal at 5/2 to win the match but 2/5 to finish in the top four. Our new striking sensation Eddie Nketiah is quoted at 14/1 to net at least twice, 5/1 to be first goal scorer, and 2/1 to get on the score sheet at any time.

Match referee

Paul Tierney has been appointed referee for this one. That’s the same referee who didn’t send Harry Kane off for this – if you like old bollocks, there’s a lot of it being talked right here by Dermot Gallagher (tap to unmute).

Cross everything you can right now, especially as the VAR is …. wait for it …. the referee who danced an outrageous little jig when the Spuds scored against Arsenal at The Emirates …. yes ! it’s Mike Dean!

The game kicks off on Thursday 12th May at 19.45 UK time, and is on TV on Sky Sports. By 22.00hrs we could be back in the Champions League.

🤞🏻👍🏻🤞🏻

Come on you Reds!

It was about 2pm on a glorious sun kissed afternoon at the Emirates when it came. The Arsenal big flag had been up and down the North Bank as the teams ran out and then, as they huddled, over the PA came Louis Dunford’s ‘The Angel’. As the chorus began, the whole crowd joined in.

North London Forever
Whatever the weather
These streets are our own
And my heart will leave you never
My blood will forever
Run through the stone

This song had gone viral amongst the Arsenal fanbase in the last few weeks and many, including your correspondent, would love to see it as our anthem. It’s about Islington rather than Arsenal. But You’ll Never Walk Alone doesn’t mention Liverpool FC and Sunshine on Leith doesn’t mention Hibs. Dunford is a local lad and an Arsenal fan and it’s nice to have something come up via the fans rather from the top down (like that dreadful dirge The Wonder of You in the early Emirates years). When I shared this a few days ago, it brought back evocative memories from our ex pat Gooners like bt8 and North Bank Ned.

The other emotional thing yesterday was the celebration of the 70/71 double winning team, a year on from their 50thanniversary but delayed because of Covid. In attendance were Bob Wilson. Charlie George, Eddie Kelly, Sammy Nelson, George Graham, Pat Rice and Captain Fantastic, Frank McLintock. You will recall that this blog went big on the 50th anniversary last year (well most of us are old enough to have been there) and our interview with Bob and Pat is still available on the top bar. Sadly the club messed up the presentation of the players. It was short, perfunctory and, to be frank, not well handled by Arsenal. Ah well!

So, to the football. As the teams lined up the surprising thing was not that Super Tomiyasu had replaced Nuno in the team but that he was playing at left back, obviously to counter the dangerous Raphina. The team started like a train, perhaps buoyed up by the very vocal support. We poured down the left flank again and again and pressed hard. After 9 minutes Luke Ayling (of whom more anon) played a shallow back pass to the Leeds goalkeeper, Meslier. He should have put it into row Z, but took a touch, miscontrolled, and Eddie was on him like a cheetah on a gazelle, tackling the ball into the net. I thought this was a key point in the game, making both the goalie and the Leeds team very nervous. 

Martinelli was giving Luke Ayling a torrid afternoon. He was played in to the left bye-line where he slalomed past several Leeds players before delivering a cutback to Eddie who swept the ball in with his left foot. Great run, great finish, great goal. Two nil up in 11 minutes. 

A few minutes later Gabi again received the ball on the left, this time a strongly hit pass that he did well to keep in by the corner flag. The former Arsenal player, Ayling dashed in and jumped two footed at Gabi who was probably lucky not to be badly hurt. The ref came over and gave a yellow card, a brain dead decision that was shortly changed to a red by VAR via a ref review. Off he went and rightly so. Leeds have the highest number of yellow and red cards in the whole Prem, a new record. “you dirty Northern bastards” sang the crowd. Dirty Leeds indeed. 

So, a quarter of the game gone, 2-0 up and Leeds down to ten men. Surely this would be the day we knocked in five or six and improved our goal difference? Er, no! We made chance after chance but butchered them all. Eddie could have had his hat-trick. Ødegaard and Martinelli should have added the third in the second half. All were missed and then with 25 minutes to go, Leeds won their first corner of the match. Despite the fact that we have been one of the best teams in the league at defending corners, the ball fell to an unmarked Llorente on the back post where, with Leeds first shot, he pummelled it past Ramsdale. 

Well it all got a bit nervy after that. Leeds didn’t make clear chances, but won another corner. Meslier was urged forward into the box. The ball was cleared and fell to Pepe on the half way line, with an open goal at his mercy and only Dan James near him. Instead of pushing the ball forwards and making it a foot race, he tried to check inside James who dispossessed him. 

There was one final free kick for Leeds at the half way line. Pumped into the box with the Leeds goalkeeper again sent forward, it bobbled around and there was a half chance  for Leeds before Ramsdale grabbed it, gratefully. And that was pretty much that. We needed to win, we had won and are now 4 points clear of Spurs with three games to go and the NLD on Thursday. Win then and a Champions League place is ours and St Totteringham can begin singing.

At this end of the season it’s the results that matter, not the form. But I thought Eddie and Gabi were outstanding, as was Tomi (my how we have missed him) and Elneny (new contract please) and Xhaka ran midfield, with the much vaunted Phillips reduced to defending instead of creating. 

As we filed out, the chorus of The Angel was played again. We all joined in. 

An emotional day indeed.

We got good news this week in the announcement that Arsenal’s Guipuzcoan guvnor Mikel Arteta received a two year contract extension that sees him commit his future to the club through 2025, putting the club on a solid managerial footing for the next three seasons.  Arteta’s leadership has brought Arsenal, after a five year absence, to the brink of a Champions League return next season with four games left to play starting Sunday against Leeds United.  Honing in on this week’s challenge Arteta said on Friday that Leeds “obviously are going to show how much they want to get out of [the relegation] zone […but for] us, it’s the defining moment of the season, after everything we’ve done, we want to capitalise on what we’ve done in the last nine or 10 months.”  Reflecting on last week’s ‘ugly’ win at West Ham, he added: “Hopefully, we can play better than what we did.  It’s true as well that we did a lot of good things in that game to earn the right to win it. The way we competed, the way we managed the strengths of West Ham.”  With that result Arsenal ensured themselves no less than a fifth place finish and a spot in next year’s Europa League so one of Arteta’s presumed targets for this season has already been met. 

If Arsenal can defeat Leeds it would extend their lead over Spurs to four points, or one point fewer than we hoped before Spurs’ surprise draw at Liverpool on Saturday.  Going into the final three games the Gunners would need only three draws to finish in fourth and secure a Champions League berth.  If the Gunners are then able to draw at Tottenham on Thursday that lead would loom large with only the Newcastle and Everton fixtures remaining, and with Spurs to play Burnley and Norwich.  But that is cutting it very thin indeed so anything less than three points against Leeds is nothing we want to see.

Hopefully the added goal threat of Eddie Nketiah can help Arsenal stretch defenses enough to make up a deficit or two in our remaining games if we find ourselves in that situation.  Nketiah failed to score at West Ham but did a lot of other things well, making our attack considerably more dangerous overall.  As Lewis Ambrose reported at Arseblog, Eddie had more touches than Alex Lacazette recorded in any Premier League game so far this season.   Nketiah carried the ball almost double the distance of Lacazette’s single game high, and had four shots on target whereas Lacazette had no more than two in any game.  Also, Nketiah’s total of 25 completed passes was bettered by the Frenchman just twice in 20 Premier League starts.  But all strikers are judged ultimately by their ability to stick the ball in the net, and we haven’t seen Eddie do that consistently enough.  That is not to say that Lacazette or Auba were scoring consistently either, but Arsenal may need Eddie to find his scoring boots in the next few games, and especially if our attacking “troika plus one” of Tavares, Xhaka, Holding and Gabriel fails to come through as they did so surprisingly in our last two matches.

The dirty opposition

December’s reverse fixture provided the Gunners with possibly the easiest three points they picked up this season.  Thanks to two goals by Martinelli and one each by Saka and Smith Rowe, at Elland Road Arsenal cruised to a 4-1 win over an injury-hit Leeds side in that week’s only league game not postponed due to Covid-19.  Leeds will be out for vengeance, but more significantly they are still kicking and scratching for Premier League safety.  New manager Jesse Marsch succeeded Marcelo Bielsa at the end of February with the side two points above the relegation zone, and the Yorkshiremen went on a five match undefeated streak until Manchester City’s 4-0 win at Elland Road last Saturday.  Leeds had lost Marsch’s first two matches in charge, but then defeated Norwich, Wolves and Watford, and drew with Southampton and Crystal Palace.  When Bielsa was sacked Leeds had the leakiest defence in the league with 60 goals conceded in 26 games but since Marsch took over the reins, Leeds’ defence has been considerably more solid, conceding only eight times in seven games until last week.  Their goal difference, which was -30 at the time Marsch began, is still only -34 so the new manager seems to have made a positive impact on their competitiveness.  But it will be essential for the Gunners to be combative, keeping in mind that Leeds are still fighting for their Premier League livelihood.  After Everton’s surprise win against Chelsea, Leeds now sit just two points above the relegation zone.

Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier has the most saves of any Premier League keeper this season.  The outfield team that has featured in recent weeks includes ex-Arsenal youth player Luke Ayling at right back, two of the rotating trio of center backs Diego Llorente, Pascal Struijk and Liam Cooper, with left back Stuart Dallas who suffered a leg fracture in last week’s game.  Marsch will need to find a replacement for the player who one Leeds fan said has been the glue that helped hold the side together.  Leeds could start with English international Kalvin Phillips in defensive midfield and Mateusz Klich in central midfield with Brazil international Raphinha on the right wing, ex-Manchester United winger Daniel James on the left, and Rodrigo and Jack Harrison playing central attacking roles.  Striker Patrick Bamford is still out with injury as he has been for nearly the entire season so Marsch is desperate to find goals in the absence of Bamford and Stuart Dallas.

Arsenal XI

It would be nice to see Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey make miracle returns from their injuries but that looks like it isn’t going to happen for the rest of the season so that leaves Arsenal with the same team that, perhaps with a hint of smoke and mirrors, has been doing the business the last few weeks:

Ramsdale

Tomiyasu  White  Gabriel  Tavares

Xhaka  Elneny

Saka  Odegaard  Martinelli

Nketiah

Come on guys, let’s see your youthful exuberance one more time.

The holics pound

Seeing as there is so much tension around this game for both clubs, I’m predicting a tight affair with one of our defenders squeezing a late winner for a brilliant one-nil to The Arsenal.  But I wouldn’t want to shut the door on an alternative scenario with a tension-releasing 5-1 with encore goal-scoring feats by the troika plus one, but adding Eddie’s late penalty to the quartet of unexpected goal scorers.  And if it doesn’t happen?  It’s not even to be considered really, but if pressed I would suggest reverting to the first scenario.

Enjoy the game ‘holics, whether you are huddling around the telly or attending at The Grove.  Our chances to cheer on the Gunners this season are running out so let’s make the most of it.  The overall mantra?  Just win, Arsenal!

Older Posts »