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The pre-match festivities

What constitutes a perfect football day? I often ask myself this, particularly as I’ve had a lot of excellent outings over the past few years since I engaged with the Goonerholic fraternity. Even if you aren’t a particularly sociable person (and most Holics I’ve encountered seem to be very sociable) there is something very enjoyable about breaking bread pre-match with Arsenal-supporting friends, and today was no exception. Btm, C100 and I, together with Countryman Junior and an old footballing colleague of mine from Kent, met in the most nicely appointed Ecuadorean restaurant in North London (that I know of) and enjoyed an excellent and quite original meal (unless you eat in Ecuadorean restaurants regularly). While eating we speculated on whether we could continue our excellent form from Wednesday, whether Kai Havertz would continue his improvement in form so clearly in evidence in Europe, and whether the team would bear much relation to the one that started on Wednesday.

The answers were in order yes (to start with), no (because he didn’t start), and yes (the team barring Havertz who was replaced in the starting eleven by Trossard was identical to the one that started against Lens). On a bitterly cold afternoon I had the great pleasure of sitting next to a young man called Freddie who was making his first trip to see us in the flesh. As Freddie came from Perth in Western Australia it was quite a  day for him. He sang North London Forever with a tear in his eye, marvelled that he was sitting next to someone who paid his first visit to Arsenal over 62 years aago and thrilled to an early attacking performance that was entirely in sync with the way we started against Lens.

He did not have long to wait to see his first Arsenal goal. Bukayo Saka wriggled through a number of challenges including the last from Craig Dawson that was extremely flaccid and turned the ball into the left-hand corner. An annoying, and what we deemed a totally unnecessary, VAR check took some of the gloss off the goal, as is so often the case nowadays.

Arsenal 1 Wolves 0 – Saka 6 mins

Our control of the game was almost total, and we extended our lead with a beautifully worked goal 7 minutes later. Jesús and Zinchenko played an excellent one-two in the inside left channel, and our Ukrainian cut the ball back to an unmarked Ødegaard to finish emphatically.

Arsenal 2 Wolves 0- Ødegaard 13 minutes

Freddie was in seventh heaven and most of the rest of us sat back expecting another first half obliteration of the opposition. I thought we were actually playing better than against Lens in that first period. Trossard was lively in a midfield role, Saka and Martinelli had more space than in recent weeks and most importantly Ødegaard seemed to be back to his very best form after a recent blip. We had almost nothing to do in defence and Declan Rice was utterly imperious as ever. Martinelli slid through the Wolves defence but pushed his shot against the post, Trossard was foiled by Sa (who then had to leave the field with an injury sustained during the scoring of our second goal), and Jesús skied a close range chance at the far post after a cross dropped to him.

Wolves had a little more of the play as the half progressed with a couple of late free kicks but at half-time the chatter on the concourse outside Gate 100 was that we had played well but were letting them off lightly.

Half-time Arsenal 2 Wolves 0

We began the second half very positively, and I thought Jesús was held back (subtly) by a Wolves defender to prevent him reaching a low Saka cross.

Around the hour mark our play began to betray the fact that we played on Wednesday with these personnel, and our play lacked the penetration we had exhibited in the first half. We began to freshen the mix with Havertz joining the fray, Tomayisu going off injured to be replaced by White, and Jorginho and Kiwior coming on with Nketiah replacing Jesús (who my neighbour detected had a possible groin injury — watch this space).

Raya had made two decent saves from Cunha, and Wolves began to play with more pace and determination. Our goal was rarely threatened until sloppiness from Zinchenko gifted possession to Cunha, who produced a fierce drive past Raya’s right hand.

Arsenal 2 Wolves 1 – Cunha 86 minutes

While we didn’t descend into panic mode we were now fighting to hold onto a lead we had compiled effortlessly in the first half. What we needed was to regain the initiative and gain a third goal. Ødegaard almost achieved this with a beautiful flick to Nketiah but Eddie’s shot rebounded off the post and out.

The game ended uneventfully, and we recorded another three points that put us four points ahead of the best club side in world football.

Full time Arsenal 2 Wolves 1

A spectator behind me leaned forward to commiserate with Freddie about ‘coming all this way to watch this crap’. Freddie, far from thinking this was still revelling in watching a dream come true. I felt it necessary to ask the friend behind if he really though that ‘crap’ was an operative term for football that for most of the game was on a level to which few sides can aspire. To his credit he rode back on his criticism explaining that he was frustrated by our failure to kick on in the game, and I later had a similar conversation on the train with another disappointed Gooner.

Maybe I have been around too long but every season contains games where your team underperforms, and the underperformance today was relatively marginal and partly explained by Wednesday’s exertions. Some of our early football was brilliant and very easy on the eye. We are truly lucky to be able to watch a team of this quality; this good fortune seemed lost in a large part of those in attendance today. Arsenal fans used to have a keen sense of entitlement largely fostered by the continuing excellence of Wenger’s teams though our fall-off in recent years should have reminded us that to reach – and stay – at the summit of English football is no easy task.

I thought Ødegaard was sublime today, Rice was his usual excellent self, Saka and Martinelli always looked dangerous, and Tomayisu really is an admirable player. My main reservation is that Zinchenko commits too many defensive errors; I’d like to see him further forward in midfield, if he plays at all, with White, Tomayisu, and Kiwior starting in the full back positions. But please Gooners, enjoy what is being provided. These are potentially special times. Don’t tarnish them with ridiculous expectations!

Arsenal players celebrate Arsenal’s Norwegian midfielder #08 Martin Odegaard scoring their fifth goal during the UEFA Champions League Group B football match between Arsenal and RC Lens at the Arsenal Stadium in north London on November 29, 2023. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

Philotes and Neikos, love and strife, are the two forces – in the cosmogony of Empedocles – that are continuously forming diversity, harmony (and disharmony) of all forms, out of the four eternal elements of fire, air, water, and earth that pervade our universe. Like a few other original such ideas from ancient Greece – from Anaximander to Democritus – that still resonate within our modern scientific worldview, this version of the universe is not completely dissimilar to the Standard Model of fundamental forces and elementary particles interacting to form all matter and energy.

Love and strife, one can also say, are the two primary psychic forces shaping the world of football, giving births to moments of such intense elation or despondency that if we were to wander into the land of memories, those moments stand out as guideposts of our lives lived in what may feel like someone else’s elusive past. Football is not so much escapism from life but a distilled, miniaturized but maybe for that reason also a more tangible version of life itself.   

As Arsenal walk into this weekend sitting proudly at top of the EPL – and already qualified, with a game to spare, as the group winner in their return to the most prestigious of the European competitions – the love in and around the team is palpable. Smiles and praises and good vibes. I don’t know about others, but not for a moment I am taking any of these for granted. The current upward trajectory has been achieved neither by accident, nor by profligate megalomania, but strategy, discipline, hard work and patience supported ably by leadership and judicious usage of financial prowess. And some dose of good fortune, for nothing is ever successful without that.

Looking back just half a decade – when our opponents of this Saturday had returned back to the Premier League after six years of absence – reinforces the well-known adage about things changing very fast in football. In 2018 strife was all around Arsenal, the clouds of despondency looming over the club and its fractured angst-ridden fanbase. We drew our home match 1-1, before losing away at Wolves 1-3, one among a series of listless, rudderless performances that more or less guaranteed that we won’t finish in the top four, and was really the beginning of the end of the short-lived Unai Emery era.   Since then the head-to-head results have started to improve in our favor: 1-1 (home), 2-0 (away);  1-2 (home), 1-2 (away); 1-0 (away), 2-1(home); 2-0 (away), 5-0 (home).

While our managerial reign was handed to Arteta after Emery – with the invincible Freddie Ljungberg temporarily stabilizing the team for a few matches in between – and the Arsenal ex-captain of death stares, immaculate hair, and press conferences that are an enigmatic cocktail of mischief, misdirection and authenticity rapidly established himself as the football brain that he was always known to be in the inner circle of friends and colleagues, Wolverhampton Wanderers went through a few managerial rotations. They were noticeably successful for a mid-tier squad – but never getting close to any of the peak years in their long history – and sometimes playing attractive football, often on the strengths of the various Portuguese internationals that dominated their squad upon their return to the top tier.  They also had a pragmatic and enterprising Portuguese manager who was doing well for himself before he was lured away to a club well known for destroying the reputation of talented managers.

Their current manager, the Englishman Gary O’Neil, too demonstrates such a combination of pragmatism and enterprise. After taking over the responsibilities just before the season started, he brought in tactical variations and intensity that has served Wolves well. Their current 12th position in the league doesn’t truly tell the full story, they can consider themselves unfortunate to have lost out on otherwise well-deserved points by the vagaries of VAR. In that arena at least they are Arsenal’s fellow sufferers.  O’Neil has used multiple formations in the season so far, but mostly either a 3-4-3 or variations of 4–4-2 in 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1, sometimes even switching between formations in a game. In Joan Gomes and Mario Lemina (who I think is disqualified for this match because of yellow cards) they have two highly competent footballers in the midfield. In Nelson Samedo, Cunha, Neto and Ait-Nouri they have fast ball carriers that can hurt any opposition in counter attacks, and a very good finisher in Hwang.

Even though most teams come to Emirates nowadays planning to sit in deep low blocks, hoping to deprive our frontline any space and time on the ball in the final third, Wolves are likely to try to draw us in with an eye on launching rapid counter-attacks. Our defense has been mostly imperious this season, and Saliba-Gabriel will need to play at their very best to keep our run of clean sheets going.     

Our front started for the first time together against Lens at home last Wednesday, and ably supported by Rice-Tomiyasu-Zinchenko they eviscerated the opposition defense in moments of collective and individual brilliance. Havertz especially looked like someone that has started to figure out how to play with his new teammates, and stay in tune with their tireless positivity. Given our first half performance in the midweek, Mikel will be tempted to start the same eleven this weekend and I think that would be the best option.

Tomiyasu – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko
Ødegaard – Rice – Havertz
Saka – Jesus – Martinelli

Enjoy the game everyone. We should win, but I don’t think for a
moment it will be anywhere as easy as our last season’s home victory
against them. A hard-fought but assured 2-0 will do.

Come on Arsenal!

Arsenal moved effortlessly through to the last 16 of the Champions League by thrashing Lens 6-0 and clinching top spot in our Champions League group. 

In scoring five in the first half we set two records with five separate scorers and by becoming the first English side to score five in the first half of a Champions League game. We also recorded our first CL victory over Lens who looked a shadow of the side who beat us in game 2 in France.

As, wrapped seasonally in plenty of layers, I departed for the game, a very cosy Mrs TTG, steaming mug of hot chocolate in hand, ginger cat on her lap and tv clicker in hand, gave me the look she so often does at this time of the year as I head off into the cold night air to attend football. It is somewhere between disbelief and pity.

What a treat she missed! 

I was touched by the club’s decision to wear black armbands to mark the death of that very special lady, Megs Wilson. Bob would have been very moved by this gesture even though I suspect the detail of this match would likely understandably  pass him by.

And detail there certainly was, much of it revolving around the involvement of Kai Havertz who for the first time began to resemble a top class attacking midfield player. As confidence flowed back into him we were treated to some exquisite ball skills (one piece of trickery by the left corner flag in the second half was superb). Kai had already missed narrowly with a header that bounced just wide before he latched onto a Jesús flick after 13 minutes and steered the ball beyond  Bamba in the Lens  goal. Bamba resembles a cut-price Onana which on tonight’s showing by the United man is very cheap indeed. 

Arsenal 1 Lens 0 – Havertz 13 mins 

The dour struggle predicted by our rather pessimistic previewer failed to materialise and the gap in class was very evident. A second goal materialised on 21 minutes when Saka fed Jesús who dummied one tackle and steered the ball wide of Onana, sorry Bambi!

Arsenal 2 Lens 0 – Jesus 21 mins 

This continued Jesús’ excellent scoring  form in the  Champions League. His work rate was prodigious and he continually came deep to receive the ball and to provide space for Saka, Martinelli and Havertz to exploit. 

If you thought my use of the name Bambi was another example of my Spillchucker in full flow our third goal proved the accuracy of his nickname. 

Martinelli was becoming a continual menace to the Lens right flank but he could scarcely have expected his less than fulminating shot to be palmed onto Saka with a gesture akin to Wayne Sleep hailing a taxi in a snowstorm and the ball rebounded into the net.

Arsenal 3 Lens 0 – Saka 24 mins 

A frozen version of pandemonium enveloped the stadium now and Martinelli increased it three minutes later cutting inside and leaving Bambi in a heap at the edge of the forest with a curling drive which was the best of our goals on the night.

Arsenal 4 Lens 0 – Martinelli 27 mins 

Or was our fifth goal on the stroke of halftime even better? Tomiyasu, wide on the right, floated an inviting cross to Ødegaard who slashed it home on the full volley. 

Arsenal 5 Lens 0 – Odegaard 45 mins 

Lens’ only response was from a set of idiot supporters who saw fit to light a series of flares some of which found their way into the upper reaches of the East Stand. The reaction of the police and stewards seemed from my vantage point to be pretty passive and would suggest to me that body searches in that part of the ground were perfunctory at best. 

The half ended with the game won and so euphoric was I that I invested in a pint of Camden Hells costing the GDP of a small Pacific island. 

Halftime – Arsenal 5 Lens 0

Inevitably the second half was an anti-climax but given the recent and upcoming demands of our programme Arteta (who never stopped cajoling the team on for ninety minutes) did exactly the right thing in bringing off Tomayisu, Zinchenko, Saka, Rice and Jesús and replacing them with White, Kiwior, Nelson, Jorginho and Nketiah. 

Amazingly, the ultimate possession stats showed us as having only 48% of the ball but we retained easy control in the second half and Raya had little to do of any consequence.

The referee  briefly  assumed centre stage having in my view been way too lenient on the Lens  defenders in their early treatment of Saka. Some time after a high ball appeared to possibly be handled (as Martinelli simultaneously received a forearm smash to the face), play was stopped at a throw in and a bilingual VAR warning appeared on the screen. The referee was sent to the screen and as always the case decided to award a penalty which Jorginho despatched to become our sixth individual scorer. 

Arsenal 6 Lens 0 – Jorginho pen 86 mins 

Further joy ensued when it was announced that the Lens supporters would be kept behind. They still danced like dervishes lit flares and had the opportunity to reflect on how comprehensively Arsenal had beaten them.

Full time – Arsenal 6 Lens 0 

Our home form has been sensational in the group with a collective aggregate of 12-0 in our three games in which the opposition scarcely ever looked like scoring. I can’t remember an easier set of home qualifying games in many years of watching the Champions League but this may be a disservice to a side who played perfectly judged European football, although I suspect that we did have a relatively weak group. We now have the luxury of playing a heavily rotated team in Eindhoven next week. I suspect that team may contain the rehabilitated Havertz so that he can further  develop a hot streak after finally looking at home for the first time in an Arsenal shirt.

A job well done even if the only French flare was of the explosive  type. 

So, we reach the penultimate match in Champions League Group B. We sit proudly atop the group with nine points from three wins but qualification for the ‘round of sixteen’, though likely, is not yet guaranteed. However, it’s entirely in our own hands. The Arsenal’s solitary defeat in this group came against our visitors, RC Lens. Prior to match 5, Les Sang et Or sit in third place in the group behind PSV Eindhoven by virtue of their head to head record (a home draw and an away defeat) despite a better goal difference, the Dutch team’s goal difference having been seriously damaged in London..

For any readers seeking background on RC Lens, I refer you to Dr Faustus’ excellent preview of our away fixture in which he provided a detailed review of RC Lens’ history, squad and playing style . They still have strong hopes of qualification for the knock-out rounds but to maximise their prospects they must take something from this game.  RC Lens have a solitary win (that 2-1 against us!) which followed a respectable away draw in Seville (1-1) but that win was followed by a 1-1 home draw and a 0-1 away defeat against PSV. Getting the picture of an obdurate, low scoring side?

The team that was struggling in 15th place in Ligue 1, with 1 draw and 4 defeats at an aggregate score of 4-11, when we faced them in September now sits in 6th place, 11 points behind the leaders, QSG, and only 5 points adrift of the Champions League places. Following the injection of confidence from their victory over the Arsenal, they have been undefeated in Ligue 1 with 5 wins and 3 draws at an aggregate score of 12-2. Good Old Arsenal! While Lens’ overall win rate in Ligue 1 is 38% with 16 goals scored and 13 conceded, their Ligue 1 away form (7 games, 2 wins, 7 goals for, 9 against) has been inferior to their home form (6 games, 3 wins, 9 goals for, 4 against) but looks a lot better after a 3-0 win at Clermont at the same time as Arsenal laboured to an important victory against Brentford. Hopefully that result will give them the confidence to open up to try to get a win rather than try to dig out a draw with trench warfare like Brentford.

The Arsenal’s performances in the Champions League this season have been something of a curate’s egg. The spectacular 4-0 opener against PSV on 20th September was hailed by some as a return to the exhilarating form of last season after a league start in which, despite a series of good results, the football had often been somewhat prosaic and we had seen only brief glimpses of our former fabulous free flowing front footed form. 

After our uplifting opening match in this competition, our visit to Lens proved disappointing. We faced a raucous crowd and energetic team enthused by the experience of a first home Champions League game in 21 seasons. Despite the Arsenal taking the lead after 14 minutes through Jesús, Lens surfed the wave of crowd noise, pressed Arsenal high, took advantage of a Raya error to equalise 11 minutes later and with a largely ‘lifeless performance’ from the Arsenal, scored a second midway through the second half. Our correspondent lamented that ‘a combination of a deep block, good organisation and lack of inspiration resulted in watching the kind of horseshoe football we thought we had left behind a couple of seasons ago’. Match stats show us to have had 67% possession, 6 shots on goal (vs 3), 11 shot attempts (vs 10), 5 corners (vs 3) and 1 save (vs 6). This match could have ended differently had Trossard or Tomiyasu taken chances before we conceded the second goal. I think we can confidently anticipate the same kind of frustrating evening that caused our correspondent to lament.

The two wins against Seville are key to our current domination of the group. You will doubtless recall that the away victory was the result of two moments of genius from Jesús and a gritty backs-to-the-wall defensive performance once Seville pulled a goal back with over half an hour to go. Martinelli’s opener in added time at the end of the first half was crucial to Arsenal taking command of the game after ‘a first half of few chances, with the counter looking on for both teams. We made it count, they didn’t’. At the end, I certainly felt we were lucky to get out of Dodge with the loot! In contrast, our home game against Sevilla was one of our ‘most comfortable Champions League victories’ and the 2-0 scoreline did not reflect our ‘overwhelming superiority’ and ‘almost total control of the game’. 

The very different performances in previous group games suggest that the question of which Arsenal is going to turn up is perhaps more germane than which particular player is going to be selected in goal, midfield or up front. However, two very good performances in the previous home games should instill confidence that we can crack Lens and qualify for the ‘round of sixteen’ with a game to spare.

Our hard-fought but ultimately very satisfying victory over Brentford wasn’t perhaps the best preparation for a midweek game of some consequence in terms of conserving energy but it was probably a good dress rehearsal as I suspect that Lens’ strategy will closely resemble that of Brentford. I expect a deep block designed to frustrate us with quick breakouts when we lose possession at the edge of their box and occasional forays into a high press to try and regain possession close to our goal.  Unless we get an early goal we are probably in for another frustrating evening with plenty possession and multiple iterations of the arc d’ennui. 

Although starting this game would provide a massive boost to the confidence of Aaron Ramsdale, I expect Arteta to restore Raya to the starting XI on Wednesday. Otherwise he might have another insecure keeper on his books. The melancholic waves from Ramsdale at the end of the match are pretty ominous for any confidence in his future prospects at the Arsenal. Ben White will probably regain his starting position alongside our dynamic centre-back duo with Zinchenko pipping Tomiyasu to the left back starting berth for his offensive qualities. A midfield of Ødegaard, Rice and Havertz will back up Saka, Jesús and Martinelli with Tomiyasu, Jorginho, Trossard and Nketiah ready to join the fray as ‘finishers’ in its latter stages.

I expect a hard fought match – Lens have to take something from this game to maximise their chance of finishing second (or higher) – and unless we can take an early lead, I anticipate another frustrating evening. Despite the hopeful title, this is unlikely to be as entertaining or high scoring as the PSV opener but if we can dominate the game as we did in the Seville home game, we should win it. I don’t know what the bookies think but 2-0 to the Arsenal sounds about right to me.

Enjoy the match Holics, whether in the ground or on the sofa with a nice glass of red.


Before yesterday Brentford had lost only one of their last ten home league games, while Arsenal had won five out of six games against them since they returned to the top flight. It was Mikel Arteta’s 200th game in charge and he has achieved, in that time, a better win record (115) than even Arsene Wenger (111) and George Graham (107). I’ve done those figures from memory so apologies if they’re not quite right. 

The Arsenal went with their usual 4-3-3. Tomiyasu moved to right back, Zinchenko played his inverting left back role, and Rice anchored the midfield between Trossard and Ødegaard. Jesús returned at centre forward between Saka and Martinelli. The main talking point, of course, was a start for Aaron Ramsdale in place of the ineligible Raya, on loan from the hosts.
Brentford opted for a 3-5-2 formation to deny the visitors space in the attacking two thirds of the pitch. A ploy which you would have to say worked very well for them. Every time Arsenal approached Brentford’s penalty area they had nine men inside it if you include their goalkeeper and space, for a long while and at Arsenal’s rather pedestrian build up speed, proved almost impossible to find.

In the early stages Brentford hurried and hassled Arsenal who had the majority of possession, but couldn’t find the room or time to genuinely threaten the hosts’ goal. There was a heart in mouth moment on just 13 minutes when Ramsdale, trying to draw the Brentford press, attempted to walk the ball forwards and stumbled over it under pressure from the Brentford forward who won the ball, made room for his shot and drove it towards goal. I was already simultaneously cursing our luck and sympathising with Ramsdale – this was the very last thing he needed – and expecting to see the net bulge, when Declan Rice appeared out of a magic lamp and cleared the shot off the line.

The pressure on Ramsdale was clearly telling and on 31 minutes he did one of those comedy throws and launched the ball into the ground right in front of him. But instead of disaster, the Gods smiled, the ball was cleared and a dangerous counter attack ended only when Saka got his feet mixed up on the edge of the Brentford area. It’s sad to see what our goalkeeping situation has done to Aaron Ramsdale. Last season’s confident, vocal character between the posts has been replaced by a nervous, haunted looking figure. I am a huge fan of Arteta and I understand he must choose the players he believes are best suited to the game he wants to play. I am not party to what has been said at Shenley but I feel Ramsdale, remember last season’s keeper of the season, has been harshly dropped without doing a lot wrong and Raya has been brought in by his ex Brentford goalkeeper coach without being much, if anything, of an upgrade. This has to be down to Arteta and we now have two reputedly great goalkeepers who have not an atom of confidence between them. 

However, on 41 minutes Leandro Trossard scored, bravely repeating his recent header just inside the goalpost, the assist coming from Gabriel Jesús after his own effort was parried out by the keeper. Or rather, we didn’t score. Michael Salisbury, this week’s Ringmaster at Varnum’s Circus, needed two lines in different colours to decide that Trossard’s toe was forward of Jesús’ own digit and chalked the goal off. If anyone can explain how this was disallowed but Newcastle’s goal against us stood, I’d be much obliged.

The 3 minutes of added time saw a yellow card for Ajer, who flattened Jesús from behind and a back heel shot from Ødegaard that went well wide.

HT Brentford 0 – 0 Arsenal

Arsenal began the second half moving the ball more quickly and looked more threatening for it. We were losing possession more though as Ramsdale had decided to go long almost all the time to avoid any more errors. You can see why Arteta wants to play out from the back but Ramsdale appears currently to have lost the confidence to do it.
Martinelli and Saka both played in great crosses but nobody was really looking to get on the end of them. This seems to be a problem with our present approach. The quest for control in the final third is leaving players too afraid to penetrate the area or try a shot in case they lose the ball. Eddie Nketiah was sent on for Jesús after 64 minutes to give us a bit more presence in the box but another brilliant Martinelli cross was easily put out for a corner.

Brentford exchanged Yarmoluk and Wissa for Baptiste and the odious Neil Maupay, whose first involvement was to foul Tomiyasu and then inevitably moan at the referee, Tim Robinson, for awarding the free kick. What a horrible little man he is.

Zinchenko gave the ball away in his left back position on 76 minutes, by trying to overplay under pressure. The resulting Brentford attack almost ended in them scoring but somehow Zinchenko had made up the ground to make a brilliant clearance at the far post. Arteta sent Kai Havertz on for Martinelli on 78 minutes and the German was immediately busy in the Brentford area. Rice had a decent drive deflected for a corner and Onyeka was so impressed with our new super star that at the resulting set piece he tried to force him into an early exchange of shirts. Rice appeared somewhat confused to have the free kick for all the grappling awarded against him.

On 80 minutes Arsenal decided it was finally time to win the game. Saliba shot wide and Nketiah fired one in that was easily gathered by keeper Flekken. And then on 88 minutes it happened. Saka curled a superb cross from the right towards the far post. Havertz watched it all the way and advanced to head it down and past the helpless goalkeeper. If you’re going to win 1 – 0, the 88th minute is a pretty good time to do it. Not much beats a winner In practically the last minute of the game.

The referee found an extra minute to add to the allotted additional four before Aaron Ramsdale went down clutching the final ball of the game.

FT Brentford 0 – 1 Arsenal

Once again, despite not hitting last season’s highs, the players never gave up on winning the game, gave their all in defence and showed quite clearly what a great spirit exists within the squad. Huge congratulations to Havertz by all the players on scoring his first goal for the club – apart from ‘that’ penalty – were matched at the final whistle when the entire team gathered to hug Aaron Ramsdale, who had risen to pull a dangerous cross out of the air in added time. 

A hard fought, difficult, 1 – 0 win which we all said we would happily accept. So, no complaints here.

Actually, there is one complaint. The BT commentary team made a largely scrappy and dull game almost unbearable. Darren Fletcher and co-commentator Lucy Ward verbally filled every single second with the bleeding obvious right up to the 23rd minute, when we finally got a whole 4 seconds of silence. For the, ahem, experienced fans among us, the old, top tennis commentator Dan Maskell said, when asked what made a great commentator, ‘only speak when you can add to what the viewer can see’. Fletcher and Ward seem to be under the misapprehension that they are working on the radio. When he breathes she speaks and vice versa, repeating or “explaining” what we veterans of hundreds or even thousands of games have known for years. Am I the only one who gets incredibly irritated by this?

By the way – Man of The Match was our own Rolls Rice – and, we are top of the league, say ………

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