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A dynamic centre forward, a lifelong Gooner and, by every single account, a lovely man. Kevin was truly a gentle giant. Very few compare. A good man taken far too soon.

Our thoughts are with Kevin’s family and his friends. Kevin will also be missed by a far wider circle: by those who watched him play for the Arsenal and for Nottingham Forest, Trabzonspor, Everton, West Brom or Cardiff City and by those who were privileged to hear or read Kevin’s pearls of wisdom on social media in recent years.

There are some excellent tributes out there from people who have met Kevin. Amy Lawrence’s tribute in the Athletic and the Arsenal tribute are two of the best. Blogs, Gav, Pedro and, especially, Mike Feinstein give insights into Kevin’s warm and generous personality.

RIP Super Kevin Campbell.

First of all, congratulations again to Pangloss for a remarkable, resounding and relentless victory in the inaugural GHF Predictathon. He first hit the front in Match Week 5 and established his lead from Match Week 8. From Match Week 18, no one could come even close to catching his coattails. 

We’ll get to the secrets of his success, but congratulations are also in order for Poosker and BtM for taking silver and bronze. BtM just pipped GSD, who had burst out of the mid-table pack with a strong run from Match Week 33 onwards. 

Sancho Panza rounded out the above-average quintet that beat the Crowd, the consensus predictions of this fine establishment. Sacking his donkey of a manager early clearly paid dividends.

Let us also applaud our other winners:

Tin Tack: Dr F. Jnr
League Cup winners: TTG and Uply
FA Cup winners: CER and GSD

BtM gets a special mention in dispatches for for making the most correct predictions: seven, two more than Pangloss and one more than Poosker. That trio topped the Princes of Precision index, calculated under the tiebreaker rules (number of exact predictions, then predictions one place off, and so on). 

Rounding out the elite eight, with four exact predictions, were 21st Century Gooner, Uply, bath and Sancho Panza. bath would have ended up far from the relegation zone were it not for two wildly misjudged predictions.

The competition was fierce. All but two players scored low enough to have beaten TTG’s title-winning effort in last season’s Afficionadoes league, the tournament that inspired this one. The bottom pair’s scores were low enough to have taken second. 

That is a very high standard of prognostication. Or if it was dumb luck, someone should bottle it.

We tracked the scores match week by match week, but here are the ones that count: those at the end of Match Week 38.

Here is how the rankings ebbed and flowed. Thirty-eight match weeks are a lot to cram into one chart and still be legible, but this gives a sense of how the season went.

The secret of Pangloss’s success was not so much a matter of getting a lot of things right — although he did — but of avoiding getting anything badly wrong. The difference squared scoring system is far more punitive of erroneous predictions than it is rewarding of more accurate ones.

This chart shows the count of each player’s predictions grouped by the number of positions they were off from the final Premier League placings. You will see that Pangloss’s bars skew heavily to the left, towards the lower scores. None of his predictions were more than four places off. 

Potsticker was the Nearly Man. Fully half of his predictions were only one place awry. Only GSD came close to matching that with nine.

Compare that to the several players with at least one prediction that was a punishing nine places off—your correspondent included. You will not be surprised at the correlation between that and a place in the bottom half of the rankings.

At least the company was as estimable as it was seasoned, with C100 to lead us in song and Trev to keep us amused.

Yet there was more to Pangloss’s success than avoiding howlers. We tracked the bad boys who messed up players’ predictions throughout the season. Our fourth chart shows how each team under or overperformed expectations based on the average of their predicted position compared to where they finished. 

Three teams most confounded their start-of-season expectations, offering the savvy player the most opportunity to steal a march on rivals: Bournemouth, Burnley and Brentford. What a load of Bs. They were followed by Man U and West Ham, much the same.

Burnley was widely tipped for a mid-table finish but went straight back down to the Championship, ending in 19th place, and punishing its manager by exiling him to Munich to coach Harry Kane — cruel and unusual punishment, by any measure. However, Pangloss, as he surmised in an earlier drink, got the Clarets spot on when no one else did. Potsticker and Scruz were close, but that was about it. 

Burnley was also rooted in 19th place from Match Week 14 onwards. That embedded an average 36-point advantage in Pangloss’s score every match week from then on. Until its late slide down the table, Wolves gave him a similar built-in boost each week. That comfortable cushion over most everyone else easily kept him at the top of the rankings. Wolves’ late slide turned it into one of his worst picks in the end, along with Bournemouth, Brentford and Brighton. Yet he was no more than four places off with any of them; on average, everyone else did worse. 

The fifth and final chart sums that all up, showing Pangloss’s performance against the consensus prediction for each team.

If you’d like to see how you fared against the consensus predictions, leave a note in the drinks or email ghfpredict@yahoo.com. The monks will e-quill you a copy of the chart of you vs. the Crowd. Beautifully hand-illuminated on vellum, it won’t be.

We plan to rerun the GHF Predictathon next season. We hope to increase the number of players and so up our donation to Willow. We shall post details on the blog in the first half of August about how to get your entry blank. The entry deadline will be an hour before the start of the new season on August 17. 

We plan to keep the same format. Let us know in the drinks if you have suggestions for improvements or any new tiebreaker-style predictions that would help keep up the interest throughout the season. 

Thank you for playing this season—and if you didn’t, join in next time. Thanks especially to Scruz and bath for posting the leaderboards week in, and week out. [Thanks most especially to Ned and his monks for the hard graft weekly in getting everything totted, sorted, and drawn. They earned their tonic wine! –eds.] Most of all, thanks for supporting Willow. 

A final note of thanks to Bob Wilson for graciously writing to congratulate Pangloss on his 2023-24 success at winning the bragging rights to be the bar’s biggest know-it-all.

The Countrymen at the Etihad, about to collect a hard earned point

I’ve stated many times on this forum that I prefer my football live. In doing so I’m very conscious of my privilege in being able to attend matches, home and away. Many readers of this blog cannot get to games, either because they live overseas or far away, find the expenditure of time and money impossible, or, indeed, just can’t get tickets. I have held two season tickets on the North Bank lower at the Emirates since 2009 and began attending away games again (I’m not counting my misspent (or well-spent) youth here) in 2013. In the season just completed, we (my son and I) attended 38 games, 25 at home and 13 away. I’ve written about my experiences in going to games since I first joined this distinguished community in 2012 and some of you have been kind enough to say my scribblings help you to connect with the away fans from afar. I’ve been asked to write about the experience of “travelling with The Arsenal” during the season 2023/4. So here we go (apologies, it’s a bit long).

These were the away games we went to this year. An asterisk indicates that this was a new ground to us since we started going together.

Community Shield at Wembley (Manchester City)
Goodison Park (Everton)
*Stamford Bridge (Chelsea)
London Stadium (West Ham, League Cup)
St James’s Park (Newcastle)
Villa Park (Aston Villa)
The City Ground (Nottingham Forest)
*Bramall Lane (Sheffield United)
The Etihad (Manchester City)
*The Amex Stadium (Brighton)
Molineux (Wolves)
*Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (Spurs)
Old Trafford (Manchester United)

The away games we missed (14 of them) were mainly due to not having enough credits (see below), especially at small grounds like Luton or Bournemouth, although there were a couple that were just inconvenient (e.g. Anfield on December 23, which clashed with family commitments). I don’t go to European aways for several reasons, but mainly because these days, at 67, I just don’t have the stamina for them, or a taste for mixing with certain police forces or fan groups.

How do you get away tickets?

The club has now closed its away season ticket scheme (I was never on it) so the only way to get tickets is via the credit scheme. For each game attended you get one credit. These add up over three years, with the first year of the three deleted at the start of the new season. We started the season with 22 credits and finished with 35. I’m not sure what we will start the new season with. The maximum at the end of the season was, I believe, 72 (three year’s worth of going to every away game). This graphic shows the number of tickets allocated, plus the credit level it sold out at.

This graphic was put together before the Spurs and Man Utd games. Both sold out on 25 credits on allocations of about 3000 – 3500. Very unusually there were no tickets available at zero credits, although there were five at 5 credits or fewer. The main reason for this was firstly, the enthusiasm for the team and secondly our lack of success in domestic cups. The allocations are 5% (some give more, e.g. Brighton) of the ground for Premier League, 10% for the league cup and 15% for the FA Cup. These cup games offer the best chances of getting on the ladder. Going away midweek, to watch the kids, is not for everyone, so zero credits can often apply. We built our credits up going to places like Preston, Blackpool and West Brom for the cups.

How do we get to games?

If you are lucky enough to live in London, you usually have the option of the train or club coaches. Living in the wilds of Cambridgeshire this would mean travelling for two hours in the wrong direction so we drive. I’m lucky enough to drive a large, comfortable, German saloon which eats up the motorway miles and for the last two years, it has been affordable to insure my son (now 25) on my car, so we can share the driving. For parking I use two parking apps: Your Parking Space and Just Park. I don’t walk so well these days so try and park within 15-20 minutes of the ground. I usually pay £10-£20 per game. The only game we stay overnight for is Newcastle. It’s 200 miles away, a four hour drive, and it’s just too far to drive both ways in a day and go to the game. This season we got a nice two bedroomed house in Gateshead (a £6 Uber ride from the ground) for £85.

The away fans and songs

Of course the true joy of travelling away is to be part of the travelling Gooners. Committed, loud, often a little worse for wear, it is incredibly rare for our away fans to be anything but totally positive about supporting our team. We see many of the same faces as we go from game to game, often from our section of the North Bank. I have never known them to be anything other than kind and supportive to an old fella who sometimes is a little slow going up and down the stairs. When a goal goes in the “limbs” are spectacular and unrestrained. I have taken a tumble in previous years down the rows at Old Trafford and at Burnley (and very nearly at St James’s Park). Safe standing bars are making these events much less likely thank goodness. At Old Trafford this year, the singing began 20 minutes before kick off and never stopped. We are in the great position that most of the team have their own songs. Virtually all of these started at away games. We first heard the Martin Ǿdegaard song at Goodison. The Trossard song at Molineux. The Havertz song began at Bournemouth (I’m told – we weren’t there). We first heard the Gabriel song at Brighton but I believe it started at a European away. A few years ago we were at Leicester and went to an away pub before the game to find a guy on a table leading the singing of a song we’d never heard before:

Dani Ceballos
Dani Ceballos!
Drinks Estrella
Eats Paella
The boy is fucking magic!

Many of these gradually transfer to the Emirates and helps build the usually great atmosphere there. Those who went to the West Ham league game heard the genesis of the song “who put the ball in the West Ham net? Half our fucking team did”. At Bramall Lane, when we were three up after 15 minutes, their fans started leaving. Cue chorus of “everywhere we go, stadiums are empty!”

The Emirates have many celebrity fans. It’s often easier to spot them at away games, when they are not diluted amongst 60,000 others. I was stood next to Arseblog’s Tim Stillman at Villa this year. I can report that his vituperation of the referee was as loud and foul mouthed as my own! In the concourse bar at the Etihad was Ian Stone. Alex Brooker was very close to us at Forest a couple of years ago. Proper fans, not so up themselves that they have to go in a box or the Directors area, but stand on the terraces with us plebs.

Favourite away games this season

It has to be Spurs (3-0 up at half time) and Man United (we’ve been three times to Old Trafford in recent years and have seen us win twice. Not a bad record!). Brighton was huge fun. We got the whole lower tier behind the goal, sang our hearts out, played well and we were in row 1.

Favourite away grounds

We tend to like the old, historic grounds. We’ve made a special effort to get to Goodison in the last few seasons as it won’t be there for much longer. The facilities are terrible and the view from the Bullen stand is dreadful, but when the sirens go and the teams run out to the snare drum and the Z cars theme, the hair stands up on the back of my neck. We very much like Villa Park and the City ground for similar reasons. Honourable mention for Anfield.

Least favourite away grounds

West Ham. The way they treat visiting supporters is rubbish and the design of the stadium means it’s an atmosphere vacuum. The Etihad. The worst, chippiest fans on the circuit who really don’t like Cockneys. Southampton (back next season) for reasons I rehearsed in the last drinks.

Footy scran

When you are away at football for many hours, you’ve got to eat. TTG referred to me once as someone “who likes to travel round the country eating unfeasibly large breakfasts”. Fair comment. The season started badly at Wembley where both my son and myself had a dodgy burger on the concourse and got very unpleasant food poisoning over the following week. We rarely eat in grounds (that includes the Emirates) though an honourable mention to Wolves where a Guinness and a beef and onion pie were excellent. Top of the shop though, is the Bombay Bridgeford near the City ground (and opposite Trent Bridge) which is simply one of my favourite Indian restaurants in the country, with celestial garlic naan bread. Honourable mention to the Masala Club in Burgess Hill, on the way home from Brighton. The Etihad has a nice little fish and chip shop just opposite the away entrance. The motorway services at the top of the M6 toll road and at the junction of the M1 and the A50 both have a wide variety of different and tolerable food outlets. All suggestions gratefully received!

Driving home

Sometimes, especially for evening games in the North West, you’re not going to get home until the wee small hours. The powers that be have an irritating habit of shutting motorways for roadworks after 9pm. It can take a long time to get away from the ground and back on the motorway, even though Google Maps tries its best with the back doubles. Manchester is usually an hour to get out of the city. Southampton is often two. The drive home is also influenced by the result. If we’ve won, we’ll happily listen to the football phone ins (unless Jamie O’Hara is on). On a Sunday night at 9pm the excellent Trans Europe Express, presented by Danny Kelly on TalkSport is well worth a listen. If we’ve lost we listen to music instead. We’ve merged two of our play lists and tolerantly (well, most of the time) listen to each other’s music.

What does next season bring?

We lose Luton (too small for us to get tickets), Sheffield United and Burnley. We gain Leicester, a city well known to us (my son was at University there) with a nice ground, great curries and only 60 miles away. Ipswich town of course. Only 1.5 hours from us, but with a capacity of only 30,000, so for a league game we’ll only get 1500 tickets which will be touch and go for us. And Southampton (nuff said). Here’s hoping for some good runs and away draws in the Cups.

This year was our best ever for games attended, and for away games. I’m fortunate in a tolerant wife (who enjoys having time to herself when we’re away at football) and a supportive and caring son who looks after me. A complete reversal to when I first started taking him to games 20 years ago!

The story of Arsenal’s 2023/24 season 

My sense is that I am writing an article on a season that has not fully concluded. We have theoretically lost the league (for the second consecutive season) to a team facing 115 charges and they must soon face the scrutiny that those charges will bring. So any analysis of our season has an element of an unfinished piece of business. Certainly any assessment of our performance must be viewed in this light. I wrote a summary of our first half in January and should have added..… ‘to be continued’. 

So, let us resume our assessment of the season following on from that piece in January. When I wrote that, we had just lost three successive games. We had fallen from first on December 23rd after drawing at Anfield to fourth after a second successive league loss at Fulham. We had also exited the FA Cup at the third round stage losing 2-0 at home to Liverpool in a game that we dominated . 

Conclusions on our first half of the season were inevitably coloured by that dip in our form but there were other misgivings when we interviewed a number of GHF posters a few weeks before. There was a feeling that our form had not touched the levels we had reached the season before; there were serious reservations about the decision to replace Ramsdale with Raya; and opinion was divided about whether Kai Havertz would come good and what his best position was. But there was no division of opinion on Declan Rice who impressed everybody with his seamless transition to a new club and his ability to adapt to different roles – a  6 or 8 without a mis-step. What we hadn’t necessarily factored in was that Arteta had realised that to deal with the intensity of a full season you had to build up to your best form and that our performances would improve over the season whereas last term we had started like a rocket and struggled to maintain that form as the campaign wore on.

Mikel decided to take the team to Dubai in the mid-season break and whatever he did or put into the water or into our meals on that trip it had an incredible effect.

We returned with a home fixture against Crystal Palace. One assumes that we had been practicing set pieces (and certainly Rice started to take all corners on the left wing) and we brushed Palace aside 5-0. Two late Martinelli goals embellished our performance and Gabriel scored one and forced an own goal from corners in the first half. It was all too much for Roy Hodgson who disappeared from the Palace hot seat shortly afterwards. We followed this up with a 2-1 win at  Nottingham Forest, the late goal we conceded being the last conceded away from home until deep into  April. It was also the last time that Gabriel Jesus scored for us although his campaign was heavily disrupted by injury. 

When we welcomed Liverpool back to Ashburton Grove on February 4th it had the feeling of a very significant game. We played similarly to how we had performed in the FA Cup but Saka’s early goal gave us an advantage squandered by a bizarre defensive mix-up that allowed Diaz to level on halftime. That was not to be the biggest defensive mix-up of the game however as midway through the second half Van Dijk and Allison presented Martinelli with a gift in front of a highly grateful North Bank and a late Trossard goal confirmed an excellent victory. It felt like a Rubicon had been crossed as Liverpool were carrying all before them up to that point and it seemed to set off a confidence and flow in the Arsenal team that was quite thrilling. After match celebrations massively wound up Jamie Carragher so it was a highly productive day for us all! 

We started to illustrate our increased confidence with a 6-0 win away at West Ham, going 4-0 up by the interval. This was a team that had beaten us a few weeks before at home! Declan Rice capped off the performance with a majestic strike for our sixth goal. The following week we trounced Burnley at Turf Moor 5-0 with consummate ease and we began to see Havertz grow into the false 9 role in a highly effective manner.

Then the Champions League resumed. It was a rude shock to lose a tight game 1-0 with a last minute goal in Porto who proved themselves to be a very canny and well-organised team. That result underlined that even this Arsenal team was occasionally prone to moments of inexperience. More normal service was resumed in the League at home to Newcastle. A comfortable 4-1 win illustrated the increasingly influential role that Havertz was playing and the excellence laced with extreme diligence that Ødegaard brought to the team.

Our next game was away to the seemingly doomed Sheffield United. I only caught the second half live by which time we were 5-0 up! It represented the biggest mismatch I have ever watched in the Premier League. Ben White scored the pick of our goals illustrating how effectively he has reinvented himself as a right back with an ability to invert and get forward into scoring positions.

The following home game against Brentford saw the temporary replacement of Raya with Ramsdale as the Spaniard couldn’t play against the Bees. Unfortunately with Arsenal coasting following a Rice goal, Ramsdale allowed Wissa to close him down and charge down his clearance…into the Arsenal net. Ramsdale later redeemed himself with two superb saves and a late header from Havertz ensured Arsenal clinched the three points. Porto were our next visitors in the second leg of the Champions League tie. Trossard put us level on aggregate after a wonderful Ødegaard pass. But the sides had to settle things with a penalty shootout as no further goals were scored. Raya emerged the  hero on the night with two fine saves and we netted four quality penalties to progress to a last eight tie with Bayern Munich. 

We then travelled to the Emptihad for the summit meeting with C115y. With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight a number of people, including Rodri, are claiming that our 0-0 draw revealed a lack of ambition. I recall it slightly differently based on my recollection of the game a year before when we attempted to cross swords with C115y and came off worse. Our defensive performance was a masterclass and given that we had a better goal difference than C115y it left us at the end of the game in a better position than they were. It was also the most powerful illustration of how much progress we had made as a team in the last twelve months both in psychological and in  football terms. We returned home for a comfortable midweek win over Luton, the only game in which Arteta rotated in the likes of Smith Rowe and Nelson as starters. We followed this with another comfortable away win at Brighton, a team that had caused us problems last season. A Saka penalty and second half goals from Havertz and Trossard saw us win with very little stress, a good thing given our next game was a Champions League quarter final against Bayern Munich! The first leg was at our place and brought home to everyone what we had missed during our exile from the competition. We went into the game as marginal favourites and Saka’s early strike gave us a wonderful start . But Raya and Gabriel’s misunderstanding let in Gnabry to score and Sane’s pace, which was too much for Kiwior, forced a penalty, coolly despatched by Harry Kane. Arsenal rallied in the second half and Trossard slotted home to equalise. A late, controversial decision to ignore a penalty shout for a challenge on Saka by Neuer, was ultimately to prove very significant.

This was the moment when our form temporarily dipped. Our next game was at home to Aston Villa and it followed hot on the heels of a shock home defeat for Liverpool by Crystal Palace. Two late goals after Arsenal had dominated the first half gave Villa a victory that was so harmful to our title challenge. We moved on to Munich and played a sound, tight game against Bayern which was settled in their favour by a diving header from Kimmich, the only goal of the  game. It was a game that illustrated that we were not as dangerous in the crunch matches against top teams. We had scored freely against most Premier League sides and had a huge goal difference. But we drew blanks at Newcastle , Villa and C115y as well as in Europe against Porto and Munich. Yet, despite going out in the last eight, our performances in Europe had been encouraging and hugely educational and we looked excellent defensively during most of our European campaign. 

This was a crunch moment in the season.  Out of Europe and beaten by Villa would we see Arsenal’s league challenge tail off? The answer was an emphatic ‘No!’ We travelled to Wolves, winning a scrappy game 2-0 with goals by Ødegaard and much to the delight of Anne Hathaway, Leo Trossard. Three days later, we pulverised Chelsea 5-0 at the Grove. It was a dream moment for Kai Havertz who scored two and for Ben White who also notched a brace. Trossard had opened the scoring a few minutes in. 

This was great preparation for our biggest derby game, the North London Derby, at the Toilet Bowl. It was a supremely eventful game. Sp**s started well but found our ability at set pieces hard to nullify. We scored first when Højbjerg notched an own goal and then after Van de Ven had a goal disallowed and a weak penalty shout was dismissed, we caught them with a classic break and Saka finished beautifully from a superb Havertz pass. When Havertz headed in from close  range before half-time we looked home and hosed and probably would have been had Raya, under little pressure, not chipped a pass to Romero and then Declan Rice volleyed Sarr’s nether regions (accidentally!) for a clear penalty. We held out to win 3-2 in a game where we had clearly looked tactically and technically superior to our North London neighbours (not that they agreed!) but we had inflicted pressure on ourselves. 

We were now dependent on C115y dropping points and at the same time needed to be faultless on our run-in. This began with a home game against Bournemouth which we handled very well. A Saka penalty on halftime gave us the lead and Trossard and Rice clinched an important win. Our next game came after C115y had won effortlessly at Fulham and reduced our advantage in goal difference. The pressure was relentless but we withstood a deluge (of rain not football) at Old Trafford. That was more disconcerting than anything United threw at us after Trossard again put us ahead in the first half. Our hope was that Tottnumb would be able to  continue their excellent record at the Toilet Bowl against C115y. The build-up to the game revealed the huge inferiority complex that they have in relation to Arsenal. Over half the Sp**dz fans surveyed indicated that they wanted their team to lose and some claimed that they would prefer relegation rather than an Arsenal title success. In reality, their team performed decently and although falling behind, they missed a golden chance to give Arsenal a huge helping hand when Son, clean through, shot straight at Ortega. Their eventual 2-0 defeat was fatal to their chances of making next season’s  Champions League. Had they won, they would have qualified for the Champions League at the expense of Villa. Mr. Levy that’s about £50 million of income you’ve written off! Cry me a river!

And so, to the final games . The Emirates bouncing with atmosphere and emotion was flattened by the news seeping through from the Emptihad as Foden’s goals gave C115y a stranglehold on the title, but Arsenal recovered after trailing to a wicked free-kick deflection to take a last victory (their 28th of the season, a record for us in the Premier League) with goals from Tomayisu and Havertz. 

The pride in what was a magnificent effort was tangible around the ground. 91 goals scored, only 29 conceded, four points taken against each of our two main title rivals and we went unbeaten against top six sides all season. This  was a stunning campaign that compares to almost any in the rich history of our club. We await with considerable interest the outcome of hearings that may yet determine the outcome of the title and what may be the future for C115y in the next few years. 

Putting your best team on the field 

It was amusing to Arsenal fans to see Manchester United, the team that poached our Medical Director struggle with a season-long series  of injuries whilst we were able to keep our best team on the field for a large part of the season. Most notably we kept William Saliba fit, so fit in fact, that he played every second of every Premier League game. It does make one wonder how significant that injury was that he sustained last season and the effect it had on our final points tally.

It would be wrong to conclude that we had no injuries this season. We suffered a desperately important one in the very first league game when Jurrien Timber damaged his ACL in the first half and reappeared only in the final  minutes of the season against Everton. He looked capable of filling both full-back roles admirably. Ben White had an exceptional season at right back but we struggled to fill the left- back role optimally. Zinchenko inverts but isn’t a great defender and is injury-prone, Tomayisu is a fine one on one defender but is also very injury prone and missed several chunks of the season while Jakub Kiwior is a natural left-sided defender but lacks attacking flair and as Sane illustrated, he also lacks pace .

Thomas Partey began the season at right back but again succumbed to injury and was not able to resume his place in the team until near the end of the season. Watching him in Manchester and against Everton, it was hard not to feel that he doesn’t now provide the defensive steel that we need in the 6 role. He is certainly a player that there may be interest in moving on to be replaced by a more robust model. Fabio Vieira also missed several months with injury and was never really  seen back in the team in 2024. His lack of impact and physical fragility suggest he may not be with us next season although that may be because he is sent on loan. If that is to be the case it would be instructive to see if he can cut it physically in the Premier League. 

Gabriel Jesùs is the other injury prone member of the squad. He is a highly skilled player with a ferocious work ethic but worries about his recurrent knee injuries coupled with scepticism about whether he is capable of delivering the number of goals we need from someone in his position might threaten his future. Personally I like his flexibility, flair and ability to play so effectively in Europe, allied to his colossal work rate. He is arguably the best pressing forward in the Premier League. 

Aside from players who did struggle with injuries, we had a series of players who were ever present or virtually so. Raya didn’t miss a game through injury and the injury records of White, Saliba and Gabriel were excellent. Declan Rice was virtually ever present, Jorginho was regularly available as was Ødegaard and Saka also started regularly despite being kicked from pillar to post for most of the season. Havertz was always available as well, apart from suspension. Martinelli picked up some understandable niggles and was the one player who failed to recapture his form of the previous season although he showed no lack of effort or application.

One huge benefit was that we only had two players sent off last season. Tomayisu (in farcical circumstances) at Palace and Vieira against Burnley. We also had only one suspension (Havertz) from a totting-up of yellow cards which showed admirable discipline and continued a trend which began last season. It represents a big change from Arteta’s early days and reflects the fact that he is a manager who improves incrementally by absorbing knowledge and positive habits and imbuing his team with discipline and common sense . 

Player of the season 

This is a fierce area of debate. It is possible to make very valid cases for a number of players, all of whom have contributed massively. At the game on Sunday a number of us discussed this and cited White, Gabriel, Saliba, Rice, Ødegaard and Saka as worthy contenders. After chewing it over we reluctantly dropped Saka who we deemed less effective than he was last season. That’s harsh because he is a wonderful player but the bar this season is incredibly high. Ben White has been a revelation. He has improved and reinvented himself every season that he has been with us. He was one of the finest centre backs in the country and is now not only a fine defensive full-back but is a superb attacking one too. He is a consummate crosser of the ball and he earns merit points for undoing Vicario’s gloves and being a highly inventive irritant at corner kicks!! Saliba and Gabriel have been a magnificent partnership. Gabriel was out of the team at the start of the season but as soon as he returned, played consistently well. He is one of the most dangerous attacking centre backs and complements Saliba brilliantly. Saliba is an absolute Rolls Royce of a player. I cannot believe Didier Deschamps prefers Upamecano and Varane to him. Saliba has the capacity to become even better after two superlative seasons. He is mobile, a great footballer and has three times made Haaland look like a floundering , awkward Cabbage Patch doll. 

Yet he has (hopefully) still more levels to rise to. My choice for our player of the year comes  down to Declan Rice or Martin Ødegaard. I was thrilled when we signed Rice and it is fair to  say he significantly exceeded my expectations. He has played equally well as an anchor in front of the back four or in a box to box role. He has been a marvellous example of a mature and supremely professional player. He fits perfectly into the Arsenal brand. The song is right – we did get him half price! But notwithstanding all of that, I’m going to choose Martin Ødegaard as player of the season. He is a superb player, a brilliant passer, a fine, mature and committed captain and he has a marvellous work ethic. It is hard to believe that even a side like Real Madrid can part company with a player of his quality. As the players circled the pitch after the Everton game and despite intense disappointment his bearing was impeccable. It is also important to note that if Kai Havertz had begun the season like he ended it he too would have been in contention. I unreservedly withdraw my allusions to Nosferatu when describing his game, Arteta reinvented him and he became a massive attacking asset.  We are truly fortunate to have players of this quality. They have all been outstanding this season. 

We’ve got super Mik Arteta 

Recently searching for a post by our great leader I looked back at the debate about who should succeed Unai Emery. I then scrolled forward to some of the moments when Arteta came under pressure, particularly when we lost three games in 2021/22 at the start of that season. I am proud to report that this blog never lost faith in him. Although we harboured lingering doubts these were soon dispelled and since then season on season we have, pretty unanimously, rejoiced in his development. Not every part of the Goonerverse can say that . 

Arteta is, with the possible exception of his Basque friend, Xabi Alonso , the hottest emerging coach in world football. He has shown the ability to learn from his mistakes, he never ducks a tough decision (e.g., Ramsdale/Raya, Aubameyang and Ozil). But he is more than just a coach. He has built a marvellous connection with the fan base that hasn’t existed since the Invincible season. Perhaps most excitingly, he is aware that he can improve and I think Guardiola knows that he was very lucky to finish ahead of him this season. We are in very good hands. Get that new contract signed Mikel, there is no adequate Plan B! 

We also have excellent owners (something I never thought I would say while the Kroenkes were in charge). The emotional intelligence of Josh Kroenke has enabled him to recognise and support Arteta and Edu, who deserves great credit for the work he did in the summer transfer window. I hope he can orchestrate our sales as successfully this summer!

Tim Lewis appears to be a very safe pair of hands and most Gooners are more confident with Richard Garlick in charge as he takes over from Vinai. The balance achieved in the key appointments underlines the experience KSE has in running sports teams. Perhaps most significantly Josh Kroenke stated publicly that the jewel in their sporting crown is ‘in London’. I found that reassuring and satisfying in equal measure.

So what else do we need ? 

We are in an incredible position. We’ve made ground season on season and our Nemesis faces a very public examination of its credibility and integrity. No one doubts their quality but there are huge questions to  be asked about how they got there and how they can maintain that position given the League’s stricter governance rules  . 

We have a fine squad but some improvements might be made and with Arteta in charge, he will not be afraid to make them. While I have some reservations about Raya, I accept he is Arteta’s man although I suspect he won’t necessarily be the long-term goalkeeping solution. But Ramsdale will leave and we need an experienced number two. Szczesny would  be perfect and despite what I said before I would consider Jordan Pickford if Everton have a fire sale. He would seriously challenge Raya. Left-back has been a problem area but if Jurrien Timber stays fit he would be a great solution there. I’m not totally sold on Kiwior and should Diomande of Sporting Lisbon become available, he ticks the left-footed box and would give us three of the best centre backs in the world. If he is not available, then Guehi of Crystal Palace is a fine, flexible defender. 

We are strongly linked with a Turkish left back (Ferdi Kadioglu) who can play on both sides so he might be our defensive recruit this summer freeing up others to cover at centre back 

In midfield, I suspect Partey will leave and we will seek someone who can play the holding role. Zubimendi is affordable but seems reluctant to leave Real Sociedad. If he doesn’t come, I wonder if we could persuade Palace to sell us Wharton. I would prefer him to Onana at Everton. Gibbs-White of Forest is a fine young player but woud we use him. Rice would revert to a holding role if Gibbs-White came to the Arsenal.

I think we will buy a flexible attacker who can play wide or through the middle and I think we will look for a young player like Zirkzee or Sesko rather than Toney. Gyokeres is a fine finisher but is very expensive and we might lose the Havertz effect having just brought it to the boil. Those purchases will set us back around £170 million given that we must buy Raya,  but we might raise something like £120 million in sales and trim our wage bill. A number of our players will have to leave but I do hope we will keep Smith Rowe. I’d love to see him succeed at the Arsenal.

Arteta has understandably been reluctant to blood young players in a title chase but I expect to see Nwaneri, Lewis-Skelly and possibly even Martin Obi join the first-team squad next season.

Exciting times after a wonderful season, one that has filled every Gooner I know with immense pride and enjoyment. It’s tempting after a long season to sit back and forget about the game for a few weeks but I can’t wait for 2024/5 to start. I really do believe it can be a special season!

“We love you Arsenal, we do!”

A club that has a tradition of doing things the right way, the honest way, the honourable way but was in disarray on and off the field appointed a brilliant young manager who then built a team that is easy to love and that plays wonderful football. That team has broken records this season, winning more Premier League games than any previous Arsenal team and letting in fewer goals than any other Premier League team this season. This Arsenal team has finished the 23/24 season with 89 points, one point less than the Invincibles of 03/04, though winning more games than the Invincibles, and have finished above every other English club without a stain on its financial record.

The media omertà has finally begun to fragment and the reputation of a club with 115 charges (!) of alleged financial misdemeanours is tarnished, despite cease and desist letters to all and sundry and the endeavours of expensive lawyers to impede due process in the Premier League’s efforts to hold them to account. Surely, a club innocent of any transgressions would not have led the PL panel through a maze of legal obstructions but rather, would have attempted to clear up the ‘misunderstanding’ as soon as possible and volunteered information rather than withheld it. The Premier League can legitimately be criticised for not completing their process before the beginning of the 23/24 season as the charges were publicly revealed (after many attempts to obstruct even this) in February 2023. However it is clear that many, many obstacles were deliberately put in their way and are still being put in their way. That is not remotely the behaviour of an innocent party. If the PL can finally complete the process they started several years ago and prove their case, this will be, at minimum, a huge reputational disaster for every person, cheerleader, accountant, lawyer and owner associated with that tarnished club.

Without doubt, that club has amassed a hitherto unparalleled collection of playing talent and depth of squad but that is not unrelated to their alleged misdemeanours dating from 2009. Their cheerleaders may claim that they have broken many records but as Brian Clough said to the Leeds United players during his brief tenure at Elland Road, “…as far as I’m concerned, the first thing you can do for me is chuck all your medals and all your caps and all your pots and all your pans into the biggest fucking dustbin you can find. Because you’ve never won any of them fairly. You’ve done it all by cheating.” I’m sure Ronnie Biggs and Lance Armstrong celebrated their erstwhile successes before they felt a hand on their shoulder. Enjoy the mirage while you can, chaps.

I would rather support a club with a proud history of honest competition than one with foundations built on sand and success built on alleged ‘creative accountancy’.

And so, to the final game of the season. This game against Everton was the culmination of an extraordinary run of games by this Arsenal squad since their winter break in Dubai. Ironically Everton’s position in the table would have better reflected their ability and threat had they not had 8 points deducted for exceeding the permitted overspend over three seasons by some £20 million. Swift justice in their case and, I understand, a discount for co-operation. On the field the Everton team proved to be the image of their coach: tough, obdurate, well organised and difficult to break down.

We were all over them like a rash from kick off with a high energy, high press attack but the goal just wouldn’t come. Highlights included a thumping header by Tomiyasu, after 6 minutes, from the far side of the six yard box that flew across goal but went wide of the post, a left footed shot by Rice after 12 minutes, from the centre of the box, that sadly lacked power and was an easy save for Pickford and a brilliant dribble by Martinelli into the Everton box from the right, where he had started in place of Saka, ending in a firm low shot that Pickford blocked and spilled, but the rebound was taken off Martinelli’s toes by an Everton defender.

On the other hand, Everton were not without threat. In the 22nd minute they won a free-kick in a dangerous position 25 yards out after a stupid foul by Partey which struck the Arsenal wall and rebounded to safety. Then, in the 32nd minute, the persistently mobile Calvert-Lewin hit Raya’s right post from close range then struck the rebound into the side netting. That reprieve was transient as Partey committed an unnecessary foul 25 yards in front of goal which earned him a yellow card. Sadly, this time Gueye’s free kick struck Declan Rice and looped into the top right corner of Raya’s goal rather than away to safety.

The crowd and the team responded magnificently, the former cranking up the noise and the team pinning Everton back. Three minutes after Everton had taken the lead, Ødegaard danced his way to the by-line and cut the ball back through the crowd for Tomiyasu to stroke it into the left side of Pickford’s goal from near the penalty spot. The crowd was even louder for the remaining 4 minutes of added time – I think it was the loudest I’ve heard a crowd at the Grove – but sadly the North Bank couldn’t suck the ball into the net. The half ended with a shot from the edge of the box from Partey that just missed the top right corner of the goal.

We had played well, defended strongly, probed, shot frequently and dominated the half with 14 shots, 4 on target and 4 corners, against Everton’s 4 shots, 1 on target and no corners but ended it slightly relieved to be back on level terms.

We looked very silky on the ball around the opposition box but I thought Partey looked rather a weak link during our attacks, slowing the ball’s forward movement and failing to see penetrative passes. My daughter must have felt likewise as, as the half drew to a close, she asked, “Has Partey checked out already?” To be fair, he improved slightly after the break.

Half Time: Arsenal 1-1 Everton

The second half saw wave after wave of Arsenal attacks with Ødegaard the master conductor and Martinelli a major threat from the right putting multiple balls across the goal or playing cutbacks that persistently proved elusive to the other attackers. Soon after the restart, a Havertz header from the centre of the box just missed the left side of the goal.

Just before the hour mark, Gabriel was clattered from behind by Doucouré as he took the ball forward in our half for which the Everton player received a yellow card. It was far from our seats but it looked to me like he was nowhere near the ball and lucky to get a yellow. Five minutes later Gabriel went down and was replaced by Zinchenko with Tomiyasu moving into the left centre back position.

Things livened up in the last half hour. On 63 minutes, Raya made a decent Hollywood save, leaping across his goal to catch a shot from Calvert-Lewin that was heading towards his top left corner from the opposite side of the box. Two minutes later, Tomiyasu had a header from an Ødegaard cross blocked then Havertz hit Pickford’s left post with a header from a Martinelli cross.

It began to look like one of those days when we just couldn’t buy a goal but Rice lifted the crowd with an imperious dispossession of the ball carrier when three Everton forwards broke free towards our goal. He later got a card for a tactical foul.

On 69 minutes, the crowd were lifted by the appearance of Jurrien Timber and Emile Smith Rowe for Ben White and Thomas Partey respectively and none of our subs looked out of place in this silky machine. We were continuing to probe Everton’s rugged well organised defence and shot after shot was blocked – Pickford being extremely lucky to sit on a close range shot from Ødegaard that almost squirmed under him. Meanwhile, Jurrien Timber linked well on the right flank and had the nous to end another Everton breakout with a crunching tackle in the centre circle for which he received his first card of the season.

On 78 minutes, Gabriel Jesùs replaced Leonardo Trossard who had had a relatively quiet second half and this added energy to our left sided attack. When Smith Rowe’s bouncing shot from the left of Everton’s box struck the bar it reinforced the thought that this wasn’t going to be our day. As did the late decision that the ball had gone out for touch in a move that saw Havertz dance with the ball through the Everton defence and fire it into the net, only for the goal to be disallowed. Kai Havertz was then booked for a foul and Pickford was finally booked for persistent time wasting.

However, this Arsenal team kept going, kept fighting for and regaining the ball, kept probing and kept shooting. And then it happened! Jesùs nipped in front of an Everton midfielder to claim the ball, just inside the Everton half, passed it to Ødegaard who, running into the box, as the keeper and a defender came out to close him down, either sclaffed it or executed the sweetest touch to, somehow, roll the ball gently across the six yard box to Havertz who smashed it into the net with aplomb. VAR surprised us by insisting that Michael Oliver review Jesùs’ dispossession of the Everton midfielder with an allegation of handball. Bless him, the referee saw the ball hit the arm above the sleeve line, stuck to his guns and awarded the goal.

Little of consequence followed as the game drew to a close.

Full Time: Arsenal 2-1 Everton

This was a fully deserved victory but there was a somewhat subdued atmosphere at the end and many of our players collapsed to the ground at the final whistle. That’s not really a surprise as they have expended much energy to finish top of the Honest League which sadly does not yet bring medals or a trophy. Our players, the manager and his coaching staff should be very proud of their achievements this season and we should be equally proud of them.

The Arsenal players then did the customary lap of appreciation and more fans stayed for this and cheered them more loudly than I have seen on previous such occasions. Speeches from Mikel Arteta and Martin Ødegaard preceded the lap of appreciation, were very upbeat and promised further improvement and a renewed challenge next season.

Bring it on!

We love you Arsenal!

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