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Bohemian Rhapsody

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Last week, in North London, we outplayed our Europa League quarter final opponents, Slavia Prague, making many chances but spurning most of them. Virtually on the final whistle we conceded an away goal which made the final score 1-1 and led to much angst, even in this normally calm bar. We were off to Prague, the capital of Bohemia, for the second leg. 

The team announced was very similar to that which blew Sheffield United away at the weekend, swapping only Martinelli out for a fit again Emile Smith Rowe. However on the bench, the next generation of Hale End talent was appearing, with Azeez, Balogun, and Hillsdon joining Eddie and Nelson. Auba was confirmed earlier in the day to be suffering from malaria. We wish him well. 

Leno, Chambers, Holding, Marí, Xhaka, Ceballos, Partey, Saka, ESR, Pépé and Laca.

Ryan, Hillson, Bellerin, Gabriel, Willian, Cedric, Nelson, Elneny, Nketiah, Martinelli, Balogun

There had been much discussion before the game – was this make or break for Arteta? (I’ll give you my view below, although I trailed in it the drinks under GSD’s excellent preview). One thing was for sure, this was a huge, huge game for keeping any competitive interest in this season. Any defeat or a 0-0 draw and we were out. Any win and we were through. Positions behind the sofa were assumed and we were off.

Before the kick off the SP team all stood, huddled together. Their fellow player had just been suspended for 10 games for racist abuse vs Rangers. Led by Lacazette the Arsenal team took the knee, a strong silent protest. 

The first ten minutes or so were all theirs. Confident in their own stadium where, the BT Sport guys kept telling us, they hadn’t lost in 15 months. Then, on 14 minutes, we broke forward for the first time. ESR went down the right and fed in Saka on the edge of the box. He pinged in an excellent left foot shot which the keeper did well to tip onto the post. It broke to ESR following up who tapped it in. Gooaal – oh no wait! An interminable VAR check decided that Smith Rowe was marginally offside. 

How would we react to the disappointment? We came straight back up their end. The ball came to that man ESR again on the edge of their box, surrounded by half their team. He nutmegged one man, then another, sliding the ball through to Pépé on the left. Pépé’s first touch was excellent (I don’t write that often), he froze his defender and drove it into the net. We were ahead and with an away goal!.

Slavia Prague 0-1 Arsenal (Pepe 18, agg 1-2)

Again we broke forward, with ESR playing in Saka again. He was fouled, no ifs or buts. Penalty! Nerveless Laca ran up, paused mid run and rolled it into the net with the keeper diving the wrong way. Suddenly we were 3-1 up on aggregate, with 2 away goals. Any draw would take us through. The fast start we so wanted had happened. 

Slavia Prague 0-2 Arsenal (Lacazette 21, pen, agg 1-3)

We were utterly dominant in this period. Partey passed to Chambers on the half way line. He jinked to his left to beat a man, and laid Saka in with a lovely left footed pass right into his stride. He made ground, did the keeper with the eyes and passed the ball into the goal inside the near post. Perfection and should be game over as SL now needed four more goals. Brilliant, brilliant stuff. Huge grins from Arsenal fans everywhere, mid-afternoon in the US, 4.30 am in Japan, Thursday evening in the UK. All were applauding, cheering, drinking and relaxing. Come on you Gunners!

Slavia Prague 0-3 Arsenal (Saka 24, agg  1-4).

We got to half time confidently with Rob and Marí blocking and heading the ball away. Pépé was tackling back well, helping out Xhaka on our left. Half time and we were 4-1 up on aggregate. A dazzling first half performance.

Slavia made a rather rare thing at half time; a quadruple substitution. On 66 minutes, the “hold what we have” change began as Elneny came on for the Croydon de Bruyne, who once again had had a quite brilliant game.

The skipper put the punctuation mark to the game on 76 mins when Pépé ran down the left and crossed to Laca. He seemed to have about three weeks to control the ball and smash it in with his left foot. Slavia Prague’s much vaunted home record was in bits and their players demoralised.

Slavia Prague 0-4 Arsenal (Lacazette 77, agg 1-5)

Just time to make some subs. Martinelli, Cedric and Balogun all got some minutes and Martinelli nearly scored after a lovely run, but it was all over. For the third time in four years we are in the Europa semi-final, playing Unai Emery’s Villareal. The interest continues into May (the games are on April 29 (away) and May 6 (home)).

So was Arteta’s job on the line last night? As I said in the previous drinks, not for me, win lose or draw. I am firmly on the side of giving him at least another year, whatever happens in the Europa League and even if we fail to get a European spot next season.  I think he can bring on these talented young players and mould them into a title challenging team. The last two games have seen all his tactical decisions come good, playing Xhaka at left back, Partey the deepest defender, Holding and Marí forging a partnership at CB and the youngsters playing merry hell up front. Lacazette is loving all the pace around him. But it could all go wrong again in the next game and this team is firmly a work in progress. But, for me, it’s heading in the right direction.

Charlie George has just signed for Willow!

The Cup Final replica shirt and programmes in our forthcoming auction now bear the signatures of FIVE of the legends from the 1970-71 Double Winning team. Bob’s autobiography now bears not only his signature but also that of the one and only Arsene Wenger.

Forget giving your Holic Pound to the Bookies and start saving your shekels to bid for a piece of history!

Meanwhile, during the currency of this post, a historic moment occurred that should be marked and toasted:

44 Drinks to “Bohemian Rhapsody”

  1. 1
    bt8 says:

    Love the title!

  2. 2
    bt8 says:

    Love the picture too. Laca has got to hold the record for appearing the most times in the featured picture on Goonerholics Forever.
    3 reasons: 1. He is very expressive when he scores. 2. He scores big goals. 3. Photographers like his beard.

  3. 3
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    Cheers Countryman. A lovely report. I’m so glad you got a good result to write up too!

    Personally I thought Lacazette’s second goal was good control, followed by an excellent shift into space and a clinical finish. I give him the credit rather than blame the defence for giving him too long. Apart from that minor quibble I’d agree with your excellent summation.

  4. 4
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    As to your point about Arteta, I would not want to conflate two separate points. Regardless of last night’s result I wanted him to get another season. Yet it would have been very hard to argue that the season has been a success if we had lost. So, I don’t think his job was on the line, but I do think perceptions about our season were.

    And that is probably still true for the semis, unless something miraculous happens in the league. I don’t see any way to argue that a season where we fail to get into Europe is a successful one – regardless of my opinion that we have the right manager.

  5. 5
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    In the context of where the club is at, one could perhaps argue a failure to get into Europe is expectedly unsuccessful. But not a success.

    And after the FA Cup win I don not remember many who thought we would not manage to qualify for Europa, even if few expected CL.

  6. 6
    bt8 says:

    Top drawer report, Countryman, on a very memorable night in Prague (memorable for the Arsenal, at least; SP and their embrace of racist players can do one as far as I am concerned). You are spot on in pinpointing our response to that lengthy and unfavorable VAR decision. We were unfazed and completely focused on the job at hand which we carried out to the final whistle much as we all would have wanted. Kudos to Arteta and the players, especially the youngsters who have been our spark this season. We have much to look forward to in the development of Saka, Smith Rowe, Martinelli and company. As you so rightly say, Arteta has given us every indication that he is the right man at the right time to oversee the development of this group of players and to meld them into a winning force. All in all, a blueprint to be replicated. Maybe Leno was right?

  7. 7
    North Bank Ned says:

    Fine report of a most enjoyable Arsenal performance in Prague, C100.

    Your note of caution at the end is well made. The raw material to mould a winning force is there, but can Arteta inject the essential element of consistency?

    Nevertheless, if you appoint a manager to rebuild the team, it makes little sense to fire them halfway through because the job is only half done.

  8. 8
    Bathgooner says:

    An excellent, indeed a Faberesque report of an excellent performance, C100.

    It’s such a pleasure once again, after far too long, to watch an Arsenal team strutting its stuff, dominating a game, making and taking multiple early chances then managing the rest of the game out.

    Masterful planning by MA8 and his coaching team. Now let’s have this on a consistent basis!

  9. 9
    Osakamatt says:

    Thanks for a fine report C100
    and the mention of Japan. Though
    I’m afraid I wasn’t drinking at
    4.30AM 😉
    We finished well last night which
    made all the difference.
    ESR was outstanding last night and
    the team generally gave MA some
    tough decisions to make when the
    injured and the ill are fit again.
    On to Fulham, who will be battling,
    we go and I hope our focused
    attitude will remain.

  10. 10
    TTG says:

    We regularly greet reports in this bar with praise and compliments and frankly I can’t remember one since GF started that didn’t deserve it.( exempting my own because I’m a reserved Englishman) . This is a really excellent summary of the match and merits high praise .
    Frankly although I had suggested to a few of you on the call on Wednesday that I was very confident about our success, I hadn’t expected it to be quite so easy . The ease was due to the quality of our play and the attitude of our players which was spot-on. I did note Laca taking the knee and looking defiantly at the Czech players . It is entirely wrong to brand teams as racist because of one bad apple but the ‘ knee taking’ and the Slavia response to it seemed to be a sort of metaphor and I was proud of Laca and felt for our black players going into that environment. They didn’t need any more motivation after that rather excessive celebration by Slavia on the pitch and I thought it would come back to bite the Czech team.
    I agree with GSD’s comments on Arteta . I just think he is a very good coach and we took him on expecting there might be bumpy periods in his tenure ( and there have been ).
    I recently argued with my Spurs supporting son-in-law about the relative quality of the two clubs. It was the day after our Liverpool defeat and he claimed only Auba would get near the S***s side . I told him apart from Son and Kane I didn’t think any of their players would be an asset to our side .
    We have so much potential in this group . Removing Bellerin and moving Xhaka out of midfield to a surprise role he has performed well , we’ve had greater defensive solidity, fluid movement and greater attacking thrust. We are nowhere near where I believe this side can go but it can definitely get to Gdańsk and inflict a third cup final defeat on ManUre . Saka and ESR can go on to be very significant Arsenal players .

  11. 11
    bt8 says:

    SP not taking a knee in those circumstances, if not an outright embrace of racism, which it arguably could have been, was certainly the wrong thing to do, and I believe it adds to the stain on the club.

  12. 12
    Countryman100 says:

    I appreciate the comments all. That was a wonderful game to watch and most enjoyable to report on. As Amy Lawrence puts it in The Athletic today “ For those who spend their time fretting about the club’s every move, it’s part of the turbulent ride that they can be so capable, so enthralling, so calamitous, so cautious — sometimes even all of those things in the same game.”

    GSD I complete agree with you and you have phrased it beautifully. To finish the season outside the European places for the first time in 26 years would be totally unacceptable. Yet so many agree with both thee and me that it would be stupid to make Arteta walk the plank at this point when he’s only half way through the job. As Henry Winter puts it in today’s Times “Arsenal showed in Prague why their fans should trust the process under Arteta.”

  13. 13
    bt8 says:

    Everything he says is equally true about Saka’s performance but this was what Arteta had to say about Smith Rowe and Pepe as quoted on the official site:

    “Top players in the final third or around the box have composure,” he said. “That extra second, that extra pass, that extra touch… they are in control.
    “Emile had it, to wait for the right moment for the pass. Nico did it as well by not rushing his finish. He took a touch, he took an extra touch and then he made the right decision.
    “It’s all about being calm and that composure in the final third. That makes a huge difference.”
    Smith Rowe has made a major impact since coming into the team in late December, and Arteta praised the way he has embraced the challenge.
    “When you are young and you go through new experiences, it’s really important that these first experiences are positive, because it gives you such a confidence boost in yourself,” he said.
    “These experiences will have a huge impact on where the boys were a year ago and where they are now, and the expectation they are producing.
    “All that has come in a really positive way so that speeds up the process of our young talent in the development phase. I think that’s really positive for them and really positive for the team and the club.”

  14. 14
    TTG says:

    Arsenal progressed to the last 8 of the Youth Cup tonight winning 3-1 at West Ham. Omari Hutchinson was the standout performer apparently. He is a young man attracting great interest . We meet Liverpool away in the quarters

  15. 15
    scruzgooner says:

    is this the real life? is this just fantasy?

    excellent review, c100. can’t wait until you get back to the games, especially those away, for the reports.

    having been working with the crew on the double conversations, and hearing they played 64 games in all competitions that season with only 17 players, of which only 13 or 14 were used…i do have to wonder what’s changed that we have to harbor (harbour, ttg and c100) our young guns so they don’t get injured. pat rice played in 63 of the 64 games as a 21 year old. ray kennedy also played 63 and was one of the team’s leading scorers at 19. why are today’s young guns so much more (relatively) fragile?

    that really was a lovely game to watch. i have to believe that’s our level regardless of the team we play, and if we gel and work hard we can achieve those kinds of victories with clusters of fine goals. i was also impressed by our imperious defense, agreeing that capitola rob and marí are forming a great partnership. and, while i’ve long thought he could make it here, chambo’s rise to displace hecate is stunning, really. he offers so much more security at right back, and hecate’s absences from all competitions makes me really wonder if he’s headed to spain this summer. kudos, too, to xhaka, he’s a solid replacement left back, and gets to use the sideways and backwards passing to our advantage. finally.

    for the first time in a while the stars of hope are rising above the horizon…sunday ought to be an interesting test of our consistency against teams that we really should be putting to the sword as we did prague and sheffield.

  16. 16
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Excellent review Countryman!

    A few excellent performances and the rest are all solid enough. I find Arteta is growing rapidly in the role as showcased by more and more tactical flexibility in setting up but also the fluid formation changes in game. Sometimes the players make mistakes or aren’t really quite technically — more often physically — capable to pull off the plan consistently and Mikel has started to adjust better. His willingness to continue with Chambers down the right also shows that give or take an exception or two, he not only talks the talk about meritocracy but also walks the walk. Using Dani as a left sided midfielder who does both screening and ball carrying to help Xhaka use his strengths as the left back while protecting from his weaknesses is both clever and brave.

    Whenever Mikel lets go the tendency to over orchestrate the game plan our current team plays much better. Let’s hope we play the rest of the matches this season with this clarity of purpose.

  17. 17
    Osakamatt says:

    what bt8 said @11

    Great from Laca and made me wish
    I was there to take the knee beside
    him at the time

  18. 18
    Uplympian says:

    A most pleasing read C100 which matched a most pleasing performance by all those who wore the shirt. It seems getting players into the box means we can score more freely – who’d a thought it. The young guns are showing up well – it augurs well for the future.

  19. 19
    bt8 says:

    V. good result for the Arsenal what with the next two teams above us in the table dropping two points each, not to mention poor Jose, etc. etc. etc.:


  20. 20
    bt8 says:

    Additional heartwarming statistical trivia (maybe not just trivia, either) to be highlighted:

    No Premier League side has dropped more points from winning positions this season than Tottenham (20).

  21. 21
    ecg says:

    bt8 @20 – There is method to our madness!!!

  22. 22
    bt8 says:

    Indeed, ecg. There very well may be method to our madness if somewhat different than the original method intended. I refer you to the Premier League table,
    Not to count our chickens before they are plucked but if we beat Fulham and Everton (the game after Fulham), we will be within striking distance of 7th spot. Two good legs against Villarreal to put us into a European final. Season coming good I heard you whisper?

  23. 23
    TTG says:

    I like your positive mental attitude Bt8

  24. 24
    Noosa Gooner says:

    I think we should leave our tactical strategy to Leno – in the last drinks he definitely got this game right! (How dare Laca mess up my ongoing 3-0 predictions.)

  25. 25
    Trev says:

    Thanks, C100,

    that was a pleasure to read and, I’m sure, a pleasure to write.

    I’m definitely with you on the Arteta issue. He came into a club that was a mess on and off the pitch. At that point you looked at the squad and really wondered who was worth keeping. Chief exec – I believe he was called – had, er, left, chief scout had left, manager had been sacked, the squad was in disarray and some senior players were having their two-penneth on social media.

    In the fifteen months since Mikel Arteta joined, we have had some ups, two trophies – yes, of course the Charity Shield / Community Shield counts if we win it ! – and some downs, particularly against teams we would normally expect to beat. Arteta has had to manage through some exceptional times, both at the club, and in terms of a global pandemic with it’s on-off and rearranged seasons. To contemplate sacking Arteta now would be madness.

    Look at the squad now with the roll call of young talent both in the team and on the bench. There is no greater pleasure as a fan than to see a team built on your own young players coming through the ranks. Remember Brady, Rix, O’Leary, Stapleton / Davis, Thomas, Rocastle / and now all the names in C100’s list from Thursday evening.

    Arteta has, at times, frustrated with the insistence on starting and bringing on older, defensive players to “protect” narrow leads or game situations that have cried out for continued attack. Young players do need to be protected though, in a game played with a physical intensity, hard pitches and pace not seen in the era of Pat Rice and co, that someone referred to above.

    We are seeing a really exciting group of young players emerging now, for which full credit must go to those in charge of youth development behind the scenes. Arteta will need to be brave to continue to promote from within. I hope he is, and I hope and believe he will eventually be successful. With us.

  26. 26
    Bathgooner says:

    Hear, hear! Trev @25.

  27. 27
    TTG says:

    “I loved everything about the game. I loved Arsenal’s performance, I loved the way they went about it. I admired how they approached before the game, during the game and after the game.
    “I’m sure Glen ( Kamara) did as well but I was really proud watching Arsenal’s performance last night. Everything about it.
    “The way they prepared for the game, the way the manager spoke, the way the players behaved before, during and after – and then to back it up with that level of performance.
    “I sat there and really enjoyed that game, it was a sensational performance.”

    The words of Steven Gerrard .

  28. 28
    North Bank Ned says:

    Scruz@15: There is no escape from reality.

    bt8:20 Even the Dulux dog is complaining the neighbours lost his lead…

    And what Trev said @25.

  29. 29
    ksn says:

    Willock gets another goal for Newcastle. He is having a good loan and getting minutes on the pitch but he would probably be sold.

  30. 30
    bt8 says:

    Fulham are 8 points away from safety despite having played one game more than their closest rivals. I wish they would just give up, but don’t think they will.

  31. 31
    bt8 says:

    Kudos to Joe Willock. That is two critical late goals he has scored on this loan at Newcastle. Add them to the goals he scored in the EL for us this season and he has a very respectable return.

  32. 32
    Countryman100 says:

  33. 33
    Countryman100 says:

    Please everybody sign this petition. I have.

  34. 34
    ksn says:

    Man City out of FA Cup, beaten 1-0 by Chelsea. Their dream of four trophies gone.

  35. 35
    Bathgooner says:

    C100 @32, a righteous cause.

    Please all sign that petition to protect a great and historic pub from the maw of a predatory and unscrupulous landlord taking advantage of the effects of the Covid-induced lockdown on the pub’s income to throw them out and redevelop the site for pecuniary gain.

  36. 36
    Countryman100 says:

    Cheers Bath. I second that emotion. This was Dave Faber’s main watering hole pre game.

  37. 37
    TTG says:

    I’ve signed

  38. 38
    Countryman100 says:

    Look at the clock.

  39. 39
    Bathgooner says:

    I tried to post the screenshot here but failed.

  40. 40
    uplympian says:

    Petition signed – opportunist property owning bar stewards 😠

    In a little corner of Middlesex marshland fireworks are bring set off celebrating 60 yrs of not
    winning the football league. Let’s all raise a glass acknowledging their marvellous achievement 🥂

  41. 41
    Countryman100 says:

    Well bowled Uply! Hear hear.!

  42. 42
    Bathgooner says:

    The Holic clock has been immortalised at a historic moment. Check the foot of C100’s fine match report.

  43. 43
    TTG says:

    Great work Uply and Bath !
    Sixty years? The blink of an eye !

  44. 44
    Bathgooner says: