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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!

43 Drinks to “Arsenal go four points clear at the top and start to create unreasonable expectations”

  1. 1
    Ollie says:

    Still stuck outside the Channel Tunnel and there’s already a match review.
    Cheers TTG!

  2. 2
    Ollie says:

    I thought Saka was pretty much back to his best tonight.

  3. 3
    Ollie says:

    Now we’re moving but I’ve gone past caring.

  4. 4
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks TTG, a well-balanced report of the game and a very sensible perspective on the way the game panned put. To be honest I somewhat shared your neighbours frustration as our performance deserved more goals and was royally pissed off when we let them back in it. However, apart from failing to burnish our goal difference, no harm was done and we saw it through well.

    Mikel was very happy with our performance, “the team was excellent today” and singled out Gabi M for praise. On we go to the shithole that is Luton to seek a long overdue win at Dogkennel Lane.

  5. 5
    OsakaMatt says:

    I hope are at least safe home by now Ollie!
    And of course our Ecuadorian eatery holics too.

  6. 6
    Ollie says:

    Cheers Matt. Not yet but at least I’m in Paris, just hopped onto the night bus so should be home on an hour or so, possibly less, depending on the number of people going in at Châtelet maybe.

  7. 7
    Ollie says:

    Home! Goodnight or good morning all!

  8. 8
    ecg says:

    Just read something post match from a so called “pundit” that said Arsenal isn’t at the level of Man City because we can’t kill off matches that we’re leading.

    Does anyone know if he is referring to the same Man City that were beaten by the Wolves a few weeks ago?

  9. 9
    TTG says:

    Good point ECG – or the team that let Chelsea come back to 4-4 the other week!

  10. 10
    TTG says:

    My objection to my neighbour was the use of the word ‘ crap’ to describe our football yesterday. We weren’t ruthless but our first half performance was of a very high level

  11. 11
    Ollie says:

    Or the team that we ourselves beat. We’re clearly not at their level…

  12. 12
    bathgooner says:

    Thanks, TTG, for a swift and accurate match report. I agree with the plaudits you award and with your criticism of your neighbour’s hyperbolic and scatological blast, while sharing Matt’s frustration that we let them back into a match which we dominated for at least its first third but conceded momentum to the opponent in the last third.

    That group fade may have been due to legs tiring from a second game in three days and I thought Arteta was somewhat dilatory in his substitutions, having said which, our substitutes, Ben White apart, didn’t contribute nearly as much energy as the players they replaced. Our strength in depth may not yet be quite what we had hoped but then that is probably one of those ridiculous expectations, a point with which I fully agree.

    Three points successfully acquired with a couple of beautifully worked goals. Job done. Rest, recover and return.

  13. 13
    BtM says:

    A very fine summary of a very fine day, TTG. You’ll be pleased that I can confirm that I consumed 20 pints of free beer at half-time, thereby reducing the cost of my ticket exchange investment to nil. Nae bother!

    When our second goal went in, my mind went quickly to the benefit that a 6-0 win would bring to our PL goal difference. That the Arsenal didn’t take any of the excellent opportunities to achieve that scoreline was disappointing. I was sitting just off the the half way line, in our half, in the first half. I noted that it took 29 minutes for more than two Wolves players to get into our half at the same time, such was our dominance.

    Overall, a super performance, particularly in the context of a fast follow-on from a midweek CL game. Zinnie’s four brain farts were a concern but he more than made up for them with his sublime contributions to our second goal. Saka played really well and was supported wonderfully by Tomi and MO. Martinelli played equally well but had no similar support, which limited his contribution a little.

    Ollie, your regular perseverance with the sub-channel trains is remarkable. Pleased your home safely. And of course, we’ve beaten Citeh twice this season already.

    Win on Tuesday at Luton.

  14. 14
    Trev says:

    Very good and fair report, TTG.

    Nothing at all to disagree with. You may have seen in a different corner of the cybersphere that I did think we finished the game in a ‘relative’ panic, given the context of a match we had completely controlled with some wonderful football. Throwing on defenders to see out the last ten minutes and Mikel Arteta telling Raya to kick it long isn’t really our usual MO.

    However, rather than have a go at the team, I share your frustration with Zinchenko. He does some very clever and very creative things going forwards but far too often – for a team of this quality – overplays in dangerous situations and causes an otherwise excellent defence unnecessary problems.

    Like you though, I think to call the performance ‘crap’ is extraordinary. I wonder how much time that fella spent on the terraces at Highbury in the mid 70s and mid 80s. We are lucky to have the team and manager we have, in the face of the financial muscle being wielded by state run funds, and to be ahead of the best side in world football for a second successive year is an achievement in itself.

  15. 15
    BtM says:

    If I was Eddie Nketiah, every second I spent of the field would be spent at 100% effort. But I’m not Eddie and he, most certainly isn’t me. Again, yesterday, Nketiah treated us to the nonchalant Eddie stroll when he came on. I can forgive him the terrible miss that would have killed the game at 3-1, but not the pretend press and lack of drive to help his team mates guarantee three points.

    Must do better, Eddie, never forget that the great talent that is Flo Balogun was released to let you prosper. He would have scored when you missed. At least make up for that with total commitment.

  16. 16
    Ollie says:

    Yeah ‘crap’ is a weird word. I felt some of our football especially in the first half was the best I have seen in ages (especially as I missed the first 40 min vs Lens?), some of the passing was incredible and did I count two nutmegs? Aka ‘Megs’, which was apt on a day Mrs. Wilson was being remembered.

    So what bath said at 12.

  17. 17
    Countryman100 says:

    Thank you TTG. I completely agree with your observations. After a convivial lunch (the red wine consumed was purely to keep the cold out you understand), we had a short walk to the stadium. As I said goodbye to BtM on the concourse he assured me he was going to earn back the price of his club level ticket from Exchange in “free” beer. As a good Dundonian he had been shocked with the ticket price! He tells us above that he managed 20 pints, although as a fellow scientist I think I’d like to audit his lab notebook! He must have had to stop at every station on the way back to Bishops Stortford!

    We played wonderful football in that first half. We couldn’t match the clinical finishing from Wednesday, but the chances were there, an Xg of over 4 I believe. It was only when I watched highlights back this morning that I saw quite how many errors Zinny made, the the one that led to their goal being particularly egregious. Yet he was so important offensively, linking wonderfully well with Martinelli. Our little Ukrainian is a conundrum for the boss! Odegaard was back to his fabulous best after that hip injury – our second goal was a thing of absolute beauty that AW’s teams could not have beaten.

    It was, I can report, bloody cold, even colder than Wednesday night. We had a bit of a nightmare journey home, arriving at 8.30. But our problems are nothing compared to the indefatigable (what’s that in French) Ollie, with a nine hour journey home. I hope you’ve thawed out mon brave!

    I will be watching the Luton game from the warmth of my living room before heading off to Villa Park (one of my favourite away grounds) next Saturday. Let’s keep it going lads!

  18. 18
  19. 19
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    Cheers TTG. Excellent report. I’m glad Freddie got to see a win!

    We had the chances to score more goals and put the game to bed. Blogs notes this morning that Trossard had a goal disallowed recently when Ben White did the same hand grab offence that the Wolves defender did on Gabriel J yesterday. For me, its a penalty all day long, and it not being given only highlights the VAR’s lack of footballing understanding that this is as effective a way to disrupt a player’s momentum towards the ball as a grab at chest or shoulder height, which they usually give as penalties. (I say ‘usually’ because it would be simply false to ascribe to the current refs any level of absolute consistency)

    ‘Clear and obvious’ is meaningless and VAR uses it to hide, and justify whatever otherwise inexplicable decisions they make. It is such a poorly written rule.

    Still, by its own abysmal standards, VAR did okay, at least managing not to shaft either team or affect the destination of the points. So well done Stockley Park – your shit decisions haven’t changed the outcome of a game, and all regular football watchers have to agree that that is a win!

    I wasn’t half as dismayed as most at the way the game ended. Although it was a bit hairy, I didn’t really think we’d concede a second. Our defence has given plenty of recent reason to trust it. We scored early, created more good chances, were in control for almost the whole game and we got three points. I’m more than happy with that.


  20. 20
    Ollie says:

    Cheers C100. I am very glad I was mostly adequatly equipped for the weather (considering better gloves and two pairs of socks next time) and not to have had a long time to wait for a warm bus. Passing on the opportunity to wait for a taxi in the freezing cold with angry people at Gare du Nord, even if that bit was meant to be paid for by Eurostar, was the right choice! Don’t think I’d have been home any earlier, and the conditions would have been worse.
    Or maybe I should have asked Hugo Lloris to give me a lift home, he turned right outside the station when everyone went left for the taxis…
    Anyway, we won, which made the whole thing an enormous lot more palatable…
    Glad you all had a great lunch, despite the trouble going home. A theme for the weekend.

  21. 21
    Esso says:

    Cheers TTG! Was there yesterday and I cant seem to remember any ‘crap’, except for maybe the individual error that led to Wolves goal.

    Also I’m sure Ollie is far too modest to post this in here – so I’m doing it for him.

  22. 22
    Esso says:

    Mods – please delete that link. Not sure why it doesn’t work.

  23. 23
  24. 24
    Countryman100 says:

    We have drawn Liverpool at home in the third round of the FA Cup. Games to be played during weekend beginning Friday January 5.

  25. 25
    Countryman100 says:

    Thanks for the tip Esso. Done. Good luck Ollie!

  26. 26
    North Bank Ned says:

    A fair assessment of a curate’s egg of a game, TTG. We had done the work of winning it in the first 20 minutes, and the rest was a training exercise in control without over-exertion. A couple of inches to the left for Martinelli or to the right for Nketiah, and you would have been writing up the game as a workmanlike 3-1 win. The goal we gave away was because of a mistake, not because Wolves did something particularly well, although we had more moments of sloppiness throughout the game than usual.

    GSD@19: I agree with you about the grab on Jesus’s arm. It looked like a penalty in real-time and in the replays. The only place it didn’t was in VAR’s parallel universe.

    I see from Esso’s link that some of the funds that Ollie is raising from running the Paris half-marathon will go to the Willow Foundation — an extra reason for Holics to support one of our own.

    C100: It’s not the 3rd round FA Cup tie I would have chosen, but might as well knock them out straightaway as in the final. 🙂

    One final point, TTG is right to remind us that to reach – and stay – at the summit of English football is no easy task. This is our 98th consecutive season in the top flight of English football. The next best is Everton with 70 seasons, followed by Liverpool with 62. More than half the teams in the Premier League this season have been there for less than ten seasons. Two weeks ago, we played a side that had sunk from the First to the Fourth Division in living memory, and we will play another one on Tuesday evening. We should cherish what we have and not forget how special it is.

  27. 27
    Ollie says:

    Cheers folks. Much appreciated!

  28. 28
    bt8 says:

    Thank you TTG for that excellent report and reminder for us greedy folks not to get too overly greedy. An excellent three points won, and on to Luton

  29. 29
    bt8 says:

    Excellent similar reminder from Ned above, and bonne chance Ollie.

  30. 30
    Ollie says:

    Cheers bt8!
    And I have Luton as a potential banana skin. Is that our first midweek PL game this season?

  31. 31
    Countryman100 says:

    Midweek, Premier League, yes it is Ollie.

  32. 32
    TTG says:

    Esso thanks for the link to Ollie
    I’m going to ask Bob what they are doing re donations to charity for Megs’ funeral but I strongly suspect that they will/ should support Willow.
    If that’s the case maybe we can generate a GHF donation . Megs was massively appreciative of the support we gave them during her lifetime .
    It was lovely to see him there on the screen yesterday and I thought a rather beautiful sentiment from the commentator on MOTD – ‘ among his family and his extended family ‘

  33. 33
    Ollie says:

    Did anyone mention City killing off matches they’re leading? Oh.
    And thanks too, TTG.

  34. 34
    OsakaMatt says:

    @ 8, 9 & 11
    Or even matches that we are twice leading. Amusing scenes at the end of of spud / Shitteh

  35. 35
    OsakaMatt says:

    Two point lead over Liverpool after all that this weekend. Pity Fulham couldn’t hold on but you can’t win them all I suppose

  36. 36
    Ollie says:

    Indeed Matt, not a bad weekend on the football front.

  37. 37
    Countryman100 says:

    Big games coming up. Luton away. Villa away. Liverpool away. Fulham away. The door is open. Let’s walk through it.

  38. 38
    Countryman100 says:

    10 points from 12 out of those games and we are really cooking.

  39. 39
    OsakaMatt says:

    I like our chances though they are all challenging in different ways.
    Decisions to make on the defense I think and the midfield set-up,
    and not easy calls with Timber and Partey out.

  40. 40
    Countryman100 says:

    So who had Paul Heckingbottom as their tip for the sack race in the GHF predictathon?

  41. 41
    North Bank Ned says:

    There was only one. The winner of the Tin-Tack Predictathon will be revealed once the sacking is announced. In the meantime, the new leaderboard for Match Week 14 has been posted. You know were to find it.

  42. 42
    North Bank Ned says:

    were = where

  43. 43
    scruzgooner says: