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Head in the Clouds

To leaven recent Arsenal-related gloom and current Interlull-imposed ennui, Goonerholics Forever is delighted to publish a special report through which our very own TTG shares a special occasion with which he marked his coming of age. Many happy returns, mate.

Back in January during the lockdown I reached my three score years and ten. It was a frustrating time and Zoom was the only link with loved ones whom we had already missed seeing at Christmas, but on my birthday morning I was delighted to open a very precious and expensive present from the family which was a flight in a Spitfire from Biggin Hill. This flight actually took place last Sunday and was an extraordinary event. 

I need to preface my account of it with a little bit of background. I am not heavily into the technical aspects of planes although I estimate over the years I’ve probably flown on commercial airlines about 1500 times. I’ve done very little ‘proper’ flying in small planes – a helicopter flight around New York in the eighties, a couple of flights in North America in very light aircraft and a trip in a Dakota from Duxford many years ago. However, I’ve always had enormous respect for the Spitfire and the men who flew them, partly because my Dad revered them. He had cause for feeling that because he was at Dunkirk and said some incredible Spitfire pilots held the Luftwaffe off as our forces queued in the water to board any vessel they could to get home (there is controversy about the extent of the role Spitfires played in the evacuation of Dunkirk but he was adamant about the part they played). Every time they flew over when I was a boy he would always nod to them in great respect

 “Those planes helped us win the war, son,” he said, referring especially to the job they did in the Battle of Britain. I don’t think many people would challenge that point of view. Sadly, they were piloted mainly by young lads not yet out of their teenage years most of whom perished within weeks of learning to fly them. I read somewhere that the average expectation of life of a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain was around three weeks – heroes all! Yet what an extraordinary waste of fine and immensely brave young men!

Most of us recognise the iconic status of the plane designed in the late 1930s by Mitchell and which eventually became the stock aircraft of RAF Fighter Command as the war unfolded. Its elliptical wing design is familiar to so many people, many of whom (myself included) built Airfix kits of them as young children. 

I booked a flight for late August hopefully to guarantee better weather and above all, better visibility. I was able to bring my immediate family and as the day grew near my enthusiasm increased. Several friends suggested I must be mad and reading the literature which they send you I began to see why they might think that. They emphasised the high risk of flying in an eighty-year old aircraft, of relying on a pilot who might peg out on you and the possibility of mid-air collision in uncontrolled air space. I began to wonder if Mrs TTG had an ulterior motive and whether she had upped the coverage on our life insurance!  But frankly I couldn’t wait to do it.

The family joined me to travel to Biggin Hill and as I went through the pre-flight checks, Mrs TTG thought it would be a very nice idea to hire what they call the AirVan to fly alongside for part of the time. My son-in-law leapt at the chance and one grandson decided it was far too cool an opportunity to miss. They are Tottenham fans so this would be the highlight of their year! My daughter only flies in large planes in extremis (or family holidays) so she declined and my youngest grandson kept her company.

I had a chance to chat through the itinerary with my pilot who was ex-Red Arrows, who explained that even if the engine failed we could glide down with no problem – reassuring that! I kitted up in a fetching flying suit, was weighed to ensure I was under 17 stone (smashed it!) and was strapped into my parachute and shown emergency exit drill and the location of my sick bag if needed. Thankfully it was redundant.

As we taxied out to the runway I did start to wonder if this was as good an idea as I had originally thought! You are in an elevated cockpit with a Perspex screen and space is at a premium. Anyone with a waist much beyond 40 inches would struggle to fit into the cockpit. I never worry in the slightest about commercial flying, in fact most flights don’t register with me but I suddenly realised this was the point of no return. But it was also time to man up. Teenagers died for our country in these machines. I was taking a short pleasure flight. It was time to go. 

The AirVan left first and then that evocative sound of the Spitfire firing up started. The take-off is quick and thrilling and you are aware of having much greater visibility all around than you do on a normal scheduled flight Our highest altitude was only about 1000 feet so you see an awful lot of detail on the ground, traffic, landmarks, golf courses and ladies sunbathing topless across the Kentish Weald (or did I imagine that?) 

We banked around the AirVan and then peeled away. My wife said it was an extraordinarily evocative sight and it certainly was different to anything I’ve experienced on an aircraft before. I was concerned about touching the joystick in front of me. You’ve little room to manoeuvre and when you turn rapidly it’s quite disorientating for a few seconds. Some planes did some serious aerobatics. We did a few but mainly very sharp turns. I had no wish to take the controls and chose not to do a Victory Roll which although the classic Spitfire manoeuvre looked a somersault too far for me. 

We crossed the Sevenoaks Weald, flying over where my parents lived for twenty-five years. Visibility improved during the flight and while the plane does not progress at that height as smoothly as a bigger airliner it was a pleasant flight in good conditions. There is vibration but it is not unpleasant or too powerful. Banking in a Spitfire is an incredible experience as you drift away at a 90-degree angle and scythe through the wispy threads of cloud. I found myself wondering how eighty years ago boys could pilot these wonderful planes back from missions at which they had taken down the Luftwaffe and had returned to base not knowing if they would ever reunite with their best mates again. It was a deep and troubling thought and I was brought back to reality by my pilot informing me that we would be landing in two minutes and after a couple of adjustments to line up with the airfield and the runway he put the plane down as gently as a feather. As someone who once carried out a perfect landing in the flight simulator at Gatwick in heavy cobblestone turbulence I felt he would appreciate my professional approval! My flight was over and the eighty-year old aircraft had returned me safely to base. Mrs TTG was ripping up the insurance policy as I arrived back at the terminal. 

Time for photos, checks on videos which are taken automatically and the presentation of my flight certificate. We also went to the hangars to see Spitfires and Hurricanes and the odd Messerschmitt being renovated and serviced. I’m not mechanically inclined but there is a real beauty about the intricacy of their engines and bodywork. It’s an impressive operation, slickly put together and with a compelling central proposition.  I’m so glad I did it but I have got it out of my system now and won’t be going back.

I’m sorry my Dad wasn’t alive to see me do it. He would definitely have reminded me how brave and brilliant those young Spitfire heroes were. Their memories still resonate strongly around a Kent airfield, from which many flew to their deaths. The ultimate sacrifice – but one that helped us to remain free and which will never be forgotten — and neither should it. 

An ordinary Sunday afternoon represented an extraordinary experience for me.

Pain

Well, that was about as much fun as a visit to the dentist at which you are strapped into the chair and forcibly given root canal treatment un-anaesthetised while having to listen to a soundtrack of fingernails being scraped down a blackboard.

First Half

Actually, we started pretty well.  You there at the back – stop laughing…  We pressed reasonably high and played positively. We were forcing City back and into making uncharacteristic errors while they tried to play out.    It didn’t generate any efforts on goal but was nonetheless encouraging. Until the 7th minute (!). A hopeful and not very good ball was hoisted forward by Gundogan into the left-hand edge of the Arsenal box.  Despite being favourite to get there first and then either kick the ball out for a corner or free kick, Tierney gave up his position in order to ensure he could jockey Jesus.  A couple of passes between Gundogan and Jesus gave the latter the time to pump in a lofted and again not terribly good cross. Which ought to have been won by our defenders.  Now we played with 3 nominal central defenders – Kolasinac, Holding and Chambers.  They are all 6 feet plus.  And yet the circus dwarf sized Gundogan managed to get on the end of the aforementioned rather average cross and nod it in. Laughable defending.

Man City 1- Arsenal 0

Now at this point, while all was not lost, City started to exert control.  5 minutes later we gave away a free kick in a fairly innocuous part of our half.  City played it short, with no real drive or apparent intent, engaging in some passing amongst 3 players. Again, a poor low pass into the Arsenal box was the result. Tierney managed to perform some kind of cross between a highland reel and the hokey cokey, throwing in short order his head and then leg at the ball, which managed to take a deflection and run through to some bloke to hit in from short range.  I mean, again, this was comical defending from a nothing ball.  Further viewings showed that Calum Chambers was in fact punched in the face in the build-up, resulting in him going down.   This was shown to VAR who decided that this punch to the face didn’t constitute a foul.  I’m sorry but this is ridiculous.  As usual when Arsenal play, the pundits, aided and abetted by the professional referee apologist Walton, decided that this punch in the face did not constitute violent play.  We live in a world where the meanings of words are increasingly being traduced, but I would love to know under what definition this act was not an act of violence.  And if not, what was it?  A philadelphic act of love?  More of this later.

Man City 2- Arsenal 0

At this point the game as a contest was over.  But in the words of the late Roy Walker, there’s more. In the twentieth minute, City almost gave us a chance as once again they were slack in their attempts to play out from the back in the face of some very decent Arsenal pressing. Ederson was closed down by Smith -Rowe who very nearly turned the keepers hurried attempt at a punt up field into the net.  In keeping with the luck, we have enjoyed thus far this season, The ball crept past the outside of the post and off for a goal kick.  In the 24th minute an accidental clip on the heels of preening, floppy-haired, serial cheat Grealish gave the referee the opportunity to flourish a card at Soares.   This being Arsenal, this enabled compulsory Scouse co-commentator McManaman to state this was a definite yellow card.  Its funny, but Fernandinho has made a career out of just this kind of thing and yet has an excellent record in terms of bookings.   I would say this is inexplicable, but it clearly isn’t.  Arsenal continued to try to play and again nearly had some success from pressing the keeper Ederson who passed very poorly out to the edge of the box, from which the resulting slick, quick passing saw Xhaka put in for a shot which he tamely hit at the keeper.  He was just offside anyway, but again it was hopeful.

In the 28th minute, the referee managed to perform the by now typical PGMOL doublethink by booking Kolsinac for a flat handed palm off into the face of Jesus, a man who constantly looks as though he was bout to burst into tears anyway.   Now given the earlier assault on Chambers, leading to the 2nd goal, this was a decision showing a mind-boggling ability to hold two opposing views of the same event in mind at the same time and manage to come up with contrary decisions for each.  Not only did he give a foul, but this was also a booking.  The whining, mosquito pitched voice of compulsory scouse co-commentator McManaman at least managed to understand the ridiculousness of the decision and declared there was nothing in it.  Which is of itself ridiculous since flat handed palm offs into the face are not and never have been legal in football.  No mention of why there shouldn’t be a VAR call to overturn this mistake by the referee, given the earlier decision.   I don’t want decisions to be made in our favour every time.  I just want consistency in refereeing, which arguably we have. It’s just consistently, appallingly against Arsenal.

In the 35th minute the referee was able to celebrate by giving Xhaka a red card.   Now it was an off the floor, one straight-legged straight tackle. Contact, I’m not too sure about. Neither clearly was the referee, who pulled his yellow card out. Then realised it was Xhaka and changed his mind deciding it was red.   I don’t mind it being red.  I hope every tackle like this is given as a red.  They won’t be though, as Xhaka can’t do every one of these tackles.  Of course, Xhaka should have learned by now.  But he is incapable of learning, as he is an inveterate idiot.  Two years ago, he was bawled out by the home crowd for his serial repetitions of stupidity – fouls in poor parts of the pitch, giving the ball away when under the slightest pressure, straight legged front on tackles.  Two years later he has learned the square root of sweet FA.  We now have 3 games without him.  He will not be missed.  Hopefully, he will never play for the first team again.  By now, all hope of saving the game that has not already been lost was jettisoned.  7 minutes later and with gaps all over the place as a result of the sending off, we still decided to press high when their keeper had the ball.  Unsurprisingly he managed to find a straight pass into the midfield, the ball was switched out to the left then passed into the box for some bloke to slot home from 4 yards.  Embarrassingly easy.

Man City 3- Arsenal 0

Second Half

Half time saw Elneny replace Saka.  It made sense.  The game was gone, and there was no need for the young man to suffer any more, and Elneny could take up more space in the centre of the pitch.   Nominally.

The second half was a procession, unsurprisingly.  On 53 minutes the lottery winners scored an excellent goal, with a shot from the edge of the box right into the corner.  No blame attached to Leno or necessarily the players.  It was just an excellent goal.

Man City 4- Arsenal 0

The 67th minute saw a nasty foul on Tierney who had his left leg planted while Rodri deliberately kicked him.  With the game decided, the referee rightly booked the offending player.  The 70th minute saw Odegaard withdrawn for Maitland-Niles. City had all the ball and we had by now given up the pretence of trying to get back into the game.  It was all damage limitation.  By now, the odious cheating hobgoblin Sterling had come on and in the 75th minute did his party piece pathetic dive in the box to try to get a penalty.  With the game already gone, the referee ignored it.  Then in the 84th minute, after a period of concerted pressure and near misses by City, a cross from the right from Mahrez found a very good Torres run, albeit, as usual, wholly unmarked and it was 5. And we managed to keep it at that without further real chances or mishap.

Man City 5 Arsenal 0

Conclusions

In fairness, and as been pointed out in the comments to the preview, we are only 3 points worse off than any sane person expected us to be given the start the computer inflicted on us this season.  And Arteta has been unable to pick the kind of side that we all think he wants to.  At the same time, serious questions are being asked.  We have no more discernible pattern of play than we had under the last 5 years of M. Wenger and his unfortunate successor. There is no evidence whatsoever, as per the previous 2 incumbents of any work on the training ground in regard to defensive drilling.   

I will resist joining the growing band of supporters clamouring for the head of Mikel Arteta at the moment.  In any case, I believe that with the financial backing provided this summer, he will have until December to turn it round.  We have eminently winnable fixtures coming up after the break, by which point one would hope that the Covid sufferers will have returned and the large band of accumulated dross for whom we are still paying will have been further whittled down.  I am not hopeful, but I seek to remain calm until then.

Third PL Match Lucky?

From Pulse NG

Where do I begin? (Hums old tune and conjures up the image of the young Ali McGraw)

“Begin at the end!” said a wise elderly GP on being told by a notoriously garrulous patient that her current ailment was “a long story” and she was “not sure where to start”.

I must confess that I wrote the title for this piece before our first home game. Those of a sensitive temperament or in need of constant optimism should look away now.

Rather than a gentle introduction to the new season, the PL fixture computer posed Arteta a challenging triplet of matches to begin the 2021-22 season in what at the end of last season was already being labelled as his “make-or-break season”. That challenge was significantly magnified before our opening game at Brentford by four members of the match squad testing positive for Covid-19. This clearly disrupted the team’s preparations 48 hours prior to kick off against a team riding high on a wave of enthusiasm generated by their first match in the top flight in 74 seasons. A disappointing outcome to that match appeared highly likely to those of us of a less than incautiously optimistic disposition even before the outbreak of Covid-positivity. Certainly no surprise.

The lessons for me (you will no doubt have your own) from that Brentford game were: 

(1) if we are to take any points even from newly promoted sides with limited players, we need to be ‘up for it’ and show more determination to win; 

(2) Leno appears to have become a highly jittery keeper especially with the ball at his feet; 

(3) if Calum Chambers is our best RB we are in trouble;

(4) it takes time for a new CB to integrate into a back four, especially when there is little organisation and no leadership; 

(5) Ben White needs to learn how to compensate for his lack of height and bulk or Arteta needs to do get others to do so; 

(6) Mari is probably not our best option at LCB; 

(7) KT3 cannot be our best attacking option again if we are to win matches;

(8) the back four desperately need organisation – are we missing Luiz’s experience already? 

(9) Lokongo looks a player but must not be flogged to death;

(10) Xhaka cannot be allowed to see out his contract; 

(11) ESR is a vital creative force for this team and must be kept fit; 

(12) Pepe is our most frustrating player since Hleb and needs to improve his output this season consistently, otherwise he must be sold; 

(13) Balogun is too inexperienced and lightweight to lead the line this season and must go out on loan to learn his trade; he needs competitive game time.

(14) Martinelli is a willing runner but needs to be more involved in games and be stronger in challenges.

Our second game against the European Champions was preceded by the boost of a negative Covid test for Aubameyang but sadly he was deemed unfit to start and we experienced another late sucker punch 24 hours before the match when Ben White dropped out of the squad with a positive Covid test. We will have to be prepared for such setbacks to become a regular feature of this season without the strict bubbles of last season. At least we got a pre-match lift through the announcements of the signings of Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale though the former could not provide his much-needed skillset due to the absence of a visa/work permit. However, we have finally addressed the need for a decent back-up keeper and taken a step towards fixing the creativity deficit. I think that Odegaard is an excellent addition to this team despite the hordes for whom familiarity has bred contempt. In the first half against the Chavs, after a brief opening flurry, we were clearly second best with Mari bossed by Lukaku and James given acres of space on the left side of our defence throughout the first half. Surprisingly, James’ freedom pass wasn’t addressed by the coach until the second half as a result of which it could easily have been 0-4 or worse at HT. However, we did put in a more spirited performance in the second half.

The lessons from that game (again, for me) are stark: 

(1) despite beating the Chavs twice in the PL last season, a decade and a half of under-investment in this squad has left a quality gap between us and the big spenders; only organisation in the press, at a throw-in, in defence, playing out from the back etc. can compensate for that quality gap – we clearly have a lot of work to do at Colney!

(2) Leno is still a reliable shot-stopper; 

(3) our defensive organisation needs a massive amount of work – I hope we can find a reliable pairing in this squad and a leader in the back four (think Bob McNab!); 

(4) in-game adjustments have to be made when things are going badly – that freedom pass on our left flank should have been revoked after 15 minutes; 

(5) see (9) above, we can’t get Partey back to partner him soon enough! 

(6) Xhaka will never change, there’s no good moaning about him, see (10) above; 

(7) we have recently been pretty toothless upfront and for the second week running our forwards simply bounced off a defensive wall without creating good scoring opportunities; perhaps we aren’t yet in a position to dispense with Auba and Laca despite their familiar deficits;

(8) there were encouraging hints of sharpness from Aubameyang in his brief late cameo but unless he or Lacazette rediscover the way to goal we are going to need to acquire a mobile striker who is not a callow youth – our young strikers have talent but are far too lightweight to lead the attack.

Our unaccustomed midweek foray into the second round of the Carabao Cup (forever the League Cup to those of a certain age) saw us trounce 6-0 a juvenile Baggie selection – albeit a meaty bunch of juveniles. That opposition is not a reliable yardstick of our PL potential but the result and performance provide essential balm for our damaged morale before the third and most daunting of our opening trio of challenges. Unreliability of the yardstick notwithstanding, we saw confidence surge back into the Gunners on the pitch, Odegaard pulling strings for 60 minutes and providing midfield urgency, Auba looking lively, scoring a hat trick and suggesting that his radar may be sorted, Saka returning to energetic mode, driving us forward and scoring a lovely goal, Laca linking well for 20 minutes and scoring with a stunning strike and Ramsdale keeping a clean sheet, making a couple of good saves and looking comfortable with the ball at his feet while showing a good range of passes. That match brought a welcome and much-needed blast of positivity. More like that in this match would be nice!

Our opponents this weekend, the current PL champions, looked a shadow of themselves in their opening game at the Armitage Shanks Stadium and managed to lose to the solitary goal. However, in their last game they produced a 5-0 drubbing of a lacklustre Norwich team and they represent a huge hurdle for Arteta and his young team. Shitteh’s rise to their current pinnacle – the obverse of our decline – is of course the result of unprecedented spending on players which has apparently topped £1billion in the last decade. Their starting eleven for this season’s opening match cost over £500 million whilst every member of their bench that day would walk into almost every other team in the Premiership. Guardiola recently claimed that Manure and the Arsenal dominated the league at the turn of the century due to greater financial investment than their competitors but this is arrant nonsense. But for the funds from the UAE Treasury, Shitteh would still be languishing in their previous habitual position of mid table or below and they epitomise the distortions that result from financial doping first identified by Arsene Wenger. A far worse result than the artificial enhancement of a bang average club from east Manchester to become a PR vehicle for an oil-rich feudal state is their distortion of the transfer market that affects every club without access to a bottomless pit of petrodollars. They have risen close to the top of my ‘Hierarchy of the Despicable’ (other epithets are available).

We can predict this match will be a struggle against another clutch of talented mercenaries and we are going to have to be at our best if we are to take anything from the game. At least the midweek outing at the Hawthorns, despite the paltry opposition, provides a glimpse of what we are capable of achieving (under optimal conditions)! However, we cannot be naive. I was surprised that we didn’t play three at the back against the Chavs and I thought Arteta extremely incautious not to do so, despite being at home. A more cautious approach to this match will serve us better. We must recognise where we currently stand relative to the top four at the moment, in particular to these two petro-dollar fueled opponents. That is not defeatism, it’s recognising how things stand.

In truth, history tells us that the odds are stacked against us even without the recent effects of Covid-19 and injuries. A traditional procession of home and away victories against the blue side of Manchester began to falter after their acquisition by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, further aggravated by their early cherry picking of Arsenal talent. It then got worse. In 9 league games since the arrival of Guardiola in July 2016 we have garnered a solitary point from a home game in April 2017, during his first year in the job. We lost every other match home and away. A modicum of hope can be gleaned from the two cup semi-final victories in April 2017 and July last year when we frustrated Shitteh with stolid defence and strikes on the break. We have been universally written off for this match. Can we surprise everyone again? Can we get lucky again?

At the time of writing, Ben White is expected to miss this game but Lacazette returned with a 20 minute cameo against the Baggies and looked sharp both in his passing and in scoring his goal. The injuries to Tierney and Martinelli forcing their removal against Chelsea were simply cramp and they too are fit to play. Bellerin is also available again. Willian is now Covid-19 negative but remains in limbo. Frankly he can remain there for all time but he won’t get under the bar with a belly like that. As I have already inferred, I think we should play 3-5-2 against Shitteh and aim to strike on the break. This is an away game against the champions – the best team in England last season.  We sit pointless and goalless in 19th position in the table so this is a time for pragmatism.

Shitteh are a well-oiled, expensively assembled machine with a coach who knows how to take advantage of opponents’ failings. We are still getting our show on the road and have several failings that Pep will have noticed. Over the years we have seen many sides come to our place and stifle us to steal a point or even three. It’s not pretty but needs must when facing a dangerous opponent! I remember Mancini’s Shitteh trying to do exactly that despite their already expensively assembled team but losing out to a late Arteta piledriver in April 2012 (always a risk when all you do is stifle and you don’t take your few chances). We haven’t created enough chances in either pre-season or our PL matches to believe we can go toe-to-toe with a Shitteh side that will dominate possession. However, I do believe that with a rejuvenated Aubameyang we can perhaps steal a goal (or two?). We should set out to stifle the opposition in the best George Graham tradition, frustrate them and their support and strike when we get the opportunities. Facing Shitteh’s offensive quality and strong defence every one of our players will have to be at their best, work hard and be lucky! It’s not an impossible task.

To this end I would play 3 – 5 – 2 (3-5-1-1 if you like) with an emphasis on parking the bus, keeping things tight and frustrating the oilers. My team would be:

Leno

Holding  –  Mari  –  Tierney  

Bellerin  –  Sambi  –  ESR –  Xhaka  –  Saka

Odegaard –  Aubameyang

The Holic Pound?

Although I believe that we will do well to take a point from this match, and I would bite off your hand if you offered me a draw now, bet365 are offering 50/1 on a 2-0 win for the Arsenal. Unexpected riches if we can just pull off a miracle! And, with a wing, a prayer, a chapel full of candles and a Roman altar drenched in bull’s blood, it might just happen.

I hope our travelling fans enjoy the game. I shall be behind the couch with a bottle of Highland Park.

COYG

The Carabao Cup in August? Surely some mistake!

Kolasinac back from the Balkans or thereabouts, Elneny and Xhaka in midfield. As Steve T commented poignantly pre-match ‘Xhaka and Elneny — how is that actually a thing?‘ We played a West Brom side who made eleven changes from their last game, with five debutants.

We began with a back five morphing into a four, sort of — it was a flexible arrangement — and Castro went through Ødegaard in the first minute. It was a frantic Cup tie from the off. Chambers missed a great chance to put in Saka and then compounded the error with an awful backpass to Ramsdale which had hospital pass written all over it. Ramsdale then almost had a clearance charged down. Welcome to Arsenal, Aaron! He then made a fine low save in the eleventh minute. Arsenal then nearly conceded from the resulting corner but on seventeen minutes Aubameyang forced the ball in from close range after the debutant Baggies goalie had spilled Saka’s low shot.

West Brom 0 Arsenal 1 – Aubameyang 17

We were getting joy with balls out wide to Pépé, and then almost doubled our lead when Ødegaard hit the post from a narrow angle after Tavares had a shot deflected. After a decent spell of possession, in which Elneny was conspicuous, Holding was booked for a rash challenge on Zohore on a West Brom break.

It was noticeable how Countryman was leading the Arsenal fans in song. A sizeable contingent had made their way into the Midlands fuelled by curry and lager. I’m certain their mood was ultra-positive as away fans are usually the most loyal and positive part of the fanbase. They watched as Aubameyang caught the West Brom line napping and saw their keeper just foil him, albeit flattening his defender in the process.

Kolasinac joined Holding in the book with an ill-timed challenge in a dangerous position. The free-kick came to naught but Arsenal had not yet  made their clear superiority and extra experience count. Arsenal were enjoying over 70% possession and Tavares was catching the eye with dangerous forward runs but it was Saka who always looked most likely to create danger.

Closing on halftime Elneny found Pépé with a delightful ball. The Ivorian was calm but hit the post from a great position; Aubameyang slotted home the rebound showing the speed and anticipation that is his hallmark but which seemed to be absent for much of last season.

West Brom 0 Arsenal 2 – Aubameyang 43

A couple of minutes later Saka sent Aubameyang through beautifully and though his shot was blocked his overhead kick from the rebound fell to Pépé who slid the ball home, his sixth goal in six games. Interesting that all three goals so far were tap-ins, a situation that we have not seen for some time.

West Brom 0 Arsenal 3 – Pépé 45

Our football on the break was smooth and incisive and the danger was compounded by the naivety of the Baggies defence, whose high line was suicidal. The half ended with Arsenal on top and hopefully taking confidence from a satisfactory first forty-five minutes. The intelligence of Aubameyang’s movement, Saka’s ability to find holes in the West Brom defence and Ødegaard’s and Ramsdale’s encouraging starts were pleasing. Tavares looks excellent but needs to get longer studs as he was continually slipping over.

Half-time West Brom 0 Arsenal 3

Despite the margin the rather dense Kevin Campbell was far from pleased, but I regard him as one of the increasing ranks of less than impressive ex- pros whose opinions attract more interest than they deserve to.

Arsenal began the second half with a raft of pass and move football and decorated it with a delightful early goal by Saka with Ødegaard and Aubameyang showing quality and craft to set him free in the area to curl the ball home

West Brom 0 Arsenal 4 – Saka 48

Ramsdale had largely been a spectator after his early save but he blocked a fierce header from Zohore and then parried a low shot at the near post. From the resulting corner he took a cross in fine style but landed heavily, resuming thankfully after treatment. Another good break saw Saka in acres of space but his cross was blocked. Ødegaard’s confidence and class were increasing as the half wore on but he was replaced on the hour by Ainsley Maitland-Niles returning to the club where he played on loan last season.

On 63 minutes Aubameyang completed his third hat-trick in Arsenal colours with a superb trademark curling shot after being neatly found by Pépé.

West Brom 0 Arsenal 5 – Aubameyang 62

Lacazette came on for Xhaka after the goal and immediately found Pépé with a great pass through the defence. His impudent chip hit the crossbar. One was tempted to claim it was men against boys but the Arsenal side had a very low average age itself. Lacazette announced himself with a crisp near post finish from a fine Pépé cutback to make it six.

West Brom 0 Arsenal 6 – Lacazette 69

Ramsdale then made another fine save at his near post as West Brom hit back. Tavares was catching the eye with his bursts down the left wing — Kieran who? — and had a decent shout for a penalty after being bundled off the ball before firing a right foot shot wide. His ability to use his right foot was notable and suggests we may have another real option as a right back.

Aubameyang was replaced by Martinelli on 75 after a reassuring performance in which he looked close to his sharpest. Lacazette was also influencing the game from  a deeper central midfield role. At this point Mrs TTG was not amused when I pointed out that our TV was clearly broken as it was showing Arsenal winning 6-0! No sense of humour, women — ‘ I thought you called me in to discuss something important‘ was her riposte.

West Brom tonight were possibly the biggest football side I’ve ever seen. They looked slightly muscle bound but raw and naive in the extreme and it was hard to work out how impressive this Arsenal performance was. I’m regularly told how big the gap is between Premier League and Championship. When you extend that to the second strings the disparity is even more obvious. The most worrying sight of the night was Bukayo Saka felled by a careless challenge from another West Brom gormless giant. He resumed after treatment. A fine night ended with another piece of good news.

Full time – West Brom 0 Arsenal 6

Tomorrow’s opinions will be split between those who believe this was a breakthrough performance and those who think Arsenal are flat-track bullies putting a fairly useless West Brom U23 side to the sword. In reality the City match will tell us much more about our potential this season, but we need a full and fit side on the pitch before we can really measure what is possible. There were lots of positives — Ramsdale started with a clean sheet and has a notable presence I don’t think Leno has, Tavares is an interesting attacking wing-back, and it was good to see Ødegaard settling into the team so intelligently. Saka looked superb and Lacazette was very impressive in a deeper role. MOTM had to be Auba and he looked to have rekindled the spark that makes him such a fine striker.

Countryman’s on-the-spot reflections will be interesting and an insight into how the travelling fans reacted to the first good night of the season. May there be many more.

On Wednesday 25th August 2021, the mighty Arsenal will play the first of a greatly reduced number of midweek fixtures for this season. No more Champions League, no more Europa League and, thank goodness, we weren’t quite good enough last season to qualify for the newly formed Europa Conference League. This is a competition sponsored by UEFA, where the prize goes to the club who manages to outfox Google Maps, Waze, Tom Tom et al, and declare itself “unlocatable” by the premier satellite navigation systems across Europe. Some early favourites are surely FK Čukarički, FK Žalgiris, KF Shkupi, HB Tórshavn and our very own minnows Tottenham Hotspur, who many have heard of but nobody wants to find them anyway.

No, we find ourselves facing West Bromwich Albion in the second round of the Carabao Cup. Many Arsenal fans will be surprised to discover that there actually is a second round of the League (Carabao) Cup – we have had loftier ambitions for the last quarter of a century. I am willing to bet there is at least one denizen of this bar who can tell us the last time we were obliged to turn up for such a fixture, but he has more monks at his disposal than I do and I am too depressed to want to find out. 

West Bromwich Albion (hereinafter referred to as WBA) was founded in the West Midlands in 1878 and has played at the same ground, The Hawthorns, since 1900. For a club with such strong domestic roots, and having most recently employed Fat Sam Allardyce, it’s perhaps surprising to find them being managed by the exotically named Valérian Ismaël, a 45 year old French-German coach from Strasbourg, some details he shares with one of our own previous managers you might remember. Ismaël was a 6’3” centre back – now hang on a minute…. ah, ok, they both were !

WBA have had a bit of a thing for Arsenal defenders in recent times, especially it seems those named at least equally flamboyantly as their current manager. Oluwasemilogo Adesewo Ibidapo Ajayi spent his youth career at Charlton Athletic and arrived at the Arsenal in 2013, via Dartford. He moved on in 2015 having not made a senior appearance, and despite having played for the Nigeria U20 and Senior teams, arrived at WBA in 2019 via Cardiff, AFC Wimbledon, Crewe and Rotherham. Dads, if your sons want to be footballers, just tell them how tough this game is, eh? Kieran James Ricardo Gibbs of course played 137 times for the Arsenal, prior to 93 appearances for WBA between 2017-2021. He has now moved on to Inter Miami in the MLS. And Kyle Louis Bartley, who played in the same Arsenal youth team as Jack Andrew Garry Wilshere and his centre back partner, Luke David Ayling (much too boring), also left Arsenal without a senior appearance in 2012 and took the Rangers, Swansea, Birmingham, Leeds route to West Brom, arriving in 2018. He has played for them 98 times now but Dads, please see Ajayi above.

The Baggies history dates back to 1878. Like the Arsenal of Dial Square, they were founded as a works team from Salter’s Spring Works and the club was renamed to WBA in 1880. They were founder members of the Football League in 1888. Despite five wins in the FA Cup, they have only won the League Cup once, at their first attempt in 1966. But they weren’t always the Baggies, regardless of the picture at the top of the post. Until the 1980s their official nickname was The Throstles, but it then changed to the Baggies which had anyway been in common use for some years. A throstle is an old fashioned name for a song thrush which looks like it is the bird featured on the club badge. It’s amazing that this sort of information comes to you free of charge !

This time we play in the Midlands, which will preclude a repeat of the recent misunderstanding experienced by a Baggies fan, oddly in a fancy dress shop in London. Having decided to attend the game dressed as a 70s hippy, the fella asked the shop assistant for -“some of those flared trowsers and a noice purr of platfoam shoes, a tank top and a luvlay flowry shurrt with a big rownded collar.”“Certainly, Sir”, replied the assistant, “and would you like a nice kipper tie ?”“Ooh, that’d be luvlay – with milk and two sugars, please ! “

WBA currently sit joint top of the Championship, their goal difference is actually inferior to Fulham by one, with 10 points from their opening 4 games. This promises to be no pushover.

Arsenal Team News
Sunday: The question, I suppose, is will Arteta use these League Cup fixtures to give some young squad players first team experience, or play his strongest eleven in any game that potentially could hand us a pass back into Europe. Those decisions will be influenced by the injury and COVID situations, which makes guessing a lineup very difficult.

Monday: Ok, so decision made! After the feeble loss to Chelsea on Sunday, this fixture is now a must win. Anything else will result in huge pressure on Arteta, with a trip to the Etihad looming on Saturday. The manager must surely go with the strongest available XI to try and get a win and some semblance of confidence back in the team.

However, I think we might well see a start for Aaron Ramsdale, who is back from Juventus, albeit this time as a goalkeeper. Despite a lot of negativity from some fans around this signing, he has earned great reviews from fans of his recent clubs, he fits the new player profile, and as an Arsenal player should have our full support.

Right Back seems to have become a discussion point and as we have four of them there is plenty to talk about. I don’t know why Chambers was dropped for Cedric on Sunday but I will be surprised if he is not recalled for this one.

Partey, Gabriel and Nketiah are still out injured, while Lacazette and Willian are ruled out with COVID. Martinelli and Tierney are apparently ok and Odegaard now has a valid visa and is available to start. I could see Lakonga rested as he acclimatises to the physical demands of English football, but he looks a very good prospect.

So as tradition demands I take a guess at the team, I can say with absolutely no certainty that we will see: 


Ramsdale;

Chambers, Holding, White, Tierney;

Elneny, Xhaka (😱), ESR; 

Saka, Aubameyang, Pepe.


It’s not exactly what I would like but knowing Arteta’s cautious nature, I think Odegaard will probably come on as sub in this one.

The Holic Pound
Despite WBA’s strong start to their Championship season, we find ourselves favourites to win this one – what have they been watching?! If you hunt around you can get 14/5 on WBA to win, 13/5 on the draw, or a miserly (I think – don’t really get betting!) 19/20 on an Arsenal win. If you like those “spread bet thingies”, Paddy Power are offering, and I quote – 1pt Arsenal to score Over 1.5 Goals in 90 minutes at 11/10. No, I don’t know – that’s just what it says !

Kick off is at 20:00 hrs, UK time – coverage on Sky Sports Football.
Referee is David Webb to whom I apologise for never having heard of him. Can’t be any worse, right ?

Enjoy the game, Holics !

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