Feed on
Posts
Comments
Capitola Rob gets his goal!

The Arsenal started the matchday 34 against their East London, and fellow contenders for European spots for the next season, rivals West Ham with the result of a previous matches on Sunday moving them down a position from the much-coveted Champions League top four. A more surprising result of another match opened up the tantalizing (if less likely) possibility of fighting not just for top four but even the third position in the league table come the end of May.   

The West Ham team in recent years, since David Moyes took over the managerial reigns at the club for the second time, has undergone an impressive transformation into a consistent Premier League performer. The Scotsman’s trademark efficiency and tactical discipline, familiar from his Everton days, is complemented by attacking nuances that underline his managerial evolution. Our own manager — who was of course a linchpin of Moyes’s Everton team and their creative fulcrum – Mikel Arteta has been going through his own rapid evolution both as a tactician and a man manager, and most of us have been happy to ride the transformational journey of our own club along with him and this emerging group of spirited, talented, promising young players.

While this season has been marked by the inevitable inconsistencies that characterize a youthful team, the overall trend curve has shown a steady upward movement especially in the second half of the season. If the three subpar performances and resulting losses against Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton threatened to push the team back in its evolutionary journey, the invigorating wins against Chelsea and Manchester United leading up to this London derby provided a timely boost to the team and the fanbase alike.

The return of Takehiro Tomiyasu – one of our most consistent performers of the season, providing defensive solidity and tactical versatility – in the right-back position after a lengthy injury lay-off was a boost too for the team, especially as that ensures that the chaotic forces of our other full-back – and I say this fondly, for I think despite the rawness of his talents Nuno Tavares is a very promising player who can grow up to be a real asset for the team and more than capable deputy for Kieran Tierney – is counterbalanced by our right back’s inscrutable composure. There was one more change in the defensive line-up, Rob Holding earning a rare league start to partner Gabriel in place of Benjamin White suffering from some (one hopes) minor muscular struggles. In front of the defense the only change was Gabriel Martinelli coming back for Emile Smith-Rowe. The collective whirlwind of Tavares – Martinelli together on the left flank is a somewhat unusual choice for Mikel who prefers his shapes down the wings to be meticulously structured, and it was going to be instructive whether Martinelli could control his natural impulses and provide a more organized protection when Nuno inevitably lost his compass.

Ramsdale

Tomiyasu – Holding – Gabriel – Tavares

Elneny – Xhaka

Saka – Ødegaard – Martinelli

Nketiah

In pre-match interviews Arteta had alluded to our misadventures last season away at West Ham when we had rapidly conceded three first half goals, and probably mindful of that history the team started very cautiously, focusing on a very compact distance between the lines and leaving no spaces for the West Ham wingers and fullbacks to get drive into to deliver crosses. Saka tried to isolate the West Ham left back a few times and then cut back in the typical fashion, but there was very little space allowed by their defense; neither were there the quick switches of play or movement from others we needed to open up spaces. After two eye-catching performances of vertical and progressive midfield passing from Xhaka and Elneny in the last two matches they reverted more towards their steady safety-first possession recycling. Martinelli, while ensuring Tavares had both a cover as well as a passing outlet on the left, was rather subdued in an attacking sense.

Eddie Nketiah, since he has been brought in place of Lacazette in the starting line-up, has demonstrated the value of rapid movements and pace in the central striker role. He doesn’t quite have the technical abilities of his attacking peers, but his willingness to chase seemingly lost causes have definite advantages especially in an otherwise tight, and let us be honest quite turgid, match like this. His curled attempt at goal was palmed away by the ex-gunner Fabianski. From the resulting corner by Saka, Rob Holding outjumped his marker and finished with a smart flicked header reminiscent of his mentor Per Mertesacker’s odd goals in red-and-white. This was Holding’s first Premier League goal, and his ecstatic celebration with his teammates was well deserved for a loyal and consistent servant of the club. He was putting in a composed display at the heart of the defense as well with a few well-timed blocks and clearances.

West Ham 0 – Arsenal 1 (Holding 38’)

West Ham ratcheted up their attacking intensity and almost immediately got an equalizer as Ramsdale was forced into an acrobatic stop to push away Rice’s header. While Tomiyasu was keeping Benrahma relatively quiet, the more accomplished duo of Coufal and Fornals were finding it easier to ping in crosses from our left side, and from one such clever low cross from Coufal Bowen’s shot on target – but probably to be saved by Ramsdale – received a deflection significant enough to find the net.

West Ham 1 (Bowen 45’) – Arsenal 1 (Holding 38’)

The first half was a drab affair, and the second half carried on pretty much the same vein, despite West Ham starting the half with a more visible show of intent.  There were again some good defensive efforts by Holding and Tomiyasu, but we were more or less toothless in attack; even when, through our movement and playing between the lines, we were threatening our uncharacteristically poor passing and close control let us down quite a few times. Ramsdale provided the most memorable moment of that first part of the second half when he came out flying as a sweeper-keeper to clear out a long ball from West Ham that had beaten our advanced defensive line, and seemed in the process to have clattered Bowen who was giving the chase. But the replay confirmed that our goalkeeper didn’t touch the West Ham midfielder who got a yellow for his simulation. A rare good decision in our favor from the most unlikeliest of sources. 

Soon after our two Brazilians combined to get us the match winning goal. Saka, cutting in from the right, brought out a fine save from Fabianski on his near post. West ham defense failed to clear Saka’s corner out of danger, Martinelli showed nice control and composure to send an accurate lofted cross back towards the far post and Gabriel’s goalbound header ricocheted off of Fabianski into the net.

West Ham 1 (Bowen 45’) – Arsenal 2 (Holding 38’, Gabriel 54’)

Nketiah had a few more attempts, one of them was from a sumptuous Elneny through ball that he curled just wide of the post. Fabianski made a couple of more saves from Eddie. West Ham brought in Soucek, Antonio and then Yarmolenko, Tomiyasu had to be replaced (for what later Mikel clarified to be just muscle fatigue which is understandable given how long he has been absent from matchday action), Sambi came in for Ødegaard to close out the match and almost got himself a goal (but maybe should have just kept possession in those dying moments), Eddie got into a mad bit of kerfuffle with a few West Ham players, and Arsenal saw out the match with a degree of “streetwise” that is not always associated with the current incarnation of the team.

A subpar performance but a well-deserved victory leading us back to the fourth position on the league table. Among all the other London clubs involved in the fights for the European spots I personally dislike West Ham the least – and in Yarmolenko, Coufal & Soucek they have players that when playing for their respective international teams I would often find myself cheering – and wish them well in their second leg of the Europa semi.

Now, having secured three consecutive victories against three very tough competitors in this most crucial part of the season it is paramount that we do not lose our advantage before the north London derby and go to that match couple of weeks from now on the back of four consecutive wins, and not take Leeds lightly at all at Emirates next weekend despite their recent struggles. A victory in that match would significantly improve our chances to get back to the Champions League, which would be a truly remarkable achievement for this young team and manager learning as they grow.

It’s Only a London Derby!

The Wet Spam Firm in 2017. Credit: Rex Features

On Sunday afternoon we travel the short distance across London to the London Stadium (the Olympic Stadium that was virtually given to West Ham) for a vital London Derby. At least, it’s vital as far as we are concerned: it may be a game that West Ham feel they could well do without, sandwiched as it is between the two legs of the Europa League semi-finals against Eintracht Frankfurt. The first (home) leg was on Thursday night and did not go well. West Ham conceded in the first minute or so and eventually went down to a 2-1 defeat to a decent German side.

I watched the game with a slightly mischievous view. I wanted West Ham to eventually reach the Final but every time a claret and blue shirted player went down I hoped he had sustained a very slight injury that they would not want to aggravate on Sunday so that they would recover for the second leg. The Hammers are already missing Craig Dawson, sent off at The Bus Stop last week. The cat-volleying oaf Zouma returned last night but they may not want him to play two high intensity games in three days after a long injury absence. Last week they did not start Antonio, Bowen, or Rice, possibly their three most talented players, and I’d suggest they do exactly the same this weekend. Best not take any chances eh?!

Arsenal’s season has been likened to a rollercoaster by no less an authority than our manager but Mikel probably called it a ‘Montaña rusa’. Certainly it has progressed in phases – a disastrous start, a recovery, a late autumn blip followed by a goal splurge and a steady accumulation of points until a recent run of four defeats in five. But the last two wins in high-profile games against the Chavs and ManUre have restored momentum and made us again the bookies favourites for the final Champions League place. The battle to secure that is probably down to a straight fight between us and our beloved neighbours from Middlesex. They face a home match against a Leicester side who are also facing a stiff away semi-final leg in Rome on Thursday. I think to maintain momentum they have to pick their strongest side on Sunday and to use the lift they get from beating the Totts to help them through next Thursday!

Our revival has coincided with the selection of Eddie Nketiah upfront and the much-maligned Mohammed Elneny in midfield. Missing Partey and Tierney we have seen the deployment of Nuno Tavares possibly simultaneously one of the best attacking full backs in the Premier League…and one of the worst defensively! Nuno may find himself out of the team on Sunday as Tomayisu returned to the team in the latter stages against United. If he starts on Sunday we might see Cedric move to left-back. The return of a properly fit Tomi will be incredibly welcome. Otherwise I think the team (injuries and illness permitting) is probably quite easy to divine.

My guess is that it will be:

Ramsdale

Tomayisu White Gabriel Cedric

Elneny Xhaka

Saka Odegaard Smith-Rowe

Nketiah

Subs – Leno, Holding, Tavares, Lokonga, Pépé, Lacazette, Martinelli

It would be interesting to ask Holics to guess the outcome of the 145 fixtures we have played since we first met in 1906. So I will: how many of those have we won…and lost? Answers at the end. It is certainly a fixture with an unusual scoreline which recurs regularly – 3-3!

Last year’s away game was a 3-3 draw after we had trailed 3-0 after half an hour. A few seasons before an Andy Carroll hat-trick failed to win the game for them after we had led 2-0 and trailed 3-2! I’ve seen us play West Ham away a number of times . In recent years it has become a safer endeavour than visiting Upton Park in the sixties and seventies. The Inter City Firm were a very dangerous crew and on one occasion murdered an Arsenal fan (in 1979) at Highbury. The London Stadium is a much more civilised place but it’s manifestly not a proper football stadium like Upton Park despite the fact that my then seven year-old grandson (a Gooner) claimed it was ‘ old and smelly’ when he visited it shortly before it closed. I visited their new home for a bland 0-0 draw and sat in the Wet Spam version of club level. My mood was not improved when using the loo a very happy Hammer pointed out the claret and blue tiled club crest over the urinals. ‘All this for £2 and a half million. Good old Boris!’  If ever there was an example of a playing field tilted in a club’s favour that decision by the then London Mayor was it.

So what can we expect on Sunday? Predictions are hard to get right with our rather inconsistent team but it is a game that has fallen at a very good time for us. West Ham had a very tough and rather dispiriting game yesterday. They must have more than one eye on Thursday’s second leg and they will surely rotate a squad that is smaller than ours. So we have a real chance to get three points.

Watching the last-16 win over Seville and the crowd going ballistic it struck me how much smaller a club West Ham is than Arsenal. I don’t write that deliberately in a superior way but qualifying for the last eight of the Europa League would not cause the outpouring of joy in N5 that West Ham’s success did. That preoccupation with a chance to make real club history must dominate their thinking at the moment and hopefully we can profit.

The Holic Pound

Bet365 have West Ham to win at 10/3, Arsenal 4/5 and the draw is 14/5. Arsenal to win 3-1 is available at 18-1 and I’m going to suggest that our freshness, the incentive of securing CL football and the Hammers’ preoccupation with Thursday may see us prevail by this score. But at the same time I’ve a nagging feeling, probably caused by our recent inconsistency, that it won’t be that straightforward.

As for our all time record against  the Hammers (including Cup games) of the 145 games we have won 70, West Ham 35, with 45 drawn. In our five trips to the London Stadium we’ve won twice, drawn twice and lost to a Declan Rice goal in 2019. That’s a pretty positive record. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be five points clear of the Marshdwellers on Sunday night ? Their next game is at Anfield.

The estimable C100 and son are going. Wishing them and any other Holics a safe and very satisfying trip.

Arsenal followed up their excellent victory at Chelsea in midweek with an equally impressive win over fellow top 4 challengers, Manchester United. The Gunners came into the game knowing a win would take them into fourth, above Tottenham at least for a few hours. Mikel Arteta made just one change from Wednesday’s win, with Cedric returning at right back in place of Rob Holding. Paul Pogba was United’s only notable absentee. On three minutes, we made the dream start. Granit Xhaka whipped in a diagonal cross from the left, Raphael Varane swung at the ball and missed it, Telles did the same and it found its way to Saka who cut inside on his left and saw his shot parried by De Gea but only as far as Nuno Tavares who gleefully tapped home for his first Arsenal goal. 1-0 to The Arsenal!

This served as a wake-up call to United as they began to gain a foothold. Anthony Elanga burst through on goal but a combination of Tavares and Ramsdale thwarted the youngster. A few minutes later, United intercepted a very poor pass out from the back from Ramsdale and the ball found its way to Bruno Fernandes and if it wasn’t for an excellent block from Gabriel the goalkeeper may well have been left with egg on his face. His dip in form is slightly concerning but I still don’t think he’s droppable just yet. 

Arsenal then began to reassume their dominance as we threatened to double our lead. Odegaard sent Nketiah through on goal after some scintillating interchange in the midfield, but he smashed his shot straight at De Gea. But Eddie wasn’t to be denied for long. Another incisive pass from Odegaard found Saka who squared it to Nketiah who took a touch and smashed the ball past De Gea. But following the celebrations there was a VAR check which adjudged the striker to have been marginally offside when the ball was played to him. Harsh. But wait! During the review a foul from Telles on Saka was also being checked. This occurred before the goal meaning any foul would result in a penalty. After Craig Pawson checked the pitch side monitor, he pointed to the spot. So, no goal for Arsenal but we had the fall back of a spot kick. Once again, Saka stepped up to take it. He calmly slotted the ball into the bottom corner sending De Gea the wrong way. A mature penalty. 

Merely two minutes later, our lead was halved as Nemanja Matic floated a cross to the back post, Ronaldo ghosted in between Tavares and Gabriel to poke the ball past Ramsdale who was in No Man’s Land. 2-1. We were able to navigate our way to the break without any further hiccups. As the second half began, we began to see a United resurgence. The visitors dominated possession and nearly found themselves level when Dalot was sent through, but his fierce shot was tipped onto the post by Ramsdale. An excellent save. A few minutes later, Manchester United were given a golden chance to equalise when they were awarded a penalty after Tavares handled following a corner. It was a definite penalty. Bruno Fernandes, a man with the most punchable face in the league, and possibly the universe, stepped up to take it. He tried to be clever with his silly little hop, skip and jump routine but it backfired when he saw his spot kick dribble onto the outside of the post. Get in! I was watching this game in a pub in central Manchester surrounded by some of the most Mancunian Mancunians you could ever meet, and you could honestly hear a pin drop. Apart from a loud shout of “get in!” That was me, obviously. Hands down my favourite moment of the season so far. 

That penalty miss really knocked the stuffing out of United and Arsenal began to regain their composure by playing a game of keep ball, sapping up all of the visitors momentum and spirit. They really did look a disjointed side. Yesterday they announced that Erik Ten Hag will be taking over in the summer from Ajax and he really does have a huge rebuilding job on his hands. I look forward to watching them suffer the absolute dross we’ve been subjected to in the last few years. They really are in for a shock if they think they can just offload all their detritus in one go. You can’t sell something nobody wants as we found with Ozil and Kolasinac and countless others. We won’t tell them. It will be funny to watch the meltdown on Twitter when they can’t comprehend why no one wants to pay £50 million of the Queen’s finest for Phil Jones. I’ll send them a postcard from the Bernabeu when we get there. Although I’m not sure it will get to Kazakhstan in time for their Conference League crunch match with Kairat Almaty at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon. I digress. We made sure of the points with twenty minutes to go when Xhaka cashed in on his annual howitzer against Man United from twenty-five yards out. He really has been excellent in the last two games as has Elneny. Credit where it is due. 

From that point we saw the game out comfortably. There was a nice moment near the end when Tomiyasu came on for last moments. It turns out he is alive after all. I honestly did wonder if I had simply imagined his existence for a while. Hopefully he stays fit for the final five games because we’re going to need him. But it was another fantastic victory against a Big Six side. I would love to know the last time we beat two Big Six sides back-to-back. I would be willing to put a decent amount of money on it being pre-Emirates era. It really does flatten the myth Arteta’s sides can’t win big games. 

The win puts Arsenal in fourth on 60 points. We go to another top four rival next Sunday, this time at West Ham. Hopefully we can end their already slim top four hopes as well. Onwards and upwards we go.

COYG!

Believe!

Arsenal vs Manchester United! 

Once a battle of Titans. 

Vieira against Keane. Keown against van Nistleroy. For over a decade these matches were highly competitive and often determined the destination of trophies. Passions were invariably close to the surface and often spilled over like in the ‘First Battle of Old Trafford’ in 1990 and the ‘Second Battle of Old Trafford’ in 2002 not to mention the violence wreaked by the Neville thugs on Jose Antonio Reyes in 2004 which any decent official would have prevented – a match that ended in insufficient retribution for Ferguson in the ‘Pizza-gate’ episode. The Hand of Nemesis is yet to strike Mike Riley for his highly questionable part in those proceedings. It will, one day. Hopefully hard.

When United’s plan wasn’t simply to kick our talented players off the pitch, our threat some 20 years ago often made Ferguson adopt Mourinho-esque tactics, adding defensive players to his line up to suppress our flair and hoping to strike on the break. The ‘kick Arsenal to bits ‘cos they don’t like it up ‘em’ and the ‘rope a dope strategy’ became much more widely practised against us but Ferguson’s United were the instigators of both approaches.  Our reduced potency due to financial restrictions and Wenger’s invariable approach of simply ‘playing our game’, meant we increasingly fell into those traps. Indeed, but for Danny Welbeck’s goal delivering FA Cup victory at the Old Toilet, I struggle to recall a match in which we did ourselves justice against the Red Mancs. Even when they were at their lowest ebbs under Ferguson, Moyes, Van Gaal, Mourinho and Smeagol and struggling against every Tom, Dick and Harry, we frequently managed to deliver performances that somehow spared them the thrashing that should have been their lot.

And thus, in the historic trajectory of these two clubs, we come to today. 

Two clubs that enjoyed record breaking success under all-powerful managers with tenures of 22 and 26 years respectively have undergone turmoil both on and off the field since the departures of those managers and now face each other in a tawdry competition for fourth place along with a no mark outfit from Middlesex who sadly seem best placed at the moment. United are in a mess under a temporary coach whose instructions to the team appear to confuse them and whose temporary status handicaps his authority in the dressing room. They’ve won 4 of their last 14 games in all competitions and their fans are again mounting major protests at their owners. While watching the recent Liverpool defeat, Neville senior said, “I’ve been watching United for 42 years and this is as bad as it gets! It’s an all-time low! They’re broken.” 

It may not matter much but Fred is likely to be absent with a groin injury, as may be Pogba who limped off after only 10 minutes against Liverpool. Varane and Cavani have been unavailable for a while and may still be out. However, United can rely on the sporadic brilliance of some talented individuals who remain on their payroll as they did when a hattrick from Ronaldo salvaged three points against the Premier League’s bottom team. There is no doubt that whatever team they field they will have players who can hurt us if we are careless. I initially expected Rangnick to adopt the Ferguson/Mourinho strategy of conceding possession with a deep block, awaiting our mistakes and breaking at speed to strike through our overcommitted defence. We’ve seen it far too often to be surprised. What amazes me is how we fall into that trap so often. 

In goal they will certainly play de Gea who has single-handedly thwarted us on multiple occasions over the years. Expect him to eclipse Forster’s blinder of last weekend. I thought they would probably opt for security and start with three at the back with Maguire, Lindelof and one other, probably Bailly or Jones as Varane is almost certainly still out due to injury. Recently, Wan-Bissako and Dalot have been their wingbacks. However, against Liverpool they reverted to a back four at half time after an extremely poor defensive performance in the first half and did look better for 20 minutes until Liverpool’s third goal. Therefore, I now expect them to line up against us with a back four. In central midfield I think we will face Matic and McTominay throwing their weight around if Pogba has been properly crocked with Fernandes as their most advanced midfielder. Up front is less predictable, given the many options at their disposal. I expect Rangnick to start the perennially pert Ronaldo after his midweek compassionate leave. Ronaldo seems always to have produced his best against us – it’s high time that changed! Rashford, may be asked to continue to play his way out of his slump and will be joined by either Elanga, whom Rangnick has favoured recently or even the hitherto disappointing Sancho. 

A tactic that Ferguson might well have chosen instead of a low block with breakaways (I know so little about Rangnick that I can’t gauge the possibility of him adopting this tactic) is to start with a high tempo attacking line up aiming to blow us away early in the first half as he did in that deeply disappointing second leg of the 2009 Champions League Quarter Final at the Emirates. Then they took a 2-0 lead within 10 minutes and we never recovered our poise (I can show you my scar!). With a 0-1 deficit from the first leg at the Old Toilet, thanks to a brilliant performance by Almunia, we believed we could win that tie. That belief was punctured both on and off the pitch within 10 minutes. This recently goal-shy Arsenal team may be even less likely to recover from such a bad start than their predecessors were – though the spirit shown by this team when twice swiftly pegged back by Chelsea this week might give the lie to that suggestion. Will Rangnick play it safe or take a punt on an early all-out attack to catch us out? How will the Anfield drubbing affect his strategy in this game? Time will tell.

STOP PRESS: As I was putting finishing touches to this piece, United announced the appointment of Ajax coach Erik ten Hag as their permanent manager from the end of the season, along with Schteve McClaren as his assistant. Who knows what impact that will have on Saturday’s game? We are certainly used to suffering from a new manager bounce in opponents. However, making this announcement now, possibly in an attempt to placate current fan protests, seems as likely to erode further the current coach’s authority in the dressing room and his attempts to make them play to his system as it is to inspire their players to try harder to convince the new coach that they deserve to be in his plans. Whether it has an impact or not, we have to rise to the challenge.

We are what we are! A young team in the middle of a rebuild with clear signs of progress but also with as clear signs of key areas in need of marked improvement. The most notable deficiency is of course the absence of a reliable goal scorer. Our dream of fourth place being in our own hands has been shaken after a series of disappointing results prior to the Chelsea game. Our callow youths who have delivered so much and raised our hopes so high have been handicapped by our loss through injury of the experience and leadership of our wisest old heads.

After several weeks of unproductive toil, Lacazette was struck down by Covid-19 and finally perforce replaced by Nketiah. The young ‘wannabe’ was pretty unimpressive against Southampton. Although one might raise a defence of ring rustiness given how little he has played this season, the paucity of his second half contribution against the Saints when we needed to salvage the game, made me doubt the wisdom of his selection whenever Lacazette again became available. If it was between those two I would have started the Frenchman. But that thought was prior to Nketiah’s spirited performance and brace against Chelsea. In that game he showed the value of pace up front and his eye for goal and without question, he will, if fit, start against United. Before the Chelsea game, I had even accepted Dr Faustus’s long held and oft reiterated suggestion that Martinelli should lead the line to revive our central attack but that experiment can be put on hold. Eddie has earned the right to start against United and potentially also to join our pantheon of promising young guns.

It was also delightful to watch the return to form of ESR and Saka against Chelsea – what cojones that little fella has! The courage he showed to take that penalty! I love him to bits! As Arteta did in that Chelsea game, I would start with ESR and keep Martinelli as a fresh pair of legs for use as a late substitute. Elneny had an outstanding performance alongside Xhaka so, for me, he should keep his place. I would play with a back four as the White-Gabriel partnership seemed to grow in security as the season progressed, hoping they recover their poise. Unless Tomiyasu has recovered sufficiently to start, the rest of the team is pretty much self-selecting given our long-term absences. I would stick with Tavares at left back in view of his last two performances that hopefully, while neither perfect nor offering the security of KT3, lay the ghosts of his miserable experience against Forest. His presence on the left adds balance to the defence and midfield. Hence my team would be:

Ramsdale;

Tomiyasu/Cedric, White, Gabriel, Tavares;

Elneny, Xhaka;

Saka, Odegaard, Smith-Rowe;

Nketiah.

The Holic Pound, you ask? 

That’s still going to Ukraine. All bets are off in this household!

What do I expect? I really don’t know! We have bounced from imperious to lethargic to dynamic over just a few weeks. Can we produce rapid penetrating runs through a pedestrian Manure defence as we did against Chelsea but failed to do in the three matches prior? We clearly have people who can run in behind defences and we have players who can find them. Just do it, Arsenal!

What do I hope for? I hope that we can do ourselves justice against a club that in recent years seems to have sapped our confidence no matter how badly they themselves have been playing. Too often we have failed to gain our just deserts against them. I hope that our players can display the talent they possess. I hope that we can create and take chances. I hope that we can recapture the defensive security that seemed to vanish against Palace and Brighton and wasn’t exactly there against Chelsea. Finally, I hope that we win the damn game! 1-0 will do fine, but frankly, at this point, any kind of win will do. 

COYG!

Arsenal reignited their top four push with a stunning 4-2 victory away at the Bus Stop thanks to an unexpected brace from Eddie Nketiah, a fine finish from Emile Smith Rowe, and a stoppage time penalty from Bukayo Saka. The Gunners came into this game having lost their last three in the league leaving their champions league hopes hanging in the balance but despite some early mistakes, Mikel Arteta’s youthful side held out for a hugely impressive win at the home of the European champions. 

Arteta made several changes to the side whIch limped to defeat at Southampton on Saturday, with Rob Holding coming in for Cedric and Ben White forced to fill in at right back. Elneny was given a rare start in midfield in favour of Lokonga, and Smith Rowe came in for Martinelli. Chelsea also had a couple of key players missing; both Rudiger and Kovacic were injured in their FA Cup semi-final win over Palace meaning Malang Sarr and Ruben Loftus-Cheek both got rare starts. 

Arsenal began the game nervously, as you might expect from a side whIch had lost their last three games to mid-table sides. Chelsea had the lion’s share of possession and had a couple of half chances with Lukaku, who seemed to be doing his best impression of a lamppost, dragging an effort wide from the edge of the box and Marcos Alonso had an effort deflected wide from a corner. But it was Arsenal who found the breakthrough on thirteen minutes against the run of play as Tavares hoofed the ball upfield towards Nketiah to chase down Christensen, whose weak back pass allowed Eddie to pounce as he got to the ball ahead of Sarr and slotted the ball clinically past Mendy into the bottom corner. Nketiah was of course in Chelsea’s academy before being released in 2015 when he was quickly snapped up by Arsenal. The south Londoner showed Chelsea what they were missing as he peeled away to celebrate in front of the reduced Chelsea crowd. He looked like he enjoyed that one. 

The away fans were having a blast with taunts of “Just like the old days, there’s nobody here”. Due to Roman Abramovic being mates with everyone’s favourite autocrat, they had been sanctioned and only season ticket holders and away fans were permitted entry. However, Chelsea quickly found a response. Nketiah conceded possession with his back to goal and Timo Werner latched onto the ball and saw his tame shot deflected in by Granit Xhaka. Perhaps Aaron Ramsdale could’ve done better but in fairness he was unsighted by three Arsenal players. All things considered, it was a poor goal to concede especially so soon after taking the lead. 

But just ten minutes later, the Gunners restored their lead! And what a goal it was. Chelsea lost possession in our box, as the ball bobbled around precariously and the much-maligned Xhaka took a risk as he opted to play the ball out himself, brilliantly nutmegging Alonso before playing a lovely pass to Odegaard who was again given the captain’s armband. The Norwegian worked it to Saka who drove forward before feeding our number eight again to play yet another delicious ball to ESR who took it first time on the run, arrowing the ball into the far corner for his tenth premier league goal of the campaign. The Croydon De Bruyne has now scored against half the premier league this season. 

You would think that after previously surrendering the lead so quickly Arsenal would be sensible and attempt to play it safe until the break but of course we don’t do sensible here at Arsenal. Just five minutes later, the Blues were level again. And again, it was all very avoidable. Ben White lost possession on our right-hand side and Mason Mount curled in a delicious cross to Azpilicueta who nipped in ahead of Tavares to poke the ball home. There were some appeals for a foul on White, but it would’ve been harsh to rule it out despite how hilarious it would’ve been. 2-2.  We continued to attack and Nketiah had a snapshot from outside the box that curled just wide and then the referee blew for half time. It had been a pulsating first half with both sides abandoning the concept of defending it seemed. 

Chelsea brought on Thiago Silva for Christensen who had been run ragged by our front three in the first half. Would the presence of the Brazilian keep the Gunners out? Thankfully for Arsenal the answer was “No!” Despite Chelsea dominating the early stages of the second half, they struggled to create. On 57 minutes Tavares intercepted the ball on halfway. He drove forward and fed Nketiah who attempted to turn away from Silva, but he got a foot in as the ball bounced into the area off Sarr and back to Nketiah, then back off Silva again, then back to Nketiah who poked the ball past Mendy into the net. Arsenal were ahead for a third time, and it was 3-2! The away fans went crazy behind the goal, as did Arteta and his staff on the touchline. The goal was fortunate but deserved.

Now, could Arsenal stay ahead this time? Chelsea continued to dominate. Tuchel took off £100milion lamppost Lukaku for £80 million twig, Havertz. Chelsea pressed, Reece James pinging a cross into the box, Ramsdale cut it out, a Chelsea player got a shot off but Gabriel who had his best game for a while, made an excellent block. Other than that Chelsea created little. Mason Mount then went full Ryan Shawcross/Matt Taylor/Dan Smith on Saka, the ref only gave him a yellow as Mason Mount plays for England. Unfortunately, the fact that Saka also plays for England doesn’t seem to get him much protection from referees. He does commit the deadly sin of playing for Dirty Arsenal I suppose. Arteta brought on Martinelli and Cedric as we looked to close the game out. We had a couple of half chances on the break with Martinelli, and then on 89 minutes Cedric put a ball in the box and Saka was pulled down every which way by the rat faced Azpilicueta and Jonathon Moss had no option but to point to the spot. The Spaniard protested his innocence and there was a bit of a scuffle before the penalty was taken, probably tactical to put us off. It didn’t. Saka confidently took the ball and put it on the spot. It was his first penalty since the final of the European championships in the summer, so it was a huge moment. In fact, it was the first penalty he’d taken in a competitive game for Arsenal. But he stepped up and sent Mendy the wrong way slamming the ball into the bottom corner. Cue more wild celebrations behind the goal. Limbs, as the kids say. Arteta then brought on Lacazette for the final seconds, probably for a laugh, and the game was won.

Back-to-back wins at the Bridge and our run of three defeats was over in some style. We are now level on points with the Scum with six games remaining. We now have another huge game against the Mancs on Saturday lunchtime where an Arsenal win would send us three points clear in fourth for a few hours at least and would likely end United’s already slim top four chances. But a crucial win for the Arsenal against the ownerless Chavs and just like the old days, Arsenal battered Chelsea and there was nobody there. 

COYG

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »