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And so to the Stadium of Stone, where AFC Bournemouth will be the visitors shortly after noon on Saturday. In the early 1970s, Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic Football Club impudently changed its name to elevate itself above us in alphabetical listings. Whatever.

It says something about the recency of Bournemouth’s ascent to the top flight that our first league encounter against them was less than ten years ago and Saturday’s will be only the 14th league game between the clubs. We have won ten, drawn two and lost only one of the 13 that will have preceded it. The loss occurred in January 2018 when Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe’s goals cancelled Hector Bellerin’s opener at the Vitality Stadium.

The first league game was three days after Christmas Day, 2015, our table-topping team beat them 2-0 thanks to goals by Gabriel Paulista and Mesut Ozil. Peter Cech created a Premier League record by keeping his 170th clean sheet, although not many of them were for us. We had only played the Cherries once before that, in October 1987 in the league cup, then sponsored by Littlewoods, which ran football pools (google it, younger ‘holics) and was once the biggest private company in Europe. We won 3-0 at Highbury. 

This paucity of encounters means the monks were deprived of the pleasure of leafing through old newspapers for reports of epic matches in days of yore. There was, somewhat against the odds, not even a random FA Cup tie. Of the 60 or so clubs we have played in the league, there are only three that we have never been drawn against in the FA Cup. Bonus points to anyone who can name the other two apart from Bournemouth.

Out of Boscombe

Bournemouth’s path is typical of many small-town clubs formed in the dying embers of the Victorian era. Formed as Boscombe FC, it made its way via county leagues to the Southern League, where it became Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic FC, and thence the Football League’s old regional Third Division. It remained in the Third Division South for 35 years after being elected in 1923, followed by another 12 in the Third Division after the North and South divisions were reorganised in 1958 into the Third and Fourth Divisions. 

After a half-century experiencing neither promotion nor relegation, Bournemouth was relegated in 1970 but immediately promoted the season after. It then bounced up and down between the Second, Third and Fourth Divisions and went into administration twice before, back in League Two (the Fourth Division in the old money) and docked 10 points for being insolvent, it appointed the Amersham Ancelotti as manager towards the end of 2008. 

Eddie Howe, just 31 when he took over at the club he had played for and the youngest manager in the Football League, then led Bournemouth on a remarkable six-season march from being 10 points adrift at the bottom of League Two to the Promised Land of the Premier League. However, the football gods also tear down those they build up. Howe’s tenure ended after relegation at the end of the 2019-20 season. He would eventually be lost to the world in Geordie Arabia. 

After two seasons in the Championship, Bournemouth returned to the Premier League under Scott Parker. He lasted until Liverpool thrashed them 9-0 four games in. Gary O’Neill took over and kept the Cherries up before being replaced last summer by Andoni Iraola.

Antiguoko Alumni

Iraola and Mikel Arteta are old team mates. Born less than three months and six miles apart, they played together as teenagers for Antiguoko, a youth club in San Sebastian that has produced some 40 professional players and now with another of their teammates, Xabi Alonso, three top-class coaches. Iraola and Arteta’s last game playing together was for Spain’s U-21 side. 

Despite a rough start to the season — winless in his first nine league games — Iraola has got the team playing the way he wants and has steered it to its best PL points haul with three games still to play. Since November 1, only we, City, ‘Pool and Villa have accumulated more PL points. Once sceptical, Cherries fans now talk of Iraola potentially becoming a more storied Bournemouth manager than Howe. 

The Opposition

Iraola’s Bournemouth presses high (it is fourth in the league for turnovers in the opposition’s defensive third) and is comfortable out of possession. It looks for rapid transitions that use the pace of wingers Justin Kluivert (son of Dutch and Barcelona legend Patrick) and Ghanaian international Antoine Semeyno to unleash the goal-scoring threat of Basingstoke-born Dominic Solanke (18 goals this season). Semeyno was carried off towards the end of last weekend’s 3-0 win over Brighton after a heavy tackle, but latest reports from the Dorset coast say he has avoided joining a lengthy list of those off-games who will miss Saturday’s match, including Ryan Fredericks, Marcus Tavernier, Luis Sinisterra, Tyler Adams and Chris Mepham. He may be fit enough only for the bench, however. 

Against Brighton, Iraola used a 4-4-2 instead of his favoured 4-2-3-1 to give a first start to newly acquired Man City academy product Enes Unal. The young Turk’s loan from Getafe is being made permanent for around £14 million, suggesting Bournemouth expects to cash in on the prolific Solanke this summer.

Another well-regarded prospect, Alex Scott, bought from Bristol City last summer, will be the creative fulcrum in midfield, which will be anchored by the more seasoned Lewis Cook, a one-cap England international, and the Scottish international Ryan Christie. The availability of Philip Billing after a fever and Romain Faivre after a thigh injury will give Iraola midfield options from the bench.

An injury-ravaged defence will still be makeshift. Leytonstone-born Adam Smith will captain the team from right back, with Max Aarons and Fredericks unavailable. Marcos Senesi, a one-cap Argentina international centre-back with an eye for goal (four and three assists this season), will play inside him, but who partners Senesi is an open question. With Mepham, gone in the fetlock, Ilya Zabarnyi recovering from illness and a question mark hanging over the fitness of a third senior centre back, Lloyd Kelly, young James Hill, who was brought back from a loan to Blackburn Rovers in January but has less than 75 minutes of Premier League football across five games, may have to be pressed into service. Regular left-back Milos Kerkez, a young Hungarian international, is suspended. Dango Ouattara, a Burkina Faso international winger, will likely fill in for him as he did with some elan against Brighton.

Iraola also has a goalkeeping controversy, having replaced his captain and No. 1 keeper. Neto, a one-cap Brazilian international, with Mark Travers two games ago. The 24-year-old Irish international came up through Bournemouth’s academy and has been on loan at Swindon and Stoke for the past two seasons. While Neto is said to be the better shot-stopper, his catching and kicking are reputedly less reliable than Travers’s. Sound familiar?

The Arsenal

With no reported new injuries, Arteta will likely keep faith with the team that won the NLD last Sunday. Martinelli and Jesus are the most likely candidates for starting berths if Arteta wants to rotate, with Trossard dropping to the bench. With six days of rest and three games to go, my guess is that Arteta will stick, not twist. Thus:

Raya

White, Saliba, Gabriel, Tomiyasu

Ødegaard, Partey, Rice,

Saka, Havertz, Trossard

The biggest point of selection interest may be whether Jurrien Timber, who Arteta says is available again, makes the matchday squad. The teamsheet for Friday night’s U-21 game may offer a clue. 

It goes without saying that this game is another must-win. Bournemouth has pace and power in attack, presses high and transitions quickly. They are a team on the up and in form, and they still have a mathematical chance of qualifying for Europe. 

Yet we should have the quality to pick apart their makeshift defence as long as we get on the front foot and follow the folk wisdom in the title of this preview. Three nil and three points would be the order of the day, and may ravenous Wolves devour City.

Enjoy the game, ‘holics, near and far.

Control

And so, to the wilds of Middlesex, risking life and limb in order to bring light where formerly there was only darkness. Chief missionary today being our very own C100. The home crowd sounded as belligerent and restless as any encountered by Cook or Livingstone, as the antelope horn sounded out the pre-match battle cry; slow, plangent, in keeping with the speed and psychological disposition of the natives.

The team was as hoped with Tomiyasu nominally at left back, but actually providing huge flexibility as Gabriel and even Saliba could be pulled out wide left at times by the movement of Son and Kulusevski, with Tomi stepping into the middle to maintain numbers. 

Spurs started well, I thought, with their usual fast pressing in numbers. We seemed content to allow Vicario to have the ball. On 5 minutes, our play out of defence was pressed by Spurs and Partey was caught dithering when he could have popped off a ball to White, killing the press easily. An unsettling moment but the attack fizzled out and ended in the ball being played backwards by Spurs followed by the first of many dives from a Spurs player, the pattern to be followed for much of the game. 

Having weathered the initial storm, we started to apply control, moving the ball around, allowing the opposition to chase after it in the manner of a youthful labrador chasing a tennis ball in the park.

On 13 minutes there was a rather odd piece of refereeing. Partey deep in midfield passed brilliantly through for Ødegaard making a run through the back line on the final third. Ødegaard controlled the ball and passed it back to Havertz to smash in but the referee, responding to the linesman, blew for offside. TV evidence clearly showed Ødegaard was not offside. Now, aren’t we always told that the linesman is supposed to wait until the end of the move before flagging? Curious. 

This seriously shook Spurs, and they were subsequently caught out badly while trying to play out of defence, resulting in a corner being given to the visitors. Ben White behaved in the caddish manner of Terry-Thomas in the wonderful Ealing Comedy “School for Scoundrels” by standing behind the keeper and, rather than physically impeding him, simply puled the fastening of Vicarious right glove, requiring him to take momentary attention away from the ball coming in from Saka. The ball was flighted to the near post and the football player impersonator that is Hjojberg managed to head into his own net. As that great writer and satirist from another age, Wilde, famously wrote; it would take a heart of stone not to laugh. Saka, channelling his inner Wilde, turned to the natives and cupped an ear while, indeed, doing so.

Spurs 0 – Arsenal 1

Five minutes later, Spurs worked their own corner routine, resulting in Romero heading wide. And now Spurs upped their game and their dive count with serial offenders Kulusevski and Maddison being mentioned in despatches. Romero hit the post from a Maddison free kick, the result of what Gary Neville would describe as “clever” play by Maddison to win a free kick. Fortunately, Partey did enough to put off the Argentine sufficiently.

They maintained the pressure and Van de Ven ‘scored’ from a shot following a corner but was clearly offside, despite the PGMOL VAR referee trying his best to find a way to give the goal. You could hear the disappointment in Sky commentator Neville’s voice, as he had tried to suggest that Gabriels posterior ought to have played Van de Ven on. I would like to say: Come on Sky, Neville: You’re better than that. Alas, I would be telling an untruth.

And the Spurs nonsense and commentator disingenuousness continued to pile up, as Spurs displayed the diving skills they had clearly spent much of their game-free last fortnight perfecting, with first Kulusevski, and then the loathsome Maddison taking tumbles in the box. The latter was an obvious dive, the former may have been accidental contact, or indeed self-tripping. Either way it would have been laughable to give them as penalties. Even Neville couldn’t find a way to justify giving them. From the resulting fast break, Havertz played a beautiful crossfield ball for Saka who managed to isolate the hapless Davies, before cutting inside and passing into the keeper’s bottom right corner. Cue ear cupping and smiling at the natives at the end. Oh, happy days.

Spurs 0 – Arsenal 2

Faux indignation fired Spurs into upping their intensity and really pressurising Arsenal. However, Arsenal responded by keeping numbers behind the ball, maintaining the structure of the team and more often than not forcing Spurs to take the ball backwards as soon as they got near or into our box. 

On 37 minutes, we went further into the lead with another well worked corner routine. Terry-Thomas behaved like an utter bounder again in bumping the keeper and £65m waste of money Kai Havertz scored again. I was one of those who was unable to see what Havertz could offer earlier in the season. Not only has he shown me to be the epitome the poor judge, but he has saved me vast amounts of money as I have managed to secure a lifetimes supply of provisions from the European Humble Pie Mountain at knockdown prices. 

Spurs 0 – Arsenal 3

We went into half time three up, not playing our best and quite possibly being second best, certainly from a possession perspective. However, the half was an object lesson in controlling the game. Raya had little to do and the organisation and team spirit kicked in. The structure of the team was maintained at all times. The plan to isolate Davies had worked and our set pieces were excellent. We had played the game and not the occasion.

Half-Time: Spurs 0 – Arsenal 3

Spurs subbed Bentancur with Sarr at half time, an act presumably as much out of pity as tactical awareness as the game had pretty much passed him by. 

The excellent defending continued, as did the efforts of Kulusevski to gain advantage by falling over. Gabriel gave him short shrift and the Walthamstow weasel acknowledged this by looking away, awkwardly.

Arsenal were more in control than ever in the first 20 minutes of the second half and it was difficult to see where Spurs would get a goal from, notwithstanding that they had brought on Richarlison for Maddison and that the hopeless Werner had been taken off early in the first half time already, which would up any team’s chances of scoring. And out of nowhere, Raya gifted them a goal, just as Ramsdale had gifted Brentford a few weeks ago. Under no real pressure, Raya tried to play a short, chipped pass over the oncoming Romero, playing as a second centre forward at this point, into Partey, who was being converged on in any case by three Spurs players. The ball didn’t get above chest level and Romero controlled, advanced and put it past the keeper well.  This was wholly on Raya and will give fuel to those who say that improving a team is always good but this transfer seems to have swapped one set of incomplete skills for another,. And given that Raya is supposed to have better ball skills than Ramsdale, it is actually unclear as to how this transfer can possibly be progress as opposed to change. Of course, as noted above, I have been wrong about transfers before….

Spurs 1 – Arsenal 3

From this point on it was hard work for Arsenal. The whole tone changed and the previously somnolent Spurs crowd flamed back into life. 

At the same time, for much of the second half, we kept Spurs’ attacks very much at arm’s length. Spurs’ frustration showed itself with inevitable strops from Richarlison. On 84 minutes, our second momentary lack of focus occurred, as Rice, not seeing Davies, kicked through him as the Spurs defender knocked the ball forward in the box, resulting in a penalty, despatched well by Son.

Spurs 2 – Arsenal 3

Now Spurs tails were up and the crowd again burst into life. Richarlison shoulder charged Gabriel from the kick off, but apparently that’s okay. Spurs piled on the pressure but we held out, with increasing desperation but no sign of cracking.  The whistle blew. The players celebrated wildly.

Conclusions

Overall, a curious game where we actually had to work harder and were under more pressure in a first half in which we scored 3 than a second half in which we managed to concede 2. The team and Arteta will, I hope, have learned lessons to hold us in good stead next season.  Control needs to be maintained for the full 90 minutes. Perhaps this will be facilitated by improving on the bench, many of whom Arteta clearly doesn’t trust, judging by his reticence in bringing them on at all, despite a fresher Spurs side utilising all 5 subs, with only one of those being made in the last quarter of the game.

At the same time, last season we might have capitulated altogether. The last quarter saw backs-to-the-wall defending which managed to hold out pretty well. The fact that we have played 8 games to Spurs 4 in the month of April, with 5 games in the last 2 weeks to Spurs 2 also played into the momentary lapses of reason and focus responsible for both of Spurs goals. We have progressed again in a season where we have played a large number of games, including an impressive return to the European top table, with a relatively small squad, at least small in terms of those the manager feels comfortable with giving game time when it matters. Time to focus on and off the pitch on the wider goals which have been set. Control over emotions and opposition have been the key reason behind our progress. Control will be what propels us to success. 

Happy St Totteringham’s Day!

A condition greatly to be desired. From Arsenal.com

So, it comes around again. Our visit to the dark side, at the sleazy end of Via Septum Sororum. The 209th North London Derby, of which we have won 86, drawn 55 and lost 67. This is our 92nd league fixture in the Slough of Despond where we have won 26 times and drawn 26 times. Since the inception of the Premier League (which as we all now know was the dawn of soccer civilisation), we have visited 31 times, winning on 6 occasions and drawing on 12 occasions.

However this time, it’s a must win game. There’s a great deal riding on this result as we enter the final straight of a three horse race to the Premier League title with the C115y mercenaries breathing down our necks. While all contenders have at least four games to play (C115y have 5) and we know that there are several potential twists yet to come, there’s also a sense that we cannot afford to drop any points at all because of the standard set by the financially doped Mancs. The Marshdwellers would love nothing more than to derail our title bid while they still have aspirations to pip Villa to the fourth place trophy. Everton’s mugging of the Mugsmashers in midweek offers a forewarning of how the passion of a local derby can overwhelm the more cultured participant. Yet, we have visited the Toilet Bowl in the past needing a result and have delivered the results required to lift silverware.

On May 3, 1971, Arsenal faced the Marshdwellers in the final game of the season with a first league title in 18 years at stake (ring a bell?). In that era, goal average (‘goals scored’ divided by ‘goals against’) was used to separate teams sitting on the same points rather than goal difference as now. Arsenal trailed Dirty Leeds, who had completed their fixtures, by one point and as a result of the goal average system, a win or a scoreless draw would win Arsenal the title – a score draw would take them level with Leeds on points but with an inferior goal average. Over 50,000 fans managed to get into the ground, including the Guvna and our own Trev while twice as many fans are estimated to have been locked out in the streets outside, including our own Uply, TTG and Pangloss. The opposition made a huge effort to deny us the title but Bob Wilson made several spectacular saves to keep them out. Then, with three minutes to go Ray Kennedy headed a George Armstrong cross into their net. 1-0 to the Arsenal (years before that chant) and, finally, an eighth title. A magnificent victory with just the small matter of an FA Cup Final against the Mugsmashers (just a few years before Arseblogs invented that moniker). Sadly, there is no surviving video footage of this match. More match details with still images are available here and the memories of Holics who were on the spot are available here.

Thirty-three years and four league titles later (doesn’t time pass quickly), on 25th April 2004, an Arsenal team, hitherto undefeated in the league, faced the Marshdwellers five games from the end of the season, needing only a draw to win the league as they had a healthy points gap and a game in hand over the mob from the bus stop. With four more games after this one the opposition had no opportunity to prevent Arsenal’s thirteenth title but they not only had their usual incentive to win the North London Derby but were also desperate to end our unbeaten run and, sitting only six points above the relegation places, keen to gather the points at our expense. Arsenal took the lead through Patrick Vieira after only 3 minutes and Robert Pires appeared to seal victory on 23 minutes after a trademark 12-pass move. However, a 25 yarder from Redknapp got the opposition back into the game on the hour and an added time penalty from Keane sent the home fans into raptures thinking they had prevented us winning the league. Well, they have to be mentally challenged to support Sp*dz and every August they think it’s going to be their season, so why would you be surprised that they got that wrong? They then had to watch Arsenal players and fans celebrating another league title on their cabbage patch. More details and players’ memories of the match are available here.

So, we’ve done it there under pressure before. We won there last season 2-0, with first half goals from Lloris (og) and Ødegaard. Why not do it again?

The Opposition

The Marshdwellers were beside themselves with delight with Postecoglu’s start to the season, with chants of “We’ve got our Tottnumb back!” Whatever that means. He maintained the dynamic pressing style and high defensive  line that his Celtic teams had adopted but there the threat they faced week in and week out was pretty weak and they could generally outscore their opposition. When that approach was criticised as risky after an early reverse, Postecoglu proclaimed that “I’m not going to change our style for anybody, mate” in another interview replete with mateyness. I don’t know if he’s been true to his word (MA8 implied in his pre-match presser that he has been) but his team come off a 4-0 drubbing at Newcastle in which two of the Saudi goals came from long balls over that high line leaving Isak one-on-one with the keeper. An opportunity for any of our speedy wingers or for Kai or Jesús, methinks. On the other goals conceded, the Sp*dz’ defence was wide open for Gordon (will we get that space?) and vulnerable on a deep corner to a late arriving Schär (cue Kai Havertz). Sadly I think the somewhat hyped Van de Ven who looked like Bambi on ice, will have changed his boots. That game had very bizarre stats: Tottnumb had 73% possession in an away game and yet had only 11 vs 18 shots, 2 vs 5 on target and only 3 vs 16 corners. What were they doing with the ball? 

Tottnumb have had a 15 day rest to prepare for this game, during which we have not only lost to Villa and Bayern (which must have heartened them) but also have then done a thoroughly professional job away at Wolves and utterly thrashed another strutting mob of capital poseurs 5-0. That’s plenty of time for work on the training pitch but also time for a few anxieties and doubts to creep in.

Apparently their first choice left back Udogie (who looks quite good) is definitely out but they have Davies (who usually looks rather less good) to step in. Meanwhile they are sweating over right back Porro (who does represent an offensive threat in Ange’s system) with the somewhat less reliable Emerson Royal on standby. The extremely irritating, somewhat erratic but frequently dangerous Richarlison is available again after three weeks out.

I expect Tottnumb to continue with their high defensive line but to compress the space to their midfield in an attempt to emulate the midfield block that Emery and Tüchel used to deny Ødegaard the spaces in which he weaves his magic. The solution? That ball over the top or through a channel to the well-timed runner. We have the men both to make that pass and others to make that run. Tottnumb’s offensive plan will be to break swiftly in transition when we lose the ball using three speedy forwards who are likely to be Johnson, Richarlison and Son with Kulusevski, Gil and the ‘deadly’ Werner to bring on when fresh legs are needed. We will need our defenders to be focused. The opposition’s creative talent in midfield is Maddison who since his move from Lesta has morphed into a whining and snarling midfield irritant who I confidently expect to earn himself a yellow card if the referee is competent. Expect him to be complemented in his defensive duties by the muscle of Betancur and Bissouma.

The Arsenal

For the first time this season, Mikel Arteta has no injury concerns. Jurrien Timber faces a late fitness test today (Saturday) after a good run out and spectacular goal for the under-21’s in midweek. I suspect this match is going to be too early and too intense for him even to make the bench. With a full squad fit and ready, Mikel has a few positions where he has some key personnel decisions to make, notably left back, central midfield, centre forward and left wing. You all know all the options. I think he could do no better than to start the eleven who so imperiously swept the bus stop mob aside in that glorious second half on Tuesday, saving the guile of Jorginho and Zinchenko, the trickery of Jesús and the pace of Martinelli for the latter stages. Therefore, I expect a starting eleven of:

Raya

White, Saliba, Gabriel, Tomiyasu

Ødegaard, Partey, Rice

Saka, Havertz, Trossard.

The Holic Pound

You’ve heard it here before. My Holic pound is going to Ukraine. However, as a service to our readers, I can report that Paddy Power are offering 9/1 on both 1-0 and 2-0 to the good guys, 10/1 on 3-1 and 12/1 on 3-0 to the good guys. If you are in dreamland you can get 22/1 on 4-0 to the good guys.

Unlike Bertie’s boys back in ’71 or the Invincibles in ‘04, we need a win here. Despite the exhortation of the title of this piece we need calm heads and ice-cold ruthlessness. We must remember the midweek example of Goodison and not fall into the Derby trap in which form and superior talent go out the window. We need to be cold assassins not street brawlers. Let’s dictate the way the game plays out, not rise to their baiting. If we can produce the form we showed on Tuesday (minus the brain farts from Saliba), I’m confident we can win this game. This team is very close to the real deal and as BtM has been arguing for weeks, the addition of TP5 seems to have added a verticality in attack that we haven’t hitherto exploited. It should be noted that, should we keep our seventh consecutive away clean sheet, it would be an Arsenal record. It should also be added that if we at least draw, it will herald St Totteringham’s arrival and finally, should we win, we ensure a place in next season’s Champions League.

Let’s do it, Gunners!

On the tube tonight on the way to this match I encountered a group of Neanderthals who soon outed themselves as Chelsea fans. I will censor their comments but their expectations for the game were either that they would get crushed 5-0 or it would be a classic. Their main hope was that Kai Havertz would not score against them. It was to be an evening when their worst imaginings came to pass.

Arsenal made a few changes from Saturday’s starting eleven. Tomayisu was chosen at left back and Partey started in midfield with Rice for the first time this season. Our esteemed friend Btm has been suggesting Partey should come into the side for some weeks and the quality of his performance tonight underlined why.

Although profoundly outclassed Chelsea squandered a series of opportunities in the first half but ended with only one shot on target. Their team was missing some key players, including the exciting Cole Palmer, but still cost a fortune and one can say with confidence that their outlay on Nicolas Jackson was money appallingly spent. They suffered a first defeat in nine league games, and degenerated into a sad rabble long before the end.

Arsenal began brightly and led inside four minutes.

Declan Rice was given  time and space to advance deep into the Chelsea half before slipping in Trossard to run outside Gilchrist and fire home a low, left-footed shot which was allowed to squirm home by Petrovic.

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 0 – Trossard

Chelsea’s suffered a very lucky reprieve when Jackson avoided a potential eighth-minute red card after raking Tomiyasu’s ankle with his studs.

Rice then fired narrowly over from the edge of the box following a delightful piece of control, before the visitors almost snatched a strange leveller.

Jackson outpaced William Saliba down the left wing, and his attempted cut back deflected off Gabriel and struck the outside of the near post.

Petrovic then saved well from Havertz and, moments later, made a fine reaction save to keep out Trossard’s effort which took a touch off Disasi.

Ben White produced a crucial block to deny Marc Cucurella after good work from Madueke, and Fernandez side-footed the rebound just wide. One felt Arsenal were vulnerable to the quick break and I particularly hoped Mudryk would not harm us.

Jackson then mystifyingly handled a terrific headed chance from Conor Gallagher’s cross as the first half finished with a number of yellow cards, including one for Arteta. It seemed he felt that the referee was inconsistent in booking Trossard having excused Jackson’s reckless challenge. I think he had a point.

Half-time – Arsenal 1 Chelsea 0

At the interval the game was in the balance as we had not been clinical in our finishing and Chelsea had the pace if not the composure to catch Arsenal on the break.

Arteta must have got into his side at the break and they came out with much more purpose after the interval.

Petrovic saved well from Rice and Havertz following lovely work by Ødegaard, who was in quite sublime form. Then from a corner Rice thrashed in a shot which was deflected to White who finished well.

Arsenal 2 Chelsea 0 – White

Havertz was then superbly released by Ødegaard and held off Cucurella to loft the ball over Petrovic. The goal was scrutinised by VAR after a heavy challenge by Gabriel on Madueke but was allowed to stand. Perhaps VAR were reluctant to chalk off a goal created by such brilliance from the Norwegian.

Arsenal 3 Chelsea 0 – Havertz

Jackson’s erratic game continued as he hit the side-netting with only David Raya to beat before Arsenal ploughed further ahead. Havertz doubled his tally in the 65th minute by firing home via the right post after receiving a short pass from Saka.

Arsenal 4 Chelsea 0 – Havertz

White got his second five minutes later when he chipped a volley across goal from Ødegaard’s dinked pass and it flew into the top left hand corner. It looked fortuitous but was a fair reflection of the gulf between the sides.

Arsenal 5 Chelsea 0 – White

In the 72nd minute Arsenal made a quadruple substitution bringing on Martinelli, Zinchenko, Jesús, and Jorginho, and ten minutes later brought on Vieira for Saka. The Portuguese laced a fierce drive just wide showing commendable confidence and ambition.

Full-time – Arsenal 5 Chelsea 0

This was not only an emphatic win but showcased some of the very best aspects of this Arsenal side. Ødegaard was mesmeric. I rate him extraordinarily highly and it was the best game I have seen him play. Rice was also brilliant, full of running and creativity, freed possibly by Partey’s elegant presence beside him. I thought the blend in midfield was excellent tonight.

Defensively we were troubled by Chelsea’s pace on the first half but overwhelmed their flaky attack in the second. Havertz had a slightly wasteful first half but an excellent second helped by the penetrative running of Saka and Trossard.

It is always nice to win local derbies and a 5-0 win is especially pleasing. As Trev’s excellent preview underlined Chelsea are a club in the midst of a financial crisis and they seem to lack character and structure on the pitch. Their capitulation in the second half came mainly through Arsenal’s excellence but I ran into those morons on the tube again after the match  suggesting that we might win f*** all and then encountered them being apprehended by the police on Arsenal station. They and their underachieving team deserve each other.

We march on with a healthily increased goal difference and THE big derby to come. We were excellent tonight and seem in good shape to take our title challenge deep into the season’s finale – come on Everton and Brighton!

Photo by Dreamstime.com

There’s a lot about Chelsea in this preview but rather than apologise for that, I will invite you to revel in the details of the complete mess into which they have gotten themselves. Fortunately, I started researching all this some time ago as it turned out to be a rats’ nest of huge proportions. I haven’t had time to work too many jokes into this preview but the whole thing is really quite funny, and just deserts for a fake club and a Russian owner intent on buying success with the ill-gotten gains of a rotten regime which has murdered untold numbers of civilians in an independent country who do not want to be beholden to it. Abramovich and Chelsea initiated the hyper-inflation which has ruined football for so many clubs and supporters, and I hate them for it.


The summer transfer window has long been a time of great turmoil and excitement at Stamford Bridge – at least for Chelsea fans. Regardless of whether the previous season had been one of success or failure, the Chelsea squad could likely face big changes in the space of the next month or so. If there was a rising star on the market or an established one with enough trophies under their belt, Roman Abramovich just had to have him for Chelsea – or his own ego.


Ballack, Shevchenko, Essien, Hazard, and our own Kai Havertz were all big names on the market at some stage during Abramovich’s 19 years at the club, and all were lured to Chelsea with no regard to cost or even the manager’s plans. To hell with the finances or the rules, £900,000-a-week losses were the cost of doing business for the Russian whose club was a mirror for his own reflected glory. 

We all eagerly anticipated and then cheered the day when sanctions from the British government forced Abramovich to put the club up for sale in 2022. Surely, Chelsea could not find another Abramovich, willing to buy his way to silverware on the same scale? Even if they did, most Premier League owners did not want to compete with sovereign wealth funds or corrupt private individuals whose aim in football terms is world domination.
And so a new era of restrictions on uncontrolled spending and losses began with the introduction of the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability Rules (PSR). Relatively suddenly, clubs like Everton and Nottingham Forest have discovered that these rules can bite, and while we all wait for Manchester City to be put to the sword, Chelsea will be fretting more than most. 

Their current owners may not be ploughing their own personal wealth into a vanity project, but they have been spending like people who do, with over a billion pounds spent on mostly young players on ultra long-term contracts. Had those gambles resulted in Premier League contention and regular qualification for the Champions League, Chelsea’s owners might have been celebrated for establishing a new recruitment model for the industry. Instead, the club is set to miss out on the revenue from top tier European club football for a second successive season while its cost base has been inflated by the amortisation of its transfer binge.

As this summer looms on the horizon, supporters are not dreaming of who might arrive at Stamford Bridge, but who the owners may feel compelled to sell. Such deals may well have to be agreed before the June 30th soft deadline, as those provisions will inform the Premier League’s 2023-24 PSR calculations.

Why Chelsea’s 2024 summer looks bleak


As football finance expert Kieran Maguire puts it, “2024 is probably looking like a bit of a car crash.” According to analysis carried out for CBS Sports, prior to any summer sales, Chelsea are on course for a second year out of three where their pre-tax losses are in excess of £100 million. This puts Todd Boehly, Behdad Eghbali and the rest of the ownership group in an extremely difficult position. The Premier League allows exceptions for PSR calculations that include spending on academy football, the women’s game and community investment.

Even with generous allowances for those, CBS Sports calculations estimate that Chelsea’s losses, post-mitigations for a three-year window, would be around £210 million, double the Premier League’s top limit. Chelsea, for their part, maintain they are not concerned and that they are confident they can comply with all Financial Fair Play and PSR requirements, avoiding any league imposed penalties. We’ll see!

Across the league, those penalties have become realities for teams already. Everton and Nottingham Forest have been hit by points deductions for breaches some way short of what Chelsea’s might be. Everton exceeded their £105 million limit by £19.5 million and Forest’s breach was £34.5 million over their threshold of £61 million (a lower amount as they had only just been promoted to the Premier League). Both were judged to be significant breaches by independent commissions. The only apparent path to compliance for next season for Chelsea is sell, sell, sell.

“I don’t know how you can view the financial situation for Chelsea in 2023-24 and reach a conclusion that they won’t be forced to sell before June 30, or at least try their best given the Nottingham Forest decision,” says a leading analyst who spoke to CBS Sports on condition of anonymity. “When it is suggested that Chelsea need to get £100 million from player trading in that two-week window when the Euros is going on, that seems right to me.”
CBS’s analysis of Chelsea’s finances suggests that there is no imminent prospect of the picture improving. A projection for their 2024-25 accounts predicts another operating loss, this one in the region of £130 million. This far out, certain assumptions have to be made. One is that commercial revenue will remain static, given that they will be out of the Champions League again. Soon after Clearlake Capital bought Chelsea, part owner Jose E. Feliciano spoke of his belief that the club could register a billion in revenue during their ownership. That’s a far cry from these assumptions.
“My suspicion is that when Feliciano said that he was looking at Chelsea’s commercial revenue relative to the traditional big six,” says the analyst. “It was an underperformer there and so there was a sense that Chelsea had low hanging fruit. The challenge with those assumptions is that they are conditioned on a certain legacy performance that’s quickly moving away.”In the absence of sporting improvement, it’s not clear how they would get to those numbers.”

The second set of assumptions is based around involvement in competition outside Europe. Given the state of the Premier League table, the Champions League looks beyond Mauricio Pochettino’s side, who would have to make up a 17 point gap in 10 games just to make the fifth spot that might, dependent on English club’s performances in Europe this season, unlock another seat at the top table. The Europa League and Europa Conference League are possibilities, although now only through league finish as they lost in the FA Cup at the weekend when Manchester City beat them in the semi-finals. The likelihood is that they will not even qualify for a spot in the Conference League. One of their main sources of increased revenue then would appear to be ticket price rises – surely an unpopular option for fans who are already unimpressed by the club’s decline. 

Amortisation

And this is where Chelsea’s great veil of amortisation gets drawn back. They were able to spend more than £1 billion in the transfer market since the takeover by spreading the cost of big money signings such as Mykhailo Mudryk, Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez over contracts significantly longer than the usual four to five years that might normally be handed out. When it comes to reflecting those transfers in their accounts, the cost is spread over the life of a player’s contract. Mudryk’s £100 million deal might look staggering on paper, but spread over the cost of a seven and a half-year contract it is rather less of a burden in any one year.

That Chelsea managed to secure these deals before UEFA and the Premier League moved to limit the number of years a fee could be amortised over, made some see a whiff of genius from the ownership. Few appreciated that governing bodies might have a point when they said they were acting to discourage clubs from locking themselves into squads over the extreme long-term when the side effects could be profound.

Chelsea’s annual amortisation costs are not that out of sync with the rest of the Premier League, according to finance writer Swiss Ramble. The £160 million they have on their books is not even the highest in England, trailing Manchester United at £170 million. A key difference, however, aside from the revenue gulf between those two clubs, is the speed at which United could bring theirs down.

United have 11 first-team players on their books, with three or four years left on their contracts come the end of the season, and 20 who would be out of contract in two years. At Chelsea, there are 23 players who are tied to the club to 2028 and beyond. Many of their most expensive acquisitions – Mudryk, Fernandez, Caicedo, Nicolas Jackson and Romeo Lavia among them – are contracted until 2030. 

If the plan had clicked, Chelsea might just be in dream land now, a squad of bright young things achieving greatness while tied to contracts that are relatively cheap by Premier League big-six standards. Instead, they seem to have found themselves in the downside scenario. Amortising the value over seven or eight years means that every year the book value of Chelsea’s squad is cut by a far smaller fraction. For it to make any financial sense for Mudryk to be sold, for instance, it would have to be at a price which is higher than the asset is worth to Chelsea. That almost certainly will not happen when his paper value remains so high, and potential buyers are now very aware of their own spending limits.


The latest ruse


The following explanation is from Jacob Steinberg in the Guardian on how Chelsea are trying to escape punishment under the PSR rules by selling themselves two hotels:—————————— “Premier League clubs reacted with exasperation after seeing that Chelsea eased their financial position with the £76.5m sale of two hotels to a sister company, in a deal that appears to have helped the club avoid a breach of profitability and sustainability rules. Chelsea’s accounts, published last weekend, revealed the club made a loss of £89.9m in the last financial year. That figure would have been £166.4m without the hotels sale from Chelsea FC Holdings Ltd to Blueco 22 Properties Ltd. Both companies are subsidiaries of Chelsea’s holding company, Blueco 22 Ltd.

The move to sell the Millenium and Copthorne hotels, and their car parking, was not blocked by the league. But Chelsea’s ability to exploit a loophole in the rules has not gone down well with everyone. An executive at one top-flight club was incredulous after learning of the deal, and another club were left with “raised eyebrows” and were said to have read the accounts “with interest”. There was a sense of resignation at another club, where a figure said that the deal came as “little – surprise”.

The hotel sales were yet to be assessed as “fair market value” under the league’s associated-party transactions rules, according to Chelsea’s accounts. Any decrease in the £76.5m valuation could place Chelsea’s finances under renewed pressure. The accounts were signed off in December 2023, six months after the hotels deal took place. Chelsea and the league have not confirmed whether a fair-market assessment has been concluded. It has been pointed out by Chelsea that they appointed two independent valuers to assess the club’s valuation of the hotels and that no issues were raised.

The last week has revealed that the hand of Roman Abramovich reached far beyond West London. It seems the tanks the Russian famously parked on the front lawn at Highbury were also firing £50 notes in the direction of Holland and Eredivisie club Vitesse Arnhem. Following an investigation into allegations that the club was secretly controlled by Abramovich and received illegal payments from him, they have been deducted 18 points, ensuring their relegation. It seems to me that other clubs, fans and indeed the Premier League know exactly what is going on, and it is all flying totally in the face of the spirit and intentions of the league’s stipulations. The one thing I can’t find much opinion on is why the League are so slow to do anything about it. Unless, of course, you are “lowly” Nottingham Forest or hard up Everton. Or maybe that’s a clue.Given how close Chelsea appear to be to the PSR line, there does not appear to be much room for creativity. The Premier League has a big fish to catch here, hopefully as a warm up for the biggest of all, Manchester C115y. Fingers crossed. 

The teams

Fofana, Lavia, Ugochukwu, James, Nkunku and Colwill are all out for Chelsea, so they’ll have to dip into their 137 strong squad. Pochettino will doubtless be whining regardless of who does and doesn’t play because whining is what he does most of. And, frankly, who cares? Their only other doubt is keeper Edouard Mendy but he is a worry for quite different reasons – a building in Chelsea was going up in flames. A distressed woman, tightly clutching her baby, was spotted screaming for her life and for someone to save her baby. No one responded until Edouard Mendy arrived at the scene. He shouted up, “Lady, I’m Edouard Mendy! I’m Chelsea’s No. 1 goalkeeper! I’ll save your baby for sure, it’s my job!” The woman responded doubtfully, “I’m 15 stories up! Surely you won’t be able to save my child!” Confidently, Mendy responded, “Don’t worry! Have faith in me. I will save your baby, just as I have performed time and time again important saves for Chelsea.” Persuaded, the woman put her faith in Mendy and dropped her baby for him. Down the baby went, 15 stories, 150 feet. Perfectly positioned, with great confidence, and true to character, Mendy clutched the baby in mid-air, bounced it on the ground a few times, and punted it out of bounds.


The Arsenal

Definitely still unavailable for this game is Jurrien Timber, with this from Mikel Arteta at the weekend: “He’s going to play a game with the under-21s against Blackburn on Monday and after that we will see better where he is, how he felt. He looks really good in training but it’s that last step now. We need to have the certainty that he’s ready to go.” Takehiro Tomiyasu is the only other injury worry but is expected to be available according to Sports Mole.

I’m guessing Arteta will go with his policy of making changes only where necessary, but I would like to see us really go at them from the start, so my stab at the team is:
Raya; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Kiwior; Ødegaard, Jorginho, Rice; Saka, Havertz, Martinelli;

The Holic Pound
As something a bit different to the usual match odds, if you are mad enough to bet on this title race with 5 games to go, Paddy Power are offering 3/1 for us to win the league. (C115y are offered at 6/10 and Liverpool at 9/2 – just for information, mind!) For this match, we are priced around 8/15 to win, the draw is 4/1 and a Chelsea win is 5/1. Bet365 have Martinelli at 2/1 to score at any time, or Kai Havertz at 7/4 – got to be, hasn’t it ?

The Officials
Referee: Simon Hooper; 4th Official: Graham Scott; VAR: Peter Bankes. Kick-off is on Tuesday 23rd April, at 20.00 UK. TV coverage on TNT Sport. Enjoy the game if you can ….. any win … any win … any win …

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