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Just win, baby.

I was having a discussion the other day with Arsenal-loving friends when the spectre of gridiron football arose. It led to a remembrance of great quarterbacks and their receiver pairings (Montana to Rice, Bradshaw to Swann), and that led me to the team I most enjoyed behind my hometown Rams, when I could still stand gridiron football: the Oakland Raiders of the 1970s. The Raiders were very successful, winning a Super Bowl and getting to the semi-finals a number of times, all behind the strong arm of Kenny “Snake” Stabler. But while Montana and Bradshaw had their favorite targets, Snake had three future Hall-of-Fame receivers to throw to: Fred Belitnikoff, Dave Casper, and Cliff Branch. This is an Arsenal blog, right? We’ll get there. Thinking of them brought me to their owner, a combination of something needing more than a moist towelette to wipe off and a strong will to win, one Allen Davis. Davis instilled in his team grit, heart, and the idea of never backing down (including by pushing the rules as far as they could be pushed), encapsulated in his mantra “Just win, baby.”

Brighton visits Arsenal for a late afternoon kickoff this coming Sunday, bringing their hopes of European football. We last saw Brighton at theirs on the ultimate day of 2022, where they were very good. I re-watched the highlights the other night, and it was weird seeing Trossard against us; he has slotted in so well it’d make you feel like he was always Arsenal. Though the match ended Arsenal 4-2 Brighton, they really should have had a 3rd goal through Mitoma with a minute plus stoppage left in the game. He was deemed offside, disappointing the Seagulls crowd and players alike who’d hoped for a twist in the tail.

The Seagulls

Since December’s game Brighton has maintained a solid season’s charge towards the upper third of the table, joining us Sunday in 8th place, two points and THREE big games in hand on Spurs (ha!) in 6th. If they get 12 points from their last 15 (our win excluded from that total) they could, with the right results, end up in third place, though likely the best they’ll do is 5th, earning them Europa League football. Needless to say, they’ll be arriving to ours Sunday looking to start a streak of winning out, after their 5-1 destruction by Everton last Monday.

And it has been that kind of run-in for them. They’ve been very up and down the last two months, beating teams you’d expect them to beat, like Chelsea and Wolves, or teams you might not (United)…but losing to teams you’d expect them to slaughter, like Everton, Forest, and Spurs (ha!). So it is a bit of a question as to which Brighton team will show up. I am thinking they will come in hard and fast, angry and still feeling the bruises, inside and out, from Everton’s thrashing.

Fortunately for Arsenal the Seagulls will be missing some of their stars who have gotten them this far. While one of the goal scorers in the reverse fixture, the tyro Ferguson, is expected to start after regaining some fitness on Monday, it looks like they will be without March, Webster, Veltman, Lallana, and Lamptey. Let’s just say their manager, Roberto di Zerbi, will have a selection headache in defense, and to a degree in midfield, as he shuffles players around to fill in for the absences.

With Ferguson, Mitoma (who scored their second in December, and is someone Arsenal might want to be looking at for the squad, he’s really good), and Welbeck they have plenty of firepower ahead of Caicedo and MacAllister, though it’s possible Caicedo will have to be pushed into one of the back four positions. So I really have no clue how they will line up, but Ben White will have to be on his twinkle toes to blunt Mitoma’s influence.

The Arsenal

We were greeted this midweek with the news that both Saliba and Zinchenko might not feature again this season, though after the performances by Kiwior and Tierney up in the Northeast we can be glad of the depth of our squad (something not many of us have been saying all year, eh?). No one else is coming off the defeat of the Magpies with a knock, so excepting those two, and long-term sufferers Mo’Neny and Tomi, Mikel Arteta will have a full squad from which to choose.

I’m hard pressed to see us start with anything but this lineup on the field:


White — Kiwior — Gabriel — Tierney

Partey — Mø — Xhaka

Saka — Jesús — Martinelli

The defense pretty much picks itself. I think Partey starts for the excellent Jorghino, who can come in early if Partey is struggling, but otherwise gets some rest after two strong games against Chelsea and Newcastle. If not Martinelli Trossard can play in front of Xhaka, and if push came to shove Mikel could start Nelson for Saka, saving the latter’s legs for a late appearance, if necessary.

Our performance against the Barcodes was outstanding, though our defense took chances less profligate teams might make us pay for. Ramsdale’s heroics were absolutely needed, and I hope they won’t be needed again on Sunday. Tierney at the back should give us more solidity across the line, as he won’t be going walkabout much in midfield. Of course, that will leave us a bit lighter than usual in midfield; hopefully we will be able to manage that battle with graft and energy.

There are three games left in Arsenal’s season. We have achived so much more than we could have hoped for at the start of the year: assured of Champions League football, we are in second place in the table, a point behind the-expensively-assembled-€itzens-of-(allegedly)-Off-Balance-Sheet-FC (™Lonestar Gooner), the latter with their game in hand. We have no room left for error, complacency, or sloppiness. If we are to win the league we must hope for the Oil-slickers to drop points, and we must win out. So, just win, baby.

After a season replete with wonderful attacking football, newly reliable defending, a moving new anthem and the first title challenge in ages, the Arsenal travelled in hope to the home of the former Geordie paupers now reincarnated as the shameless sports-washing vehicle of a despicable regime. This fixture stood out as the biggest remaining hurdle after our disappointing trip to east Manchester and was yet another ‘must win’ as victory was essential to maintaining our faint hope of winning the title.

As expected, after his solid performance against Chelsea, Jorginho kept his place in the centre of midfield and Martinelli replaced Trossard on our left flank. Apart from Martinelli’s return, the rest of the team was the one that started against Chelsea. The ‘codes started their usual man mountain defence, a robust midfield of Joelinton, Guimares and Willock with Murphy, Wilson and Isak up front. The latter two started together for the first time – a declaration of offensive intent by Howe whose team, so negative when they visited the Grove, have been scoring goals for fun recently.

As also expected, the home crowd provided an extremely hostile reception from kick off, though not nearly as hostile as that received by Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.  The Arsenal displayed confident ball control and movement from kick off appearing to cope well with the opposition’s feverish pressing. However, when we lost possession in midfield we were suddenly under pressure as the ‘codes rode the wave of noise and their front three drove straight at us. We had to ride our luck after only 1 minute when Murphy struck a Willock cross from the inside right position inside our box. Murphy’s shot eluded Ramsdale’s fingertips but struck his right-hand post rebounding centrally to be cleared by Ben White. Only a minute later White had to slide in to clear for a corner Isak’s shot from inside our box on the left after Xhaka had been dispossessed midway inside our half. In the recent past, the Arsenal defence might have been rocking after such a frantic start. However, we didn’t panic. Ramsdale began his battle against the clock, diverting the Geordie offensive passion into frustrated anger by taking his time over every kick and we reverted to the confident pass and move that we had briefly displayed at the outset. In response the ‘codes began their agenda of grabbing, shirt-pulling, elbowing, barging and leaving the foot in at every opportunity and Kavanagh displayed a complete lack of interest in discouraging that behaviour by the use of his whistle or yellow card.

The first turning point of the match came on seven minutes. After a well worked Newcastle corner on our left, the ball was passed centrally to the unmarked Guimaraes whose firm shot into the crowded box was blocked by Kiwior. Unhesitatingly, the referee pointed to the spot. Replays showed that the ball had struck Kiwior’s thigh before looping past his right arm which he had pulled inwards and behind his back. I don’t think the ball touched his arm at all. It took a full 3 minutes for VAR’s analysis and Kavanagh’s review of the monitor before the decision was reversed. That first ten minutes had been frantic and I don’t like to think what might have transpired had that penalty stood and been scored but that episode lifted us as much as it deflated them. Moreover, it is another clear vindication of VAR despite the many problems hitherto associated with its implementation in England.

The game then became a heavyweight slugging match with multiple individual duels in which every one of our players stood firm and refused to be intimidated. We passed the ball slickly and our high press quelled Newcastle’s forward charge. After Xhaka had dispossessed Guimaraes midway inside his own half and passed the ball to Jesús, the clearly irritated Newcastle player stopped our Saviour some 35 yards from goal with a rugby tackle for which even Neville thought he should have been booked. The second turning point came in the 13th minute, after Ødegaard took the free kick. The ball found its way to Saka on our right flank who passed it inside via Jorginho to Ødegaard in space 30 yards out. Our captain struck it low and hard into the bottom right hand corner of the opposition goal.

Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal, 13 minutes

The locals were silenced. “We’ve got super Mik Arteta” rang out from the travelling support in the Gods. The duels continued.  Our players buzzed around opposition players in possession and challenged for every loose ball with a vigour reminiscent of some of our finest teams. When we regained possession, we calmly played around the ‘codes moving the ball swiftly and accurately. In the 20th minute, at the end of an extended period of such possession with 14 passes involving nearly every Arsenal player, Ødegaard played a beautiful pass through the centre of the Newcastle defence for the onrushing Martinelli to go one on one with Pope. Gabigol really should have buried it but his low shot was blocked by the keeper’s right foot and the ball rebounded to our right flank. Ødegaard sprinted over to claim it, dribbled into the box and his curling shot was tipped round the far post by Pope. The game was clearly turning.  Our players also started deploying the dark arts by delaying restarts and clearly getting under the skin of the opposition. Hand of Nemesis, Eddie!

In the 23rd minute another spell of elegant possession ended with a sweet through ball from Xhaka to Saka running through the centre of the Newcastle back four. Sadly, this one on one ended with another Pope save with Saka’s shot rebounding from the keeper’s shoulder. Newcastle responded with a nice effort from Willock running into the right side of our box that was well saved by Ramsdale. Seconds later, Ramsdale had to dive at the feet of Wilson to push a squared ball away from the onrushing forward who had simply run past Kiwior. However, the Geordie crowd were still eclipsed by the travelling Gooners, their main contribution being howls of outrage whenever our players took their time over restarts. Our players continued to take heavy physical challenges while in return harrying the opposition all over the pitch with Ødegaard and Jorginho in particular, always making themselves available for a pass. The lack of referee intervention was once again underlined when a rapid breakout by Jesús up the right flank was terminated by a foul challenge from behind by Burn without so much as a quiet word. 

On 40 minutes Ødegaard played the ball left to Martinelli inside the Newcastle box but the Brazilian’s shot screwed across the face of the goal beyond the reach of the incoming Saka. Yet the Geordie nasty streak was still there and during another Arsenal attack Guimaraes deliberately ran his studs down Saka’s Achilles off the ball, behind the feckless referee’s back (no card of course). This produced the first ruck with an inexplicably belligerent Joelinton having to be placated by his countrymen Jesús and Gabriel.

In the 5 added minutes at the end of the first half, Ramsdale caught a Schär header that was straight at him and Xhaka took the steam out of any Newcastle revival by collapsing at the edge of the box. When we were given a throw in to restart, the Newcastle players and fans vortexed into high dudgeon because Zinchenko ignored the ball that had rolled ten yards behind him and requested the ball from a ball-girl in front of him who was clearly in some drug-addled stupor. Two subthemes were verbals between Xhaka and Wilson and between Jesús and Trippier. The latter exchange almost provoked a physical response from Trippier. We were deploying the finest shithousery out there.  As the clock ticked round to the 52nd minute, Saka dispossessed some big stripey lump on the left of their box, passed the ball to Martinelli who darted towards the byeline and cut it inside to Ødegaard whose sweet first touch left Byrne prostrate and as he bore down on goal I would have bet the farm that we were going to go 2-0 up but once again Pope blocked a one on one as he got a foot to Ødegaard’s right foot shot.

Half Time: Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal

We thoroughly deserved the half time lead and really should have been two or three up. Despite their early flurry and strike on the woodwork we had made by far the better chances and been a constant threat after the ‘penalty’ episode. However, manfully though our players had stood up to the physical assaults and brilliantly though we had silenced the initially rabid crowd, with our recent history, one couldn’t help thinking about the two 2-0 leads we had spurned and a previous incarnation that had lost a 4-0 lead on this very ground. Could we see this through?

The second half began as the first half ended with Arsenal passing the ball through the Newcastle press and then through their defensive lines and getting kicked for their efforts. The third turning point came in the 48th minute when Zinchenko slipped in the box allowing Murphy to chip a ball to the onrushing Isak whose unchallenged header struck Ramsdale’s left hand post with the keeper beaten. Seconds later, a Trippier freekick from the right found the head of Schär, unmarked on the edge of the 6-yard box. Ramsdale pulled off an excellent save, diving to his right to push the downward header away. 

The second half appeared to be starting with another spell of Newcastle pressure but we had other ideas. Jesús found Martinelli unmarked inside the opposition box and Gabi’s high curling shot appeared to be heading for the far top corner but clipped the bar and bounced over. We returned to our harrying when out of possession, shithousery on restarts and elegant pass and move when the opportunity arose. Our work rate was extraordinary and the travelling Gooners’ chants of “Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal” rang around St James’. On 55 minutes Jesús got his first chance of a shot but his effort was blocked for a corner. 

As “Super Mik Arteta” rang out, an unchallenged driving run through midfield and a lovely through ball from Burn found Isak running into our box on the left. He slipped the ball inside to Willock who had a clear shot on goal. Just as Willock prepared to hit the ball, Xhaka slid in to take the ball away from him and take the force of Willock’s kick full on his glutei in as Keown-esque a block as you’ll ever see. What a superb ‘match-winning’ intervention and it epitomised the team’s spirit and work rate. On 60 minutes, Guimaraes got away with another late challenge on Jorginho without any sanction. Meanwhile Tierney replaced Zinchenko whose loss of focus after 60 minutes has become evident in recent games. A feeble effort by Guimaraes to reproduce Ødegaard’s goal was then easily hoovered up by Ramsdale. On 64 minutes Almiron replaced Murphy whose contribution had long since faded from memory.

Having failed to match us in football skills, Newcastle resorted to grievous bodily harm. In short order Joelinton elbowed Xhaka in the head as we defended a wrongly-awarded Trippier free-kick from our right then Schär put a forearm smash into Jesús who collapsed to the turf with a cry heard round the world. Yellow card? Don’t be silly! Jesús recovered and was soon firing a low shot at Pope’s left-hand post from a tight angle that the keeper could only block for a corner.

On 71 minutes came the final turning point of the match. We had once again weathered the early Newcastle storm, dealt with their efforts and physical aggression and carved a few opportunities for ourselves but the game was still in the balance. Once again, we were scrapping for possession in our own half when Tierney intercepted a through ball into our box which had been aimed for Almiron. Tierney passed the ball forward to Jesús who wriggled past some big stripey blokes and laid it off to Martinelli running up the left. As Gabi drew near the opposition box, he could see only Saka trying to keep up with him on the far right. He slowed down, allowing Saka to get into the box and Ødegaard to approach the edge of the box then took on a big stripey lump, reached the bye line and fired a low hard cross across the face of the goal to where Ødegaard was arriving at the far post. It didn’t reach him. Schär kindly put it in for him.

Newcastle 0-2 Arsenal, 71 minutes

I expect that there were limbs in the Gods. No doubt, Countryman 100, our man on the spot, will confirm. There was certainly screaming and jumping about here!

In the 73rd minute Kavanagh finally located a yellow card which he brandished to Burn for his umpteenth late challenge on Saka. Once again, “We’ve got super Mik Arteta” and “You’ve only come to see the Arsenal” rang out from on high. In stark contrast to the game at the Grove, the ‘codes were in a hurry but we were harrying them at the edge of their box and all over the pitch and the game settled into a midfield battle of attrition. In the 78th minute, Willock was replaced by Saint-Maximin and Wilson by Gordon followed a minute later by the replacement of Martinelli by Trossard and Ødegaard by Partey. A couple of minutes later, in a last throw of the dice, Joelinton and Byrne were replaced by Anderson and Target. We continued to threaten with a good ball from Jorginho finding Jesús in the box but the forward’s first touch let him down. Meanwhile we were dealing effectively with everything Newcastle threw at us and Anderson resorted to diving into Xhaka’s back in a fruitless effort to win a penalty while Almiron struck Ramsdale in an attempt to get him to drop the ball. Ramsdale ensured that some time elapsed before he was ready to continue. Nelson and Nketia replaced Saka and Jesús in the 86th minute.

As the clock wound round towards the 90, we were under sustained pressure for the first time since the early minutes of the half but our lines stayed strong and a speculative Schär shot from the edge of our box soared over Ramsdale’s bar and a punt from Guimaraes soared past his left post. In the first of 6 added minutes, Ramsdale turned a Saint-Maximin shot from the edge of our box past his left post then clutched a lofted cross/shot towards his right post from Almiron. The travelling support were in good voice and “We love you Arsenal” sustained our sterling defensive efforts as we saw the game out. Schär and Trippier manhandled Nketiah as he tried to keep the ball in the corner resulting in handbags between Schär and Nketiah, both of whom got a yellow for their troubles. The game ended with a nasty challenge on Xhaka by Anderson who was lucky that the whistle prevented suitable retribution.

Full Time: Newcastle 0-2 Arsenal

This was a ‘good old Arsenal’ performance. In a ground where we were bullied a year ago and came up short we stood up to both the legal and illegal challenges, played some lovely football and defended manfully. They were all heroes as were the travelling support. A fully deserved victory with a well-deserved clean sheet. Jorginho fully earned his Man of the Match award but every man did his bit with 8/10 or 9/10 performances and we are still in this race.

I’ll add a postscript from Jorginho’s post-match interview:

“We know this league. We know that we can’t win every game playing beautiful football the way we want and I’m really pleased to see that our team can play this kind of game and understand that sometimes it’s not possible to go through just with passes and sometimes you need to fight and I’m very proud of the team, the way they fought until the end.”

These boys are growing up.


Now, to Decode the Barcodes

Two or three months ago when I was looking at the end-of-season fixture list, I noticed Liverpool, Manchester City and Newcastle (all away) within a few weeks of each other and wished we could have replaced those three with a string of easier fixtures.  The first two of those didn’t go exactly to plan, and the third one, this Sunday afternoon at St. James’ Park, will be a stern test indeed.  The giant computer in the sky, or perhaps the Google employee who oils it, has decreed that the most likely outcome is a Newcastle win (a 38% probability), followed by an Arsenal win (36%) and a draw (26%).  If the odds seem to be against us, let me assure you the most important number in that equation is 36, and it is on our side.

In this fixture last May the Geordies came away with a 2-0 win punctuated by a second half Ben White own goal and a late Bruno Guimaraes strike that put to rest the Gunners’ Champions League aspirations.  In the reverse fixture this January the sides stalemated in a nil-nil draw, the first match of the season that Arsenal failed to win at home.  I don’t know how we are going to overcome these markers of recent history but we must do so to keep our flickering title hopes alive, and something tells me that Arsenal might just manage to grab the points, especially if Gabriel is fit to start.  

The Opposition 

Just in case you haven’t noticed, a trip to Newcastle is a lot tougher prospect these days than it was a few seasons ago, as they have found an effective mix featuring aggression, talent and tactics.  The Barcodes sport the league’s stingiest defence overall, and they have lost only once, to Liverpool, in their 16 home matches so far this season, having won ten and drawn five, including a 3-3 draw with Manchester City.  

Our opponents are currently on a four match home win streak with victories against Wolves, Manchester United, Tottenham (by 6-1), and Southampton; and as none other than Ian Wright was quoted this week, “Eddie Howe is doing unbelievable things… you saw what they did to Tottenham the other week. Teams are going to Newcastle now and they’re afraid.”  Maybe so but that doesn’t mean the lads should or will be scared once they start kicking the little round ball around the pitch.

Arsenal XI

Late in Tuesday’s game Gabriel got what my TV screen suggested could be a knock to the ankle, but our eyewitness correspondent 21st Century Gooner thought it appeared to be a groin strain.  In any case our stalwart Brazilian centre half was replaced by Rob Holding about ten minutes from the end.  Mikel Arteta will be hoping he won’t have to make do without both halves of his first choice defensive pairing, and on Friday he offered this update: “We will have to see tomorrow how Gabriel is, but yeah he could not finish the game so that was a big sign for us.”  

The good news defensively is that Jakub Kiwior put in a very creditable performance in his first league start against the Chavs, looking solid on the ground and in the air.  If Gabriel can’t make the starting eleven then Holding should come in on the right, and be paired with Kiwior who would shift back to his more natural left side.  Otherwise, Partey should come back in for Jorginho, and Martinelli for Trossard in this familiar-looking side:


White — Kiwior — Gabriel — Zinchenko

Ødegaard — Partey — Xhaka

Saka — Jesus — Martinelli

‘Holics’ Pound

Dave Faber, the Goonerholic himself, was never one to prognosticate an Arsenal loss, even in the most difficult of circumstances.  As Dave sometimes did, I am going with my heart even though we are in difficult fixture territory, and predicting a 2-1 Arsenal win on goals by Jesus and Martinelli.  If you fancy an even more delightful scenario make that 3-1 with Kiwior adding his first goal in an Arsenal shirt late in injury time.  My head tells me I could be getting a bit hopeful with both predictions but let’s keep our noses to the grindstone and see how much better we can do than last year at this time and place.

That’s yer lot, ‘holics, now go out and enjoy it.  When, and if, the Gunners are carting away the three points with their heads held high, remember that you heard it here first.

Chelsea Manager Frank Lampard displaying the silverware successfully gained from the new owners’ huge investment

Arsenal managed to keep their relatively slim title dream alive with a one sided 3-1 victory over a pitiful Chelsea side on a mild Tuesday evening at the Emirates. After a poor run of three draws and a defeat, Mikel Arteta’s side knew that it was three points or bust in terms of the title and three points is what they got. The West Londoners came into the game in even worse form, languishing in 12th place off the back of five defeats in all competitions since Frank Lampard returned to the club on an interim basis. Following last week’s brutal demolition at the hands of title rivals, Manchester City, Arteta tinkered with his side for the visit of Chelsea. A first premier league start was handed to Polish international, Jakub Kiwior in place of the much-maligned Rob Holding. Jorginho started against his former side and our other January signing, Leandro Trossard, came in for Gabriel Martinelli. 

Arsenal began brightly and nearly took the lead after five minutes. A long ball from Jorginho was flicked on by Jesús, wreaking havoc in the Chelsea box. Azpilicueta’s weak headed back pass was latched onto by Granit Xhaka who prodded the ball straight at Kepa. But on 18 minutes we were ahead. Zinchenko found Jesús who turned and found Xhaka on the left-hand side. The Swiss pinged a lovely switch to Martin Ødegaard who was steaming into the box, and our Norwegian skipper thundered it in off the bar. 1-0. A deserved lead.

We continued to pin back the Blues. However, Ramsdale had to be alert when Ben Chilwell found himself in on goal following a cross field pass from Ngolo Kante, but Ramsdale palmed away well from his international colleague. Within moments we had significant breathing space, and the second goal came from the exact same source as the first. Once again, we found Xhaka on the flanks following more neat build up play on the left and he played an almost identical pass into Ødegaard who once again converted the opportunity. He bounced the ball into the ground and Kepa was floundering as the ball settled into his bottom left corner. That’s now fourteen Premier League goals for our Capitano, who has gone up several levels this campaign. As have so many of his teammates, but Ødegaard’s improvement has been particularly impressive. He now has double the number of goals that he managed last campaign and there are still four more games to add to his tally. His finishing has been world class at times. 

And it was about to get even better for the home side. Benjamin White played in a diagonal cross with his wrong foot, Gabriel Jesus was able to chest it down and find Xhaka, who scrambled a shot which bounced back to the Brazilian who gleefully smashed home through the legs of Kepa for 3-0. Yet more awful defending from Chelsea but Arsenal didn’t care. They were absolutely cruising, and more goals looked imminent. 

Arsenal began the second half in the same vein as the first and had several chances to add to their lead. Gabriel thought he had added a fourth following a corner, but his header was scrambled off the line by his international compatriot, Thiago Silva. Xhaka was next to go close as his effort was turned around the post by Kepa following a fast break. Kepa saved well again from Saka following a low drive. Somehow it was still only 3. The Chelsea goalkeeper was single-handedly keeping the scoreline respectable. And somehow it was Chelsea who found the next goal. Kovacic’s through ball found its way to Noni Madueke. Meanwhile Zinchenko had gone to sleep at the back post as the England youth international poked in a consolation for the visitors. Another home game goes by without a clean sheet. 

Worryingly, Gabriel was forced off with what appeared to be a groin strain. Hardly what we need ahead of a crucial trip to St James’ Park on Sunday, although Gabriel went straight to the bench as opposed to down the tunnel so hopefully that points to a precautionary measure rather than anything more serious. The Brazilian has been Mr Dependable this season, and I don’t think many of us would fancy our chances up in the Northeast without him. 

Other than that, the game concluded without much incident. The lack of goals in the second half was disappointing but ultimately this was a night where the result took priority above all else. We now sit on 78 points, 2 points above Citeh who have 2 games in hand. But they will have to win them first. We now have just 4 games left and we will have to win them all. We are relying on others to do us favours but at the very least we need to consolidate second place which we can effectively achieve with a win at Newcastle. Will we be crowned champions in 25 days’ time? Right now it looks unlikely but stranger things have happened…..

“A bugger’s muddle is a colloquial military term for a disorderly group – either assembled without formation or in a formation that does not meet the standards of the commentator” – and the only way Dorset farmer Tim Gelfs could describe the current egg producers market, but it reminded me of a couple of London football teams and, well, here we are …..

On 30th September last year I wrote my second Tottenham preview in four and a half months and decided to look back to see how things had changed. Earlier, in May last year, we were hoping for a final flourish to the season to take us into fourth place, at Tottenham’s expense, and back to the Champions League. The optimists among us – Lee Dixon on TV and me included – were looking at the league table and convincing ourselves that Chelsea’s third place, and not Tottenham’s fourth, should be our target. 

That’s right, Chelsea were in third place less than a year ago but things didn’t quite work out the way we hoped, as we all know only too well.

I now find myself writing my second Chelsea preview within a year, and it’s been a year of amazing transformation. We sat, until yesterday, on top of the league, a quite remarkable and, in all honesty, unexpected improvement, with Chelsea in 12th place and 36 points behind us and with Tottenham in 5th place, 21 points behind and in utter disarray. 

The Opposition
I titled that first preview “Ch-Ch-Changes at Ch-Ch-Chelsea” as they were trying to sort out the mess created by the effective removal of Roman Abramovich from the club. The title alluded to the Bowie song and I reproduced a few lines of it in the piece – 

“Ch-ch-ch-ch changes

Turn and face the strange

Ch-ch changes

There’s gonna have to be a different man……”

Well, there has indeed been a new man – in fact, there have been quite a few new men. Abramovich was replaced by eventual new owner, American billionaire Todd Boehly, whose modus operandi appears to be to inflate the transfer market to a level where no-one else can compete. Well, we don’t appear to be able to compete, but one wonders if during his due diligence, Boehly picked up on the fact that he would be taking on the nation states of Abu Dhabi and, even more impossibly, Saudi Arabia. He may yet be having to add Qatar to his list of adversaries if they are successful in their bid to buy Manchester United.

Thomas Tuchel, Boehly’s first manager, soon departed after disagreements about playing personnel. Boehly likes to get involved in playing matters and wanted Cristiano Ronaldo as his first statement signing. Tuchel was having none of it, however, so Boehly flashed his fully stuffed wallet in the direction of Pierre-Emerich Aubameyang, who had ceased performing for the Arsenal and was looking for someone who would be prepared to pay him even more for his lack of effort. Aubameyang’s and Tuchel’s fortunes plummeted simultaneously and “hinaus!” went the German. 

One thing that Boehly had noticed was that down in Brighton, manager Graham Potter and his coaches had developed the knack of turning unknowns into very good Premier League players, so he went and recruited the lot. Six of them altogether, manager, coaches, scouts – the whole blooming shebang. Unfortunately, what happened was that they turned very good Premier League players into unknowns, because Boehly had bought so many of them that Potter couldn’t fit most of them into his team and they gradually disappeared out of sight on the bench, or worse. 

Chelsea fans moaned that Potter didn’t know his best team, or best formation – little wonder as he probably hadn’t met half of them, so many had arrived in Boehly’s £600 million spree since the summer. As an illustration, there are 13 players vying for 3 forward positions. Potter seemed unable to reverse the downward trend in results and after less than seven months was the next to depart through the revolving door that is Stamford Bridge. In their desperation to find an excuse for the continuing malaise, Chelsea even sacked the groundsman (true story), just in case the grass on their pitch was too long, too short, too wet, too dry or just too damned suited to the way everybody else was playing.

And then the real magic happened. Erstwhile player and one time manager Frank Lampard dropped in to watch an evening game at the bus stop in Fulham and was spotted in his box by celebrity fan, James Cordon, actor, comedian, chat show host and, reportedly, friend of Todd Boehly. Cordon, realising that Boehly was short in the management department to the tune of one, recommended his unemployed, spectating hero for the job and, hey presto, the genie of the Lamps was appointed. Oh yes he was ! And thus far no-one has come forward to deny the veracity of this tale.

The search is already on for Lampard’s successor after something less than a calendar month, in which time he hasn’t managed to improve them at all. So far, they have played five and lost five and even die hard Chelsea fans have been bemused at the reappointment of a man who has failed to make any kind of positive impact on any of the clubs, including Chelsea once already, he has managed to date. That bus stop in Fulham is one where no self respecting football manager should ever alight. At least not without an onward ticket. 

The Arsenal 
It’s easy to feel a little deflated at the moment after a run of three draws and a defeat. The media are not unreasonably convinced that our title chances have gone, given the relentless form of Manchester City and the admittedly comprehensive defeat we suffered at their hands last Wednesday. They also seem most unreasonably convinced that finishing second represents failure for Arsenal, having led the league for so much of it since last August.

Whilst there may be a degree of disappointment, the season should not in any way be seen as a failure. I don’t think there is a single Arsenal fan who wouldn’t have jumped at the chance of a second place finish and a return to the Champions League. We have done fantastically well to keep pace with City for so long – and we can still return to the top spot with a win over Chelsea on Tuesday evening. It’s to be hoped, to put it mildly, that City’s continuing exploits in the Champions League will take a toll on some of their league performances and cost them just enough points to allow us the ultimate victory.

Wednesday’s defeat simply confirmed that we don’t have the quality in our reserve ranks that they do. They have been able to rotate with no drop in quality, which is easy when you have £50 million reserves and the wealth of Abu Dhabi behind you. It would appear that they haven’t even been content to use all that backing legally, with the Premier League finding around 120 cases of financial irregularities against them. Whether they can ever get those cases free of the web City’s lawyers are bound to weave, and into court remains to be seen. What is clear is that City’s dominance now requires any challenger to amass a huge number of points – probably 90+ to 100 – to try to take “ their” title off them. It’s to be hoped they will be properly punished and regulated in future because the current situation is turning the best league in the world into a predictable one horse race.

For Arsenal, there is still a significant drop in quality in some positions when we make changes to the first eleven. The glaring and costly one for us has been the loss of William Saliba, whose absence has affected every part of the team. Without him the back four has to play much deeper to compensate for the loss of his pace. This has spread the team out and badly affected our ability to press, win the ball back quickly and control games as we were doing . It has allowed opposition players to get between our lines and create more chances against us – our “xG against” for stats fans, which has gone from 2nd best in the league to 19th best in Saliba’s absence, and led to us conceding 11 goals in our last 4 games.

The Teams
I have no idea what sort of team Chelsea are likely to put out but it will not include Borja, Mount, Cucurella or Reece James. Havaertz and Koulibaly face late fitness tests.

Several of our players have looked tired recently, however reluctant Mikel Arteta is to recognise such things, and maybe the pressure of a young team’s first title challenge and a mid-season World Cup have taken their toll. It does appear that we need a “freshen up” though and while I’m sure many will disagree, I would be tempted to give the following team a try – 


White, Partey, Gabriel, Tierney;

Odegaard, Jorginho, Zinchenko;

Nelson, Jesus, Trossard;

Or, the midfield could be tweaked to Odegaard, Zinchenko, Xhaka.
That would leave Saka, Martinelli, Nketiah and Smith-Rowe as attacking subs, with Turner, Holding and Kiwior as our only real defensive options.
That would hopefully inject some new energy into the side, hopefully reduce the gaps between departments and the players may yet benefit from the relative freedom of being underdogs again.

The Holic Pound
Overall Arsenal against Chelsea have W81, D59, L66.After the earlier Abramovich years our recent history against Chelsea has improved with our last three meetings being won 4-2, 4-0 and 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in November 2022. We are pretty hot favourites for this game – typically 4/6 on for the win, 16/5 against the draw, and Chelsea are 9/2 against to win it. Gabriel Jesus is 11/2 to be first goal scorer but the bookies have clearly not seen my team selection as Martinelli and Saka come next, with Trossard at 13/2.

Match Officials etc
Referee: Robert Jones. Fourth official: Graham Scott. VAR: Andre Marriner. Note to VAR – when judging a potential offside, show a freeze frame that includes the instant at which the ball leaves the passing player’s foot, not some other contrived angle that gives no clue to the timing of the pass – you know, what is known in the trade as “the crucial bit”! (See Man City’s second goal on Wednesday for details)

Kick-off is at The Emirates, Tuesday 2nd May at 20.00 UK.TV coverage is on Sky Sports.

Enjoy the game and be proud. The club and the team have done a wonderful job this season. 

And finally, good luck to the ladies team in front of a sold out Emirates on Monday evening. They take on Wolfsburg in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final after a creditable 2-2 draw in the first leg without 4 of their best players due to serious injuries.

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