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All we all needed to do today was take three points and that is exactly what we did.

Frankly, I’d be happy enough to leave this report there as I’ve already covered all the important points.

However, there are probably a few more things that can reasonably be said about a strange game of football that was a far cry from the blood and thunder clashes these two clubs used to be famous for.

We started unchanged for the fourth time in a row, just as bt8 predicted. It was not his only correct prediction on the day. 

We began brightly before United asserted some control of the ball without getting it into threatening positions. For us, Partey dropped deep, between the central defenders, and tried to find passes forward. A couple of times we were lax in midfield and Raya came out quickly to clear up the danger from loose balls.

On twenty minutes, Casemiro failed to get out fast enough (due to slowness of thinking rather than lack of physical speed) as Saliba headed an Onana clearance to White, who helped it onto the conveniently onside Havertz in space on the right. He made his way into the box, holding the ball until Trossard had got across his man before playing a perfect ball for the Belgian to sweep in from a few yards out. It was poor from United and clinical from us and, ultimately, this moment decided the match.

I won’t go blow by blow, the game does not deserve such minute analysis. It was not great fare. United sucked us down to their disjointed level. The Old Trafford pitch is large, and at times it looked enormous, with both teams stretched when pockets of space became acres opening up in front of players with the ball at their feet only for a distinct lack of quality to prevent them taking advantage. I do wonder if United look less compact than they would do if they didn’t play on such a gigantic surface.

As half-time approached, I was unimpressed by a sly push in Saliba’s back from the ineffective Hojland. Our defender was in the air and landed awkwardly. This kind of foul is not even allowed in rugby, lacking in any sort of sporting legitimacy as well as being potentially dangerous. The refs need to cut it out, not ignore it. Thankfully, Paul Tierney did not make any match-changing decisions today, but he was bad in a characteristically low-level way, favouring United with a string of nothing decisions (he seemed especially keen to let United take throw-ins from wherever they fancied) and managing to book Raya for timewasting at the end as our keeper was in his run-up to take a goal kick. At that point, Paul, you’ve probably missed your window.

He did correctly ignore a penalty claim from Diallo when Partey got the ball. His subsequent treatment gave Arteta the time to get his troops into a huddle and impart a few words…

“Just ‘cos they are fucking eh-shit, doesn’t mean you lot have to be!”

The second half had a little more incident but nothing hugely exciting.

Onana made some saves. A good shot from Rice and a corner flicked on by Wan-Bissaka were both going in before he got a hand on them. Rice rolled it across the goalmouth but Martinelli, on for our match winner Trossard, failed to get on the end of it. He continues to look rusty and could have been away at the end but his control was poor. The one time he did get released over the top he cut inside and delayed too long but still managed to force another decent save from Onana.

On 67 minutes Casemiro shot tamely from fully thirty-five yards. It was United’s first shot on target.

Raya made a few good grabs from crosses. Garnacho ran at White and Saliba a couple of times. The former let him go when cutting inside on one occasion, but the nasty little w(h)inger shot well over. On another occasion, Saliba made a beautiful, perfectly judged tackle in the box. Deschamps is a fool if he cannot see how good that kid is.

Generally speaking, we had the better chances and certainly deserved to win, poor as United were. However, we were not particularly good. Rice was our best player, Trossard also pretty good. Havertz worked hard but had a few loose touches, which is pretty much true of all of them.

We did not give much away defensively, and despite a nervy last ten minutes when we all knew that conceding would be disastrous, we saw the game out without any real scares against a toothless Manure side who are going to finish out of the European places.

The final whistle was greeted with relief more than anything (apart from in bt8’s gaff, where it also received a judicious nod of satisfaction). Our record at this ground is bad, we have often failed to take advantage of having a better side than them to improve it, so today it was good to see us take the points even if the performance was rugged rather than imperious. We shut them out and made the most of a relatively early chance to score, and then we played the game that was on offer, as Clive Palmer is fond of saying.

The result ensures that, whatever happens, we will go into the final day of the season with a chance of being champions. It has been a long road, and we need one more big push, but today was an opportunity to keep ourselves in with a chance of a famous league win by beating old rivals at a ground we’ve messed up at before. We did that, and now it goes to the final day.

I feel dirty saying it… but I’ll be rooting for the spuds on Tuesday.

On a personal note, let me just say that, after my last two assignments were the losses to Villa and Bayern, I am chuffed to have proved that I am not the jinx who has blighted our season! I was worried for a while there…

Have a good week and we will be back for the final showdown. All to play for. 

Until next time ‘holics.

Sunday’s agenda for the Arsenal surely must be to stay focused and visualize the positive.  Mikel Arteta says he has been doing exactly those things, and wants his team to do likewise when they step out to face Manchester United in their penultimate league match at Old Trafford: 

“My brain always takes me to the players lifting the Premier League.  That’s what my brain is doing at the moment. I just follow my brain and my gut and this is how I feel, and this is the way that I want everybody to think and hopefully we can achieve it…. At the moment it’s not in our control (but) being focused and determining what we have to do is the only thing that we can do, which is a lot. There’s still a lot to play for against very difficult opponents. We know the turns that can happen in this league, You just have to look at the history.”  

The situation is this: Any win will do to keep Arsenal’s hand in the title race but any points dropped simply will not do. 

Many times this season Arsenal have won games by multiple goals, and if you watched Crystal Palace dismantle Manchester United last Monday you probably got the feeling that Arsenal should beat United easily, but it normally doesn’t work like that.  Arsenal will once more need to demonstrate their title credentials in a difficult away fixture as they near the culmination of their magnificent and still potentially title-winning season against Erik ten Hag’s unpredictable Red Mancs.

The Other Guys

It hasn’t been the best season for the Red Mancs.  As Jonathan Liew wrote in The Guardian this week, “Thanks to Ten Hag, United fans are being treated to sumptuous counterattacking fare on a near-weekly basis, even if – unhappily for Ten Hag’s job prospects – most of it these days seems to be getting played by the opposition.”  Liew ended the piece saying “Welcome to Manchester United, where the transition never ends.” 

On Friday in The Athletic, Michael Cox wrote that Ten Hag “took United to third place last season, his side kept the highest number of clean sheets in the Premier League, and he reached both domestic cup finals. Since then, however, United have gone backwards in almost every respect.” In the fairly unlikely event that he is not sacked at season’s end, ten Hag’s £9 million salary would drop to £6.75m next season in the final year of his contract because he missed out on a Champions League place.

With three fixtures remaining United stand eighth in the table with 54 points, three fewer than Chelsea and Newcastle but with a game in hand on both clubs.  United have scored 52 goals in the league, or three fewer than they have conceded.  The challenge for Arsenal is that even though United have lost almost as many games as they have won, they tend still to be very tough opponents in big games, and this one is exactly that.  United’s loss at Palace on Monday was their 13th league defeat this season, their highest number of losses in a Premier League campaign. Ten Hag’s team are eighth in the table, one spot below the lowest league place that could lead to European qualification, so they will need to beat Manchester City in the FA Cup final to secure a European place if they don’t move up the table.

Injuries to ten Hag’s first choice defenders have limited Martínez to only nine league matches; Luke Shaw to 12; and Tyrell Malacia to none.  But two injury-plagued stalwarts of the team, Rashford and Martinez, returned to training this week, and the team’s pride should bring a performance out of them after their poor showing at Palace.  If they are all healthy, I would look out for the energetic threesome of Mainoo, Martinez, and Garnacho.  If Martinez is unavailable we must hope for an encore selection of Casemiro and Evans, the makeshift centre-back pairing that gifted Palace multiple goals.  

Arsenal XI

Arsenal have won four must-win games in a row, and during that stretch Arteta has put his confidence in Tomiyasu, Trossard and Thomas so I expect them to continue in their places along with the other familiar faces we have seen throughout the season, with Kai Havertz leading the line rather than playing the left-8 where he started back in August. 

Raya

White – Saliba – Gabriel – Tomiyasu

Ødegaard – Rice – Thomas

Saka – Havertz – Trossard

The Holics’ Pound

I’m not expecting a straightforward win but as I said, any win will do and there’s nothing more satisfying, at least in retrospect, than a good old 1-0 to the Arsenal so I’m going with it and predicting Gabriel to get on the end of a Bukayo Saka corner, and possibly early in the second half so that could be a good time to emerge from behind the couch.  Wherever you are watching, enjoy the game and be sure to cheer on this great Arsenal side to a great finish of a truly great season, no matter what happens from here on out.

Bournemouth visited The Grove for a midday Saturday game under glorious skies, The Arsenal hoping to advance their cause and increase their lead at the top of the league. In the 11th minute Ryan Christie earned a straight red card for a high-footed, studs-up foul on Bukayo Saka. Arsenal, who by that time had five attempts on goal blocked, then found space all over their box and proceeded to put five first-half goals past a clearly outclassed 10-man Bournemouth squad, before swapping out 5 starters at half-time (Saka, Ødegaard, White, Partey, and Trossard for Jesús, Vieira, Cedric, Jorginho, and Martinelli) and cruising to a goal-difference-enhancing, position-maintaining victory.

Well…

That’s what I could have written, had referee David Coote actually been competent and worked with VAR to figure that a foul like Christie’s is both reckless AND dangerous. Instead we were treated to an otherwise outstanding first half of Arsenal pressure (nearly complete dominance for the first 30 minutes), and a second half evincing our maturity in the face of a team that has quality, just not enough to make a real challenge against us.

After that series of shot attempts by Saka, Trossard, and Mø, and then Christie’s unpunished foul, Arsenal spent the next 20 minutes with more than 90% of the ball. Excepting on 18 when Solanke got away from Gabriel and had the ball nicked off him in our box by an imperious Saliba we were largely untroubled by any Bournemouth threat. Havertz forced the first save of the game from Travers after a beautiful ball over the top from Tomi, hitting a delightful snap-shot on the half-volley.

And then, in the 14th minute of the game, fans in the stadium rose as one and clapped, in remembrance:

Rest in peace, Daniel. Go find ‘Holic, CBA, and Gooner Terry, they’ll take care of you…

Even as the fans were honoring Daniel Havertz was fouled by Christie. From then we were so on top of the Cherries even Saliba and Tomi were marauding forward, the former forcing Travers into another save and the latter nearly setting Mø free with a cutback intercepted in the box. Partey had a shot saved, Trossard shot over, Tomi’s header was cleared off the line, Saka had a shot blocked out for a corner, and on it went. We played in their half like we owned it, except for Bournemouth’s fouls, Christie being their principal offender…still not seeing even a yellow card. When we lost the ball we recovered it using a press that was active, multi-faceted, and suffocating.

After a foul on 29′ by Christie Bournemouth began to assert their quality, undoubtable under manager Iraola; as people have pointed out, after the first ten games of the season Bournemouth’s form has been fifth-best in the league. (Full disclosure: I had Iraola as my choice for first sacked in our GHF contest this season; Dr. F. Jnr. won that bet, correctly choosing Paul Heckingbottom.) While they began to see more of the ball, they could do little with it. When we had it we repeatedly held possession deep in their half, and our patience would soon pay off.

As with the rest of the half up to the 42nd minute Bournemouth decided to give us free run of the midfield, only to compress the central spaces trying to stop us from playing our intricate passes that so often lead to goals. One of our best chances in the half was by Rice from Havertz’s head; his low, fizzing half-volley from the penalty spot went just the wrong side of Travers’ post.

And then came our breakthrough moment.

After a Bournemouth free kick, we worked the ball around the defense before Gabriel found Mø just inside their half. He spotted Havertz’s run between Senesi and Zabarnyi, then curled a delightful ball into the box that Kai touched beyond a lunging Travers, who brought our £65-million man down. While there are arguments to be made that Havertz’s leg was “left in”, if that sort of rule were enforced with consistency players like Harry Kane would be playing in the Championship. VAR opined the ruling on the field was correct (Coote for once having not lived up to the etymology of his name). Saka stepped up and stood up Travers, firing in the goal to the keeper’s right. It was his 20th goal this season, and it was noted on X that Saka is the youngest to 20 goals in a season for Arsenal since Martin Hayes in 1986-87. Truly a remarkable player.

Arsenal 1-0 Bournemouth (Saka, 45′)

The rest of the half continued as it had been being played, with Arsenal bossing Bournemouth, even through 4 minutes of stoppage time. Even with 16 shots forcing only 3 saves from Travers we weren’t exactly profligate; Bournemouth’s box-packing was excellent, and they blocked at least three times as many of our shots as Travers saved. Make no mistake, though, our dominance was such that had we scored five against 11 men no one would have thought we’d overperformed.

Half time: Arsenal 1-0 Bournemouth

We began the second half as we ended the first, forcing Travers into two saves in the first five or six minutes before Bournemouth began to bite into the game. Our defense was compressed by Bournemouth’s pressing, and after a pair of non-fouls on Havertz and Mø Solanke got the ball from Kluivert in the box; Solanke shot hard and low, but it was well-saved by Raya.

The next fifteen minutes went back and forth like this, with Saka nearly converting a Havertz center, thwarted by Cook’s excellent defense. For the neutral it was probably the best part of the game; for Arsenal fans it was a bit of a tough watch, but our defense showed their ability to graft and dig in. Kluivert missed left wide of goal, then again from a free kick after a Gabriel foul twenty-five yards out. And Havertz and Partey got yellow cards for things more innocuous than Christie on Saka (thought I’d dropped that, didn’t you?), these were par for Coote’s course on the day.

Then came our second. Havertz won the ball deep in our defensive half, then White lofted a ball to Saka who found Havertz again, twenty yards inside our half; his movement on the day, his passing range, his touch, and his endeavour were all top, top class. We really wasted our money on him, eh? He found Mø, whose deflected pass landed at Rice’s feet. Rice is another whose day was magnificent: he showed light feet, power, drive, and incredible touch all game long. He used his first touch to stop the ball, and his second on the spin to send it to Trossard, who fired his first-time shot into the far corner of a despairing Travers’ net.

Arsenal 2-0 Bournemouth (Trossard, 70′)

And that, substantially, was that. The final 20 minutes of regular time played out a bit more foul-ridden than most of the game, with Arsenal largely on top. We kept pressing, putting in shots that went wide or were blocked, and Bournemouth kept trying, but to no avail. Well, except for that incident in the 73rd minute, when Solanke fouled Raya, who was lining up a punch of a high ball.

Solanke’s push forced Raya to only meet the ball weakly, punching it out to Christie who volleyed it off the bar; Semenyo then fired the rebound into the corner of the net. Coote had whistled (correctly again, amazingly) for the foul on Raya, and (also amazingly) VAR supported Coote’s original call. Bournemouth could certainly feel hard done by, but if Solanke doesn’t nudge Raya his punch would not have gone to Christie, etc.

Martinelli came on for Trossard, then Jesús came on for Saka. Gabriel scored a peach of a goal for what would have been our third, but it was ruled out for offside on Havertz at the free kick. 90 minutes came with 7 8 minutes [hat tip to ollie; ed.] of stoppage time. Then, in the 5th of those 7 8 minutes it happened: Ryan Christie received a yellow card. While it won’t matter to our season, it should have been his second (I mean as long as he remained on the pitch after fouling Saka) and he should have been gone.

It didn’t matter. Two minutes later, in our second straight home game against Bournmouth we scored a third goal in the 7th minute of stoppage time, this one of understated brilliance by MOTM Rice. Not as explosive as Nelson’s third last season, it was quality nonetheless, showcasing Rice’s tireless running and power even after a full game. Martinelli won it back in defense, squared it to Jesús who played it to Saka Partey [good catch, gsd’s dad; ed.] and took off upfield; Saka Partey passed to up centrally to Mø, who returned it wide right to Jesús. When Jesús collected the ball some 30 yards from goal Rice was still at the half-way line. With everyone watching our diminutive Brazilian Rice ran full tilt up the middle of the pitch, and in between two defenders at the edge of the box; Jesús’ pass was excellent, and Rice’s shot after a settling touch was hard and low and into the net. It was as perfect as Nelson’s goal, in its own way.

Arsenal 3-0 Bournemouth (Rice, 90’+7′)

That was essentially it. We played one hell of a game, bossing most of it, and able to shift into a defensive mode that smothered most of what Bournemouth could think to try. My first paragraph above is really how it should have gone, all things being equal, but the end result in reality was perhaps even sweeter. Rather than rely on the decisions of a poor referee we took matters into our own hands and kept them out; two of our three goals were the result of excellent work and their lack of scoring was down to our defensive endeavour. We have a really, really good team.

It’s not in our hands, and on evidence of C115y’s play against Wolves we probably won’t win the league. But I am prouder of this season than last, as we are going to take them right down to the wire, forcing them to be as perfect as we are showing ourselves to be. Congratulations to MA8 and our team, it’s been such a fine ride this year…

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!

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