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A surprisingly strong blend of experience lined up against Qarabag in the final game in the Europa League group phase. Emi Martinez was given a rare start in goal behind a back four of Carl Jenkinson, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Laurent Koscielny, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Mohamed Elneny and Joe Willock were the deepest lying of a very attack minded midfield. Eddie Nketiah and Bukaya Saka started either side of Mesut Ozil. Alexandre Lacazette started as the lone striker.

In front of a sparse crowd a slow burner developed. The first effort of any note came in the ninth minute from Saka, starting a first team match for the first time, and his curling effort from the edge of the box drew a full-length save from da Silva. Willock was unable to control the parry, unfortunately, and the chance was gone.

In the sixteenth minute Nketiah nicked a ball into Ozil who in turn sent Lacazette twisting and turning in the area before despatching a pinpoint finish across and under the unfortunate da Silva.

The Arsenal 1-0 Qarabag

The visitors forced a string of corners in response but we held firm defensively. The name of the game was possession and slowly but surely the ball was tapped forward and back with only the occasional break out into a canter. One goal leads are never comfortable but Qarabag did look as though they may tire in the later stages.

A training match was only notable for individual moments rather than collective excellence. Most of the first-half memories were created by the out of position Nketiah, responsible for the tackle back that led to the goal and that was just one of a number of good things he was doing.

Of course we turned up the tempo at the start of the second-half, a recurring theme of this season. Having said that eleven minutes in Jenkinson conceded a needless corner which Guerrier got to ahead of Martinez only to head over the crossbar. A warning that a one goal advantage was a nervous one.

Unai Emery’s response was an interesting one. Lacazette was replaced by the young defender Zech Medley who slotted in at left-back allowing Maitland-Niles to advance and Nketiah to lead the line. Minutes later Saka was denied by a last gasp deflection. He went on to tee up Ozil for a blocked shot. He was certainly giving an encouraging full debut.

The big defenders were sent forward for a corner midway through the second-half that was taken short and hit back, and back, and back. Why? Some mystical tactic to confound everyone, doubtless. You will have gathered at this point it is hard to pad out this match as it happens. Koscielny departed with one eye on Sunday, possibly, and Nacho Monreal came on to occupy the armchair next to Sokratis.

Fifteen minutes from the end a lovely Saka cross was headed home by Nketiah but the raised flag of the assistant-referee cut short the celebrations. Both players deserved a moment to cheer but the decision was a fair one. To add insult to injury Saka took a whack from behind by Medvedev, and then was chopped down by Qarayev who earned the first card of an otherwise tame affair.

Ozil was withdrawn to allow young Charlie Gilmour a seven minutes plus cameo. A less than half empty stadium was now host to half of those who had attended. I understand entirely. In the final minute of normal time Saka found himself one on one with da Silva but the goalkeeper’s save with his boat race denied the lad a goal he deserved. The fourth official indicated four added minutes.

Now it was all about not doing anything stupid and denying ourselves a 22nd match without defeat. Neither side had the sting in the tail and we duly obliged, despite a one man pitch invasion that appeared to have darker undertones.

Job done. Much sterner tasks await. Won 17, drawn 5.

Matchday six in the Europa League. Qarabag arrive for what is a dead rubber for already qualified in first place The Arsenal. Qarabag also have nothing but pride to play for as Sporting have already clinched the second qualifying spot for the knock out phase.

We know that Laurent Koscielny will at least start the fixture in order to get some match-fitness but surely will be hooked in the second-half at some point with one eye on Sunday. As Sokratis Papastathopoulos is suspended on Sunday he too may start this game. Stephan Lichsteiner and Carl Jenkinson are likely full-backs in a flat back four in front of Petr Cech.

The defensive midfielders could be Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Guendouzi behind a front four of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Mesut Ozil, Emile Smith Rowe, and Eddie Nketiah. Unai Emery confirmed that Ozil is in the squad of 18 and will make a decision about whether he starts tomorrow. If he starts on the bench the conspiracy theorists will be to the fore again on social media.

Expect the bench to be packed with the young players who went to Kiev and we may see some ever more familiar faces given minutes in the second-half to get more first team minutes under their belts.

The ‘holic pound

We were comfortable winners of the away leg 0-3 in October with goals from Sokratis, Smith Rowe, and Guendouzi. That suggests a comfortable win is preferred and I have had a little pop at the 22/1 available against a 5-0 home win. Cue a goal-less draw being played out in front of a half-empty stadium!

To those who are going I wish you a real performance from a team of players with something to prove. Have a great one, ‘holics, wherever you will be watching.

What a difference six days make. In the same week that the Middlesex Nomads were duly despatched convincingly we had a real war of attrition against Huddersfield Town.

As a match this one took time to come to life. Huddersfield have a need for points every bit as much as us and it was clear they had not come for an open contest. Their high press prevented us from building anything from the back, and their rotational fouling was causing ever increasing consternation in the north-east corner of the Grove, a new vantage point for me.

I’ve said it before, however, we cannot blame the visitors for the tactics they deem necessary to seek out a result. It is up to the referee to clamp down on the rotational fouling and time-wasting. In my view, popular it seems, but not universally, his failure to manage the match and some highly questionable decisions made for an atmosphere bordering on the febrile.

Chances came our way and went again with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette missing opportunities that strikers of their quality would normally gobble up.

The growing frustration in the stadium then invaded the pitch as both sides decided the dark arts were required. First into the book was Granit Xhaka, clearly clipped but carded for simulation. Pritchard  followed him for clearing out Lichsteiner. Williams pre-meditated lunge through Lucas Torreira’s calves warranted more than a simple yellow to most around me.

Stephan Lichsteiner’s fifth yellow card of the season was earned. Smith and Sokratis Papastathopoulos traded bad fouls and the referee was forced to call the two captains for a chat as he struggled to regain control.

A seventh yellow followed in time added on when Mustafi was the second Arsenal player booked for simulation. He was definitely clipped and every week the pundits say if there is contact you are entitled to go down. It didn’t help that twice Huddersfield players claimed penalties which were not given and they survived further punishment.

Once again Unai Emery decided to change our shape at half-time, withdrawing Lichsteiner and Lacazette in favour of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi. There was no sudden transformation in our fortune. Mkhitaryan drilled his first effort wide and Aubameyang missed from a far post header that he should have at least got on target.

Midway through the half Skhodran Mustafi hobbled off with what looked like a hamstring problem, and in so doing left us with 10 versus 11 for a few uncomfortable minutes as Nacho Monreal was prepared to replace him.

With ten minutes to go Matteo Guendouzi became our record third booking in a match for simulation and this time no complaints. That is something he needs to reflect on, then cut out of his game. He is young and on a learning curve so I’m sure he will.

Just when it looked as though we would have to settle for another disappointing home draw up came the new cult hero in red and white. Lucas Torreira contorted his five feet frame to net with a spectacular overhead kick from Aubameyang’s perfectly weighted chip. Roars of relief broke out all around.

Huddersfield’s persistent time-wasting could have proved advantageous as the officials played an additional seven minutes at the end of the ninety, but we survived their late attempts to equalise and secured three points. In all honesty that is all we could have asked for from a side coming off the back of two high intensity games.

So back to the pubs of North London to refuel and compare verdicts before heading home for Match of the Day. It was my last home match of 2018 so a big thanks to all of you who have shared The Arsenal with me this year. The community that has developed around our common love never ceases to amaze me. I owe you, or perhaps we owe each other.

The third match of a mixed but uplifting week sees us welcome Huddersfield Town back to The Grove. The feelgood factor from last Sunday remains prominent in the recent memory, and taking a point home from Old Trafford extended the unbeaten run to 20 matches. Sadly it was confirmed today that Rob Holding ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Wednesday and is likely to be out for around nine months. Good luck with the recovery, Rob.

As well as Rob and fellow long-term absentees Konstantinos Mavropanos and Danny Welbeck we could be without Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey, and Mesut Ozil. Granit Xhaka returns after suspension and Unai Emery suggested Laurent Koscielny may be fit enough to be a part of the 18 man squad.

As I said on today’s Arsecast it is likely that we will revert to a flat back four in front of Bernd Leno. Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and Sead Kolasinac should feature behind the reunited partnership of Xhaka and Lucas Torreira.

Likeliest front four will be Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alex Iwobi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Alexandre Lacazette-zette-zette, put the ball into the net. The bench will certainly have room for some of the young guns.

Huddersfield arrive fighting for their Premier League place, sitting just a point above the bottom three. It is looking as though they are in for a long, hard season but have a well-respected head coach in David Wagner. He highlighted the task his charges  face,

“In these situations we have to be more focused, show more concentration and be more resolute as well. We also have to be more brutal in one or another situation to make sure we show everybody that we fight to keep the ball out of the net. This will be, for sure, very, very important on Saturday against Arsenal.”

The ‘holic pound

Last season the corresponding fixture finished 5-0 to The Arsenal. I’m not expecting a repeat. Three matches in seven days at this level is bound to have an effect on anyone although the Terriers themselves have played three in eight days, but have had an extra day of rest as they played, and lost 2-1, at Bournemouth on Tuesday.

I’m looking at the 11/1 available on 3-1 to the Gunners. My faith in 3-2 has been destroyed!

I hope to see a few of you at the match or in one of the surrounding hostelries. Have a great one, ‘holics.

Shkodran Mustafi was passed fit for the trip to Old Trafford. Unai Emery made two changes from the team that swatted aside the Middlesex Nomads. Matteo Guendouzi replaced the suspended Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey was preferred to Henrikh Mkhitaryan after his superb second-half performance on Sunday.

It’s fair to say United came out of the blocks with greater tempo and forced early turnovers as our defence were pressured into poor passes. The first effort on target came from Rashford who drew a save out of Bernd Leno. We looked like a side that had played just three days ago, but perhaps we were saving ourselves for another second-half onslaught?

When in the 15th minute The Arsenal’s first corner was claimed by De Gea he kicked long immediately and last man Guendouzi dealt with the danger, under pressure from Lingard, as the back three were caught upfield. Shortly after we fashioned a decent advance which unfortunately ended with a horrible slice wide by Hector Bellerin, but that was encouraging.

The Gunners started to target the inexperienced Portuguese right-back, Dalot, and from a 25th minute corner conceded by him Mustafi’s diving header was parried over the line by De Gea. A rare mistake from the Spanish goalkeeper.

Manchester United 0-1 The Arsenal

The lead lasted just five minutes and the equaliser was controversial. Guendouzi’s foolish foul on Martial gave United a free-kick that deflected off the wall and was collected and crossed by Herrera, offside by a gnat’s knacker, and Martial applied the finishing touch. Next season VAR gives us that decision but to be fair to the assistant referee it was very difficult to spot with the naked eye. We needed the benefit of television replays to spot it.

Manchester United 1-1 The Arsenal

In the aftermath of the goal the sight of Rob Holding having an inflated cast being applied to his leg was a sombre moment. Stephan Lichtsteiner came on and slotted into the back three. There followed a flurry of yellow cards. Mustafi, Lingard, and Matic thoroughly deserved theirs, Rojo was lucky not to see red for his awful clattering into Guendouzi, and Bellerin’s was quite a ridiculous decision by Andre Marriner.

Skipper for the night, Aaron Ramsey appeared to turn his right ankle in a challenge with Matic. He hobbled back on for the three added minutes at the end of the half. Mkhitaryan was warming up on the touchline, and continued to do so during the break. He started the second-half, not surprisingly.

Again the first meaningful effort of the half came from Rashford and Mustafi did well to effect the block. Leno punched the ensuing corner to safety. Martial was slid in by Lingard but a combination of Sokratis, Mustafi, and Torreira snuffed out the danger. When we attempted to spring Aubameyang Bailly matched him for pace and nullified the attack.

Mustafi again was on hand to clear the danger when Dalot cut in from the right flank otherwise unhindered. I’m sure Unai Emery would have sent on Alexandre Lacazette on the hour if he hadn’t been forced into two earlier substitutions. Instead Leno was forced into a save by Rojo and we scrambled the corner that followed away, eventually. Kolasinac, our biggest attacking threat got free on the left but his cross was also deflected into the hands of De Gea.

Martial joined the injured list and that provided an opportunity for Lukaku to change his recent fortune. In the 64th minute Emery decided the gamble of sending on Lacazette for Alex Iwobi was worthwhile. Aubameyang switched to the left. That was our three for this game. Guess what? A minute later Mustafi hobbled out of a challenge with Lukaku.

Then it happened. A moment of quality as Lacazette and Mkhitaryan combined for the former to score on a break from nowhere. Three minutes was all he needed to prove he should be starting matches.

Manchester United 1-2 The Arsenal

74 seconds later a defence that had largely performed admirably was made to look amateurish. We failed to deal with a hoof forward and Lingard poked home as Kolasinac unusually blundered. Such a waste of a really difficult lead to gain.

Manchester United 2-2 The Arsenal

In the moments that followed an end to end classic was developing. Twice Aubameyang was denied and United felt it was time to send on Pogba for Lingard having already sent on Fellaini for Herrera. The travelling faithful, as ever, could be heard loud and proud encouraging a weary looking Arsenal forward. The ‘holic pound was alive, but United were looking every bit as likely as us, perhaps more so, to grab the winner.

The news came through with 10 minutes left that Chelsea had lost at Wolves made the win more desirable. Rashford’s thirty yarder was well stopped by an alert Leno. Fellaini was ordered up front by Mourinho. A long ball bombardment was coming. Having said that he was forced to drop deep as we advanced and avoided caution for hauling Torreira down by his hair!

Lacazette headed the ball out of the one hand De Gea was holding it with and put the ball in the net. Immediately the BT commentators reminded of a similar goal by Forest being allowed.  A free kick was afforded to United, I assume correctly to the current laws of the game. Mkhitaryan finished from the acutest of angles but was flagged offside. We were finishing stronger than expected.

Back came United only for Fellaini throw an elbow into the back of Lichsteiner’s head, again unpunished by Marriner. Talk about Fergie time. As the 7th of 4 added minutes ticked over the whistle blew and we were 20 matches undefeated. Huge props to Unai Emery and his squad for that. They passed another big test tonight but just couldn’t finish United off.

I have quite the act to follow this evening. GSD’s outstanding record of derby day was a thoroughly enjoyable read. I don’t mind admitting I would far sooner carry on with recollections of a memorable Sunday which lifted the spirits again after a dark couple of days. Many thanks to all for the socialising and The Arsenal for well and truly turning up on the big day.

Unfortunately we have no time to breathe before locking horns with an old adversary, or two you might say. Jose Mourinho and Manchester United. Alexis Sanchez is ‘injured’ and missing the reunion but will Henrikh Mkhitaryan be given the opportunity to shine against his old club?

It would appear be a good time to play an inconsistent United. They lie eight points and three places below us following their come-from-behind draw against Southampton on Saturday. However despite extending our unbeaten run to nineteen matches on Sunday Mourinho was not lying when he observed,

“We will have a very difficult match. They are a good team who have had a good run of results, but in spite of our selection issues they know it won’t be easy either.”

He understands United had an extra night’s sleep after the Saints match than the visitors and knows how difficult it may be for the Gunners to repeat the level of performance that comfortably did for the Middlesex Nomads.

We are forced into at least two changes by the injury to Skhodran Mustafi and the suspension of Granit Xhaka. With only two match-fit central defenders it seems certain that we will revert to a flat back four in front of Bernd Leno. Hector Bellerin, Socrates Papastathopoulos, Rob Holding (you know, he’s better than Cannavaro!), and Sead Kolasinac.

Matteo Guendouzi appears to be ahead of Mohamed Elneny in the pecking order and can expect to partner the seemingly regular man of the match award winner, Lucas Torreira, ahead of them. The place vacated by Mustafi should allow Alexandre Lacazette to return to lead the attack.

If there are just the two changes that means Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi will be contesting the right-flank and central creative roles, and Pierre-Emerick-Aubameyang reverting to his dual role of left-sided striker with free license to join his friend Lacazette when we are attacking down the right. Having said that Aaron Ramsey’s performance on Sunday will have given Unai Emery food for thought.

The ‘holic pound

I’m going to sound a bit like a broken record. So close was I to making good money on Sunday that I am once again, third match running in fact, on a 2-3 Gunners triumph. I like the look of the 25/1 against that. We look capable of raising our game against the top sides as we showed against Liverpool and Tottenham, and almost Chelsea. United have their own problem with Defensive injuries and big name players not performing consistently.

We have shown a vulnerability to the ball lumped up to Fellaini but hopefully in Sokratis we have a tough central defender who will not allow him unhindered access to the ball.

What a remarkable performance it would be to take a maximum of the Nomads and Mourinho in the same week. Just do it, Gunners.

I am still recovering from the events of yesterday so huge thanks are due to our very own Gunnersaurus Stunt Double for covering the North London derby drubbing handed out to the Middlesex Nomads. I owe you, GSD.

To watch today’s derby game I returned to the scene of a few very odd days out for me. A certain pub out in the sticks which I frequent when I’m visiting my old man and Arsenal are playing. Today it provided some weird touches but it was more small town weird than on my previous visits- when it was touch and go if I’d get out with either my life or my sanity (assuming I had any sanity when I entered). The relative normality did mean that I could focus a bit more on the football which, happily, turned out to be a good thing.

We arrived and found a couple of stools in a sidebar with about ten of us. It turned out that there were only 2 spuds and the rest Gooners. Home game then. The match kicked off and straight away the pace was fast and we were on top. No slow start today. Less than a minute in and the camera panned to Unai genuflecting. He knew how much this one mattered.

After a few half-attacks when Iwobi and Mhiki were still finding their range, there was an unexpected moment when Mike Dean decided to award us a penalty. It was such a blatant handball by Vertonghen that even he couldn’t find a way to Dean us out of it. His time would come though. Auba despatched the penalty. It was not a great strike but the keeper went the wrong way, so who cares? 1-0 Arsenal. Even on the poor sound of the TV I was watching it was clear how our fans reacted to that.

We were well on top for a spell. Iwobi went through but dithered. He had another good chance after a quick freekick from Xhaka and pull back from Kola. He hit it well but it was cleared off the line. We had a lot of energy and drive and were looking good. Spuds did however have a couple of half chances, one after a simple ball over the top that caught our defence out, that served as a warning that there were still two teams going for the win.

At this point a scraggly looking bloke walked in, shouted “Come on Celtic!” and left again. This caused me to look past him and register the fruity in the corner for the first time. ‘Baking Bad’, featuring a cartoon Bryan Cranston wearing pants, an apron and a Chef’s hat. That was more like what I expected from this place.

Back on the screen spuds had a freekick. They whipped it in, we had Torreira and Bellerin as our front post markers, Dier got a deft flick on, and in it went at the near post. 1-1. No two ways around it, Leno should have done better. Lichsteiner then seemed to spark a mass tiff between the two sides. There was not much in it from what I saw, but it was nice to see the passion and intensity of the fixture. Rambo got involved with Alli, and that may have added even more impetus to his performance when he came on later.

Next up was a chance for this most frustrating of referees to Dean it up by awarding a penalty against Holding for sliding past Son. On a replay I was able to see some contact. For me though, it was not anywhere near enough for a penalty and Son had already lost the ball. Goalscoring opportunity? Pfff. Kane predictably scored it and the mood went south. 1-2

Spuds had a grip on the game now, mainly due to our defence seeming to panic. Mustafi got a typical Mustafi card. The bloke next to me described him as a ‘hothead’ and ‘a liability’. No one rushed to disagree. Auba was luckily given offside for a chance he should have scored, and which I thought was level, as we came back into it and it was fairly even until half-time. Mustafi was frustrated when the follow through from his overhead kick in the box was caught hard by a spuds defender. It would have been a harsh pen, but I had some sympathy given that he had received his yellow a few moments before for a similar challenge.

At half time the main bar turned up the volume on the heavy metal that was its music of choice. Until, after ten minutes of this, they put on a Christmas album! Who is their DJ?

A new bloke arrived in the pub, asked if some other bloke minded him sitting next to him and was told “no I don’t mind.” He replied “well I would”. This left me scratching my head- I don’t really get a lot of the stuff people say here. Then another guy moved chairs because “maybe this one’s a lucky seat!” Good move that man- It turned out it bloody well was!

Unai brought on Laca and Rambo for Mhiki and Iwobi at the start of the second half. Rambo was well up for it, and he grew into the game. He added some presence to the workrate that had not been lacking, and gave us something extra. It is certain that his attitude and commitment were absolutely spot on today. Soon we were level. Bellerin playing it through to Rambo, who busted a gut and made the telling touch to Auba, who finished like the world class striker he is. 2-2. Everyone went nuts, including Unai. Good to see.

We were dominant from then on. The crowd were roaring us on. Guendouzi came on for Mustafi, who picked up a knock, and we switched to a back four with the midfield sub, Xhaka and Torriera a somewhat fluid trio in midfield. We had some attacks that ended in nothing but the pressure was building. Xhaka sold Dean a yellow card for Alli. I laughed. They had a decent chance after Bellerin gave away a silly one across our box but Leno pushed Son’s shot to safety, well away from the lurking Kane. Then some tenacious work from Rambo saw the ball come to Lacazette. He worked a left-footed strike which deflected gloriously into the far corner. 3-2. Everyone went nuts again. Our players celebrated like a team that knew how big a goal that was.

Soon we had the icing on this delicious cake, the midfield fluidity paying off as Torreira had license to burst forward. Auba played him in, Laca distracted the defender whilst our midfield dynamo finished like Auba or Laca would have dreamed of. 4-2. His first goal for us. What a time to get it.

After that there were a couple more chances but we controlled the game and spuds looked like they knew they were beaten. Winks came on and threw his toys at Xhaka, not realising he was wasting time we were happy to see the back off. And our TEAM again closed ranks and fought for each other. The good Michael took his namesake when awarding 6 minutes of injury time, but it just meant a few more ole’s for the spuds to bear.

Overall it was a great day. We showed a huge amount of togetherness, on the pitch and in the stands. Unai and the new boys got a real taste of what a derby is about, and we came away with all the points. I am not going to say anything negative right now. I am sure there will be time to analyse aspects of what was not a perfect performance. It was however, damned good. Everyone worked as hard as we would expect, the team will grow a lot from performances like this, and the fans had a top day, as well as bragging rights.

Ooh, ooh, ooh to be…

Hello all, replete after three pints of Guinness and a fish supper it is time to allow the thoughts to focus on yet another North London versus Middlesex derby. This is a strange one these days, anticipated and loathed if not in equal measure. The long-standing neighbour avoids it like the plague. With my upbringing it will always be the first fixture I look for when they are announced in June.

I’m very fortunate in that all my ‘mumble mumble’ years on the planet it’s a fixture we have invariably won. In league and cup ties at Highbury and The Grove we have won 36, drawn 19, and lost just 12. There have been some memorable ones among them. Georgie Armstrong’s brace in the first double season, a couple of League Cup semi-final triumphs, the Alan Sunderland, Charlie Nicholas, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, and Robert Pires years.

It’s eight years since the Nomads won at our place. I hope the new players to the club this season have been warned what is expected of them when the whistle blows at 2pm. Nothing less than 100 per cent commitment from minute one to minute ninety-plus. I have no doubt that Lucas Torreira will not have needed to be told. That first tackle needs to send a message across London. We’re looking for a nineteenth consecutive match unbeaten at the very, very least.

Bernd Leno will be playing his first big derby behind a back four I hope featuring Hector Bellerin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and please Rob Holding alongside Sokratis Papastathopoulos or Skhodran Mustafi. I know who the popular choice would be, but Mustafi was outstanding for us in the corresponding fixture last season, scoring and helping to keep a clean sheet in our comfortable 2-0 victory. He certainly knows what the supporters will demand.

Granit Xhaka and Torreira are well established in front of that defence and will have to time their challenges to perfection Against a Tottenham midfield that seems to suffer more than most from an inner ear imbalance. The four in front of them will determine the outcome and getting that quartet right is Unai Emery’s biggest selection poser. I am going against my normal preference if Alexandre Lacazette is fit to start. I would keep Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang on the bench fresh to run at tiring defenders in the last half an hour. I suspect that Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Ozil, and Alex Iwobi will get the nod. I would have gone with Aaron Ramsey who also knows exactly what is expected in this match and loves scoring against the soap-dodgers.

The ‘holic pound

For the second match running I am tipping 3-2 to the Arsenal. Surely Tottenham will be fired up by the knowledge that we will go above them in the table with a win. Much though I would love them to be as inept as Vorskla Poltava it isn’t happening. Shop around for 22/1 if you don’t think I’m completely off my trolley!

If you are at the match tomorrow the team also expects much of us. We need to be the number twelve, turning the Grove into a raucous bear pit. The contest will be up and down. They will have their moments, but hopefully we will have more. If you are watching from behind the sofa rather than in person will the boys to victory. That would be a marvellous introduction to THE derby for Unai Emery and all the new boys.

The predicted starting eleven was just one out. Joe Willock was preferred to Henrikh Mkhitaryan who presumably remains in contention for the North London derby. The substitutes bench was also one out as Zech Medley was eligible to play and Dominic Thompson missed out. The sight of the shivering Gunners as they lined up beforehand was testament to the -12 degrees temperature.

An energetic start was predictable in the conditions and made for a pleasant surprise. The first opportunity fell to Vorskla striker Kolomoiets but he was distracted by the challenge of Matteo Guendouzi and shot over. Chesnakov was then denied at the second attempt by Cech. The early Gunners running was into dead ends, but not for long.

In the eleventh minute Aaron Ramsey and Eddie Nketiah combined to tee up Emile Smith Rowe for his second Europa League goal of the season. The defending could have been better in truth but 500 travelling Gooner’s were grateful for the opportunity to jump up and down a bit!

Vorskla Poltava 0-1 The Arsenal

When Skliar brought Nketiah down on the edge of the box Ramey’s free-kick failed to dip quickly enough and the chance to extend the lead was lost. Ainsley Maitland-Niles showed our ambition when linking up with Smith Rowe and only a heavy touch prevented him from lining up a one on one with Vorskla goalkeeper Shust.

In the twenty-sixth minute Ramsey was tripped in the area by Perduta and calmly despatched the spot-kick himself to confirm the Gunners early dominance.

Vorskla Poltava 0-2 The Arsenal

Skliar was booked for two assaults on Smith Rowe and Nketiah in quick succession and Sharpar joined him when he was adjudged to have caught Willock. The latter showed no effects and brought a sharp save out of Shust with a fierce effort from a tight angle. Nketiah was next to try his luck but couldn’t keep his effort on target. The out of control Skliar made another couple of late challenges that the referee chose to ignore.

Two became three when Elneny sent Willock scampering at a retreating defence. He cut in, and passed the ball inside the far post. It was his first senior Gunners goal and his delight was evident. Good for him. The first-half had been a stroll for the Gunners squad team. The top spot in Group E was in the bag, surely?

Vorskla Poltava 0-3 The Arsenal

The second half started in much the same way as the first had ended, with The Arsenal prominent. From an attacking  corner Rob Holding was adjudged to have elbowed Kolomoiets and shown a yellow card that will rule him out of the FK Qarabag game on matchday six.

As the hour approached and with one eye on the North London derby Rob Holding was withdrawn to be substituted by debuting Zech Medley, a young defender who has many admirers at the club. His first touch was an impressive step outside a pressing attacker and crisp pass to a midfield colleague.

A very late offside flag, seemingly erroneously, denied Smith Rowe a second goal when he arrived late at the far post to knock in a Lichsteiner cross that was not dealt with by Vorskla’s rearguard. Another debutant, England U19 international Bukayo Saka, was sent on to allow Ramsey a breather.

In the seventieth minute Petr Cech showed good concentration when called upon to make a smart stop to deny a rare Vorskla shot by Perduta. At the other end Smith Rowe again stung the palms of Shust. That prompted Vorskla to send on Kane, one of their own, for Kulach. Shortly afterwards Kolomoiets was booked for tripping Maitland-Niles.

Saka’s first strike in senior football had Shust making the acrobatic save demanded. Charlie Gilmour became the third debutant from the bench when he was introduced for Guendouzi. That meant the Gunners would end this European awayday with six teenagers on the pitch. Impressive.

Another rare Vorskla raid ended with Carl Jenkinson blocking a shot at point-blank range by Rebenok. The ‘holic pound was limping badly but still a vague possibility with five minutes to go. An enquiry about the cashback seemed to draw laughter from my betting account. Careca curled the last Vorskla attempt wide of Cech’s left hand post and it was lost.

Whilst acknowledging that Vorskla had not travelled to Kiev well one has to say we can only beat what is put in front of us and a very young Gunners team had put in a very creditable performance. The future looks a little bit brighter this evening, and that is saying something. We already knew we have some real quality bubbling under the first team.

A very makeshift Arsenal squad have flown to Kiev as Vorskla Poltava raise questions about being able to complete the fixture. For the sake of the Gooners that have already hurriedly adjusted their travel plans to get to Kiev I hope the fixture goes ahead as ordered by UEFA’s emergency panel. Vorskla appear to have left for Kiev so it looks encouraging.

The only likely starter in the North London derby to have made the trip is Rob Holding. Petr Cech should start behind a back four of Carl Jenkinson, Stephan Lichsteiner, Holding, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Matteo Guendouzi and Mohamed Elneny may start behind Aaron Ramsey, Emile Smith-Rowe, Henrykh Mkhitaryan, and Eddie Nketiah.

That will leave a bench of Emi Martinez, Jordi Osei-Tutu, Dominic Thompson, Charlie Gilmour, Tyreece John-Jules, Joe Willock, and Bukayo Saka. Deyan Iliev and Zech Medley have also made the trip although Jeorge Bird revealed that the latter is ineligible as he has not been at the club for two years.

The hosts come into the fixture having lost their last three domestic fixtures and remember in the home leg we had cruised into a four goal lead before Vorskla hit back with two goals in the last thirteen minutes when we took our foot off the gas. .

The ‘holic pound

We look to have a strong enough line-up to get a result in what will be a strange atmosphere. I’m going for a long shot. 2-3 to The Arsenal is available at 33/1 if you shop around. I’ll definitely throw a pound at that. One win in the last two matches will clinch top spot in our group.

A Bergkamp Wonderland Podcast 

Last night we recorded this week’s podcast and I’ll spare you the hunt for it. It’s below.

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