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Forgive what will be largely an England biased post even though our lone three lions representative, Danny Welbeck, wasn’t in the starting line-up against Tunisia.

Yesterday’s matches ended in mixed blessings for the Gunners. Mesut Ozil posted some impressive stats but a very ordinary Germany were deservedly beaten by Mexico. Joel Campbell, still technically a Gunner, was also on the wrong end of a defeat as his Costa Rica succumbed to Serbia by the only goal of the game. Happier were Granit Xhaka and Stephan Lichsteiner who both had to put in a shift as Switzerland held fancied Brazil to a 1-1 draw.

And so to tonight, a match that started and ended well for England against a toothless Tunisia.

With barely two minutes on the clock Jesse Lingard was denied an opening goal by the sprawling Tunisian goalkeeper, Hassen. It was a golden opportunity to settle the nerves. It appeared to be a matter of time before the nervous Tunisians cracked. An eleventh minute corner was headed goalwards by Stones, Hassen saved superbly but Harry Kane was left to tap the ball into the gaping goal. The unlucky goalkeeper departed the contest with a shoulder injury.

Coasting through the opening half an hour, England were then rocked when the brainless Kyle Walker swung an arm at a Tunisian attacker in the box and the Colombian referee, Wilmar Roldan, rightly awarded the penalty and booked the City man. Sassi’s excellent spot-kick beat the dive of Jordan Pickford and Tunisia were level against the run of play. Sitting by a window open to the north I’m sure I heard laughter on the wind from 300 miles away.

At the other end it was somewhat surprising that the rugby tackle on Kane didn’t result in a second blatant penalty. As half-time was arriving Lingard had another great chance but his toe poke struck the outside of the post. Gareth Southgate’s half-time talk had probably been changed by that foolishly conceded spot-kick. As the second-half bubbled gently into life Kane was again wrestled to the floor at a corner, again our Columbian friend didn’t see it. Nothing suspicious at all about that.

Midway through the half Southgate sent on his first substitute, Marcus Rashford, for the extremely disappointing Raheem Sterling. Quite how the invisible Dele Alli was still on the pitch at this time was a mystery. He finally made way for Loftus-Cheek with eleven minutes remaining of a tedious second-half.

At least Tunisia’s lack of ambition was penalised in the first of four added minutes by who else but Harry Kane with an unchallenged far post header. For the next few weeks he is an England player, not a Tottenham one. For the next few weeks we will remember he was once one of our own.

Off to suck a lemon.

As I type this latest offering I also have one eye on Alex Iwobi’s performance for the Super Eagles against Croatia. He’s the second Arsenal player to have started a match in this tournament.

Mohamed Elneny was the first and he, by all accounts, had a very good game against Uruguay. Sadly I missed it as I was hacking several little balls round some fields in the North Wilts Gooners Golf Day. A thoroughly pleasant day despite my complete and utter failure to master the swing. I digress. The player ratings on the BBC website showed Elneny to be second only to El-Shenawy in the player ratings for Egypt, cruelly beaten by a Gimenez header in the last of the ninety minutes.

I was back in time to see the wonderful match between Spain and Portugal, although disappointed that Nacho Monreal didn’t get a start for the former. Perhaps Spain’s inability to protect a come from behind twice 3-2 lead will see them call for the outstanding Monreal in their next match against Iran on Wednesday?

In the last minute of the first half this evening (Saturday) Iwobi had a controlled drive blocked by Lovren as Nigeria sought to recover the own goal conceded by Stoke City’s new signing, Etebo. Six minutes into the second-half he engineered another shooting opportunity for himself, wriggling in from the left hand side only to see his effort blocked again. His 61st minute substitution was something of a surprise, but look on the bright side, if he isn’t on the pitch he can’t get injured.

In terms of potential transfer news the Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper, Berndt Leno, is strongly linked with the Arsenal. He doesn’t seem to be of the quality to be a replacement for Petr Cech, more David Ospina. Perhaps a signing for the future? Paying more than double what we received for Wojciech Szczesny would raise questions about the value of both deals. Or perhaps I am reading the wrong newspapers? Question the source, always.

That’s enough for today. I intend to update every two or three days during the World Cup and obviously will look to have a comment on England’s opening match against Tunisia on Monday night.

Farewell Little Mozart

That was quite the weekend, the highlight being the Tomas Rosicky farewell match shown live (eventually) on Arsenal.com following a delay caused by a storm in Prague. A World XI comprised largely of Tomas’ former team mates at Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund took on a team of Czech legends in a light-hearted and open contest. The Gunners contingent included Jens Lehmann, Petr Cech, Bacary Sagna, Alex Song, Gael Clichy, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Hleb, Cesc Fabregas, Matthieu Flamini, and Robin van Persie.

Tomas played for the World X1 in the first-half but it was the Czech team who took the lead in the eleventh minute when the giant Jan Koller got his head on the end of a Jaroslav Plasil cross and beat Lehmann via the inside of a goalpost. Midway through the half Eworthon, formerly of Dortmund, crashed home the long-range equaliser past Cech. The status quo lasted seconds, Koller restoring the Czech advantage with an impudent chip over Lehmann.

The second-half started better for the World XI when van Persie curled home a left foot strike from the edge of the box. That was about as good as it would get for them as now Rosicky had switched sides and Little Mozart was composing some sweet attacks.

When Tomas was put clear, looking suspiciously offside, Fabregas was forced to upend him in the box. Jens Lehmann hadn’t read the script and saved his old team-mates spot-kick, but Martin Atkinson ruled that he had moved too early and ordered a retake. This time he clearly went too early to his left and allowed Rosicky an empty half of the goal to hit. Both sides joined in the celebration.

Tomas turned provider for the fourth before an emotional end to the contest with three generations of the Rosicky family on the pitch. His father, Jiri, was one of the first to celebrate the last kick of the match with which Tomas’ five year old son nutmegged Lehmann to complete a 5-2 win for the Czechs. Rosicky joked he was actually surprised that Lehmann allowed his son’s shot to go in.

‘I was actually expecting Jens to save my son’s shot too! I’m glad he showed his human side as well.’

Tomas went on to thank the players who had travelled to take part as well as those who had packed the stadium on a foul evening. It was the latest in what has seemed to be a long run of emotional farewells. Hopefully we will see Tomas again when the Arsenal legends host Real Madrid in September.

My thanks are due to our very own TTG who has once again crafted a piece to share with us during the summer break. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

I’ve just begun to appreciate that for a significant number of Arsenal fans, a new experience is on the horizon. An Arsenal team not managed by Arsene Wenger! For others, many of us on here, it will be the third phase of our Arsenal fandom. We had the PW era (pre-Wenger) which began for me in 1958 just as George Swindin took up the reins, then the 22 years Wenger era, and now we are in the very early stages of the AW (After Wenger era). That a classification of one’s support can be so closely tied to one person shows the enormous impact that Wenger has had on the club. No-one supporting Arsenal under 30 can probably remember anything before him and even for an old ’un like me or Clive, or Uply, or the guvna himself, the Wenger years constitute round about a third of our supporting life. That is a significant chunk of time and it is entirely fair to regard this as a new era in the history of the Arsenal (as we were taught to refer to it by our Dads).

We’ve only seen one comparable situation occur like this in modern English Football, at Old Trafford, where Sir Alex, hopefully well on the road to recovery, stepped down after 27 years. That was five seasons ago and despite the acquisition of a few trophies the transition has been rather messy. The Moyes disaster, the Van Gaal debacle and the current Mourinho years all have the United fans I know yearning for the past. Their past was of course significantly more successful even than ours with a treble and one other Champions League, innumerable titles as well as FA Cups, League Cups, and other success in Europe. It’s ironic to think that in this day and age SAF would never have been afforded the time to achieve that haul of glittering prizes. He’d have been gone within two years and the face of English football would have been substantially different.

The United experience has already influenced the succession plan at Arsenal. There was no automatic transfer of power to Arsene’s self-anointed successor as there was with Ferguson and Moyes. We are led to believe a very rigorous process was followed, and indeed it began almost a year ago with the putting in place of a new structure that saw Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi brought in. Arsene maintained a dignified silence externally, as one would expect from a man who whatever his faults has huge dignity and grace and a massive love for Arsenal Football Club. The erosion of his unique power base must have been humiliating for him and one can only guess at the angst as he had to try to integrate players that he probably wouldn’t have bought himself. I can imagine from my own experience in management teams how I might have reacted to large chunks of my responsibility being handed over to others, however competent they may be.

As we approach the new season I think we have to seek that elusive quality of patience, not a commodity that is readily found in most boardrooms. Four men stand to be judged going forward and each must do his job exceptionally well if we are to prosper. The high profile appointment is Emery and he will attract most of the media attention. Will Arsenal become a better coached side as a result of his appointment? Will we defend better, be better organised away from home and look like a team where everybody understands his role? We can’t possibly know yet but those are the KPIs we will look for.

Will Sven Mislintat bring a freshness to our recruiting in the same way that Wenger did in the late 90s? Mavropanos was a good start and the two lads from Dortmund – Mkhitaryan (via United) and Aubameyang -have suggested great things since they joined. Can Sven, working within the sort of proscribed budget he presumably had at Dortmund find gems that justify his reputation as ‘Diamond Eye ‘?

Raul Sanllehi has been less apparent but as someone who was apparently the DOF at Barcelona he is a major appointment at Arsenal. His remit is akin to David Dein’s was when Wenger arrived. He is the facilitator for the plans of Sven and Unai. He is also responsible for helping to build the Arsenal brand worldwide. It’s a big job but he must have been lured from Barcelona with a promise of support that he was happy to work with to build up the Arsenal as a European power.

The most intriguing role is that of Gazidis. Those of us familiar with business politics recognise an operator originally recruited by the board, but primarily Arsene, who has bided his time and now has struck for home. My sense (and I may be completely wrong) is that Arsenal have contained a massive internal battle that Ivan has won with Josh Kroenke’s help. Wenger has been pushed into the shadows over the past year after renewing his deal directly with Kroenke Sr. Before we feel too sorry for Wenger let us reflect that he chose his moment after we beat Chelsea in the FA Cup Final to renew, a master stroke and an indication that he was very streetwise when he needed to be. Whatever the case we will now find out how good Gazidis is. Can he rejig and revive Arsenal and restore us to our former glories or is he a spin merchant who when asked to come out from behind the protective veil of Wenger can’t cut the mustard?

My sense is that he is a formidable operator but his success in this structure will be dependent on high performance by all his appointees. In the past he could hide in Wenger’s considerable shadow. Wenger did an immense job for many years and covered so many of the tasks three new men are being asked to fill. Eventually it became too much but boy did he give it a serious go! The new era begins with Gazidis on centre stage inextricably linked to the Emery project and his new vision of the Arsenal. I pray he is successful, but what do others think will be the immediate future of our club? Will the After Wenger era be one that we can look back on with pride or embarrassment?

The first signing of the Unai Emery era was confirmed today (Tuesday) with the presentation of Stephan Lichtsteiner at Shenley. The captain of Switzerland will provide much needed competition to Hector Bellerin who will hopefully respond by learning from his vastly experienced new team-mate.

Lichtsteiner arrives with a reputation of a tough-tackling right-sided player, equally adept as a right-back in a flat back four and as a wing-back ahead of a three. He has spent the last seven seasons at Juventus where he made 257 appearances and won Serie A champions medals in all seven! The man is a winner, and a leader, but at the age of thirty four we can only realistically expect a couple of years of his drive. A free transfer, he could prove to be a huge bargain.

His professional career began with Grasshoppers in Zurich where he won the first of his eight national titles at the age of nineteen. In order to further his career he moved to Lille in Ligue 1 where he enjoyed three years before Lazio, impressed by his performances at Euro 2008, agreed a fee of around 1.5m euros to strengthen their defence. At the end of his first season he helped Lazio lift the Coppa Italia, scoring in the penalty shoot-out against Sampdoria. At the start of the following season he also helped his team win the Supercoppa against champions Inter.

Juve snapped him up in the summer of 2011 for a fee of 10m euros, and as Lichtsteiner himself said at his unveiling today,

“It’s (new start at the Arsenal) a little bit of the same project that I did seven years ago with Juventus. Juventus also, for two times, didn’t qualify for the Champions League. I hope I can bring a lot of experience, a lot of mentality, and together with my team come back to the highest level of the Champions League.”

That’s an admirable introduction by the man himself. It will be interesting to see if he has been signed as a squad player, mainly starting Europa League and cup matches, or if he will see significant Premier League action given his experience and leadership qualities. He averaged 36 appearances a season at Juve so presumably has come here with a desire to challenge Hector for the starting berth. That may be no bad thing.

It is also a clear message to Carl Jenkinson that his dream is over. His contract still has two years to run, but hopefully the club and he will come to a termination agreement that will let the likeable young man seek a new start at another club where his wholehearted commitment will be appreciated.

Welcome Stephan. We all hope your stint at the Arsenal is a happy and successful one.

The years were rolled back in Madrid this evening as the Legends of Real Madrid and the Arsenal renewed rivalries once again. The pace may have been a little slower than these players were capable of in their prime, but the quality of the passing on view was still impressive. David O’Leary would have a busy evening re-shuffling his team throughout.

Unfortunately for Sol Campbell the big man didn’t last too long as he tweaked a hamstring clearing a cross from Roberto Carlos. Pascal Cygan was on the pitch earlier than he might have expected. While the Gunners were re-organising themselves they were caught when Raul was allowed to get his head on a long ball in and head beyond the reach of David Seaman.

Powered on by Xabi Alonso, clearly the fittest player on the pitch, Real looked different class in the opening phase. Somewhat unexpectedly we got on level terms when Luis Boa Morte produced an excellent near post finish on a rare Gunners foray forward.

That deadlock lasted around two minutes and Gutti restored the hosts advantage when he nutmegged Matthew Upson before toe-poking the ball inside Seaman’s far post. Real deserved it. They had the strength of ‘the beast’, Julio Baptiste, with the guile of Luis Figo and the subtlety of Raul.

Upson was the next to fall foul of a niggle and he made way for Emanuel Eboue, before Emanuel Petit was replaced by 47 year old Gilles Grimandi. The Gunners were reliant on the pace of Nicolas Anelka on the counter-attack but too seldom were we able to release him in the opening half. Anyone who doubted the competitive nature of the game had their answer just before the break when Eboue raked his studs down the thigh of Clarence Seedorf.

Among the half-time substitutes were Manuel Almunia and Jeremy Aliadiere for the visitors. The pattern remained one of Madrid domination. A fierce free-kick from Figo brought a superb save at full stretch by Almunia. Eboue relieved the pressure with a wonderful weaving run brought to an end by Cesar’s clever foul on the edge of the box. Boa Morte’s free-kick was straight at the goalkeeper. ‘The Beast’, having played for Real in the first-half was sent on in the red and white he wore for a season.

Almunia was tested again by a left foot volley from close range by Seedorf, but the goalkeeper was quick to get down to his left to make the parry. On a rare break Aliadiere got clear on the right but had nobody in the box to cross to. Eboue was in a similar situation and won a corner that Anelka glanced just wide of the far post. As the Gunners grew into the game Robert Pires drove an Aliadiere cross over the bar.

At the other end the impressive Almunia denied Morientes. The Arsenal immediately attempted to hit back but Anelka’s drive was straight at the goalkeeper. The same striker got on the end of a driven cross from Aliadiere but couldn’t quite find the target. Aliadiere was looking very impressive as a makeshift right wingback. Grimandi came close to getting on the end of a Pires corner.

Legs on both sides were tiring so when Pires sent Boa Morte scampering clear on the left flank again we faced the problem of nobody being able to get into the box, and that isn’t a criticism by the way. Raul finally made way for Butragueno with thirteen minutes to go. At 54 the latter shared the honour of being the oldest player with Nigel Winterburn who put in a full ninety minute shift.

Anelka had another opportunity to equalise but sliced his effort high and wide. Back came the hosts and Rivera chipped Almunia and, luckily for us, the crossbar too. The same player was the next to upend the marauding Eboue on the edge of the box. Pires curled his free-kick towards the top corner but Solari was on the post and headed clear. He then appeared at the other end driving a tired effort over Almunia’s crossbar.

As the clock was ticking towards time Almunia produced another excellent diving save to deny Morientes. In the final minute the Arsenal were looking to work one last opening but couldn’t find the breakthrough. We had certainly been more competitive in the second-half but the result reflected Real’s overall performance. The two teams embraced at the final whistle knowing there is a return to be played at Ashburton Grove in September.

That will be a match worth putting in the diary.

That was a long week, but it is so good to be able to do a proper match preview again ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Real Madrid by the Arsenal. OK, the Arsenal Legends then. The two squads read like a who’s who of world football in the eighties, nineties, and noughties, with thanks to arsenal.com.

We go with goalkeepers David Seaman and Manuel Almunia behind a defence picked from Emmanuel Eboue, Lauren, Sol Campbell, Matthew Upson, Pascal Cygan, and Nutty Nigel Winterburn.

We have fewer midfield options so it could be a hard evenings work for Anders Limpar, Gilles Grimandi, Emmanuel Petit, Ray Parlour, and Robert Pires. The strikers are Nicolas Anelka, Jeremy Aliadiere, and Luis Boa Morte. The team will be managed by David O’Leary and his assistant, Jose-Antonio Reyes.

Real Madrid have a numerical advantage and some real superstars available including Irish left-back Robert O’Carlos, Emilio Butragueño, Raúl González, Julio Baptista (remember him!), Fernando Morientes, the real Ronaldo, Clarence Seedorf, Luis Figo, and Xabi Alonso.

I don’t mind admitting I am looking forward to watching this match hugely, although I fear we may be in for a tough but thoroughly enjoyable evening. I went to see us defeat the Milan Legends at the Grove 4-2 in September and the quality of the football, albeit at a slower pace, was excellent. We won that thanks to a Kanu hat-tick and Robert Pires tap-in from a Freddie Ljungberg cross against a brace from Christian Vieri.

If you are in the UK you can watch the match live on arsenal.com from 5.50 pm UK time, and kick off is scheduled for 6 pm. If you are outside the UK and cannot access a stream you might want to Google how to get a VPN which I believe can make it appear as though you are somewhere else. Don’t ask me any more than that as I haven’t got a clue!

Whatever you are doing this weekend, have a great one ‘holics.

Bank Holiday Ramble

A long day spent toiling in the sun means this shattered body finds himself in the office with seemingly nothing to watch on the multiple channels available. What better time to pretend there is enough news to base a new, and overdue, blog post.

Now that Unai Emery is in place the media have turned their attention to potential transfers. It would appear there is widespread agreement that our priority is fixing the defence. You’ll not lack for support on that front, but there is a short-term approach apparently being applied. Sven Mislintat, having already got Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang and Henrykh Makhitaryan with whom he worked in Dortmund, now appears to have moved for one of their lesser lights. Twenty-nine year old central defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos is rumoured to be the next to depart the yellow wall for North London.

The other strongly reported defensive acquisition could be Juventus’ thirty-four year old right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner who could prove to be a more than capable back-up to the overworked Hector Bellerin as long as his legs haven’t gone. That suggests that the Arsenal see Ainsley Maitland-Niles settling into midfield, and Calum Chambers staying a central defender if the new manager will work on his future development.

The positive about that could be that such signings buy us time to work on the longer term solutions, and leaves a chunk of funds available to spend elsewhere. Hopefully on a proper ‘invisible shield’ in front of that revamped defence.

Aside from the Arsenal speculation this was a good weekend if, like me, you wanted to see Craven Cottage returning as a Premier League destination next season. Congratulations and welcome back to Fulham, always a good day out at a proper old-school stadium and surrounding pubs. The fact that you made John Terry sad was an added bonus.

A few words are probably in order about the Champions League Final. It was no secret beforehand that I didn’t follow the ‘wanting an English club to win it’ nonsense. I wanted Real Madrid to win because they were the better team, and so they proved to be, but the manner of the victory left a sour taste. The Sergio Ramos assaults on Sala and Karius were blatant and deliberate.

The two horrendous mistakes by Karius struck a chord with many Gooners, I’m sure. Manuel Almunia allowing two to go in at his near post in the last thirteen minutes of the 2006 Final was brought back vividly. Thank goodness social media wasn’t as widespread then as today. Some of the vile abuse directed at the hapless goalkeeper speaks volumes about the lack of standards and respect among so many unthinking, perhaps uneducated, keyboard warriors.

To end on a better note I’m sure most here were able to put his playing past to one side when Gareth Bale scored what is arguably the greatest ever Champions League Final goal. It was a strike all football lovers will have savoured. If he is on the move this summer I hope it isn’t to a Premier League rival, although that would be the likeliest option. I’d love to think we were an option, but I doubt we are able to shop at Harrods quite yet.

Apologies to the regular ‘drinkers’ here about the issue with having to fill in your name and email address every time you wish to post. Apparently it is an anti-spamming feature of the latest release of WordPress. Hopefully they will change their mind when issuing the next update.

And so to wind up the bank holiday with a wee night cap. Thank you for popping by. It’s always appreciated.

“Welcome everybody. Today, I am really delighted and excited to announce the new head coach of Arsenal Football Club as Unai Emery.”

With that simple introduction the catalyst for change reached it’s conclusion with Ivan Gazidis stamping his newly-acquired authority on footballing matters at the Arsenal. He explained to the assembled press that he headed the team of three that included our head of football relations, Raul Sanllehi, and head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, that delivered the recommendation to the board.

A detailed timescale followed which gave the lie to the stories last week that Mikel Arteta’s appointment was imminent. That tale presumably was encouraged as a smokescreen, or heaven forbid, to ‘stimulate’ the betting market. Not all of the press were duped, and well done to Neil Fissler at the Express who either got incredibly lucky or was briefed about Emery’s impending appointment for his piece on the Sunday following the interview.

What delayed the announcement was the fact that Paris St Germain didn’t complete their season until Sunday, and as soon as that was over Emery and Gazidis flew to the States to meet the Kroenkes’ returning overnight on the red-eye. Gazidis was quick to justify the decision this morning (Wednesday).

“Unai has an outstanding track record of success throughout his career, has developed some of the best young talent in Europe and plays an exciting, progressive style of football that fits Arsenal perfectly.”

That is undeniably true. Emery spent four years in charge of Valencia where he finished third in La Liga three seasons in a row, despite losing David Villa and David Silva for the last of those three. A six month spell at Spartak Moscow ended in a sacking and he returned to Spain, taking over at Sevilla in 2013. His three full seasons at the club ended with Europa League Final victories, the last of which was against a strong Liverpool team.

After that match he announced he was leaving the club and shortly afterwards he took over as head coach at Paris St Germain. In his first season he won a domestic cup double but Monaco surprisingly took the title. This season just ended he did land the title and a second cup double. Sadly for him that is the bare minimum for the current owners and he paid the penalty for not delivering the Champions League.

He surprised, and dare I add delighted, many with his performance in his first Arsenal press conference. Speaking in English, a language unfamiliar to him we were informed beforehand, the new man made all the right noises.

“Success next season would be developing, but how? By battling for every title. That’s in Arsenal’s and my history. It’s very important for the club, after two years outside the Champions League, to work to be the best team in the Premier League and also in the world.

I want to say thank you Arsene Wenger for your legacy. For all the coaches in the world, he is a reference. We learned, I learned from him all the things in football. It’s a big challenge for me, but I have worked also in other projects, big projects. For me, I am proud to be here and to work after Arsene Wenger.”

So what next? Doubtless speculation will be rife. It is transfer season approaching and a busy World Cup summer. Already the rumours have started with Jean-Michael Seri, the Nice midfielder, said to be a target for Emery.

I hope he is given time by the supporters and the gang of three as he establishes his high energy possession and pressing game. If he can coax that out of this team, which has produced it on the odd occasion, on a regular basis we may well make some progress toward his lofty aims.

Good luck Unai.

A New Header

The climate for change has blown through this place too. The managers header graphic has been a trusted one since a friend on Arsenal-Land, Seasider, designed it twelve years ago. I am so grateful for his offer to rejig the design slightly to incorporate some of our great players. Thank you my friend, I owe you a pint.

A week of football watching on the television was brought to an abrupt and welcome halt by an evening with Ray Parlour in the Legends Lounge at the County Ground here. I was in need of a lift after watching the ease with which Atletico Madrid defeated Marseille in the Europa League Final. The Romford Pele duly obliged. I won’t go through his entire repertoire because the man has a living to make, but I hope to give a flavour of the evening.

First in Ray’s sights was Martin Known, clearly a team-mate for whom he had the utmost respect, but who was apparently rather too easily wound-up and found himself the object of some mickey taking on a pre-season tour when a certain Latvian central defender joined the squad for a trial. Ray and none other than Dennis Bergkamp had a wager on who could make Martin bite as all three were on the bench.

Ray got the first half and set about bigging up the new boy, “good tackle”, “lovely header, son”, “great player this centre-half, unbelievable”, all to no avail. After the break Dennis took over and soon had Martin biting, congratulating the giant for a disguised pass when clearly he had miskicked the ball to a team-mate, “what a player”. “He’s not that bloody good” countered the England international. Imagine everyone’s surprise when they reported back to London Colney to find Igors Stepanovs in the dressing room. “You boys were raving about his performance so I bought him” said the manager. To hear the rest you’ll have to go and see Ray for yourself!

After taking the title at White Hart Lane in 2004 Martin needed four appearances to win a Premier League champions medal and after getting three cameos from the bench the final match was against Leicester City at Highbury. The Arsenal trailed 1-0 at half-time but having made two attacking substitutions scored twice in the second-half and Martin turned to Ray to ask if he thought the boss had forgotten about his tenth appearance. Ray advised him to take his track suit trousers off and start warming up in front of the boss. “Good idea Ray”.

As he warmed up Arsene told him to get out of the way of his view of the game. Martin jogged towards the North Bank who roared his chant, “There’s only one Keown”. Ray knew this was too big an opportunity to miss and took his track suit trousers off and started jogging towards the North Bank. As he passed Martin said “what are you doing” and started chasing Ray down the touchline to roars of laughter from those in the East Lower.

“Gilberto’s injured. The boss says I’m going on” Ray said with a poker face. He then jogged back to the bench and took his track suit top off and stood behind Arsene gesturing to Martin that he was going on. The big defender sprinted towards the boss and grabbed him by the throat telling him that he needed the appearance. Ray was in tears. Eventually Martin got his thirty seconds and qualified for his medal. Afterwards Arsene asked Ray what had happened and roared out laughing, saying “that is the funniest thing I have ever heard.”

Centre-halves played a big part in his life. “When I was 17 Tony Adams taught me to drink!” and after recounting some memorable sessions told a wonderful story about the England skipper on the day he was invited to do the live FA Cup draw on television with Terry Venables, the England manager. Suffice it to say the boys had been on their usual Sunday lunchtime session when the car arrived to take Tony  to the studios.

When the draw came Terry Venable drew the first ball and cut to Tony for his first ball. After rummaging around for an eternity he pulled a ball out, studied it from every angle, and said “number 31”. There weren’t 31 teams in the draw. He looked again, finally getting 13 correct. By seven he was back in the pub where he stuck a £200 fine on himself over the bar and told the assembled throng that they had to stay until one in the morning to drink it. Go and see Ray for the hilarious transformation in nights away when Tony went sober.

His George Graham stories are largely best avoided, and probably his views on Bruce Rioch too. Come to think of it I’ll gloss over his Glenn Hoddle tales too. Then next in line comes Arsene, a rich seam of amusing recollections like an away game at Villa where following dinner the night before the boss helped himself to a slice of apple pie whilst looking up at a match on the television above the buffet. So absorbed by the match he didn’t notice the pie slide off his pate onto the floor and sat down and grabbed his spoon for the first mouthful. Baffled by the lack of pie he looked around but couldn’t see it. “He doesn’t see much, to be fair”, brilliant Ray. He then declared “I’ll just have a coffee instead”.

Kevin Keegan took over from Glenn Hoddle and Ray was recalled to the England squad. Before a game against Poland the team were expected to be given a run-down on the opponents but instead Keegan announced they would have a race night after dinner and everyone bring lots of money. “Shearer and Sheringham, you’ll be the bookies.” With that everyone retired to their rooms. A while later Keegan went round every room bar Shearer and Sheringham and told the squad, “I’ve just looked at the video. Back number 6 in the first race.”

To cut a long and very funny tale short (do go and see Ray to hear about Phil Neville’s contribution!) Shearer and Sheringham were down around £275000 on the race. Ray, £32000 to the good, was asked what he wanted to bet on the second race. “I’ll have two and a half on number 3 please”. “Two and a half grand, Ray?” “No, £2.50”. Genius.

Keegan announced at the end of the night “we’ll meet for breakfast in the morning and go over some routines for the match”, turned as if to walk out before turning again and revealing all to Shearer and Sutton. “The lads won’t take the money, we had you over on that first race.” Immediately the smile returned to the faces of arguably England’s best strikers at that time.

Finally Ray talks about Alan Brazil, and particularly one excessive trip to Monaco for the grand prix, before winding up a wonderful three quarters of an hour.

Seriously, do keep your eyes peeled for one of Ray’s many speaking events. He is simply wonderful entertainment, and patiently signs for and poses with the audience once he has finished his set. The man is value for money, although I may be slightly biased.

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