18th April 2016: A brief Monday round-up

Welcome to a brand new week, in what’s been the same old season.

I would talk more about yesterday’s dismal draw with Crystal Palace at Emirates stadium but I don’t see the point in all honesty. Discussion of familiar failings has been done to death and for me at least, it’s now all about our summer activity and next season.

The fact Tottenham went to Stoke and won 4-0 this evening just adds to the sense of dismay around Arsenal and despite the futility of further wins in terms of our own title challenge, we could really do with a good performance and a win against West Brom on Thursday to wash away some of the hurt. But more on the game against the Baggies in the days to come.

Just a quick round-up for you tonight then and I’ll begin with Jack Wilshere’s goal-scoring appearance for our under 21s earlier. The England international was playing his third second-string game in a row as he strives to regain full fitness and having endured an early injury scare, he recovered to grab us a second-half equaliser as we lost 2-1 at home to West Brom.

Elsewhere the club announced that they won’t be hosting the Emirates Cup this summer due to an extended European Championships and a relaying of our playing surface. Here’s what chief executive Ivan Gazidis had to say:

We know how popular the Emirates Cup is with our fans here in the UK and around the world, so we are disappointed that we will not be hosting it this summer. The shorter pre-season window and the need to relay our pitch has resulted in this decision being taken. We look forward to hosting the tournament in 2017.

I have to say I’m a little gutted. I love the Emirates Cup and it offers a far more realistic chance for us to secure silverware than the actual season. Oh well.

Finally for this evening we have some words from Arsene Wenger on Alexis Sanchez, who apparently, is ‘much sharper’. The boss said:

He is much sharper. He is much more electric in his dribbling and much more confident. He scores goals again. He looks to me to be more comfortable in his movement, especially in his movement in behind. When he plays on the left, he likes to drift in then come back. When he plays on the right, his runs in behind are better.

Whilst I agree a switch of flanks has done Sanchez the world of good in recent weeks, I’d still prefer to see him regularly start from the left.

Right. That’s all I’ve got for you.

Until tomorrow.



17th April 2016: Poor Arsenal punished by Palace

Sunday greetings. So a poor game played in front of a near-silent home support ended in a 1-1 draw as a lackluster Arsenal were pegged back from a goal ahead by a Crystal Palace side who only ventured out of their own half in the final ten minutes or so.

Arsene Wenger restored Petr Cech between the posts in the only change to our starting line-up from last week’s draw at West Ham, and having been criticized for leaving him out against the Hammers, the former Chelsea stopper was arguably at fault for Palace’s goal today, as he let Yannick Bolasie’s low, long-range effort beat him at his near post with nine minutes of normal time to play.

We had taken the lead late in the first half after Danny Welbeck’s brilliant chipped pass was headed home from close-range by Alexis Sanchez, but despite dominating possession in the opening period, we failed to fashion many clear-cut chances against a visiting team intent on doing nothing but defend.

I won’t go into individual performances because there’s little to say other than collectively, we looked like a team knew the title was realistically beyond reach and now just want this depressingly familiar season to end – much like me if I’m honest.

After the game, Arsene said:

They defended well. We put a lot of effort in but came out with a frustrating result. It is hard to accept but the competition goes on and we focus on the next one. I don’t know how it works mathematically but we are too disappointed to think about the league. We have to think about the Champions League and fight to be in the Champions League. We have another home game on Thursday and have to prepare for that.

And that’s the point – we now need to focus on securing a top four finish because having started the weekend in third, we end it a place lower, trailing Manchester City on goal difference and with our lead over Manchester United in fifth cut to just four points.

There has been much speculation in recent weeks that the likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs may be moved on this summer and frankly, if the rest of the squad joined them in an unprecedented fire-sale to make way for 25 new faces, I’m not sure I’d be that bothered. It won’t happen of course because this isn’t fantasy, it’s football, but that’s the way this Arsenal team makes me feel sometimes. *Sigh*

So the countdown to Thursday night’s clash with West Brom begins. I can’t wait …

See you next week.

16th April 2016: Wenger still hopeful and determined to tighten defence

Welcome back. It seems like just the other day Mesut Ozil was crossing for Olivier Giroud to acrobatically volley us ahead at Selhurst Park, Francis Coquelin was riding his luck on a yellow card, and Alexis Sanchez was forcing a winner through sheer will by seeing his header deflect in off Damian Delaney, but that was as long ago as mid-August, in what was only our second game of the season.

Tomorrow, we welcome the south Londoners to Emirates stadium looking to secure the win that would send us back up to third in the standings after Manchester City walked to a win at Chelsea earlier today, thanks to a Sergio Aguero treble.

And whilst talk of an Arsenal title challenge is pretty futile at this stage in most observers’ opinion, Arsene Wenger isn’t giving the ghost just yet, suggesting at his press conference yesterday that West Ham can get something from their game at Leicester tomorrow, whilst his own side must go on a ‘strong run’ at home. He said:

West Ham have beaten many big teams at home and I feel we were not happy with the result [last weekend] because we conceded three goals when we were 2-0 up. On the other hand, we have shown resilience to come back to 3-3 when we were in a desperate position. For everybody it is tight, and we have to look behind us because everybody is chasing. There can still be twists and turns until the end and everyone is fighting to put teams in front of us under pressure. We need a strong run at home now and I think that is what we want to do. It is perceived that the championship is over but I don’t think that completely even if Leicester are in a strong position. I think we have to continue to fight until the last minute of the season. Crystal Palace should now be completely safe but they still might need one or two points. I think they have nearly got out of their relegation problems. They have a lot of potential offensively with individuals like Bolasie, Zaha, and Adebayor. They have a big offensive force. We need to rectify the fact we conceded goals at West Ham and come back strong defensively.

One obvious way to improve at the back would be reinstalling Petr Cech in goal and though David Ospina has performed pretty well in recent weeks, I think the boss will do just that. Per Mertersacker for Gabriel seems another good bet but otherwise I think we’ll be unchanged. And Arsene also discussed the importance of communication in defending, saying:

We try to work a lot on that. I think maybe it was a bit more obvious before because maybe in training everybody had the same culture before. People come from different countries [and] it’s sometimes a bit more difficult to communicate. I would say the communication in England was always at a higher level than in any other country. I noticed that when I came with Monaco. We made a tour here in 1988 and I looked at some training sessions and was always surprised by how loud the communication was in the English teams compared to my team. Monaco were much quieter. The communication is very important, especially at the back. Sometimes just to tell your guys around you to come closer or drop off. That can save a goal. It’s a vital part of the defensive efficiency.

So six games to go with four at home starting with Palace tomorrow. If we can somehow take 18 points we’ll definitely secure third and a place in next year’s Champions League and who knows, perhaps more. There’s no harm in hope.

Back post-match.


15th April 2016: Wenger on team selection, Ozil and Wilshere

Happy Friday folks. With Leicester hosting a very dangerous West Ham side on Sunday and Tottenham facing a tricky trip away at Stoke City on Monday night, here’s hoping this weekend turns out far more positively for Arsenal than the last.

We host Crystal Palace on Sunday of course, and Arsene Wenger held his pre-match press conference this morning as we build up to the game. Having provided an injury update on midfielders Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain yesterday, the boss today discussed the potential involvement of two defensive players against the Eagles. He said:

I haven’t decided yet (if Per Metersacker will play). We are 48 hours away from the game so I will see. I have not decided that (who will play n goal). When it is decided I will have to inform the people first. Petr Cech is our No 1 but Ospina is also a fantastic goalkeeper. His numbers are absolutely exceptional in the Premier League. I felt that Petr Cech had only had one week of training (before the West Ham match last weekend) and was only just coming back.

Translated, that to me says Petr Cech will definitely start this weekend and Per Mertesacker’s a maybe, but if I was forced to guess, I’d say both will play from the off with David Ospina and Gabriel making way obviously. We’ll see.

Aside from team selection, Arsene also touched on various other topics, and I’ll start with his thoughts on Mesut Ozil’s nomination for the PFA Player of the Year award. He said:

He has been more efficient [this season]. I think he has created more chances and has scored more goals especially. I believe in a guy like Ozil, you see 10 to 15 goals, and I hope he will get to 10 at the end of the season but that is always what you think he should get. [When it comes to] providing chances, he is miles ahead on assists and combining the goalscoring with the assists means he deserves this award.

Whilst it’s true Mesut’s way out in front in terms of assists in this season’s Premier League with 18 (Riyad Mahrez is second on 12), for combined goals and assists (Ozil has 6 goals) the German is only joint fourth overall with Romelu Lukaku (18 goals and 6 assists).

The top three most productive players are Jamie Vardy (21 and 11), Mahrez (16 and 12) and Arsenal fan Harry Kane (22 and 3). So as much as I would love Ozil to be recognized for his assist-laden individual campaign, it has to be one of the Leicester pair in honesty. I’d give it to Vardy for what it’s worth.

Finally for this evening, the boss discussed Wilshere’s imminent return to the first-team fold having missed the entire season so far through injury. Having made a second appearance for our under 21s recently, the England international is penciled in to make a third on Monday night at West Brom, with Arsene saying the midfielder still needs more competitive game-time:

I think he needs one more game at least. He will play again with the under-21s on Monday. He should be involved in that. Then I will have to see how he compares to the other competitors in the first team. Once he is through three or four games then of course you consider him.

As I mentioned the other day, considering how late we are in the season it’s unlikely we’ll see Wilshere back to his best in an Arsenal shirt before the next campaign, and if we do, it’ll probably be as an impact sub late in games – a little like the end of last season.

But if he can go to the European Championships and enjoy a successful summer in France with England, perhaps that would go a long way in building confidence and helping him overcome any psychological barriers following such a lengthy layoff.

See you on Saturday.

14th April 2016: Injury update + Per on defensive discipline

Evening all and welcome back. For those interested in a spot of skiving off work first thing in the morning, Arsene Wenger’s press conference will be streamed live on the official from 9am UK time tomorrow. But the boss did provide his customary Thursday update on injury news to Arsenal.com earlier today.

Thankfully, we have everybody fit from last weekend’s squad who drew at West Ham, whilst the prognoses for our injured quartet of Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky sound promising. Here’s what Arsene said:

Next week they (Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla) will be back maybe, they are not back in full training yet. Jack and Tomas are playing today for the under-21s. They have had no reaction from last Friday’s game and they look alright. From last Saturday’s game against West Ham, we should have everyone available who was in the squad.

Whilst it’s obviously great to hear we’re nearing full fitness as a squad, with so little of the season left to play it’s unlikely any of those four players will have any significant role to play this season. Clearly, I hope I’m wrong, and Wilshere plays it to Cazorla who finds Rosicky to tee up the Ox for a title-clinching goal on the last day of the season, but you know…

Which means the onus to perform will firmly be on those who have helped us to impressive wins at Everton and at home to Watford, as well as that draw with the Hammers in recent weeks – which I’m quite happy with if I’m honest.

Despite the Andy Carroll-caused defensive shenanigans for ten minutes either side of half time at Upton Park, we’ve looked a fluent, dangerous side recently and I’d back them to win our remaining games, with the possible exception of Manchester City away, although they of course will hopefully be preoccupied by their European run.

Moving on now though and Per Metesacker and Laurent Koscielny have both been speaking to Arsenal Player. The former discussed the importance of defensive discipline between now and the end of the season, saying:

[We need] discipline. We lacked a bit of that desperation, even when 2-0 up at West Ham, to defend and get everyone behind the ball. To come back to that level is absolutely important in the Premier League, and if you don’t you will get punished. These details are very important to us and everyone can see it, it is obvious. We want to win every single match now, to put the teams in front of us under pressure. We have got the belief we can win every single one and that is the task from now on: to concentrate on the next one. When something is going against us in a game, we have to focus on ourselves and not get distracted by anything else. The focus and the mindset is really important. There are fast changes, even in a single game and also throughout the stretch of the season. We have to be ready and concentrate on ourselves and our games – anything can happen in football. We need to be there, when there is space and teams are dropping points. But that is not our business, we are just talking about ourselves and trying to win every single game.

Whilst Koscielny praised January signing Mohamed Elneny’s impact on the team. He said:

When he signed I could see he was a good player with the ball and how he could make good passes. He is not a player who takes the ball and goes from box to box with it, but he can help the team go higher up the pitch and keep the ball, which is very important. He doesn’t lose many balls during a game, he has scored and he has played well. He signed three months ago so his adaption to our philosophy at Arsenal and [to life] in England… I am very impressed with it.

As are we Laurent. Although Aaron Ramsey, and other central midfielders on Arsenal’s books, may just be sh*ting themselves a little bit whilst wondering how exactly they force their way back into the team. And if they’re not, they should be such has been the Egyptian’s start to life at the club. Keep it up Mo!

See you on Friday folks.

13th April 2016: Ozil nominated + Iwobi on Okocha influence

Welcome to Wednesday on TremendArse. Arsenal may have blown their chances in the Premier League, both domestic cups, and the Champions League this season, but the consistently classy performances of one man haven’t gone unnoticed.

Mesut Ozil was today announced as one of six nominees for the PFA Player of the Year award and joins Dimitri Payet, Harry Kane and Leicester City trio Jamie Vardy, N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez on the list.

Ozil’s chances of success are obviously very slim due to the fact the Foxes look very likely to win the title, meaning one of their players is surely favourite for the accolade, whilst Kane being the league’s top-scorer with 22 undoubtedly gives him an edge over our German assist-meister.

Yet with 6 goals and 18 assists from 30 Premier League appearances so far this season, it’s obvious Mesut fully deserves at least being in the mix for the award, which in itself must be particularly satisfying for both the player and his manager after he was widely branded a big-money flop in his first two seasons after arriving from Real Madrid in 2013.

Meanwhile, Aex Iwobi has revealed the advice he’s been receiving from his famous uncle – former football star Jay-Jay Okocha. The teenager told Arsenal Player:

Before that I didn’t even know he had Twitter!. All my friends were asking if I saw what my uncle had said so I checked it out. It is crazy and I’m just happy I’m making him proud and hopefully I will be even better than him. He was at the Watford game and the Barcelona game,” added Iwobi. “The fact he comes to watch shows it means a lot to him and he shows his support. It is good for me. [I get advice from him] almost weekly. He came to my house the other day. Unfortunately I missed him because I was here [at the training ground] but we do keep in contact a lot. He does tell me what I need to do and what I need to work on. He is always telling me that he knows a lot has happened and that I have come far, but he says to stay humble and that I will go far.

I’m not sure Alex is quite as naturally gifted as Okocha, because the latter had Ronaldinho-esque skill in his pomp, but I wouldn’t bet against Iwobi developing into a more consistently effective player.

Time will tell of course but our latest teen sensation clearly comes from good stock, seems to have a good head on his shoulders, is receiving some sound advice from those around him and could barely have made a more promising start to his professional career.

Iwobi also touched on his decision to play for the country of his birth, Nigeria, rather than represent England, where he’s grown up and made his name. He said:

It was a difficult decision picking Nigeria over England. England did contact me recently before I played my first competitive match for Nigeria, asking if I wanted to play for England. I’m very proud to represent Nigeria but I would like to say thank you to England for the chance they gave me, it was a difficult decision. The love Nigeria showed me… when I played for them in a friendly, the fans were just crazy. The fans almost eat you up because they love you so much. I’m enjoying playing for them. When you’re getting out of the airport there are fans already there screaming ‘Arsenal, Arsenal. Gunners for life!’ and it’s just mad. Some of them have Arsenal shirts and then others will ask me for Arsenal shirts. It’s a bit mad and the fans are crazy.

Right. That’s probably enough from Iwobi, at least until he’s banged in a hat-trick against Crystal Palace on Sunday anyway.

Arsene may hold his press conference tomorrow, or at least provide the official site with an injury update, so I’ll be back then as we start to look ahead to the game against the Eagles.


12th April 2016: Cech on sportsmanship and Iwobi on his goal at Everton

Welcome back. It’s still very quiet Arsenal news-wise so this will be the briefest of posts. A micro-post, if you will.

I’ll start with some words from fit-again Petr Cech, who spoke exclusively to the Arsenal Weekly podcast and discussed how football has taught him many things, including the importance of respecting his opponents. He said:

It’s a part of the game. For 90 or 95 minutes you are on the battlefield but then then the game finishes. Sometimes you enjoy the game more because it has these individual battles and individual challenges. Sometimes you think, ‘I love this part of the game because I was battling with the striker for every corner, every free-kick, pushing each other and trying to block each other’. When you finish the game you think, ‘Okay he gave me a time but I did well’ and then you’re happy with that. When you play the game for such a long time and you know the players you’re playing against, you know each other’s game better and you know them personally so sometimes you talk to them after. Not all the time, but sometimes. There are games where you speak to people. You have to respect your opponent and you have to respect the game. Everybody wants to win and it means everything to everyone. You play the game to win but on the other hand you have to respect your opponent and you have to respect the fact that sometimes the other team plays better than you and deserve to win more. You know they’ve spent as much time as you working hard and preparing to win, that they have given everything to that. Team sport not only teaches you the ability to work in a team, but also the ability to respect your opponent. This is a big part of sport.

Meanwhile, Alex Iwobi has been speaking to Arsenal Player about scoring his first-ever Premier League goal – at Everton a few weeks ago – and explaining the celebration that followed. He said:

That moment was crazy! When Hector got the ball and I saw the space, I just tried to sprint for my life. Thank God Hector found me, I got the ball and scored. I can’t describe the feeling, I started losing my head and the celebration… I don’t know where that came from, but I’m sticking with it now! The best way to describe it is that it’s my number [45], and the Gunners [are] Arsenal. I was just excited and also my friends told me to do something crazy, so it was for them. I already felt at home [in the team] but that goal made me a bit more confident, made me try a few more things and made me feel a bit more relaxed so I was happy to get it.

What can we say about Iwobi other than he’s got the footballing world at his feet right now. If he continues on his current trajectory in terms of development, not only will he surpass his famous uncle Jay-Jay Okocha’s talents pretty soon, we might actually win the league again at some point. Keep on keeping on Alex!

See you tomorrow.

11th April 2016: Xhaka, Marquinhos and two others linked as silly season starts early

Evening all. Just a very quick round-up for you tonight because we’ve covered the reaction from Saturday’s disappointing draw at West Ham already and with our next game not until Sunday when we host Crystal Palace, it’s very quiet in terms of Arsenal news at the moment.

As is often the case when on-pitch talking points are scarce for the Gunners, transfer links to players supposedly on our shopping list begin to burgeon like Wayne Rooney’s waistline at Christmas. Granit Xhaka appears a very legitimate rumour, with Sky Germany having reported our interest a couple of weeks ago and barely a day passed since without a regurgitation of the story.

Today was no different, with the Evening Standard’s James Olley writing that we’re “confident of making” the Swiss international our first major summer signing. The player reportedly has a 25 million euros buyout clause in his contract but it doesn’t come into effect until the summer of 2017 and the German club are said to be holding out for £35 million for his services in this year’s window.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see but Arsene Wenger refused to rule out his interest in the player when asked about it in his last press conference so my money’s firmly on Granit becoming a Gunner sooner rather than later. Don’t argue with the logic.

Two fresher names being linked with Arsenal are that of 18-year-old Boca Juniors midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur and Marseille’s 22-year-old Mario Lemina, also a midfielder, and currently on loan at Juventus. I know very little about both but from the briefest of YouTube scouting missions, I can reveal the former’s a typically skillful south American ball player, whilst the latter seems far more defensively minded and boasts a sturdier, more athletic build.

With Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky all expected to vacate our midfield and the club this summer, the chances are we’ll sign at least two central midfielders, so a less proven, younger talent being brought in alongside an established star like Xhaka would make sense.

My choice would be N’Golo Kante (I know he’s not that young – I just want us to sign him), particularly as he already seems to be agitating for a move away from the shock champions-elect Leicester. But then ball distribution is probably one of Kante’s lesser-polished skill-sets and if we’ve missed one quality in our midfield area too often this season in Santi Cazorla’s injury-enforced absence and before Mohamed Elneny arrived from Basel in January, it’s passing.

The last name on the list is PSG’s Brazilian defender Marquinhos, who is reportedly unhappy at his continued role as understudy to compatriots David Luiz and Thiago Silva and is eager to move on this summer. French publication L’Equipe mentioned us as possible suitors in today’s edition but with half of Europe said to be interested were he to become available, it’s difficult to see that one happening.

So just the four names doing the rounds today and that’s with me only taking a half-arsed look around. I’m sure there’s lots more and they’ll continue to grow both in number and frequency as the summer approaches and then unfolds.

With next season being the last of Arsene Wenger’s current contract and the pressure on him to deliver big at levels never seen before, a busy close-season of transfer activity at Arsenal is anticipated. A major overhaul of the squad is in the offing and I for one am pretty excited about that prospect, especially if it involves first team integration for a player already on Arsenal’s books – a certain Wellington Silva.

See you on Tuesday.

10th April 2016: Arsenal make work seem appealing + West Ham reaction

Sunday greetings. Dropping points at Upton Park was bad enough, but seeing Leicester and Tottenham both win comfortably today means it’s been a weekend to forget.

The irony that a new working week will now provide a timely distraction from football is pretty galling, but at the moment that’s the truth of the situation. So thanks Arsene, nice one Arsenal, good job Sunderland and cheers Manchester United – I’ve never looked forward to a nine-to-five more. I hope you’re proud of yourselves …

I suppose I ought to take a little look at the reaction from the West Ham game however, even if I’d rather do anything but. First up it’s Arsene Wenger, who gave his take on the game to Arsenal Player, saying:

We were [in control]. There are always a lot of positives. Overall, you can say it is not a bad result to draw here, but in the context of the league, where we are and what we want to achieve, it is a very bad result for us. I wanted to win the game. In the end we had the opportunities to score a fourth goal, but we were not calm enough. I think we rushed our game in the box and that is disappointing. One or two times on the counter-attack the pass didn’t come quickly enough out of the feet and that is why we missed.

A decent appraisal I suppose but about as comforting as a smack in the mouth. A few of our players also had their say on the match, with Laurent Koscielny bemoaning his side’s frailty in one-on-one duels and explaining how they should have defended the threat of Andy Carroll in hindsight. He said:

We are disappointed. When you are 2-0 up and they come back, it is difficult. We have played well in the game but lost some important duels. They played on the counter-attack to cross the ball to Carroll who is good in the air. We conceded the same amount of goals [as them] today and it is difficult to come away with one point when we wanted more. He is quality when it comes to heading the ball. If you want to win the duel, you need to be stronger and arrive early on the cross. You can’t let them get a cross in easy because they have some good players on the wings. It is a job for everyone, not just the defender.s The guys on the flanks need to help their team-mates with defending. We will fight (for the title). We are professional players and we want to win. They [Leicester] have some important games. We will fight to the end. Mathematically, it is not finished so we will try.

Mohamed Elneny also insisted the team would continue to give it their all in the hope that somehow, Leicester and Tottenham collapse in the last few games of the season. He said:

We will fight until the end, until the last game in the league, to achieve what we want. Let’s see the final outcome then. Today we wanted to snatch the win even though we were playing against a strong team. Maybe the final result is not this much in our favour, however we are doing our best in each game. We conceded two goals at a very hard time. We should have ended the first half 2-1 up but the equalising goal came at a very crucial moment. At the start of the second half we started organising our team to win the game and step up our performance, however we conceded a third goal so we tried and pushed to get an equaliser. We finally did that but we couldn’t snatch the win in the end. We are fighting for the league title, this is why we had to play in an offensive mode to win the game, but thanks God for the final result. The best is yet to come.

You have to admire the optimism of our Egyptian enforcer, even if it’s very, very unlikely to see it vindicated. Danny Welbeck was more sombre in his appraisal, saying all we can do now is focus on ourselves:

I said before the game that we wanted to win the game, so it is points dropped. With the circumstances, going two up and then a goal behind, to get the equaliser was good. It was disappointing [not to win]. Stuff happens in football that is hard to explain. It is just one of those things. We tried to. It was difficult and they were threatening on the break as well. It was a difficult game for us. We just need to focus on ourselves and play the game that we want to. There is no point in us looking at other teams because we can’t affect them.

No we can’t, sadly. I guess we should start looking over our shoulders at those just behind us in the league as much as we set are sights on overhauling Tottenham into second place, because even if we can still very feasibly finish ahead of our north London rivals, we also need to be wary of the two Manchester teams in the race to secure a top four finish.

As such, the one big positive from this weekend’s results then, must be that we now have a six point lead over fifth-placed United with just six games to go.

Have yourselves a wonderful, football-free Monday everyone.

Back tomorrow.

9th April 2016: Arsenal waste comfortable lead at West Ham

Welcome back. If the title was unlikely before today’s match at West Ham, it’s now all but gone after we were pegged back from 2-0 up to eventually draw 3-3 at Upton Park.

I missed the opening portion of the game but tuned in just before Mesut Ozil latched onto Alex Iwobi’s pass to fire us into the lead after 18 minutes. When Alexis Sanchez then doubled our lead 17 minutes later, with a very similar goal and again with Iwobi the architect, in truth, the scoreline felt a bit flattering because the hosts had seen a legitimate goal by Manuel Lanzini ruled out for offside and the contest was pretty even.

Remarkably, the Hammers hauled themselves level and went ahead inside 10 minutes either side of the half-time break. Andy Carroll grabbed all three, heading home Aaron Cresswell’s cross after 44 minutes, equalizing in the second minute of first-half added time, and then powering in another header at the far post seven minutes into the second period.

A friend texted to goad: “Oh look, Arsenal have Arsenal’d”, and it was difficult to disagree. From cruise control to chaos in the blink of an eye, we continue to make unforced errors in games, providing our opponents with just the boost in confidence they need to capitalize on our shortcomings and it’s as predictable as it is infuriating. Unless we’re eight-nil up and playing against seven men, it’s impossible to feel confident Arsenal will see out a win.

I think it was Iwobi who gave the ball away under no pressure in the build-up to their first, just as I was willing us to get to half-time with our two-goal cushion intact. But given his role in our first-half goals and overall display, it would be more than harsh to be too critical. And in fairness, aside from those costly ten minutes, we played pretty well, looked fluent and although it’s a pointless hypothetical, if the game lasted another ten minutes or so, I’d have backed us strongly to grab a winner.

Unfortunately the reality is we’re now 10 points behind the league leaders with just six games to go and another top four finish is the best we can hope for for yet another campaign. After the game, Arsene Wenger had his say on Carroll’s impact, why Arsenal struggled and where it leaves our hopes of the title. He said:

First of all because he [Carroll] is good in the air. We lost a bit of urgency when we were 2-0 up after 43 minutes. We had a good game today but a bad result. We played with a weakness that is redundant in the season. If you look at the goals we have conceded since the start of the season, [most of them] are headers in our box. That happened today. It is difficult to go into any assessment of [our own] performances. I have to look at it again. I don’t think Koscielny was at fault at the goal. The first goal, when you are 2-0 up with 43 minutes played, with the experience we have and the way we mastered the ball, then at 45 minutes it is 2-2, you [put] yourself [in] a decline. This is because you give hope to the other team, that is where that little moment in the game made us pay heavily. Third in the league with 59 points. That is not where we want to be but we have made it much more difficult for ourselves now to have a chance to win the Premier League. We have to keep going no matter what and hope. You never know what can happen. As well, we have to look behind us as people are chasing us. We have to be serious and focus on finishing as high as possible. Where that is, I don’t know. This is one of the places where you could drop points but you see the game and feel guilty you have dropped points.

There’s isn’t a lot more to add really. A slim chance of the title is now flickering on the verge of invisibility. All we can do is hope Leicester choke dramatically, Tottenham do likewise, and we win our remaining games. I’m not holding my breath.

Enjoy your Saturday nights if you can folks.

See you on Sunday.