Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Chickens Coming Home To Roost, Or Merely The Momentary Crowing From The Cockerel At The Wrong End Of The Seven Sisters Road?

When slack West Brom defending at a set-piece gifted us an all too brief lead, after half an hour on Saturday, I found myself muttering under my breath that it was tempting fate and far too premature to be crowing "we are top of the league".

If we'd been 3-0 up and the result was already in the bag, I would've been enjoying  the opportunity to bellow this chant out along with everyone else, but it really wasn't appropriate at this point in time, with the Gunners so obviously struggling to find some form. And so it proved, with our sojourn at the summit of the table lasting little more than seven whole minutes.

With Berahino seemingly so out of favour that he doesn't even merit a place in Tony Pullis' starting XI and Rondon ploughing such an isolated, lonely furrow up front, with little or no assistance from the likes of Sessegnon and McClean, the home side played with such humble ambitions that the Baggies would've been absolutely blown away, by an Arsenal side firing on all cylinders.

I often scan the airwaves at away games, searching for a local radio commentary on my terrace tranny because it's invariably interesting to hear the contrasting perspective of an unashamedly partisan ex-player, turned pundit, from the opposition camp. For most of the first-half, he was cursing the fact that the Arsenal were winning most of the battles all over the park, which considering we were so far from our scintillating best, was a mark of quite how unimpressive West Brom were.

As stated on Match of the Day, the Baggies achieved the remarkable feat of scoring two goals, with only one effort on target during the entire ninety minutes. It might well have been a different story if Mezut Özil's shot had found the back of the net, instead of glancing off the woodwork right at the start of the second half. But for the most part our 73% domination of possession all took place in front of the Baggies defence and we barely tested Myhill.

It wasn't that long ago that we were glorying in the Gunners variety of attacking options. Yet how quickly things change, as suddenly we find ourselves in a position where the first team virtually picks itself, from the last eleven fit footballers who remain standing! It was strange on Saturday, as when Coquelin went down injured, Flamini jumped up off the bench and began warming up on the touchline, as if he expected to replace Franny, only for AW to bring on Arteta?

Although Arteta lasted just a little longer than Walcott did against Sheff Weds, in little over half an hour Miguel managed to concede a free-kick that never was, which resulted in West Brom's equaliser and inadvertently turned in the Baggies winner. Still at least Flamini's premature warm up wasn't completely wasted and one can't help but wonder how things might've turned out if Arteta had remained on the bench? With the Arsenal's midfielders dropping like flies, the way things are going, I am beginning to wonder if it might be worth bringing my boots?

Even if the players are not guilty of being consciously complacent, to my mind a situation where they know they're guaranteed to play, no matter their form because Wenger is left with so little choice, this is always bound to have a psychological impact upon a player's level of focus and intensity.

In selecting Kieran Gibbs after his exceedingly rare, point-saving strike against Spurs, perhaps Arsène was hoping lightning would strike twice. Sadly his team-mates didn't appear to be quite so optimistic about Gibbs goalscoring prospects. While, unlike anyone else, Kieran did get into some advanced position, nobody seemed to want to give the defender the ball!

With John O'Shea seemingly far too comfortable, with Giroud pretty much in his pocket, we could've badly done with being able to present the Baggies defence with an alternative pacy, attacking threat. But with the likes of Olly, just as with Alexis, Wenger is denied the opportunity of injecting some rotational spark into our flagging form, by the fact that our squad is already down to the bare bones.

Mind you, without the protection of Coquelin in front of him, sadly Per Mertesacker is suddenly looking a lot more vulnerable and perhaps sufficiently past his sell-by date that the time has come for Gabriel to prove his worth as a permanent long-term replacement?

With the not so illustrious likes of Zagreb, Norwich, Sunderland, Olympiakos and Villa to come before our date with Pellegrini's title favourites, we can but hope that we can cling on and that our competitors continue to be equally inconsistent, until such time as the likes of Walcott, Ramsey, the Ox, Wilshere and Welbeck (remember him!) begin to return to fitness and restore our squad to something like the promising looking outfit that commenced this campaign.

If not and our challenge begins to flounder on our squad's obvious lack of depth in crucial positions, there will be only one person to blame and unfortunately he's not accountable! But this Groundhog Day scenario is likely to feel a whole lot more agonising than it has been in recent seasons because with none of our competitors achieving the sort of consistency necessary to set the pace, rarely has there been a better opportunity for us to challenge for the title and with all of them urgently looking to address their own problems, it might well be a while before such a promising chance comes around again!

Keep the faith

Chickens Coming Home To Roost, Or Merely The Momentary Crowing From The Cockerel At The Wrong End Of The Seven Sisters Road?

If the Marseillaise can't inspire them, maybe a kick up the Arse will do?

The omens were hardly auspicious as we travelled up to West Brom on Saturday and the blokes in the back of the car with me admitted that their only other awayday this season was the dismal defeat at the Bridge. Indeed it proved such a frustratingly fruitless afternoon against the Baggies that poor, old Ernie was sat in the front of the motor threatening to burn his brand new ‘titfer the moment he arrived home.

Albeit with me not wanting to go the way of the proverbial brass monkeys, in the face of such a bitterly cold snap, perhaps I was no less at fault for having dug out my longjohns for the first time this season. If ever proof was needed to decry all such superstitious pish-posh, it was evident in the long awaited payback for Thierry Henry’s handiwork, at the Aviva last Monday night. Whereupon it was obvious that the Boys In Green had just achieved something very special, when we witnessed Roy Keane actually cracking a smile.

Despite the heroics of O’Neill’s troops, following a fortnight in which the world’s worst horrors have been brought to our doorstep, thereby suddenly making everyone terrifyingly aware of our patent vulnerability, I was positively desperate for the blissful distraction of the recommencement of Premiership hostilities. Such was the level of anticipation at being able to lose myself on the terraces for 90 minutes that somewhat inevitably, our afternoon ended up an infuriating anti-climax.

I should’ve seen the disappointing writing on the wall, when one minute I was doing a little jig of joy, hearing on my radio that the Hornets had equalized as I walked up to the Hawthorns, only for Man Utd to go top of the table (briefly), by bagging a last gasp winner before I’d even reached the turnstiles.

The new reality of the world’s heightened state of dread was evident in the way previously cursory body searches have now become far more rigorous; and yet no less futile, since every regular matchday goer can attest that nothing will stop the most determined nutter from doing their worst.

Mind you what I would have given to the Gooner who'd smuggled in a selection of rockets on Saturday. After seeing the Baggies gift us a set-piece goal, only for the Gunners to promptly switch off and concede two in quick succession, I will leave it to your imagination how these might’ve been best employed (right “up the Arsenal”!).

As one would expect with Pullis at the helm, West Brom are typically well organized behind the ball. Yet with the home side being so woefully short of firepower on current form, it seems absolutely everyone, bar our manager, appreciated quite how important it was for a team with genuine title ambitions to come away with all three points on Saturday.

After being left out of the starting line-up in favour of a second full-back out on our left flank, judging by the way Joel Cambell fluffed his lines when he eventually entered the fray, where once Arsène inspired “unbelievable belief”, he has instead taken to fostering “indubitable doubt”!

Worse still, any sentient being worth his salt would have no need a technical data spreadsheet to deduce that Alexis has lost his mojo. It’s blindingly obvious from the stands that even if our Chilean dynamo is still covering the same mileage, he’s no longer doing so with a smile on his face.

When Santi’s standing foot slipped from under him, along with our last chance of a face-saving point, this pretty much summed up our miserable afternoon. Prior to this, the partisan pundit on the local Black Country radio suggested it was as if ref Clattenburg was playing for the home team. Yet truth be told, we’ve enjoyed such flattering good fortune on the road in recent times, in spite of our indifferent form that our luck was bound to run out.

Making a slippery escape from the gridlocked car park seemed to be the only result of the day, prior to the resurrection at the Etihad. While Brendan’s ragbag Scousers returned from the break seemingly miraculously transformed by Klopp into a side that’s “just like watching Brazil”, City and the Gunners both appear blighted by the lugubrious global mood.

Still there was some solace in seeing the amiable Tinkerman savouring his entertaining Foxes’ moment in the spotlight, instead of a far too smug LVG. The big question is whether we’ve seen every Gooners’ worst fear realized when Coquelin limped off. But, in the event of such a catastrophe, our myopic manager must be just about the only person on the planet who couldn’t see this coming!
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Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Last Post?

Rarely can I recall being more relieved at the prospect of break from the relentless run of fixtures and hopefully a fortnight of International footie, which might afford some of our players a much needed opportunity to recuperate. Admittedly Spurs were likely to have been no less fatigued in advance of their short trip to the right end of the Seven Sisters Rd, after having played Monday and Thursday. But they weren’t coming to our place on the back of the sort of psychological midweek battering that we endured, in our utterly humiliating defeat to Bayern.

Moreover in the likes of Delle Alli and Dier and so many of the relatively new faces in Pochettino’s hungry, young line-up, Spurs benefit from the fact that they don’t carry the same baggage of some of their old stagers, who’ve grown more accustomed to playing second fiddle to the Arsenal. By contrast, judging by our comparative lack of intensity in the first half, doubtless some of the Gunners were guilty of taking our long-standing superiority for granted.

Obviously, with Man City dropping an unlikely two points at Villa Park immediately prior, you could sense the mood of expectation amongst the throng of Gooners heading to the game, with everybody hoping we could take advantage of City’s slip up, with the win that would leave us going into the break sitting pretty atop the table. Sadly, the bookies favourites for the title won’t be deprived of the influential likes of Silva and Aguerro for ever and one can’t help but feel that we’ve missed a trick, by us failing to capitalize on what might well prove a rare opportunity to gain some ground on our immediate rivals.

Nevertheless, truth be told, in the opinions of many, a draw seemed to be the most likely outcome for Sunday’s game. Considering that the Gunners appeared so leg-weary in last weekend’s decidedly flattering victory against Swansea and in view of our struggle to escape the Allianz Arena on Wednesday with still some semblance of dignity intact, after forty-five minutes of a dominant Spurs performance the vast majority of us were desperate merely to salvage a face-saving point.

In fact, if I was (heaven forfend!) a Spurs fan, I would’ve been left feeling particularly disappointed at having failed to make the most of such a prime opportunity to stick the boot in, while the Gunners were down. There was a moment during the first-half that was a metaphor for the majority of this encounter, as Delle Alli bypassed Coquelin, not the least bit distracted by Franny pretty much ripping off Alli's shorts, in his vain attempt to thwart the impressive Spurs midfielder.

Still, unlike the majority of his team-mates who appeared to be more spectators than participants in this contest, at least Coquelin offered some resistance. Little did we realise that the army trumpeter’s moving rendition of the last post prior to kick-off would be a signal for the Gunners to lay down and surrender!

Despite Flamini’s two-goal heroics in our League Cup triumph at the Lane some weeks back, Matty was hardly the most likely candidate to turn this game around. Seeing Stevie Bould towering over him with his clipboard at half-time, didn’t exactly inspire us. These frantic and seemingly pointless pitch-side efforts to pass on last-minute detailed instructions always make me laugh, when all Bouldie really needed was the French equivalent for “get stuck in”!

As had been the case against Bayern, Spurs goal was largely due to the fact that we were guilty of gifting Danny Rose all the time he required to lift his head up, unopposed and pick out a through ball to Harry Kane. Although I can appreciate the logic in not wanting to waste too much energy, chasing the ball on the halfway line, it’s surely asking for trouble and feels uncomfortably arrogant, to be standing off the opposition, inviting them to do their worst.

It’s certainly not the blood and thunder, relentless pressure that we as fans demand from all of our players in this bi-annual derby battle. With Cazorla looking like “the little boy lost”, as if one of the mascots had inadvertently wandered onto the pitch, at least his replacement by Flamini enabled us to baton down the hatches in the middle of the park.

However with chances at a premium against Spurs miserly defence, we really couldn’t afford for Giroud to be squandering them. The obvious limitations of Arsène’s squad were highlighted by the fact that full-back Kieran Gibbs was left as the only card our manager was comfortable in playing, to try and rescue this match. Having grumbled that Gibbs was hardly likely to have an impact, I must admit that I was left eating my words a few moments later, when he managed to get on the end of Özil’s cross and smuggle the ball past Lloris.

We’d mistakenly erupted earlier, when we thought Campbell had equalised and so there was a moment’s hesitation whilst waiting for some confirmation, before everyone exploded in a euphoric convulsion of relief, after having enduring the mounting dread that the old enemy were about to get one over on us. Ultimately it felt significant that we managed to scrabble over the line, unbeaten. Yet with a full treatment room and so many of the remainder looking as if they are already on their last legs, the question is whether we’ve already hit “the wall”, or will this fortnight prove sufficient to recover the necessary fortitude and the required spring in our step for the Gunners to go again?

email to: londonN5@gmail.com

Sunday, 1 November 2015

"Ain't Nobody Like Koscielny...."

Rare full house at Hillsborough
My midday deadline for my Irish Examiner missive often leaves me with my feet up, watching the footie on the box on Sunday afternoon, fretting about all the points that I've forgotten to mention (or not had sufficient space to include).

We were welcomed back into London yesterday evening with a twenty-one gun salute. Or at least that is what if felt like, with the fireworks just starting to explode on the lawns of the famous art-deco Hoover building, as we passed by on the A40. It felt like a fitting reception as we returned to "the Smoke" with three important points safely stashed in our metaphoric back pockets.

The sagacity of the expression that "time is relative" is rarely more apparent than when contrasting the length of a tediously long return journey from the miserable midweek defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, with how quickly we seemed to fly back home from Wales after Saturday's win.
Hardly the haute cuisine of the Waterside Inn at Bray
but genial banter at the Riverside Cafe beside the Don

Although we enjoyed some pleasant banter with the Wednesday fans, whilst grabbing some pre-match grub, just about the only result of the night was that we managed to escape the congestion around the ground after the final whistle relatively quickly, to get back onto the M1 for the long trek back down "Sarf": while being infuriatingly delayed by incessant night-time roadworks and the resulting 50mph speed restrictions, governed by a never-ending string of average speed-check cameras. It really would've been adding insult to injury, if our league cup exit had not only cost us the loss of the Ox and Theo, but also a few penalty points on my (miraculously clean!) driving license!

I hope we made ourselves heard on the TV coverage, above the raucous racket of the home crowd, as the only other crumb of comfort on the night was that despite us being 3-0 down, with absolutely no chance of turning this game around, the healthy turn out of Gooners spent what felt like about half an hour of the second-half, singing an incessant, mantra-like chorus of "We love you Arsenal".

I fancy that the 35,000 home fans must've been impressed by this unceasing vocal display of our loyalty. Even Olivier Giroud turned at one point, to applaud our relentless rendition, as if by way of offering some sort of apology for the team's abject failure to reward such staunch support, with the sort of performance that we rightly deserved in return.

The two successive injuries were devastating and the manner of this defeat, with barely a single shot on goal, was extremely disappointing. I look forward to these league cup outings, as a sporadic opportunity to sample the delights of the latest teenage talents to emerge off the U21 production line. Yet our demise wasn't all down to the youngsters' failure to demonstrate their potential. Compared to a Wednesday side that was so fired up, none of our more experienced players were at the races.

I would've expected the likes of Debuchy and Gibbs to be desperate to make the most of their rare opportunity to prove themselves worthy of a first-team recall. But sadly they both looked to be lamentably ring-rusty, especially Debuchy, as Wednesday increasingly probed this obvious weakness on our right flank. Much like the rest of the senior players, they displayed the apparent apathy of players who looked as if they resented not being given the night off with the remainder of our star turns.

Despite having to suffer my Spurs mates teasing me by text about me making such a wasted journey, I've long since learned to be quite sanguine about fruitless Arsenal outings, viewing them as a means of merely paying my dues and thereby being so much more appreciative of Saturday's successful trip to Swansea.

But I'm fortunate to be able to go to most matches and I've sympathy for those Gooners who are forced to endure a defeat, on more infrequent Arsenal awaydays. Tickets for last Tuesday's league cup match were priced at a comparatively cheap 25 quid. Consequently, there were plenty of Arsenal fans buying them primarily for the away match credit. With so many Gooners unable to obtain tickets for our successive Wembley outings these past couple of seasons, folks are fast learning quite how beneficial it is to have a couple more credits than the vast majority.

You'll Never Walk Alone - Hillsborough Memorial
Nevertheless, there weren't many empty seats to be seen in the infamous Leppings Lane End at Hillsborough and judging by how quickly we managed to flog a couple of spare tickets on Twitter, whilst grabbing a bite to eat an hour before the game and the fact that there were so many unrecognisable faces amongst the Arsenal fans, I suspect that we were joined by a large contingent of Gooner students, who'd jumped at the chance to watch the Arsenal, instead of doing their university homework.

So while I only had three days to wait, before witnessing a far more gratifying win, I felt bad for all of them (not to mention all those Wednesday fans who had "only come to see the Arsenal!"), when the Gunners failed so miserably to put on decent show.

I always object to the relatively steep cost of the toll to cross the Severn Bridge into Wales. The irony never escapes me of having to stump up £6.50 to enter "the land of the Bards" but then one doesn't have to pay a bean to escape the country, returning in the opposite direction back into England. Still this annual trek down the M4 has fast joined the list of my firm awayday favourites.

Although according to superstition, bad awayday results will usually necessitate that one doesn't repeat the same rituals, last season's defeat didn't prevent our return to Rossi's opposite the Liberty Stadium for cod and chips. Evidently it's not just us Gooners enjoying the Schadenfreude of Mourinho's steep downhill slide, seemingly drawing him ever nearer to the receipt of his special P45. Standing outside in glorious autumnal sunshine, chowing down on our grub, we could see the smiles upon all the faces of the Jack Army as they parked up for the match, knowing they'd also been listening to the radio commentary of events at Stamford Bridge, where the Scousers had equalised two and a half minutes into two minutes of injury time! 

It was as if being able to share in our mutual delight at the continued demise of the Blues has entered the lexicon of common football fan parlance. So perhaps Jose has a point and we are indeed "all out to get you" :-)

Having only just seen Chris Kamara and co. analysing Giroud's headed opener on Sky's 'Goals on Sunday', I can't help but revel in the apparent obvious improvement in the Gunners' set pieces. At long last, we finally seem to be applying some "nous" to our corner taking. 

What they didn't show on the box was our first corner, only a few minutes before the goal. On this occasion Ashley Williams was marking so touch-tight as he grappled with Giroud that he might as well have been inside Ollie's shirt. So when we where awarded a second corner, our narcissistic front-man climbed into Per Mertesacker's shorts. Or at least put himself in such close contact behind the BFG that Williams couldn't get anywhere near enough to grab a hold of Giroud again and it was for this precise reason that Williams ended up losing him, for Ollie to soar unchallenged and head home that crucial opening goal.

Also in the first-half, our high defensive line appeared to be suicidal, as it was obvious from our viewpoint behind our goal that the pace of the Swans attack was the source of serious palpitations, with our hosts leaving our defence for dead almost on the halfway line and bearing down on Cech's goal, on far more occasions than was healthy!

It seems as if Callum Chambers has STILL to recover from the battering his confidence suffered at the Liberty last season. I can rarely recall seeing Montero produce equally influential performances, when I've watched Swansea play against other sides, but the Equadorian seems to revel in leaving Arsenal defenders for dead. Having left Callum as a gibbering wreck after our last game, watching through my binoculars before kick-off on Saturday, I noticed Hector Bellerin having a word in Joel Campbell's shell-like. I presume that he was imploring Joel to help out in ensuring that Montero wasn't able to make Hector appear equally inept.

Mercifully Bellerin is a lot quicker than Chambers and is rumoured to be faster even than Theo. Yet Montero still managed to leave Hector trailing in his wake and us trembling in the stands on a few occasions. Still both he and Campbell coped far more competently with this threat on our right-flank. Albeit that on the one occasion when Montero went past them both and ended up as the meat in a Gooner sandwich, when Sigurdsson stood over the resulting free-kick, I'm sure I wasn't alone in having nightmare visions of a repeat of the Ice Man's set-piece goal last season.

Yet I adore the fact that the Gunners appear to be applying a more cerebral approach to winning matches, where in the past we might have arrogantly expected our superiority to tell, without bothering to put any thought into tactics. You only had to witness le Coq's effusive explosion of joy as he joined in the celebrations of our first goal, to appreciate quite how badly the Gunners wanted to win this game and where in the recent past our players might've failed to convince me that they wanted a title bad enough, I am now beginning to notice this cumulation of very pleasing indications that perhaps, just perhaps we might have finally achieved the delicate chemistry necessary to enable us to maintain a serious challenge.

Obviously everything is so much easier when we're winning, but for all my efforts to avoid being duped by another false dawn, knowing that we're only ever one dodgy result, or a single disastrous injury away from it all going pear-shaped, I'm intent on making the most of the current buoyant mood.

Besides which, with Mezut Özil on such a roll, pulling the strings as the all-time record assist merchant in Premiership history (according to the Daily Mirror!), as we commented in the car on the way back, our German playmaker is such a joy to watch at the minute that one would have to be a complete and utter Philistine, not to be able to appreciate Mezut's weekly gifts to us all. 

A cliché perhaps, but there was a moment on Saturday that was indeed worth the price of admission alone, when Özil bamboozled everyone present with a ball in the complete opposite direction to the one we all expected. Here's hoping he leaves everyone at Bayern equally in his thrall on his return to the Allianz Arena on Wednesday?

Meanwhile, you will have to forgive me if I end up going a little overboard about our new terrace ditty but it's been so long since we last had something new and original to sing (or with such good reason), let alone to a Chaka Khan tune that I actually love. What's more, it couldn't possibly be better timed, with Laurent suddenly being touted as one of the league's best centre-halfs. Koscielny was probably the prime candidate for man of the match on Saturday and hopefully his constant amelioration might prove to be symptomatic of the increasing maturity of the entire Arsenal squad.

Come on you Gunners
Big Love

"Ain't Nobody Like Koscielny...."

It was fair dinkum of Gary Monk to suggest in his post-match remarks that Saturday’s result was flattering. Nevertheless the records will show another three-goal victory and another satisfying clean-sheet, on the road, against a Swansea side that took all six points off us last season and who are a sufficiently talented outfit to make life far more awkward at the Liberty Stadium for many of our competitors, should they encounter the Swans in better goal-scoring form.

In spite of a below par performance that was so far from the Gunners at our scintillating best, after the League Cup debacle at Hillsborough last Tuesday night, it was important to get back on the horse in a manner that will be perceived as being quite so emphatic.

With a trip to Munich on Wednesday and a North London derby to come next weekend, we badly needed the sort of triumph which might demonstrate to our opposition that this Arsenal side hasn’t been significantly disadvantaged by the raft of recent injuries and which should continue to cement the “bring it on” ring of confidence within the camp (other tooth pastes are available).

Sheffield Wednesday have suffered in the relative footballing wilderness for so long that their sell-out crowd was positively bristling with anticipation in advance of experiencing having the big time back at Hillsborough in midweek. As it turned out, I wasn’t too disappointed about a defeat that means we miss out on another trip to Stoke and knowing it would mean so much more to the long-suffering Wednesday fans, I really didn’t mind magnanimously throwing them the bone of this cup quarterfinal outing.

However, after a long schlep to Sheffield, I wasn’t feeling nearly so charitable about exiting the Mickey Mouse competition in quite such an ignominious fashion. And I was left fuming about seeing first the Ox and then Theo succumb to particularly badly timed injuries that might derail our campaign, just as it’s beginning to gather some genuine momentum.

With all of our most talented youngsters out on loan, or unavailable, last week’s comments about the precariousness of our challenge came back to haunt me, as Wednesday inflicted the sort of walkover on Tuesday that only reiterated the likelihood that the Gunners are painfully short of the required number of suitably experienced bodies, necessary to maintain an assault on the three remaining fronts; especially if our first-team players continue to drop like flies.

From experience, we’ve gleaned a rule of thumb that one can conservatively double Arsène’s estimates about our players’ recuperation. Eternal pessimist that I am, I won’t be at all surprised if Walcott returns in December, just in time to suffer another knock that will rule him out for the hectic festive schedule!

Ivor the Engine - golden boy of Welsh footie
So when Giroud hit the deck against Swansea on Saturday, you could sense every Gooner behind the goal at the Liberty collectively holding our breath as drama-queen Ollie writhed around, clutching his knee, with us only exhaling in unison, when much to our relief our solitary remaining fit centre-forward returned to the fray.

Having readily admitted that the likes Kamara, Bennacer, Bielik and Iwobi are patently not yet up to the first-team job, there will be plenty of time to slaughter our manager for failing to dip into our overflowing coffers, in order to bolster the squad during the summer, if and when he’s forced to throw these teenage Christians to the Premiership (or heaven forfend, Champions League!) lions.

Meanwhile, can 23 year-old Joel Campbell finally blow the doors off, if he’s drinking in the last chance saloon. Having struggled to reproduce his World Cup feats in red and white, hopefully Saturday’s goal might serve as a confidence booster, but so long as he continues to put in such a hungry shift, you won’t hear me moaning.

Alexis was strangely off the boil on Saturday and our Duracell Bunny hardly showed the benefits of his midweek break. In fact we commenced this encounter in such a comatose fashion, leaving Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Seung Yeung to impressively run the show in the middle of the park that we couldn’t really have complained to be going in at halftime a goal or two behind. Yet where we might’ve ended up dropping points at Swansea in the past, it was perhaps significant to convert this game into such a convincing-looking win.

Credit where due, it was most refreshing to see ref Kevin Friend attempt to keep his cards in his pocket. With us being so accustomed to keepers being overly protected, virtually everyone in the stadium stopped in expectation of Friend awarding a foul on Fabianski, thankfully with the single exception of Koscielny.

Evidently the terrace tom-toms told of the Canaries equalizer against City, when the “top of the league” chant rang out from our end. Yet with ten mins still to play, you just knew that this was somewhat premature. Nevertheless, I’m more than content to be maintaining the pressure on the current frontrunners.

As determined as I am to avoid getting too carried away with all the white noise from the media about our title prospects, there were perhaps a couple of telling signs on Saturday. Gomis had time to light and smoke a cigar before rounding Petr Cech. Yet no matter what form our keeper might be in, this was just the sort of one-on-one confrontation that Petr will often win on reputation alone, by contrast to the myriad of less illustrious goal-minders from the past decade or more.

Then there was a worrying moment when Bellerin slammed into the goal-post second-half. Hector was far too commited to keeping the ball out of the back of the net, to be distracted by the possibility that the Swans effort on goal was about to be ruled offside. It’s the sight of a Gunner risking life and limb in such a totally focused fashion that truly excites me.

Hopefully it’s indicative of the essential “they shall not pass” team spirit that is invariably the sort of “men from the boys” marker, to distinguish genuine winners from the also-rans? Only time will tell, but one thing’s for sure, we’re guaranteed more thrilling entertainment in the process

email to: londonN5@gmail.com