It’s Fab to be back

Arsenal 4-1 Bolton

Good weather, good mates, good football. A fine cocktail that makes for a very pleasant Saturday afternoon indeed.

Bolton going down to ten men might have made things ultimately a bit easier, but I don’t think 4-1 flattered us at all. Poor old Arshavin for one must be wondering how he ended up without a goal to his name, but he wasn’t the only one who was one-on-one and missed – Chamakh got in on the act too. Yes, there was only one goal in it until the sending off but offensively, Arsenal bristled with creativity all afternoon.

All this too without three important attacking players. As I briefly mentioned yesterday, it bodes well that all it takes to compensate for the lack of van Persie, Walcott and Bendtner is a little shuffling of the pack. Rosicky, Wilshere, Fabregas, Song and Arshavin supporting Chamakh is a tidy unit indeed – and still left us Denilson, Diaby, Nasri and Jollygood on the bench.

Picking a stand-out player from that front six is not easy but it would have to be between the inimitable Fabregas and, for his second half performance, Alex Song. For his sheer vision and range of passing, Fabregas would get it though – wherever his head or body was away to Blackburn, they were back here and he was in flying form yesterday. He split the Bolton defence two or three times with ease; it was sublime.

That said, the best pass of the day came from Rosicky, who carved an Arshavin-sized hole in the Bolton back line early in the game. Shame Arshavin couldn’t convert it.

The goal that was and inevitably will be talked about was Jollygood’s – he ran onto another Fabregas splitter and side-footed home a lovely fourth. It was preceded by 26 ole-assisted passes. Gorgeous.

But perhaps Song’s goal was better. Not only was it the 1,000th league goal under Wenger, but the dinked finish was a mixture of persistence and delicacy. He was fabulous in the second half.

There was a niggly edge to the game at times, often encapsulated by the brute force of Davies, but I wouldn’t say it was a dirty game overall. Nevertheless, ref Atwell dished out a red and four yellows (slightly down on his season’s average) and we await the news on Diaby – “It is ankle or shin – he cannot move his leg at the moment so we will see” said Wenger. Amazingly, the tackle on him was not even a yellow. We can but hope that Diaby is not out for a Diaby.

Defensively, I’ll buck the consensus of some by saying we did pretty well. OK, so Koscielny (otherwise commanding) made a bad mistake for the Bolton goal, but given that Wenger had made three changes at the back, and one of them was making his debut, I thought we were pretty solid. Squillaci made a promising debut.

It’s not a scientific observation, but from where I was sitting, I was generally, the error aside, impressed with Koscielny’s heading. He was popping up all over the place and nodding it away.

Overall, with 10 points from 12 it has been an excellent start to the season. Next stop, Champions League.

Right, I’m cutting this ramble short and heading off on a bacon hunt.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Thoughts on the opener/keeper/patience

The Arsenal goalkeeping mystery

It’s not often I quote old Shakey, mainly because I’m not the brightest bulb in the room, but here goes:

“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly”.

For the goalkeeping situation to have gone on this long unresolved is really very odd if you ask me. It’s clearly now affecting Manuel Almunia, our current number one, who can no doubt see the writing on the wall.

Wenger has been understandably cagey when pressed, but one thing he hasn’t done is come out in full support of any of the current keepers at the club.

But he has, presumably, known all summer we need a new keeper – so what’s the hold-up? Why wait this long? With all due respect, how can it take so long to sign a 37-year-old keeper from Fulham? Is there something else cooking?

The uncertainty is doing nobody any good.

In the cold light of day…

As I sit here two days on, I must admit my views on the opening game at Anfield have changed slightly. At the time, I was frustrated at missing a big opportunity – being ten men up for a whole half as we were – and at not hurting them anything like as much as we should have given the possession we had.

But I’m often guilty of thinking only of where Arsenal went wrong and not making enough allowances for the opposition playing well. Neither side had many chances but Liverpool did play and defend well. And anyway, since when has Anfield ever been an easy place to go? I think it was a very decent result. We do need to add more variation to our game at times, when we are struggling to get through massed defensive ranks, but the lack of Fabregas, Song, van Persie (for most of the game) and Bendtner are worth a mention.

You’re alright, Jack

Given he is 18 and was making his first ever start for his club, away at Anfield, I think Wilshere did very well. What I love about him is his ability to scan the pitch, slow things down, and make a pass, all in a split second. He’s always looking for the forward pass.

It’s completely unrealistic to expect him to morph into the finished article this soon though. Anyone remember Parlour’s debut at Anfield, or how Adams was in his earlier days? They made mistakes but turned out alright, if I recall.

Blooding players like him is a long process, and one that will entail good games, bad games and a lot of patience. But it’s crucial to Arsenal’s future that young English players do get a chance – and to Wenger’s credit they are increasingly getting them – so we have to accept that it will take time for them to learn and adapt.

18 is an incredibly young age to break into a top football side.

Even at 21 a player is only still learning his trade. Is it fair to write someone like Walcott off, and to dismiss him as having no football brain, on the basis that he has been at Arsenal four years already? How much of that decision-making comes with age and experience? Injury has curtailed his career to just 75 starts in that time – only 15 of which were in the last year.

What age did Song suddenly go from being a hopeless lolloping bumbler to a fine holding midfielder? When we lost badly to Man City in November 2008 in my fury I marked him (and Denilson) down as our worst midfield of all time – yet he had only just turned 21.

A mere 18 months later he was named third in our player of the season poll after Cesc Fabregas and Thomas Vermaelen.

Maybe with some teams spunking cash hither and thither as if it was small change, the patient development of players is harder to do, but coupled with a sensible approach to bringing in experience, it’s got to be the right approach.

Match review: The nil-nillest of nil-nils

Arsenal 0-0 Manchester City

Season ticket renewal time is almost upon us – and what better way to offset the pain of some of the priciest tickets in the country than with a reminder of what Arsenal do best: Goals, technique, speed and a never-say-die attitude?

All those things will doubtless be unveiled against Fulham on 9th May, because yesterday’s goalless draw was as turgid an end-of-season game as you will ever see. It was instantly forgettable.

Which is all the more peculiar for the fact that City’s owners are palpably desperate for the kudos the Champions League would offer. If they miss out by a point or two come the end of the season, someone might want to ask Mancini why he ordered his team to come for nothing more than a draw against an Arsenal side with three straight defeats playing on the mind, an impressive cast list of crocks and one eye on the summer sunloungers.

Not that we were able to break down such a stifling lack of ambition. We had no real answer to it – a couple of shots on target only, the best of which was a van Persie free-kick that floated just high and wide.

We all wanted a reaction from the Wigan game, and in terms of commitment and focus, it was an improvement. It’s a shame that improvement didn’t translate into attacking threat.

It was a day for fans of defending, and while City did not venture forward much, of our players it was the “outstanding” Campbell – “Maybe you should take him to South Africa” Wenger said post-match – and the returning Song who caught the eye. Even the much-derided Micky Silver looked good.

If, hypothetically, we had a keeper showing signs of advanced shell-shock and wearing gloves lubed with WD-40, and we were looking for an easy game to parachute him into that would ease his frayed nerves, yesterday’s was that game. Fabianski had almost nothing to do all match, and certainly nothing remotely taxing, even by his standards.

We do have one thing to thank Adebayor for: His pig-tailed arrival in the 52nd minute at least sparked the game into a modicum of life. But once the vituperative songs had died down, there was no more papering over the cracks of a dull game and it and it wasn’t long before it was ambling along again, going nowhere fast.

Even eight minutes of added time, against a Faroese rookie keeper, produced no telling pressure from us and that was that.

“Losing to Wigan was in our heads, it was absolutely forbidden to lose, they didn’t throw everything forward blindly.” Can’t argue with that from Wenger.

From our point of view, it edged us closer to third, and therefore away from having to play a Champions League qualifier, and it arrested a losing streak.

But the Independent’s 4/10 rating seems about right.

Doubting Thomas’s red / Songtral defence

Lionel roars

It’s now just a week to go until Barcelona roll into the Grove, and quite honestly, I think I can allow myself another dose of early excitement. Yes, I know there’s a crucial Premier League game at St. Andrews first up – they’re all crucial now – but without a midweek match there’s plenty of time to think about both.

It’s all about Messi, with his spectacular hat-trick against Zaragoza (“that’s for Nayim”, I muttered) well worth a watch if you’ve not seen it. He’s in such ridiculous form at the moment that the world’s pundits are running out of players to compare him to. I can’t wait to see him play to be honest. I’m sure Wenger will devise a cunning plan involving the periscope sprinklers to negate him.

One person who does find the whole thing a bit weird is Thierry Henry, who has said “I don’t want to play against Arsenal”. I can understand the sentiment but it’s still odd to be seen to be talking yourself out of a place in the starting XI. Perhaps he knows already that he’s unlikely to start?

Verm but fair

I was surprised to learn that Arsenal tonight appealed against Vermaelen’s red card on the grounds of wrongful dismissal. I must admit, I did think the club would take the one-match ban on the chin, but clearly they a) feel they can get this one overturned or b) are sufficiently worried about Saturday to give it a go. Presumably the FA cannot extend it further if the appeal fails?

Songtral defence

Having seen Song drop into central defence against West Ham, and do very well there, it does of course give us more options for Saturday, albeit at the expense of the holding midfield role in which the Cameroonian has so excelled this season. Given the proximity of the next two games, I’m inclined to think Campbell will play in only one of them, and seeing that Arsenal have appealed against Vermaelen’s red, it could well be that Sol is earmarked for Barcelona only. That would leave Song and Silvestre as the only option for this weekend, which might explain the appeal. I could of course be talking absolute guff, but Campbell and Vermaelen, with Song mopping up in front, would be my choice for Barcelona.

Right then, laters.

So long, Alex Song, and a Happy New Year

Portsmouth 1-4 Arsenal

A thoroughly comfortable win on the south coast saw off 2009 in style and makes the prospect of 2010 more than a little interesting for those of us of red and white persuasion.

I’m oop north at the moment, and without Sky on the TV I watched the game live on my iPhone. Infuriatingly, the stream buffered like the dickens, in particular coming to a shuddering halt right before Nasri’s goal made it 2-0. I like the idea of the Sky app that lets you watch live games without the need for a fat TV-sized monthly wedge, and I think £6 a month is a reasonable price to pay for the privilege, but until they sort out the quality (the stream, as well as buffering, veers between pixel-perfect and fuzzy), then I will pass.

It was an easy win. Certainly, once Nasri rifled in our second, it looked completely over as a contest. Pompey’s fans are getting increasingly militant at the way their club is being tossed around like a plaything by faceless owners – it’s desperate stuff and I feel sorry for them. There are plenty of salutary tales to be told about overspending, bad management, murky ownership and a lack of effective regulation from the game’s hierarchy, but as ever, I am thankful that our club is properly run. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Perhaps fittingly, it was Alex Song – our most improved player of 2009 by some distance – who scored Arsenal’s final league goal of the decade. A quick look online tells me our first goal of the decade, on 3rd January 2000, came in a 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday and was scored by Emmanuel Petit. I can’t remember it to be honest; it feels like a hundred years ago rather than ten.

Song’s current worth to the team can be directly measured by the increased quantity of furrowed brows among fans caused by his forthcoming absence. He’s really grown into that role, and doesn’t have a direct replacement who mops up quite so vigorously. Although our squad is less hit by the call-up of African players than some, there’s no doubt he will be missed (we’ve got him for one more game, the FA Cup tie at West Ham, but not in the league now for the next month).

The pick of the goals though came from another midfielder, Fabregas’s replacement Aaron Ramsey. It was a real gem, as was watching his patience with the ball, and his eye for a pass. One for the future? Not really – with seven starts and 16 sub appearances, he’s one for now but he’s being dropped into things gently, and besides, he has quite a good player ahead of him in the shape of Fabegas. For an 18-year-old, he’s bang on track and getting as much playing time as he could ever have hoped.

As for reinforcements, well when does a football fan ever say no to the possibility of an additional player? In our case, I’m with the 99.9% of Arsenal fans who clamouring for a new pair of legs up front. Wenger gives the game away, despite a bit of water muddying, when he says:

“It’s true that we have problems with our strikers. Even I say that. Everybody tells me to buy strikers, but when I look at the League, nobody has scored more goals than us.

“We have players who move the ball well and everybody gets in dangerous positions. And that’s why, with the confidence high, everyone can score goals. But we are still in the market.”

We are still in the market, that’s the bottom line. As I said in my previous post, it would be verging on the criminal not to make the most of the situation we find ourselves in. With just one experienced striker (and he’s operating on only three cylinders), we cannot hope to outscore our opponents purely from midfield. We’re bang in there at the top. If we brought in a new face or two in January and still faded away, then fine – that can happen. But the chances are, a new recruit could make a huge difference. So let’s go for it.

Finally, a happy New Year to you all. I hope the year brings you all everything you could hope for (a new striker being a good start on that front).

It’s been an all-round pleasure. Thanks for reading my increasingly infrequent posts, for chatting on here (occasionally) and on Twitter (more frequently). Here’s to more of the same in 2010.

AZ thoughts/App review

Points dropped, not a big deal

I was very close to lauding Alex Song to the heavens last night when he dropped his guard – as to be honest did the rest of the Arsenal defence – in the 93rd minute, enabling AZ Alkmaar to equalise.

He did have a terrific game, but he’s not the polished gem we would yet have him to be, even though his improvement has been spectacular. It’s easy to forget how metronomically average he had been before the middle of last season – when he took a magic potion – so I’d rather big him up than little him down.

And he was hardly the only culprit. Sagna today admitted that “tonight we switched off because we thought maybe that the game was over and they scored a nice goal.”

“With injury time, we have to concentrate 95 minutes these days”, he added, though of course that’s not quite correct – at Man Utd it’s 97 minutes.

Dropping two points once the game is meant to be over is annoying, but it’s not the end of the world. We’re still well placed, and if anything, it’s a reminder (as if one was needed) that the very worst thing we can do right now is get carried away.

Seven wins in a row has the habit of doing that. Yes, we’ve done well, but the ramshackle defending in our penalty area at the death last night should sharpen the mind.

Of course, we’re still talking about injuries too. Walcott is now out for a while – it’s been a seasonus horribilus for him – and Rosicky, Bendtner, Eduardo etc were all missing too. It’s one of the themes of the modern Arsenal era. What are the odds of having all our players fit, even for a slither of time, this season? It’s seemingly a mathematical and scientific impossibility.

On the bright side, Samir Nasri made a comeback for the reserves last night, (alongside Wookash) and he’s another attacking option – though perhaps not yet ready to be thrown into action. It says a lot for how Rosicky has started the season that Nasri has not really been missed, but the added competition for places is crucial.

As for the goalkeeping situation, well I’m as intrigued as the rest of you. Was it simply a loss of form, or was there more to it?

I have a theory: Almunia must have applied for his British passport. As soon as he became a British citizen, Wenger probably thought he’d go out on the lash and wrap his motor round a lamp post, so he dropped him.

Or maybe not.

It’s certainly an intriguing situation though – Mannone has shown oodles of promise, but he’s still so raw. Fabianski cannot be guaranteed a shot at it. What price a dip into the transfer market in January?

Arsenal app

The folks over at Arsenal asked me if I would be prepared to give their new iPhone app an honest review. So as an man who likes iPhones, apps and Arsenal – I agreed.

They’ve gone big on it, haven’t they? There were ads in the urinals at Arsenal on Saturday, and it was given pride of place in the app store for a while after it was launched.

The first thing I am compelled to bring up is the £2.99 cost. So what do you get for the money?

Well on an iPhone, the main Arsenal website has always been of a slow loader, so for that alone then the cut-down news, fixtures and squad biogs are a definite improvement.

Perhaps its best current feature is video highlights – good quality match highlights, and free (ie not attached to a separate Arsenal TV Online subscription), though not as lengthy as the highlights you get online. There are also stills galleries – again, decent quality.

That’s pretty much what your money gets you at the moment – nicely cut-down iPhone-ised key sections (news, fixtures, table, gallery, squad and match highlights/other video news), plus a bunch of additional links that just go straight to the main Arsenal website.

What I’d like to see (apart from better O2 or wifi coverage at the ground – but that’s another matter) is more emphasis on the live coverage, such as match stats, audio and the Arsenal TV stuff for subscribers. Interestingly, that’s apparently “coming soon…” – I’m told there’s more to come.

So a decent first release, I would say, with a nod in the direction of the video highlights in particular.

Make Do and Mend

Manchester City 4-2 Arsenal

Bit late in the day to add my tupp’orth about yesterday’s match – couldn’t get anywhere near the pooter till now. Obviously, it’s mostly about Adebayor, which is wrong, but there you go.

I only saw the stamp on Match of the Day last night. When you see it in slow motion you can understand why van Persie released the statement he did – and why Arsenal were happy to put it up. It was an intentional jab at van Persie and it was vicious. It’s so blatant that he will almost certainly get a 3-match ban. Couple that with him running 100-yards at great speed (as many have pointed out, something he didn’t do at all last season) to goad the Arsenal fans, and I’d be pretty amazed if he got away with less than five games out.

Listening to 606 last night, it seemed to me that some people were missing the point as to why he is now the undisputed, all-time villain for Arsenal fans. His greediness for a new deal was, frankly, expected – all footballers do it. His two-faced attempts to move to a new club are hardly new either – though he was more brazen than most. No, those aren’t the things that mattered most. But going through the motions was unforgivable – and he did that for most of the season. I’d say most fans can forgive most footballers for their myriad failings so long as those players give it their all. He didn’t. Anyway – he merits no more of my time.

More pressing, frankly, is how we lost again having played pretty well, why we are making so many errors and how we have already conceded eight league goals.

Mitigating factors: 3 away games from 4, post-international hangover, key injuries in creative areas, general play and movement good, unlucky not to have scored more.

But it doesn’t matter how rosy a picture you try to paint. The fact is, we’ve already lost two games we shouldn’t have, against teams that hardly ran us off the park. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a concern. Sure, they were away, and against two sides that will be competing at the upper echelons, but we’ve thrown points away, pure and simple.

Yesterday, we lacked some artistry – in many ways, it was the classic post-international match – but we also made elementary mistakes. Almunia is away with the fairies at the moment, and Clichy had a rotten game. Song should have done better for their second goal, and where was the marking for the third?

But still, it is very early doors, and far too soon to sharpen knives. Fortunately, we’re back in the saddle on Wednesday, then back to the Grove on Saturday. So no time to dwell.

How we could do with Arshavin, Walcott and Nasri back to add to the recently returned Rosicky, though. Two players on each wing – that was how it was meant to be. It’s a classic case of Wenger having to make do and mend – or should that be ‘make Diaby and Bendtner’?

Think of the options those three would have given us had they been fit.

Finally, I had an email telling me that there’s an investigative piece on BBC Radio 5live tonight – sometime between 7.30pm and 8.30pm – on the personal, political and business life of Usmanov. I’ll be listening – no idea what kind of a picture it will paint, but it should be interesting.

Motivated to the max

It might strike some people as surprising that, whilst on a football pitch career-threatening tackles still happen, players needle one another constantly and bully referees, there remain some things that are considered extremely bad form. For example, to showboat when you are winning comfortably is considered arrogant and to humiliate an opponent in this way wrong.

Similarly, you’ll never hear players say “They were absolutely rubbish – a pub team” or “Of course I won the midfield battle, John Smith opposite me has two left legs”.

Perhaps it’s because of this that Evra’s comments last season – describing the semi-final of the European Cup as ‘men against children’ – were taken so badly by the Arsenal players. Never mind that anyone sitting in the Grove that night would have agreed. The fact is, he said it and the Arsenal players haven’t forgotten this sleight.

It’s had an effect he probably didn’t consider when he made the comments in the first place. To find out what, just read Alex Song’s comments in this excellent Telegraph column:

“We will never forget that. It was very difficult to lose the game but, when you wake up in the morning, you see the newspaper and you see someone saying they played against 11 kids. That, for me, is not respect. You cannot say that. Barcelona won everything last year and they didn’t say things like that. When we go there, everyone wants to show him we are not kids. We will see, but we are confident.”

It acted as a big motivator for the league game – which if I recall was a bit tetchy and ended 0-0 – and it’s still acting as a big motivator. Couple that with Eduardo’s Uefa charge – a “witch-hunt” and a “complete disgrace” says Wenger – and the Arsenal players will have no problem getting up for this afternoon’s match.

The media coverage of Eduardo’s dive has been unbelievable. All I will say further is that a) Uefa will find it hard to prove that Eduardo intentionally deceived the referee, even if it was a dive and b) Uefa have opened an enormous can of worms and face an anti-dive workload that could overwhelm them, assuming they choose to be equitable and go after all miscreants with as much vigour.

Onto this evening, and I must say I’m confident we can put in a good showing. Of course it’s a very tough place to come away from with a result. But our form is good, the children will be keen to put in a good performance against the men, and Utd have injury problems as we do. It’s a big test for our 4-3-3 as much as anything, but it’s a big test for both teams, both of whom have different points to prove. Are the champions as good this season despite two key departures? And are Arsenal ready, and strong enough, to mount a title challenge?

I’m massively looking forward to it.

Lucky goals, but not lucky Arsenal

Celtic 0-2 Arsenal

Let’s get something straight here: Arsenal’s goals may have been a tad fortunate last night (a ‘backer’ from Gallas and an own goal from Gary Scoredwell), but Arsenal earned their luck and more than merited the first English success at Parkhead since 1983. Once that first goal went in, we were in complete control of the match. In the second half, we dominated.

I thought Celtic played well, throwing everything they had at us, and it was a good, physical, high tempo scrap.

It was a very, very encouraging evening overall. Scrappy at times, yes, but we dealt extremely well with everything.

I don’t want to tempt fate here, given we’re only two games in and with Arsenal’s injury record, Gallas could easily sprain an ankle tripping over a ketchup bottle and Vermaelen could come down with scurvy, but our defence looked pretty solid. Both central defenders deserve praise – the former marauded about all night and look an absolute snip at £10m, while the latter has started the season as bright as a button. In fact, he’s now our joint top scorer.

Song and Denilson, too, have begun the campaign very well. Song, in particular, was calm, composed, crisp in the tackle and mopped up like a demon. I would have struggled to write such complimentary words, had the tail-end of last season not threatened this – and as far as humble pie goes, I’m prepared to munch it all night – but he really has come on leaps and bounds. might still be listing Song as a defender, but surely last night’s performance proved that he’s really anything but. He’s a midfield anchor, at the moment.

Wenger said of him:

“In the last two games Song has played extremely well. He can win the fight, not only with physical strength but he has that sense to nick the ball from his opponent without giving away the foul. That’s a very interesting quality.”

Up front, we worked hard and carved a few chances out, but Celtic closed well and there wasn’t much doing.

It’s far too early to make any judgments about where the Arsenal are, compared to last season, but there are some really encouraging signs that there’s a hunger there, and a steely determination, and that bodes well. Whether some of these players have stepped up a gear – well again, that’s hard to gauge at this stage, but the early signs are good. We’re scrapping hard as well as creating, we’re matching teams physically, we’re defending well, and all this with the usual arsenal of injuries (a worryingly apt collective noun).

The mood is buoyant.

On to Saturday…

All Gunners blazing as Arsenal run riot

Everton 1-6 Arsenal

Here I am again, eight days since I last fired up the blog. I’ve been away, breathing in deep gulps of bracing coastal air, and though I had access to a laptop and a broadband connection, I let the blogging go fallow. So no season preview – seems a bit late now anyway.

However, I did say on Twitter a couple of days ago that I was “strangely confident” about this season ahead. I accept that part of this optimism could be put down to the kind of giddy irrationality prevalent ahead of new seasons. But on top of that, I do think that, a year older and wiser, some of the players who struggled at times last season could be 10%-20% better this time round. Although we had some teeth-gnashingly dull 0-0 draws and lost in the Champions League semi-final (heavily) and FA Cup semi-final (depressingly), we have only lost once in the league since November 22nd.

A team gelling and growing together is hard to gauge – and though a 6-1 destruction is no exact measure of how we will do over the next nine months, it’s undeniably a statement of intent.

I’m not denying that we’d still benefit from a few new faces in key areas, but try telling Song and Denilson yesterday that they need someone in ahead of them – both were excellent.

The fact we came away having scored six, despite having Walcott, Diaby, Rosicky and Nasri on the sidelines, is a massive fillip. You could not ask for a bigger shot in the arm than a 6-1 drubbing of a very decent team on the first day of the season.

One thing I had been worried about was a poor start to this season, and what it might do to some fans’ relationship with the team. There was a lot of negativity at Arsenal last season – more than I’ve ever seen before – and though some of it was merited, I really hoped for a clean slate this season. You sense that some people, when they don’t see half a dozen new faces, plunge into a sea of gloom far too readily.

After yesterday, the team and the fans will be flying, and rightly so. We were excellent – all six goals were fantastic. Denilson’s opener was a rasper, Fabregas’s second a gem, but my pick was Vermaelen’s debut goal. I love a well-placed header, me, and that one was a mouth-watering looper. I really do like a header. Terrific things.

So what better way to warm up for the (warning: cliche coming) Battle of Britain? I’m looking forward to it already, a bit too much in fact.

In fact, the return leg will be my first game of the season as I’m foregoing the Arsenal on Saturday to go to the Oval to see the Ashes. I know I might get a bit of stick for admitting that – but some of you will understand the dilemma… I hope…

So anyway – I am planning to resume normal blogging service henceforth. Sadly (though not for you, probably), these days that doesn’t mean a daily update. Small children are too draining for that. But it’ll be more frequent than once every eight days…

Right, onto Tuesday. Football is back. Ah, joy.