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Liverpool (a), Newcastle (h), Man u (a), Everton (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (h), Leeds (a), Norwich (a), Is this really back in our sights? 8 matches to halfway and 24 points to be won so we are halfway to paradise and 44 points. Regular readers will remember that I did a very early Where can we finish? After 3 games, all of which we lost. I was feeling bleak, and pointed out that Arteta has only one currency to trade in – wins. He needed a huge turnaround, but not just in results, in how we played. The defence, and particularly Leno, White and Holding were badly bullied by Brentford. We were outplayed by Chelsea and totally and utterly outplayed by Man City. On the back of that abject City display, I predicted that Arteta will face his marching cards from Kroenke sooner rather than later. The chinks of light were that our next matches were winnable and if we then beat the Spuds, Arteta would have breathing space. Although we haven’t won all our matches since then, we haven’t been beaten, Arteta has answered his critics for now, and, as fans, we can dream again. Even of Champions league. From bottom of the table, that is a good height. We brought in Mourinho’s bus The biggest change has been in the defence. Tomisayu, Gabriel and especially Ramsdale are not there to be bullied and all 3 have been outstanding. Tavares has come in for Tierney and done a great job. If you remember previous blogs I said without Tierney, who gets injured, we probably lose. That is no longer true and while I rate Tierney higher than Tavares, particularly for attacking, there seems little between them. Well done to Edu and Arteta there. A big part of our new defensive bus I still hold to my assertion, though. Those 3 losses will be a sword hanging over Arteta’s head till the end of the season. He has to continue winning and notching up points or we could tumble again. Fans are very fickle, the Kroenke’s are not liked, not seen as part of us, and they have been a bigger target than Arteta, who is seen as one of us, and a good person with a lot of knowledge who has promoted our young players. So they will get the blast from the fans first and another bad run may see the end of Arteta. A banana skin on an ice slide And this run we have now till Christmas is exactly the type of run that could go very badly. But in some ways we are potentially facing teams at their worst time, so it could be good for us. Don't look at him, boys The first one up is the hardest - Liverpool away. Klopp’s demons give every team nightmares. But a draw against Brighton and a loss to West Ham, shows their vulnerabilities. I say we have a chance if our defence plays at their best, our midfield holds their own, as we will get chances that we will have to take. It is hard to see beyond a draw, though. I will go for 1-1 and a tight game but still with chances for both sides. I would love to see better than that but Klopp will be anxious to correct his slide. Newcastle at home is a must win. Eddie Howe won’t have a transfer window to help him. They could be a different proposition in the second half of the season. So we must beat them now. Our players are better than them and we are at home. The new manager bounce might help them but I am going for 2-0 with the second goal coming late in a nervy match. Give us another fine mess, Olly Scratching your head won't help, Olly Ah Solskjaer, let’s hope you are still there and Utd are still a shambles. This one we can win as long as we win the midfield. And we should. They don’t look like a coherent team and if we play to our best, outrun them and out tackle them, we will win. A rare win at Old Trafford. This is a match I was scheduled to go to but smashing my ankle a while ago made it difficult to commit so I forewent my ticket. I would have loved to be there especially if we win. I am going to say 2-1 for us but a bit easier than that scoreline looks. Everton away. I like Everton as I have friends I grew up with in Ireland who are big fans. But I hope Benitez is still there and he hasn’t quite managed to correct their slide. It is a game we can win and we have a good record there. Another 2-1 but a more nervous one than against Man Utd. Southampton at home. There is no question about it, these are the games we have to win. Yes, they are on an uptick but they are still Southampton. A clean sheet and a 2-0 which we get in the first half. We allow them to come back at us in the second but we hang on. This could be our hardest The next match I feel we have to hope for a West Ham slide by then as I feel they are set up to give us a hard time. Their defence and midfield give nothing away and they attack with speed. They don’t have a weakness although we have a better goalkeeper. We might need to be lucky. Honestly I would take a draw here particularly if they are still playing well. The last time I was at this match a couple of years ago at the Olympic stadium it was 0-0 and a terrible match. And may be again. Leeds away? Bielsa’s team are always a difficult proposition. However they rarely play well for 90 minutes. We must capitalise on those times we are in the ascendancy and we have been a bit lucky against them in recent years as they have outplayed us for long periods but we managed to get results. This time I am going to say 1-1 but with our defence playing well. 2 draws in a row means we have to win our last match for halfway. 'Arry is the relegation specialist - hire him, Norwich Norwich away? Surely there is no banana skin here? I don’t know who they will have appointed but surely not someone top drawer? Sam Allardyce maybe? Why does Harry Redknapp not make a comeback? I am going to say 5-0 with Norwich eating too many of Delia Smith’s pies over Christmas. The only true easy win of this period. Surely we can see the top even if we can’t get there? And where does that leave us? On 38 points and if we can repeat that we have 76 which is probably enough for second place and definitely Champions League. However it is an optimistic scenario with 5 wins and 3 draws and no defeats. Possibly too optimistic. But I hope I have shown you a fairly realistic portrait of the task ahead of us. If we win all we have 44 points and double that to get 88 will probably win us the league. But nobody believes that. If we manage to do as well as I have shown here we have a good chance for Champions league. Be under no illusions, top 4 is going to be a big challenge, we need to win or draw matches we don’t deserve to, and win the ones we do. I feel that the 3 losses, the young team, the African championship, and good runs in the League Cup and FA Cup will consign us to fighting for a Europa League place but that, I think, we will achieve, on a much better points total than last year. Fighting for this one is realistic
2003-2004 Unbeaten A rare picture of Davis Dine I am going to let you into a little secret, a conspiracy in fact, Arsenal were actually beaten in the Invincible season but Davis Dine, a shadowy yet powerful man with Arsenal, was willing to conspire to make sure that didn’t happen. Poor Mr Dine didn’t like the way everyone was laughing at his favourite person as, last time out, Arsenal had been beaten 6 times on the way to coming second after comical Wenger said we could go the whole season unbeaten. He resolved a plan which involved gathering all the dirt he could on all his rivals to make sure results would be changed if necessary. First he had to secure the Premier League and their managers but that was easy as he had been in a major position ever since the start. He knew all their secrets, their illicit affairs, their secret bank accounts, the bribes for votes, and as he was squeaky clean himself, they couldn’t get back at him. Or could they? Undefeated Harry Redknapp masterminded a win over Arsenal And so to the matches. Dine was hoping that somehow we would never be beaten and he would never have to unveil his plan. We started so well with 4 wins over Everton, Middlesbrough, Villa and Man City. On September 13th, though, he came up against Portsmouth and he didn’t even think he would need anything for this one as they were, well, Portsmouth. But the ageless Teddy Sheringham scored on 26 minutes putting Dine in a panic for a moment. Then he remembered that Harry Redknapp had bank accounts in the name of his dog and Tottenham was his dream job. So he quickly spoke to him, promised to keep shtum on the accounts and would use his contacts to make sure he would manage the Spuds in the future. Miraculously, Henry got a penalty soon after. We failed to score another so that would have been a loss. 1-1 and we were still unbeaten. Redknapp was no fool, though, and he insisted that the second match also had to be 1-1 and so it was on 4th May. And was it a coincidence that he finally got to manage the Spuds in 2008? Van Nistleroy: The star pupil of falling over But then the next match was Manchester United. Mr Dine had no worries here, he had a secret video training session recorded where players were taught to dive. Van Nistleroy was the star pupil. If anything went wrong he could pull it out. It was nervy as it was 0-0 but that remained the final score and Dine didn’t have to worry. He was really hoping they wouldn’t score late as it gave him little time to organise but in the end, all was fine. Unassailable Then 3 wins against Newcastle, Liverpool and Chelsea and Dine could breathe easily. An easy game against Charlton next, eh, no, they scored after 27 minutes with a Paolo Di Canio penalty. Dine was scrambling around trying to see what he could do when Henry popped up with a goal on 39 minutes. Luckily the scores stayed like that to the end as Charlton were a bit of a problem for him. He hadn’t got much dirt on them. Leeds, Tottenham and Birmingham fell to our sword next so no need to worry. Fulham next and 0-0. Again Dine was nervy about a late goal but we got through it. No need to pull any strokes. Leicester away next and this time we were one up after 60 minutes with a Gilberto goal. Ashley Cole got sent off on 72 and it got stressful for Dine but we held out until the 93rd minute when they scored an equalizer from Craig Hignett. But 1-1 and all is well. Indomitable A nice win against Blackburn 1-0 to the Arsenal and then Bolton away. Davis Dine wasn’t worried at all about this one as he knew where Sam Allardyce kept his secret stash of pies and would reveal his big secret. As it happened, Robert Pires scored after 57 minutes, Bolton rallied on 83 with Henrik Pederson to leave a risky 1-1. Big Sam’s pies were safe. We weren’t beaten. Your secret is safe, Sam 3-0 and 1-0 to the Arsenal next against Wolves and Southampton and all is good. Then Everton at Goodison. Kanu put us ahead on 29 and it seemed all was well but then Radzinki scored one for Everton on 75. Dine kept his nerve and it ended 1-1. Unconquerable Then we had nine wins in a row. Dine was wondering why he had never done this before. We were Arsenal, we were winning, we were sending teams home crying. And if we needed a little bit of help, he should have been providing it. Next step would be all other trophies. Suddenly, Manchester United were next at Highbury. He had his secret diving video as back-up here but he needn’t have worried. Henry scored after 50 minutes and even though Saha got one back on 86, it was enough for 1-1. No need to pull any tricks. We were still the Arsenal. Indestructible 4-2 against Liverpool. Easy peasy. Then 0-0 Newcastle. He had an ace up his sleeve with them if necessary. He would threaten them with Mike Ashley taking over if they gave him any problems. Leeds 5-0 then, and this was looking so good. Too late, Robbie The Spuds away. Mr Dine wasn’t worried as they always fell over for Arsene Wenger. It was his favourite ground. And so it proved as first Vieira on 3 minutes and then Pires on 35 scored to make us 2-0. Ah, Spuds, you are useless, the only team Mr Dine didn’t have to collect any scandal on, you make life easy for us. Although Jamie Redknapp scored on 62 and Robbie Keane got a late consolation on 94 to make it 2-2. These Irishmen can be a nuisance but we were still unbeaten. Invulnerable Birmingham 0-0 and no need for dramatics. Portsmouth next and the deal held as agreed earlier, another 1-1. We let them score first then we equalised. All good. One nil to the Arsenal against Fulham then 2-1 vs Leicester to give us the invincible season. But we would have been beaten at Portsmouth thus ending the dream. Who would have thought that Harry Redknapp was the mastermind who actually should have beaten us? Invincible We are Arsenal, we are the best, the invincibles, and Arsene Wenger the genius who made us so. A pity for Davis Dine, though, as he was to go out of favour at Arsenal, and his dream of having an ace in the hole for every match was never to be. Until today, this story never came out. But now you know the conspiracy behind the invincible season. As for me, I was delighted. Manchester United, who are you? No-one will ever beat us.