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Posted by Sam Limbert on 12/22/2011

We weren’t as good against Aston Villa as were against Manchester City, but when you score a late goal to claim all three points, who cares?

At this stage of the season, obviously it helps if performances are good, but ultimately with games coming thick and fast, it’s just about getting the job done. With the moving of the Wolves game, we’re going to head into a period of three games in less than seven days. Players will get tired physically and mentally, so maintaining a fluent style of play will be tough. Grinding out a win at Aston Villa was a great way to set us up for the hectic festive period.

As I mentioned in my last blog, we could easily have slipped into a bad run of form following the Manchester City game. We had to somehow find a way of getting a result against Villa, otherwise we’d be playing even more catch up football during the Christmas period, and be at risk of other clubs getting away from us. It may not have been pretty, but that’s what we did. No-one would have predicted Yossi Benayoun to be the man to get on the end of a corner, but we’re all grateful he appeared at the back post.

The match at Villa Park was the sort of game we’d have dropped points in during recent seasons. The added experience to the squad is paying off. Benayoun’s opportunities have been limited this season, however he made a real impact from the bench and was in the right place at the right time. That wasn’t a coincidence. Tomas Rosicky also steadied our performance when appearing from the dug-out. His introduction allowed Mikel Arteta to drop deeper and dictate the play more that when Frimpong was playing. Even Andrey Arshavin looked livelier off the bench. All three will be needed over the coming couple of weeks as some of the starters looked tired, so it’s reassuring to have more experience in the squad that can change games.

Benayoun in particular deserves a lot of credit. I was initially sceptical able his signing, however he’s looked good in every game he’s played for us this season. He’s clever with the ball and keeps possession well. I’m surprised how he’s been under used, however now I think he’ll come to the fore with the fixture congestion meaning we’ll have to rotate, and then when we miss Gervinho whilst he’s playing in the African Cup of Nations. He’s a good option as a tricky winger, or sitting in behind the striker. I think he’s got a big part to play in the rest of this season, however that header alone had made his loan signing worthwhile. If he keeps making good contributions, signing him up permanently should be done sooner rather than later.

Robin van Persie wasn’t at his best, yet still scored and grabbed an assist. His penalty would have been impossible to save for almost any goalkeeper, and as much as it was a surprise for the team to score a header, to have a good cross come in from a corner was also slightly unusual. Our overall performance might not have been great, but the finer details that van Persie is so good at helped get us over the line and claim the points. Also, how we didn’t get a penalty when he was booked for diving I’ll never quite know. If that isn’t contact in the box I’m not sure what is.

Hopefully he’ll at least equal Alan Shearer’s Premier League record for goals scored in a calendar year. On paper, only needing two from two is very doable for the Dutchman, however with the games coming quickly, I doubt he’ll start both of them. As we face Fulham just two days after the OPR match on New Years’ Eve, I think van Persie will be rested for the final match of 2011. It’ll be a last chance for Chamakh or Park to prove themselves before we surely sign a striker in January.

Whilst winning the match was the major, and most important, aspect of the game, there were some worrying signs. I’m not sure if Ignasi Miquel was injured, or just wasn’t selected, but our defence still has a slight make shift look about it. Francis Coquelin looked shaky early on, but grew into the game at right back. Hopefully he won’t become a permanent fixture there as he wants to be known as a midfielder.

Also from a defensive point of view, it was a disappointing goal to concede. It was just a punt down field, and having seen us be more solid when defending those situations this season, it was a surprise to see Villa score from it. Apart from when he’s injured, we saw that Thomas Vermaelen isn’t a machine and can make a mistake. His header back to Mertesacker was slightly short, and the German was unlikely to cut it out. Had Mertesacker committed to trying to win the ball, I think he’d have ended up fouling Albrighton and possibly getting sent off. It was annoying to concede, but closing the game out with ten men would have made things very difficult.

Generally, we weren’t as sharp going forward as we have been in recent weeks, with players looking fatigued. However I’m not too worried about the performance, as the desire and team spirit dragged us through the game. Some credit must go to Aston Villa as well. Most fans, myself included, expected them to not put up too much of a fight following some their recent displays, however they showed more resilience than they had done against Liverpool.

Our next game is against Wolves on the 27th December, after the club decided to move the game back because of tube driver strikes on the London Underground making it difficult for staff and supporters to get to the game, which was originally scheduled for Boxing Day. The change of date shouldn’t make too much difference to the players, although given it’s a traditional day for English football, we won’t have had a Boxing Day fixture since 2008.

I expect Arsene Wenger to make changes for the match, with the likes of Walcott, Ramsey and Gervinho looking like they could do with a rest. As shown at Villa Park, we have some more experienced players who are hungry to perform well, so hopefully they’ll get the chance to do that from the start. Also, I’m sure I’m not the only Gooner hoping for Arsene to unleash the Ox over Christmas.

The team will go into Christmas in a much better frame of mind after the Villa win. Even if we don’t produce any Christmas crackers in the next two weeks, so long as we get nine points, no one will be complaining. Have a great Christmas Gooners!

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Posted by Kufre mathias on 12/22/2011

I need Rvp to be given d chance to 3goals in remaining 2 games.Ramsey & wallcott need some rest so as to see more from Rosicky,Bennayoun & AOC.Gevinho should be giving playing time before Africa Nation Cup.In defence I prefer kos,mert,tv5 & Miquel

Posted by Dan on 12/22/2011

Sam, you repeated a number of times in your most recent post that you do not expect us to sign anyone come January - do you still stand by that? You say here that we will "surely" sign a striker unless Park and/or Chamakh unleash something magical.

And have a Merry Christmas yourself, good sir. You have been an amazing bastion of optimism for us Arsenal FC fans over these past several months - please keep it up! Realistically, title chances may appear slim to none for us. But what would be wrong with being one of a just a handful of people who believe that it could happen...and then be one of just a handful of people who gloat at the end of the season if it does, indeed, against all odds happen? We can still do it...somehow. Why not believe at least THAT?

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. I'll still be surprised if we sign someone purely because Wenger isn't always keen on drastic changes in January, however I think we have to sign a striker. The need is quite clear so hopefully Wenger won't ignore it.

Posted by KENNETH on 12/22/2011

hi sam, it was a game that we needed to win and justice was done. the boys look tired. i wish prof wenger would bench Ramsy for the next match. he look tired and miss almost the few chances that fell to him. hopefull we will close the gap between us and the top 4. nice blog.

Posted by Duncan on 12/22/2011

Thanks for the post, Sam. When Benayoun scored that goal it was further confirmation that this Arsenal team has much more heart than teams from recent years. 3 points from this match were very important.
I thought one lesson from the match was the importance of Song in winning back the ball and initiating our attack. We all love Frimpong, but he ought to get first-team experience elsewhere before he is relied upon on a regular basis.
Another point is that, while Ramsey played well at the beginning of the season, he has faded significantly. Benayoun deserves more minutes on the merits of his performance and the Xmas congestion gives more reason to rotate the two. Benayoun should also get more time on the left when Gervinho leaves for Africa Cup. I wonder how Ramsey will fare once Wilshere is back; Ramsey is the odd man out in my opinion.

Posted by titansgunners12thman on 12/22/2011

I with you, Sam. A win is a win.
I too have not figured out why Arshavin still gets minutes in front of Benny. He's faster, livelier, and is more committed. Please ship Arshavin out.

Conquelin and Frimpong should be getting more minutes considering Ramsey's form. His passing has been average to below average this year.

The defense is still a work in progress. We need our fullbacks back in the worst way. Their attacking keeps other teams from going forward and playing their game. I just hope we can survive the next few weeks and months ntil we get them back. To use Wenger's words-"They will be like a new signing."

Posted by Mario Pardo on 12/22/2011

Saludos....No acepto este balance resultadista...aunque es importante el resultado, como hincha del Arsenal tambien es importante la manera como se juega...hubo mucha garra, mucha ambicion, y en frente un equipo muy guerrero...pero no empecemos a pensar simplemente en terminos de resultados...gracias a benayun, y esperemos que RVP no descanse tanto y pueda hacer historia...

Saludos desde Bogota, Colombia.
Feliz Navidad a todos los Gooooners!!!...

Posted by grumpy_gunner on 12/22/2011

We definitely looked tired from the exertions in the Eastlands over the weekend. As for Bennayoun, I'm really happy he scored. He is the consummate professional and like Arteta, never does anything silly. People also forget the goal he scored against Olympiakos, which was an immaculate volley. I've been genuinely perplexed by why he has been lower down in the pecking order than Arshavin. Wenger seems to put Yossi on when we're leading and the team wants to "close" down the game. I'd definitely use him more. As for Arshavin, if rumors are right that Zenit are willing to pay near the same price we paid for him, Wenger needs to sell him in January. That money would pay for Poldoski who is four years younger.

Posted by Raza on 12/22/2011

I really hope your prediction about signing a new striker proves right. As has been pointed out by many fans earlier, Ramsey is the weak link going forward. Not saying he's not a good player, but all the threats currently come from the flanks. The players indeed looked tired, so hopefully we can see Ox and Yossi getting starts. Also very impressed by Rosicky when he came on.

Posted by chuckles on 12/22/2011

Happy Holidays to you Sam, and to all Arsenal fans around the World.
With all the games coming up I really hope to see Miyaichi and Park get some playing time. As much as I want Robin to take Shearer's record (a hat-trick v Wolves should do it) he needs a rest, and these lads need first team time.
Should we have a vote on the best Gunners of 2011? Szesny & RVP for me!

Posted by louis on 12/22/2011

great writing as usual sam!

i think we have done well this game in grinding out the 3 points. I would say this team is definitely a notch better than the past teams of the last few years (because this team more than make up for the loss of technicality and skill with physical and mental grit, trademark of the good old gunners.) .

Can u share why you would even consider park needing to prove himself? given that he havent really played if at all at EPL, is it fair to judge him even on the last match of 2011 base on 1 performance? why do u think anyhow wenger is not playing him?

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. I think Park needs to prove himself because no-one knows if he can be relied on if RvP gets injured. It's not necessarily his fault because he hasn't be given the opportunities to play, so at the moment I think a lot of fans are sceptical. If he gets a chance over Christmas, hopefully he'll take it.

Posted by Irfan on 12/22/2011

Great post Sam, I too agree that they didn't look very sharp. I think creatively we struggle without two wing backs providing width, as both makeshift wing backs looked out of place. What do you think of Frimpong? I think technically he lacks the touch and passing ability of other CM/DCMs although he never shies away from a tackle! Also, who, if anyone, do you think we'll pick up in the January transfer window?

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. I really like Frimpong, he plays the game with a good spirit and isn't afraid to fight for the team. His passing is still short of Song's, and possibly a loan spell with regular football would do him good. I'm hopeful we'll sign a striker, Podolski would be great. With the injury situation, possibly a left back on loan as well, although it's hard to know who to get that's good, and would be available for a loan.

Posted by arsenalDheart on 12/22/2011

hei Sam nice point of views in your blog, however I noticed a few things during the villa game.

Gervinho loves to dribble way too much and sticks at the flanks all the time is obvious that AV defends knew it and always stop him when he dribbles at the flank but when AA23 entered he didn't stick to the flanks he also cut inside that makes confusion to the AV defends much more compared to Gervinho, so I think Gervinho should stop dribbling so often and not stick to the flanks all the time he should cut-inside the middle instead.

And for me I think Benayoun is a much more suitable player to play behind RVP than Ramsey, he is a much more skill-full player compared to Ramsey and his decision making, composure and ball holding is way better than Ramsey, Ramsey game is still not as matured as Wilshere and Benayoun in my opinion he tends to be very clumsy and not good in holding the ball for attacks.

Anyway great blog, so what do you think about my point of views Sam?

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. Agree that Gervinho dribbles a lot, and looks to beat a player on the outside. Adding some variation would make him a more dangerous player. I think Ramsey is still growing into the role behind RvP, and has played some good games there, like Chelsea away. Benayoun adds good experience and is better at holding the ball up, so might get a run in the team.

Posted by Arsenal 4Eva on 12/22/2011

I keep hearing the phrase "...was the sort of game we’d have dropped points in during recent seasons." Is this true? Catchy phrase but not necessarily true. Grit is more evident this season than last. Gone are the days of 60% possession for Arsenal so supporters comfort themselves with this statement. However, I think you sell this team short. This team has used what many Arsenal supporters (me included) would consider average talent and have challenged in the Premier League. What if we had purchased a world class midfielder (e.g Mata)? I do hope that Arsene Wenger solves 2 issues in transfer window. 1. Challenger for Walcott - he has been average or poor in big games. 2. Challenger in the creative area of midfield, a true Attacking Midfielder who can unlock defenses. No need to get a big name - get a big talent. Current squad is aveage at best - Arteta past his prime and plays too cautiously to take advantage of Arsenal method of play.

Posted by Charade on 12/22/2011

As always, a great read. Good summary of the match,and it was a good point to note how our midfield changed when we lacked a defensive midfielder. Funny how Arteta and Alonso were best friends as kids but played different positions... and now they're both playing the same.

Also, pretty incensed at the 'dive' booking.

Posted by ola on 12/22/2011

hey sam,what are the possible transfers that you think wenger could hope for in d strikers' department

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. I think Podolski would be a great signing, also could be available relatively cheaply due to his contract situation. From the Premier League, Odemwingie or Ba could work, although we'd be paying a premium to buy them mid-season from an other Premier League team.

Posted by joseph on 12/22/2011

I'm an arsenal fan and i reali advice wenger to get exprienced an quality players without money considerations dis january

Posted by dele on 12/22/2011

great post my man...i personally dont want too many changes,but introducing ox and benayoun at different time not together would be good...i also want to see arshavin tried in the centre.

Posted by Nwabueze on 12/22/2011

Sam, thanks for your observation. Good footballing is our tradition, but, it could pay at times to just pick the necessary points any how. This period is congested and wearisome for most players, making tactical surprises even expedient. I was warried initially, to have Coquelin at RB, but i was not dissappointed at the end. We really need more playing time for our experienced bench. Benayoun, particularly, was our man of the last UCL march. We can get more from him. We should avoid complacency against Wolves, and any team struglling in that zone. We have paid dearly for such in the past. The results from Chelsea/Spurs, Liverpool/Wigan and New castle/Westbrom all excit me. We can get lucky indirectly. Better days await gunners.

Posted by stuckyk on 12/22/2011

Good summary. I think Wenger will definitely rest some players vs. Wolves. The team must continue to take it one game at a time, and Arsenal will continue to get better and hopefully healthier.

Posted by winn on 12/23/2011

You are right. I think Ox should be let loose. Ramsey really needs a rest.He runs around but not much end product. Still needs to improve. Not sure why he gets so much game time. I think Benayoun should start ahead of Ramsey. It does worry me a bit when we keep our subs till late. We dont want Coquelin wasted at right back. But i guess its good for him to play in different positions before settling in our midfield.

Posted by jay on 12/23/2011

Good post..well said,i think van persie should be rested totally,let chamakh and park earn their coin..gervinho should rest too..i'lld like to see OX come in for the ivorian..arteta and ramsey should make way for benayoun and rosicky with song steadying the ship..sagna will be back very shortly..wolves gun
ned down 3 nil..merry christmas

Posted by Uncle Bear on 12/23/2011

As Wenger said, we were unlucky against ManCity and a bit lucky this time. Luck plays an important part in football for sure. But the team spirit to fight until the last second is also a factor. I have said several times here already that this team is different from the previous ones, we don't play as beautiful football as before but really stick together and fight for the result... something we did not have with Fab and Nasri !!!

Sam, you seem quite sure that we will sign a striker in Jan, you really think Wenger will do that? Who will that be? What do you think about Podolski?

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. I think we have to sign a striker in January, we're so thin in that position that Wenger has to address it. I think Podolski would be a great signing.

Posted by Mike on 12/23/2011

As long as Yossi can get to the middle, he is a huge asset. Time after time he came up big for Liverpool, and when Gerrard started getting injured there was only 1 person to play just behind the striker/be the creative force. As long as he has a stage to work, he'll deliver. I still have an LFC Benayoun Jersey

Posted by aniki on 12/23/2011

it was nice of you to put that mertesacker didn't commit for a foul that probably would get him sent off, because when i saw the goal i thought why mertesacker didn't manage to get the ball before albrighton but after you put it like that i'm thankful for him that he didn't because we can't afford to lose another defender before the january transfer window.

Posted by chike charles on 12/23/2011

Yea my team is d only club in England that plays good football n I just want 2 say 2all gunners let's keep d faith 4 I know we have somethings 2 celebrate ,gunners..... Never say die!!

Posted by Black Hei on 12/23/2011

Oh c'mon, Mertesacker handled the situation so poorly. I think he probably has the slowest acceleration in the entire league. If he knew he can't get there, at least hang back for some defensive cover. Sure he is quite useless when wingers are running at him, but it sure beats having nothing to run at.

Posted by makun olayinka on 12/23/2011

great article, when reading your article about this great club called arsenal am always feeling good!tell wenger to strengthen his defend and the attacking option!

Posted by jogu on 12/23/2011

Hi Sam! Well said, as usual. I don't believe I'm saying this, knowing us Gooners and aesthetics, but the points matter more than the shine. At this time we can't afford to choose. One of the positives of this season is that we are taking points from teams that ruined our campaign before, like Villa, and save for the Blackburn debacle we seem to have learnt something. Yes, we need to get the next six from Wolves and QPR and possibly nine with Fulham. Let's keep going, the Arsenal!

Posted by wole on 12/23/2011

good write up sam!

Posted by Ethan on 12/23/2011

Dear Sam,
I am with you on this, as always.Yup,points are definitely more important.And our fears have been dismissed.
Before going on,I have to apologize to the players on the harsh comment previously.They were actually playing quite well.Fighting spirit was there after the goal but there wasn't any magical moment.The performance dropped when Miquel was introduced.This is maybe AW decided to drop him against Villa.
I would like to commend on performance of Walcott, Coquelin and Benayoun though others were doing fine.They started like having a hangover from Man C game and Villa had a number of chances to kill the game.Guess we were lucky.
There would be tough choices for AW,coming next match.Hope Arshavin rediscovers his magic.
Go Gunners!

Posted by henri on 12/23/2011

I am 85% sure we will not sign a striker in January, Wenger likes to show faith in his players however, if we do, then I hope it is Lucas Podolski! Personally, I hope we can sign a full back, like Wayne bridge, or some obscure guy that can come in and surprise us

Posted by Arsenal 4Eva on 12/23/2011

Please stop with lecturing Wenger on who to buy! All his purchases of his own merit - Henry, Vieira, Toure, Pires have proven to be better than expectations. In the last 4 years his reliance on youth team / reserve development has not been rewarded - I blame Bould! So far his new purchases Koscielny, Vermalaen, Ramsey, Mertesacker are all astute purchases. Stop I beg of all Arsenal fans from lecturing le Prof on what he needs or need not do. Let's hope he can discover the next diamond in the rough and he too can become a legend (almost had it with Cesc too). Did any of you experts know Cesc before he arrived? Shut it and support with heart and soul..jeez

Posted by Victor on 12/24/2011

It is most evident that the team this time round will not buckle easily when they had setbacks and it is also nice to see that they will see out games. The defence despite the various injuries are holding up reasonably well. Lets leave the buying and selling bit to the manager as he is specifically paid to do this job. With all the rumours thta has been flying round and if we had the money we probably be able to have a second team by now.

Anyway, keep pumping out the articles Sam and a happy xmas to you all

Posted by Sam, Jakarta on 12/24/2011

It's sad to know so many players are on injury list...most of them have been on the list for quite sometime now. Why are Arsenal players so injury if "they were made of glasses" as an ESPN TV commentator once said. Why is it so, Mr Lambert? How can Arsenal avoid that?

We need an answer as injury has been a major reason why Arsenal have not won a trophy for such a long time.

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. Our injury record in recent years hasn't been great, but I think it is improving. The GPS system the players have been using over the past year and a half has paid off, particularly for RvP. It's helped us manage his workload and avoid him getting a needless injury.

Posted by Justezma on 12/24/2011

Sam, appreciate ur views bout getting the "W" and jus winning the game. Do u really think we need a striker in January or full-backs? It's really scary that our backline consists mainly of CBs and I don't no bout u, but I get the heebie jeebies when I c Koscielny or Djourou at right back? And with games coming thick and fast, we mite end up seeing Squillaci again...

Posted by blave on 12/24/2011

Merry Christmas to you Sam and the rest of my fellow Gunner fanatics! First I just want to say how much I appreciate your blog and all the discourse.

Keep the wins coming. It was a tough start but Arsenal are overall in fine form now. League title may be a stretch but I will believe we have a decent chance at some silverware still this season.

Believe in and fully support the team with heart and soul yes, but nothing wrong with suggesting another player or two to add extra quality and DEPTH could make the difference, especially up front. Go Gunners!

Posted by gunner138098 on 12/24/2011

We'd be fools to question Wenger's judgement simply because his knowledge of the game is way greater!!but we can ask for your take on whether we should sell Gibbs cos he.'s injuryprone & doesn't add much defensively/offensively!why not sign Wayne Bridge on a permament basis as cover for Santos or vice versa!i agree Gervinho will be a big miss when he leaves for CAN & Theo should play on the lt. wing & AOC on the rt.but may be Riyu could be thrown into the mix?

Posted by Ken. on 12/25/2011

You will all shocked find wenger selling Rvp and probably another player.he might be tempted lets wait and see

Posted by Philip on 12/25/2011

I really hope to see Chamakh be given one final chance to shine.

I really like Chamakh, the guy deserves it.

Posted by sam on 12/25/2011

great points from a very diffcult game...some players need a rest and ramsey iz not convincing..wenger shud try benayoun or rosiscky as support for rvp..

Posted by stephen onyx on 12/25/2011

i wish wenger should buy torres or podolski,n retain much at d back,

Posted by Stanley on 12/26/2011

Sam good write up but Song importance can't be over emphasis,Arteta need 2 wake up and i want Prof to take good decision.up Gunners

Posted by Teeee gunners on 12/27/2011

Let's keep tha faith in wenger i trust;he knows wat to do.

Posted by arsene gunner on 12/27/2011

Player's performance so far:

1) RVP

Exceed Expectation
1) Sczcesny
2) Song
3) Gervinho
4) Koscielny

1) Vermaelen
2) Walcott
3) Santos
4) Arteta

Below Expectation:
1) Ramsey
2) Mertesacker

What you think ?

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. I think you're being very harsh on some players. Aaron Ramsey's form has tailed off slightly in recent weeks, but generally I think he's had a good season. I also rate Per Mertesacker a lot so think that he's been good since he's arrived given he's had to adapt to the Premier League. I also think Vermaelen and Walcott have been above average.

Posted by joni on 12/28/2011

hi sam, i regularly read your blogs and they're great, keep up the great work. do you think arsenal could play with a back 3 whilst sagna, santos, gibbs and jenkinson are out? i know quite a few clubs in serie a play with a back 3 and im sure arsenal could play something like a 3-4-2-1 with koscielny, vermaelen and mertesacker in defence, walcott, song, arteta and gervinho in the '4', benayoun/rosicky and ramsey in the 2 and obviously rvp up front. what are your thoughts?

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. A back three could be an option, but we'd still need wing backs and would probably have to sacrifice someone in central midfield and then rely on Walcott and Gervinho to do a lot of work on the flanks. Would probably be too defensive for us.

Posted by Anonymous on 12/31/2011

Well in the end only 3 things matter Goals for /goals against and POINTS

League leaders $ity 45 points 53/15

Sergio Agüero 13
Edin Dzeko 10
Mario Balotelli 8
David Silva 5
Adam Johnson 5

Arsenal 33 points 34/26
Robin Van Persie 16
Gervinho 4
Mikel Arteta 3
Thomas Vermaelen 3
Theo Walcott 2
Yossi Benayoun 1

If we want to Win we need to get more goals out of someone besides RVP and We need to stop letting in cheap goals like that luck rubbish By Wolves. Adam Johnson has more goals the our #2 goal scorer. What makes that even worse is He did that with only 15 shots while Walcott has taken 39 shots and only has 2 goals to show for it.

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David Young Sam Limbert: My retirement as a football player came at the age of 14 due to being rubbish, it's fair to say I was more Kaba Diawara than Thierry Henry, so I turned my focus to writing about the game. I'm a lifelong Arsenal fan and have been lucky enough to watch the team across England and Europe. My favourite Gunner of all time is Dennis Bergkamp, and the 2004 Invincibles is the greatest side I've ever seen in English football. I try to be positive about the Arsenal as it's the hope that keeps us going! Follow me on twitter @SamsMatchReport.

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