Sczcesny, Fabianski or ANother next season?

A couple of well respected regulars have been debating who should be our nr.1 goal keeper.        Fabianski has done well this year, proving to be a safe pair of hands throughout the FA cup campaign. Szczesny is having a decent season, but just does not seem to be able to leave out his mad max moments in most of his games, putting his team in danger without any or little reason.

Szczesny is an extrovert chancer whereas Fabianski is more introvert and focused. Both have been prone to errors in the past and are not the finished article, but they have potential and goalkeepers reach their peak usually a lot later than their on field players.

I am interested in hearing the views of the wider Gunners’ fan base: who should be in goal for Arsenal next season: Fabianski, Szczesny or should we buy some one – and if so, who?

Over to you fine fellow Gooners!

TotalArsenal.

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4-4-2 till the end the season? Arsenal – West Ham Afterthoughts

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After the FA cup semi-final game against Wigan I was critical of both Cazorla and Podolski. I felt they did not do anywhere near enough to justify the trust Wenger put in them, their seniority in the team and the wages they collect every Friday afternoon. But yesterday, against the Hammers, they both performed significantly better, powered on by the veteran playmaker Rosicky behind and around them.

Cazorla played with a lot more zest and invention, even occasionally taking on defenders in and around the box to make things happen. He added another dimension to our attack yesterday, benefitting from Rosicky’s drive and willingness/ability to motor on our attack.

The other big positive yesterday was the Pod’s brace. We all know that if there is a chance in the box, Lulu is the man who should be at the end of it. His hammer of a left foot is absolutely deadly, especially in the box.

This has made me think again about what to do with the Pod: should we keep him and where should we play him in our formation/team?

The problem with him is other than a great finisher, and the occasional attempts to go past his man on the left flank and get the ball in the box, he does not offer much to the team. Wenger does not appear to like these sort of players: we only have to think about Arshavin, who although  a different kind of ‘left winger’ – let’s face it, neither of them really are – also had special individual attacking qualities but was neither blessed with great stamina and team spirit.

Without Theo, Jack and Ozil, the Ox still learning and Rosicky unlikely to play each and every game till the end of the season with the same vigour as last night, will Wenger opt for what looks like a 4-4-2 formation during the last games of the season? With Giroud (or Sanogo) our main target man and the Pod feeding off him with the same hunger and deadliness as he did against the Hammers?

Could this be Arsene’s new Plan B?

I thought it looked like we did indeed play more or less in a 4-4-2 formation, albeit with the full backs providing most of the width. Rosicky helped the DM-pivot duo of Arteta and (the growing on me) Kallstrom in the middle to keep things tight (and we have been looking a lot better defensively over the last two games, despite the two goals conceded), whilst Cazorla seemed to revel in his free role behind the two central attackers (with Rosa adding thrust and creativity).

I have little doubt that a 4-4-2 formation could be a safe way towards gathering as much points as possible till the end of the season, especially with Ramsey (and soon Ozil) coming back to full fitness and Kallstrom and Flamini being available too. But will it mean a lot of crosses into the box, with both Pod and Giroud attacking them, and with Cazorla lurking for any scraps?

Would this formation suit Pod best?

And finally, would Wenger really go back to such basic formation, even just as a temporary measure to keep us above Everton?

Over to you, FFGs :)

TotalArsenal

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BFG shows character, Pod and Santi disappoint, Fab saves us: Arsenal – Wigan Afterthoughts

Our real leader: the BFG.

Our real leader: the BFG.

We knew it would not be easy, and boy did we make it hard for ourselves yesterday. A game of great contrast: Wigan had nothing to fear, with an FA cup in the cupboard and Man City eliminated already this season; but we had almost everything to lose. And it showed.

The recent demoralising – some might say devastating – defeats against title and CL-place contenders Chelsea and Everton, as well as the loss against Stoke and the late equaliser against Swansea, have clearly had an incredible, and under Wenger unprecedented, impact on our players.

I really cannot recall an Arsenal game like this against a ‘minor’ team under Wenger. We were nervous, restless and had very little flow to our football. There appears to be little belief by our players in their qualities and our game plan, as well as any form within the team. But what we cannot say about our players is that they did not give everything yesterday to turn things round and try to win at all costs.

And despite the lack of flow and quality by our boys, they were the better team yesterday and deserved to come out as winners. Wenger had limited options for his starting eleven but I was pleased to see Sanogo start ahead of the knackered and unfocussed Giroud. Sanogo is clearly a work in progress: a raw diamond that needs a lot of sharpening up in the workshop. But what he gives us is energy and unpredictability and I liked what I saw from him yesterday for the entire 120 minutes. He is not ready to be our nr2 striker for the foreseeable future though, before anybody starts jumping on my back! ;)

For me, the real problem was that the two most experienced and successful in front of goal players – Podolski and Carzola – just were not able to influence the game enough: to add that bit of control and quality on which the whole team can build. And for what they earn and the responsibility they have been given by Wenger, this is not good enough. Both players need to play in a free role and depend heavily on the hard work of others in the team, and it was once more obvious that they cannot make our play.

We knew this about Podolski but some believed Cazorla’s best position is in the hole…. I think we know now for sure that he is not suitable for this: too slow, too ponderous and not demanding enough. I like Santi and there is a future for him in the team, but he disappointed me again yesterday. The same goes for Podolski who has ‘moments’ in every game but just does not influence the game anywhere near enough to justify a start. A super-sub for me, but I reckon he will be gone next season.

It was really good to see Ramsey back and he tried hard to motor on our team. Clearly, he is not fit enough to make a significant difference yet, but that will come. Arteta evidently struggled at times but he never gave up and fought through his self-doubts with a steely determination, which I really like about him. And his penalty, the all important first one for the team, was class.

Ox worked his socks off and was desperate to make a difference in this game. It is still clear he is also a work in progress with plenty of weaknesses to improve on, but as an attacking driver for the team he has made massive progress. He was our most dangerous man both in terms of creating and taking chances and let’s hope he will stay fit for the remainder of the season, to add the much needed thrust to our football.

I loved Mertesacker’s goal after an uncharacteristic, nervous mistake (against a player in front of him for once!) that led to Wigan’s goal from the penalty spot. There is something very pure about the BFG: he gives his all and knows about his weaknesses, yet he will give his all to get the very best out of himself – and that goal epitomised him. What you see is what you get and the man fights for our shirt with all he has got. For that we’ve got to love him.

Sagna, Mr Reliable, was once again fantastic: what a club player he is for us. Gibbs did well taking over from Monreal, but the man of the match was undoubtedly Fabianski.

He had little to do during the game, but as we were just not able to control our nerves and apply some much needed composure up-front in 120 minutes of football – except for BFG’s desperate goal and Ox’s fierce goal attempts – it was our other Polish keeper who became the unexpected hero.

There are two sorts of goalkeepers: the uber-confident, extrovert ones and the calm, calculated, introvert ones. Szczesny (and the Wigan goalie) belongs to the former and Fabianski (and Seaman) to the latter. I loved the way he stayed calm and on one spot for each penalty: focussing on the opponent and figuring them out, rather than behaving like an ape and trying to put the opponent off, like his opposite number did. Fab also has a very fine diving technique and he guessed right almost every time.

He made the real difference yesterday and is the reason we are in the FA Cup final. I hope we are still able to sign him up, and if not, that he will find a fine club where he can be the nr.1 goalkeeper for the rest of his career. This he deserves.

So, Hull in the final and still a great chance to win the FA cup. But the Hammers are up next and they will smell blood and tired bodies. More character will be required from our players and we, the fans, need to stay fully behind them.

TotalArsenal.

 

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Six PL games to go: where will Arsenal finish?

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Technically, the double is still a possibility, but even the biggest optimist will have given up by now.

If it was not for the incredible bonus of still being in the FA-cup, with a great chance to win it this time round, we would feel quite deflated right now. Having been top of the league for so long, it looks like we have to battle it out for fourth place once more; and our game against the Toffees this weekend will be another game of the season event.

For me and many other Gooners, it is this annual déjà-vu experience that is so frustrating: the realisation that we once again are not able to push through to the next level – that feeling that we are standing still. Whether we win the FA-cup or not, deep down we know that we are still short of breaking into the very top of national and international football. As such, it constantly feels we are not making much, if any, progress.

This, however, does not take away the importance of winning the FA cup this season. For all the young guys in this team it is just the tonic they need. I want the likes of Ramsey, Gibbs, Ox, Wilshere (hopefully), Jenkinson, Szczesny, and one or two others who form our long-term future, to experience winning something; and they will not get a better opportunity to do so.

The optimists – often also Wenger-loyalists – point towards key injuries and/or the fact that transition takes time. The doomers point towards lack of tactical qualities of the manager, or lack of player purchases and/or lack of investments – having ‘real balls’ – by our major shareholder. I said last season that I would give Wenger one more season to start making real progress, and will leave it till the end of the season to pull my conclusions.

Looking at our remaining six games, they are all winnable; and if we beat Everton this weekend it might well spur us on to get 18 out 18, which would leave us with 82 points at the end of the season. Now, where would that leave us?

Remaining games of current top four:

Arsenal: West Ham, Newcastle United and West Brom at home; Everton, Hull, Norwich away.

Liverpool: Man City, Chelsea and Newcastle United at home, West Ham, Norwich, Crystal Palace away.

Chelsea: Stoke, Sunderland, Norwich at home; Swansea, Liverpool and Cardiff away.

Man City: Southampton, Sunderland, West Brom, West Ham and Aston Villa at home; Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Everton away.

Current League table:

Liverpool: Played 32, 71 points (GD 49)

Chelsea: Played 32, 69 points (GD 38)

Man City: Played 30, 67 points (GD 67)

Arsenal: Played 32, 64 points (GD 19)

Everton: Played 31, 60 points (GD 18)

Liverpool are on a role, but I predict it will come to an end soon. I can see them drop points in at least four of their remaining six games and we might well still catch up with them.

The Chavs have the easiest run-in of all of our competitors and they remain the favourites to win the league. I really hope they don’t, but I reckon they will. They might drop points against Liverpool but should be able to win the rest…. We need another surprise away loss by the Chavs to catch up with them and let’s hope there will be a couple of Welsh Whirlwinds blowing….

Man City are only three points ahead of us but have two games in hand. With five winnable home games they should be uncatchable for Arsenal, although they could drop a lot of points against the Liverpool clubs and CP. If they were to drop two to four points at home, we could still catch up with them, but let’s face it, this is highly unlikely.

So, in fairness, the PL title is a battle between the current top-three, and unless all three slip up disproportionately we will not win the league, even if we were to win all six remaining games. However, there is still every incentive to try and win each and every game, both to secure a top-four finish and see whether we can still finish third or even higher.

Let’s continue to OGAAT and finish as strong as possible: fight for every point till the end.

COYG! :)

Just for fun, a few questions for debate:

Who will win the league and why?

Other than Arsenal, who would you like to win the league and why?

What will be the top-five at the end of the season?

What was, according to you, an acceptable finish for Arsenal at the start of the season?

What is an acceptable finish for Arsenal as things stand now?

Do you feel the club has made progress this season and why?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

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Arsenal-City Review: Is this the (latest) season changer?

The Flame

The Flame

First up, read nothing but this! Not only am I a great writer but all the others are misleading. This feeling of course is true of any match report and news. Read enough and you can find any interpretation you want. I read many, all of which said that in the first half City owned Arsenal. Oh, and we were lucky.

Second, for those who wondered, no, I never expected my 4-2-4-0, but a man can dream a little, no? :)

Hmm, so I got to watch on Arsenal TV, courtesy of Sky Sport who likely scheduled it to show a blood bath, mostly for those who also watch NASCAR for the crashes.

Half 1: I saw City get the one and it was deserved. Good break, good shot and good rebound finish. Equally, well defended over a turnover, forced the worst available shot, which was unfortunately excellent and off the post or Scz and the post. And once you’ve the rebound like that, well it’s anyone’s story.

Each side had moments forward and some pressure. City had more shots, but few of any threat or intent. Arsenal had less BUT they were probing a lot more. Just missing going forward in the last effort. Equally several opportunities to get something in the box. For motion with intent we had less ball but, really it was a game of midfield back and forth. City, more ball and shots, Arsenal more threat/probing.

The common factor, both sides defended really well as a team and both did so relatively deep. Key point CM noted. City and DeMechelis were slightly the better. Arsenal were also the less lucky, the rebound (admittedly after pressure) and a realistic contact and penalty not called early on.

Players of the half? OG was very good but a bit lonely. Team defense and Gibbs especially, also. Pod going forward, not so much going back (thank you Gibbs), and TR was always present, almost opposite of Yaya interestingly.

Who won the half? On points, clearly City, on pressure, perhaps Arsenal. How can I say that with less possession and less shots? Well 3 yellows to City to 1 to Arsenal, and invisible Yaya (Toure), and a large number of corners to Arsenal for a team with lesser possession, shows that we were winning, if only just a very very little, most places BUT the all important scoreboard. Still we were forward enough and with some threat just not quite coming off. As we now know the second half would bear a bit of all that out..

Half 2: I won’t reiterate in detail, really. Very much like the first half but we had more possession so the game ended almost equal. Again, with few exceptions Yaya was invisible. The one time,  early in the half at 50mins saw them with a great chance well covered by Scz whose luck turned on rebounds from the first half.

One minute later, it’s all open, and first TR and then Santi are at goal with venom. And then in this open phase, at 52:44, FLAMINIIIIIII!

All that probing that the pundits were calling useless or signs of failure .. Well, one probes not to always score, but to eventually score. The eventually came despite still very good team defending by City.

This ushered  in some Arsenal dominance and almost immediately Sagna offers an almost second goal cross. We were definitely on top in ways the pundits said City were in the first half. But, for real.

This ushers in my thoughts on pundits and The Jordan Effect. If Michael Jordan did something ridiculous, it was amazing and he got the foul! Anyone else was an idiot. Seems that way with Arsenal, so read nothing but your unbiased correspondent here! :)

Then the Pod almost got it for us… Then and then and … We were definitely playing with them.

The rest played out as we know. We won half two decisively but not dominantly, and they did get some opportunities as befits a top team in any game, and thus we were not dominant or lucky enough to pull it out. A “fair” draw in my final thoughts on it.

Overall: lots of good probing, lots of good team defense, and what looked like two top teams having an even or near even go at it. City don’t leave thinking we aren’t top tier and neither should we in my opinion despite our penchant for a wee touch of gloom.

Player of the game: Demichelis, his defense was the extra thing that kept it for City. My opinion but he was disruptive everywhere.

Luckiest keeper: Draw. Both were lucky once.

Impact player: Draw Flamini and Rosicky, with honorable mention to Sagna who very quietly had about 8m crosses in.

Invisible players: TV, Yaya, Nasri. Not bad but not there really. Not OG who was part of the goal with good hold up, but also somewhat lonelier as we sat back a touch. Something we must solve if we play more this way, although the injured would help there with more B2B types off field just now.

Now my thoughts on signs and portents: No, Prince, I am not a believer but for lightening pre-match it was fun. However, I will point out I got the deeper defense, lineup, and half the final score right. Don’t knock the burnt offerings! :)

So, will this be the end of season changer?

I have to believe that our confidence will be lifted. We played well and evenly for the most  part with what is likely the top team in the league. My thoughts:

A. Confidence should be high just when we need it to get through the injuries and the season well. We may not win the rest of our games but we could. The same for all our competitors so…

B. We can play well with a very depleted team, which again has to help going forward and next year.

C. Our need for steal down the middle is clear, though we did well today. TV to DM might be a better deal than trying to find the perfect beast DM for many £.

But, will it change the season?? Well, like the burnt offerings, it’s hard to tell. But, back to my portents.

I was at church with family having seen the scoreline. Sat there contemplating as one does and of course “football is life” when suddenly the ground is shaking. Yet another bloody earthquake here in Christchurch, though a mere 4.0 it was shallow and thus relatively intense in shaking.

So, I was contemplating life and Arsenal and many things. At church… and the earth moved !!

Read into it what you will!! :)

Cheers — jgc

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Arsenal-City Preview & Ideal Line-up: 4-2-4 with FlamTV in ’2′!

Laurent Koscielny Arsenal

Of portents, signs and not much tactics…My very short match preview, if you will.

Normally, I’d be all about tactics and how to play the game, maximise our strengths and so on. But, time, tide, injuries and such have taken their toll. So, today, a bit of a metaphysical approach. First, the “context”.

For me, this is now a “nothing to lose” game. The “must win” before the last game or two was if we’d won or drawn Chavs and beaten Swansea. It would have been the 3rd of my 3 top games of March (Spurs, Chavs, City).  So far, we are 1W and 1L (followed by a draw against Swansea).

Now, the must win games are Everton and Wembley (at least nearer term)…

Bigger picture.

I didn’t expect to win the league, so that we are close and will hopefully remain so, is good enough. We are in the picture for one of the better trophies so should be happy about that. For those disbelieving regulars on this site, re-read the tone after 3-1 loss at home to AV in game 1…  My overall take, we are not so bad as the last two, and not quite so good as the first 65% of the season that came after the AV game #1. Without injuries it is far closer to the latter than the former, and so be it…

Now on to the game tomorrow / today itself.. I think we need to focus defensively and play our game. Not too aggressive. The first 20 mins are our downfall or our victory all too often. I think we play for the 0-0 or 1-0 stolen win, given the cast of players available. My lineup, I have two, the “standard” and the “jgc chefs special”. I expect the first, which is:

ars v mc conservative

I see Flamini wanting to make up for last time and we still need some steel.

Now the chef’s special.

This one says that if you stop Yaya you are a long way to stopping City. Of course, easily written in a few key strokes and they’ve plenty of others to step up and attack but basically, it’s time to clog the middle and I think for those who want to see something really different:

ars v mc full on

Yes, gentelfolk, the world famous 4-2-4-0. Nothing says I want to hammer any ***hole who comes down the middle like Flamini-TV5 in the middle. Rosicky will have to drop more to provide some service forward perhaps.. Kallstrom has played outside back and can again methinks, if you are worried about Jenks.. The front 4 can be more fluid and will have to work forward and with some aggro as needed, but Rosicky, Pod and Ox are all comfortable going forward at the front if needed and perhaps that would open up some “threat” we have not been able to with all our injuries. Finally, I have a major prize for anyone who a) believes this will happen; and if b) it does actually happen!!

Now, onto the omens, because tactics aside, with all these injuries, it’s gotta be about the burnt offerings and reading the chicken innards. So, here goes…

The SIGN: I wore my Arsenal jersey today for the first time in awhile, mostly due to different reasons of not being able to on prior game days. I have not worn it since we were last winning lots, as happens.

The PORTENT: Was out riding a kids duathlon course with my 7 and 10 year olds this afternoon. The 10 year old blasted ahead as he does, I was with the 7 year old. Anyway, he’s a bit of a dreamer and, how shall we say, tends to use all the footpath, as he looks about at everything. In doing this and going around/between a couple of people while riding in front of me, he loses it on a small footpath edge and falls .. Of course right in front of me.

I have few options here. There are people and small dogs everywhere (and I know how Gerry is about running over dogs!), but I am headed right towards his neck (likely also bad). So, swerving to a side we put several years of bicycle racing experience to work and bunny hop him. Sadly, not clipped in like the old days so height is limited, but I miss him and do my first ollie over the handlebars in 20 years (it’s not magically gotten any more fun, I have to say!).

The OMENS:

The bad ones: Well, we crashed and there were huge tears (not to mention the 7 year old :) ). Equally, I dislocated a finger and his perfect 7 year old chin is marred by a small cut from his helmet straps.

The good ones: Well, the ladies cricket team was there playing and rushed to our aid, and both he and I like sporty young women. He eventually did ride the 6km home, an attractive 20-something physio cricketer helped me stop from pointing left whenever I meant forward.

The great one: My Arsenal jersey was unmarked or damaged.

So, read what you will into all that… I am calling it either 1-0 Arsenal or 37M – 3 City. It’s all about the first 20 mins for us lately so…

Gentleman (and Ladies)….

Find your couch (to hide behind)!!

cheers — jgc

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Arsenal v Swansea afterthoughts: Another PL title bites the dust

For those who have not been lucky enough to go to an evening home game, I can tell you the stadium is absolutely magnificent in the evening darkness – both on the outside and inside. It shines, everything is squeaky clean and you have a feeling – especially when you are packed away right towards the back, under the gigantic roof of the North Bank – that you are ‘spectating’ the game in an enormous cinema.

I walked towards the stadium from the Highbury and Islington tube stadium, after meeting a few friends in the home-supporters-dedicated Arsenal pub ‘The White Swan’. It was great to see so many people playing football, jogging, playing netball, doing yoga, etc in the park on the way to the ground. On evenings like these London is simply irresistible. It is just great that our new stadium fits so well – so naturally – into the area, as if it has always been there; as if a gigantic spaceship has squeezed itself cosily into the warm nest of the good part of North London (go and visit the also ‘recently’ build Sunderland and Mansour City grounds for example, and you know what I mean).

The Game

Arsenal started with good intentions but it became quickly clear that this would not be an easy evening for us. It just hung there in the air. You could sense it throughout the whole stadium and the early – far too easy – goal by Bony turned this collective fear soon enough into stone cold reality. Bony’s opener was the sort of goal you expected us to score against inferior opposition a long time ago: a simple cross into the box and the striker outruns and out-jumps the defender: 1 – 0. It belonged to a different, pre-millennium era; yet we had it inflicted on us by Swansea yesterday.

The fans stayed behind the team and sent out encouragement, and the players tried their best to get back into it. But our attacking efforts looked laboured and lacked invention and movement, and everyone had to dig very, very deep to somehow make things happen. Just before we scored the equaliser in the second part of the second half, I was asking myself why we were no longer using the left wing. The pattern of our attacks was continuously the same: try to break through the middle with complicated 1-2-3s, and if we cannot get through, give the ball to Sagna.

Swansea were quite happy for the Frenchman to have it on their left: he will either cross it into the box where there is only Giroud to deal with (and there were far too few runs into the box by our midfielders), or he will play it back to one of the midfielders; who will once again try to break through the very well set up central defensive wall of the Jacks…

Luckily, within just 66 seconds, first Gibbs and then Podolski were finally able to breach the wall from the left for our two goals (which I saw right in front of me, luckily), and the supporters at last woke from their collective slumber. There was a real sense of relief and renewed hope throughout the ground. Unfortunately, this did not last long; as the team did not seem to know whether to attack for the third or sit back to protect the slender lead, the fans grew uneasy again very quickly. There was a real lack of leadership during this period on and off the pitch, and the substitutions did not help much either.

The cruel O.G. by Flamini sealed our faith, and the last bit of hope that we could still challenge for the title this season disappeared into the cold North London night for good.

In conclusion.

There was no lack of trying or hunger in the team, but what we did lack was freshness (especially Giroud looked like a spent force), imagination and self-belief. We played one-dimensional, predictable football, and as a team we just could not break the spell we were under.

The question I asked myself during the game was: How many of these players will play next season, if say we added a quality DM and CF/LW in the summer and everybody is fit?

The back four and GK will be pretty similar, with only Koscielny replacing TV5. But in midfield and attack we would not see many of yesterday night’s starters back, I reckon. All of them: Arteta, Flamini, Ox, Rosicky, Cazorla and Giroud will still have a place in our squad and they can all add value to our team; but with so many key players injured, collectively, they were just not able to reach the required level to deservedly beat Swansea.

Fatigue and low self-confidence will have played a role in this, but a lack of collective quality was also apparent. Of all these players, Ox has great potential to develop into a first team regular, but the rest will very likely become back up players or have to fight for their place. And as long as they do not have to play all at the same time, this is absolutely fine.

Theo would have added pressure and thrust on the right. Ozil and Wilshere would have added composure, thrust and invention through the middle and from the wings, and Ramsey’s box to box engine is missed more than anything else right now.

But it seems all of these players are not available for Saturday’s encounter with the Northern Oilers and Wenger and Bould will have to work their magic to somehow get this team ready for battle. Maybe KK, who did some nice stuff when he came on, will hold the key….

Let’s all flock to Cornwall on Saturday to position ourselves behind GLIC’s sofa. :P

But as always, let’s keep the faith and support the team till the end.

TotalArsenal.

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