The continuing adventures of the Arsenal Nationalist Challenge – you can read it from the start and follow the guidelines here.
There are eight fixtures in December, so much rotating of the squad to be done and, with any luck, we won’t slip too much further behind the league leaders.
First up are Everton away. The Toffees are in the lower half of the table and Marco Silva is under pressure, but he should be okay against us and our inability to find the net in a Premier League ground other than the Emirates. Whilst Alex Iwobi has taken his pace (and not much else…?) to Goodison, there isn’t a great amount to fear from this lot, I feel. Any side that plays Cenk Tosun as the fulcrum of its attack isn’t to be treated too seriously, right? And so it proves. Everton offer little in terms of threat. Silva makes the frankly bizarre decision to play left winger Iwobi in central midfield, and they give Leno a bit of an afternoon off. Luckily for them we’re as toothless as ever. There are some good chances, all fluffed, and the match ends with hopeful long shots from my brave boys that go nowhere. 0-0, back end of Match of the Day fare. Oh well.
In our midweek game we’re at home to Watford. As our risible away form continues to keep us off the pace this is one we have to win and indeed we should piss it, quite frankly. Former Gunner Danny Welbeck is in the Hornets attack, but on the whole they’re a pretty average opponent, with only Gerard Deulofeu serving as someone on whom we need to keep watch. Again we’re lumpy and listless. It’s as though we’re playing in a shell, working hard not to concede anything but refusing to take advantage of our pace in attack, and it’s especially irritating as there’s nothing to fear except apparently fear itself. Mesut Ozil scores on the cusp of half-time to spare our blushes, and a little later on David Luiz scuffs his penalty kick to keep it at 1-0, which turns out to be your final result. The points are good. The performance is a concern.
On the road again and if we can’t bag a victory at Aston Villa, rock bottom on five points, then we might as well give up and go home. In this one I start thinking it might be my fault. Away from home I tend to opt for Rice as a defensive midfielder and drop Ozil to the bench, which makes sense for reasons that should be obvious, but it adds a note of caution to our game where it maybe isn’t necessary. It’s only late on, the match goalless and time ebbing away, that I make the decision to bring on the bug-eyed hero and he sparks a blizzard of attacks rewarding us with two goals and our first away win in ages. Pepe finds the net, as does Ozil, and there are more questions for me to consider.
AIK at home is a nice contrast from the tension of the league and a celebration of our group winning exploits in the Europa League. Fielding the second team we simply run riot against considerably lesser opposition. Reiss Nelson claims the match ball for scoring four goals. Willock, Smith Rowe and Ozil add to their accounts as we sweep to a majestic 7-0 walkover that is entirely warranted. It’s been fun. The group has been royally smote with not a point dropped, 25 goals scored and a mere two conceded. For our troubles we will face Sparta Prague in the first knockout round. The board expects me to make it to the final – this in a competition that still contains the likes of Napoli, Borussia Dortmund and a certain Manchester United.
We maintain our fine form at home in the league with a forgettable 1-0 result against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Pepe hits his penalty kick straight at Patricio in the first half, before Demarai Gray latches onto Ozil’s through ball to put us into a decisive lead. The other talking point is a clumsy challenge by Traore on Bellerin that will keep the full-back out for a month. Thanks for that.
Christmas is looming, and our treat is entertaining Liverpool at the Emirates. You’ll recall them beating us in the season opener so there are thoughts of revenge on our minds, and added to that is an opportunity handed to Mesut Ozil. The German has been complaining about his lack of appearances, a strange moan as he’s played often enough. But it occurs to me that perhaps this should be his chance to shine. He’s supposed to be our best outfield player, after all, and this might just be the chance to place him in the shop window. Coooo-eeee Paris Saint-Germain, over heeeere! As it is Ozil doesn’t disappoint, or at least he’s in the line-up for a winning performance. The Pool are without Salah, and they’re leggy after being taken to extra time in their midweek Carabao tie, so it’s a good time to play them and we prevail 2-0. This I put down to superior fitness. Lacazette and a rare Ceballos screamer do the damage, while Luiz and Sokratis continue to impress in keeping Roberto Firmino firmly under wraps.
Ozil stays in the lineup for our Boxing Day trip across London to Crystal Palace. He’s impressive, laying off a killer ball for Pepe to pounce in the first minute before Lacazette scores to put us two up with most of the match still to play. Pepe adds a third late in the second half as it becomes clear who has prepared fully for this and who’s plied the anonymous Zaha with eggnog the night before. Roy Hodgson gets sacked as a consequence of this defeat, a result that propels Palace into the bottom three. They’ll replace him with Claude Puel, which to my mind doesn’t sound like a glorious answer to their problems. At least Roy will get more time to play Warhammer.
A busy holiday period climaxes with Manchester City at home. The opposition are a point ahead of us in first place and if that isn’t going to make us raise our game then I don’t know what is. As daunting as City always sound, in reality they are riddled with injuries. Sane, Bernardo, Cancelo, Fernandinho, Ederson and Mahrez are all out. De Bruyne and Aguero are pretty much running on empty, so this is a unique opportunity to do some rotating, with Nelson, Holding and Guendouzi all starting. We score with 39 minutes on the clock via Demarai Gray, but it’s 2-1 to the visitors at half-time. A defensive lapse in concentration allows the lethal Aguero through to fire past Leno, and moments later an Ozil foul outside the area gives De Bruyne the chance to produce one of his specials. I bollock the players at the break, more through frustration at a victory that should be ours slipping through our fingers. But it does the job. City’s efforts have obviously drained them. They’re done in, and our superior fitness tells as we enter the game’s final fifteen minutes. The unlikely hero is Ainsley-Maitland Niles, who’s on for the wilting Ceballos. From midfield he scores a quick brace, and then Lacazette confirms the points as the Blues launch late attacks into our area and we take advantage with a speedy counter.
A victory that puts us atop the Premier League as we enter 2019 then, with a mighty fine goal difference and, critically for season expectations, a ten point gap between ourselves and Chelsea. We’ve beaten the away hoodoo and downed some very good sides at the Emirates. To show their gratitude Sir Chips and his groovy pals offer me a new, three year contract, which will pay me an additional £25,000 per week. I ask for an increased transfer budget as a condition for signing it, which they graciously reply to by stumping up an extra hundred grand with the caveat that I have to land them the league title. Er, you’re okay, fellas.