The Day Today

Morning all.

Let’s start with some football talk shall we? Well, yes we shall.

First up I should probably mention that as expected, Seville overcame AEK Athens in their Champions League qualifier second leg with a 4-1 trouncing of the Greek champions. A resounding 6-1 aggregate win sees the men with the oranges put the UEFA Super Cup defeat by AC Milan and the tragic death of Antonio Puerta behind them to join Arsenal, Slavia Prague and Steaua Bucharest in Group H. Even with the addition of Seville, the current UEFA Cup champions, this group looks decidedly winnable and I really can’t foresee any problems for Arsenal in qualifying from it – probably as winners. Then, no doubt we’ll have to play Barcelona at the first available opportunity. With the way the team is playing at the moment and assuming we get a nice draw in the 16, I see no reason why we can’t reach the quarters or semis without breaking much of a sweat.

And therein lays the answer to the question of why we have so many midfielders. I was pondering this t’other day and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why we’d bought Diarra (who is undoubtedly quality) when we already have Diaby, Denilson, and Flamini. Flamini apart (who I think is still a solid squad player) that is some bench to have. 3 potential first choice internationals just sitting around waiting for a chance to shine when Cesc or Bert are out. But then when you consider that some will get Carling Cup runs, some Champions League experience, FA Cup matches and league games, you can see that we need legs. Lots of legs. There is no question that central midfielders do the lion’s share of the running around and with AW’s youth policy and his buying wicked players policy, I can see him using all 6 players quite regularly. It’s not so much squad rotation, but using the “minor” competitions for giving them experience and then having options available for the bigger matches. This is the only reason I can see that would make Diarra sign for us when he left Chelsea in search of regular football. I expect him and Diaby to partner Denilson in the cup games and “take turns” in subbing on in the league. Either way, I’m happy we’ve got Diarra, and I’m very happy about having such a good central midfield lineup.

Onto the Afghan Hound look-alike, Robbie Savage then.

“Van Persie did a piece in the paper slaughtering us, which is wrong. It’s a man’s game. It’s physical. You’re going to get stuck in and make tackles. And they do that, so it’s very hypocritical of them.”

Who’da thunk we’d be cited for being a bunch of hard men? Anyway, it makes me chuckle that these Blackburn players and their manager keep coming out saying stuff about us moaning. Touched a nerve, have we? Guilty conscience? Either way, it’s still funny that Robbie Savage thinks he can criticise anybody. Take a look in the mirror pal.

Some good news for football. Dennis Bergkamp has been voted into the Football Hall of Fame. Congrats to Den, but also well done to all those that voted. It would have been a travesty if the Dutch legend hadn’t made the cut. Watching him play was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my footballing life. He is, and always will be, my hero. I don’t think there has ever been a player that did what Dennis did in the way that he did it. The special moments are too numerous to recount, but remember the goals against Leicester and that one against Newcastle and you will realise that Dennis was something very, very special and we were all privileged to watch him play in the red and white.  Gefeliciteerd Dennis.

Finally, Danny Fiszman has said he wants to take a more active role in the club and that no oligarch is getting his oily, steely hands on his shares. I promised myself that I wouldn’t write any more on this subject because I think I’ve said all I need to say on the matter, but I thought it was worth mentioning that Diamond Danny is stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing.

Sadly, it’s time for work. I’ll be thinking of you…

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Thoughts On Dein’s ‘Return’ To Arsenal

By now, you are probably well aware of the acquisition of 14.58% of Arsenal FC by Russian Alisher Uzmanov and his holdings company, Red & White.  You are also probably aware of their decision to appoint the former owner of those 14.58% stake shares, David Dein as their Chairman.

So what does it mean for Arsenal?  Is it good news, or bad?  Well, the simple answer is no one knows.  People have their opinions, and I’m not one to tell you if they are right or wrong, so all I can do is give you my own.

Based on what we do know about Uzmanov, we can assume that he will endeavour to buy up more shares in the club.  People like him aren’t going to be happy with shelling out £75m to just have a slice of the pie.  They will want the whole pie.  And probably the peas, mash and gravy too.

The appointment of Dein as chairman I see as trying to put a ‘friendly’ face on the front of a takeover bid.  Some will argue that Dein was always around as he held his 14.58% even though he wasn’t part of the setup anymore after getting into bed with Stan Kroenke.  But now things are worse.  Now he is doing the dirty work of a Russian oligarch and every single thing he does will seem like an ulterior motive, no matter how much he protests he has the best interests of the club at heart.  And that is what worries me.  He will now be trying to please his new boss, and at the same time trying to realise his vision for Arsenal FC.

No doubt his return will be welcomed by Wenger and some of the players.  If you believe everything you read, there’s a chance Henry will return in January because the reason for his departure is now invalid.  Ok, so that’s not strictly true, and by strictly I mean not at all.  But it is true that some staff at the club will welcome their old friend back.  But as I’ve mentioned, he never really went away.  With his personal holdings, Dein was 14.58% of the club and to that end he had certain rights.  They just weren’t the same as when he was the voice of the board.  Now he’s the voice of Uzmanov.  A third party.  And someone who is not entirely savoury.  You can bet your bottom rouble that the Uzmanov/Dein dream team will not be so quiet and unassuming as Kroenke has been (which is to his credit given the uproar caused by his stake acquisition).  As with all investments they will wanta return from it and given his past history, Uzmanov will expect Dein to make this return significant.

These are testing times for the board.  Now sitting in the shareholder’s meetings are two foreign investors, both of whom have designs on acquiring the whole club as their personal plaything and cash cow.  With an agreement in place that none of the board will sell any of their personal shares (which totals 45%) for at least a year (now probably 9 months) they are ok.  Just wait until that non-selling contract runs out, and all Hell breaks loose.  It’s going to be mental.  And in the middle of it all, the smiling face of Tango-man Dein.

My personal view is that Arsenal is a shining example of how a club should be run.  A board of fans (albeit rich fans) controlling the majority of shares, and a few private investors.  Money is generated solely by the club’s successes and not through some sugar daddy.  All this is now under threat from a big fat Russian and a moustachioed American.  All the years of history and tradition are in danger of being lost in favour of turning the club into the new Chelsea, and if that happens then I’m sure I won’t be alone is losing my passion for the club I’ve supported all my life.  Results and trophies are what it’s all about, but buying your way to them is not something that sits well with me.  We don’t begrudge Man Utd their success as they have earned it over years of good results.  That is what we are aiming for.  Well, were aiming for.  The fact that they are a pack of despicable ***** is largely irrelevant.  Chelsea were always a mediocre club, with little tradition or history and for the most part, just making up the numbers.  Now, you know what happened to them and you know how much they are despised by very large proportion football fans.  We don’t want to be that.  We have been moving in the right direction under Wenger all on our own, and if it is destroyed by these new investors then it will be a hard pill to swallow.

 Oh yeah, you may remember that Arsenal also qualified for the group stages of the Champions League.  We were drawn into group H along with Slavia Prague, Steaua Bucharest and one of AEK Athens or Seville.

I’m off to mope.  Catch you later

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Arsenal Cruise Into Champions League Group Stages

It’s true.  We did.

A 5-0 aggregate win overall, with a 3-0 win on the night did flatter us slightly, but if you were to ask Manuel Almunia how difficult he found the second leg, he’d probably say, “zzzzzzzz,” because he’d still be so bored after the toothless performance of Sparta Prague.  In truth, the game was over as a spectacle in the 7th minute when Tomas Rosicky arrived late at the far post and neatly tucked home Theo Walcott’s low cross.  It was perhaps destined to be after two games of AW bigging him up to shine against his hometown club that the Czech maestro would score against his former employers.  For me though, the goal was all down to Theo.  His quick feet out on the right wing afforded him the space in which he had time to pick out the arriving the Rosicky with a perfectly executed centre.  But Theo wasn’t done there and had one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt.

As the hapless Sparta were broken down in the final third time after time, it was Walcott who was there as the outlet and the 19 year old didn’t disappoint.  Gone was the familiar uncertainty that has dogged previous appearances this season and in it’s place was a liveliness and directness that had one thinking about us finally having a solution to the winger problem.  Walcott twisted, turned and dribbled superbly throughout the first half and also linked up well with the excellent Justin Hoyte.  Shorn of defensive responsibilities, the stand in right back overlapped well and when required to defended solidly.

The central pairing of Diaby and Gilberto was a bit of a surprise, but given Cesc’s yellow card from the away leg it seemed like a logical decision, and the young Frenchman started brightly and instantly evoked the Veira comparisons that have become defacto when describing his performances.  However, whilst Gilberto went about his business in his usual functional way, doing the ugly work and stopping the Sparta midfield from creating much, Diaby seemed to get bogged down in his own enthusiasm to impress and began to dwell too long on the ball and subsequently surrender possession.  This caused the last quarter of the first half to become a little flat, and with Eduardo and RVP seeing little of the ball for most of the entire 45.  Something was needed to kick-start the game in the second half.

Unfortunately, and much to the annoyance of Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice, that spark didn’t come for much of the second half and as the game descended into an exercise in simply going through the motions, The Boss decided to throw on Adebayor and Cesc for RVP and Diaby in the 68th minute.  Cesc didn’t really seem up for it, but Ade looked lively and keen to put the disappointing Man City game behind him.  Within 2 minutes, he flicked the ball on for Eduardo and we got a glimpse of how that particular partnership might work out in the future.  However, that wasn’t to last, as 5 minutes later Denilson came on for Tomas Rosicky and the deck was shuffled.  Eduardo moved out to the left flank and Theo moved into the middle with Adebayor, with Denilson occupying the now vacant right flank.

With all the subs used, Arsenal looked like they were happy to see the rest of the game out and settle for the 1-0 by keeping possession and not really pushing Sparta too hard.  That is everyone but Eduardo.  Perhaps he was frustrated at not seeing much of the ball for a large portion of the game, but when Eduardo gave Zdenek Pospech the old knock-and-run on the right side of the penalty area, and cut the ball back for Fabregas to power the ball home, we saw what the Croation is capable of with the ball at his feet.  And 10 minutes later the provider turned poacher, when a dinked cross from Denilson after a neat one-two with Adebayor was flicked in with a kung-fu style volley.

All in all, it was a bit of a non-contest.  Sparta never really tested Arsenal, save for a few moments after defensive errors from Hoyte, Clichy and Senderos.  They never really looked capable of matching Arsenal for creativity and looked a bit in awe of the home team.  However, Arsenal failed to put them to the sword as they are surely capable of looked at times as if they were playing a training match.  You can only beat what’s put in front of you though, and Wenger’s team did that with the minimum of fuss.

 In news, er, news, head on over to Arseblog to read about the club trying to copyright the word ‘Gooner’.  Interesting discussion going on there.

Also, Cesc dedicated last night’s win to the memory of Anotnio Puerta.  I’d like to echo his sentiment

“The armband was for him, the goal was for him, everything was for him. “He was a great lad who loved his football. I played with him in the Spanish Under-21s and we made our debuts together in the national team. He was 22, so the way he died was a tragedy. It shows you have to enjoy every moment in football and in life because you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.”

And on that rather sullen note, I’ll say Happy Thursday

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Sparta Preview – Arsenal Not Signing Adriano – Lehmann

Tonight sees the second leg of our Champions League qualifier against Sparta Prague.  A 2-0 away win stands us in good stead to qualify, but the job is certainly not over yet and we’ll need to keep things tight at the back to ensure there’s no hiccups along the way.

Thankfully, at the press conference today, AW revealed that Philippe Senderos will return to the squad so there will be no need for Alex Song to play.  At all.  None.  With Almunia still in for Lehmann and Eboue and Sagna out, Justin Hoyte and  should be the only change from the team that beat Manchester City at the weekend.  I’m expecting the line-up to be;

  • Almunia
  • Hoyte
  • Toure
  • Senderos
  • Clichy
  • Hleb
  • Fabregas
  • Gilberto
  • Rosicky
  • van Persie
  • Eduardo

I feel Eduardo will come in for Adebayor who had a stinker against Citeh.  As mentioned yesterday, we’re still searching for the striking combination that will provide the most goals and it’s fairly certain that RVP will be the mainstay, accompanied by one of Eduardo or Adebayor.  From what I’ve seen of Eduardo, he looks like the best man of those 3 to link the play between the midfield and his partner up front.

In a splurge of newsy soundbite benevolence, Wenger also commented on the rumours surrounding the non-signing of Adriano.  The Boss said,

“If I find the right player with the right quality I will always take him. With Adriano they wanted to give you a player and also take one from your squad. It would mean losing a player and then get one in who you were not desperately wanting. It is nothing to do with the quality of Adriano.”

I’ve got to say that really, Adriano would be a massive coup for us.  He’s proven quality and plays in the style of an Arsenal player, albeit one who is a human battering ram – the sort of player we thought Julio Baptista would be.  The question is who did Inter want in return for him?  It would have to be someone we’d consider too important to lose.  Fabregas?  Rosicky?  RVP?  Gilberto?  Your guess is as good as mine.  In fact, it’s probably better.  What would’ve been perfect would be to swap him for Bendtner or Adebayor and then asses the situation at the end of the season.

Wenger also commented on the Lehmann situation.  With rumours rife that the German is considering his future with the club, AW was quick to play that talk down and state that Jens is still committed to regaining his No.1 spot when he returns from injury.

“I had a meeting with Jens last Friday and he is not capable of playing at the moment. I know what is happening and he is not on his way out of the club.”

Finally, have a butcher’s at this.  How does Mark Hughes think people who have eyes and watch his team play using them don’t formulate their own opinion of his team (and in particular Robbie Savage), that his pathetic retaliatory finger pointing won’t change?  The man is clearly deluded.  I personally can’t wait until the next time we play his lot and we see Robin and Cesc both “accidentally” slide tackle him when chasing balls that are going out of play.  I can see the little smirk on Arsene’s face now.

Anyway.  Off to work for me.  Have a good day won’t you?


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Arsenal Get One Foot In The Champions League

Morning all.  After last night’s rain, today seems a lot brighter and generally happier, and for Gooners this effect is augmented by last night’s win in Prague.

Another game, another Alex Hleb goal.  Again in the 90th minute.  After the Belarussian promised to score more goals this season, he can certainly be considered a man of his word.  Well so far anyway.  Cesc too chipped in with a goal to give us the lead, before Hlebs strike earned us the win.  That’s 2 away goals we take back to The Grove and although qualification is not guaranteed, it does seem very likely now.  That’ll be £25m in the club’s skyrocket then.  Mmmmm.  Moneylicious.

It was another functional, if not dazzling performance that saw us walk away with the victory.  We had to wait until Cesc’s 72nd minute strike to break the deadlock, surviving good attacks by Sparta along the way.  In fact, Sparta were denied a 9th minute lead by a combination of Jen’s feet and the post, as the German ‘keeper looked to have put Sunday’s aberration well and truly behind him.  The defensive line too, appeared to be on much better form than against Fulham and new skipper, William Gallas put in a Man of the Match performance.  Perhaps this will go some way to dispel some of the doubt surrounding the Frenchman’s suitability to wear the armband?

However, it was not all sweetness and light.  It was another result forged out of a gritty, ‘ugly’ performance and not played at a canter like we all know Arsenal are capable of.  Again, we looked lightweight in the midfield without Gilberto, and RVP was isolated and starved of good chances up front.  After all the hype, Tomas Rosicky was relatively quiet, and while he played well, he wasn’t the instrumental force that the Czech technician is capable of.  However, it was a good team performance – one which rode it’s luck, was competitive to the last and one that again shows that Arsenal do need moments of individual brilliance from Thierry Henry to win matches.

If there is one player who can fill the void of match winner, it’s Cesc Fabregas.  I think Cesc is truly a legend in waiting.  Not only is he a quality midfielder who is blessed with touch and vision, but he’s also a right little bastard when he wants to be.  And I love that.  I love his attitude towards people he’s ‘supposed’ to have respect for.  Because he doesn’t.  What he said to Mark Hughes was genius in my opinion, and while he maybe shouldn’t have, he had a valid point.  Last night, he showed that he’s prepared to get stuck in despite his diminutive size, by clattering former Spammer, Tomas Repka.  When the Czech defender trudged off to be substituted after 40 minutes, Cesc was mimicking his limp.  He knows that Repka would’ve seen it – if he didn’t someone would’ve told him about it.  But the thing is Cesc doesn’t care.  He knows that he is a better player than many, many others and he’s prepared to mix it up on the pitch and let his football do the talking.  As the Spaniard grows in stature, both in football and physical terms, I truly believe that he will inspire the team towards titles and cement his place in Gooner folklore.

Also worth mentioning is Alex Hleb’s renaissance in the centre of the pitch.  He has looked accomplished and has relished the chance to play in his favoured position at the tip of the attacking midfield, and one can only hope that he carries this form over to when he is asked to play on the right when Arsene decides to switch to a 4-4-2 for certain games.  I think it’s no small coincidence that his 2 goals in 2 games have come from a period where he’s been playing his natural position.

On to Sunday then.  The Blackburn game will be a real acid test as far as I’m concerned.  They are up there with the Bolton’s of this world in terms of football ugliness, and typically they always approach our games with the mindset of booting us off the park.  So far, we have had some tough physical games and come through them admirably.  It remains to be seen as to whether this can continue against the likes of Blackburn, but I have a sneaky suspicion that there is more steel to this Arsenal team yet to be seen.  I think a real turning point has been reached, and no more will teams be able to simply rough us up.  I think an attitude of defiance has been instilled and the players will almost thrive off a little physicality.  Last night and the Ajax game showed that there is more to the team than we’re being given credit for, and with each passing game, and with Eduardo and Adebayor still to return, I grow a little more confident that this season could be a great one for us.  Not least because Man Utd look well off the pace, despite the outlay on Tevez et al, and Chelsea too are none too convincing so far.

Thanks for reading.  Don’t work too hard today.

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Prague Preview + Other Stuff

Tonight sees a very, very important game in the context of this season.  It is almost inconceivable what the impact of losing tonight could be on our hopes for the league and cups, and that’s not taking into account the Champions League itself.  A loss tonight would lead to massive pressure to win in the home leg that would consequently cause pressure for the Blackburn game, and generally put us in a position we really don’t want to be in.  Add in the fact that if we are to make any more signings before August 31st, having the carrot of Champions League football to dangle is a must.

Sparta Prague might not be as fancied as they once were, but they are still capable of causing an upset and this is one game that we just simply cannot afford to screw up. As illustrated yesterday, we’re not taking our strongest squad due to injuries to key players, and any side that contains Alex Song is clearly not as formidable as it should be. I am, however, quietly confident that we will leave Prague with the result needed for us to put the Sparta boys to the sword in the return leg.  As young as this current Arsenal team is, it is not without quality, and the performances in pre-season against some big European clubs stands us in good stead for this crucial qualifier.  Ok, so the Fulham game wasn’t great, but we showed are resolve and in the end it was a gutsy performance that saw some of that ‘togetherness’ Arsene has been harping on about.

As for the starting 11 tonight, I expect to see the same side that started at Fulham.  The only possible change might be to switch to an orthodox 4-4-2 with Bendtner coming in to partner RVP up front.  This would mean cutting either Rosicky or Hleb from the line-up which is not something I would be happy about.  I thought both players, Hleb in particular had good games on Sunday and their omission would be unfair.  It would be nice to see them both start in that 4-4-1-1 deployed against the Cottagers, but have some more interchange in position with Rosicky coming inside and Hleb roaming out wide.  With the technical ability of both players, I think that it would give the Sparta defence nightmares.

Jens is set to start in goal after his clanger against Fulham.  That’s fair I guess – one mistake in a game does not a shite ‘keep make, but he’s going to have to be ultra solid to win back some confidence from the fans and possibly the defence too.  The Boss said, 

“He will play against Prague – I would not think to take the player out, because apart from making the mistake, he had a very good game and that also shows some strength.”

Let’s hope for no more cock-ups from our Teutonic shot stopper tonight, eh?

There’s not a lot else going on newswise as kick off is a only a few hours away.  One thing I did manage to pick up was this little snippet from a Lancashire paper that has largely gone unnoticed in the nationals.  Mark Hughes has said of Benni McCarthy’s involvement on Sunday,

“Benni won’t travel with us (to Finland). He will train on Friday and Saturday and then we’ll see how he is.  Hopefully there won’t be any reaction and he will be an option for me on Sunday. But we will be guided by the medical team and they will decide whether it is good for his health.”

 McCarthy got a whack to the head on the opening day and had to be stretchered off, his neck in a brace.  While this is not nice to see happen to any player, a Blackburn side without Benni McCarthy is a far poorer one.

One more thing is this.

I’m not sure if she’s aiming that at the Everton players, or Martin Jol.  My guess is the latter

Right, I’m done.  Thanks for reading.  Enjoy the game.

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Second String Does For Lazio

I’ve had a really poo day.  Work was such a chore.  I didn’t want to get up this morning, let alone be bothered to go into work and when I did finally arrive things weren’t getting any better.  I’ve decided computers are crap.  They never work when you want them to and if you’re in a bad mood and just want to potter at your workstation you can rest assured that they will go mental just to wind you up more.  I would blame Microsoft, but I use a UNIX system at work.  What the Hell; Damn you Bill Gates!  There – I feel a little better now.  It’s cathartic to slag off Gates.  I encourage you all to do it at every available opportunity.

 Enough of me and my shitty day, let’s talk football.

First up, I’ll fill in some details about the Lazio game I left out last night.  The main thing was the performance of the team in relation to the personnel that actually played.  The line up was

  • Manuel Almunia
  • Philippe Senderos
  • Gael Clichy
  • Tomas Rosicky  46
  • Justin Hoyte
  • Johan Djourou
  • Armand Traore
  • Alexandre Song
  • Kolo Toure  72
  • Francesc Fabregas
  • Mathieu Flamini 46
  • Theo Walcott
  • Emmanuel Eboue 65
  • Nicklas Bendtner
  • Robin Van Persie 64
  • Eduardo Da Silva
  • Conspicuous by their absence, were Hleb, Gilberto (obvious why he wasn’t there though), Diaby, Adebayor, Gallas, and Sagna.  Almost inexplicably, Alex Song was chosen to partner Cesc in the centre of midfield, and managed to not get taken off when Flamini was introduced at half time.  It is therefore heartening that we got a win out of the game with the 5th and 6th choice central midfielders playing.  And that’s the crux of the matter – when we all thought that Arsene would play a strong team, keeping half an eye on the Fulham game in under 2 weeks, he pulls this selection out of his magic hat and  gets us a win.  Abra-ca-funkin-dabra.  It’s easy for people to say our squad is small and we’ll suffer if 1st XI players get injured, but last night showed that there is something to the ‘back up’ players.  Sure it wasn’t the best game you’ll ever see an Arsenal team play, but it was an Arsenal team that played out there and that’s good enough for me.  As long as I know that guys can come in and instantly get into the style of play, I’ll feel a lot more comfortable about us not signing any more players this summer.

    After the game, the boss said,

    ‘We had a very young side out against Lazio who defended very well. It is good for us to see the young players from game to game raise their belief”

    In more news based news, and further to the earlier post about  drawing Sparta Prague for the Champions League qualifier, club secretary, David Miles, has been talking to Sky Sports News

    “I think we’ll be pleased with that,” Miles told Sky Sports News.  

    “It could have been (worse) logistically and probably playing wise, so we’re going to be quietly pleased…We won’t take anything for granted and Arsene, with his network of scouts, will be doing his homework.”

    My Dad always told me to do my homework on the night it was set, and being my Dad, he wasn’t wrong.  I’m sure Arsene is wanting to go out to the training ground and play footy with the boys and then have chips for tea, but he’d do well to heed the advice of my old man.  As Miles added in the interview,

    “It is paramount that we get through to the group stage, where we have three home and away games”

    Show me the money, Milesy!

    You can read reaction to drawing Arsenal, from the Sparta coach here.

    Unfortunately Emmanuel Adebayor will miss the start of the league season with a groin problem.  Arsene said,

    “At best he will be back next week. We hope he can come back in to normal training on Tuesday and Wednesday.  But I think he will miss the start of the Premiership”

    That’ll mean more game time for Bendtner then.  Probably just what he needs.  I’m quite pleased we’ve got two quality target men vying for position in the team.  Healthy competition cannot be underestimated

    Rather a mammoth post there.  Not quite as woolly, and with less tusks than a mammoth though.  More wool and tusks next time.  Promise.

    Cheers for now.  Enjoy your Friday night

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