Thursday
Feb262015

Wenger – laughing stock of Europe, again



Some pundits were shocked by last night’s Champions League humiliation at home to Monaco, some fans were too. I wasn’t. I thought Arsenal would win 2-0, because half of Monaco’s first team was injured, but I wasn’t shocked at what happened – not in the slightest.

However, Wenger’s incompetence reached a new low last night. I didn’t think Wenger’s ineptitude could get any lower, but remarkably it did.

As soon as I saw the team sheet, I knew Wenger could easily mess this up.

I couldn’t believe the inexperienced Coquelin was left to protect the back four with only Ozil and Cazorla ahead of him. In a big Champions League game, a player who was playing for Charlton a few months ago was tasked with being the enforcer behind two clueless man markers that will never track a late run from midfield.

At the very least, Monaco were going to get chances.

As the match unravelled, it was plain to see how Wenger’s tactical set up was failing. Full backs Gibbs and Bellerin’s ineffective bombing raids forced Sanchez and Welbeck to come in-field, which only played into Monaco’s hands. And because both defenders were too far advanced, manager Leonardo Jardim’s wide players had more space and freedom to receive the ball at the other end, which gave Coquelin too much ground to cover in the absence of his full backs or fellow midfielders. Mertesacker’s lack of pace was frequently exposed as the centre backs got stretched.

Arsenal fell behind to a deflected shot, but Wenger is to blame for that for allowing his opponents too much space in a non-existent midfield.

Wrong players, wrong tactics - Arsenal were beating themselves, but I knew Wenger would not change anything tactically. At half-time, I thought the players would get a rollocking, redouble their efforts, but if Monaco could keep it tight for 5-10 minutes the game would sink back into the same pattern, and not only did that happen, but it got worse as Arsenal grew frustrated and lost what little discipline they had.

With no leadership from the manager and none on the pitch, Monaco’s counter-attacking threat increased. As Arsenal pushed up, Mertesacker’s pace became yet more exposed. If Wenger was going to risk a high line, he should of at least taken the German off and put Gabriel on. Instead, he made the worst substitution I’ve ever seen him make – he removed Coquelin and replaced him with Oxlade-Chamberlain, leaving the defence brutally bare.

That decision was an abomination. It ended up 3-1, but could have easily been 5-1!

Arsenal’s attack was completely dysfunctional. Giroud is an unpredictable finisher – even from 5 yards, Sanchez won’t hold his position, Ozil looked lost in the maze, Cazorla’s runs came from too deep, and he kept losing possession. None of the players could predict a pass or pattern of play; it simply didn’t work.

Ozil is an arrogant big-head, but so is Dimitar Berbatov. Neither have anything to offer unless you build half the team around them; a team that does all their running - because they shouldn't be running if you play them right; they're the metronome that the attack functions around. Only an intelligent manager can get the best out of either player, but Wenger’s tactics made that game perfect for Berbatov, while Ozil looked like a £42m joke. What’s more, Jardim had the balls to take Berbatov off – despite the player's annoyance, and his replacement scored. Wenger was too scared to remove Ozil – he chickened out!

Wenger is a colossal halfwit that’s so out-of-his-depth in the Champions League it’s embarrassing.

Did he scout Monaco effectively? No. Did he set up his team correctly? No. Having got it wrong, did he adapt his team’s shape to counter the opposition/rectify his mistakes? No. Did he provide leadership/instructions from the bench? No. Did he underestimate Monaco? Definitely; playing a 5-man attack tells you that. Pure arrogance.

I wouldn’t blame the players – they didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing. Even if some players should shoulder some of the blame, it’s up to the manager to sort it out at half-time; calm things  down, instil confidence, change the system, make substitutions, issue new instructions – but things only got worse.

Sanchez needs to get out – he’s too good for this shambles. Ozil can’t be happy – he’s going to ruin the rest of his career playing at Arsenal. Both players must be looking at Wenger and comparing him to previous managers they’ve worked with. One minute you’re working under prep kings like Mourinho/Klopp/Guardiola, the next a tactical dumbass like Wenger.

Can the Gunners turn this tie around? Only if the pressure gets to Monaco and they have some sort of horrible brain freeze.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Arsenal is the living dead with Wenger in charge. But I enjoyed the game, and laughed out loud when the third goal went in, because humiliation and embarrassment is exactly what Wenger, the board and his braindead supporters deserve.

—oo— 

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Thursday
Feb122015

Arsenal Truth reviews Arseblog/ANR, et al.



We all read them, Arsenal blogs that its. Over the years, people have often asked me what I think of this blog or that blog, so why avoid the issue? Are the Arsenal blogs doing our great club justice or not? Here’s my quick summation:

ArsenalFanTV
https://www.youtube.com/user/arsenalfanstv
Fast-emerging blog that’s made its name on YouTube and is run by ‘Robbie’, who travels up and down the country conducting post-match interviews with Arsenal supporters. Its cult status has created numerous pseudo-celebrities including Bully (often captured by Sky looking bewildered in the last few minutes of an impending defeat), Claude (a perpetually stressed-out Wenger detractor with a failed marriage) and TY (a Wenger arse kisser that’s lost any semblance of autonomous, rational thought). The vBlog represents the feelings of supporters in the heat of the moment, but whatever their opinions, or delusions, you cannot deny their passion and genuine love for the club.

Pros: very likeable presenter, entertaining, allows fans to let off steam after a bad result
Cons: YouTube comments section is a bloodbath

Rating: 7

Gunnerblog
http://gunnerblog.com/
Written by James McNicholas and some bloke called Gilberto Silva – not sure if they’re one in the same – haven’t paid that much attention. Gunnerblog is a more personalised blog, although the author often features on Arseblog’s podcasts. Nothing fancy here, just rational commentaries on the club including some vBlogs on his YouTube channel, some of which are worth looking at for their humorous content https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SO5nfQEqGOg. Rarely looks at the bigger picture, could do with being a little more assertive in his views, but at least he’s not fake.

Pros: balanced, calm, reasoned views
Cons: fairly unexceptional, voice sounds like a grumbling appendix

Rating: 6

Arseblog
http://arseblog.com/
Andrew Mangan’s baby and probably the best known Arsenal blog. Mangan’s done a good job steering clear of the club’s influence, but unfortunately his inability to be impartial has made it seem quite the opposite – although I can’t find too many examples of Arsenal.com using the word c**thound. Unfortunately, Mangan seems to be led by his readership. The comments section, a big part of the site, is overrun by neurotic AKBs whose general intolerance to anyone with an opposing view appears to control the overall narrative. This could be why Mangan is a ‘Wenger agnostic’, refusing to deliberate over whether the manager should stay or go. He likes to come across as the voice of reason, but really isn’t, his constant ref bashing, for example, is nauseating in the extreme. Could be a great blog if he didn’t pander to his extremist audience.

Pros: beautifully designed website, some good interviews with journos, very funny at times
Cons: too biased, lacks insight, post anything anti-Wenger and his audience is all over you like ISIS

Rating: 5

ANR
http://www.arsenalnewsreview.co.uk/
Good old Myles Palmer – a 60-something blogger who claims not to support Arsenal, yet is consumed with writing about them every day – and has even written books on the subject. Within Arsenal’s online community, Palmer is posited as the devil incarnate for his brutal and unrelenting criticism of Arsene Wenger. However, he’s right 85% of the time and his journalistic background allows him a gravitas that other bloggers lack. Because of this, Palmer’s readership is more intellectual than most, and he allows himself to be moderated by frequently publishing pro and anti-Wenger sentiments, if only to use his readers’ headlines as a source of advertising revenue for his site.

Pros: insightful content, no fence-sitting
Cons: wanders off mid-sentence with inane ramblings about 1970s prog rock or a chance meeting in 1965 with Umberto Eco

Rating: 8

Le Grove
http://le-grove.co.uk/
Primarily written by some bloke called Geoff, and other writers that give the impression of men in suits working in marketing consultancies in Hoxton that spend all day in meetings talking about search engine optimisation. On a more serious note, LeGrove has more recently come round to the conclusion that Wenger’s about as much use as a chocolate dildo, although after a string of positive results authors do have a tendency to sink back into daydream mode. The comments section is large, and probably the most balanced you will find on any Arsenal blog, even if contributors have a penchant for waiting hours on end for a blog to be written just so they can be first to write “1
stunderneath  it. A good, well-written, intelligent blog that proves that football has become more middle-class than working class, not that that’s a bad thing, because I associate the football working class with chavs whereas LeGrove is modern and inclusive, and would probably be accepting of chavs as long as they didn’t breathe on them.

Pros: rational analysis of why Wenger’s a lame duck, comments section mostly comprised of ‘normal’ supporters
Cons: some blogs are written by a Spanish agricultural farmer called Pedro

Rating: 8

Goonerholic
http://goonerholic.com/
An apt name for this blog, because the views represented by contributors appear to be those of self-loathing drunks. Author conjures up the image of a tortured Arsenal fan rocking backwards and forwards in an armchair reminiscing over 50s Arsenal, then extrapolating that nostalgia and failing miserably to apply it to the modern game. Posts are dull as dishwater and totally devoid of personality. Would recommend he creosotes the fence he’s sitting on before it collapses under the weight of its own boredom. Frightened to be critical of anyone or anything; a wholly purposeless and irrelevant blog with nothing to say.

Pros: great if you still listen to The Stranglers
Cons: banal, pelted with rocks for daring to use the comments section to reflect reality

Rating: 3

Untold Arsenal
http://untold-arsenal.com/
The most illogical Arsenal blog on the internet, and probably the daftest blog about a football club ever written. Untold Arsenal is the scientology branch of Arsenal blogdom. Probably written by an American conspiracy theorist that believes Area51 is run by the Sith Lord. Actually used the term “Lord Wenger” in its blog branding without a hint of humour or self-depreciation. Its bias is so putrid, that opening it in your browser is akin to being bundled into a cab and having your mouth smothered by a handkerchief drenched in Rohypnol. To explain a defeat, media and referees are attacked with sustained deliberation, and statistics twisted and manipulated until they emit electromagnetic radiation, which would be quite some feat if the information wasn’t simply used to build a very bad case to support its authors’ perverted views. In extreme cases, for example Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat to Chelsea - when four of Arsenal players should have been sent off, distortion of the truth may necessitate several weeks’ worth of graphs and tables stuffed full of flawed logic, created in a futile attempt to bewilder the reader into believing Arsenal were cheated, and Elvis is still alive.

Pros: unintentionally funny
Cons: treats Arsene Wenger like a long lost adopted father, mad as a box of frogs, website design is like first day of the internet

Rating: 0

Arsenal Truth
http://arsenaltruth.squarespace.com/
Initially part of the defunct OleOle.com franchise, before realising nobody bothered visiting the site, Arsenal Truth is the most undervalued Arsenal blog on the Internet. This is where you find the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, according to the author’s flawless logic. The website is treated with disdain by the majority of Arsenal fans, and because the author is no longer fazed by abuse and is about as patient as a five-year-old on Christmas Eve, most people are frightened to even comment. Readers are intelligent and perceptive, but have to suffer the author’s lengthy sabbaticals, which are usually followed by a predictable u-turn of some description. Posts are dominated by author’s boredom with the club’s malaise and suicidal unwillingness to repeat himself. 

Pros: always right, gratuitous yet deserved abuse of Arsene Wenger
Cons: occasionally obnoxious, wholly negative, disappears for months

Rating: 10

—oo— 

Comments should be intelligent and well-written. All others will be binned.

Monday
Feb092015

Arsenal might as well not have a manager



To win against a top side away from home, Wenger needs three things to happen:

- Accidentally pick a team that somehow formulates itself to function as a unit on the day
- Self-motivated players have to keep their concentration for 90 minutes
- Opposition has to have key players missing or perform way below their best

If any one of those is not in place, Arsenal can’t win. If all three are not in place, they’ll get hammered. Against Man City a few weeks ago, all three went in Wenger’s favour and Arsenal won 2-0.

After watching Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat at Spurs, it was more obvious than ever that Wenger does not bother to prepare his team tactically, something that Cesc Fabregas told us five years ago: “At Arsenal we don't really look at anything from the other team, we look for ourselves and that's it.

"Here [Barcelona], maybe two or three days before the game, we start looking at some videos, we know more or less the starting eleven that is going to play... we know nearly everything about them.”

Wenger’s lack of prep seemed more obvious than ever against Tottenham, who I didn’t think played above and beyond the competitiveness you’d expect from a derby game. Christian Eriksen’s set pieces were awful, one-footed Moussa Dembele was average and Spurs looked dodgy defending set pieces. Danny Rose was dangerous coming forward, but his defensive play was clumsy.

Nabil Bentaleb and Erik Lamela were far from outstanding, but Spurs pressed from the front, worked very hard as a team and forced Arsenal into making errors. The hottest striker in the Premier League, Harry Kane, was left to his own devices and given the room to put the game to bed.

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is getting good performances from average players, Arsene Wenger is getting bad performances from good players. Pochettino knew that Arsenal’s defence could not handle sustained pressure and that the midfield could be physically intimidated. Bellerin in particular was targeted and struggled positionally; Coquelin seemed dazed and spent far too much time in his own box. Ramsey, a selfish goal hanger always looking for glory was anonymous, and apart from his goal, Ozil was his usual weak, meek self. If Ozil is worth £42m, Sanchez is worth £142m.

When Arsenal lose, fans always complain about who was left on the bench. This time it was Walcott who should have started, but Welbeck worked harder than Walcott ever will – and helped set up the first goal, which only came about because Giroud's maladroit. Despite being offside, Ozil’s execution was flawless.

But in the big scheme of things, none of this matters because Wenger does not do preparation. Negation of key opposition players is disregarded, changing a system while the game is in motion is beyond him, and he only makes like-for-like substitutions – sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, there’s no vision behind his decisions.

At other clubs, managers write notes and are frequently seen in deep conversation with their right hand man, but you never see that between Wenger and Bould. In the Daily Mail, Rob Hughes says Steve Bould is fed up and wants to leave the club. That right-wing toilet paper is unreadable, and I’m surprised Rob Hughes writes for them because he’s a decent journalist, but Bould’s body language tells you something is not right. Throughout his playing career, Bould was a leader, now he looks like a quashed disciple.

Like Pat Rice, Steve Bould has become a training ground chump whose only useful purpose is to hand out bibs and put the cones out. When Rice stopped playing football, I doubt he was a wealthy man, so he would have been grateful to be a very well paid assistant manager and have an easy life, but Bould has a future in management and is more ambitious. He had big reservations about playing understudy to Wenger, and turned the job down initially, but if he’s unable to voice an opinion how can he improve as a coach? Bould is wasting his career at Arsenal and needs to get out.

Wenger is a fraud whose £8m salary is totally obscene. By offering him a lucrative new contract, he has made Ivan Gazidis look a fool, and the owner a mug for sanctioning a £65m net loss in the transfer market just to fight for fourth place. If Kroenke is a tightwad who doesn’t like spending money, what will he think about those losses in May?

However, Arsenal will probably thrash Leicester tomorrow and will still make the top four if Alexis Sanchez is not physically ruined. Although Southampton and Spurs have matched the Gunners this season and Liverpool are improving, Arsenal have easier fixtures and usually raise their game once they’re knocked out of everything. By April, most of their opponents are at rock bottom or have nothing left to play for.

Chelsea won the league this weekend, of that I’m certain.

—oo— 

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Thursday
Feb052015

Dumb Wilshere/Gabriel/Spurs



More stories emerged today about Jack Wilshere smoking. Despite his undoubted talent, I’ve never taken to Wilshere and always thought him to be a moron who will probably waste his Arsenal career in the same way that David Bentley or Jermaine Pennant squandered theirs. Unprofessional, overhyped and given too much too soon, too many young, talented English players fall foul to adolescent behaviour off the pitch and never fulfil their potential – Wilshere looks to be one of them.

After being photographed with a fag in his mouth on several occasions, and despite several warnings from his manager, he’s been caught again holding a hash pipe. His displays of remorse the last time he got caught now ring pretty hollow. It’s hard to imagine how a player can be so thick, especially considering his team mate Wojciech Szczesny was recently caught smoking in the showers and may well have lost his place in the team as a result.

Everybody knows that smoking is detrimental to fitness, but in a sport so reliant on aerobic activity, smoking can result in a marked decrease in performance. It seems the consequences of Wilshere’s behaviour remain oblivious to him.

Elsewhere, Arsenal fans may be pleased that Wenger has finally attempted to rectify the gaping hole in Arsenal’s defence. The signing is Brazilian centre back Gabriel Paulista. There’s so much about this player that looks wrong on paper, although the game isn’t played on paper so we’ll just have to wait and see. However, I would treat this signing with a large dollop of caution, primarily because:

  •    At 24, he’s never been capped at any level
  •    He’s only played 37 games in a top league in Europe
  •    It’s dubious whether Wenger is capable of improving any weaknesses he has
  •    Lacks height and looks physically fragile
  •    Poor technique, by all accounts, which might make it difficult to adapt to the pressures of the PL

Indeed, Wenger has already admitted that Gabriel could “cost Arsenal goals”; a ludicrous thing to say in terms of player psychology.

If my concerns are realistic, Gabriel and Koscielny would make a bad pairing, as they’re too similar. Meanwhile, we’ve all seen how Mertesacker panics without his partner in crime. If the BFG is having to cover for Gabriel, you can expect his own game to suffer.

That’s why I think Arsenal should have gone for an experienced PL centre-back, even if it would have cost a lot more money. Even though I don’t rate Koscielny that highly, it’s Mertesacker that primarily needs replacing, so I would have thought a player in that mould would have been the priority.

Arsenal travel to Spurs on Saturday and it could be a terrific game. Spurs have only won half their home games and Arsenal less than half of their away games, and both teams are in good form – so it’s not one to gamble on. Tottenham are rapidly improving under Mauricio Pochettino who has finally figured out their best formation and who is most likely to perform reliably and consistently.

Even though he still doesn’t have the right players available to play the pressing game he wants to employ, at least Pochettino now has some sort of platform to build from.

With Alexis Sanchez out injured due to Wenger’s refusal to rest him, the derby is an opportunity for Ozil to prove he can have an impact against sides better than Brighton and Aston Villa.

Theo Walcott is an archetypal speed merchant that still goes missing from games for half an hour. He is not a player that can control a football match. He’ll have two or three moments to make a difference, but has to make them count, otherwise he’ll be completely invisible and it will be like playing with 10 men.

I’d back Arsenal to win the North London derby, but Ozil and Walcott are going to be key - more for what they don’t do than what they do. For Spurs, Harry Kane is playing out of his skin and Hugo Lloris is arguably the best goalkeeper in the PL.

Coquelin will have a big part to play – his remit will be, don’t concede stupid free kicks around the box, as Christian Eriksen is more than capable of punishing Arsenal. In that respect, be thankful that Arteta is injured – and if Wenger has any common sense, Flamini won’t start.

Notice how Coquelin is stalling on a new contract. Having been ignored for years, he now holds all the cards and is saying to Wenger, play me between now and May or I’ll walk, but if reports of Morgan Schneiderlin signing a pre-contract are true, it won’t make any difference and Coquelin will be off.

For Arsenal, the 2-0 victory at Man City was an excellent result, but because City followed that by losing by the same margin at home to Middlesbrough the week after it now looks like an anomaly, not a turning point. Man City have conceded 12 goals in 8 games, and have no chance of winning the PL if they carry on like this.

The last few weeks has seen the FA Cup collapse under the weight of its own unimportance. Top players want a day out a Wembley, but don't want it enough to put in a performance that warrants staying in the competition. When you look at some of the teams that have reached the final over the last 10 years (Hull, Wigan, Stoke, Portsmouth (twice), Cardiff, Millwall) it’s obvious that the big boys are not as interested as they used to be. The top managers pretend to care, but know that their futures will never be determined by the FA Cup. There's so much money swilling around in the Premier League and Europe, that these competitions are by far the biggest priority for everyone, and worth chucking the cup for whatever level you're at.

Arsenal and Wenger aren’t interested in the FA Cup either, but they got a lucky draw all the way to the final last season, and this season they might get even luckier.

—oo— 

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Monday
Jan192015

A truly shocking Arsenal performance



Many Arsenal fans will have been shocked by their side’s bizarre performance at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. The Gunners beat Man City 2-0, yet played with defensive resilience, intelligence and tactical competence. I was shocked, and I presume a lot of Arsenal fans who expected their side to be comfortably beaten were also shocked.

In games like this, it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether the result was simply down to Man City having a very bad day at the office or their opponents skilfully neutralising them and taking advantage of their mistakes. However, I watched the whole game, and although it was obvious that Man City were not at their best – it was certainly a game too soon for the returning Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany, Arsenal should be given huge credit for negating City from the first minute to the last and refusing them the time and space they needed to penetrate.

Although, you’d expect me to say this, considering it’s common knowledge that I believe him to be a tactical cretin, it’s questionable how much praise Wenger should receive for this performance, or the result. In terms of those picked to play, Bellerin only featured because Chambers has been an unmitigated disaster at right back, Monreal only played because Gibbs was unfit, Coquelin only played because Arteta is injured, and Ospina only played because Szczesny has proven himself to be grossly unprofessional.

However, what also helped Arsenal is that their players were playing in their natural positions and comfortably within their limits. Bellerin is a right back, Chambers is not, Ospina appears predictable and composed, Szczesny is not, Coquelin is defensive minded, has pace and a semblance of awareness, Flamini and Arteta are finished, Cazorla is a CM not a winger, and of course, playing deep allows Mertesacker to focus fully on his positional play without having to expose his lack of pace.

Play to the players’ strengths, and you might get a strong performance – it’s not rocket science, it's obvious.

So the team picked itself and the players took the responsibility upon themselves not to be beaten, encouraged by Man City’s wasteful possession – abetted by Arsenal’s pressing game - and the concession of soft goals. Indeed, Arsenal only had two shots on target, but both ended up in the back of the net due to self-inflicted errors. First, Kompany gave away a questionable penalty after minimal contact on Monreal. Cazorla converted. In the second half, Cazorla’s chipped free-kick was headed in far too easily by Giroud – Fernando’s marking was abject.

As the game wore on Arsenal’s confidence grew exponentially. It would have been interesting had Man City got a goal back, but Arsenal did not allow that to happen, thus avoiding a state of panic.

Arsenal’s work ethic was immense, and it seems unfair to give credit to any one individual, but Coquelin in particular showed the passion and motivation required of a player whose future is on the line. Listening to Wenger trying to claim credit for the performance of a player whose contract has been allowed to expire and was only brought back from his third loan spell due to a plethora of injuries is further evidence of his obnoxious narcissism. Meanwhile, Santi Cazorla’s skill and desire produced a phenomenal performance, one that even overshadowed Alexis Sanchez, yet once again Wenger couldn’t resist stealing the limelight to praise himself, citing Cazorla’s ‘vital’ ability as a two-footed pressure-pot reliever whose best position is central midfield. So why does he hardly ever play there?

This is a manager that doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. He just reacts to events. When the performance is drivel, he blames the players instead of himself, when it’s great he quickly takes the opportunity to ensure he receives equal praise. It just makes me detest him even more.

Whether this excellent result acts as template for the future, or is simply a one-off performance dictated by circumstance remains to be seen. However, Wenger would be a colossal fool not to take this opportunity to learn about his players. This game proved that Szczesny and Ozil don’t have the right make-up to play for Arsenal, Arteta and Flamini don’t have the legs, and the omission of Gibbs was a blessing; his lack of positional awareness would probably have cost Arsenal at some point. All five players need to be culled from the squad.

Most of all, this performance is a damning indictment of Wenger. How can it take a team a decade to put in this type of performance away from home against a top club? Because that’s how long it’s been since I’ve seen such a committed defensive performance. It was the performance of a side that respected the opposition, rather than being naively suckered into believing they only had to turn up to have a chance of winning. It was a performance to be proud of.

Now we’ll discover whether Wenger’s craving for self-aggrandisement forces the players to sink back into a system and style that is comically self-destructive, or takes the opportunity to prescribe a new path. Let’s not forget, we’ve seen this before. When Steve Bould and Martin Keown were allowed defensive input, the results were tangible, yet with the acknowledgement ebbing away from him, the control-freak decided he had to abandon it all and re-establish his failed philosophy.

—oo— 

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