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It Wouldn't Be Arsenal.......

THAT is why I stopped going to pre season friendlies some years ago, after three months of a sans football existence, Arsenal packed an entire campaign's worth of tension, frustration and ecstatic delight into the opening ninety minutes of the season. In fact, at times one felt that it might have been entirely more appropriate to watch Arsenal's 2006/07 Review DVD. And therein lies cause for concern........

With my arms weary from a Saturday afternoon fishing and a Saturday evening indulging in some hardcore drunken wii boxing, we made our way to an Ashburton Grove enveloped in mid summer sunshine. Arriving around twenty minutes before kick off (about twenty minutes earlier than I usually arrive), I had the rare opportunity of watching the players warm up. I was heartened to see William Gallas rallying the troops, pumping his fists with ernest and gathering the players together. He would repeat the trick to much wider acclaim around two hours later. Acquaintances were renewed with those that sit around me before our campaign kicked off to a mighty roar. Fifty seconds later, that roar was displaced with a barely audible groan. Clichy's lightening pace saw him outrun Hameur Bouazza, stroking the ball back to Lehmann. With his first touch of the season, Mad Jens had a 'crazy legs' moment, scuffing his all too nonchalant pass straight to David Healy, who had the simple task of prodding into the naked net.

Arsenal 1-0 down at home, we had seen this all before. True to form, the staple pattern of last season's indiscretion would reveal itself as we found a goalkeeper in fine form. Arsenal looked physically inferior to Fulham in the opening half, the likes of Fabregas, van Persie, Hleb and the shockingly idle Eboue looked off the pace. Whilst Fulham snapped into tackles and buzzed with quiet industry (as one would expect), Arsenal looked ponderous and unwilling to take charge. Players repeatedly refused to meet the ball, waiting instead for a Fulham player to snatch it from their toes. Arsenal did threaten perodically, Eboue and Sagna combined with a neat one two on the right, before Hleb met Eboue's precise cross with a firm shot that was blocked by Zat Knight. It was again the right hand side that would see Arsenal fashion another opportunity, this time it was Sagna's cross which was met firmly by Rosicky, but with Warner rocking back on his heels in resignation, the ball arrowed past the post.

Phil Dowd was to deny Arsenal a stonewall penalty, when Alex Hleb jinked past Chris Baird, only to be upended in the box. The challenge occured centimetres from the byline, yet Baird's tackle did not see the ball drift out for a corner. So if he didn't get the ball that would make it a foul wouldn't it Mr. Dowd? Arsenal continued to provide only sporadic moments of inspiration amidst a disconsolate lull, but Alex Hleb should have levelled the scores when van Persie presented him with the ball in a one on one situation, but the inspired Warner was down quickly to make a sprawling save, van Persie's follow up was easily beaten away. A low Rosicky shot tested Warner further, before Hameur Bouazza could only shoot straight at Jens Lehmann in a good position, as Arsenal's backline looked very porous. Arsenal went off to a chorus of boos. It looks like supporter ignorance is something we are going to have to get used to at our corporately sponsored stadium. For instance, the cheers when it was announced Antti Niemi had been injured in the pre match warm up were embarassing and entirely unsavoury. Arsenal were always the club that used to applaud opposing goalkeepers onto the pitch, a source of pride for those of us who always regarded Arsenal as the gentlemenly institution club. Alas, it appears the morons have taken over.

The Gunners' redoubled their efforts in the second half, with Gallas, and in particular the outstanding Kolo Toure, leading from the back, snapping into the tackles and driving the team on. Ironically, despite performing much better in the second period, Arsenal would not create as many opportunities as a lacklusture first half. But Arsenal still appeared to lack some bite and impetus. In fact, Fulham threatened on the break several times, using the pace of their wingers to cause a nervous Arsenal backline some moments of disquiet. I admire Mathieu Flamini's work rate, but I simply don't believe him to be good enough for Arsenal. The absence of Abou Diaby puzzled me, as I felt his ability to drive the team on would have served us better. I simply cannot remember a time when Flamini emerged from a midfield tussle with the ball. Fulham's cast of supporting attackers, Davies, Bouazza, Dempsey, were left unchecked time and again.

Early in the second half, some fine interplay between Rosicky and Fabregas saw the Czech hitman go through on goal, but Warner was once again on hand to block Rosicky's effort. Fulham crowded the penalty area to excellent effect, nullifying our ability to craft chances around the box, something we'd managed to do several times in the first half. Though Fulham still held a high defensive line which Robin van Persie would have exploited with impunity were it not for an overly pedantic linesman. Wenger threw on Theo Walcott with your esteemed writer crying out for Niklas Bendtner, the young Dane would appear for the last twenty minutes and make the difference. Fulham's defence began to visibly tire, with several cases of cramp apparent in their ranks. Kolo Toure, presumably fed up with Arsenal's chin stroking approach play, took it upon himself to launch attacks with his enthused runs. Bendtner added a physical presence in the box which had been previously missing. Bendtner created panic in the area as he took down a Fabregas cross, but his poise deserted him in front of goal and the ball escaped amidst a sea of Fulham legs. It was to be another one of Toure's forrays forward which would bear fruit. He danced past three Fulham players with lightning speed, before Carlos Bocanegra illegally burgled him of his momentum in the area. Robin van Persie wrapped home the penalty so emphatically, I'm still not entirely convinced the crossbar didn't rise two inches unwilling to receive the stinging kiss of the Dutchman's connection.

A small melee ensued following the penalty with Warner refusing to release the ball, but Willy seemed to be on hand to snarl everybody into submission. The Gunners' scented blood, with the morale removed from the Cottager's ailing limbs. Bendtner continued to provide a focal point, taking down Sagna's cross, before turning a shot straight into Tony Warner's body with Theo Walcott probably better placed. Fulham continued to play with fire by maintaining a high line and they were duly punished as the game entered stoppage time. Cesc Fabregas flighted a delightful ball into Alex Hleb, who demonstrated eery composure, to collect the ball, evade the imposing figure of Zat Knight and lash home a low shot. Pandemonium broke out as all around pumped their fists in a mixture of delight and relief. The advertising hoarding below my seat received thunderous acclaim via my severley sunburnt right arm, and the time consuming Tony Warner had his ears warmed by the taunts of Flamini and Fabregas. The final whistle sounded as new skipper Gallas insisted on an all encompassing huddle, a statement of intent as it were. It was an important comeback, not just in terms of points, but psychologically, it was crucial to get the season off to a morale boosting start. However, I still cannot help but feel that last season's indiscretions, profligacy, the reactive rather than proactive nature of our play, were still largely present. I hope that this can be chalked to early season rust, several players appeared to be half a yard below their pace. I cannot help but feel Abou Diaby has a big part to play in this side in shifting the balance slightly to make us more aggressive. MAN OF THE MATCH: Kolo TOURE- There really is no other candidate.LD.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday August 12 2007

Time: 8:38PM

Your Comments

I know we should get used to it, but the Premiership seriousley needs to cut down on teams playind 11 man defence. It seriousley needs to stop.
We need to deal with eleven man defences better. But I think that's harsh on Fulham they played two strikers, very attacking wingers and caused us a lot of problems going forward. Sanchez got his tactics right in the second half, I think it was fatigue that really got them.
Little Dutch
Can't argue with anything there, at least the horrorshow of the opening goal was not of the oppositions doing (well it was but you know what I mean!) we were always gonna suffer after that especially coming so early shellshock is the word I'm reaching for. Regarding Diaby maybe he's starting Wed (with Denilson?) ?. Anyhow we struggled with Fulham at home, and I'm made up over three points we always used to take for a gimme.
I have to agree it felt like nothing had changed from last season. Defensive cock up? check, missed chances? check, late rally and victory? check, it could almost have been Wigan home from last year (including that fat tw*t Dowd). We badly missed Gilberto today Mcbride won everything in the air without the brazilian screening the centre backs from long balls and when the 2nd ball dropped Flamini was rarely 1st to it. Fabregas was off the pace and we lacked the option of a ball over the top (Eduardo perhaps?). I thought Bendtner was excellent when he came on, strong and fearless, hopefully some of his character will rub off on young Theo who doesnt seem to know just how quick he is! At the end of the day good teams find a way to turn bad performances into good results and there lies the difference between Arsenal and our logistical rivals.
Sanchez did get his tactics right in the 2nd half. Holding a high line and denying us the freedom with which we were able to pick our way behind them in the first half worked well. In fact a better team than Fulham might have taken one of the two decent chances that came their way as we started to lose ours. I thought that with them holding a high line Walcott would play through the middle with Hleb going right. That is where his pace might have had some benefit. Running down the touchline while trying to keep the ball in front of him isn't something he has mastered at all as yet. Hard to disagree with Toure as MOTM but I thought Hleb had as good a shout as anyone else.
BTW if anyone reading this was one of the pr1cks that booed us off at HT, trade your ticket, rip it up, whatever, jus' fack off cos we don't need you and you ain't welcome.
Agree with whats being said here. Bendtner was quite a startling presence. I do hope we see a bit more of him and Ade as they are quite big and seems to have psychological impact. They might also encourage more in the way of crosses from the wings. I didn't hear any boos though LD, and it shocks me to read your report on that. There was even polite applause for Alex Song today! Maybe thats becuase there were so many regulars on holiday!!
i second nikolaijns's opinion. btw i would have Hleb as my man of the match .. toure was good but not as good as hleb was today ... and he's finally started scoring .. i hope he gets 10+ goals this season ... rosicky was unlucky not to score from the 2 gr8 chances he had .. and bendtner certainly proved that he deserves more games this season ... eboue was *****e tho ... flamini was decent but he needs to win more balls ... fabregas was seemingly lazy but for the brilliant pass to hleb for the goal .., sagna was solid .. so was gallas .. and toure was as usual charging up lke a bull .. he gave a freakin scare tho when he almost scored an own goal ... overall, an exciting game ... it will show teams that we can dig our wins out as well .. DesiGooner
In my opinion Alex hleb was immense from start to end. Kolo toure just gets ahead of him with a fantastic performance as per usual but we have to understand 11 man defences is just going to keep happening and if teams like man ure last year could do it then so can we... we make chances lets finish them now.
Teams like manure did it last year abdleb but if todays showing is anything to go by not this year! :) they'll miss Shrek big time now 2 as he's out til late Sept.
There are some real idiots among our fans that go to the stadium, not many but a handful. Kept shouting 'shoot! shoot!' as early as 10 minutes into the first game of our new season, and then berating Hleb when he was actually at the hub of our best work. Not sure what was wrong with Fabregas today, although he still made that great pass to Hleb. It is only the first game though and hopefully we'll grow as the games come thick and fast. We just need to secure results in these first 5-8 games to build real belief and confidence.
Well said nikolaijns! I couldnt beleve it when people started booing at half time. The sados probley missed the two goals coz they were on the train homebound! Tossers!
Fabregas was given the majority of pre season off so it kinda stands to reason he's a coupla matches behind other players in terms of sharpness and fitness. Patience gooners!
i fail to see why anyone has you guys finishing behind spurs? you have great quality, and can pass the ball better than anyone (even pompey, although only just). You never seem to have problems breakig teams down, its just the finding the net that you do have a problem with - last season, you had more chances than anyone - which is why, with van persie fit, you could at the very least, push chelski/man u all the way. As for an 11 man defence being banned - it is a way of life, and what is to be expected. teams will not be going in wantion to loose, so will defend well. Whagt makes the premiership soexciting is that teams like you can break teams like us down - despite all our best efforts. I will follow you ver closely up untill we play you, as I can see a chance for 3 pts slipping away from us.
Cheers PC, hopefully the Arsenal of this season is a side with a never say die attitude, a year is a long time in the development of our young squad and there'll be a hell of a lot less draws, so yeah that includes you guys who we drew twice to last season, this time out we refuse to lose and to draw is a flaw!
What was wrong with Denilson and Diaby? Resting up for the CL qualifer? I thought they would defiantely be in the top 16. This result was actually pretty good. Opening day your never on your top. The important thing was the result. The diffrence between last year and this year, when we went behind at home on the opening day this time we came back to win.
quite right niko - this time we wont let our 2-0 lead slip, and have our goal disalowed (grrr). ;-) just so long as you loose to us, i'll suppot you all the way to the title.
Hi all, first post, though I've been lurking for a good while, 42 years a gooner. Me and my boy were at the game today. I have to say that I didn't hear any booing at half time(I was in the upper tier blue quadrant behind the goal) and that the chants of Thierry Henry seemd to me to come from the Fulham fans. In fact I was well impressed at the support throughout the game, seeing as we were behind for 85 minutes the support never seemed to stop. Frightful cock up by Lens, great game by Hleb, Sangna impressive and I think Bendtner changed the game. How about a front six first choice of Ade or Bendtner, Dudu, Van Persie, Bert, Cesc and Tommy or Hleb? Really important win, off to a great start and now we need to nail Sparta Prague away from home. Great site and LD writes like a dream. How come you're not credited in the current gooner Tim - have you hung up your laptop?
cambs gooner
Great article LD. Although I feel hleb must be a candidate for MOTM. That dance at the half way line and the through ball to cesc who was still too rusty and slow to catch up with it was the highlight of his performance obviously second to his goal which he took with great composure. Cesc needs to wake up, he has been like this all through pre-season. And i would rather see denilson/dibay play instead of flamini aswell. even though it had similarities to last season you have to remember the poacher supreme that arsene brought in to solve this problem was inured so hopefully he can provide a little more of a cutting edge becuase we need it still !!
Good view of the game. I cant abide supporters, even Gooners who boo after 45 minutes of the first game of the season. For those who booed, F***k Off, we dont need you. Hleb was my MOTM though I thought Clichy pushed him hard. Eboue faded in the second half and really needs to cover more as a wide player. Theo, to be honest was crap. He needs to play more central and should have slotted in beside RVP and not wide. The defense came in for slate by some supporters but really, it was the first game of the season and Fulham were far better this season than last. Also, I think Dudu, Ade, Denilson and Diaby will have more say. The flamster as much as I like his heart, just isnt strong enough. One last word, Nic, when we came on made the difference. The boy is tough, puts himself about - his header that Warner fumbled was just pure agro. I like him, I hope we see more of him.
Yep.. agree with pretty much everything in ur article esp. the last 5 lines. Hopefully it is pre season rust or whatever.. we will find out soon enuf. We desperately need to sign a wide player. I dunno who, I dunno for how much, but we do. We still don play the ball wide enuf for me. We look fragile in the back and maybe it is Bert's absence or whatever that is hurting us. I think Wenger needs to get his tactics right. We cud struggle with the same team against 'bigger' oppositions.
Hleb was Man of the Match, LD. Kolo was a tower of strength too, but Hleb was at the heart of just about all our best plays today. I really hope he keeps playing like this and willing to shoot and finish. The guy is so damn talented. Bendtner was really impressive as well. I suspect he might keep Ade on the bench quite a bit this season.
Hleb did have a fantastic game, I just felt when we were faltering, Kolo was the one who took it by the cruff of the neck. I thought Cesc looked a little behind, his passing wasn't quite up to scratch. But then I realised writing this up, that he was still at the hub of some of our best play, including a glorious assist for the winner. CG, I missed the deadline for the current issue, but I'm in the next one. I also wanted to point out that I was impressed by Sagna, who looked very solid and we definitely missed Gilberto because we really couldn't get to grips with McBride.
Little Dutch
great article LD, i agree with you re kolo being MOTM. hleb was excellent but lets see more of this sort of performaces from him. kolo has consistently held a precarious back line together for the last few seasons, and his run to the box which got our equaliser was magic! seeing it comes from our centreback when most teams' midfielders are void of such agility and skill. it feels as if someone paused our team from the end of last season and pressed the play play button just before kickoff on sunday. there is an odd sense of dejavu about the match. going down early, creating numerous chances withour scoring, an opposing goalkeeper in the form of his life, a penalty, and a late winner. i am glad the wait for the season proper is over (you can only watch highlights videos for so long). quite happy with other results too (spuds getting mashed by keanos boys, evil empire dropping 2 early points, good stuff.) hope our lads does the job against what i believe to be a potentially tricky sparta. and jens??? does he need ANYMORE attention or what? can always count on him for entertainment. oh yeah, my opinion is that bendtner will be a revelation this year. if he doesnt get injured, i think he will the key man or "target" in the opposition box. lastly, i couldnt hear the boos on tele, but if thats the case. those "so called" supporters dont deserve to be there. there are lots of us from the other side of the globe who would love to have the opportunity to see the great arsenal in real life. you cant even have enuf faith in the team for more than 45minutes? bloody disgrace. also, dont forget other teams used to applaud our team on "their" ground, surely we can be a bit more respectful to them (re niemi).
Deja vu, of last season. You're right LD. But I would give it 5 games, because these kind of problems arent going to go away overnight. The defending was solid throughout, I thought. Hleb had an excellent game. At the end of the day, we got 3 points, so a good start.
A great report LD and great result to get the season started, I think last season we'd have struggled for the draw, happy days!
you know, i saw alot of positives from yesterday, the way the team fought till the last minute, the way they fought for each other, the spirit was excellent. we are 2pts better off than last year and its platform to build on. we can only get better, we still have adebayor and eduardo to come back in, i personally thought once theo and bendtner cam on they made a huge difference and with Hleb scoring that will only boost his confidence infront of goal. yes its going to be tough and they will have to fight like that every game this year, but winning is a habbit and if they keep winning, the belief will get stronger and stronger, it could be worse and you could of gone to sunderland and lost 1-0 in the 93rd minute !! HAHA
omg i sound like arsene wenger :P
Also LD you didn't mention that Walcott was crap after he came on, and should have squared the ball to Bendtner to make it 3-1..
Morning Gooners! Just thought i would come on here, and get all the abuse out the way. From what I hear, it's still lucky old Arsenal.
Walcott just needs more games luckys... he wasn't bad but its so obvious he is green. He would develop faster if there were more grey hairs in the squad, but thats another subject.
The other important thing is that we had a clear cut penalty turned down again with Hleb in the first half. Same thing against Blackburn in both FA Cup games cost us dearly. Had that penalty been given, as it should have, and been scored, then it could have been more comfortable. Although it was reminiscint of games last year, the error by Jens you have to think is just a freak, coming as early into the new season as it did.
Topspur, what are you buggers playing at... you trying to bring St Totteringhams forward to January?
This is so funny - I mentioned on this site yesterday that after just 10 minutes I started hearing some of our so-called supporters screaming "shoot! shoot!" and just read the first paragraph of the Daily Telegraph's match report ...;jsessionid=0LYGLZGF33RMZQFIQMFSFF4AVCBQ0IV0?xml=/sport/2007/08/13/sfgars113.xml
Morning topspur. How does it feel to have a 16M signing now? You aint going to get any abuse, but some banter, and a few laughs at the expense of the good ol' spuds - certainly :).
JENS 5/10... A poor performance from the big German he needs to get his head right. Had an indifferent pre-season and has now carried it through. SAGNA 8/10... Really impressive solid display from the new man, he has so much pace and linked up well with Eboue. TOURE 8/10 great drive and determination to win the penalty just when the game was beginning to slip. BILLY 8/10 nice solid performance. CLICHY 8/10 another commanding display by the best LB in the prem. EBOUE 7/10 some nice passages of play but he needs to get involved more. CESC 7/10 looked a bit rusty but he was still the architect behind most of our best opportunities yesterday + he was unlucky not to score when through on goal. FLAMINI 5/10 run about like a headless chicken all afternoon. Works hard but i dont see the point in him at all as he isnt a good passer, tackler or goal scorer. He is like Zokora in that he runs about huffing and puffing but never actually does anything. Ive yet to see cesc play well when he is paired with the flamster. ROSICKY 7/10 could have had a couple of goals. Will get better with a run of games. HLEB 9/10 another oustanding display - great goal and should have had a penalty. ROBIN 7/10 not one of his best games with his first touch letting him down on a few occasions. Done well to slot home the penalty under pressure. BENDTNER 7/10 a real handful when he came on, i want to see more of him. WALCOTT 5/10 carried on were he left of last year - woeful! He should not be anywhere near the first team. There is something just not right about the boys technique on the ball. Compare a 17year old Anelka to 17year old walcott. Overall I would give the team 7/10.
Topspur you see when I was discussing JJ and Zakora I could find no other words to describe them as two bob and headless chicken which upset you some what, what would you call them after watching them against the might of Etuhu, 55 year old Dwight Yorke and Liam Miller?
I may get slated for saying this but for all his effort Flamini is the worst CM at the club. I was hoping he would leave during the summer along with Freddie. Had Freddie still been at the club Ive no doubt AW would have played him for the last 20 mins instead of the impressive Bendtner.
Flamini is the worst CM we have but i would have him anyday over JJ/Zokora/Tainio
Great piece LD. Anyone know where the Prague match is being shown? I've seen it's on ITV, but everywhere I look shows some crap about Robbie Coltrane driving down Britain's B-roads!!! (think I might pee myself with excitement there!!!)
The referee was very poor yesterday and what dissapointed me the most was the bitter, moaning and whining coming from Laurie Sanchez who should be grateful the ref was as myopic as he was. We should have had 2 penalties and if it wasn't for your teams pathetic time wasting from the 2nd minute (yes 2nd bloody minute) then we may not of had enough time to score the winner, you simpleton mugs! I love it when teams time wasting comes back to haunt them.
the rags are seriously *****ing me off... they have headlines about us diving! Hlebs was as clear cut a penalty as you will see FFS yet when big head Stevie G divies and screams at the ref they mention nothing. The rags treat us like S.h.i.t.e because we have no englanders.
A new season, the first match report....I'm so happy. I'm not overly concerned about the game, you can gurantee that Jens won't make that mistake again. If oppo teams want to score they'll have to do it by themselves. A freak start, but we fought well, last season that would have been a draw. Great write up btw LD.
Although I dont post as often, iI quite enjoy reading. LD. A well writted report as usual. I look forward to reading them
Scooch the champions league match is being shown on Setanta.
On setanta and not ITV ?!! Damn that means i cant watch.
Bring it on Andy, my son in law is a Gooner. I was watching the game with him on Sat, so you can imagine. I think I might have to disown my daughter. Can anyone tell me why the Arsenal game was played at 12.00 and not televised?
iceman I've been watching football for longer than I would care to admit (I suspect Ill get enough stick, without giving you more ammunition) And while I don't think they are top notch, they are worth at least 3 bob. So stop penny pinching and make an offer for them!
Topspur i think it was to stop the well known hooligan element ;-) for what it's worth i don't think Hleb played as well as is being made out, and i think Matty deserves praise for his engine and unrivalled effort. Fulham also deserve some praise, they weren't overly defensive and their subs were like-for-like instead of throwing on defender after defender. They'll stay up if that's anything to go by
The match was on sunday noon because the victoria line was closed on Saturday. I also agree with the last post, and I must comment on how unusual it is that everybody is raving about Hleb's performance when I thought he was quite average. Is this a parallel universe?
Little Dutch
I think the praise for Hleb probarbly comes from persons who had written him off before that goal! Those that appreciated his skills before now will be in a better position to judge his performance relative to his past performances
I hope the detractors there yesterday were fickle enough to cheer him after getting on to him most the game.
Detrators? CHeer? You wish... They probarbly had left by the time he scored.
haha well around me it was pretty full 'til the end, i heard talk of stewards not letting people leave early cos it blocks the view n all, which would be nice
Quite average is not being fair to Hleb's performance. He had a good game, and had also had that lovely through ball for Cesc who failed to score. Plus he was all over the place, very effective, and not only because he scored the goal.
Well I think that us an excellent excuse to keep them seated till the end... grumbling and all. Also, with the provision to trade off tickets, maybe some more proper fans can get their hands of tickets and attend the games, right now, the team need all the encouragement they can get. Well done to LD and the rest of you guys that keep up the good work of positive support
Yeah I agree with Prits, I think describing Hleb's performance as quite average is unfair. I really wish Theo can somehow raise his game, he just appears to be playing without any genuine belief that he can cut it at that level. I know that he's still young, but there seems to be a lack of convinction in his play.
Hleb was fairly good but not to the level many imply. LD correctly selected Toure as MOM. On an aside, did anyone notice the interaction between Gallas and Kolo yesterday? While their bond has improved a bit, they are still a bit disjointed. I remember Kolo on at least one occassion giving instruction and pointing things out to others in midfield and defence, and I saw Gallas watching him wondering whether to get involved or not. In the end he didn't, but it struck me as a bit odd because it pointed up some awkwardness at the heart of defence. Be interesting to see how this develops over the weeks.
I'd say the Gallas-Toure partnership looked good, even though there might be a few areas which were odd that they need to work out. To be fair, there was nothing in that performance to suggest that they cannot form an effective partnership.

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