5-4-3-2-1: The Winners and Losers In The Brave New World

Back to the run of the mill games between now and the end of the season. Some tell you that they are cup finals – yes, young Ramsey, I’m looking at you – others are more cynical such as I, believing it’s too little, too late.

If you look at the remaining fixtures, we won’t win all seven and every dropped point cranks up the pressure a little more. Lose on Sunday and a little becomes a lot. Not finishing in the top four has been a long time coming. Plenty of warnings in previous years went unheeded and Armageddon has arrived.

I’ve said for some time now that in purely sporting terms, we are in with a better chance of winning the Europa League than the Champions League. Next season is the chance to prove that. With the winners joining Europe’s élite – and Tottenham – prioritising the top four has the whiff of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

The summer requires the manager – and I’m assuming it will be Arsène – to rebalance the squad so that three at the back is always a viable option, if not the preferred formation du jour. That means a busy time; not fitting square pegs into round holes.  Retraining a player into a new position is part of Wenger’s repertoire but it has to be with a specific long-term plan in mind. The players must commit to the plan as well.

Running Far and Wide

That may take some doing; players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have waited some time for their run in the team. Coaxing a new role out of him requires promises to be made which can’t necessarily be kept. While right wing-back suits him, I’d prefer him to be in one of the two central midfield roles in the brave new world. His energy is a nice counterbalance to the Xhaka who played on Sunday.

Hector Bellerin is the player I have more in mind. His speed and ability is not in question but the discipline required for wing-back is different to full back. He can play there and at the moment, I’d guess the issue is confidence more than anything else. He will play for his country this summer which robs Wenger of some working time but with a month off, he should be back in pre-season in good time for the ‘big kick-off’. Between now and then, there is plenty of work to do.

There will be losers, as well as winners in these situations. Theo Walcott, if we’re honest, is nothing more than a squad player in that formation. Having been talked out of his ambition to be a central striker, he’s now finding his role in the side is substitute. Got to love the next round of contract talks with Team Walcott. Is this summer the time to cash in on what remains of his resale value? I guess his future is directly linked to what happens with Alexis.

Change For The Better, Change For The Worse

If the Chilean goes, Walcott could get a reprieve in the first team but it seems unlikely that he will be in favour any time soon with 3-4-2-1, especially as Alex Iwobi is the more natural left-sided solution in the squad.

The role of lead striker is not suited to Olivier Giroud on the basis of the last couple of performances are anything to go by. The Frenchman was hugely frustrated at Wembley and anonymous at ‘Boro. Two strikers down for a club which couldn’t land any last summer. Still there’s always Yaya Sanogo although I think his contract is up this summer. Two strikers down still…

The immediate focus is Leicester and three points. We’ve massively cocked-up games like this one already and there’s no room for manoeuvre if they are serious about getting into the top four. It’s the defeats against teams like Watford, West Brom and Crystal Palace which have undone any aspirations the squad had. Petr Cech denied it was a ‘soft’ dressing room. Sh*t happens was his basic theme, and not down to a lack of strong personalities. Which misses the point. It’s a lack of leadership which is the issue. We can all point out where it’s going wrong, it’s another thing to put it right by example and by instilling a willingness in others to follow – to trust – your decisions and plans.

Changes For Summer

You’d think Cech with his experience would be one of those leaders:

“Obviously you have some ­periods of games where you ­prepare and do the right things then the game starts and it all goes completely wrong.

“We had a difficult period where we lost games we shouldn’t have lost and obviously then you’re in a situation where you’re under pressure and need to find a way out. Sometimes you find a way out quickly, sometimes it takes a bit of time and there is damage. And I think this season we had that spell. When you lose three out of four you put yourself in a difficult position.

“I think at the start of the season we overcame falling behind in games. Sometimes you find the answer to the difficulties you face, sometimes you don’t.”

Yo, Pete! The whole point of leaders is exactly those situations. Hold on while I look at this scratched record…

’til Tomorrow.

57 thoughts on “5-4-3-2-1: The Winners and Losers In The Brave New World

  1. Wembley Wembley we’re the famous Arsenal and we’re going to Wembley (again)

    The way it’s going we could be getting rid of half of our squad this summer. Not a problem if we have replacements lined up. Big IF…

  2. Pete the Thirst,

    Pete, I’m not convinced we are proactive enough (with Wenger and his sidekicks at the helm) to get rid of half the team. I doubt if more than 3 will go and 1 or 2 will come in. You know, the sort that don’t make the headlines. The players you would expect Everton to buy.

  3. DALM,

    Have you forgotten the 5 Feb 2011 match? 3 up in 10 mins. 4 up within half an hour. Match ends 4-4 and we really ought to lost 5-4.

    The soft underbelly goes back years with this team. We cannot take anything for granted.

  4. Not sure what is more frustrating, the fact that Cech has been part of the problem or the fact that he is constantly talking about leadership but has shown none?!?

    As far as the 3 in the back, and the striking situation, I know I proudly carry the Team Theo flag but I’m not understanding why Sanchez can’t play as our CF because he is FAR better than Giroud even in holding up the ball and then playing Theo either on the right or the left. What other manager would drop a player that scored a goal in 5 of the last 8 matches for a striker that has scored 2 goals in his last 8 matches?

  5. Stu,

    To true, take nothing for granted.

    There was a time when a bottom half team (Leicester) almost safe (2 points) from relegation would turn up expecting to get thrashed and probably would be, but no more.

    Leicester will arrive tomorrow believing that there are three points for the taking, such has been our form since January.

    A new defensive line-up and two wins out of two point towards a spring recovery so let’s all hope those green shoots are not blighted by a return of the lackadaisical defending so prevalent recently.

  6. Stu,

    Beat me to it.

    I do not expect a club as big as Newcastle, with their fan base, spirit and TV money are going to return and roll over for anyone next season.

    All it will take in the transfer window is for a couple of teams to make astute buys (which every team can now afford) and we could see a shake up at both ends of the table.

    I would not be surprised to see Newcastle mid-table by the end of next season.

  7. C,

    Agree completely regarding Cech.

    Amongst all he was credited with when he joined us (for no aparent reason) was ‘winners mentality’, ‘older experienced head in the dressing room’, etc etc.

    He never gave that impression at Chelsea, it was Terry who led the team…Cech just seemed like a lovely chap. I am sure he is.

    A leader of men, I’m not so sure.

  8. Stu

    Remember it clearly if not dearly – 4-0 up as I took the family in to the cinema – imagine my surprise when I came back out !

    Of course, since then we have grown and developed as a team and squad and have developed the sort of never say die approach that will see us triumph…

    I’ll get my coat.

  9. DFS-,

    Its strange because he was supposed to bring that ‘winners mentality’ along with a command of the box and organizing yet, like you I think it was much more Terry and Cehc was able to just play his part.

    A leader, nope I don’t think so for club or country.

  10. I think signing Cech was the right thing to do at the time. We’d had a string of dodgy ‘keepers since Lehman left, and the choice between Almunia, Fabianski, Mannone and Szczesny didn’t inspire confidence.

    Initialy he did stabilise things at the back, giving some level of confidence to the four defenders in front of him. Unfortunately, this lead to those defenders going all gung ho and storming up-field to leave gaping gaps behind them.

    Since then age and increasingly frequent injuries have taken their toll of him creating the sort of hesitancy we saw on Sunday leading to Aguero’s goal. Can we rely on him for the coming season? Should we try to convince Szczesny to return and make him first choice? Would Cech accept the demotion or leave?

    It looks likely that Ospina is off to pastures new, which leaves us with the young Martinez which would put us back to square one.

  11. Orson Kaert,

    I believe the best option (financially) we presently have is to bring Szczesny back.

    I thought bringing Cech to the club made sense in the short term, but, as I have said numerous times his game was already in decline at Chelsea. The fact he was once the best, meant he was still very good…but it should have been a 2 year contract with an option at best.

    What bugged me was we signed Cech on a 5 year thirty million dollar total package.

    That never made any sense – he still has three years to go.

  12. Afternoon,

    I can’t really see much in the way of wholesale changes this summer, largely because Wenger will still be there. He is the epitome of the guy flogging the dead horse, as he keeps puffing up players who are frankly not good enough to play for the club. With him in charge there will not be any fundamental changes unless there is a push by the BoD to grab the situation by the scruff of the neck. Given past evidence, I see very little chance of that happening.

  13. DFS-,

    At least Szczesny won’t cost a transfer fee, but he will command higher wages, perhaps training with Cech will help his further developement.

    Cech may be happy to see out his contract on the bench, but a lucrative deal in MLS or China could well attract him.

  14. Great post Yogi

    You know that over the last 9 years I have spent more keystrokes criticizing Arsene then anyone else in the comment sections but unfortunately I think we have to accept the reality that he will be the manager for the next 2-3 years. At this point my guesss is that Arsene is holding out for an extra year or more money and he and the club are waiting for the end of the season to announce his contract because they are negotiating. If we finish top 4 and get the CL money then I suspect Arsene might get an extra year and a bigger pay check. It’s remarkably frustrating that a club like ours would appear to have so little ambition and gladly accept the stagnation that has been this decade but nothing I can do about it. Always a lot more interesting to talk about who we can buy this summer and how to rebuild the squad.

  15. Wavey,

    When you look closely at our squad, you see only two players who would be attractive to top level clubs. Sanchez, who Wenger says is NOT leaving in the summer, and Bellerin who is on a long contract anyway. Ozil is the luxury item that rich clubs might covet but don’t really need.

    There is some hint of interest in Giroud, emanating from France, and talk of Liverpool eyeing up Oxlade-Chamberlain, but whilst the former might go, in view of his new found wingback position I can’t see the latter leaving either.

    Given the general lack of interest in the remainder of the squad, can you really see Wenger initiating an exodus of HIS players in the summer.

  16. Bill,

    As to interest in summer signings, Iv’e resurected a comment tagged onto the end of yesterday’s post.

    In journalistic terms The Silly Season used to be in the dog days of summer, when headlines such as “man bites dog” and “phew wot a scorcher” graced the front pages of the tabloids but this year it has come early. “Arsenal take on Chelsea in race to sign £50m Van Dijk”. It is understood that Arsenal are prepared to match any wages offered by Chelsea or any other rivals for his signature. There’s a shiny new £1 coin waiting on Dick Law’s desk. 😀

  17. I agree that Cech is not the same GK that we thought we were getting and a replacement would be a good idea. However, I don’t like the idea of Wojo. He was obviously an Arsene favorite and was handed the job on a silver platter in 2010 and then given 5 full years but he could not hold on to the job. There is nothing in football more important then preventing the other team from scoring and nothing kills a team faster then a mistake prone GK. You don’t need the world’s GK but consistency from that position is absolutely critical. The one thing that characterized Wojo’s first run was the inconsistency and there is no way to be confident that he has conquered the demons that caused his demise in his first run. I would sell him and use the money to buy someone who is more trustworthy. Just as an example I suspect Southampton could be tempted with a bid for Fraser Forster and I am sure there are many other GK for smaller teams around the world would be very good without the risk that Wojo represents.

  18. A post script to my comment @ 1.59.

    An hour ago when asked about Giroud, Wenger replied…” I had no approach from Marseille and we want to keep Olivier Giroud at the club”.

    Oh well, we can hope that Marseille up their offer then.

  19. Orson

    Its truly silly season and much of the talk is ridiculous and meaningless and to each his own but I have always said there has never a transfer rumor that I did not like but that is just me.

  20. One other comment about Wojo. I have no idea why he would want to come back and play for Arsene. Even if he is promised the #1 position he knows that he was dropped several times during his first run and he also knows that Arsene would have to keep him on a very short leash. It’s inevitable that after the first couple of mistakes the thing will start going thru Arsene’s head is here we go again. If Wojo really has other options, why would anyone want to come back to a situation like that at a place that was the scene of a previous failure to play for a manager who already dumped you several times.

  21. I read an offer of £20m was made for Giroud.

    If I thought that would go to the kitty of a new CF, I’d take him there personally.

  22. Bill,

    I said something similar yesterday.

    Arsenal is not perceived to be the attractive destination it was a few seasons ago which makes all the talk of signing this or that player so much hot air.

    Until the Board announce their decision on Wenger’s future, the stae of paralysis will persist.

  23. The even bigger question is what do we do if Sanchez leaves. This formation can only support 3 forwards and those 3 players need to score almost all of our goals. Clearly Ozil can not defend well enough to be a midfielder or a winger in this formation so if he is a definitie starter then the only place he can play is as a forward. However, he does not score very much so we would need to get nearly all of the goals from the other 2 forwards and both of those forwards need to be regular scorers which rules out using someone like Iwobe or Ox and it probably rules out Welbeck as a regular starter since he does not score enough. If Sanchez stays I really like him better as the wide left forward. He brings the dynamic movement and ability to attack at pace similar to what Ox did in the Man City game and the ability to help on defense on the left that no one else can bring. He also can score a lot of goals from the left wing and there are not a lot of wide forwards who can score as many goals as Sanchez. This would allow us to use another big time goal scorer at CF.

    Myself I think we should have someone who is a threat to score at all 3 forward positions. Ozil does not score and he does not defend and he has not been creating enough asssists in the last 18 months to compensate for those other deficiencies in his skill set. Conte droppped Fabregas probably because of his lack of defensive nous and statistically Fabregas has been better then Ozil this year. You have to make compromises for the good of the whole team I think we should sell Ozil this summer. Giving Ozil the huge multi year contract he will need when it seems like his ability to influence the game is already fading and he does not fit very well in a 3 in the back formation would be a big mistake.

  24. Orson:

    I understand why Arsenal would not be considered a great destination for a lot of top top players but enough money will certainly change that perception. We spent about $100M in 2016 without selling anyone and if we sell Ozil, Giroud, Wojo, Walcott, Wilshere we can generate at least another $75M or probably more. If we are forced to sell Sanchez it would add another $50M to the war chest. A big enough wage package can convince almost anyone to come.

  25. Bill,

    Wenger has again categorically ruled out Sanchez leaving before the end of his current contract, he has gone further and suggested he may yet sign an extension.

    He is the manager, we must take him at his word…however much we think it’s bullshit.

  26. I understand the idea of using Sanchez at CF but he can be just as influential from the left forward position and there are not very many wide forwards in the world who can come close to scoring 20 league goals and do all of the other things Sanchez can do when he starts wide left. Ox showed us how much influence a dynamic high energy wide player can bring and Hazard also demonstrates how much a dynamic wide forward can influence the game. Not many wide forwards in the world not named Sanchez or Hazard can do that.

    Perhaps even more important using Alexis wide left would leave the CF position open for us to put another big time scorer in the line up.

  27. Orson

    Fair enough. I really doubt Sanchez will sign another contract but I do hope we keep him even if it means we risk losing him for free the following season

  28. I wonder is Van Dijk another of the imagery players Arsene was offered before he went to Celtic for song

  29. buckagh,

    He’s currently out of action with a foot injury, another Kallstrom?

    Gotta go, another film preview this evenng, The Promise. Free tickets, free parking and a special offer, two for the price of one at Bella Italia afterwards.

    Luvvly Jubbly!

  30. I spent a shit load of characters calling for us to sign Van Dijk and Wanyama for two summers and Arsene didn’t listen.

    Maybe the next manager will listen to me!

  31. Bill,

    I think Conte dropped Cesc because he signed Kante who is a superior player at this point in their career and in his 343 system he went with Matic and Kante to bring them a solid base in midfield thus allowing the front 3 players to not have to track back and can just attack at will.

    Cesc has 6 goals and 8 assists this season in all competitions
    Ozil has 12 goals and 11 assists

    Now you also have to take into account the team and players around him if you are going to start comparing player. I mean Cesc is threading balls into Costa(17), Hazard(14), Pedro(7) and Willian(6) and Ozil (Sanchez as well) are passing to Iwobi(3), Theo(10), Giroud(9), Welbeck(1), Ox(2) and Ramsey(0); which of those 2 groups would allow any creative player to flourish more?

    Consider this also, Cahill (4), Moses (3), Alonso (5) all have more goals than Iwobi, Ox and Ramsey. That is 2 defenders and Moses who has more goals than 3 attacking players who feature regularly for us. So maybe before the Ozil trouncing continues, or you continue to bang on about Cesc you should take a long hard look at the players around each of them.

  32. Cech did not show much leadership when he bottled it with Aguero on Sunday for Citeh’s goal. Decisiveness and bravery in those sort of moments is real leadership.

  33. C

    Chelsea has scored 65 league goals and Arsenal has scored 63. The difference in goal scoring between the teams has been negligible this season. That calls into question the validity of your point about Ozil’s assist totals being lower because of his team mates. Ozil played 8 games in the CL that Chelsea did not have played which allowed Ozil to pad his stats against teams like Ludogrets which makes the “all competitions” comparison much less valid. The critical stats are that Ozil has 7 goals and 6 assists in 2226 league minutes this season. Fabregas has 4 goals and 7 assists in 962 league minutes. No matter how you slice it Fabregas has been significantly more productive when he has played. Cesc is still a very very good midfielder if you only consider pure creativity.

    I suspect Conte does not use Cesc because he does not score or defend so he is not a good option at the forward spot and he does not want to use him in midfield because it would really weaken the defense in the middle of the pitch. Ozil presents the exact same tactical conundrums for us. Fabregas limits tactical flexibility because you have to compensate for his deficiencies and Conte is smart enough to understand that solid defense is more important to the teams results then having another creative influence.

    Perhaps an even bigger issue is that if you look at second half of last season and this entire season and consider the huge drop off in the number of assists then its clear that Ozil’s ability to influence the game has really fallen off in the last 18 months. The eyeball test tells you the exact same thing. Ozil has been around for a long time and in his late 20’s and played a lot of minutes in his career and that is probably taking its toll both physically and mentally. It’s possible a change of scenery and a different culture would help him but the likelihood of regaining his best form in the current situation is probably not very good. Giving him a long term ultra high wage contract would most likely be a big mistake.

    Sanchez is a similar age but is having his best season ever and we desperately need someone to score goals so his signature on a new contract has to be the absolute highest priority. If we could find someone like Pep who still puts a very high value on pure creativity from his midfield perhaps we could sell Ozil while we can still get a decent transfer fee.

    I hope that all makes sense.

  34. Yogi

    I think the wing back position that Ox is playing right now is perfect for him. There was some concern about his 58% passing accuracy after the Man City game and that stat could be much more important if Ox is playing centrally because a misplaced pass in central midfield is definitely more dangerous then a misplaced pass on the right wing. The years of Wengerball has conditioned us to believe that creativity comes from technically gifted central midfielders and also conditioned us to believe that we need a creative hub at the #10 position. None of that is true. We need someone with a dynamic skill set to push the tempo of the game and there is absolutely no reason Ox and Sanchez can’t continue to be creators in chief from the wide positions. Moving Ox centrally gives him less room to operate and there is more danger when he does lose the ball.

    I understand that right wing back would be the only real place for Bellerin but while Hector is remarkably pacey he certainly does not give us the same dynamic skill set and ability to push the tempo and move the ball forward at his feet on the right wing that Ox brings. If Hector has to miss out then so be it. Finding a way to shoehorn him into the line up would be a mistake. IMO.

  35. Hector is a good player and it would be unfortunate if he did get shut out of the line up for the long term. However, he is not that good or so important that we have move other players around in order to create a way to get him into the regular line up. It’s possible Ox could move to central midfield if he could learn to avoid losing the ball and then Hector would be the right wing back. Hector would also be the best option at RB if we ever use 4 at the back. The other issue with Ox is his fitness record is not great and his consistency has always been suspect. He has had some great runs of form in the past but he has never been consistent. Hopefully this time Ox can stay relatively healthy and consistently dynamic on the right wing but it makes sense to keep Hector irregardless of what happens the rest of this season.

  36. C,

    agree 100%. Sick of the Ozil bashing. How can a player be so good for Germany (and before that Real Madrid) and suddenly he’s not good enough for an underperforming Arsenal and should be sold?! Strewth.

  37. Sam

    Things change with time as the players get further along in their football lifecycle. Ozil was brilliant for Arsenal for the first 1/2 of the season in 15/16. However since the beginning of calender year 2016 everything change and the positive influence has really dropped off significantly for the last 1 1/2 seasons. His assist numbers for Germany have also dropped off in the big tournaments. He is in his late 20’s and I would argue the evidence points to him starting on the downside of his career arc. Part of that dropoff may be mental as well as physical. It’s easier to get mentally fired up for a couple of international games then it is for the long grind of a club season. If you want to keep ozil and let him go on the free after next season then to each his own. However, giving him the long term ultra high dollar contract needed to keep him will probably be a huge mistake. The money we would get from selling Ozil and Giroud could probably buy a really good CF. That seems like a better long term strategy to me.

  38. If we could keep Ozil on running 1 year contracts then it would be better but he is not going to do that. Like any player I suspect he wants one last really huge pay day. The strange thing is that he has not been playing like someone who wants to convince Arsene to give him that big contract.

  39. Chelsea look like they are at their counter attacking best against Southampton. Generrally southampton are very solid defensively but they had about 7 players in the penalty box and Chelsea only had 2 but Chelsea got a great chance and Hazard scored.

  40. I’d actually pay a small sum to watch the conversation in that car journey unfold.

    Damon:
    I read an offer of £20m was made for Giroud.

    If I thought that would go to the kitty of a new CF, I’d take him there personally.

  41. Another assist for cesc. He is still a really good creative player. He has been making things happen when he has been in the pitch this season.

  42. Cesc off for a Pedro to improve defense. Cesc was actually working hard on defense and dropping back into the penalty box to help out when Southampton had the ball. He was also dropping deep to receive the ball and help the transition from defense to attack.

  43. Hopefully Southampton will play like this when we come to St Mary’s. Chelsea only have 49% of the ball possession because when they have the ball they are constantly attacking and moving forward at pace the way we did in the second half against Man City. Their ball possession, number of passes completed and pass completion percentages will not be very good but who cares. I can’t remember even once when Chelsea exchanged a bunch of short passes around the midfield.

  44. Ah, Fabregas… he was so fantastic last year compared to this Özil (who in the end doesn’t know how to play football, right, Bill? Can’t defend, can’t goal, assist but not good, can’t dribble, doesn’t fight, luxury… but what is Löw doing with such a wan***?)! Fabregas with whom Arsenal won so many titles…

  45. Alex,

    Ooh! Just a hint of sarcasm there?

    Really enjoyed the film this evening. The Promise, an expose of the genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians just prior to WW1. I have to admit that I had a tear in my eye at the end. A harrowing and moving story well told and acted. I fully recommend it.

  46. Alex

    What happened years ago is irrelevant to what is happening right now. I am certainly not campaigning for buying Fabregas back although I would suggest it might be a good idea if Cazorla is not able to come back from injury. The only point that I am making is that when he has been on the pitch this season Fabregas has been more effective then any of our central midfielders. I suspect the reason that Cesc has only played 1000 minutes this season is because Conte believes that defensive solidarity is more important to results then ball possession, passes completed or having another creative playmaker on the pitch.

  47. The meal at Bella Italia was very good as well, slow cooked lamb shank in a rosemary and red wine sauce with mashed potato and green beans, accompanied by a nice bottle of red. With the 10% discount special offer a real bargain. Only twenty yards from restaurant door to the multi-storey carpark, so even the sleet shower wasn’t much of an inconvenience.

    Chavs heading for a possible double, we’ll need to put a stop to that on the 27th May.

    Good night to you all.

  48. Alex

    I don’t think Ozil has been the same player for Germany in the last few years either. Low moved him out of the midfield in WC 2014. I don’t know why but I suspect he wanted to build a better midfield defense. If you combine World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016 Ozil has played 13 games and recorded just 2 assists and 2 goals. Stats don’t tell you everything but that is not very much critical end product coming from a player who probably spends more time in the attacking 1/3 of the pitch then any other midfielder in the world.

  49. Alex

    Ozil has been a great player and had a great career but based on the evidence from the last 1 1/2 years he is not the same player that he was. Players start to fade physically or mentally at different times in their careers. Age 28 is early but Ozil has played a lot of high leverage minutes and that has to take its toll. He has also made a lot of money and won all of the big trophies. It can’t help to be on a team with a culture like ours. That is nothing more then my own speculation with no way to prove it but it does fit with what has been happening on the pitch.

  50. Jonny,

    You and Ollie would have to take the backseat. Mrs Jennifer Giroud and I would be up front. Unfortunately the child locks would be on so histrionics and throwing yourselves to the floor won’t get either of you out the doors. Regulated and pre planned road stops only

    Radio off, no tablets, DVD’s or laptops. First topic of conversation would be the Liverpool hotel and Celia Kay

    Just to ensure Jenny’s onside before the football chatter starts. Then we can get onto how you go 16 games without scoring.

    Might be a long drive for our Ollie eh?

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