Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Basel, Champions League Group Matchday 2


Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, September 28
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials from the Netherlands
    • Referee: Danny Makkelie
    • Assistants: Mario Diks and Hessel Steegstra
    • 4th Official: Jan Vries
    • Additional Assistants: Kevin Blom and Kamphuis Jochem
  • All-Time in All Competitions: First competitive meeting
  • Arsenal's European Form: L-W-W-L-L // D
  • Basel's European Form: W-L-W-D-L // D
  • Weather: Clear, 65 °F / 18 °C
This picture of a frustrated Diego Costa is so great, I think
I'll use it for every section in this preview.
Well, that was a helluva weekend, wasn't it?

I gotta be honest with you, I didn't see that coming. I had serious doubts about Arsenal's psychological ability to handle a Chelsea team that had been unbeaten against the Gunners for almost five years in the league. And if you say you didn't have at least some doubts yourself, I think you're stretching the truth a bit.

But, man, was that exhilarating or what? By the quarter hour mark, just around when Per Mertesacker was finding himself sent off in the corresponding fixture last season, we were two goals to the good. It was brutal, it was clinical, and it could have been more. It was everything you could have wanted from Arsenal v. Chelsea but would never have dared dreamed. It was a lot like Arsenal's beating of Manchester United at the Emirates last season, so let's hope they don't suffer the same kind of letdown they suffered at Old Trafford when they visit the Bridge in early February.

Anyway, back to reality, as there's still plenty of work to be done. We shift our focus back to Europe and a visit from Swiss champions Basel tonight. Arsenal were a bit lucky to snare a draw out of what was, on paper, their most difficult of their six group stage fixtures, but that would be all for naught if they fail to win their home games.

Again, 13 points is sufficient to advance from the group, so doing the double over Basel and Ludogorets will see Arsenal through to the next phase. Given their recent stumbles in the round of 16, Arsenal have a chance to really go for it here and win the group. They'll need a home result against PSG on matchday five for that to work out, but even that might not be enough if they don't take care of business against the rest.

So, let's keep this winning feeling going, shall we?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Coquelin (knee,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee,) Jenkinson (knee)
Suspended: Giroud (one match, two yellow cards)

Just about the only bad news to come out of Saturday is, of course, the injury to Francis Coquelin. Since the Frenchman had injured the same knee last season (he then missed a little over two months,) there were fears of a recurrence, fears which could not be addressed until the swelling subsided some 48 hours later. But, there's good news! The scan was "quite positive," according to Arsène Wenger, and while Coquelin will miss this fixture, the injury appears to be short-term rather than my initial, personal, non-medical diagnosis of 4-6 weeks. It might still be as many as three, though, from what I've read.

There's no other new injury news to report from the weekend, aside from the fact that Carl Jenkinson returned to full training on Monday (which he likened to Christmas; isn't he just adorable?) Jenkinson suffered an ACL tear while on loan with West Ham and has been out of action since January 23.

With Coquelin out, we could see a holding midfield partnership of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny, two players who have spent time in Basel. The Swiss club also have Xhaka's brother Taulant. The Xhakas last faced each other at this summer's Euros, as Taulant plays for Albania.

Olivier Giroud will serve a one match ban for his late red card against PSG, which could mean a start for Lucas Pérez up top. Then again, perhaps not: how do you justify dropping any one of the midfield trio of Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott, and Alexis Sánchez after the match they had on Saturday?

Having learned my lesson from matchday one, I would guess that David Ospina will start in goal.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerín, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Özil, Iwobi, Walcott, Alexis.

Basel Squad News

Out: Akanji (knee,) Bua (registration)
Doubts: Zuffi (ankle,) Janko (thigh)

Basel are not expected to make many changes, or perhaps any at all, to the side that drew Ludogorets on matchday one. Striker Marc Janko has not played since that match, when he was removed with a thigh injury on 40 minutes. Midfielder Luca Zuffi has missed two matches with an ankle injury, but was on the bench at the weekend. I'm predicting both will start, but since I don't follow the Swiss league that closely, that's really total guesswork.

Defender Manuel Akanji is a long-term injury with a knee problem, while midfielder Kevin Bua, who joined from Zürich this summer, is not in the club's Champions League squad list.

Predicted XI: Vaclík, Lang, Balanta, Suchý, Traoré, Xhaka, Steffen, Bjarnason, Delgado, Zuffi, Janko.

Current Form

It has been 45 days since Arsenal lost 4-3 to Liverpool on the opening day of the season. Since then, Arsenal's form, across all competitions, has read as follows: D-W-W-D-W-W-W. Yes, the Gunners are unbeaten in their last seven fixtures overall. To put that in some perspective, Arsenal ended last season unbeaten in nine (they did not lose again after being eliminated from Europe at Camp Nou on March 16,) but it didn't feel that way because of four draws in the mix, including particularly brutal ones to Crystal Palace and Sunderland, not to mention Andy Carroll's hat trick at Upton Park.

Given the circumstances, things look pretty good in Goonerland right now. I'll touch on this more at the weekend since it's more relevant for Sunday, but Arsenal have a four game winning streak in the league for the first time since last October (that streak was five.) It's easy to forget that Arsenal were top of the league at the halfway point last year.

As for Basel, they are well on their way to their eighth consecutive Swiss Super League title; the last time another club won the league was 2009, when Zürich won. After nine league games this season, Basel still has a 100% record in domestic competition and are already 13 points clear of second place Young Boys. They've won twice in the Swiss Cup as well and will face Tuggen in the third round in a month's time; Basel were eliminated on penalties in last year's quarterfinals to Sion, though you might be interested to know that Mohamed Elneny converted Basel's first in that shootout.

Arsenal have struggled at home in Europe in recent seasons; over their last 15 home matches in the Champions League, they've won seven, lost seven, and drawn one. Last year, Arsenal split their home results evenly. They lost on matchday two to Olympiacos before shocking Bayern Munich on matchday three, getting revenge on Dinamo Zagreb on matchday five for their earlier loss in Croatia, and then falling to Barcelona in the first leg of the round of 16.

Match Facts

Arsenal are 4-0 all-time against Swiss competition, but they have never met Basel in a competitive fixture. Arsenal's previous run-ins with the Swiss came in 1971 and 2005. In the '71 European Cup second round (you know, after they won the league at the Lane the year prior...), Arsenal beat Grasshopper 5-0 on aggregate, 2-0 in Switzerland and 3-0 at Highbury. They went on to lose to Ajax, the eventual champions, in the next round. In 2005's group stage, Arsenal defeated Thun twice: 2-1 in London with a late winner from Dennis Bergkamp and 1-0 in Switzerland with a late penalty spot winner from Robert Pirès.

Basel have faced English competition on 24 previous occasions, winning six, losing 10, and drawing eight. Most recently, in 2014, they were in a group with Liverpool, Ludogorets, and Real Madrid. On matchday six, Basel went to Anfield and got a 1-1 draw, having beaten the Reds earlier in the group stage at home. The result meant that Basel advanced to the round of 16 at Liverpool's expense. Basel also beat Chelsea twice in the 2013 group stage; Chelsea won all four of their other games to top the group. The previous spring, Chelsea defeated Basel in the Europa League semifinal after the Swiss side had dispatched Tottenham in the quarterfinals on penalties.

In 10 previous Champions League matches against English competition, Basel have lost just once. at home to Manchester United in the 2002/03 second group stage.

The Referee

The match officials are from the Netherlands; the referee is Danny Makkelie. This will be Makkelie's eighth Champions League match in his career; it's the first time he's working an Arsenal match.

Basel have seen Makkelie once before, in last seasons's Europa League round of 32. In a dramatic second leg against Saint-Étienne, after the French side had won the first leg at home 3-2, Luca Zuffi's opening goal, which leveled the tie, was canceled out by a 90th minute goal Moustapha Bayal Sall. Zuffi, however, scored a 92nd minute goal to win the match 2-2, level the tie 4-4, and see Basel through on away goals. They did this on ten men as well, as Breel Embolo, now at Schalke, was sent off on 84 minutes for a second yellow card. Basel went on to lose to eventual champion Sevilla in the round of 16.

In his three previous Champions League fixtures involving clubs from either of these countries, the English sides have two wins from two and the Swiss have one loss from, well, one. Chelsea ran out 6-0 winners over Maribor with Makkelie in the middle in the 2014 group stage. Last year, Grasshopper found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-0 loss to Monaco in the qualifying rounds with Makkelie in charge, while Manchester City later had a group stage win 4-2 over Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Monaco 0 - 1 Bayer Leverkusen
  • Tuesday: CSKA Moscow 0 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur
  • Tuesday: Borussia Dortmund 2 - 2 Real Madrid
  • Tuesday: Sporting CP 2 - 0 Legia Warsaw
  • Tuesday: Copenhagen 4 - 0 Club Brugge
  • Tuesday: Leicester City 1 - 0 Porto
  • Tuesday: Dinamo Zagreb 0 - 4 Juventus
  • Tuesday: Sevilla 1 - 0 Lyon
  • Wednesday: Ludogorets Razgrad v. Paris Saint-Germain; Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia
  • Wednesday: Beşiktaş v. Dynamo Kyiv; Vodafone Arena, Istanbul
  • Wednesday: Napoli v. Benfica; Stadio San Paolo, Naples
  • Wednesday: Borussia Mönchengladbach v. Barcelona; Borussia-Park, Mönchengladbach
  • Wednesday: Celtic v. Manchester City; Celtic Park, Glasgow
  • Wednesday: Atlético Madrid v. Bayern Munich; Estadio Vicente Calderón, Madrid
  • Wednesday: Rostov v. PSV Eindhoven; Olimp-2, Rostov-on-Don
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John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a cold front. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for relevant weather forecasts.

Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea: One Bugbear Slain


We all know what the recent history has been whenever Chelsea were the other mob staring out from the other half of the center line against our guys. Whether it be Didier Drogba bulling us over, or the whole team going to pieces as goals flew in everywhere, or referees (cough cough Mike Dean cough cough) pulling off their shirt nWo style to reveal a blue top underneath, nothing has gone right for a long time against this lot.

Well, swings and bloody roundabouts.

It was basically an unchanged team for us, Alex Iwobi on the left being about the only name on the team sheet that didn't pick itself (yes, yes, Granit Xhaka...he'll get his time, calm down). As for them, David Luiz brought his comedy stylings into the center of their defense, with Kurt Zouma a long-term injury casualty.

The first ten minutes were a fairly sedate, as Chelsea sat back to defend. Arsenal hadn't created much on their own, but out of nowhere a horrid mistake from Gary Cahill gifted us the lead. It's funny - we've always associated a fearsome defense with their lot, but they're something of a paper tiger now, aren't they? John Terry is ancient. Gary Cahill has caught a terminal case of Englanditis, Luiz is Luiz, Branislav Ivonivic shambles around like the walking dead while poor old Cesar Azpilecueta wonders what he's done to deserve this. Anyway, Cahill dallied on the ball and had his pocket picked by Alexis Sanchez, who strolled in and chipped Thibaut Courtois as casually as you or I might make a lunch order on Seamless.

That's another thing, by the way. Courtois was bought to be their guy of the future, but he hasn't made that leap that they must have been expecting. His head is clearly not all there, either. I mean, not in Joe Hart territory or anything, but even here he may have had a shot at that if he decisively came off his line at the right time. The best part, of course, is that the end result was Petr Cech coming over to us to drastically strengthen our own goalkeeping situation. Can't say I'm complaining.

As the half went on, the one thing that struck me was how different our mental approach was. Guys flew into tackles, and oftentimes muscled their man off the ball. Diego Costa was reduced to a peripheral figure, a disembodied banshee voice screaming at Michael Oliver to call fouls that weren't there. I don't know if it's a case of Jose Mourinho having been the real boogeyman or not, but it was refreshing to see our guys not over-respecting their western neighbors.

Before all that, though, a brilliant team goal saw us take a 2-0 lead before Chelsea had time to mentally process the first one. The move started like so many of ours have before, with us holding the ball 40-50 yards out and a wall of defenders between us and the goal. While so many of those have gone to die, this one saw a lightning-fast interplay of passes that actually reminded me just a tad of the kind of goals the Invincibles used to score. Iwobi and Mesut Ozil pinged the ball around several times before getting it out wide to Hector Bellerin. Eden Hazard lagged in his man-marking duties, allowing the Spaniard to flash a brilliant square ball across the penalty area. Theo Walcott was there to smash home, leaving Courtois no chance.

Fourteen minutes in, 2-0 up against Chelsea? Was I dreaming?

The best part is that when they made their inevitable push to get back into the game, we didn't wilt. We didn't fold. Willian did go just wide once, but other than that the back five had this completely under control. Sometimes it was Laurent Koscielny coming over to smoothly intercept a pass. Sometimes it was Shkrodan Mustafi fighting for a header. Sometimes Cech came off his line to smartly claim a cross. It was excellent to watch.

However, it wasn't as excellent as seeing us get a third before halftime. Ozil started and finished the move, and pantsed the otherwise-anonymous N'Golo Kante to do it too. Ozil spun around the former Leicester man, and away we went. The German played it out wide to Sanchez, who crossed it back in for him. I couldn't tell if Ozil mishit it or if he intended to bounce it off the ground, but the end result was that it looped up over Courtois, off the post and in.

Bliss. Well, other than Francis Coquelin's injury, that is.

But, that's the thing. We have the sort of squad now where if a key player goes down, we have a top-class player like Xhaka ready to slot right into the team. Central defense may still be a bit of a worry, but honestly I'd trust Rob Holding against all but the biggest clubs.

The second half might have been a chance to stick another two or three past these guys and REALLY put the ghosts of the past to bed, but I think it was half us keeping our powder dry for future games, and half us getting overly cute at times. There were a few instances where we went back to trying to walk the ball into the net when a shot against a beleaguered goalkeeper may have been the better option.

It may have still happened had Walcott been able to execute one of his trademark across-the-keeper finishes, but Courtois stuck out a boot to deny him brilliantly. Oh, well.

Honestly, at that point, it was a matter of us playing out the string. Kieran Gibbs got a run-out at left forward, replacing Iwobi. Later, Olivier Giroud came on for Alexis. Giroud, who I insist is class, did look a bit off the pace though and could probably use minutes where we can get them to him.

Though, come to think about it, maybe this might have been more interesting than we'd have liked on another day. A giveaway in the center of the park gave Pedro a breakaway, but Bellerin turned on the afterburners to catch up and tackle it away brilliantly. Later, the substitute Michy Batshuayi was played clean through on goal, but Cech showed the decisiveness that his counterpart had not earlier to block with his legs.

Had those two gone in, you have to wonder if 3-0 would turn to 3-4. Instead, well, this is what happens when you have excellent players on form. Bellerin made the tackle he had to. Cech made the save he had to. Plays like that decide games, and now we're starting to make them.

And that, right there, is why I'm starting to feel very positive about what this season has in store for us. There are formidable opponents and other boogeymen ahead, but I don't think we've been as equipped to take them on as we are now in a long, long, looooong time.

And oh yeah, have some of THAT, Chelsea.


Man of the Match:  Mesut Ozil