Preview by Numbers: Liverpool v. Arsenal

Anfield, Liverpool
Sunday, December 21
11:00 a.m. EST, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Lee Betts
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • This Match, Last Year: Liverpool 5 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 78 Arsenal wins, 83 Liverpool wins, 56 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-L-W-W-L-W
  • Liverpool's League Form: L-L-W-W-D-L
This is normally where I would talk about the magnitude and implications of the upcoming fixture, and believe me, this is a big one. But, instead, we need to talk about this picture Santi Cazorla tweeted before the players had their annual Christmas party last weekend.

Santi is shown far left wearing a silver blazer so shiny I think it was manufactured in space in the future. Hector Bellerin looks ready for a cameo in Saturday Night Fever. Nacho Monreal is there #WelcomeNacho. Danny Welbeck has gone in a traditional suit.

Meanwhile, Alexis Sanchez has really big glasses, Theo Walcott has a Santa Claus sweater, and Mikel Arteta's seems to have... something on it? What is that? Some sort of Christmas pastry? I can't tell...

Then, we come to Kieran Gibbs, whose sweater actually appear to light up. Congratulations, Kieran, you win Christmas. Please see Andre Marriner for your prize.

...What? Too soon?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (Achilles,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (thigh,) Diaby (???,) Ozil (knee)
Doubts: Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Monreal (ankle,) Walcott (groin,) Ospina (thigh)

If the Ox doesn't pass fit, I have no idea who is available
to replace him...
A trio of Arsenal players will face late fitness tests before the weekend trip. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a doubt with a groin strain he picked up against Newcastle last weekend, while Nacho Monreal could return from the ankle injury he suffered against Southampton on December 3. Theo Walcott has been out since the November international break with a groin strain he picked up on international duty, but could return for this match. Theo made only two cameo appearances since his return from a knee ligament injury before this new injury sidelined him. The Ox has not been in training; Theo returned to training yesterday.

Second-string goalkeeper David Ospina is back in full training and could make the bench behind Wojciech Szczesny. Tomas Rosicky, out for two weeks with a thigh problem, should be back in full training next week. The long-term injured remain on schedule. And still, nobody even mentions Abou Diaby or Serge Gnabry...

In the back four, Calum Chambers returns from suspension, meaning he likely fills in at center back and Mathieu Debuchy returns to his natural right back position. Hector Bellerin played very well against Newcastle last weekend, but this is Liverpool away.

A back four of Debuchy, Chambers, Per Mertesacker, and Gibbs would be the 14th different combination of defenders Arsenal have started in 27 matches across all competitions this season. Incidentally, the ideal top combination (Debuchy, Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Gibbs) has yet to occur, as Gibbs got hurt before Mertesacker came back from World Cup break, Debuchy got hurt before Gibbs came back, and Koscielny got hurt before Debuchy came back. Wild stuff.

With Aaron Ramsey out, who would start alongside Mathieu Flamini if the Ox doesn't pass fit? Francis Coquelin? Seriously, I don't know the answer to this question, so I'm just going to predict Ox passes fit and cross my fingers...

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Alexis, Welbeck, Giroud.

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Flanagan (knee,) Suso (groin,) Sturridge (thigh,) Johnson (groin)
Doubts: Lovren (groin)
Suspended: Balotelli (one match, FA charge)

Why always him? Balotelli might not have passed fit anyway,
but he's suspended now.
Lot of groin injuries going on here. Dejan Lovren was forced to be removed at halftime of Wednesday night's cup tie against Bournemouth with a groin injury, leaving him a major doubt to start at center back on Sunday; Mamadou Sakho might get a start along with Martin Sktrel and Kolo Toure in Liverpool's three-man defense. An appearance for Sakho would be just his third of this league season.

Elsewhere, Mario Balotelli missed the cup tie to focus on his fitness; Balotelli's second half cameo against Manchester United, in which he was shut down by David De Gea, was his first appearance since November 8 as he continues to undergo treatment for his groin problem. He's been suspended by the FA anyway and fined for his controversial Instagram post. Balotelli will not appeal the suspension, since he's likely not one hundred percent fit to begin with.

In terms of those definitely out, Liverpool will be without both Glen Johnson and Suso with groin injuries of their own. Daniel Sturridge is out until January with a thigh injury and Jon Flanagan is out with a knee problem.

Predicted XI: Jones, Toure, Skrtel, Sakho, Henderson, Markovic, Lucas, Gerrard, Coutinho, Lallana, Sterling.

Current Form

Every time Arsenal have a string of 3+ goal victories,
Newcastle is usually one of the teams beaten in the string.
I guess this is where I can talk about everything I should have talked about in the opening. Arsenal have bounced back from the loss at Stoke by winning convincingly twice, both by 4-1 margins. It's the first time Arsenal have won consecutive matches by at least three goals since 3-0 victories over Hull and Newcastle last April. The last time Arsenal won three straight by three or more was in October of 2010, with wins over Shakhtar Donetsk in Europe, Manchester City in the league, and Newcastle in the League Cup. The Gunners have also won five of their last six after going winless in three.

Liverpool desperately needed a victory in midweek and got one against Bournemouth in the League Cup. The Reds have booked their passage through to the semifinals, though their progress in the other competitions this season has been less than stellar; they've crashed into the Europa League where they will face a Besiktas side that North London is now familiar with and they sit 11th in the Premier League table. Liverpool's win against Bournemouth was just the club's third in their last 11 matches across all competitions.

Match Facts

I don't want to see this again, which I suppose can be
accomplished by the fact that three of the four players in this
picture won't be involved.
Arsenal and Liverpool split their two league meetings last season, with both sides winning at home. The clubs also met in the fifth round of the FA Cup, with Arsenal winning 2-1 at the Emirates en route to winning the trophy.

This fixture, of course, ended 5-1 in favor of Liverpool. The Reds built a 4-0 lead in 20 minutes and never looked back. Before that result, Arsenal had not lost at Anfield since since the 2008 Champions League quarter-final, though it was the two-goal margin of that loss which saw the Gunners out of the tie (thanks, Kolo Toure.) The last time Liverpool won the league fixture against Arsenal at Anfield prior to last season, Peter Crouch had a hat trick and William Gallas scored Arsenal's goal in a 4-1 match on March 31, 2007.

Still, Liverpool have beaten Arsenal twice across their last 14 meetings in all competitions. Eight of the last 18 meetings have ended drawn.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Might this be a bad omen for Arsenal? Oliver was the man in the middle of this fixture last year which, as covered above, did not go very well for the visitors.

This will be the third time Arsenal have had Oliver this season; he previously worked the 1-1 draw with Spurs and the Community Shield win over Manchester City. It will be his third Liverpool match as well, as he also worked their 3-1 loss to City and 2-1 win over West Brom.

Oliver came under some fire during the Manchester derby in November. Oliver showed Chris Smalling a yellow card after an attempt to close down City goalkeeper Joe Hart, but in the aftermath, Hart appeared to slightly headbutt the official during his protests. The City goalkeeper was not punished and Smalling was later sent off for a second yellow. This handling of this situation is endemic in refereeing right now; officials love making the easy calls, happily booking defenders for shirt tugs on the halfway line. But, when it comes to violent conduct, they hesitate and choose not to make the big choices whatsoever.

Around the League

Saturday (early): Manchester City v. Crystal Palace (Etihad Stadium, Manchester)
City have won seven straight, even if they weren't exactly convincing in a 1-0 win over bottom-feeding Leicester last weekend. City remain light up front due to injuries; they'll open the weekend of fixtures hosting Crystal Palace, who have won just once in their last 10. Palace put up a great fight in this fixture last year, but lost 1-0.

Why have we, collectively as a league, allowed United
to start winning things again?
Saturday: Aston Villa v. Manchester United (Villa Park, Birmingham)
Manchester United have won six straight and are being discussed in some circles as title contenders again; many would agree that they haven't exactly been convincing in many of these victories. Villa, however, have struggled mightily this season. Alan Hutton and Kieran Richardson are both suspended, which will put the Villans further behind the eight ball.

Saturday: Hull City v. Swansea City (KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull)
Hull have gone nine league games without a win and have failed to score in six of their last eight. They'll be without Tom Huddlestone, serving the first match of a four match ban. Swansea, on the other hand, have no injury concerns, and Lukasz Fabianski will return from suspension. Hull have the league's worst home record and Swansea are the third worst team on the road.

Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. West Bromwich Albion (Loftus Road, London)
QPR have won more home games (four) than anyone else in the bottom half of the table. Even Arsenal have only won four home games this year. The R's, however, have eight losses in eight road games, which contributes to their 18th place standing. They'll be home to a West Brom team that won last time out, but struggled to break down 10-man Villa.

Saturday: Southampton v. Everton (St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton)
The Saints were dumped out of the League Cup by Sheffield United midweek and the club lost more than just that. Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama both picked up their fifth yellow cards of the season and will be suspended for accumulation. Southampton have now lost five in a row across all competitions after their loss to the Blades on Tuesday, but Everton have won just twice away from Goodison Park in the league this year.

Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Burnley (White Hart Lane, London)
Spurs have one foot in Wembley for the League Cup final; their win midweek over Newcastle has set them up for a semifinal date with a Sheffield United side that shocked Southampton. It's much harder to pull off a shock in the League Cup semis, since it's over two legs. Burnley will hope that Spurs' fixture congestion helps them pull off a shock of their own; the Clarets have won three of their last six and have lost only once in that span.

We're also letting Alex Song be in fourth.
Fourth is ours, damn it!
Saturday: West Ham United v. Leicester City (Boleyn Ground, London)
The visiting Foxes have lost four straight and are now without a win in their last 11 matches. On the other side, West Ham are flying high, and have only conceded two goals in their last five home games. Play this game on paper and the Hammers win every time; in reality, anything can happen.

Sunday (early): Newcastle United v. Sunderland (St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne)
The Tyne-Wear derby is always a heated encounter and this one could be more heated than usual with Anthony Taylor selected as the referee. Newcastle have allowed four goals in two straight matches after they beat Chelsea, likely down to the fact that they have about 13+ players injured right now. Sunderland are winless in six, but they've drawn five of them. Safe bet says this ends all square.

Monday (night): Stoke City v. Chelsea (Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent)
Stoke have won just one of their last six league meetings with Chelsea, but that came in this corresponding fixture last season. Chelsea have been perfect at home this season (24 out of 24 points,) but have picked up 15 of a possible 24 points from their travels. Stoke sit 12th in the table and have failed to beat any teams in 13th or worse this year. All five of their wins have come against teams currently in the top half of the league table.

John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and owns no sweaters that light up. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, especially if you know where he can get one of those sweaters.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Newcastle United

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, December 13
12:30 p.m. EST, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Mason
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Andrew Halliday
    • 4th Official: Neil Swarbrick
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 3 - 0 Newcastle
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 70 Arsenal wins, 66 Newcastle wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-L-W-W-L
  • Newcastle's League Form: W-W-W-L-D-W
Alexis Sanchez has a tradition of going back to his hometown
with Christmas gifts every year. England's holiday fixture
list looks like it might prevent that this year.
I have a coworker from Chile whose favorite football club has always been "whoever Alexis Sanchez plays for"; I think they're actually from the same hometown. So, as you might have guessed, this is his very first season as an Arsenal supporter. It's fascinating to talk about upcoming matches with someone who doesn't spend every minute waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Anyway, in the midst of all of the fury surrounding the club after last week's loss in Stoke, he asked me how many games were left in the season and I told him 23. And he was like, "23! That's a ton! There's plenty of time! Why is everybody so pissed off?!" Again, it's that expectation that it might not get better, that the other shoe will indeed drop.

Arsenal went out on Tuesday and did what they had to do; they ripped a pretty poor Galatasaray side apart. No margin of victory would have completely turned the corner for Arsenal (it turns out, a margin of victory of six would have won the group, but if "ifs" and "buts" were candy and nuts, then something involving Christmas, or something.)

Newcastle come in riding high, after beating Chelsea 2-1 last week, but they've got a ton of injuries and suspensions to worry about. Arsenal come in riding low, but they've... got a ton of injuries and suspensions to worry about.

Let's start getting some wins together. Then we can talk about turning corners. Then we can talk about how there's plenty of time left in this season. Then maybe the other shoe won't drop.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (Achilles,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Monreal (ankle,) Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Walcott (groin,) Diaby (???,) Ospina (thigh,) Ozil (knee)
Doubts: Rosicky (thigh)
Suspended: Chambers (one match, two yellows)
*Updated Below*

New strategy: One center back, two fullbacks...
...a ton of midfielders?
After resting a glut of players for the trip to Turkey midweek, Arsenal should be fresh as some moderately fresh daisies for this fixture. With a full week off before next weekend's match against Liverpool on the 21st, there's no excuse of fatigue.

Laurent Koscielny will hopefully come back in the squad; with his "chronic" Achilles problem, the Frenchman was rested against Stoke and Galatasaray. He's been called a "major doubt," which is less than comforting because Arsenal are running out of options; Nacho Monreal is out with an ankle problem, while Calum Chambers is suspended. At right back, Arsene Wenger has a choice to make: is Mathieu Debuchy ready for another start (and one against his old club) after playing his first 77 minutes since September midweek, or will he go with Hector Bellerin, who had a shocker at Stoke last weekend? In the middle, I have this sense that Koscielny is going to start. That might just be hope.

The midfield is full of some longer-range injuries: it's still January, at best, for Mikel Arteta and Mesut Ozil and late February or early March for Jack Wilshere. I still find it amusing that the media tried to say Jack had a "setback" while his ankle is still in a protective boot. There is no back from there! A setback from there is having surgery again.

Abou Diaby remains unavailable, but most Web sites that list injuries have completely stopped listing Diaby at all. I still don't know what he's hurt now! Theo Walcott remains out with a groin problem (remember when he played for like 10 minutes twice in November?) while Tomas Rosicky is still in the "doubtful" category with a thigh injury picked up in training last week.

Aside from what I've already discussed on the backline, I don't expect many changes to the midfield and forward corps. The Flamsey axis is the only option in the deep midfield. Aaron Ramsey appears to have shaken off the hamstring problem that saw him removed at halftime on Tuesday, while Mathieu Flamini was removed because he was on a booking (and it was 3-0...)

The only real question you can ask ahead of the defenders is Welbeck or Giroud up top? I'd personally go with the latter, but that's just a gut instinct.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Cazorla, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud.

UPDATE: Well, Koscielny and Ramsey are actually out, sooooooooo.... can anybody out there play center back?

Newcastle Squad News

Out: Elliot (thigh,) Krul (ankle,) R. Taylor (knee,) Aarons (hamstring,) Obertan (thigh,) de Jong (thigh,) Santon (knee,) Good (groin,) Gutierrez (match fitness)
Doubts: Coloccini (calf,) Abeid (toe)
Suspended: S. Taylor (one match, two yellows,) Sissoko (one match, accumulation)

Coloccini replaced David Luiz as "that guy with that hair"
in the Premier League this season.
Newcastle might be without as many as 13 players for this match. Let's start with the suspensions: Steven Taylor was sent off in the 81st minute of the win over Chelsea, meaning the fullback will serve a one match ban. Midfielder Moussa Sissoko had picked up his fifth yellow card of the year against West Ham two weeks ago, but the second yellow he picked up in that match means he served a one match suspension for a different reason. After getting booked again against Chelsea last weekend, Sissoko will now serve his one match ban for accumulation. Newcastle looked significantly worse without Sissoko in midfield against Burnley when he was suspended earlier, though they were also without Jack Colback in that match, as he was also suspended.

As for the doubts, captain Fabricio Coloccini has struggled for fitness lately with a thigh problem; he started against Chelsea after missing the previous three matches and remains a doubt for this one. Mehdi Abeid is on the way back from a broken toe; he was forced to play through the pain against Burnley on his return, as Sissoko and Colback were both banned. Abeid did not make the bench against Chelsea last week.

Between the poles, Newcastle are without both Tim Krul and Rob Elliot; 21-year-old Jak Alnwick deputized well in the second half against Chelsea. During that half, I couldn't find his own Wikipedia article, because apparently it had been nominated for deletion three times due to his lack of notability. That's not so true anymore.

The Magpies have seven (!) other absences of note, as they have been without Curtis Good, Davide Santon, and Jonas Gutierrez all season, the latter of whom may never play for Alan Pardew again despite overcoming cancer. Forward Siem de Jong has been out since August with a thigh injury. Gabriel Obertan is out until March after a thigh injury of his own. Ryan Taylor and Rolando Aarons are out with knee and hamstring injuries, respectively.

Predicted XI: Alnwick, Janmaat, Coloccini, Dummett, Haidara, Tiote, Colback, Perez, Ameobi, Cabella, Cisse.

Current Form

Can Newcastle keep up their form with their third string
keeper between the sticks?
Arsenal really haven't had anything even closely resembling form this season. They went unbeaten in their first six, seven if you count the Community Shield, but drew four of them. Their two longest winning streaks of the year have been only three matches. They've lost six across all competitions, which, to be fair, matches how many they had lost across all matches through this weekend last year. It's the home games that have been hurting Arsenal in the table; the Gunners' home form is ninth in the league, with only three home victories.

Newcastle have won six of their last eight in the Premier League and certainly come in flying high, having become the first team this season to defeat Chelsea last weekend. The Magpies are level with Arsenal on points (23) and are behind the Gunners only on goal difference. They had won six straight across all competitions between October 18 and November 22, before a 1-0 loss to West Ham. 

Match Facts

Laurent Koscielny prepares to start a really weird
celebration after opening the scoring in this fixture last year.
Arsenal took all six possible points from Newcastle last year. Just before New Year's, in the final match of the first half of the season, Olivier Giroud's second half goal stood up as the Gunners took a 1-0 win from St. James's Park. In the reverse fixture at the Emirates, Arsenal celebrated St. Totteringham's Day with a 3-0 win against a Newcastle side that was woefully out of form at the time; Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil, and Olivier Giroud had the goals. On that day, the Gunners had 61% of the possession and took an astonishing 14 corners to Newcastle's zero.

Arsenal have won five straight against Newcastle and are unbeaten in their last seven against the Toon dating back to November of 2010, when an Andy Carroll header won this fixture for the visitors, 1-0. Arsenal then drew two straight visits to St. James's Park, the first of which in a rather ridiculous fashion I don't believe I really need to cover again, before winning five straight. The Gunners have kept three straight clean sheets against Newcastle as well; the Magpies have not scored against Arsenal since the 7-3 Arsenal win in December of 2012.

Newcastle were recently one of only three Premier League teams that had beaten Arsenal more times than Arsenal had beaten them, though Arsenal's run of five straight wins means the Gunners now have a 70-66 advantage. The remaining two teams in the list are Liverpool and Manchester United.

The Referee

Lee Mason sends off Mathieu Debuchy last season.
The referee is Lancashire-based Lee Mason. Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 11 matches with Mason in the middle, with wins over Everton twice, Leyton Orient in an FA Cup replay, Blackpool, Stoke City, Cardiff City, and Norwich City on the season's final day last year, plus draws against Stoke at the Britannia (that's like a win...,) Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, and Southampton. Arsenal's last loss with Mason as the referee came at the end of the 2009/10 season when Lukasz Fabianski helped Wigan overcome a 2-0 deficit inside of ten minutes to win 3-2.

Newcastle, unlike Arsenal, have already seen Mason once this season, for their 2-2 draw at Swansea in early October. Last year, Newcastle had Mason for their 2-0 win over Chelsea, as well as a 1-0 loss to West Brom and a 3-0 loss to Everton; it's worth noting that in the loss to West Brom, he sent off Mathieu Debuchy for what was an absolutely horrendous two-footed lunge. Incidentally, he also won the ball in the challenge at the feet of Claudio Yacob, making the challenge eerily similar to the way in which Yacob himself got sent off against Chelsea a few weeks ago... by Lee Mason!

Around the League

Saturday: Burnley v. Southampton (Turf Moor, Burnley)
The high flying Saints have gone four without a win, losing three straight as well, as they've tumbled from third to fifth. They'll hope a trip to Turf Moor cures what ails them; the Clarets are three without a win themselves, but last weekend's loss to QPR was their first since November 1 at the Emirates.

Saturday: Chelsea v. Hull City (Stamford Bridge, London)
Chelsea have not lost consecutive league fixtures since May of 2012, which came at a time when they were more focused on winning the Champions League than anything domestically. Still, for as long as their unbeaten run went this season, they are only three points clear of Manchester City. Hull come in without a win in their last eight; they're currently in the relegation zone.

Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Stoke City (Selhurst Park, London)
The Eagles have won once in their last nine, but that did come against Liverpool. Selhurst Park, like the Britannia, is not an easy place to play, though even Aston Villa and Sunderland have taken all three points there this season. Stoke have won only twice on their travels this season, though those wins came at City and Spurs.

Saturday: Leicester City v. Manchester City (King Power Stadium, Leicester)
The Foxes are bolted to the bottom of the table now that they've gone ten matches without a victory. To think, they were 7th when they beat United 5-3. A visit from Manchester City is not exactly welcome at any time for a relegation candidate; City have won six straight across all competitions since their draw at QPR.

Saturday: Sunderland v. West Ham United (Stadium of Light, Sunderland)
West Ham had a bit of a blip in November, but have since won three straight. They're still fourth in the table, and had briefly gone third when they beat Swansea at the weekend. Sunderland have climbed into 14th place after they got a point at Anfield last week. The Black Cats have lost once in their last six, but they've also only won once and drawn four.

Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Aston Villa (The Hawthorns, West Bromwich)
It's a West Midlands derby at the Hawthorns as 16th place West Brom host 11th place Aston Villa. Villa have been the streakiest team in the league this year; they opened the year unbeaten in four, then lost six straight, then drew three straight, and now have won two straight. Make up your mind! Meanwhile, the Baggies have just one win in their last nine.

Sunday (early): Manchester United v. Liverpool (Old Trafford, Manchester)
Manchester United have climbed to third in the table, having won five on the bounce. They'll host a Liverpool team that is unbeaten in their last five across all competitions, but also crashed into the Europa League this week and still sit ninth in the table.

Sunday (late): Swansea City v. Tottenham Hotspur (Liberty Stadium, Swansea)
Swansea, now eighth in the table, will be without the suspended Lukasz Fabianski as they host Spurs this weekend. Spurs, who are 10th, are just one point back of the Swans. I don't have much else to say about this match, except Spurs are going to have to wear some kind of change kit because Swansea also wear white. How's that for analysis?

Monday (night): Everton v. Queens Park Rangers (Goodison Park, Liverpool)
Everton are through to the knockout phase of the Europa League, though their domestic form has hurt badly this year. The Toffees enter the weekend 12th as they host QPR in the Monday night match. QPR's win over Burnley last weekend saw them move out of the bottom three for the first time since August.

John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and professional logician. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, if you dare.