Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal: An Absolute and Utter Disgrace

Early on in the match, I wrote in my notes: "This looks like an early-round FA Cup game, right down to our hideous shirts." You know what, though? I cannot think of a single team in the lower divisions who would defend this shambolically, that would have so little pride and determination that they would essentially stop playing and let the champions do whatever they wanted.

I'm going to be honest - I did not watch this entire farce. I started leaning on the fast-forward once it got to 3-0, and my DVR cut out at 6-2. I would posit however that this is not a match where careful analysis of tactics or the play of one individual or another can adequately explain this disaster.

So, let's look at the big picture. I do not even begin to know where to assign blame here. Is it mainly on Arsene? Is it (as Amy Lawrence's piece on the Guardian speculated) a failure of our scouting team and this Dick Law guy, whoever he may be (and why is it that only now, we're hearing this guy's name for the first time)? I mean, a club like Arsenal should never have a starting XI show up to Old Trafford like the one we had today. Look, I'm no genius. I couldn't run a football club, but even I ended up envisioning this nightmare in my season preview:

Let's say we're away to United or Chelsea and we have to play with Jenkinson and, say, Armand Traore. Does that fill you with confidence? Traore is actually one that I don't think is good enough for the club, but that is absolutely a plausible scenario. Sorry, but that's the stuff of nightmares for me.

Bloody hell - why do I have to be right on THAT, and not on predictions like "I will win the lottery this year"?

Anyway, look again at this starting XI:

Szczesny, Traore, Djourou, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Arshavin, Ramsey, Coquelin, Rosicky, Walcott, van Persie.

Honestly? At an overall squad level this wouldn't be so bad if you only accounted for the attacking players and the goalkeeper. Put Song in the middle and account for Vermaelen and Sagna being in the side, and that's a starting lineup that I would feel comfortable competing against the champions with. I'd still have us as underdogs, but it's a scenario where a draw especially would look possible.

But, fuck's sake, look at that defense. Carl Jenkinson, with all of 8 games for a third-tier side. Armand Traore, who anyone with a functioning brain stem can pick out as not being a Premier League player. Johan Djourou, who is capable 30% of the time, a liability 60% of the time, and worse than Helen Keller 10% of the time. If you include the holding midfielder, Francis Coquelin, making his first-team debut and largely considered to be not good enough as well. This is who we went to battle with. This is who we asked to march into Old Trafford and take on the champions.

Are you bloody kidding me?

Even worse, look at this bench. Just LOOK at it (besides Fabianski, who I'm totally fine with as the backup keeper): Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Marouane Chamakh, Henri Lansbury, Ignasi Miquel, Oguzhan Ozyakup, Gilles Sunu.

That is disgraceful. For a team with pretensions towards greatness, that perhaps (Chamakh aside) would be the bench for the reserve team. Look again at United - waiting in the wings they had names like Berbatov, Chicharito, Ferdinand, Park and Da Silva - quality players all. Take another long stare at the gulf in quality between the lineups and the benches. I would not pick the team put out today to beat QPR, who are easily the worst team on show in the Premiership so far. I really mean that.

Again, I don't know who let the squad deteriorate this far. As big and important a win as Thursday in Udine was, this was as big and important a loss. Everyone gets tonked every now and again, everyone has bad losses...and there is no shame in losing at Old Trafford. But, this was the first time Arsenal have shipped 8 in the league since 1896. Arguably, this is the worst loss in Arsenal's history...any sort of big-club mystique left over from the Henry/Bergkamp days is irrevocably lost.

It is worth noting that the main common denominator here is that Wojciech Szczesny was absolutely blameless on the six goals I saw. Jenkinson and Traore were astronomical units out of their depth, allowing Ashley Young and Nani to run riot. Djourou had one of his 10% games, and Coquelin wasn't providing any help in midfield. So, what you had was the largely blameless Laurent Koscielny and the completely blameless keeper frantically trying to repel attacks with only four flailing, bumbling Keystone Kops for assistance. I should say that I don't blame the players themselves. They played as hard as their limited ability allowed, up until they completely lost any shred of confidence or fight that they may have had (that part is inexcusable). I blame the people who put them out there in the first place...who let it get to this point.

I'm saying this right now - as of this moment, we are a punchline to the rest of the league. We are an object to be pitied...a museum piece after the fall of the empire. I don't think I'm engaging in hyperbole when I say that we may have to seriously adjust our expectations and hope for an UEFA Cup place at the end of the season. Liverpool have drastically improved, as has Manchester City. United and Chelsea will of course be there as well, meaning 5th place may be the best we can achieve...and we may only get there because our Auld Enemy is nearly as bad as we are at the moment.

You may have noticed that I've barely sworn at all in this report. I had said at the end of last season that I had no anger left, and this summer did nothing to regenerate it. I'm just...numb.

Still, I cannot help but wonder what might have been had two early events gone differently. Danny Welbeck opened the scoring with a lovely looping header over the stranded Szczesny. The killer though was that there were three defenders around Welbeck, none of whom could prevent the goal. Most culpable was Djourou, who fell over and allowed Welbeck the space he needed. The other two ball-watching didn't help, of course. Right after, Jonny Evans fouled Walcott in the area, and up stepped RVP. It's funny - normally I am somewhat of an optimist about this team, but I looked over at my roommate and said: "He's going to miss." Sure enough, he hit the worst penalty I've seen since the Women's World Cup Final, and De Gea had the easiest of saves.

That was the game. What easily could have been 1-0 to Arsenal was 1-0 to United, with the psychological balance entirely in the champions' favor. That was a spot where a captain and a leader should have scored, and he was found wanting. I don't suppose it would have mattered much in the end, but then again, it may have. It just might have.

Anyway, we know what happened from there...I'll try and sum up as best as I can for the sake of completeness, though:

United 2-0: Traore stupidly heads the ball away into the center of the park instead of up the side, Coquelin gets roasted by Young, who curls an unstoppable shot into the top corner. Shambolic defending.

United 3-0: Before this, Arshavin should have been sent off for the challenge that injured Welbeck. Anyway, Jenkinson commits a stupid foul in free kick distance. Rooney obliges with a brilliant set piece over the midgets in the wall (none of whom jumped).

United 3-1: United kind of fell asleep a bit, as Arsenal overloaded the left side of the field. The defense badly ball-watched while Rosicky hit a nice diagonal ball to Walcott. The angle was kind of bad and Theo scuffed his shot, but De Gea made another error in allowing it to slip through his legs. Terrible goalkeeping, but if you're going to do it, you may as well do it when you're 3-0 up.


Brief period of Arsenal pressure - De Gea makes one good save, Arshavin misses a chance as well. Szczesny makes a few decent stops as well.

United 4-1: Djourou commits a stupid foul, Rooney scores a free kick where the wall doesn't jump. I feel an odd sense of deja vu...

United 5-1: An offside trap straight out of rec-league football is torn apart by United. Nani has all the time and space in the world, and he disdainfully chips over Szczesny and in. There's only one team in this now.

United 6-1: Three goals in six minutes, as Arsenal have completely retreated to the fetal position. Rooney hits the post, Park comes on as a sub and benefits from the Carl and Johan Comedy Hour again. Jenkinson was way too far off of Young, allowing him to find Park. Djourou (who missed badly on a tackle earlier in the move) can't prevent the shot, which nestles into the far corner.

United 6-2: United's defense had pretty much stopped playing. Jenkinson's cross is cleared, but it comes back to him. He pings a header out wide to RVP, who is unmarked at the back post. He finishes well, and has the dignity to not celebrate.

Jenkinson completes his afternoon by getting sent off. This is what happens when you take someone from a kiddie pool and put them in the Mariana Trench.

United 7-2: The home side get a penalty this time, and Rooney completes his hat trick.

United 8-2: Young scores another curling effort.

So yeah, that happened.

I don't know what we do or where we go from here. I don't know who we buy to improve our situation. I don't know...I just fucking don't know. See you next can't be worse.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7 (MOTM), Traore 4, Djourou 2, Koscielny 6, Jenkinson 1, Arshavin 5, Coquelin 4 (Oxlade-Chamberlain N/A), Rosicky 6, Ramsey 6, Walcott 6 (Lansbury N/A), van Persie 5 (Chamakh N/A)

Preview by Numbers: Manchester United v. Arsenal

Old Trafford, Manchester
Sunday, August 28
11:00 a.m. EDT, 4:00 p.m. BST
  •  Match Officials
    • Referee: Howard Webb
    • Assistants: Darren Cann and Michael McDonough
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • This Match, Last Year: Manchester United 1 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 79 Arsenal wins, 88 Manchester United wins, 46 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-L-D // D-L
  • United's League Form: L-W-D-W // W-W

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gibbs (hamstring), Squillaci (calf), Wilshere (ankle), Diaby (ankle)
Doubts: Vermaelen (ankle)
Suspended: Frimpong (one match), Gervinho (second of three), Song (second of three)

Theo Walcott is an airplane.
Well, there certainly is a bit of a selection conundrum, isn't there? Three suspensions, four injuries, and a doubt over Vermaelen. So, let's start with who is out and then focus on who we might actually see wearing the blue jockey kit at Old Trafford this weekend:

Emmanuel Frimpong serves his one match ban for being sent off via two yellow cards last week. Alex Song and Gervinho will each serve the second match of their respective three match bans. This leaves the midfield mighty thin, even before you mention the fact that Jack Wilshere could miss three more weeks with his ankle injury. Kieran Gibbs will not be back. This time writing the preview, I remembered that we had Sebastien Squillaci as a player, and he's still hurt. Abou Diaby is out until next month. Benik Afobe was being considered for inclusion in the squad this week, but he has a slight knock as well. And, the worst news, Tom Vermaelen took a kick to the ankle on Wednesday, and faces a late fitness test.

Szczesny! He'll start! Van Persie! He can start! Walcott, he'll start! Aaron Ramsey will start! So... that's four.

Sagna will start (though likely on the left), so there's five... Okay, time to grasp at some straws here:

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Sagna, Djourou, Ramsey, Rosicky, Arshavin, Walcott, van Persie.

United Squad News

Out: Vidic (calf), Rafael (shoulder)
Doubts: Ferdinand (hamstring), Fletcher (virus), Valencia (ankle)

Darren Fletcher is stepping up his return from a virus, having played 90 minutes for the reserve side this week, so he may feature in midfield. Rio Ferdinand is hopeful to play after suffering a hamstring injury. United would prefer to have one of their top choice center backs available, as Nemanja Vidic (who tends to just haunt Arsenal) is ruled out with a calf problem, while Rafael Da Silva is out for a while with a shoulder injury.

Current Form

Edwin van der Sar fumbles in West Brom's equalizer.
This was last October, the last time United dropped points
at home.
Over their last six league matches, Arsenal have won just once and Manchester United have lost just once. Of course, that was the same game, as Arsenal beat United 1-0 at the Emirates in early May.

In their last 13 league matches (i.e. everything since the Carling Cup final), Arsenal have picked up just 13 points. That's the worst run of form in Arsene Wenger's career with Arsenal. Spread out over an entire season, and that would be 38 points, which is relegation form in many seasons. If you take into account every other side's results over the same time period, Arsenal would be 15th in the table. There's really not much more I can say about Arsenal's league form at this point, you all know how it's been.

Arsenal failed to score in either of their first two league matches for the first time since 1969/70 (you might recall they won the Double a year later). Arsenal have not gone goalless in their first three matches since 1953/54, a year in which they picked up two points from their first eight and eventually finished in 12th. They were defending champions that season.

Last season, Manchester United won 18 of 19 league matches at Old Trafford, dropping points only once at home in league play (a draw with West Brom on October 16). United have won 16 straight league matches at home and have not lost at home in 22.

Match Facts

Hugs for beating United!
Arsenal's most recent match against Manchester United was the 1-0 win at the Emirates on May 1st, in which Aaron Ramsey broke the deadlock with a 56th minute goal. Cesc Fabregas didn't play in that match. Samir Nasri was removed hurt at halftime when the match was still 0-0. So really, Alex Song, Gael Clichy, and Jack Wilshere were the players involved in that win that are not available again in this one. The midfield difference is still worrying.

Arsenal lost on both trips to Old Trafford last year, falling 1-0 in the league in December and 2-0 in the FA Cup in March. Arsenal's last goal at Old Trafford was scored by Andrei Arshavin in 2009, giving Arsenal a 1-0 lead at halftime that they would squander and lose 2-1. Thank you, Abou Diaby own goal. United are unbeaten in their last seven home matches against Arsenal, winning six of them (and clinching the league title with the one draw).

Before Arsenal's win in May, United had won four straight against the Gunners. Arsenal's last win at Old Trafford came on September 17, 2006. Arsenal went into that match in a similar predicament to the situation they are in now. They sat 17th in the table, picking up two draws from their first three matches. The United win kicked off a five match winning streak. Arsenal eventually finished that year in 4th, goal difference behind Liverpool for 3rd.

The Referee

He looks absolutely diabolical here.
The referee, surprise surprise, is South Yorkshire-based Howard Webb.

Arsenal managed to avoid Howard Webb for much of last season; he took charge of matches involving the Gunners just twice, though one was this fixture, which Manchester United won 1-0. Webb showed four yellow cards in that match. They were all to Arsenal players. He also gave United an exceedingly dubious penalty, which Wayne Rooney then kicked out of the stadium. The other match he worked for Arsenal was a 2-1 win at Everton in November. As such, this is the first time Arsenal has had to see Webb in eight and a half months.

Webb took charge of four Manchester United matches last year. All were at Old Trafford and all were United wins. In addition to the aforementioned Arsenal match, he worked United's 3-2 win over Liverpool in September, their FA Cup triumph over Liverpool in January (1-0 on a second minute penalty plus Steven Gerrard was sent off), and their 2-1 win over Chelsea in May that effectively sealed the league, a match where Chelsea really never showed up anyway. In half of the last 10 matches Webb has worked at Old Trafford, he has awarded United a penalty.

Around the League

Arsenal's clash with Manchester United is the final match of a weekend which will see six matches played on Saturday and four played on Sunday.

There are two early matches on Saturday, as the weekend kicks off with a West Midlands derby as Aston Villa hosts Wolves, then Wigan hosts QPR in a match moved earlier because Wigan's rugby team, Wigan Warriors, are set to play Leeds Rhinos in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley the same day.

Three matches kick-off in the normal time slot of 10 a.m. Eastern (3:00 p.m. in England) as Blackburn hosts Everton, Chelsea hosts Norwich, and Swansea hosts Sunderland. Bolton travels to Anfield to face Liverpool in the late match.

On Sunday, Newcastle opens the day playing host to Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur has their home opener against Manchester City, and West Bromwich Albion later hosts Stoke City.

Preview by Numbers: Udinese v. Arsenal, Champions League Play-Off, Second Leg

Stadio Friuli, Udine
Wednesday, August 24
2:45 p.m. EDT, 7:45 p.m. BST
Arsenal leads tie 1-0
  • Referee: Olegario Benquerenca (Portugal)
  • All-Time: 1 Arsenal win
  • Arsenal's European Form: L-L-W-W-L-W
  • Udinese's European Form: W-W-L-L-D-L
Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (back), Gibbs (hamstring), Wilshere (ankle), Diaby (ankle)

No. Seriously. Calm the fuck down.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's look at this scenario a little more realistically. This is a big game for Arsenal, you know that already. BBC's preview put the monetary value of advancing to the group stage of the Champions League at 20 million pounds. Plus, given the number of players we all know Arsenal still needs to purchase, not having the draw of the top level of European competition would be a major deal-breaker. It's a critical game this. I don't need to keep saying that.

As for the state of the side, Samir Nasri has been sold and thus ends another protracted transfer saga. More worrying to me, Jack Wilshere has had a "setback" with his ankle injury and will now miss another three weeks. If you follow him on Twitter, you may know he watched Big Brother on Thursday night and he had Weetabix for breakfast on Saturday morning, but he didn't explicitly mention that he was back in training at the end of last week. My fears that this won't turn into a several month thing still have not been assuaged.

In terms of players returning from injury, Johan Djourou and Armand Traore are expected to return; both made the trip to Italy. Djourou played only nine minutes of last week's first leg; Traore was injured in a reserves match the day before. Tomas Rosicky has passed fit, though it is not certain if he will start.

Perma-hurt Kieran Gibbs remains out with a hamstring injury suffered in the first half of the first leg, while Laurent Koscielny did not make the trip with back spasms, though he could be ready to face United at the weekend. Ignasi Miquel has remained with the first time due to Koscielny's injury; he did not captain the reserves side in their win over Wigan yesterday.

Despite being suspended domestically, Alex Song, Gervinho, and Emmanuel Frimpong are all available in Europe. Robin van Persie returns from his one match ban and Arsene Wenger will be allowed to be on the touchline as Arsenal will appeal the ridiculous extension of his ban.

Predicted Squad: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Djourou, Traore, Song, Frimpong, Ramsey, Gervinho, Walcott, van Persie. Subs from: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Miquel, Arshavin, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chamakh.

Udinese Squad News

Out: Domizzi (thigh), Floro Flores (thigh)

There isn't much change in the Udinese squad news as their domestic season in Serie A has not yet started.  Striker Antonio Floro Flores suffered a recurrence of the thigh injury that kept him out of the first leg, so he will not play the second. Center back Maurizio Domizzi also has a thigh problem. Right back Dusan Basta is a doubt too, though no articles I can find seem to indicate what his injury is exactly.


Arsenal have a history of kicking ass and taking names on
Italian soil. Here's Thierry Henry scoring one of his
bajillion goals at the San Siro. Photo: Daily Mail.
Arsenal's form away from home in European competition is, like their current form in the league, dreadful. The Gunners have lost three straight and six of their last seven away from home in the Champions League. They have won once in their last eight away from the Emirates in Europe.

Last season, Arsenal got that one win at Partizan Belgrade, before losing group stages matches at Shakhtar Donetsk and Braga, then crashing out of the competition at Barcelona. The year before that, Arsenal won at Celtic in their qualifier and then won at Standard Liege before conceding late to draw at AZ Alkmaar, fielding a reserve side in a loss at Olympiakos, then losing in the knockout phase to both Porto (in that first leg) and Barcelona (in the second.)

Arsenal have won three of their last four overall in Europe, but all three of those wins came at home. Remember, though, that Arsenal needs only to score one goal to take a commanding lead in the tie, having kept a clean sheet at home. One Arsenal goal means Udinese would need three to win the tie.

Udinese's 2011/12 season still has not started; last week's first leg was their only competitive fixture to date. They have not won in their last four European matches.

The Referee

Well, who hasn't argued with Mourinho before?
Also, look how creepily stoic that official in the middle is!
Photo: Associated Press
The referee is Olegario Benquerenca of Portugal. Last year, he worked five Champions League games, including the quarter-final second leg between Manchester United and Chelsea (in which Chelsea's Ramires was sent off.) Also among those five matches was a group stage match between Ajax and Auxerre during which he showed three red cards, including one to Auxerre's Jean-Pascal Mignot, who was not even playing in the game at the time.

Benquerenca appeared at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and took charge of three matches in South Africa: Japan's 1-0 win over Cameroon, Nigeria's 2-2 draw with South Korea, and perhaps most famously, Uruguay's win over Ghana on penalties, during which Luis Suarez handled on the line in extra time and was sent off.

He has never taken charge of an Arsenal match, but did work one of Udinese's group stage matches in 2005, a 3-0 win over Greek side Panathinaikos.

Around Europe

Five play-off round ties concluded yesterday. Bayern Munich coasted through beating Zurich 3-0 on aggregate. Genk needed penalties to knock out Maccabi Haifa. Dinamo Zagreb held on to oust Malmo 4-3 on aggregate, despite losing 2-0 in the second leg. APOEL advanced past Wisla Krakow 3-2 on aggregate with an 87th minute winner. Finally, Villareal trailed heading home, but won 3-0 to knock out Danish side Odense, 3-1 on the aggregate.

In today's other four ties, Rubin Kazan hosts Lyon trailing 3-1 hoping the long trip to Russia will tire the French side, Benfica hosts Twente after drawing 2-2 in Holland, Austrian side Sturm Graz hosts BATE Borisov in a 1-1 deadlock, and Copenhagen takes to the road to face Viktoria Plzen in the Czech Republic already facing a 3-1 deficit.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Liverpool

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, August 20
7:45 a.m. EDT, 12:45 p.m. BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Peter Kirkup and Mike Mullarkey
    • 4th Official: Michael Oliver
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 1 Liverpool
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 74 Arsenal wins, 81 Liverpool wins, 55 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-L-L-D // D
  • Liverpool's League Form: W-W-W-L-L // D
Arsenal Squad News

Oh, good. A signing! Can he play left back?
Photo: Junior Gunners.
Out: Wilshere (ankle), Diaby (ankle), Gibbs (hamstring)
Doubts: Djourou (hamstring), Traore (groin)
Suspended: Song (first of three), Gervinho (first of three)

Who isn't hurt right now? The number of players Arsenal have lost just this week to either injuries, sales, or loans is quite staggering. Here is a breakdown of what has happened to the squad since last Saturday: Alex Song and Gervinho have been suspended, Armand Traore and Benik Afobe got hurt in a reserves match Monday, Kieran Gibbs and Johan Djourou got hurt in the Champions League match Tuesday, Cesc Fabregas was sold, Emmanuel Eboue was sold, Samir Nasri is all but sold, and Carlos Vela has been released on loan. That's ten players. Just this week. Almost all of it after the crowd was already singing "spend some fucking money" about bringing in players.

And that doesn't even cover the existing injuries. Abou Diaby is still out until September, but that's not my biggest concern. Jack Wilshere is wearing a protective boot on his ankle, and I hate to be pessimistic, but this situation is reminding me a lot of the Vermaelen injury last year. "He'll be back soon, it's not that serious" turned into eight months on the sidelines. Right now, I'm not convinced that Jack hasn't done his Achilles like Vermaelen did. God, I'd love to be proven wrong on this.

So, where does that leave the side for this match? Horribly thin, I'm afraid. Without Gibbs and Traore, the alternative at left back is to shift Thomas Vermaelen over and start Sebastian Squillaci in the middle, or hand a first Premier League start to Carl Jenkinson. Pick your poison; I expect the latter.

Alex Song's suspension will hand a first Premier League start to Emmanuel Frimpong, whose name lends itself so easily to chanting! I think Frimpong has tremendous upside, but there's a fear about having to throw so many young players in at the deep end already. Tomas Rosicky should start for the injured Wilshere and Andrei Arshavin will likely start for the banned Gervinho.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Frimpong, Ramsey, Rosicky, Arshavin, Walcott, van Persie. Pat Rice and Gunnersaurus on the bench. Oh, and maybe Ryo.

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Gerrard (groin), Aurelio (Achilles)
Doubts: Johnson (hamstring), Skrtel (calf)

Steven Gerrard has returned to light training this week after an infection interrupted the start of his season. Gerrard has not played since Liverpool's win over Manchester United in March after undergoing groin surgery. He could return to action in mid-September. Injury prone Fabio Aurelio looks to be out for a while as well with an Achilles injury.

Martin Skrtel has returned to training after a calf problem and is in contention to play, while Glen Johnson could return from a hamstring injury.


DDDWDDLWLLDD. It's not just an unpronounceable town in the Welsh countryside anymore! It's Arsenal's form in the league since last year's Carling Cup final. 12 matches. Seven draws. Three losses. Two wins. 13 points from a possible 36. Yes, we know this by now.

Liverpool had won six out of eight matches for a stretch at the end of last season (a stretch that included the 1-1 draw at Arsenal) before losing to Spurs and Aston Villa to close the season, presumably so they would not have to play in the Europa League again.

Match Facts

Arsenal and Liverpool drew both matches played last season. In the season opener at Anfield, ten-man Liverpool took a 1-0 lead shortly after halftime when David N'Gog beat Manuel Almunia near post. Arsenal leveled in the 90th minute, as Pepe Reina bumbled the ball into his own net. Liverpool got their revenge in the draw at the Emirates. Robin van Persie put Arsenal up 1-0 in the 98th minute from the penalty spot, but Emmanuel Eboue conceded a penalty shortly after and Dirk Kuyt equalized with the final kick of the match in the absurd 12th minute of added time.

Two years ago, Arsenal won all three matches they played with Liverpool. A Glen Johnson own goal canceled out Dirk Kuyt's opener and Andrei Arshavin gave Arsenal a 2-1 win at Anfield in December of 2009, while an Abou Diaby goal gave Arsenal a 1-0 win in the reverse fixture in February of 2010. Both of these matches came after Aresnal defeated Liverpool in the Carling Cup 2-1 at the Emirates in October of 2009.

Liverpool have not beaten Arsenal in league play in eight tries, though that streak includes six draws. Liverpool's last win at Arsenal in league play came on February 13, 2000. There have been more hat tricks in this fixture than any other in the Premier League, which includes Arshavin's four goal performance at Anfield in 2009.

The Referee

Martin Atkinson shows Stiliyan Petrov
the world's most hilarious yellow card.
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Atkinson took charge of six Arsenal matches last season, including the 1-1 season opening draw at Liverpool and the 2-2 season closing draw at Fulham. He also took charge of Arsenal's 2-1 win over Birmingham City at the Emirates in October, the 2-0 Carling Cup win over Wigan in November, the 1-0 Carling Cup loss to Ipswich Town in January, and the 3-3 draw at White Hart Lane in April.

For Liverpool, Atkinson took charge of their 1-0 win at Bolton on Halloween, a 2-1 loss at White Hart Lane, a 3-0 win at Wolves, and a 2-1 loss at West Brom, in addition to their 1-1 draw at Anfield with Arsenal.

Last season, Atkinson showed 143 yellow cards and 13 red cards, that red card total being the most among select group officials. He sent off two Arsenal players last season: Laurent Koscielny for two yellow cards against Liverpool (both in quick succession) and Jack Wilshere for a bad tackle against Birmingham.

Last week, Atkinson worked Bolton's 4-0 win at QPR.

Around the League

Arsenal's early kick-off on Saturday is not the earliest match of the weekend; the Tyne-Wear derby pitting Sunderland against Newcastle at the Stadium of Light kicks off at 7:00 a.m., noon in England. Only three matches kick-off in the 10:00 a.m. time slot as Aston Villa hosts Blackburn, Everton opens their season after postponement last week to host QPR, and Swansea plays their first top flight home game against Wigan. Saturday closes with Chelsea hosting West Brom at Stamford Bridge. What a tough start to the season for the Baggies United then Chelsea.

Three matches take place on Sunday; Norwich hosts Stoke early, Wolves host Fulham, and in the late match, Bolton hosts Manchester City. Tottenham finally plays their first match of the season on Monday as they travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United.

    Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Udinese, Champions League Play-Off, First Leg

    Emirates Stadium, London
    Tuesday, August 16
    2:45 p.m. EDT, 7:45 p.m. BST

    • Referee: Kevin Blom (Holland)
    • First competitive meeting
    • Arsenal's European Form: W-L-L-W-W-L
    • Udinese's European Form: D-W-W-L-L-D
    Arsenal Squad News

    Out: Wilshere (ankle), Diaby (ankle)
    Doubts: Rosicky (groin)
    Suspended: Van Persie and Nasri (both one match)

    Massimo Busacca shows Robin van Persie how many cards
    he can hold at one time. It's two, apparently. Van Persie
    is clearly amazed... Oh... That's not what's happening here.
    Photo: Daily Mail.
    So, Fabregas is gone. Nasri is still an Arsenal player, but can't play in this match anyway. Van Persie serves his ban for having the audacity to take a shot. Arsene Wenger will serve a touchline ban as well. Can the squad situation get any worse for this, one of the more crucial matches of the season?

    Well, it would appear that Jack Wilshere is still not fit with his ankle problem. Tomas Rosicky faces a fitness test over a groin injury suffered Saturday that I don't remember him picking up. Abou Diaby is sidelined until September after surgery.

    At least Arsenal will have Gervinho, whose domestic ban does not impact European competition. Alex Song will play as well, despite the retroactive charge against him for Saturday's... umm... unpleasantness...

    Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs, Song, Ramsey, Arshavin, Gervinho, Walcott, Chamakh.

    Udinese Squad News

    Out: Domizzi (thigh), Floro Flores (thigh)

    Udinese may lack the same bite they had last year, after a number of sales over the summer transfer window, but the "Little Zebras" will not be a pushover by any stretch. Chilean international Alexis Sanchez was sold to Barcelona in the summer, while Cristian Zapata was sold to Villarreal and Gokhan Inler was sold to Napoli.

    However, Udinese still has Antonio Di Natale, a lethal striker who has scored 112 goals in 228 games with the side. He has won the title of "Capocannoniere" as Italy's top goal scorer two years running. On the other end, their goalkeeper, Samir Handanovic, appeared in the 2010 World Cup with Slovenia and tied the Serie A record for penalties saved in a season last year with six.

    Past European Form

    Here is Udinese being awesome, in that they are beating
    Tottenham, from October 2008. Photo: Guardian.
    It has been a pretty long time since Arsenal has lost a Champions League match at home, though it probably will not take you very long to remember what that loss was, when you really think about it. Arsenal has not lost a European match at the Emirates over the past two seasons. Arsenal were a perfect 4-0 at the Emirates in the Champions League last season. Two years ago, Arsenal won five of their six Champions League matches at home and came from behind to draw Barcelona in the other.

    Arsenal's last two Champions League losses at home came against English competition (the previously alluded to 2009 loss against Manchester United and 2004 against Chelsea.) You have to go back to a 3-0 loss to Inter on September 17, 2003 for the last loss at home to a non-English side in European competition. Arsenal did, of course, win that return leg 5-1.

    This is Udinese's first competitive match of the season. Their last season in Europe came in the UEFA Cup (now Europa League) in 2008/09. They qualified for group play after defeating Borussia Dortmund on penalties. They won Group D with wins over Tottenham Hotspur, Spartak Moscow, and Dinamo Zagreb. They then advanced past Lech Poznan and Zenit St. Petersburg (who had just sold Andrei Arshavin to Arsenal months prior.) Udinese was knocked out by Werder Bremen in the quarter-final.

    Match Facts

    Arsenal have never played Udinese in competition, but the Gunners have played 25 matches against Italian sides, winning 11, losing six, and drawing eight. Arsenal's last match against an Italian team was a 1-0 loss against Roma, which brought the 2009 Round of 16 tie to extra time after Arsenal had won 1-0 at the Emirates. The Gunners won 7-6 on penalties. A year before that, in the same round, Arsenal won dramatically, 2-0, at the San Siro, to beat AC Milan.

    Udinese have only played one match against English competition, the aforementioned win over Spurs, by a 2-0 scoreline. Spurs at the time were bottom of the table, and after this match, Juande Ramos was sacked.

    The Referee

    Red cards for everyone! Photo: Guardian.
    The referee will be Kevin Blom from Holland. Blom took charge of two Champions League matches last year, including one in Arsenal's group (a 3-0 Shakhtar Donetsk win over Braga) and Spartak Moscow's 2-1 win at Zilina. He also took charge of three Europa League matches and two Euro 2012 qualifiers last season.

    Blom worked a 2009 Europa League match that also saw an Italian side play a team from London. In this match, between AS Roma and Fulham, the Cottagers took a 1-0 lead from the penalty spot into halftime, then had two players sent off in the second half, as Roma came from behind to win 2-1 at Stadio Olimpico. Fulham did win their next two group matches to qualify for the knockout phase and eventually went to the final, where they lost to Atletico Madrid at the very end of extra time.

    Around Europe

    This week, ten more teams will join the 22 who automatically qualified for the 2011/12 Champions League group stage. Five will join from the path for teams that did not win their domestic league (the non-champions, or league route, as it were) and five will join from the champions route. Five first legs will be played today, five more will be played tomorrow. Ties started today will be completed next Wednesday, those starting tomorrow finish next Tuesday.

    The other four matches today will see Copenhagen host Czech side Viktoria Plzen, Belarusian champion BATE Borisov hosts Austrian side Sturm Graz (whom Arsenal played in a friendly last summer,) Dutch side FC Twente hosts Benfica, and Lyon hosts Rubin Kazan.

    Tomorrow will see Bayern Munich attempt to qualify as they host Zurich, Villarreal takes to the road to face Danish side Odense, Dinamo Zagreb hosts Swedish side Malmo, Maccabi Haifa hosts Belgian side Genk, and Polish champion Wisla Krakow hosts 21-time Cypriot champion APOEL (who twice drew Atletico Madrid and drew 2-2 at Stamford Bridge in the 2009 group stage.)

    Newcastle United 0-0 Arsenal: Positive Aspects to a Dull Match

    There will be those who rip into the team today for what was, admittedly, a furiously lackluster offensive performance. They won't be incorrect, either. However, I find myself focusing on the fact that this was a fantastic defensive performance and a point decently won in controversial circumstances. In other words, we had a better day than Liverpool, at least (who dropped two points at home to Sunderland after taking the lead).

    The back five largely picked itself, with the benefit of Kieran Gibbs passing fit. Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey patrolled the center (a switch back for Ramsey, who had played in the front midfield three in preseason), while Tomas Rosicky, Andrei Arshavin and Gervinho played behind Robin van Persie. It certainly isn't the strongest possible starting 11, though it was about as good as we were going to get in the wake of That Tedious Transfer Saga and That Other Tedious Transfer Saga.

    While there was no first-minute goal like there was in this fixture last season, the Arsenal started brightly and created a few half-chances. Ramsey had a shot blocked while Gervinho looked threatening when taking defenders on (the less said about his final ball today though, the better). We also had our first bit of controversy soon after, as Steven Taylor elbowed Bacary Sagna in the head when going up for a header. It definitely wasn't a red card (as the guy to my left screamed out at jet engine decibel levels), but it surely was a yellow. It's worth mentioning that Taylor didn't even get a talking-to for that.

    Perhaps the best chance of the first half though came from the return of Newcastle Comedy Defense (though I should mention that this moment aside, they defended quite well and Steven Taylor had a decent shout for Man of the Match). Gervinho's cross was cut out by Taylor, but his clearance slammed off of his central defense colleague, Fabricio Coloccini. It spun out to van Persie, who would have scored had Taylor not made an excellent recovery to get a piece of it. How easily it could have ballooned past Tim Krul and in instead of wide of the far post, though. Oh well...swings and roundabouts.

    The Magpies started to find their feet and slowly got back into the game, albeit without seriously troubling Wojciech Szczesny's goal. Still, they did put in some decent crosses - had Manuel Almunia been in between the sticks, we might have had a different conversation. The young Pole confidently claimed just about all of them, and solidly punched away the ones he couldn't catch. It makes an incalculable difference to a defense when they know that they can rely on their goalkeeper, and it showed today.

    Arsenal were able to fashion a few more half-chances, and honestly the lads probably should have done better on one or two. In particular, a mistake from the Newcastle rearguard let Andrei Arshavin in on a 2-on-1 with just Coloccini back, I think. Instead of taking him on or doing something useful, his tame pass to Gervinho was easily cut out. The frustration continued when a goal-line scramble concluded with a brilliant block on the line from Danny Simpson.

    So, halftime then...and it was Newcastle who made the first change with the anonymous Demba Ba replaced by Gabriel Obertan (who, incidentally, was also anonymous). Personally, I thought Arshavin should have been withdrawn for Walcott at the interval, as the Russian was off the pace once again. Still, Arsenal nearly flipped the script on Newcastle by scoring on a set piece. Sadly, van Persie's rasping free kick sailed just the wrong side of the crossbar...though you could argue that Krul may have had a shot at it if it were on target.

    The talking points continued shortly thereafter, with Alex Song guilty of a sly stamp on the leg of the odious Joey Barton - who has clearly missed his calling. He's the best heel that pro wrestling never had. Still, Song absolutely should have walked for that transgression, and the fact that he didn't was a huge reason that Arsenal walked away with a point today.

    On the hour, the change I had pined for did happen, with Walcott coming on. It ended up not mattering, though. His pace wasn't really there today, and he didn't unduly trouble the Newcastle backline at any time. Still, just taking Arshavin off immediately made us more dangerous, and Theo did fire off one shot that Krul did decently well to hang onto.

    Then, fifteen minutes from time, the fireworks well and truly went off.

    Gervinho steamed into the penalty area, and went down remarkably easy on a challenge from Chieck Tiote. Fair's was a dive and a risible one at that. Barton came barreling over, grabbed Gervinho by the shirt, lifted him up and then had his hands at the man's face/throat area. For his part, the Ivorian stupidly raised his hands towards Barton's face. The fucking piece of shit went down clutching his noggin like a sniper took him out from the rooftop, and our Incompetent Match Official Du Jour Peter Walton completely bought it. How on earth his linesmen didn't see the whole incident, I'll never know. The end result was red for Gervinho, and only a yellow for the guy that started the fracas in the first place for no reason. The mind boggles.

    Seriously, I would LOVE to hear the explanation of this from the esteemed Mr. Walton. Perhaps, at 51, this game just may be passing him by.

    The good news though is that as Newcastle applied more pressure as the game wound down, the backline held firm. Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen were absolutely immense, breaking up attacks and dealing with set pieces beautifully. Both fullbacks also had a storming game, Gibbs in particular. Wenger brought on Emmanuel Frimpong for Rosicky and Johan Djourou for Ramsey, and that helped shore things up.

    Actually, Djourou rampaged forward right at the death, but his pass to the onrushing Walcott was...well...the pass of a central defender. That was the last serious chance of the game, and the spoils were shared on the day.

    Now, here's the thing. Taken on its own, this was a fairly positive result as I mentioned. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on just how awful we were on the attack today. Without Tedious Transfer Saga Subjects # 1 and # 2, this team has all the penetrative ability as a pensioner with ED. As currently constituted, reinforcements are absolutely necessary if we're going to salvage anything from this season. The kids that have come in are all nice little lottery tickets to have for the future, but with the way things stand at this club it's not good enough right now. This is a team at a crossroads, and what I don't think Mr. Wenger understands is that the only thing harder than becoming a big club is getting back there once you've lost it. We are in clear and present danger of losing that status, which in turn would make it even more difficult to attract players of any real quality to the club. We don't pay them the sums that other clubs do, so all we really have to offer is pretty football and the chance of winning things. Take away the chance of winning things, and all we're left with is pretty football. Well, Blackpool plays pretty football too, but they aren't signing Juan Manuel Mata anytime soon.

    All of that is a concern for another day, though. At the very least, an aspect of our game that was an open, bleeding chest wound last season is the same aspect that got us a hard-won point today. For now, I'll take it.

    The Modern Gooner Player Ratings

    Szczesny 8, Gibbs 8, Vermaelen 9, Koscielny 9 (MOTM), Sagna 8, Song 7, Ramsey 7 (Djourou N/A), Arshavin 5 (Walcott 6), Rosicky 7 (Frimpong N/A), Gervinho 5, van Persie 6

    Preview by Numbers: Newcastle United v. Arsenal

    St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
    Saturday, August 13
    12:30 p.m. EDT, 5:30 p.m. BST
    • Match Officials
      • Referee: Peter Walton
      • Assistants: Andy Garrat and Ron Ganfield
      • 4th Official: Nigel Miller
    • This Match, Last Year: Newcastle 4 - 4 Arsenal
    • All-Time in All Competitions: 65 Arsenal wins, 66 Newcastle wins, 37 draws
    • Arsenal's League Form: D-L-W-L-L-D
    • Newcastle's League Form: D-D-L-W-D-D
    Arsenal Squad News

    Out: Wilshere (ankle), Diaby (ankle)

    Jack Wilshere runs like hell from a defender trying to hug.
    him. Now, he's hurt, too, or something. Photo: Daily Mail.
    There is some good news on the injury front, which is a rarity, but the fact that there is anything I can call an "injury front" before the first match of the season even starts is preposterous to begin with. Many of the players who left injured from last week's final pre-season friendly with Benfica will return to the squad. Robin van Persie (ankle), Kieran Gibbs (thigh), and Thomas Vermaelen (back) are all set for comebacks, as is Theo Walcott, who will return from an ankle injury more quickly than expected.

    It's bad news for Jack Wilshere, though, as his ankle injury will take more time than originally thought, and his foot has been placed in a boot. They're calling it an "inflamed ankle," but I have some fears that it could be an Achilles problem and the team doesn't want to call it that after what happened to Vermaelen last year. In terms of the others missing from the line-up, Abou Diaby is still recovering from surgery on his ankle.

    There were reports of injuries suffered by Aaron Ramsey, Andrei Arshavin, and possibly Tomas Rosicky on international duty, but Arsenal have claimed these rumors are false.

    Predicted Starting XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs, Song, Ramsey, Rosicky, Gervinho, Walcott, van Persie.

    Newcastle Squad News

    Out: Ben Arfa (ankle)
    Doubts: Barton (disciplinary)

    The Toon have only one player out through injury and that's Hartem Ben Arfa. The Frenchman, who missed much of last season with a double fracture in his leg, is now sidelined for five to six weeks with an ankle injury to that same leg, suffered in the pre-season tour of the United States against Sporting Kansas City.

    Mike Williamson, Danny Guthrie, and Shane Ferguson have passed fit, Jose Enrique has been sold to Liverpool, and we'll see if Joey Barton is selected to the squad by manager Alan Pardew after his choice words about the Newcastle boardroom this month.

    Newcastle brought in five forwards this summer, including Demba Ba from West Ham United and Gabriel Obertan from Manchester United, though they sold Kevin Nolan to the Hammers the day before the Ba deal.

    Last Year's Form

    Last season's collapse went from "annoying draws" to
    "painful losses" starting at Bolton on Easter.
    Photo: Daily Mail.
    Last year was a tale of two seasons for the Gunners, with a solid start marred by a dismal finish. Arsenal came out of the gate a year ago by scraping a 1-1 draw at Liverpool and finished the opening weekend in 8th place, but behind the power of a second week 6-0 win over Blackpool at the Emirates, they launched themselves into second, where they would sit for most of the season until April. At the start, Arsenal sat in the second position behind a Chelsea side that surged strong out of the gate. By November, when Chelsea began dropping points, Arsenal began to struggle as well, and by December, both sides were pipped for the top spot by a Manchester United squad that would go unbeaten through into February in league play.

    At the time of the Carling Cup final, Arsenal sat four points out of first place. Over the final 11 matches of the season, they won just twice, but managed to hold onto second place through to mid-April, after a 3-3 draw at Tottenham saw them slip behind a surging again Chelsea squad into third. Then, the dropping of points turned from draws to losses, and by the final week of the season, Manchester City squeaked into third spot, forcing Arsenal to now attempt to qualify for Champions League group play this season.

    An up and down first few months of the season for Newcastle saw the Toon fall to as low as 15th (after starting in 17th after a 3-0 loss the opening week) and rise to as high as fifth in the table on three separate occasions, the last time of which started with a 1-0 win over Arsenal in early November.  After winning only one in an eight game span, Newcastle fell to 13th at the start of the New Year. From that point on, Newcastle sat fairly comfortably mid-table, sitting as high as seventh after a draw with Tottenham on January 22 and as low as 12th, where they would finish the the season after two consecutive draws to close the year. They won just three of their final 17 league matches.

    Match Facts

    This match last year: A thing that happened.
    Photo: Guardian.
    Arsenal are unbeaten in ten of their last eleven matches against Newcastle, across all competitions, though last year, their only win came in the Carling Cup. The first meeting of the season between the two sides came in the fourth round of the Carling Cup last October. Arsenal took a 1-0 lead in first half injury time after a goal line scramble led to a preposterous own goal from goalkeeper Tim Krul. In the second half, Arsenal picked up a brace from Theo Walcott and another goal from Nicklas Bendtner to win 4-0 at St. James' Park.

    A week and a half later, both sides met at the Emirates for a league match, which Newcastle won 1-0 thanks to an Andy Carroll goal just before half time, the result of, surprise surprise!, poor defending on a set piece. My memory on this goal is a little fuzzy, though I believe Fabianski jumped too late to defend after Carroll beat his man.

    In early February, Arsenal and Newcastle met again at St. James' Park, and as in the Carling Cup fixture in October, Arsenal took a 4-0 lead (this time, all before halftime.) A brace from Robin van Persie, a first minute goal from Theo Walcott, and even a header from Johan Djourou gave Arsenal a comfortable lead. Then, the unthinkable started to happen. Djourou left hurt and Abou Diaby was sent off. Newcastle got a penalty, converted, and were on their way as the wheels fell off the Arsenal wagon (and then the wagon exploded in a fiery disaster.) 4-4.

    The Referee

    The referee is Northamptonshire-based Peter Walton. Walton took charge of only two Arsenal matches last season, both Gunner wins: 3-0 at Birmingham City on New Year's Day and 1-0 at home against Stoke in late February. Walton also worked Arsenal's win at Stoke City in February of 2010, when he sent off Ryan Shawcross for his leg-breaking tackle on Aaron Ramsey. For Newcastle last season, Walton only took charge of one match, a 3-0 loss at Liverpool in early May.

    In 33 matches last year, Walton showed 110 yellow cards and 9 red cards and twice sent off two different players in the same game (one per team in both instances.)

    Around the League

    Spurs v. Everton has been postponed. Here's an image
    of a distraught giraffe on ice skates from that fixture
    last season. Photo: Guardian.
    There's no early kick-off match in England this week, so the Premier League season will kick off with five matches being played in the standard time slot of 10 a.m. Eastern (3:00 p.m. in England.) Due to the situation in England, Tottenham Hotspur's opening match against Everton has been postponed. All nine other fixtures are expected to go ahead as scheduled.

    That means to start the season, Liverpool hosts Sunderland at Anfield, QPR returns to the Premier League hosting Bolton at Loftus Road, while Norwich's return to the top flight starts with a trip to Wigan. Fulham hosts Aston Villa in the other fixture taking place in London and Blackburn hosts Wolves at Ewood Park. Arsenal's late kick-off at Newcastle is the final match on Saturday.

    Sunday sees last year's top two start on the road: Chelsea begins the campaign with a trip to Stoke City (where they drew 1-1 last year) while Manchester United starts with a trip to The Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion. Monday's final fixture of the opening weekend sees Manchester City host newcomers Swansea at Eastlands.

    The reverse of these fixtures will be played the weekend of March 10 and 11.

    Sean's Season Preview: 2011-12

    We are right around two weeks out from the season opener, conveniently located at St. James' Park. You know, where last season was put out of its prolonged misery. Worryingly, the composition of the squad is not that different from what it was on that day, and there are still far more questions than answers - this is a club very much in flux. Will this be the season that finally ends our suffering, or will this be the season where the anger and the frustration of the fanbase boils over into something ugly?

    Sadly, I have a feeling that the FA and League Cups are our only chance of silverware this season (barring any major developments between now and the end of the transfer window, of course).

    Let's look at what we have position-by-position, then I'll sum up at the end.


    It's funny - for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that this is one of the areas needed for improvement (Amy Lawrence at the Guardian brings it up during her season preview), I would argue that this is one of the club's strong points. Some say the jury is out on Wojciech Szezcsny, but for me the case is emphatically closed. Yes, he's still young and will make the odd mistake. But, he's a tremendous shot-stopper and is improving on crosses every game. He is composed and confident, and the difference with our back four between him and his predecessors is glaring. In an age where the list of truly world-class goalkeepers probably reads: "Iker Casillas. End text", Szezcsny is in the top 5-6 keepers in the division..which is more than good enough for our purposes.

    Behind him, he'll be under tangible pressure from compatriot Lukasz Fabianski, especially with the upcoming European Championships which will partially be held in their native Poland. Fabianski is, as previously discussed in these quarters, markedly improved from his days of sending harmless low crosses into his own net. In a pinch, he can do a job in case Szezcsny is injured or loses form...but I don't know if he's quite the caliber we'd need if a trophy was on the line. Still, not too clubs boast a No. 2 at Fab's level - in case of injury or suspension, the other big clubs would be left with the likes of Anders Lindegaard, Hilario and Stuart Taylor.

    Behind them, I suppose it's a battle between Vito Mannone and Manuel Almunia for the No. 3 slot. Personally, it would be best for all involved if Almunia accepted some kind of mutual termination of his contract - he's not wanted here and no one is going to pay him the kinds of wages he's surely on. Perhaps it's still not too late to arrange some kind of loan where we eat his pay packet in exchange for being rid of him. Either way, Mannone at this stage is clearly a better option. He looked solid in the friendly against FC Koln, and also has the benefit of not being irrevocably damaged goods. Almunia seems like a really nice guy and I hate to harp on him too much, but he is for better or worse a living embodiment of the failures of our recent transfer history. and a separation would be best for all involved.

    The youngster James Shea is on a season-long loan to Dagenham & Redbridge.


    This, right here, is arguably the single most frustrating aspect of the squad so far. Given the obvious frailties of the available personnel, it's maddening that the sum total of our business here is buying a kid from Charlton Athletic. We'll get to the reserves in a bit, though.

    The main pairing will likely be Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny. The former is, of course, a bona fide Top Four Club center-half. For all my bitching and moaning about the state of the club, there is a serious argument that could be made where a fit TV5 for the whole season plus going with Szezcsny from the beginning would have put us in with a serious shot for the league title. That's Monday-morning quarterbacking of the worst sort, of course, but it serves to illustrate his importance to the side. If he can overcome his recent injury history, I can envision a fruitful partnership with the young Frenchman. Koscielny had an up-and-down debut season with us, lowlighted by several high-profile mistakes. However, I couldn't help feeling that, even during some of the low points, he was desperately unlucky at times (I recall a few penalties he conceded being absolute bullshit on the part of the officials) and was not indicative of his overall play. He is quite good at intercepting passes and seems to read the game fairly well. With a fit TV5 as his partner and a bit more consistency, he could be part of a solid defensive unit that should go a long way towards addressing some of our issues.

    Image: Arsenal Official Website (

    Bacary Sagna is back and should once again be one of the best right backs in the division. His pace and passing ability always make him a threat going forward, even if his crossing leaves room for improvement. That said, his defensive qualities are somewhat unsung. Why that is with someone of his caliber I'll never know, but we're lucky to have him. The other side of the field is littered with question marks, though. Will Kieran Gibbs somehow find some steel to go along with his skill on the ball? Should he continue to show the constitution of ancient porcelain, there isn't much in the way of cover at that position.

    As for the backups, Johan Djourou is perhaps the single most frustrating player on our squad. His ability and potential are more than evident - every so often, he'll make a jaw-dropping defensive stop or authoritatively head a set piece away. Every time, my only thought is "Why the hell can't he do that more often?". For all of his skills, he is even more wildly inconsistent than Koscielny is. He is error-prone in the most unforgiving outfield position for it. I don't know if it's inexperience, bad luck or just a lack of footballing intelligence, but we are at a point where we cannot depend on him for any length of time if we're truly ambitious about winning things. I mean, if he were in the Sebastian Squillaci slot, that'd be fine - Djourou as a No. 4 would show a great degree of depth at the position. Instead, we have the excerable Squillaci himself. Essentially, he is the outfield Almunia in the sense that he is a black hole of confidence and stability - we are always likely to concede whenever he's out there. I don't even blame the boss for that signing - he was the right age and has extensive experience in big games...I guess Sevilla just knew something that we didn't.

    Sadly (in the terrace song sense), there is strong rumor that Emmanuel Eboue will be taking his comedy act to Galatasaray. We'll miss his 10,000 songs, but I for one won't miss his ill-timed dives and acts of petulance. Whether Carl Jenkinson can fill even those modest shoes is up for debate, though. He's very young and only has made the odd appearance in the pre-season. I absolutely won't rush to judgment based off of one hideously unlucky own-goal, but I worry about what will happen if Sagna is unavailable and he has to play. Let's say we're away to United or Chelsea and we have to play with Jenkinson and, say, Armand Traore. Does that fill you with confidence? Traore is actually one that I don't think is good enough for the club, but that is absolutely a plausible scenario. Sorry, but that's the stuff of nightmares for me.


    This, friends, is our corridor of uncertainty. The Sword of Damocles still remains over our collective heads with the possible departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Whatever you think about these ongoing sagas, the fact remains that the two comprise much of our creativity and attacking thrust. Losing them without adequately replacing them in the transfer market would, in my estimation, make us favorites to finish outside the top four for the first time since the 1995-96 season. That said, I'll throw it out there that perhaps this is the time to cash in on Fabregas should the odious denizens of the Nou Camp finally come to us with a non-insulting offer. He obviously wants to go, and is increasingly becoming injury-prone on top of it. He's one of the best players in the division when fit, but the combination of how little he actually is fit these days combined with his desire to leave means that selling is probably in the best interests for all sides. As for Nasri, he's obviously had his head turned around by agents and/or been tapped up by other clubs. Fine, it happens. He's another where if he wants to go, I don't see the point of keeping him around when a) We'll lose him on a Bosman after the season and b) There is a 0% chance that he plays to his potential if he's here against his will.

    Now if we sell both and the Juan Manuel Mata rumors are true, then great. As with any transfer story these days though, I'll believe it when he's smiling for the official website holding the shirt in his hands (preferably the home one as opposed to that dreadful Wycombe Wanderers away strip they're trying to foist on us this season).

    As for what we know that we do have, the engine room of Jack Wilshere and Alex Song both return and will be crucial to our success. It increasingly looks like they'll be the middle two in a 4-2-3-1, and both possess the requisite strength and bite to do so. As long as they remain healthy, we'll make things tough on opponents in the middle of the park. Of course, the key words there are (and this sounds like a broken record by now) "if they remain fit". If either are out, we're looking at the untested Emmanuel Frimpong to step in. I would love to see a signing in the center-mid position, but I doubt it's going to happen. Still, things aren't all negative. We managed to flog the useless Denilson off to Sao Paulo. Do us a favor, Denny, and lose our address.

    Abou Diaby is injured until the end of time. I'll give you a second to recover from the shock.

    The front three will be populated by some combination of Andrei Arshavin, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and new signing Gervinho. The latter has already shown some mouth-watering touches on the ball and finishing ability. Whether he can maintain that on the proverbial cold Tuesday in Stoke remains to be seen, but I'm ecstatic about the early signs and think he'll probably come good. Ramsey is very much a case of "so far, so good" after his horrific injury at the hands of vicious psychopath Ryan Shawcross. He's had some good games for Wales in the off-season, and has looked good in the pre-season friendlies. Interestingly, his inclusion here is somewhat of a tactical change from the manager, as he had previously been plying his trade in the center two. I kind of like the change to the forward three though, and think it'll better suit his abilities. As always, we don't know what we're going to get out of Walcott or Arshavin. When they have their A-game, they are as dangerous as anyone in the Premier League. Walcott's pace would be deadly if he could ever marry it to being able to take defenders on, but he's getting to be the age where you almost wonder if he just is what he is at this point. Arshavin, of course, has questions surrounding his work ethic. If any of these guys can give us 10 goals and 12-15 assists, we'd be in fantastic shape. Rosicky will take up space, as has been his wont ever since joining the Gunners.


    With the status of want-away Nicklas Bendtner still up in the air, this is absolutely going to be the Robin van Persie show. As he goes, we'll go. There was no better Arsenal player in the second half of last season than the Dutchman, which of course was closely aligned to the fact that it was his most consistent campaign on the fitness front. If he can repeat that in this term, there's no reason why he can't have anywhere between 20-25 goals. The hope is that with Gervinho and either a revitalized Arshavin or a more consistent Walcott behind him, he may even get to 30. That's a lot of ifs though.

    NB52 is probably gone, and I can't say I'd blame him. If I were a tall, physical forward asked to ping in crosses to a midget winger, I'd want to leave too. People slag him off for the miss against Barcelona in the Champions' League, but that conveniently forgets the fact that he's scored big goals for us in the past when played in his actual position (remember the thumping header against the Auld Enemy at Shite Hart Lane?).

    Marouane Chamakh will wait in the wings for his chance at redemption after his abysmal second half last season. The talent is there - he had some highlight-reel strikes in the early part of last season (dancing around two defenders and rounding Ben Foster to dink it in springs immediately to mind). In the worst-case scenario of RvP suffering some kind of long-term injury, he's going to have to be the one to carry the banner and score important goals. Can he get his head straight and regain his confidence?

    Carlos Vela will, like Rosicky, take up space.


    Once again, Arsenal are in a position where the first team - on paper - is a match for anyone in the division. In a vacuum and in a one-off scenario, I would take our starting 11 against anyone else's and feel confident that they have a great shot to win. However, we all know by now that the Premier League season is a 38-game war of attrition, with injury and suspension as constant marching companions. Look again at the names we would be depending on in case of calamity - Jenkinson, Traore, Vela, Rosicky, Frimpong. Honestly, there is precious little strength in depth here. In a best-case scenario, this club could just about collapse past the finishing post and scrape winning the league. Should any setbacks occur along the way, though, just about anything is in play. We could finish third. We could finish fourth (fucking AGAIN). We could finish fifth, or even sixth if the Auld Enemy can keep their act together and Liverpool figures out how to play all 438,928 of their new midfielders at once.

    Further, the same questions nag at us. Can this team defend set pieces? Can they hold a lead when it counts? Will they fall to pieces mentally the first time something goes against them? Nobody knows, which means that a pall of uncertainty will continue to hang over us until someone finally dusts off the trophy case.

    It's all so avoidable, too. Spend the money, buy Mata and Phil Jagielka, and the club and the fans would be energized and would come into the season with anticipation instead of dread. For me, that's all it would take. If this is the squad we're going to battle with though, I fear we may be found wanting (again) when the bullets really start to fly.

    See you in two weeks. Gooners.