West Bromwich Albion 2-3 Arsenal: The Great Escape

So, just another boring day in the Premier League, then!

They rode their luck, they frankly depended on one of the most horrid performances by an opposing goalkeeper in living memory, they huffed and puffed and made far too heavy weather of a mediocre WBA side...but at the end of the day, Arsenal are safely in third place. We can watch the Champions League final without fear. We will not have to navigate a potentially dangerous qualifying round against a strong Italian or German side.

Now, for the love of god, Arsenal...please back up a dump truck full of money at Robin van Persie's house, and buy him some top-level reinforcements. Please.

With that out of the way, let's go back to the beginning. Arsene Wenger rung in the changes from that awful capitulation to Norwich City, with Andre Santos, Francis Coquelin and Carl Jenkinson all getting starts. Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs had to settle for a place on the bench.

I missed the first ten minutes, but the sheer madcap nature of the day began early. First, the Scum from down the Lane were already 1-0 up after 2 minutes, thanks to our least favorite citizen of Togo. Then, Yossi Benayoun once again gave Arsenal an early lead just a few short seconds after that other North London lot went ahead in their game.

More than anything else, what rescued Arsenal today was Ben Foster getting injured in the warmup. Martin Fulop had to deputize, and thankfully he displayed none of the solidity that he showed in his run with Sunderland. On this occasion, an overhit backpass made its way to the edge of the penalty area. Instead of kicking the ball away, Fulop did this bizarre bullfighting ole! move around the ball, allowing Benayoun to sneak in and steal possession. He was left with an easy finish into the empty net, and all was well.

Oh, wait, no it wasn't. We're the Arsenal, after all. When has this side ever done anything the easy way?

West Brom didn't let their heads drop, and began to test the backline of the visitors. The hard work paid off, as they were level just six minutes later. James Morrison had the complete run of the center of the park. No one closed him down, no one challenged or tackled or did much of anything, really. Much has been made - correctly at that - at how awful the linesman was on Morrison's ensuing through-ball to Shane Long, which was about 7 astronomical units offside. But, we were just as complicit in the goal's occurrence with our shoddy midfield play.

Unlike their counterparts, Arsenal's heads did drop a bit. They didn't seem to have an answer for their hosts once the first goal went in, and it only took a further three minutes for disaster to strike once again. This one was a simple long ball over the top, with Carl Jenkinson and Laurent Koscielny in attendance. It looked to me like it should have been Koscielny's ball, but both men hesitated and let Graham Dorrans bull through to win the ball. He volleyed first-time into the far corner with a shot that for me would have been saved by Wojceich Szczesny were he not injured.

So, there we were. Down 2-1 to yet another bunch of mid-range Northern triers, the Scum comfortably ahead against Fulham. The season was over, the worst was going to happen, hellfire would rain on all of our houses...

But, we've been here before, haven't we?  It is beyond question that the team have done very poorly at times this season to get themselves into these situations. However, it is also beyond question that they have in turn done extremely well to get themselves out of several of them.

The first bit of good news was that Everton had scored against Newcastle. At the very least, the specter of fifth place was lessened a bit.

As Arsenal crawled off of the canvas and back into the match, there were other signs of a momentum switch. Benayoun was left alone to volley wide, and two brave blocks by Baggies defenders prevented good scoring chances. The boys had been knocked down, but they were firing back.

I'll be honest with you, though. At 2-1 down, I thought we were in 4th place for sure.

West Brom were on the back foot, and Arsenal refused to die. With 30 minutes gone, the men in red were on level terms once again. One of their lot was far too casual in possession just outside of his penalty area, allowing Alex Song to nick it off of him. The Cameroonian played it out left to Santos, who had two defenders on him. Somehow, neither closed him down, and he took one further touch left and fired a shot to the near post. Now, I've said many times in this space that not every near post goal is cause to storm the goalkeeper's house with pitchforks and axes - however, this was one of those times. Once again, Fulop was dreadful.

The Hungarian "stopper" may have been letting his side down, but the rest continued to take it to Arsenal. Santos had to make an intelligent foul to prevent a quick counter-attack, and then Szczesny just did make it in time to punch away a set piece.

That took us, blessedly, to halftime. I think I speak for many of us when I say that we were hoping that the manager would make a change. When Theo Walcott appeared on the touchline, it seemed we had gotten our wish. But, unfortunately, Gervinho was still on the pitch and it was Tomas Rosicky who was withdrawn. This one is baffling to me, as the Ivorian was absolutely putrid once again. Sure, there was plenty of running and effort, but he has no end product and is frankly where attacks go to die.

The Gunners looked all right in the first few minutes after the restart, but I'd be lying if I said it looked like a goal would be forthcoming. But, lest we forget, Fulop was still in the West Brom net. Out of absolutely nothing, he gifted us the goal that put us in the Champions League. It was off a corner, taken by van Persie. The ball came right to Fulop, and probably should have been caught. He elected to punch instead, and he could only end up knocking the ball sideways. Koscielny was there, and bundled the ball past a defender and into the net.

Seriously, guys. Maybe we should have a whip-round and get Fulop a nice gift in exchange for the three he gave us?

And thus began the 40-minute siege on our net - and on our nerve-endings. For the most part, Arsenal defended competently but there were a few moments when a stronger opponent would have punished us. Thankfully, Gervinho was pulled off in favor of Kieran Gibbs. The young Englishman has been up and down this season, I still think he's a backup at best on a good team, but how important that change would prove to be!

Meanwhile, the Scum went up 2-0 on Fulham, and Joey Barton was doing Joey Barton things.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight and with calm nerves, I can say that West Brom didn't get much in the way of solid chances. Keith Andrews stung Szczesny's palms with a long-range drive, but that was about it. At the time though, it was sheer misery to watch those final minutes unfold...especially when Peter Odemwingie came on. Wenger in turn made his final change, taking off Santos (who was visibly laboring by this time) and throwing on Aaron Ramsey. Why? I don't know, either.

In fairness though, Ramsey wasn't the problem. Carl Jenkinson looked out of his depth from the first minute, and the Baggies began to take advantage of it in the closing minutes. It seemed like all of their attacks came down their left wing, but by now the midfielders were pouring back in support. At times, it was like a Bizarro World version of our usual game was playing out, with ten red shirts behind the ball.

Speaking of Bizarro World, our nerves could have been soothed on the stroke of 90 minutes had our best player of the season done what he has done all year long. RVP beat an offside trap and was in completely alone on Chuckles the Clown in the Albion goal. Somehow, he contrived to send his shot into the Van Allen Belt. Up the other end, West Brom came right back and only a determined block from Koscielny kept them out.

As it got to injury time, the fourth official held up his board, and FIVE minutes were announced. I will never know how exactly they dreamed up that number, but that was the task at hand for the Arsenal. Our season was now down to 300 seconds against an opponent who had their tails up, wanting to send Roy Hodgson into England Hell with a point.

The first few minutes were navigated with little fuss, but remember what I was saying about nothing being easy?

Somehow, we let Billy Jones - a nondescript, mostly First Division-level fullback - sashay through half our team and into the penalty area. He was in alone on Szczesny, who had stayed rooted to his line. This was our season, right here. Once again, we were going to blow it right at the last...

And then, from off the screen, like a superhero rushing in right as the villain's death trap is going to trigger, Kieran Gibbs came flying in with the tackle that saved our season. Once he left his feet, he had to be absolutely perfect or it was a penalty kick. Thankfully for us, he was. Jones' shot went off of the flying Gibbs and away to safety, and the points - and third place - were ours.

Great job, Arsenal, now never fucking do this to me again!

There will be a lot to come from us in the weeks to come, with a full autopsy of this season and all the usual silly-season transfer stuff. That is for another day. Let's enjoy this one for the moment. A very Happy St. Totteringham's Day to you all, and hopefully we'll be locked and loaded for next season with some reinforcements.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings

Szczesny 7, Santos 7 (Ramsey N/A), Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 8, Jenkinson 6, Gervinho 5 (Gibbs 8), Rosicky 6 (Walcott 7), Song 7, Coquelin 7, Benayoun 7, van Persie 7

Man of the Match: Gibbs saved our season in that one moment, but despite the blip for their second goal, Laurent Koscielny was our best player overall today. Again. 

Preview by Numbers: West Bromwich Albion v. Arsenal

The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Sunday, May 13
10:00 a.m. EDT, 3:00 p.m. BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Jones
    • Assistants: Mick McDonough and Richard West
    • 4th Official: Anthony D'Urso
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 0 West Brom
  • This Match, Last Year: West Brom 2 -2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 62 Arsenal wins, 36 West Brom wins, 29 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-L-D-D-D
  • West Brom's League Form: W-L-W-W-D-D
It's chance number ten million for Arsenal to claim third place with a win. There really isn't any more that needs to be said on the topic. A win in this game is worth something to the tune of £40 million. There may not be a piece of silverware at the end, but this should have all the pressure of a cup final, when you think about it monetarily like that.

90 minutes to decide their European fate for next season. No time for complacency. It's time to go all in.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Sagna (broken leg), Diaby (calf), Arteta (ankle), Mertesacker (ankle), Frimpong (knee), Wilshere (ankle)
Doubts: Walcott (hamstring), Santos, Park, Squillaci

It's nice that the players made Pat Rice this retirement
collage. It's like a first grade arts and crafts project.
Photo: @Persie_Official.
There are two big questions in the injury department this week: 1) Will Theo Walcott actually be able to make a return, just two week after tweaking his hamstring? and 2) Who will replace Bacary Sagna at right back in the starting XI?

With regards to the first question, Arsene Wenger said in yesterday's presser that Theo Walcott will take part in training on Friday. I suppose his inclusion in the squad will depend on how well that training session goes. If he comes through clear, he might even start, but if he struggles a bit, I think the wingers stay the same, and we see Gervinho and Yossi Benayoun again.

As for the second question, I did some analysis on what the line-up looked like when Sagna missed October through January. Carl Jenkinson started the first four before his own injuries became a problem. Laurent Koscielny started four times at right back, but that's no longer an option with Per Mertesacker hurt. Johan Djourou made the most starts, with nine, and Francis Coquelin started twice. These numbers exclude matches where there was intentional squad rotation (Carling Cup ties, the UCL match at Olympiacos, and the FA Cup tie with Leeds.) The most telling sign towards this answer, though, is that Coquelin came off the bench to replace Sagna last week, while Djourou remained on the bench. So, I would think that logic would carry forward, and we'll see the Coq again.

Notice how I left Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out of the discussion in the paragraph about Theo above? That brings about question number three: Does the Ox start somewhere, either on the wing or in midfield in place of Aaron Ramsey? This is where things get tricky. Most of the Internet Arsenal-o-sphere seems to want the Ox to start; his presence going forward seems to be better than the Welshman's at the moment. But, do you risk having the Ox play 90 minutes in midfield in a game where Arsenal needs to be more solid defensively, coupled with the fact that Alex Song has been woefully out of form without Mikel Arteta next to him? It's honestly dangerous either way. Without the Ox, Arsenal don't have enough creativity going forward. With him, they might not have enough to protect going backward. Pick your poison.

There are also doubts about Andre Santos, Park Chu-Young, and Sebastien Squillaci, according to Wenger, but really, only the first on that list has a real effect on the squad.

West Brom Squad News

Out: Brunt (tonsils), Reid (ankle), Gera (knee)
Doubts: Thomas (illness), Odemwingie (hamstring)

Too many teams have birds sitting on balls. This is flat
out unacceptable. Photo: ISI Photos.
West Bromwich Albion captain Chris Brunt has taken himself out of contention to play at the weekend, after having his tonsils removed now. This was done so that he is recovered in time to play in the Olympics. Bizarre that that couldn't wait another few days, but I suppose it's a break for Arsenal and that we should accept that.

Speaking of breaks for Arsenal, there are two injury doubts that could further hamper West Brom's line-up on Sunday. Peter Odemwingie could miss out with a lingering hamstring injury that kept him out of last week's 2-2 draw at Bolton. The Nigerian forward missed the reverse fixture in November with a knee injury. He scored twice against Arsenal last year. In addition, Jerome Thomas could be short of match fitness due to a virus. Thomas, who was formerly in the Arsenal system, also scored against the Gunners last year.

In terms of long term injuries, the Baggies are without Irish defender Steven Reid due to ligament damage in his ankles, and Hungarian midfielder Zoltan Gera due to a knee injury.

Current Form

James Morison hit Bolton for a painful late equalizer last
week at the Reebok. Photo: Guardian.
When it all comes down to 90 minutes to decide your Champions League fate, one could easily make the argument that form and history goes out the window. And you'd be right, Arsenal's history against West Brom and their recent run of games means nothing as long as they turn up on Sunday and put in a proper shift. But, for the sake of completeness of this blog post, here is that information anyway.

The Gunners come into this match in fairly poor form, having dropped points in four consecutive matches for the first time since they didn't have fullbacks in January. They have drawn three straight league matches for the first time since last March-early April. Those three draws included a 2-2 match at The Hawthorns. Arsenal's road form, on the whole, is solid. They have 13 points on their travels out of a possible 18 in their last six road matches, which is tops in the league.

West Brom have, as expected, floated comfortably in mid-table all season long, and have nothing to play for in this match, in terms of their standing in the table. They will, however, be playing their final match under Roy Hodgson, and will want to send him off to the England job with a win. The Baggies are currently unbeaten in their last four league games, and came back from 2-0 down against Bolton last week to salvage a draw. They have not lost at home since March 25 against Newcastle. They have picked up two home results this season against teams with European aspirations: they drew Manchester City on Boxing Day and beat Chelsea in Andre Villas-Boas's final match in charge of the Blues.

Match Facts

Not only did Almunia put in a poor performance in this
match last year, he also got trapped in the net for five
minutes. Photo: Daily Mail.
Arsenal won the reverse fixture 3-0 at the Emirates in early November. At that stage of the season, it was likely Arsenal's most comfortably win of the year up to that point. Robin van Persie scored before the half hour mark, Thomas Vermaelen added his first goal since February of 2010 in the 39th, and Mikel Arteta added the third.

Meanwhile, last year, West Brom took four points out of six from Arsenal. However, I should remind you that both of those matches came with Manuel Almunia in goal. At The Hawthorns in March of 2011, West Brom scored early from a corner, then later took advantage of a brutal error by Almunia to make it 2-0. Goals from van Persie and Andrei Arshavin brought Arsenal back level.

Arsenal had won five straight against West Brom prior to last year. West Brom's last win over Arsenal at the Hawthorns was in 2005.

The Referee

That's a tough question...
The referee is Chester-based Mike Jones. This is Jones's second Arsenal match of the season. In the first, Arsenal came from 2-0 down at the Emirates to beat Aston Villa 3-2 in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Arsenal's comeback was aided by two penalties awarded by Jones. Jones worked four Arsenal matches last year, though those are ancient history by now: a 6-0 win over Blackpool, a 1-0 win over West Ham, a 0-0 draw with Manchester City, and a 2-1 loss at Bolton on Easter Sunday 2011.

As for West Brom, Jones has taken charge of just one match this year, as well. Incidentally, that was their first match of the season, and was also a home match against a top side. West Brom lost that to Manchester United, 2-1.

In 32 matches this season, Jones has shown 111 yellow cards and 9 red cards.

Around the League

Wait, so for City to lose the title, I have to root for Joey
Barton? Oh... dear... God... Photo: Daily Mail.
As we enter the final weekend of the season, there are six fixtures on the list that still carry meaning for the title/European qualification/relegation discussions. Four fixtures will carry no impact at all. Also, for the first time ever, Fox Sports in the U.S. is taking the bold step of showing all of these games live somewhere, though, since they don't have enough networks, three games have been pushed to their Internet streams.

ESPN2 gets to carry one of the games as well, and incidentally, they got the first choice, selecting Manchester City v. Queens Park Rangers from Eastlands. A City win gives them the title, unless United win by nine more goals than City does. The City v. QPR game also carries much weight in the relegation battle, as QPR enter the weekend safe by two points above Bolton with far superior goal difference. As for the United match, they are at Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, and that will air on FX (which is on more cable systems than Fox Soccer) and Fox Deportes.

Arsenal's match airs on the regional Fox Sports Net (which, in New York City, means MSG Plus.) As for their opponents for third place, Tottenham Hotspur host Fulham at the Lane (on FSC) and Newcastle faces Everton at Goodison Park (one of the three matches ludicrously moved to the Internet, on FOXSoccer.com. Why a match like this gets moved and not one of the four meaningless ones is beyond me. Meanwhile, Liverpool is on a cable network because Fox wants to push their reality show.)

Speaking of Bolton earlier, they need a win and a QPR loss to stay alive, and the Trotters will try to pick up that win at the Britannia against Stoke City. That'll air on Fox Soccer Plus.

So, that's the six matches that have meaning. The other four matches see locked-into-6th Chelsea host Championship-bound Blackburn Rovers (on SPEED, which is a channel, apparently,) Swansea hosts Liverpool (on Fuel, because Fox owns two racing channels?,) and the other two get moved to Fox Soccer 2Go (which will online stream all of the matches that aren't Spurs v. Fulham on FSC.) Those two are Norwich v. Aston Villa and already safe Wigan Athletic v. already relegated Wolves.
These are the reverse fixtures of those played the weekend of November 5-6.

Arsenal 3-3 Norwich City: It's Out of Our Hands Now

We are all Bayern Munich supporters now.

Before I begin, fair warning - if you're looking for optimism in the wake of this result, you've come to the wrong place. I cannot see any way that we finish third now, and I don't see why Robin van Persie would re-sign with this club. I mean, honestly...would you? If you could get enough money to support your family for the rest of your life and theirs, and get to play on a team with a hope in hell of winning things, why on earth would you stay with Arsenal and continue to desperately fight for 3rd/4th place every season?

You can just see Chelsea fluking a win in the Champions' League final too, can't you?

Anyway, as is my custom, I missed the first ten minutes of the match. In that time, Yossi Benayoun scored a peach of a goal, and Wojceich Szczesny showed that he is human.

It was just the second minute when Benayoun received a pass from Tomas Rosicky, and from the sideline, cut inside to the corner of the penalty area. There were three yellow shirts in attendance, and how Benayoun had that much room to shoot, I'll never know. Thankfully for us, the placement was perfect - right in the upper 90. John Ruddy didn't move in the Norwich goal, and I don't blame him.

To their credit, the Canaries held their nerve and got straight back into the match. The first danger sign was ignored by Arsenal when Grant Holt beat Szczesny to a header, only to see it flash over the crossbar. They kept at it, and found themselves level in the 13th minute.

Kyle Naughton (on loan from our nearest and dearest, for the record) was played in down the right wing, with Kieran Gibbs nowhere near him. Naughton was allowed to cross in to the completely unmarked Wes Hoolahan, who was dead central in the penalty area. Whatever Szczesny's failings were here, the fact that the Irishman was left alone in such a dangerous area is absolutely criminal. Hoolahan badly under-hit his shot, but it hit Szczesny's knee and bounced into the net. It was an unforgivable goal to concede as a team, from first man to last. Just disgraceful.

The Gunners didn't completely go to pieces from there, as they have so often in the past. Robin even came close with a shot over the crossbar. But, Norwich was not going away, and a rasping effort from Holt was brilliantly palmed over the bar by Szczesny before being called back for offside. The cracks in Arsenal's defense were beyond evident, and unsurprisingly Norwich were ahead in the 27th minute.

The play was a disaster for multiple reasons, the most glaring of which was Gibbs once again displaying a complete ineptitude towards the basics of defending. Like, say, it helps when you're standing close to the man you're marking. The whole thing started with Norwich on the counter, having repelled an Arsenal attack. A long ball was played in, and the men in yellow had a 2-v-2. This is not something that should have been difficult to defend, but for some reason Gibbs got caught much too far inside, leaving their one serious goal threat with time on the ball. The young fullback did get over to Holt eventually, but all he could do was deflect the shot over Szczesny (who was well off his line to cut off Holt's shooting angle - this was correct on his part) and into the net.

Essentially, the scoreline here was Arsenal 1-2 Arsenal's Shambolic Defending.

Oh, but there was still more to come. In a total one-car accident, Bacary Sagna broke his leg and will miss all of Euro 2012. All the best to the Frenchman for a speedy recovery.

His replacement, Francis Coquelin, was called into action almost immediately as once again Norwich were running rampant in our penalty area. His sliding tackle from behind had to be absolutely perfect, and thankfully for us it was. A rare moment of competence from our backline, to be sure.

That took us to halftime, and I suppose it was a vain hope that the manager would try and get this lot to buck up their ideas (I won't bore you with my usual screed here - I'm sure you can picture the 5-minute rant about how we need fresh blood in charge of this team, and we can move on). Instead, Norwich continued to have much of the ball and to fashion some half-chances. Luckily for us, Simeon Jackson made a dog's breakfast out of a good chance, his effort tamely finding its way into Szczesny's hands.

We weren't completely out of it, with Benayoun sending an open header into Ruddy's arms. But, Aaron Ramsey - who accomplished nothing else on the day - absolutely should have been sent off by Anthony Taylor for a hideous tackle on one of their lot. Not only was it probably a straight red, but he was on a yellow already so even a caution there would have sent him to the bath.

Ruddy, in the meantime, preserved the lead for his side with a great save on RVP. The rebound came out to Ramsey with the goal gaping, but no prizes for guessing how that ended up. I know it sounds like I've been beating him up the last few weeks (because I have), but it's down to a player having to play too many games coming off too bad an injury because this squad doesn't have any depth. It's hardly all his failing. Up the other end, a colossally-lazy clearance from Szczesny was chased down by Holt, but luckily for us it bounced away to safety.

Yes, kids, This is how the team plays in a must-win game with our Champions' League future on the line. The mind, it boggles.

At the very least, Arsene made changes early enough for it to possibly have an effect. Ramsey was withdrawn for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Benayoun was removed for Marouane Chamakh. It was the latter who helped us get the equalizing goal soon after he came on. Anyone who saw that coming, please write in with your lottery number picks because you clearly have a gift.

His shot was cleared by a brilliant sliding block from the excellent Elliott Bennett, and it looped out of the penalty area. At that point, the Norwich defense collectively fell asleep, like someone hit an off switch. Alex Song did well to recognize this and looped a perfectly-weighted pass over the statues in yellow. Robin, doing what he does best, timed his run to perfection and volleyed past a helpless Ruddy.

At this point, the visitors were clinging by their fingernails to a point. The Gunners had their tails up now, and we all felt like a third goal would come if the opportunity presented itself. Gervinho, who seriously upped his game after the halftime interval, started the move that indeed got us that third goal. He slashed into the penalty area, and kicked it out to Rosicky, who in turn laid it off for Oxlade-Chamberlain. The young Englishman tried to pass it to the right side of the area, but it clipped off of a defender's leg and came straight to RVP. He was never going to miss from there, and Arsenal had a lead that we probably didn't deserve.

With that in mind, perhaps we can't complain too much about what came next.

It all looked so harmless, even when Johnny Howson skipped past Rosicky's sliding challenge. He played it over the top for the substitute Steve Morison, who was somehow completely unmarked. He technically should have been covered by Laurent Koscielny, but I can't beat him up too much because the whole team was playing far too high up the pitch.I shouldn't be as upset as I am because we're never going to stop being this naive as long as this manager is in charge, but I'm furious that we couldn't hold this lead.

So, Morison was in alone, and he finished with aplomb into the far corner. On the face of it, it didn't look like a saveable shot, but there are two factors that would be ignored there. First, as a goalkeeper, you have to come off your line there. You just have to. Yes, the defense let him down once again and he definitely wasn't mentally right after the first goal, but I'm surprised Szczesny would be so timid in that situation. Second, even if he was going to stay on his line, his angle wasn't quite right. He was positioned a little too close to the near post, giving Morison a little more to shoot at than he would have had otherwise.

Szczesny's not completely at fault for the third, but he sure didn't make it difficult for Morison, either.

The worst part - the very worst part - about this is that we still should have won the game. Norwich were a bit out of sorts after the equalizer, as if they thought that the job was finished already. Instead, Arsenal marched right up the field, and Rosicky's brilliant through-ball sent the captain in alone on Ruddy. You'd have put the deed to your house on him scoring, but somehow van Persie could only shovel a weak shot right at Ruddy.

Seriously, this season needs to be mercy-killed. Euro 2012 aside, I just don't even want to deal with soccer anymore until August.

That wasn't to be the last of the drama, though. In Anthony Taylor's world, somehow a two-handed shove to the back of a player about to tap a ball into an unguarded net is not worthy of a spot-kick. It defies belief how this man is a Premier League referee...and not just for this. As mentioned, Ramsey should have walked and anyone with vision better than Helen Keller would have gotten both of those calls right.

So, we are now a point ahead of the Scum having played one more game. Assuming they give Aston Villa the rogering that everyone is expecting them to, we would then have to beat West Brom away and hope that their lot somehow drops the ball at home against Fulham.

Right, so 4th place it is then! Save us, Bayern Munich...you're our only hope.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 4, Gibbs 4, Vermaelen 5, Koscielny 6, Sagna 7 (Coquelin 7), Benayoun 7 (Chamakh 7), Song 6, Ramsey 5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Rosicky 7, Gervinho 7, van Persie 8

Man of the Match: Who else could it be? We're really going to miss him next season. The one, the only, Robin van Persie.


Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Norwich City

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, May 5
7:45 a.m. EDT, 12:45 p.m. BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Simon Bennett and Sian Massey
    • 4th Official: Lee Probert
  • Reverse Fixture: Norwich 1 - 2 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 4 - 1 Norwich (April 2, 2005)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 23 Arsenal wins, 10 Norwich wins, 17 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-L-D-D
  • Norwich's League Form: L-D-W-L-L-L
It is exceedingly rare that an anime drawing would
capture my opinion perfectly, yet, here we are.
Via ~SeiAni on Deviant Art.
I used this introductory section during much of the season to wax poetic about the state of the team, what they needed to do, and where they needed to go from a particular point in time.

Now doesn't really feel like the time for any of that nonsense, does it?

Things are simple to describe now. Two matches remain. Win both and clinch third place. Drop points and European qualification falls out of your hands. Also, I can't deal with the thought of dropping points to a team whose logo also has a bird sitting on a ball.

Got it? Good.

Arsenal Squad News

Arsenal have announced their newest signing this week,
and, I have to say, I'm not sure how this goat is meant to
solve our goal scoring problems... oh, it's Podolski we
signed. Never mind, carry on... Photo: Daily Mail.
Out: Diaby (calf), Walcott (hamstring), Arteta (ankle), Mertesacker (ankle), Frimpong (knee), Wilshere (ankle)

Much of the Arsenal news this week has surrounded the signing of Lukas Podolski from Cologne, which will be official once the transfer window opens. Great news, but this doesn't help against Norwich, now does it? So, back to the matters at hand...

It's been said that Theo Walcott could possibly feature in the final game of the season against West Brom, though he will almost certainly be unavailable for this one. More news on him should probably be expected from Wenger's presser on Friday.

It's more bad news for Abou Diaby, who came up limping at Stoke last week. It's a calf strain and it will keep him out of the final two matches of the season. So, Diaby's final stats from this year: five matches played, all off the bench, over which he played no more than 110 total minutes. Here's a great piece on another blog about the intricacies of his history of injuries, as written by a physiotherapist. Enlightening stuff.

There's no other news about injuries, so I wouldn't think the squad would be too different from last week, minus Diaby on the bench.

Norwich Squad News

Something seems wrong about this picture...
Photo: Daily Mail.
Out: Ayala (knee), Tierney (groin)
Doubts: Drury (thigh), Whitbread (groin)

Adam Drury pulled up with a thigh injury after only ten minutes of last weekend's Norwich match against Liverpool and could miss this week too. Center back Zak Whitbread could still be short with a groin injury.

Norwich have two long term injured players. Daniel Ayala has knee ligament damage while Marc Tierney has had a small operation on his groin.

Current Form

This photo is legitimately terrifying. Photo: Guardian.
Well, Arsenal sure were flying high until the middle of April, weren't they? Going into that match against Wigan, Arsenal had won eight of nine. Starting with that match: three games, two draws, two points, two goals scored. They've dropped points in consecutive matches at home. They have drawn two straight for the first time in a little over a year (that goes back to consecutive capitulations against Liverpool and Tottenham.) The good news is, none of that really matters right now, because all that matters is winning the next two.

As for Norwich, they are in a slump. Comfortably mid-table, the Canaries have now lost three straight in the league since they beat Tottenham at the Lane (thanks for that again, by the way.) They have dropped from 10th to 14th. The losing run started when Manchester City hit them for six at Carrow Road. A week later, Norwich was surprised in a 2-0 loss to Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. Last week, Luis Suarez had a hat trick as Liverpool won 3-0 at Carrow Road. Norwich's only goal during the streak cut their deficit against City to 2-1 before City banged in four more.

Match Facts

If Robin van Persie scores when he wants, he should want
to score 20 more goals over the last two games of the year.
Just saying. Photo: Guardian.
Arsenal won the reverse fixture 2-1 at Carrow Road in November; that win marked the last of a five match winning streak in the league for Arsenal before they were held by Fulham at the Emirates a week later. Norwich scored first, in the 16th minute, via Steve Morison. Robin van Persie leveled the score in the 27th minute and won it in the 59th. Grant Holt attempted to draw a penalty late, but was shown a yellow card by Phil Dowd for simulation and for eating all the pies. And let's be clear, Phil Dowd wanted those pies.

Norwich's last year in the top flight before this season was in 2004/05, when Arsenal beat them in both matches by 4-1 scorelines. At Highbury, Thierry Henry had a hat trick, with Freddie Ljungberg supplying the other Arsenal goal. Norwich last picked up a point against Arsenal in North London via a 0-0 draw in October of 1993. The Canaries last win visiting Arsenal was August 15, 1992, by a 4-2 score. Arsenal led 2-0 before Norwich scored four in the final 21 minutes.

The Referee

"And over here, we have some wonderful parting gifts
for you..." Photo: Football Fair Play.
The referee is Manchester-based Anthony Taylor, working his third career Arsenal match. It's also only his second Arsenal league match, the first of which was a 0-0 draw against Sunderland at the Emirates last year. In that match, he denied Arsenal a late penalty and one of the linesmen incorrectly flagged Andrei Arshavin offside, negating a potential game winner. The one Arsenal match he worked this year was much less controversial; it was the 2-1 Carling Cup win over Bolton at the Emirates in October.

Taylor has taken charge of two Norwich matches this season: a 3-3 draw with Blackburn Rovers at Carrow Road and a 2-1 loss to Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Taylor is the Select Group's second youngest referee. Only Michael Oliver is younger and working games at this level. In 33 matches this year, Taylor has shown 101 yellow cards and 8 red cards. Three of those reds came in his first game of the season, in the Championship, between Leeds United and Middlesbrough.

Around the League

Still one of the most famous encounters between Liverpool
and Chelsea, the Reds advanced to the 2005 Champions
League Final on Luis Garcia's ghost goal.
Photo: BBC.
Saturday's FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium between Liverpool and Chelsea means that Arsenal v. Norwich is the only league game scheduled for May 5. Seven of the ten league matches for this round of fixtures will be played on Sunday, one more will be played on Monday, and the last one will be played on Tuesday. Incidentally, that final game is Liverpool v. Chelsea at Anfield, because these two teams would have been playing each other this weekend anyway.

Manchester City has the title race in their control again, on goal difference as they are level with United. City have a tricky trip to Newcastle, though, which opens up play on Sunday. Manchester United will be playing Sunday's late game, as they host Swansea at Old Trafford. There are five games in the middle, then, to be played at 9:00 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday. They are: Aston Villa v. Tottenham at Villa Park, Bolton v. West Brom at the Reebok, Fulham v. Sunderland and QPR v. Stoke, both in West London, and Wolves v. Everton at Molineux.

Monday night (3:00 p.m. Eastern) is a huge relegation six-pointer, as Blackburn Rovers hosts Wigan Athletic at Ewood Park. Wigan are three points clear of the drop zone. QPR are clear over Bolton on goal difference. Blackburn are three points from safety.