Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea: Listless, Utter Wank

This loss was brutal, no doubt about it. There was a listlessness in the side that permeated through just about everyone who wasn't a fullback, and it's beyond argument that a bit more cohesion would have resulted in us seeing off a Chelsea side that were a bit out of sorts themselves. But, look...there's 38 of these things. It is unrealistic to expect that the team won't give us the odd stink-bomb every now and then. Sometimes, you just don't have it on the day. It was unfortunate though that this performance came in a fixture of this magnitude.

Given the form and fitness of those involved, you can't fault the manager for the team selection. Some will talk about how Per Mertesacker should have played in place of Laurent Koscielny, but that is Monday-morning quarterbacking of the lowest order. All the talk previously had been about how we had three fit center-halves who were all on form, and that wasn't less true now that Koscielny proved to have a bit of a shocker on the day. Thomas Vermaelen returned from illness to partner him, while Abou Diaby also returned to the center of the park. Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey were on the wings, with Lukas Podolski playing up top.

For whatever reason, the home side misfired straight from the opening whistle, and never were able to find their way into the match. Frankly, had Chelsea been at their best today, we may have been given a bit of a hiding. As it stood, the visitors were somewhat disjointed themselves, leading to an opening quarter of an hour where neither side covered themselves with glory. Passes went out into touch, played to spaces occupied by no one. Diaby drilled one long-range effort into Petr Cech's breadbasket, but otherwise neither goalkeeper was unduly troubled.

Speaking of failing to cover one's self in glory, referee Martin Atkinson was truly abysmal in the first 20 minutes. An Arsenal player would breathe on a man in blue, and up would pop Mr. Fussy with his whistle to award a free kick. Meanwhile, a man in blue could recreate the Battle of the Somme on an Arsenal man, and it was a disdainful little wave to play on. Not that it is entirely the reason for the first goal, but the set piece came when Chelsea were given a free kick for an absolutely ridiculous foul call on Vermaelen. If that was a legitimate infraction, then I'm the Tsar of Russia.

Sadly but unsurprisingly, Diaby went off crocked and had to be substituted. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the man to come on, and while he was always going to come on at some point, it would have been nice to have Diaby's energy and drive in the middle of the park. You can see why Arsene is spellbound by his potential, but how many more opportunities can we give him?

The excellent Juan Mata was the one to play in the free kick, a fantastic curling effort to the back post. In fairness, Koscielny was all over Fernando Torres and it'd be a bit harsh to assign blame for the goal on him. Torres managed to get a leg up to volley the ball past Vito Mannone at his near post, though you can't fault him either...there was no time for him to react. I'm generally loath to say anything nice about a Chelsea player, but you have to tip your cap to Torres on this occasion - it was a brilliantly-taken goal.

Directly after the goal, Atkinson rejected a penalty shout on either end, and I think he was right on both occasions. John Obi Mikel made slight contact with Mikael Arteta in the penalty area, but we'd have been incensed if a penalty were given against us for that. Up the other end, Torres received a diagonal through-ball that left the Arsenal defense for dead, and was in alone on Mannone. Instead of taking a shot first time, he faffed about and tried to round the Italian keeper. That let Koscielny come back, and while there was a little contact, Torres was actively prospecting for the penalty at that point. It was never a foul, and to his credit Atkinson agreed.

It easily could have been 2-0 shortly thereafter, were it not for Torres drifting slightly offside. Mata, who was easily the best player on the field today, left the Gunners' backline for dead again with a killer through-ball. Torres fired a somewhat-tame shot on goal, but Mannone let it drift through his hands and into the net. It didn't count due to the Spaniard being offside, but it was horrific goalkeeping and unfortunately a portent of things to come.

Seriously, if you're part of the contingent that thinks Wojceich Szczesny should be benched upon his return from injury because of one bad goal conceded in a game we already had in the bag (and I know you're out there, I've seen it on message boards), the burden of proof is on you to explain how this guy is better.

The half wore on with the home side barely mustering any kind of attack in anger beyond a few hopeful potshots from distance. Then, out of nowhere, a momentary flash of brilliance hauled the Gunners to level terms that they probably didn't deserve. The Ox marauded down the right, and his cutback into the penalty area found Gervinho. For some reason, the Chelsea center-halves retreated almost to their goal line, allowing the Ivorian a shooting lane. Despite that, he had a window about the size of the ball itself that would have resulted in a goal - he only had the near post to shoot at, and Cech had it mostly covered. To his credit, Gervinho found it with a ferocious effort that nestled just underneath the crossbar. It was a hell of a strike, and the hope at this point was that Arsenal could kick on from there and go for all three points.

I think we all know how that worked out, sad to say.

The second half picked up much where the first left off, with little attacking impetus from both sides. Atkinson was perhaps the best performer in the early going, correctly showing David Luiz a yellow for a blatant dive in our penalty area (fair play to him, he ended up having a good game overall after the horror show of the opening quarter of an hour).

Soon after, Chelsea got the lead that they wouldn't relinquish. If their run to the Champions League title last season proved anything, it's that they have a talent for finding a goal when there is a vacuum in the run of play. If you're playing them and don't show the requisite drive and desire to win it, they'll steal it from you every single time. In this case, two pieces of individual incompetence cost us a potentially-valuable point.

Vermaelen again was the man to provide the visitors with the set piece, though again I thought the foul was a bit dubious. However, the free kick from Mata should not have caused us any bother - it was a bit underhit, and not in a particularly dangerous location. The first problem is that Koscielny came across Mannone's field of vision, and even worse, slightly nicked it so that instead of going wide, it headed inside the post. There was no need for it, and was indicative of his performance on the night (and also continues his predilection for being fantastic 90% of the time, and coming up with comedy mishaps the other 10%). The other issue was with Mannone. As a keeper, you have to follow the ball over to the post in that just have to. I sympathize with the fact that Koscielny's run threw off his peripheral vision a bit, but that doesn't excuse him standing there rooted to the spot like a mong. There was no potential for a glancing header from a Chelsea player - their lot was nowhere near it. All told, it was inexcusable goalkeeping from the Italian, and it cost us dearly.

Get well soon, Wojceich.

As bad as we were over the entirety of the 90 minutes, it must be said that only the brilliance of Cech allowed the visitors to leave Ashburton Grove with all three points. Kieran Gibbs, who was about as good as we got in the first 75 minutes before tiring badly, fired in one of the few good crosses we had all day. Lukas Podolski managed to get a head to it, sending it back across the grain. Cech was wrong-footed, but still somehow got back across to claw out the shot.You have to admit it, it was a brilliant save.

The truth is that Chelsea were there for the taking if we wanted it, and as much as I dog the manager for his substitution patterns, he brought on the right pieces at the right time today. With 67 minutes gone, Ramsey and Podolski came off in favor of Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. Ramsey's contribution amounted to not realizing that the guys in blue shirts were not the same ones he sees in training every day, and Podolski was very much on the fringes of the match. Arsene got these changes right - it's not his fault that both men failed to grasp the chance on offer.

There was one last gasp from the home side, with 15 minutes to go. The ball was played into Giroud, who took a decent shot on goal. It came off of David Luiz, leaving his goalkeeper wrong-footed once again. Once again, Cech was able to stop his momentum and get just enough of a hand to it to clear the danger. For all of the talk of him being past it, he was the entire difference between his team winning three points and coming away with nothing.

Despite the importance of the match, the Gunners were unable to muster any kind of desperation or urgency in their attacks. The opponents looked to have tired a bit, and Luiz had to come off injured for Gary Cahill. There's a reason why managers don't make changes to the defense except in case of injury, and that's because it badly affects the rhythm and cohesion of the defensive unit. Again, I stress that they were there to be taken. Instead, the visitors held the ball for much of the last 15 minutes, and with one exception in injury time, were never threatened.To give the devil their due, much of that was down to their lockdown marking on Santi Cazorla, who had no appreciable affect on proceedings.

Speaking of which, there were four minutes of injury time, which should have been 7 or 8 given how risibly the men in blue were wasting time from the moment they took the lead. The Ox was again the creator, his pass eluding the Chelsea defense and finding the onrushing Giroud. It wasn't the easiest angle in the world and there's no guarantee that any shot on target would have beaten Cech given his fantastic form. But, the fact that he couldn't so much as get it on the frame was the latest in what is becoming an unwelcome pattern of terrible misses.

So, we're left with a loss that stings more than a little. I think I speak for most of us when I say that there are few sides in the world I hate more than Chelsea, and I'd rather lose to United or City 10 times than lose to these guys once. But, I also have to admit that our guys brought this on ourselves with lapses in discipline and an alarming lack of application and urgency.

Still, it's only one match, and there are easier challenges ahead. Hopefully the team can take out their frustrations on Olympiacos mid-week, and use that as a stepping stone to start collecting points in the league. We're not in a bad spot given how strong our early opponents have been, but now is the time for the side to buck up and start winning games. Here's hoping.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Mannone 5, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 5, Vermaelen 5, Jenkinson 7, Diaby 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Arteta 7, Gervinho 7, Cazorla 6, Ramsey 5 (Walcott 6), Podolski 6 (Giroud 5)

Man of the Match:

There's a part of me that wants to break my own Arsenal-only rule and give it to Mata or Cech, given how little any of our lot deserve it. However, I do have to say that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did play fairly well and created what few chances we had. Not many men in red deserved to be on the winning side today, but the Ox did.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Chelsea

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, September 29
7:45 a.m. EDT, 12:45 p.m. BST

  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Stuart Burt
    • 4th Official: Phil Dowd
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 0 - 0 Chelsea
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 71 Arsenal wins, 54 Chelsea wins, 52 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W // D-D-W-W-D
  • Chelsea's League Form: W // W-W-W-D-W
The Arsenal Live Text of the Coventry match called Ignasi
Miquel "Iggy." I hope that's actually his nickname. It's much
better than the nickname we gave him when he started against
Leyton Orient in the FA Cup a few years ago: "New Guy!"
Photo: Daily Mail.
Big game.

You thought last week's match was a big game (and it was,) but this match here is the one that is going to dictate the conversation going forward.

After this match, Arsenal plays six times between then and their trip to Old Trafford to face Satan's Minions F.C. on November 3; three of them are league matches (against West Ham, Norwich, and QPR.) Those three matches fall into the category of "matches you have to win if you expect to win something." If Arsenal drops points against Chelsea, those three all become must win to get their heads back above water. If Arsenal wins against Chelsea, then whispers of the phrase "title contender" start to get louder, I start to panic about jinxing things, and then they really have to win all three. The tone of the October conversation about this team is going to be decided by tomorrow's result.

It's still early going in this season. Arsenal still have fewer points than West Brom and Everton. Titles are not won or lost in September. But if you're on the negative end, it can sure feel like it.

Arsenal Squad News

I'm not really sure how a robot could
get the flu in the first place, but said
robot will be available again this week
anyway, so let's not think too hard
about that question.
Out: Szczesny (ankle), Fabianski (knee), Rosicky (Achilles), Sagna (broken leg), Wilshere (foot)

Thomas Vermaelen returns from a one-week absence and is available for selection at center back. Laurent Koscielny did quite well deputizing in his place, scoring the equalizing goal in Manchester. All of a sudden, Arsenal have a glut of center backs available (where was that two years ago?) so there are serious questions over which two will get to start. In response to the situation, during his press conference yesterday, Arsene Wenger said, "I have selection solutions, not selection problems." That's bad-ass.

There are some more selection problems solutions up front this week. Does Theo Walcott return to starting XI after his brace against Coventry? (Note that for all his talk about wanting to be a central forward then scoring twice in the League Cup, his goals still came from the wings.) Does Gervinho retain his place despite struggling a bit against City? Does Olivier Giroud breaking his duck earn him a spot in the starting squad? What about Aaron Ramsey, who had probably his best game in ages last weekend? Wenger says he has solutions to these questions, and many more, probably!

Back to the injury topic, and there's more good news about Jack Wilshere as he'll play against West Bromwich Albion for the Under-21 team on Monday for about an hour. Also, Bacary Sagna is back in training as well!

In terms of players still out "long term," Tomas Rosicky is two weeks away from returning to training and Wojciech Szczesny is two to three weeks away.

Predicted XI: Mannone, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Diaby, Cazorla, Podolski, Walcott, Gervinho.

Chelsea Squad News

Oscar has two goals for
Chelsea already in his
young career.
Photo: Muppet Wikia.
Out: None
Doubts: Sturridge (hamstring), Terry (racism match fitness)

John Terry has not been in training this week, as he has been at the disciplinary hearings being held over the charge that he used racially abusive language on the pitch. He's been hit with a four match ban, but the ban is suspended "until after the outcome of any appeal, or the time for appealing expires, or should Mr. Terry decide not to appeal." His ability to appeal is on the grounds that he was cleared of the charge at Westminster magistrates' court in July, meaning England's Brave and Loyal National Team Quitting center back will be available for Chelsea tomorrow. I've listed him as a doubt due to match fitness, since he hasn't been in training, but he played just fine in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday. You know he'll play. Maybe he'll fall over again, too.

Daniel Sturridge has been out for a few weeks with a hamstring problem, but is on course to be available again this weekend, though that's still doubtful. Other than that, there are no major injury concerns in the Chelsea squad.

Current Form

Not-Central-Forward Theo Walcott celebrates one of the
two goals he scored from the wing on Wednesday.
Photo: Guardian.
The last time either of these two teams lost a match in the four main competitions was May 8, when Chelsea got thrashed by Liverpool, 4-1. It's kind of hard to even remember that happened (Liverpool winning by three?!?,) but Chelsea's end of season was so bizarre last year, as they threw everything they had into winning the FA Cup and Champions League and succeeded. Chelsea have lost twice this season, but that was in the Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup. Chelsea are unbeaten in nine matches across the four main competitions (Premier League / FA Cup / League Cup / Champions League.) Arsenal is unbeaten in 11. That's 20 unbeaten matches combined between the two (so, does that mean they'll draw?) Arsenal's last loss was on April 16 to Wigan Athletic. Since then, yes, they have drawn a lot. They've drawn six of those 11 in the unbeaten run, actually.

Chelsea currently sit on top of the Premier League table with 13 points, four wins and a draw. Arsenal are in fifth with nine points, two wins and three draws. You could argue that Arsenal has had the better results so far (and I will make that argument, because this is an Arsenal blog) even though they are four points out of first place. Arsenal have picked up single points on two difficult travels (at Stoke and at City,) they've won at Anfield fairly comfortably, and they thrashed Southampton at home. Chelsea won their opening match comfortably at Wigan, then took longer than expected to unlock Reading at the Bridge, beat Newcastle at home (their toughest league fixture on paper to date,) were held to a draw at QPR, then left it late to beat Stoke at home (though, to be fair, Arsenal never found an opening at Stoke, but that was away.) Chelsea have conceded goals in only two of their seven matches this season: the 4-2 win over Reading and the 2-2 draw with Juventus.

Match Facts

This game is sooooo boring. Better try to liven it up by both
missing the ball, or something... Photo: Guardian.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last three matches against the Blues, winning at Stamford Bridge last year and drawing at the Emirates. It has been almost two calendar years since Chelsea's last win over the Gunners. Prior to these three matches, Chelsea had won five straight against Arsenal.

Arsenal won 5-3 at Stamford Bridge in late October in a classic. You may recall John Terry falling over at one point. A certain former Arsenal striker that shall remain nameless had a hat trick. Theo Walcott and Andre Santos had the other goals. In this fixture last year, at the Emirates in April, both sides played a torpid 0-0 draw that I just wanted to be over by midway through the second half.

A significant factor in those two matches last year was the absence of Didier Drogba from Chelsea's line-up in both games. Drogba was always well established as an Arsenal killer and he had the opening goal and winner in Chelsea's last win over Arsenal on October 3, 2010. Drogba had 13 goals over a 12 match span against Arsenal. In addition, before Arsenal's 3-1 Boxing Day (well, December 27th) win over Chelsea in 2010, the Blues had won their last two matches at the Emirates each by an astonishing three clear goals. But, that's all in the past now.

The Referee

Ruh-roh. This mock-up is from a
United blog, by the way.
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Atkinson worked three Arsenal matches last year: the 2-0 loss to Liverpool last August, the 1-0 win over QPR on New Year's Eve, and the 1-0 win over Manchester City on Easter Sunday.

Red cards are a familiar sight in games where Atkinson has access to showing them, though he has yet to show one this year. There were two red cards in the three Arsenal matches involving him last season: the first was to Emmanuel Frimpong against Liverpool and the second was to Mario Balotelli for being a lunatic. A year prior, Atkinson showed red cards to both Laurent Koscielny and Jack Wilshere (he also sent off two Arsenal opponents that year.) In 2009/10, Thomas Vermaelen received the club's only red card of the season, shown by Atkinson, for a last man foul against West Ham. Let's hope Chelsea gets the red card this time, like Manchester City did in April.

With regards to Chelsea's record with Atkinson last year, he took charge of their 1-1 draw at Wigan, a 1-1 draw with Birmingham City in the FA Cup, a 0-0 draw in the league with Tottenham, and their 5-1 FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham three weeks after the draw. Chelsea's win in that semi-final was, of course, controversial, as Juan Mata's goal which gave Chelsea a 2-0 lead never fully crossed the line but was allowed.

Around the League

Please, someone, just make it stop.
This London derby starts a full slate of Saturday games; there is a total of eight matches being held in the Premier League on the 29th, which means six of them are being played in the 10:00 a.m. Eastern, 3:00 p.m. England time slot. Manchester City is in West London to face Fulham at the Cottage, Liverpool is at Carrow Road to face Norwich, Everton hosts Southampton at Goodison Park, Newcastle is at the Madejski to face Reading, Stoke hosts Swansea at the Britannia, and Sunderland hosts Wigan at the Stadium of Light.

Saturday's late game features Tottenham Hotspur in Manchester to face United at Old Trafford. That really doesn't sound like something I want to subject myself to watching, so 12:30 p.m. Eastern sounds like as good a time as any for me to do laundry.

There's one match scheduled for Sunday and one more for Monday. Aston Villa hosts West Bromwich Albion in a West Midlands derby on the 30th, while the weekend closes with another London derby, with Queens Park Rangers hosting West Ham United at Loftus Road on the night of October 1.

The reverse of these fixtures will be held the weekend of January 19-20.

Arsenal 6-1 Coventry City: On to the Fourth Round

League Cup games are almost like a simulacrum of actual football - a few times a season, we get sucked into a wormhole to a bizarre land that has its own rules of physics and where events have no bearing on what comes before or after it. Some deride the competition for the lack of first-team players on show, but I think it's a fun diversion.

I mean, did you see that wonderfully preposterous mish-mash of a starting lineup we put out for this thing? Rookies, vets that can't get into the game, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (whose inclusion almost felt like cheating given his prodigious talent). Meanwhile, our opponents were a bonafide crisis club, as cliched as the term has become. City find themselves in the third tier for the first time in aeons, and on an epic losing streak to boot. But, you know how these things go - look at the heavy weather made of Leeds United and Leyton Orient last season.

To elaborate on said mishmash: Damian Martinez patrolled the net, with a semi-experienced center-half pairing of Johan Djourou and Ignasi Miquel. Andre Santos finally got a game at LB, while young Martin Angha got a run-out on the right. Francis Coquelin was the holding midfielder, with Nico Yennaris beside him. The front three boasted far more experience than we normally see at this stage of the tournament - Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott on the wings, with Andrei Arshavin in the hole. Olivier Giroud unsurprisingly was given this opportunity at center-forward to end his goal drought.

It took a while for the match to spark to life, with the Sky Blues content to sit back and watch as a disjointed Arsenal stumbled and bumbled and misplayed passes all over the field. At the ten minute mark though, this makeshift XI gelled enough to string some offensive moves together. Still, it was the visitors who fashioned the first chance thanks to the overzealous Angha. The Swiss man badly missed his challenge, allowing Franck Moussa to skip around him and send in a good cross. Luckily for us, Stephen Elliot fluffed his lines and headed over.

Meanwhile, Arsenal maintained possession and started to get into good areas, but it was the final ball that presented us problems. Quality crosses were nowhere to be found.

There was also no panic to be found, and the men in red simply kept at it until the breakthrough came in the 39th minute. The ball was played through the middle to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who passed to Arshavin. The Russian's side-foot was too far ahead of Yennaris, but his brilliant sliding deflection found the overlapping Giroud. Joe Murphy came off his line, surely wondering where his defense had gotten off to. Giroud still had it all to do though, and managed exactly that with a sweetly-dinked finish over the Irish keeper.

The visitors had no immediate reply, and in turn Arsenal were content to take their slim lead into to the changing rooms.

The Sky Blues came out of the interval the sharper side though, and so easily could have equalized early doors. Their captain, Carl Baker, sent a teasing ball in that one of his teammates should have gotten on the end of. That was a bit of a let-off, and the defense had to quickly regroup again when Moussa eviscerated Angha again with his trickery and movement. Sad to say, the young right back looked miles out of his depth on this occasion. 

Still, the home side were never too far removed from the proceedings, and won a slightly dubious penalty soon after. In one sense, Coventry deserved it for how putrid Reece Brown's backwards header was. Arshavin stole in, and believe it or not worked hard to get in behind Brown. The defender did make some contact, but Arshavin went down a bit easy. We'd have been pissed if the roles were reversed, I think. Still, the referee pointed to the spot, and it almost was a red card too - only the timely arrival of Richard Wood spared the Manchester United loanee (no, really!) that fate.

Giroud took the penalty, but had to wait several minutes while some jackass pitch invader eluded stewards. When a man as bereft of confidence as he is has to take time and think about it, it is probably inevitable what will come next. The penalty was dreadful, and easily palmed away by Murphy. How nice it would have been to see the Frenchman smash one into the top corner! That said, we almost scored on the ensuing corner - Miquel unlucky to flash a header just over.

Arsenal kept at it though, and got the second a few minutes before the hour. It all came out of nothing, too. Santos was in the corner, and played it back to Ox. Ox exchanged passes with Arshavin, leaving him dead central with the Coventry defense standing four tube stations away from him. His shot was hard and had some movement, but it probably should have been saved. Murphy got put off by something, and indicated that he couldn't see it. It wasn't a hideous error, but it is an illustration as to why he's in the third tier.

With the game slipping away, Moussa was strangely taken off for Rangers flameout John Fleck. Angha must have been happy to see that sub, while Fleck must be ecstatic to be at a crisis club in the lower leagues. A funny old game, innit?

In the meantime, Ox had another long-range tracer decently saved by Murphy. Coventry were back on their heels, at one point stringing six across the back. But, it was their midfield that let them down though, a terrible giveaway leading to our third. The fantastic Yennaris took advantage in the middle of the field and surged forward with great purpose. Giroud made a perfect run through their backline, but his pass to the onrushing Arshavin was high and pinged a little too hard. No matter, the little Russian deftly flicked it off his body and down into his path, and he calmly slotted home past Murphy. The keeper had bizarrely decided to stay on his line, failing to read the danger of Arshavin's run. Again, that lack of awareness and anticipation is why he's turning out for Coventry.

The subs started to appear with 20 minutes left to go. There was actually a Marouane Chamakh sighting, and Serge Gnabry came on as well. The Ox and Giroud came off, hopefully with one eye on Saturday. Also: DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENCH! Frimpong came on for Coquelin.

The brief interlude didn't slow the men in red down though, a fourth coming soon after. Again, it stemmed from Yennaris in the middle of the park, playing a wonderful ball through the retreating backline to Walcott. Walcott, at full gallop, displayed his best skill - the low, across-the-keeper finish into the far corner. It looked like Murphy may have been a shade too far over towards his near post, but either way it was a fine run and finish.

It didn't all go our way though, Coventry replying in kind four minutes later. Baker had the run of the right-hand side, Santos caught way up the pitch. Miquel had to come over to help, but was a second too late. Their man sent in another beautiful cross, and this time the substitute Callum Ball got the better of a static Johan Djourou and hammered a shot past Martinez. I would have liked to see a more decisive play from the Argentinean...I think he could have gotten there or at least put Bell off. He was hesitant at other moments as well, and showed that he has far to go in his education as a keeper.

But, while replays were still being shown, Arsenal almost scored again. Gnabry made an instant impact, receiving a fine pass from Arshavin and absolutely destroying two defenders as he cut inside. His shot was actually a bit unlucky to hit a Coventry head and go out, rather than in directly or in via own-goal.

The resulting corner did end up with Murphy picking the ball out of his net once again though. A short corner routine saw Arshavin and Yennaris ping the ball around several times before Arshavin found space and sent in a curler of a cross. Despite three men surrounding him, Miqel managed to rise highest and nod the ball into the far corner. It was a great header, a determined header, and a richly deserved goal for the Spaniard.

Arsenal looked content to play out time, but there was one more goal to come. Late on, Frimpong received the ball in the middle of the park, and hit a fantastic long pass to Walcott. The ferocity of his run may have caught Jordan Clarke off guard, because Theo left him for dead in a nanosecond. He surged into the penalty area, and Brown (who by the way, did we mention is on loan from Manchester United) decided to actually retreat away from him a bit. Walcott could have picked any shot he wanted, opting for low to the far post. Murphy was beside himself with anger, and rightfully so.

Again, what happened in this game is no portent - for good or ill - about what will happen against Chelsea at the weekend. On the night, it was a fine team performance, and again you can only play against what's in front of you. We learned a bit about some of the kids, some first-teamers got valuable minutes, and we're through to the next round away to Reading...another winnable game. You can't ask for much more than that.

Actually, scratch that...yes I can. Arsenal, please, please, PLEASE tonk those bastards.

Please. God, I fucking hate them. 

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Martinez 6, Santos 6, Djourou 7, Miquel 7, Angha 5, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Gnabry 7), Coquelin 7 (Frimpong 7), Yennaris 8, Arshavin 8, Walcott 8, Giroud 7 (Chamakh 6)

Man of the Match: Many will stump for Arshavin or Walcott, and there's a solid argument for both.  However, I thought that Nico Yennaris was superlative on both sides of the ball. His tackling, positioning, awareness, and range of passing were simply spectacular. He may not be ready for Premier League opposition quite yet, but it's heartening to know that the production line of talent continues to churn out quality players like this.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Coventry City, Capital One Cup Third Round

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, September 26
2:45 p.m. EDT, 7:45 p.m. BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Jones
    • Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Peter Bankes
    • 4th Official: Anthony D'Urso
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 41 Arsenal wins, 14 Coventry wins, 19 draws
  • Last Year in the League Cup
    • Arsenal: Lost Fifth Round to Manchester City
    • Coventry: Lost First Round to Bury
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: W // D-D-W-W-D
  • Coventry's League One Form: D-L-L-L-L-L
Now, this looks like a team that's fighting for each other.
Brilliant to see how emphatically everyone celebrated that
goal. Photo: Daily Mail.
I couldn't remember the last time I was as happy about a draw as I was on Sunday. That bothered me, so I actually had to go back through the fixture lists from the past few seasons to find the last time I was happy with a draw. It had to be the FA Cup tie with Leeds in January of 2011 that was rescued by a late penalty to force a replay. Since then, every Arsenal draw has either been in the "painful to watch" category or the "two points dropped rather than one gained" category. Of course, that feeling is always based on the context of the match; had that Leeds game been a league match and not a cup tie, it would've probably gone in the "two points dropped" category, but I digress. I think you get the point.

Sunday was definitely in the "one point gained" category and that's a nice feeling. Arsenal are proving they can snare results in difficult places. A draw at Stoke and a draw at City, along with a road win in Europe and a win at Anfield; these are all acceptable results. The season opening 0-0 with Sunderland is arguably, so far, the only match where you can look back with some disappointment (the draw at Stoke could also go in that column, but that's a more historically tricky fixture.) I thought, even by halftime on Sunday, that Arsenal looked like a side that's capable of winning something, and it's been a long time since that was true.

With Chelsea at home looming on the horizon, we turn our attention to the third competition of the fall season, the League Cup, which is now sponsored by Capital One and not Carling. As such, I think I'm going to just call it the League Cup, plain and simple, from now on. Or, go back to calling it the Milk Cup. Or the Littlewoods Cup.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Szczesny (ankle), Rosicky (Achilles), Sagna (broken leg), Wilshere (foot)
Doubts: Vermaelen (illness), Fabianski (knee), Chamakh (illness)

I did a Google search for the purposes of making a Frimpong
joke about being on the BEEEENCH, but Google knows
better than that.
There will be rotation. Oh yes, there will be rotation. The thing is, the quality of Arsenal's bench has been so strong lately, "rotation" means starts for Andrei Arshavin, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andre Santos, and likely Johan Djourou as well. Nico Yennaris could start too; he was a mascot the last time Coventry played at Arsenal in North London in 2000.

Rumor has it Emmanuel Frimpong will make the bench, seven months after suffering knee ligament damage, though I still think it would be way too soon for him to return to action, having just returned to full training on Friday. Arsene Wenger has said he wanted to wait longer, but Frimpong is too eager to return. It seems risky to me.

Vito Mannone will likely be rested in goal ahead of Chelsea's visit at the weekend, meaning unless Lukasz Fabianski is fit after his shoulder injury, either Damian Martinez or James Shea will start in goal. Both were shown in training photographs yesterday.

In addition, a billion youngsters could feature at some point during this match (yes, a billion,) so I'm not even going to try to predict the starting XI.

Coventry Squad News

Out: Henderson (loan terms), McGoldrick (cup tied)

Coventry City's main goal scoring threat, striker David McGoldrick, is ineligible to play in this match. The on-loan striker played for Nottingham Forest in their second round loss to Wigan, meaning the youngster is cup tied. Midfielder Conor Henderson is not eligible to play against his parent club. I know players can receive special privilege to play against parent clubs, but I've never been positive of those rules. For example, Sanchez Watt was allowed to play for Leeds against Arsenal in the aforementioned FA Cup tie in 2011, but one round later, Benik Afobe was not allowed to play for Huddersfield Town. It's my understanding that Henderson will not be made available.

Coventry completed a three month loan move for Derby County midfielder James Bailey yesterday and he might feature tonight.

Current Form

Danny Livesey scores the winner for Carlisle against
Coventry at the weekend. Livesey spelled backwards is
"YES EVIL." So, really, Coventry have Satan to blame.
Photo: Daily Mail.
You've heard about Arsenal's form quite a bit already this season. Things are pretty good right now in Gunnerland. The thing is, with a lot of squad rotation expected, Arsenal's form before this match has really nothing to do with how it goes and Arsenal's form after this match is likely not going to be affected too much by the result.

That's why I'll use the rest of this section to go into more detail about Coventry's form, which you are less likely to know a lot about. In a word, Coventry's form is bad. On August 25th, Coventry blew a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with Bury and were booed off the pitch at home. It was three draws from three matches to start the season for the Sky Blues and manager Andy Thorn was sacked. From there, Coventry have lost five straight, to Crewe, Stevenage, Tranmere Rovers, Shrewsbury, and Carlisle. Mark Robins was named Coventry's new manager last week. His first match in charge was the 2-1 home loss to Carlisle at the weekend.

Coventry have three wins in cup competitions so far this year: over Dagenham & Redbridge (1-0 on a late penalty) and Birmingham City (3-2 in extra time) in the League Cup and over Burton Albion on penalties (10-9 and decided by the goalkeepers!) in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. So, really, only one of those is a standard win.

Match Facts

In 2001, he was like a new signing!
Arsenal have not played Coventry City since the Sky Blues' last season in the top flight: 2000/01. In that season, Arsenal won 2-1 at Highbury and won 1-0 in Coventry. Coventry's last win against Arsenal was on December 26, 1999, a Boxing Day fixture (obviously.) It is worth mentioning that that remains the last time the Gunners were beaten on Boxing Day. Coventry's last win at Arsenal was in 1993; Arsenal are unbeaten in their last eight home meetings with the Sky Blues.

As for that most recent meeting with Coventry, the 1-0 win in 2001, I give you, this excerpt from the Guardian recapArsene Wenger has had his striking problems this season. So much so that he hailed the 31-year-old Dennis Bergkamp almost as a new signing after the Dutchman delivered a rare goal. Yeah...

Arsenal and Coventry have met three times in the League Cup. Arsenal won 2-1 in the second round in 1967, Coventry won 1-0 in the third round in 1991, and Arsenal won 1-0 in extra time in the fourth round in 1997. The first two of those matches were played in Coventry, the latter in London.

The last time Arsenal lost to lower tier competition in a domestic cup was in December of 2008, in the fifth round of the League Cup, to Burnley. The Clarets won promotion from the Championship that season. You would have to go back to 1983 to find the last time Arsenal were knocked out of the League Cup by a third tier side; that was done by Walsall, 3-1 at Highbury.

In a worrying statistic, Arsenal have conceded first in four consecutive League Cup ties.

The Referee

Every time Mike Jones is the referee, I will
include pictures of the rapper instead.
The referee is Chester-based Mike Jones. Jones took charge of two Arsenal matches last season: the 3-2 come from behind FA Cup win over Aston Villa (in which Jones awarded Arsenal two penalties) and the season ending 3-2 win at West Bromwich Albion that secured third place. So... put all of your money on 3-2 to the Arsenal, apparently?

Jones has not been in charge of a Coventry game since 2009/10, when the Sky Blues were still in the Championship. In two matches that year, they drew 2-2 at QPR and lost to then-Premier League Portsmouth at home in an FA Cup replay. Stephen Wright had the worst of those two matches; he was sent off in the QPR game and his injury time own goal gave Pompey their equalizer. Maybe that's why he's at Wrexham now.

Around the Third Round

Manchester City was knocked out of the tournament by
Neon Villa last night. Photo: BBC.
In two of the past three League Cup tournaments, Arsenal have been eliminated by Manchester City. That's not going to happen again this year, as City was eliminated by an extra time brace from Charles N'Zogbia, as Aston Villa won 4-2 at Eastlands. Elsewhere yesterday, Wolves forgot they were scheduled to play a game and lost 6-0 to Chelsea, Everton seemed to forget too and lost 2-1 at Leeds, Swansea struggled a bit but saw off Crawley Town 3-2, Lee Cattermole was sent off, the world kept spinning, and Sunderland beat MK Dons 2-0 anyway, Wigan comfortably beat West Ham 4-1 at Upton Park, Southampton beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-0, Middlesbrough beat Preston North End 3-1 on the road, Swindon beat Burnley 3-1, and after extra time, Bradford beat Burton Albion 3-2.

Elsewhere today, our dear friends Tottenham Hotspur travel to Carlisle United, Norwich City hosts Doncaster Rovers at Carrow Road, and there are three all-Premier League matches: Manchester United hosts Newcastle at Old Trafford, QPR hosts Reading at Loftus Road, and West Bromwich Albion hosts Liverpool at the Hawthorns, where the Baggies beat the Reds 3-0 on the opening day of the season.

Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal: Feels Like a Win

This is one of those results that has plenty of ancillary storylines and incidents, but is best summed up by one statement - Arsenal went into the home of the defending champions and came away with a share of the spoils.

There were several personnel changes enforced onto Arsene Wenger, with Thomas Vermaelen proving unavailable through injury, while Wojceich Szczesny's ankle-knock meant that Vito Mannone continued in goal. Lukas Podolski got a first start as the center-forward, with Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey flanking him, and Abou Diaby and Mikael Arteta stationed in the middle.

Both sides started tentatively, a sense of the occasion not lost on either side. Arsenal were the first to seize momentum though, as the men in red had a shockingly-high percentage of the ball in the first ten minutes. The Manchester City defense, marshaled as expertly as ever by Vincent Kompany, prevented the Gunners from creating any serious chances.

Kieran Gibbs might have done so though with a bit more ambition. Arteta, not for the first time on the day, played a wonderful ball over the top of the City backline. Gibbs ran onto it, and while he had an acute angle, he also had all the time and space he could want to have a go. Instead, he played a completely witless ball across the area with no other red shirts in a 10-mile radius. At this point, much of the "walk the ball into the net" instincts have been overcome, but on this evidence there's still a bit of work to do.

City began to find their feet enough to counter, and only a minute later Mannone was called into action for the first time. The dangerous Sergio Aguero had a pop from distance, but it was always a comfortable save for the Italian stopper.

The home side's increasing adventurism naturally left some space for Arsenal to exploit, which they did two minutes after Aguero's chance. Ramsey skinned our old friend Gael Clichy and played a magnificently-weighted diagonal ball for Gervinho to run onto. The pass left the City defense in tatters, and the Ivorian was clean through on Joe Hart. Well, he should have been, anyway. The thing with Gervinho is that once he has the ball at his feet, he can do some amazing things with it - his mazy dribble against Montpellier the most recent example. Unfortunately, getting it to him can be a problem at times, as he has the first touch of a tranquilized plow horse. This time, his first touch was so heavy, Hart had an easy take as he came off his line.

Sadly, this would be indicative of Gervinho's play on the afternoon. He worked hard and got into some good positions, but goddamn, he was abysmal on the balance of things.

That does lead me to another point, though. From first man to last, the workrate exhibited by Arsenal today was phenomenal. There were several Gunners guilty of some horrid giveaways, misplaced passes or blown chances. But, not one man in red can be faulted for their effort and their desire. That, more than anything else, is why we've had such a better start to this season than last. This version of the Arsenal may not be as technically-skilled as some previous versions, but they would run last season's Gunners off the pitch and have plenty left over.

Meanwhile, City couldn't muster much in the way of attacking threat. Edin Dzeko huffed and puffed, David Silva's internal calibrations seemed to be off and Yaya Toure was oddly on the periphery of the match. Were it not for the excellence of Kompany and Joleon Lescott, they could have been played off their own park by halftime. What attacks they did manage were ruthlessly snuffed out by the absolutely brilliant Per Mertesacker. Once again, he shone in the center of the Arsenal defense.

So, it was a bit of a sucker punch to find ourselves down a goal on the stroke of halftime.

Gibbs headed out a cross he could have let run out for a goal kick. On the ensuing corner, Mannone flapped badly and took himself out of the play. Laurent Koscielny was the nearest man to the ball, but his leap was poor and easily bested by Lescott, who headed into the empty net. Given the typically impenetrable defense of City at Eastlands, Arsenal heads could be forgiven for dropping a bit.

That took us to halftime, but none of us in the pub thought that Arsenal were out of it. I keep harping on it, but it keeps being true - there is something different about this team this season. There's a bit more steel in red and white, and they would show it once more before the afternoon was over.

Before that, though, there was a storm to be weathered. City were energized by the goal and looked to capitalize further. The anonymous Scott Sinclair was withdrawn for Jack Rodwell, and immediately City began to dominate the midfield. In many respects, it was a reverse of the first half where their possession was largely neutered thanks to our own brilliant center-half pairing. Mertesacker especially was heroic, with a series of intelligent interceptions and calm clearances out of danger.

The half wore on, and it was clear that reinforcements were needed. Once again though, the manager's choices were a tad bizarre. The struggling Gervinho was left on for 90 minutes (sorry, that is bloody indefensible), while Podolski and Diaby were the ones to depart. Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott came on, and the former in particular played well. Much will be made of the fact that he did not find the net again, but his hold-up play gave us a new option in a point of the match where City had closed down the midfield. Now, we could go over that obstacle, and it worked well at times.

Just before that, Dzeko was taken off for Carlos Tevez. Admittedly, my heart leapt in my throat a bit as he came on, but he was corralled nicely by the Arsenal backline. That is yet another line that Steve Bould can add to his CV as far as I'm concerned.

City were still comfortable with ten minutes to go though, and Aguero forced Mannone into another decent save (albeit one he should make) at his near post. Up the other end, Hart was finally tested when Cazorla fired a wickedly-swerving shot at the England man. Given the change in direction and the pace on it, Hart has to be commended for getting two hands on it and tipping it over the bar. It so easily could have gone through his hands.

The goal did come on the resulting corner, though. Cazorla's effort was cleared out by the City defense, though a bit unconvincingly. It went only as far as the outside of the area, where Koscielny was lurking. I joke at times that a given shot was "the finish of a center-half", but on this occasion that would mean "an unstoppable thunderbolt lashed into the top corner". What a strike...WHAT a strike. I don't know what happened at the Pig, but O'Hanlon's erupted with unbridled joy.

When the post-mortem on this season is done, I have a sneaking suspicion that Kos' goal will have proven to be a critically-important one. I don't think you can overstate how important it was to this team. You just can't.

There were still eight minutes plus stoppage time to be seen out though, and how close we were to throwing it all away. As brilliant as he was in scoring the goal, Koscielny almost gifted the three points straight back to City with a colossally-harebrained play. Off a corner, the ball pinged around a bit in our penalty area. Kompany was under it, and managed to connect on a brilliant overhead kick. The shot itself wasn't a problem for Mannone, who got down low to get two hands to it - the problem was the placement, as there was nothing the Italian could do with it other than play it into the center of the six-yard box. Luckily for us, Kos was there. Unluckily, he decided to play a perfect pass to Aguero at the back post, with the goal gaping.

What a heartbreaker that would have been if Aguero had, as he's done a million times before, calmly slotted that into the far corner. Mannone had no chance, either way.

Instead, the ball skittered harmlessly wide of the post.

I'm telling you, something is different about this season...even the luck.

That was his last action of the match, as he immediately came off for Mario Balotelli. Whatever my complaints are with Arsene's substitution patterns, it must be said that Roberto Mancini's are far worse. These are matches that are there for the taking, with the embarrassment of attacking riches that he has. If one multi-zillion pound striker is misfiring on the day, he has three more he can call on. Balotelli is a brilliant talent, but what can any sub do with just 5 minutes to work with?

I can't say I'm complaining, though. Mancini's cowardice was to our benefit, and we even could have won the game late on. A series of sharp passes left Gervinho with time and space just outside the penalty area. The shooting angle was there, but, it was at the feet of a player for who "off-day" would be a massive understatement. Again, why he was still on the field is a mystery...the fact that the shot was skied into the Van Allen Belt was not.

He was then withdrawn about 45 minutes too late at that point, Francis Coquelin coming on to shore things up and preserve the point. Three minutes of extra time were handled easily enough, and the Gunners travel back to London with yet another fantastic away result in the bag. That is now Stoke, Liverpool and City taken care of with 5 points, where last season we would have had 1 at most.

The League Cup match against Coventry this Wednesday aside, it doesn't get any easier for the good guys. Chelsea at home and then Fat Sam's West Ham away loom in the distance, but is there any among us who don't think this team can get results in both instances?  We may not win the league, we may not have anyone who'll net 30 goals this season, but we're a lot harder to beat and I think we have a lot of cause to be proud of this team already.

I know I am.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Mannone 7, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 8, Jenkinson 7, Gervinho 5 (Coquelin N/A), Arteta 7, Diaby 7 (Giroud 7), Cazorla 7, Ramsey 7, Podolski 7 (Walcott 6)

Man of the Match:

There were plenty of guys who could have had this, but had somewhat flawed performances. Kos scored the goal that rescued the game, but he also damn near threw it away in a moment of madness. Ramsey was full of energy and had some great passes, but also had some brutal giveaways and was positionally-suspect at times. Arteta also had some uncharacteristic bad passes, while Cazorla was quiet by his standards. Once again, German precision wins the day. Without Per Mertesacker in the back, we could easily have been overrun at times, especially in the second half.

Preview by Numbers: Manchester City v. Arsenal

Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Sunday, September 23
11:00 a.m. EDT, 4:00 p.m. BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and John Brooks
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • This Match, Last Year: Manchester City 1 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 93 Arsenal wins, 47 Manchester City wins, 40 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W // D-D-W-W
  • Manchester City's League Form: W-W // W-D-W-D
TAKE THAT, FRANCE! Photo: Daily Mail.
So. This game's pretty important, eh?

Three straight wins after two scoreless draws and suddenly everyone in the media is on the Arsenal bandwagon again, and honestly, that freaks me out. The Guardian match report from the Southampton game talks about the "good vibes" surrounding the team. STOP TALKING! YOU'RE GOING TO SCARE THE GOOD VIBES AWAY!

City away is Arsenal's biggest test of the season so far and three points on Sunday would propel this team from "solid" form to "excellent" form. A loss would feel like falling back to square one.

This will be our first real look at what this team is made of. Let's hope come Sunday evening we like what we've seen.

Arsenal Squad News

Who the hell is that? Is he like a new signing?
Photo: Arsenal.
Out: Fabianski (knee), Rosicky (Achilles), Sagna (broken leg), Frimpong (knee), Wilshere (foot)
Doubts: Szczesny (ankle)


While that's all well and good, they're both still a ways away from returning to the squad, so let's get down to business and talk about who's ready for Sunday and who's not. This could likely be outdated by the time you read this, considering this was posted at midnight Friday morning (in New York) and Arsene Wenger's weekly press conference is likely about six hours later.

Since there was very little squad rotation between Southampton and Montpellier (with two days rest,) I can't imagine there being any between Montpellier and Manchester City (with four days rest.)

There are plenty of conflicting rumors about Wojciech Szczesny's ankle injury. There was a Twitter rumor on Wednesday that said he could be out for up to three months with ligament damage, but I have seen that confirmed by approximately zero sources.

Other than that, I can't see many changes. The back four has been solid; why change it now? The midfield is getting the job done. There might be some shifting around up top; that's about it.

Predicted XI: Mannone, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Diaby, Cazorla, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho.

Manchester City Squad News

Out: Nasri (hamstring), Richards (ankle)
Doubts: Barry (groin)

Samir Nasri's attempt at Blue Steel is just terrible. Also, this
came from a Web site called "The Richest."
I read a Manchester City forum's pre-match discussion to put together this team news. From what I can tell, they have some doubts about themselves, yet seem certain that because of that, they'll win handily to get back on track. The logic is "the Real Madrid result was tough, and we've been struggling lately, so we need a convincing performance; Arsenal had better watch out!" That's not sound logic; it's wishful thinking.

Many of the posters did recognize that Arsenal is in good form, so cheers to them for giving credit where it's due.

Roberto Mancini has called Samir Nasri a "doubt" for this match after he sustained a hamstring injury against Real Madrid on Tuesday. Every other source in the world says he's out three to four weeks with a suspected tear. All things considered, he could rush back from the injury just for the sake of playing against Arsenal, but that would likely re-aggravate the injury and cause him to miss more time. Overall, I just don't want to see his face. Also, that aforementioned forum seems to think Nasri's injury is a blessing in disguise, as it forces Yaya Toure farther up the pitch.

Micah Richards remains out with an ankle injury. Gareth Barry has returned from a groin problem, but is not 100%, and is therefore listed as a doubt.

Current Form

Well, Joe Hart may be largely to blame for the two goals that
gave Real Madrid the win on Tuesday, but since he's English,
he's not going to face as much criticism as other keepers
would have. Photo: Guardian.
Both sides come into this match sitting third and fourth in the table, level on points with eight, with Arsenal sitting above City on goal difference. The astonishing thing about this is that over the course of only four games, these two sides have three of those past fixtures in common. Both sides have hosted Southampton, while visiting Liverpool and Stoke City.

Arsenal has the better results over those three common fixtures. Both sides drew at Stoke (Arsenal's was 0-0, City's was 1-1,) Arsenal won at Liverpool while City drew there, and Arsenal's home win over Southampton was by a larger margin (6-1) than City's (3-2.) Arsenal's other result was the 0-0 draw with Sunderland, while City's other result was a win over QPR.

Manchester City haven't lost at home since forever ago. Well, maybe not exactly, but since Arsenal won 3-0 at Eastlands in October of 2010, City has lost there just three times. They lost to Everton in December of that same year, then lost to United there in the FA Cup this past January, and Liverpool in the Carling Cup as well that month.. That's it. Three losses at home in about 23 months. They have won five straight at home; the last side to earn a point at Eastlands was Sunderland, 3-3, on March 31. City came back from 3-1 down in that match, with goals in the 85th and 86th minutes. Prior to that, they had won 20 straight league games at home. So, that's 25 wins from their last 26 league home matches. (Editor's note: My apologies for originally saying City had lost just twice since 2010, as I had glossed over the Carling Cup loss.)

Arsenal's last road loss came at Loftus Road to QPR at the end of March. Since then, they have won four and drawn two away from the Emirates. Those two draws were both at Stoke and the win total includes Tuesday's win in France.

Match Facts

Mikel Arteta appears to have scored his winner against City
in some sort of Instagram bubble. Photo: Foot and Ball.
Arsenal and City split the points in their two league meetings last year, with both sides winning 1-0 at home. The Gunners put in a valiant effort at Eastlands last December, but City's goal came during a period when Arsenal were forced to re-shuffle their back four after an injury to Johan Djourou. David Silva had the goal in the 53rd minute. Arsenal outplayed City at the Emirates in April, getting the winner late, courtesy Mikel Arteta. At the time, City had been in such poor form that it was thought this loss had basically clinched the title for Manchester United. Then, City did not drop a single point for the rest of the season to claim the title.

There was a third 1-0 match between the two sides last year, as City knocked Arsenal out of the League Cup by that same scoreline in November at the Emirates. Considering the strength of squad for City vs. Arsenal, even that loss was taken as a slight moral victory for Arsenal's youngsters.

Arsenal's last win at Eastlands came in October of 2010, as mentioned above. That was by a 3-0 scoreline, aided by the fifth minute red card shown to Dedryck Boyata. None of Arsenal's three goal scorers that day remain with the club this year: Samir Nasri, Alex Song, and Nicklas Bendtner, though I guess technically the world's greatest striker is still Arsenal property.

Actually, let's take a look at Arsenal's starting XI that day, because it's kind of ridiculous: Fabianski, Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy, Song, Fabregas, Denilson, Nasri, Arshavin, Chamakh. Arsenal kept a clean sheet against City with Fabianski in goal and a center back combo of Squillaci and Djourou. That happened.

The Referee

I love the Wenger sass-face in this photo. Also, I found this
image via Google Image search from this blog. So, I got
it from myself 11 months ago. How meta!
The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean; you have no idea how bothered I am by this. I haven't actually run all of the numbers, but I have the sense that Arsenal's record with Mike Dean in the middle is worse than their record with any other referee, and that includes Phil Dowd.

Arsenal's form with Dean dating back to 2009 is D-D-L-D-L-D-L-L-W-L-L-D-L-W-L-D. Two wins. Six draws. Eight losses. Two wins from 16! That's ridiculous!

If you haven't seen this list game-by-game, it goes a little something like this: 0-0 draw at Spurs (when Emmanuel Eboue managed two yellow cards in 37 minutes,) 0-0 draw at Old Trafford (which won the title for United,) 2-1 loss at Old Trafford (conceding from a dubious Wayne Rooney penalty and Diaby's inexplicable own goal,) 1-1 draw at Burnley (the Clarets equalizer was from a penalty,) 2-0 loss at Chelsea (that game was over after about 20 minutes,) a 0-0 bore draw with City, another 2-0 loss at Chelsea, a 1-0 loss at home to Newcastle (Koscielny was sent off late for a last man foul,) a 3-1 WIN! but it was at Leeds in an FA Cup replay, the 2011 Carling Cup Final, a 2-1 loss to Tottenham last October, a 1-1 draw with Fulham (snapped a five match winning streak,) a 2-1 loss at home to United in January, the 5-2 WIN! over Spurs (well, that's something,) the 1-0 loss at QPR (Arsenal's most recent road loss,) and the 0-0 bore draw with Chelsea at the Emirates in April. Now, that is a horrible list of matches, many of which I'd love to forget.

Manchester City saw Mike Dean five times last year and won all five, including their title winner, 3-2, over QPR. Prior to that, they had wins over Swansea, Stoke, Fulham, and Chelsea. City have won seven straight matches with Dean in the middle.

But... but... law of averages... all trends have to end sometime, yadda yadda yadda...

Around the League

Who will Luis Suarez racially abuse this time?!?
This weekend, six matches are slated for Saturday and a whopping four are slated for Sunday (largely thanks to three teams' involvement in the Europa League, though Liverpool v. Manchester United would likely have been moved to Sunday regardless.)

Let's start with Saturday, which features an early match, five matches in the standard time-slot, and no late game. The early match sees fifth place Swansea City host seventh place Everton. Arsenal could use a draw from that one. Among the five 10:00 a.m. Eastern time games, top of the table Chelsea hosts a Stoke City side that have played nothing but draws this year, West Brom hosts Reading at the Hawthorns, Southampton hosts Aston Villa at St. Mary's, West Ham hosts Sunderland at Upton Park, and Wigan hosts Fulham at the DW.

The big matches come on Sunday, and that includes Arsenal's trip to Manchester City, which closes off the slate. Three matches were moved to Sunday because of Thursday Europa League matches (though one would likely have been moved anyway,) as Spurs host QPR and Newcastle host Norwich. The early match on Sunday sees Liverpool host Manchester United at Anfield; always a huge fixture. That match was a 1-1 draw last year. United's last win at Anfield was in December of 2007.

The reverse of these fixtures will be played the weekend of January 12-13.

Montpellier Hérault SC 1-2 Arsenal: An Injustice Overcome

I have to admit - with Manchester City away looming on the horizon, I was afraid that this might have been a classic trap game. That is, of course, despite the fact that Ligue 1 is crap and winning it is akin to being the world's tallest midget. Still, away matches in the Champions League are usually tricky no matter who the opposition is, so for Arsenal to come from behind to win the game on the road was a tremendous show of fight and character from the men in red.

In other words, the revival is still well and truly on.

Perhaps with respect to the aforementioned lack of easy matches, there was not nearly as much rotation as there could have been. Andre Santos and Laurent Koscielny again ended the day as unused substitutes, with only Vito Mannone, Olivier Giroud and Abou Diaby returning to the team that eviscerated Southampton.

Given the injury to former Portsmouth man John Utaka, the only guy I had heard of among today's opponents was right back Garry Bocaly (and this is even with my status as a Football Manager addict). That hardly mattered though given the fact that for much of the first half, referee Carlos Vellasco Carballo may as well have been wearing the dark blue shirt of the home side.

It only took 20 seconds for him to book Diaby for a challenge that, while dumb and reckless, was not malicious in any way. Needless to say, there were similar tackles going the other way throughout the match that went unpunished. The worst was yet to come, though.

The home side began the match with the giddy electricity of a side dining at the adults' table for the first time. Once Arsenal got the ball though, they largely maintained possession while looking for an opening. Santi Cazorla drilled an early free kick against the wall, but it was when Montpellier broke the other way that Carballo's influence gifted them a lead they didn't remotely deserve.

The ball came to Younès Belhanda inside the penalty area, but he was fairly shouldered off the ball with a strong challenge from Thomas Vermaelen. I honestly don't know if it was the referee who ended up blowing for the spot kick or if it was the guy behind the net, but after 4 or 5 seconds they finally handed the home side the penalty. TV5 was rightfully incredulous - that was one of the softest decisions I have seen in quite some time. Belhanda took it himself, and utilized the Paneka chip that is all the rage with the kids these days. Mannone has already committed, and Montpellier were ahead.

Honestly, should we be surprised that our opponents were essentially handed a goal free of charge a day or two after Arsene Wenger (rightfully, in my view) called out UEFA on their hypocrisy and incompetence? Even Inspector Lestrade could work this one out without Sherlock's assistance, I feel.

We've all seen Arsenal collapse in these situations before. Even now, despite all available empirical evidence to the contrary so far this season, I thought they might once again. A grave injustice had been done, which if nothing else should prepare us nicely for that world-class bell-end Mike Dean working our game against City at the weekend.

Fifteen minutes were gone, with the men in red down 1-0 away from home to a suddenly-frisky Montpellier side. Hardly an ideal situation, but it took the Gunners three minutes to sprint into a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

While many of our goals this term have come from lightning-fast attacks, today's equalizer took the scenic route to get there. Arsenal had one attack repelled, played it back to the defense, and patiently built out again in a move that comprised of exactly 20 passes. The second go-round saw Diaby play a killer ball to Cazorla, who in turn touched it onto Giroud. The Montpellier defense was a ragged mess at this stage, the two right-sided men playing Lukas Podolski on as their former colleague dinked the ball through to him. The left center-half was playing a one-man offside trap about 5 yards ahead of the play, while the left back opted to stay with Gervinho, who was irrelevant to the play. To top it off, the home keeper Geoffrey Jourdren lost his footing and fell over, leaving the German with the easiest of finishes.  

This, friends, is the difference between a seasoned club at this level and naive debutantes. Before the home side could come to grips with the fact that they had lost the lead, they found themselves trailing. Arsenal saw an opening to go for the jugular, and they struck without mercy.

Gervinho both started and finished the move, continuing his...I don't know if you can call it a rebirth because he arguably has never been as good in his entire career as he has been so far this season. Cazorla played it out to him on the wing, and as far as I can tell (FSC decided to put a chyron on screen covering the action at that exact second), he did wonderfully well to beat his man inside, then evade the second covering midfielder. Normally, that level of ability in the slalom wins a gold medal for some dude from Norway. He used wonderful close control to play it back to the Spaniard, but the defender did brilliantly well to get it away to safety on the touchline. Sadly for him though, Carl Jenkinson had followed the play and was in perfect position to collect the loose ball. His early cross was both perfectly-timed and gorgeously-weighted. If he keeps doing that, I'll gladly eat a double helping of crow and come back for seconds. The Ivorian had ghosted between the blue-clad statues in central defense, and hammered a shot past Jourdren (who almost kept it out, to his credit).

This is not the Arsenal of the last few years. Where once the red-and-white lay callow, now it stands defiant. I was wrong about this lot, although in my defense so were a great many others.

The home side's gameplan was largely to counter at speed in the rare instances they had the ball, but Arsenal dealt with it fairly comfortably. The midfield was quick to drop back and assist, and the men in blue couldn't find the space to run into or the passing lanes to exploit (one notable incident saw Giroud come all the way back to shepherd Anthony Mounier off the ball with Jenkinson beaten) . Later in the second half, they shifted focus to more of a patient build-up, and in turn began to find some gaps.

There was even a minor scare as Rémy Cabella cut in from the wing and beat Kieran Gibbs for pace. He gave it a right old go from outside the penalty area, but Mannone plunged to his left to get two strong hands behind the shot. A decent save at a big time, it has to be said.

That took us to halftime, and after 45 minutes it had to be said that Arsenal were solid defensively once again. But, it also has to be said that the backline creaked a bit in the second stanza, and a better side would have punished us far more severely.

It all started just three minutes after the restart. Diaby, who had such a storming first half, was badly at fault as he conceded possession in our own penalty area and fell over in the process. Cabella was alone with only Mannone to beat, but his composure failed him and his ballooned shot just about stayed in the stadium. That was a hell of a let-off there, to be sure.

The home side were finding a lot more joy, and after a few half-chances they were unlucky to strike the woodwork. That man Cabella was at it again, tormenting Per Mertesacker with his movement before curling a wonderful effort over Mannone. Luckily for us, it didn't arc downwards enough to sneak under the crossbar.

Montpellier didn't have it all their own way, though. The visitors could well have iced the game had Cazorla found a better finish when put through by Diaby. The angle was tight though, and Jourdren had it well covered. Great play from the Frenchman though, who held off a circle of defenders before finding his teammate with the pass.

That flurry of action couldn't be sustained by either side, and the match slowed to a crawl over the next fifteen minutes. Aaron Ramsey came on for Giroud, but he didn't quite get into the game.

Frankly I would have liked to have seen some substitutions from interim manager Steve Bould earlier on, as I felt there was an opportunity for fresh legs to come in and kill the game off. Instead, a tired-looking Arsenal were almost made to pay in the 80th minute. Belhanda could have bagged himself a brace after he torched Mertesacker, who had uncharacteristically gone to ground rashly and taken himself out of the play. He was dead central in the penalty area and only had Mannone to beat, but he could only shovel a weak effort directly into the Italian stopper's arms. It was a dreadful effort, and once again I stress that a competent opponent would likely have won the game today.

Still, credit has to be given to the side for taking advantage of our opponents' mistakes and seeing out the game with no further incident. Francis Coquelin and Theo Walcott came on for rather pointless cameos, though the subs did take some time off the clock if nothing else. Again, Walcott in particular should have been deployed 20 minutes before he was called on.

So, in the end, this was three points gained that so easily could have been one or zero. You can only play what is in front of you, and if we had to labor our way past the French champions in order to be more ready for much more daunting challenges ahead, I am beyond fine with that and you should be too.

City on Sunday, then. Bring them on.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Mannone 7, Gibbs 7, Mertesacker 6, Vermaelen 7, Jenkinson 7, Podolski 8 (Walcott N/A), Arteta 7, Diaby 8, Cazorla 7 (Coquelin N/A), Gervinho 8, Giroud 7 (Ramsey N/A)

Man of the Match:  Jenkinson had a good game before faltering a bit in the second half, and Podolski came up with another great finish. However, the award has to go to Gervinho for a blistering all-action performance that showcased all of his abilities...with an actual end product to go with it. If he can keep this up, we're going to have a brilliant player on our hands.

Preview by Numbers: Montpellier v. Arsenal, Champions League Group Matchday 1

Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier
Tuesday, September 18
2:45 p.m. EDT, 7:45 p.m. BST
  • Match Officials (from Spain)
    • Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo
    • Assistants: Roberto Alonso Fernandez and Juan Carlos Yuste Jimenez
    • 4th Official: Roberto Diaz Perez del Palomar
    • Additional Assistants: Carlos Gomez and Carlos Del Cerro Grande
  • All-Time in All Competitions: First competitive meeting
  • Arsenal's Champions League Form: W-D-W-L-L-W
  • Montpellier's European Form: W-D-L-L // W-L (2000 UEFA Cup // 2010 Europa League qualifying)
I missed the match against Southampton on Saturday due to a wedding, but thanks to the YES Network re-airing games on Mondays, I'm just sitting down to watch it unfold, and I have to say, I've got a pretty good feeling about what I'm going to see.

The fixture list gets serious now, though, as Arsenal starts another Champions League campaign. This year, they begin in the south of France against the reigning French champion, Montpellier. Arsenal have a trip to Manchester City coming up at the weekend, but they have to take care this of business now. Three points to start group play in Europe would be very welcome to keep this team on the right foot, with a difficult schedule on the horizon.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Szczesny (ankle), Fabianski (shoulder), Rosicky (Achilles), Sagna (broken leg), Frimpong (knee), Wilshere (foot)
Suspended: Wenger (first of three)

"Now, where did I leave those goals...?"
Photo: Guardian.
My favorite part of writing previews for road matches in the Champions League is that by the time I'm finishing the post, it's usually well known exactly who the 18 players on the plane are.

And, thanks to that, we know Wojciech Szczesny is out, having sustained an ankle injury which he played through in the Southampton match on Saturday (you can see him grab his right ankle as Danny Fox is scoring in the 45th minute after his howler.) With Lukasz Fabianski still out and Damian Martinez not registered for the competition, it's Vito Mannone to start with James Shea on the bench.

Abou Diaby has been deemed fit to travel with the side, though it remains a question as to whether or not he is fit to start, or if he'll be rested to be prepared for City at the weekend. There will be changes to the XI, though they won't be wholesale replacements. Maybe three or four. You have to think Olivier Giroud will get the chance to start, and hopefully score his first goal as a Gunner, in his old stomping ground.

Arsene Wenger serves the first of a three match ban for daring to question the authority of a referee for calling Arsenal for eight million fouls. Steve Bould will run things from the touchline.

Dartboard Predicted XI: Mannone, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Santos, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski, Giroud.

Montpellier Squad News

Out: Utaka (groin)
Suspended: Pitau (first of two)

Injury news for Montpellier has been a bit hard to come by on the Internet (and there is none mentioned in UEFA's press kit, like there normally is.) What I have been able to find is that former Portsmouth striker John Utaka will miss out with a groin injury and Romain Pitau is suspended for a red card he picked up the last time Montpellier played in UEFA competition, Europa League qualifying two years ago. Holding midfielder Jamel Saihi returns to the squad after sitting out last weekend's loss to Reims through illness.

Current Form

"Ooooooooooh, we're struggling this season."
Photo: Yahoo.
Arsenal's big test starts now, as this trip to France kicks off a period of fixture congestion. The Gunners will face Manchester City on Sunday, followed by a League Cup match with Coventry, and then Chelsea on the 29th. With that in mind, it's so far so good for the Gunners this season. Two 0-0 draws might not have been the best way to start the season, but a 2-0 win at Liverpool and a 6-1 win over Southampton have washed that sour taste out of everyone's mouths. Maximum points to start group play would be perfect in keeping things going smoothly.

In European competition, Arsenal have struggled on the road as of late, winning just three of their last 13 Champions League matches away from the Emirates (UEFA will cite that it's two wins from their last 12, but that doesn't include winning at Udinese in the qualifying round last year.) In that 13 match span, they have lost twice at Olympiacos (neither mattered,) twice at Barcelona (both of those mattered just a bit,) and once each at Milan, Braga, Shakhtar, and Porto, with draws at Dortmund and AZ Alkmaar.

As for Montpellier, things are not going so well; they have just one win from five matches to start their defense of the Ligue 1 title and sit 16th in the table. They opened with a 1-1 home draw with Toulouse before losing 2-1 at Lorient, losing 1-0 at home to Marseille (who have five wins from five to lead the league,) winning 3-1 at Sochaux (who are 19th,) then losing 3-1 at Reims at the weekend. Montpellier, of course, won the title last year on the strength of the goalscoring of Olivier Giroud, which is probably not going to come in handy for them today.

Match Facts

Aaron Ramsey had a match winner in France last season,
then had to run away from Laurent Koscielny and Andre
Santos. Photo: Daily Mirror.
Arsenal and Montpellier have never met before in a competitive fixture, so all we can really talk about here is Arsenal's history against French sides and Montpellier's limited history against English sides (well, side, singular, and that was over 20 years ago.)

The Gunners faced French competition in last year's group stage, beating Marseille 1-0 in France, on a 92nd minute goal from Aaron Ramsey, before drawing 0-0 at the Emirates a few weeks later. In eight matches in France against French competition, Arsenal have won five matches and drawn three. I say "against French competition" because Arsenal have lost in Paris twice, though that was to Barcelona in the 2006 final and Real Zaragoza in the 1995 Cup Winners' Cup final.

The only English competition Montpellier has ever faced is Manchester United, whom they played in March of 1991 in the quarterfinals of the Cup Winners' Cup. Both sides drew 1-1 at Old Trafford before United won the tie with a 2-0 win in France (Steve Bruce, Mrs. Doubtfire himself, scored United's second, from the penalty spot.)

The Referee

The last time Szczesny saw this referee, he also saw red.
Hopefully Mannone fairs better. Photo: Yahoo.
The crew of officials is from Spain; the referee is Carlos Velasco Carballo. He has worked one Arsenal match in his career, the Matchday 2 win over Olympiacos at the Emirates last season, which came by a 2-1 scoreline.  In 2011, Carballo took charge of the Europa League Final between Porto and Braga (remember when Andre Villas-Boas won things?) English sides have a record of four wins, one draw, and one loss in UEFA Champions League matches with Velasco Carballo in charge. The one loss was suffered by Chelsea in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie with Napoli, a disadvantage they overturned at Stamford Bridge in the return on their way to the title.

Velasco Carballo has taken charge of one UEFA Champions League match involving a French side, last year's 2-0 Marseille home loss to Bayern Munich in the quarterfinal.

He took charge of a few matches in the Euro tournament this summer, including the tournament opener between Poland and Greece, in which he sent of Wojciech Szczesny.

Around Europe

Sure, City and Real Madrid might be the bigger match,
but for as long as Dortmund is in the tournament and as
long as Jurgen Klopp makes faces like this, it's hard to
pass up that kind of opportunity. Photo: Sabotage Times.
Arsenal is in Group B this season; Groups A through D start on Tuesday this week and Groups E through H start on Wednesday. The other match in Arsenal's group sees Olympiacos host Schalke in Athens.

Group D stands for Death and Manchester City travels to the Bernabeu to face Real Madrid today. Meanwhile, Dortmund hosts Ajax in Germany. In Group A, Dinamo Zagreb hosts Porto and PSG hosts Dynamo Kyiv. In Group C, Malaga hosts Zenit and AC Milan hosts Anderlecht.

The remaining groups start tomorrow, which includes Manchester United and title-holders Chelsea. United is in Group H; they will host Galatasaray tomorrow (Eboue!) while Chelsea, in Group E, hosts Juventus. The other matches in those groups see Braga host Cluj (Group H) and Shakhtar Donetsk host Nordsjaelland (Group E.)

In Group F, Lille hosts BATE Borisov and Bayern Munich hosts Valencia. In Group G, Barcelona welcomes Spartak Moscow to Camp Nou, while Celtic hosts Benfica in Scotland.