Arsenal 1-0 Queens Park Rangers AND Reading 5-7 Arsenal: Dafuq Did I Just Watch?!!

First off, everyone at The Modern Gooner and with the NYC Arsenal Supporters hopes that you and yours safely made it through the hurricane. That was scary even in perhaps the safest area in the city, so I cannot imagine what it must have been like at the coastal areas. Our thoughts are with you if you were. 

Second, my apologies for my absence over the last few weeks. I was out of town for Norwich, had the Schalke score spoiled for me with the match on my DVR (and I was NOT watching that shite once I knew what happened), and things were just busy after the QPR game.

As we all know, the first 80 minutes or so of that match were another exercise in frustration. The Norwich and Schalke results hung heavy in the air as the Arsenal probed and prodded around the edges of the Rangers penalty area. In retrospect though, it wasn't quite as bad as all that - where there was zero penetration and almost no shots on target in the two preceding fixtures, the QPR game was more of a siege on Julio Cesar's net. Had the Brazilian been anything short of brilliant on the day, the scoreline would have had far more gloss on it.

In fact, as a member of the goalkeeping fraternity myself, I admit to feeling a little bit sorry for the man. He did not deserve to be on the losing side that day.

Naturally, the big news was that Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna returned to the starting lineup. Both acquitted themselves well, with Wilshere in particular looking as sharp as ever. I don't think it's a stretch to say that his return contributed much to our improved incisiveness.

Still, as odd as it is to say, had QPR maintained their cool, we likely would have never found a way through. I wonder if Mark Hughes deliberately has these guys playing like they're Stoke, as they bordered on the vicious for most of the match. They get far too many red cards (and far too few points in the table) for a club with as much talent as they have. Stephane M'Bia had to go for his petulant kick at Thomas Vermaelen, that's for sure.

Even with that though, it took an injury to the substitute Gervinho for us to find the breakthrough. Andrei Arshavin came on in his place, and whether it was the knowledge that this was a chance to fight for his place or what, he was majestic. Immediately, Arsenal looked far more dangerous, and it was his wonderfully-weighted cross that resulted in our goal. I didn't see who got the initial touch, but Cesar made a ridiculous save to keep it out. Mikel Arteta headed against the bar, but stuck with it well to poke home the rebound. I'm not sure where QPR's defense was in all that, but I'm not complaining either. I'll take it, that's for sure.

That brings us to the Reading match (ratings for QPR below).

So, I mean, what on earth do you say about a match like that?

The first 40 minutes or so were about the worst I've ever seen Arsenal play. At the time, I was apoplectic about Arsene Wenger's team selection - I mean, what you select against Coventry City shouldn't exactly be the same kind of side you pick on the road against a Premier League side.

Damian Martinez (who you may remember from the Coventry match report as being not ready for prime time in my view) was selected in goal. Ignasi Miquel was played out of position at LB, while the rest of the defense were Johan Djourou, Laurent Koscielny and Carl Jenkinson. Two holders were played in Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong, with Andrei Arshavin, Serge Gnabry and Theo Walcott forming the three in front. Marouane Chamakh was deployed as the target man.

The team selection was an odd hodgepodge of youth and the end of the senior bench, and it showed early on. The home side could have scored early on as Sean Morrison's header clanged off the post and then off of Martinez, but thankfully went to safety. It was an early portent that went unheeded, though.

The Argentinean netminder had to be sharp to smother from a Jay Tabb breakway minutes later, but then had no answer in the 12th minute. Arshavin's giveaway in the center of the park led to a Reading break, with Hal Robson-Kanu streaking down the sideline. Djourou stood way too far off of him with Miquel nowhere, allowing an easy tap-in for Jason Roberts.

So, 1-0 down but that was only the beginning of our problems. A few minutes later, Miquel got badly nutmegged by Chris Gunter, whose cross was then turned in for yet another own-goal from Laurent Koscielny. I hesitate to say that he's entirely turned back into a pumpkin, but he was putrid in the first half and the absolute shitshow served up by Miquel didn't help him any. Every Reading attack seemed to come down that side, and it just went to show that the young Spaniard out of position was no match for a Premier League side.

It only took a further two minutes for us to go down another goal, as Martinez showed once again (I called this, remember...go back and read the Coventry match report again) that he is not ready for prime time. A corner was cleared, but it came to Mikele Leigertwood at the edge of the area. He sent a relatively harmless shot in, which Martinez somehow palmed into his own net. Don't believe the nonsense you may read about him trying to Hollywood the save - professional goalkeepers just don't do that. It was merely a case of a 20-year old who isn't technically all there and shouldn't have been in a game of this magnitude.

One would have thought we could make it to halftime with no further breaches, but Miquel ensured that wouldn't happen. Again, he was beyond awful as he stood way too far off of his man, allowing a cross to come in. Noel Hunt outjumped Jenkinson, and nestled his header into the far corner. Now it was 4-0, and on one hand you can almost understand the few among the traveling support who left at this point. On the other hand, my personal belief is that you NEVER leave early, because you never know when a little bit of magic may happen.

Had Reading made it to halftime with no goals against, I imagine they would have gone on to win the game comfortably. Instead, a weird deflection in the middle of the park came to Arshavin, who played a gorgeous ball to the onrushing Walcott. Theo made no mistake in dinking it over the onrushing Adam Federici, and there was just that small sliver of hope heading into halftime.

That said, how there weren't three changes made at halftime, I'll never know. That was as astonishingly bad a half as our lads have played in living memory, and Arsene let the same 11 carry on. Absolutely ridiculous, if you ask me. It all could have blown up on us too, as Chamakh was lucky to not concede a penalty early doors in the second half. Hunt also had another chance that was just about dealt with by Martinez.

Arsenal slowly started to come into it though as Reading lost their way a bit. It seemed like they decided to bunker for the entire second half, and there were signs that this may be a bad strategy -  Theo hit the post, Gnabry missed one just wide and then we should have had a penalty/red card for a Gunter handball that went uncalled by Kevin Friend (who had a bit of a shocker, it has to be said).

Finally, after 62 minutes, the boss finally made changes. Frimpong and Gnabry were off, Thomas Eisfeld and Olivier Giroud on as we went more to a 4-4-2.

It paid immediate dividends, as Giroud netted seconds afterwards from a corner. It was Theo who played it in off a corner, and the Frenchman got enough on it to send it into the far corner. For the record, I wrote on my Facebook at this time: "Reading look panicked. Is the comeback on here?"

Indeed it was, eh?

Federici made a couple of decent stops to keep it at 4-2, and as it got past the 80th minute it looked like time would run out on the Gunners. Normal time had in fact almost expired before the Gunners got a corner. Reading were perhaps a bit guilty of assuming the game was won, as Koscielny made up for his earlier error by thumping in a free header with one minute left to go.

Still, who would have predicted what was to come next?

A Walcott miss in the 91st looked like our last shot, but time extended past the 4 minutes of injury time given due to a late Reading substitution. Somehow, in the 96th minute, Arsenal found a way to get the tying goal. A scramble in the Reading area resulted in a Walcott shot that went over the line, but I don't know if that was the one that was actually given. In the confusion, Jenkinson smashed it in just to be absolutely sure.

I mean, would you believe it?

It all could have gone pear-shaped though were it not for Martinez making up for his dreadful first half. Right from the beginning of extra time, had to be sharp to deny the substitute Jobi McAnuff from giving Reading a lead they probably would not have relinquished.

Instead, Arsenal would grab the advantage right before halftime in extra time. A loose ball came out to the much-maligned Chamakh. Admittedly, I expected nothing here. Instead, he hammered a daisy-cutter through the legs of Kaspars Gorkss and past the despairing dive of Federici.

I went mental. You went mental. I just wish we were all at the Pig to share this. Fuck you, Hurricane Sandy.

Miquel went off with a cramp, and Jernade Reade came on in his place. He couldn't be worse. Hell, Helen Keller shot with a tranquilizer dart couldn't be worse.

The second half of extra-time started with Walcott fluffing his lines when put in alone on Federici. I feared that may have cost us, as a 6-4 lead there would have probably killed off the home side. As it turned out, what looked like a game Arsenal would see out with no problem turned into a nightmare as Reading found an equalizer. The defense all shut off, and Pavel Pogrebnyak was left with a free header to get it to 5-5.

Despite how much I was keeping the faith before, I have to be honest with my fellow Gooners - I was sensing a loss on penalty kicks at this point.

That wasn't to be, thankfully, though it did look likely as it got to the 120th minute. The brilliant Arshavin had other ideas though, as he sashayed through the Reading defense before playing it off to Walcott for the easy tap-in. If that wasn't enough, a long ball eluded the Reading defense as they were pressing for their sixth, leaving Chamakh all alone to lob it over Federici and in.

I mean, what can you say about this? From the depths of despair to the highest of highs, and all with a lineup that will have almost nothing to do with who turns out at Old Trafford at the weekend. I said in the Coventry report that this competition is almost like a simulacrum of actual football, though in this case it resulted in a madcap result that hopefully will give both the club and us supporters a huge boost going into a season-defining match at the house of horrors that nearly destroyed us last season. 

If the first team has even 1/10th of the fighting spirit that the kids showed today, I think we may be OK.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:


Mannone 7, Santos 6, Vermaelen 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Arteta 7, Wilshere 7 (Walcott 6), Podolski 6 (Gervinho N/A [Arshavin 8]), Cazorla 6, Ramsey 7, Giroud 6

Man of the Match: Arshavin - he changed the game.


Martinez 6, Miquel 3 (Meade 7), Koscielny 5, Djourou 5, Jenkinson 7, Coquelin 6, Frimpong 6 (Giroud 7), Arshavin 7, Gnabry 6 (Eisfeld 7), Walcott 8, Chamakh 7

Man of the Match: Has to be Walcott.

Preview by Numbers: Reading v. Arsenal, Capital One Cup Fourth Round

Madejski Stadium, Reading
Tuesday, October 30
3:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Charles Breakspear
    • 4th Official: Michael Oliver
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 9 Arsenal wins, no Reading wins, no draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-L-W-L-W
  • Reading's League Form: L-L-D-D-L-D
  • Arsenal's Path to Round 4
    • Round 3: 6-1 win over Coventry City
  • Reading's Path to Round 4
    • Round 2: 3-2 win over Peterborough United
    • Round 3: 3-2 win over Queens Park Rangers
Mikel Arteta pretends he is an airplane following his
match winner on Saturday. Photo: Daily Mail.
While a nervy 1-0 win over last place Queens Park Rangers is not really confidence inspiring, you have to consider it progress, right? A win is a win, and that's better than the last two results this Arsenal team had put together.

It's hard to talk about form when it comes to the League Cup, though, because there's so much rotation in the squad. These matches sort of take on an existence on their own, displaced from the rest of the fixture list, at least during the early rounds. In a way, that should be good news for Arsenal. If a number of youngsters get a run out, they're probably not going to be weighed down by last week's string of negativity.

Arsenal have made it to at least the fifth round for each of the past nine seasons. Time to make it ten.

Arsenal Squad News

Okay, I've got some bubble wrap.
Let's all wrap up Jack Wilshere
in this so he doesn't break himself
between now and the weekend.
Out: Wilshere (rest), Gervinho (ankle), Oxlade-Chamberlain (hip), Gibbs (thigh), Diaby (thigh), Szczesny (ankle), Fabianski (shoulder), Rosicky (Achilles)

Jack Wilshere got a bit of a surprise start at the weekend in his return from injury, but as a result, he will be rested for this cup tie. I would also recommend just keeping him wrapped entirely in bubble wrap before the trip to Old Trafford on Saturday.

The news on Gervinho's ankle injury does not look good, though there's no official timetable, as he has yet to have a scan. All I've read it "3-4 weeks" and that was from a random Twitter account, so it really means absolutely nothing. My initial thought when I first heard the injury was "serious" was that there was ligament damage, which would put a lot of his season in jeopardy, but perhaps that is not the case. This really isn't the place to be speculating on that kind of thing without evidence. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Internet.

Also, for the love of God, Kieran Gibbs had better be fit for Saturday...

Reading Squad News

Out: Karacan (knee)

Reading have just one injured player in their squad, Jem Karacan. The Turkish midfielder has been out with an MCL injury in his knee, and according to his personal Twitter account, he's just had a setback, and is expected to miss another six weeks.

Current Form

Reading got a late equalizer against Fulham to draw
3-3 at the weekend. Here, you can see Hal Robson-Kanu
also thinking he is an airplane. Photo: Daily Mail.
It's hard to explain Arsenal's form as of late. They were dreadful against Norwich, even more dreadful against Schalke (which was, to be fair, stiffer competition, too,) and a bit less dreadful against QPR. They are clearly not firing on all cylinders. One hopes they have hit the bottom of this downward spiral and are on their way back up. A loss for Arsenal on Saturday would have been three straight across all competitions for the first time since April of 2010. Since then, Arsenal have lost two straight seven times.

Arsenal also kept a clean sheet for the first time since the win over Liverpool in early September, having gone nine matches without pitching a shutout. That was their longest such streak since 12 matches without a clean sheet in 2001/02 (you'll recall they won the Double that year.)

Reading's only victories this season have come in the League Cup. Both were by 3-2 scorelines; one was over Peterborough United, the other was over Queens Park Rangers. In the league, Reading played a wild 3-3 draw with Fulham at the weekend. They have split their eight league matches with four losses and four draws. They have played only eight league matches instead of nine, since their August match with Sunderland was postponed.

Match Facts

Alex Hleb had Arsenal's second goal
in a 4-0 win in 2006/07. Photo: BBC.
Arsenal and Reading have met nine times across all domestic competitions and the Gunners have won all nine. Four of those meetings have been in the league, three have come in the FA Cup, and two have come in this competition.

In 2006/07, Reading's first top flight season, Arsenal won 4-0 away and 2-1 at the Emirates. In 2007/08, Reading's last top flight season before this year, Arsenal won 3-1 away and 2-0 at the Emirates.

Their three FA Cup ties include a 1-0 Arsenal win in 1935, a 2-1 win in 1972, and a 3-1 win in 1987. All three of those matches were in Reading. Both previous League Cup ties were in North London, with Arsenal winning 1-0 on New Year's Day 1968 and 3-0 on November 29, 2005.

The Referee

I like when I can find photos of the referee showing a
red card to an Arsenal opponent. This came in a 3-0 win
over Wigan in 2011. Some Dutch guy had a hat trick.
Photo: Zimbia.
The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. Friend took charge of Arsenal's most comprehensive victory of the season thus far, the 6-1 win over Southampton in September. He also had the distinction of working the FA Community Shield match between Manchester City and Chelsea back in August. Friend worked in the Championship this weekend, working the Nottingham Forest 4-1 win over Barnsley.

He's taken charge of one Reading match this season, the 1-1 draw with Stoke, where the Royals earned a point with an injury time penalty after a Stoke red card.

Around the Fourth Round

There are seven other fourth round matches this midweek; four of those are also played tonight and three of them will be played tomorrow.

Mark Clattenburg was not impressed with John Obi MIkel's
singing on Sunday night. Photo: Daily Mail.
Elsewhere tonight, Southampton is at Elland Road to face Leeds, Sunderland hosts Middlesbrough in a testy Tees-Wear derby, Swindon Town earns a chance to host Aston Villa at County Ground, and Bradford City has earned a trip to  the DW to face Wigan Athletic.

Tomorrow's big match features the immediate rematch of Sunday's Manchester United/Chelsea affair. This match, like the 3-2 United win where Chelsea finished with eight billion red cards, will be played at Stamford Bridge. The other two matches tomorrow see Norwich host Tottenham and Liverpool host Swansea.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Queens Park Rangers

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, October 27
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and John Brooks
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 0 QPR
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 20 Arsenal wins, 15 QPR wins, 14 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-L-W-L
  • QPR's League Form: L-D-L-L-L-D
We're going through a little bit of a rough patch right now, wouldn't you say? Doom and gloom, etc, etc. The timing of the Annual General Meeting didn't really help and now everybody's mad...

So, let's take a step back and enjoy this photograph of Dame Judi Dench wearing a Stay Dench hat. Just look at it! This picture wins the Internet! Thankfully there's something Arsenal related to smile about in the midst of this week of total garbage.

There's only one way to turn this negativity around and that is with a sustained period of winning. That period can start with a win on Saturday. This is the kind of game where a team could get caught thinking they're going to stroll their way to a victory, but after two straight defeats, you have to think that Arsenal won't get caught by that now.

Three points. That's really all you can ask for.

And, just a note to everyone that's upset that Arsene Wenger compared Champions League qualification to winning a trophy: calm down. He was referring to prioritizing with respect to being able to attract new signings, and he is absolutely right about that. Players want Champions League football prospects more than they care about a League Cup in the trophy cabinet. Relax.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gibbs (thigh), Diaby (thigh), Szczesny (ankle), Fabianski (shoulder), Rosicky (Achilles)
Doubts: Oxlade-Chamberlain (hip), Walcott (chest), Sagna (broken leg), Wilshere (foot)

The Ox gets tips from a punter who once punted the
ball for negative yardage in a college game.
Photo via
Let's start from the front and work our way back this week, shall we? Up top, I think Olivier Giroud has to get the start at center forward, after Wednesday, when Gervinho, the World's Falsest Nine, contributed nothing from the position. Shift Gervinho to the wing, where he's more effective. I also have heard nothing as to whether Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are available again yet. I would say no on the former, and a slight maybe to the latter.

Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna could both be available for selection, which is very exciting news, but makes selecting a predicted XI almost impossible. Do either of them shift directly back into the line-up? I would doubt it.

As for the back line, Kieran Gibbs is still out with a thigh injury, meaning either Eboue 2.0 Andre Santos retains his place after having a 'mare on Wednesday, or a center back shifts to that spot and Laurent Koscielny slips back into the back four. I would suspect Santos starts; QPR isn't going to terrorize him like Schalke did.

Predicted XI: Mannone, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Santos, Arteta, Coquelin, Cazorla, Podolski, Gervinho, Giroud.

QPR Squad News

Out: Fabio (hamstring), Johnson (knee)
Doubts: Dyer (calf)

Andrew Johnson is QPR's longest term injury. After signing a two year contract to move over from another part of West London (Fulham,) Johnson tore his ACL and will miss the majority of the season. He might be back by the reverse of this fixture, though, which is scheduled for May 4.

Fabio (pictured left... wait, that's not the one we're talking about?), who is on loan from Manchester United, has been out with a hamstring injury and will likely be short for this match (I can't really find a timetable on his injury, though he's due for a scan. I highly doubt he'll be available for selection, but I've been duped by erroneous information on opposing teams before...)

Perma-hurt Kieron Dyer is listed as having a calf injury. Armand Traore is a doubt due to match fitness; Arsenal should be so lucky to face the former Gunner left back.

Current Form

"Well... now what?" Photo: Daily Mail.
Do I have to talk about current form? Really? I don't want to.

I do have to? Okay. But I'm not going to enjoy it.

This is the first time Arsenal have lost consecutive matches since February (when they lost 4-0 in Milan before falling to Sunderland 2-0 in the FA Cup.) You know what match came right after that? BAM! 5-2 over Spurs.

Arsenal have been kept off the score sheet for two consecutive matches for the first time since the start of this season, but in those matches, they didn't concede either, so it was slightly easier to take and we all just thought we weren't going to see any goals this season. Boy, that was a nice run-on sentence, wasn't it? Of more concern is that Arsenal have now gone nine matches across all competitions without keeping a clean sheet. That's three games longer than the longest such stretch of last season.

QPR are winless on the year (so were Norwich before last weekend.) They have three draws and five losses on the league season, but do have points against the likes of Chelsea and earned a draw with Everton last week (a better side would likely have beaten the ten-man Toffees, however.) Their only away result of the year was a 1-1 draw at Norwich, which is better than how Arsenal did there... QPR's only win of the season in any competition came in the second round of the League Cup, when they beat Walsall 3-0.

Match Facts

Fezzes are not cool when used to celebrate beating Arsenal.
Photo: Daily Telegraph.
Both sides split the points over the course of two meetings last year, with each team winning by a goal at home. The sides met on New Year's Eve at the Emirates, with Arsenal winning 1-0 thanks to a goal from he who shall remain nameless at the hour mark. At Loftus Road in late March, Adel Taarabt opened the scoring by darting past Thomas Vermaelen in the 22nd minute, but Theo Walcott pegged back an equalizer in the 37th. QPR won it 2-1 thanks to a Samba Diakite goal in the 66th, converting a pass from Jamie Mackie. The loss for Arsenal snapped a seven match winning streak at the time.

Over their last 12 meetings in the league, Arsenal have won just twice against QPR, at the Emirates last year and at Highbury on Boxing Day in 1995. That latter match came in QPR's last top flight season before last year; in the reverse, they played a 1-1 draw. The year prior, QPR won both meetings 3-1, and before that, the sides played six consecutive league draws.

The Referee

To be honest, sending off Lee Cattermole is not a difficult
decision whatsoever.
The referee is Manchester-based Anthony Taylor. Taylor took charge of two Arsenal matches last season: the fourth round League Cup win over Bolton and the 3-3 draw with Norwich on the penultimate weekend of the season. In the latter match, Taylor turned down an Arsenal penalty shout in added time, when Kyle Naughton shoved a certain former Arsenal striker who shall continue to remain nameless in this post.

Speaking of Taylor denying Arsenal penalty shouts, he did the same in the 0-0 draw with Sunderland in March of 2011, when Titus Bramble shoved Andrei Arshavin. That came moments after Arshavin had a goal incorrectly ruled offside. Those are the only three Arsenal matches he has worked in his career.

Taylor has not worked a QPR match since September 17, 2011, a 3-0 win over Wolves at Molineux.

Around the League

United came from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 at Stamford Bridge
last year. David de Gea briefly forgot that he was
David de Gea to make this save on a Juan Mata free kick in
injury time to save the point. Photo: Daily Telegraph.
England changes their clocks this Sunday morning, while the United States changes their clocks next Sunday morning, so be aware of that when looking at match times for this Sunday and next Saturday. They are an hour later than they would normally be.

Matches this Saturday, obviously, are unaffected. The early match will see Aston Villa host Norwich as Paul Lambert faces his old side at Villa Park. The other standard time slot matches feature Reading hosting Fulham, Stoke facing Sunderland, and Wigan hosting West Ham. The late match sees Swansea City visit Eastlands to face Manchester City.

There are four matches on Sunday because this is a Europa League week and teams playing on Thursday are never forced to play two days later. The early match, which is at 9:30 Eastern time (remember, clocks change,) is the Merseyside derby, as Everton faces Liverpool at Goodison Park. Two matches take place at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time, as Newcastle hosts West Brom and Southampton hosts Tottenham. The late match, and marquee game of the weekend, is at noon Eastern, as Chelsea hosts Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

Remember, next Saturday's games air an hour later than normal in the U.S. That means Arsenal's early match with Manchester United is at 8:45 a.m., not 7:45 a.m.

The reverse of these fixtures will be played the weekend of May 4-5.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Schalke 04, Champions League Group Matchday 3

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, October 24
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials from Sweden
    • Referee: Jonas Eriksson
    • Assistants: Mathias Klasenius and Daniel Warnmark
    • 4th Official: Stefan Wittberg
    • Additional Assistants: Stefan Johannesson and Martin Strombergsson
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win, 1 Schalke win
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-L-L-W // W-W
  • Schalke's European Form: L-W-L-D // W-D
Uuuguuguggggghhhhhh... Photo: Daily Mail.
There's nothing I could say here about the Norwich match that you haven't already read in ten million different places across the Internet, so I'm not going to say anything at all. The point of this post is to preview what to expect tonight as Arsenal hosts Schalke in Champions League group play.

No denying it, the loss on Saturday adds more magnitude to what was already a huge match. Three points for Arsenal means they'll have nine points out of nine possible through the first half of group play, and you can't do better than that. Three points would also effectively wash the bad taste of last weekend out of everyone's mouths. You've got to win your home games in Europe, and this is a big test, so you can bet there will be serious questions if Arsenal comes out as complacent as they did against the Canaries. A win would put the Gunners five points clear at the top of the Group B table.

Come on, you Gunners.

Arsenal Squad News

Some Germans prepare to face some Germans. Also, Ramsey.
And Miquel. Photo: Guardian.
Out: Oxlade-Chamberlain (hip), Walcott (chest), Gibbs (thigh), Diaby (thigh), Szczesny (ankle), Fabianski (shoulder), Rosicky (Achilles)

Only one return from injury for this match and that's Laurent Koscielny, who returns from what was called a "back problem." I suspect he'll be on the bench, with Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen starting. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain departed Saturday's match with a hip injury and will likely miss out on this one. It's still too soon for returns from Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott as well.

Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna, and Emmanuel Frimpong all completed 90 minutes in the reserves against Everton on Monday. They could all be in contention for the weekend. They've all been removed from the injury list above, though!

Lukas Podolski should still start, though I think he's still nursing a knock to the ankle.

Schalke Squad News

Doubts: Draxler (wrist), Papadopolous (match fitness)

Olympiacos isn't the only team in this group with a Greek guy named Papadopolous! While Olympiacos have Avraam, Schalke have Kyriakos, and he is just returning from a two week absence with chicken pox and is short of match fitness. Meanwhile, attacking midfielder Julian Draxler may still be out, having suffered a broken wrist in their 2-2 draw with Montpellier on Matchday 2.

Current Form

Schalke picked up a huge win over reigning champion
Dortmund at the weekend. Well, damn it.
Photo: Daily Mirror.
After Saturday, I'm not going to talk about Arsenal's form. One hopes that result was just a blip on the radar and not the start of a downswing.

Arsenal's record at home in Europe, however, is astounding. Since losing to Inter Milan in 2003, the Gunners have lost just twice in 43 home games in the Champions League, and both of those losses were to English sides.

Schalke, so far this season, are clear in third place in the Bundesliga. Bayern Munich is first with 24 points, recently promoted Eintracht Frankfurt are second (!) with 19, and Schalke is third with 17. Schalke is now five points clear of fourth place Dortmund, after beating Jurgen Klopp's bee-colored army 2-1 in Dortmund at the weekend. In eight league matches this year, Schalke have five wins, two draws, and just one loss, to Bayern Munich, 2-0 on September 22, at home.

In Europe, Schalke have four points from two matches, having beaten Olympiacos on Matchday 1 and drawn Montpellier (at home) on Matchday 2. Montpellier's equalizer came in the 90th minute in a 2-2 match.

Match Facts

Some sort of badge from the 2001
group stage, via Panathinaikos.
Arsenal and Schalke have faced each other before in this competition, in the group stage in 2001/02. Arsenal won at Highbury, 3-2, but lost 3-1 in Gelsenkirchen. In the win in London, Arsenal had a brace from Thierry Henry (including one from the penalty spot) after Freddie Ljungberg opened the scoring. Schalke scored the first three goals in the reverse fixture in Germany before Sylvain Wiltord pulled back a consolation goal. That was back in the day where the first group stage was followed by the second group stage. Arsenal crashed out in that second group stage in 2002, but won the Double domestically.

All time against German competition, Arsenal has a record of 12 wins, six losses, and four draws. At home against German sides, they have nine wins, one loss (to Borussia Monchengladbach in 1996,) and one draw (to Bayern Munich in 2000.)

All time against English competition, Schalke has a record of three wins, six losses, and two draws. On English soil, they have no wins, one draw, and four losses. That draw was in 1958 with Wolves.

The Referee

Eriksson calls a foul in a match
earlier this season.
The crew of officials is from Sweden; the referee is Jonas Eriksson. He has never worked an Arsenal match in his career, but his first UEFA appointment was as the fourth official in a UEFA Cup match involving Arsenal Kyiv, so that has to count for something, right? No? Okay then.

Eriksson has worked two Champions League matches involving English teams. In 2009, he was in the middle for Chelsea's 1-0 win over Porto. Last year, he worked Manchester City's 1-1 draw with Napoli at Eastlands on Matchday 1.

Eriksson has worked one Schalke match in the past, in the 2011 knockout-phase, as they defeated Valencia 3-1 in Gelsenkirchen. Two different German sides lost matches with Eriksson in the middle last year, including Dortmund's 3-0 loss to Marseille in Arsenal's group. The other was Bayer Leverkusen's 3-1 loss to Valencia.

Around Europe

Uuuguuguggggghhhhhh... Photo: UEFA.
Last night was a crushing time to be a Celtic supporter. Seconds away from a famous draw, Jordi Alba scored to give Barcelona a 2-1 win over the Scottish side. Then again, Barcelona apparently had 1,000,000% possession. Manchester United went behind 2-0 before clawing back for a 3-2 win at Old Trafford over Braga. At least Chelsea lost! That scoreline was 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk.

In other matches, Juventus had to come from behind to draw Nordsjaelland, 1-1. Spartak Moscow beat Benfica in the early match, 2-1. Valencia pounded BATE Borisov 3-0 in Belarus. Galatasaray and CFR Cluj played out a 1-1 draw in Turkey and Bayern Munich beat Lille 1-0 in France.

Elsewhere today, the other Group B match sees Montpellier (third, with one point) host Olympiacos (last, with no points.) In Group A, group leading Porto hosts Dynamo Kyiv, who are third on goal difference. Ahead of them on that same goal difference, second place Paris St-Germain host last place Dinamo Zagreb.

Malaga currently leads Group C, but hosts AC Milan tonight. Meanwhile, last place Zenit St. Petersburg hosts Anderlecht. In the D is for Death group, Manchester City (in third) is at Ajax (in last) and group leading Real Madrid hosts Dortmund.

Norwich City 1-0 Arsenal: Missing in Action

This club is schizophrenic.

Full disclosure, a family obligation prevented me from watching the match. I had DVRed it, but the score was thankfully spoiled for me, and I thus had no inclination to actually watch this twaddle.

That said, I did just watch the long-form Match of the Day highlights, and what struck me more than anything else was how John Ruddy did not have one serious save to make in the Norwich goal. Ninety minutes of attacking a club with no wins and a -10 goal difference, and the keeper was never tested.

How does this happen from the same club that went into the home of the champions and came back with a point, the side that were so resilient against the orc armies of Stoke, the team that gutted out the win at Montpellier?

Perhaps, the feeling of rebirth we experienced a few weeks back was a bit premature? Looking at our record so far, the opening two draws are fine, while the win at Anfield looks far less impressive than it did at the time. Anything less than a win at home to Southampton or Olympiacos would have been criminal, while the Montpellier and West Ham wins were decent - albeit against sides we usually should beat.

That leaves one legitimately brilliant result (the draw at City), and one where in a huge spot at home against a major rival, they were found wanting against Chelsea.

Once again, this is a club without a coherent narrative. The beginning of the season saw us painted as the team that couldn't score without the Dutch Judas, but that's since been emphatically disproven. The wins that followed led to those aforementioned feelings of rebirth, but that's also not quite right, is it? We're starting to see a lot of the same old problems - iffy defending, listless performances against lesser sides, constant feels like we are simply taking a slightly different route to the same destination.

Speaking of constant injuries, the one that is proving to be the most detrimental to our season is not the long-term absences of Jack Wilshire or Bacary Sagna - it's the absence of our young stopper, Wojceich Szczesny.

I have alluded to the idea before that those who thought Vito Mannone was good enough to start for this side were hilariously mistaken. We have won a few games with him so far, but I've pointed out some underlying worrying factors - his poor footwork and positioning, his predilection for getting beaten in the air, that horrid one that went through his hands that was luckily called back for offside.

I'll be blunt - park league 7-a-side keepers would be horribly disappointed to give up a goal like that.

The truth is, the shot wasn't swerving that badly. If there weren't a repeated pattern for the player involved, you could maybe chalk it up to just one of those things that happen every so often. Given that repeated pattern though, it's much fairer to say that it's poor positioning and terrible dive execution.

Sure, there's only so much you can expect from a third-stringer. You are not going to get someone of serious quality to come in and sit behind an established No. 1. A fair question though would be why do our keepers get hurt so often? Maybe that's just a small offshoot of why do our PLAYERS get hurt so often, but I would bet anything that our reserve keepers have played more games over the last 10 years than any other club...and by miles at that.

And, while I hate to praise Alex Ferguson for anything,  I think old bluenose has the right idea with the Lindegaard-De Gea tandem. The younger keeper still gets games, but the presence of the solid veteran ensures he doesn't get complacent and can play if the kid gets injured.

Beyond our horror show between the sticks, there are some other worrying points here as well.

  • When he's on, Lukas Podolski is a fine player with serious finishing ability. However, he has a terrible habit of flitting in and out of games, and fading badly in the second half. Is it a fitness issue?
  • Santi Cazorla is quickly morphing into our Henry/Fabregas/Dutch Judas Memorial Player We Overdepend On. Teams have quickly worked out that if they mark him out of the game, we don't have much else that we can consistently punish them with.
  • The defense. No elaboration needed there, I think. 

So, eight games into the season, we find ourselves in 9th place with 2 losses and 3 draws. Chelsea recede into the horizon, 10 points clear. Fourth place, assuming Everton doesn't come back against QPR, is only two points away though.

What that tells me is that while this was a horrendous loss and a frustrating performance, it isn't time to panic yet. Our next few matches are home to QPR in the league and away to Reading in the League Cup. That looks to me like a fantastic opportunity to right the ship, get some people scoring and get the defense sorted ahead of the trip to Old Trafford.

Last season, that house of horrors in the red half of Manchester defined our season - and the infamous youth project of the manager. It is increasingly looking like, one way or the other, it will do so again.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings: 

(Note: These are the averages of ratings provided to me by TMG contributors Brett and John, slightly adjusted to stay consistent with my rating system. Also, I made the executive decision to lower Mannone to a 4 based on that pub-league goal he conceded.)

Mannone 4, Santos 5, Vermaelen 6, Mertesacker 7, Jenkinson 7, Arteta 7, Ramsey 6 (Gnabry 6), Podolski 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain N/A [Arshavin 6]), Cazorla 6, Gervinho 6, Giroud 6


Preview by Numbers: Norwich City v. Arsenal

Carrow Road, Norwich
Saturday, October 20
12:30 p.m. EDT, 5:30 p.m. BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Probert
    • Assistants: Ron Ganfield and Dave Bryan
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • This Match, Last Year: Norwich 1 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 23 Arsenal wins, 10 Norwich wins, 18 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-W-D-L-W
  • Norwich's League Form: D-D-D-L-L-L
It's a good thing I bought this special
alarm clock to wake me up when
international breaks end. This
alarm clock in particular can only be
turned off by throwing or bouncing
or kicking it.
ZZZZZzzz ZZzZzZZZZZzzz ZZZZZZZZZz ZZZZZZZZZ ((alarm goes off))

Football is back! After I slept through that entire international break, proper club football begins again this weekend, as Arsenal head to Carrow Road to face a struggling Norwich City side.

So, where do things stand right now? In terms of our own players, Theo Walcott was taken out by a Sammarinese goalkeeper, Laurent Koscielny was feared to be out for the months but then turned out to be fine, and Olivier Giroud scored a huge goal to snap Spain's international winning streak.

As for Arsenal's fixture list, there are four total matches between now and their trip to the Ninth Circle of Hell on November 3. There's a Champions League match against Schalke (at home) and three domestic matches against the three teams currently sitting in the Premier League's relegation zone (one of those matches is a League Cup tie.) Wins in all four matches would set things up nicely going into November, a notoriously tricky month in Arsenal history.

While it would be nice to roll into Old Trafford on a long winning streak, you can't win all of those games at once, which I have stressed on numerous occasions. So, right now, it's all about getting three points on Saturday, and then we'll take it from there...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Walcott (chest), Gibbs (thigh), Diaby (thigh), Szczesny (ankle), Fabianski (shoulder), Rosicky (Achilles), Sagna (broken leg), Wilshere (foot)

Losing Theo off the bench is an issue, but he hasn't been
starting anyway... Big chance for the Ox, perhaps?
Photo: Guardian.
Wow. That's a lot of injuries... Let's talk about this from the back forward, shall we?

Lukasz Fabianski has had a set back with his shoulder injury and he might require surgery. Wojciech Szczesny hasn't played in so long, I'm finding myself less and less confident in my ability to remember how to spell his name as the weeks go by. I had to do a Google search to confirm that "Wojciech" was correct; it just looked wrong, you know? Don Vito Mannone will continue in between the poles in place of the Poles.

Kieran Gibbs was withdrawn from the win over West Ham with a thigh injury, then withdrew from the England squad as well. He has a "chance" to feature midweek against Schalke and a "bigger chance" to feature against QPR next weekend. Laurent Koscielny had a scare in France training, but he played against Spain and conceded a penalty (which Cesc Fabregas missed in an obvious attempt to not undermine his former teammate's confidence, right?) Carl Jenkinson's form is such that he was given a chance to train with the England national team. Bacary Sagna played 90 minutes in a behind closed doors match against Chelsea, which Arsenal lost 2-0.

Jack Wilshere also played 90 minutes in that match; he's got another U-21 match on the docket before any first team return, which could be as soon as the League Cup tie with Reading in two weeks. Abou Diaby is still two away even though two weeks have passed since the first time that was said. A month from now, I bet he'll be two weeks or so away from returning. Meanwhile, it appears that Theo Walcott will miss two weeks after he was poleaxed by San Marino's goalkeeper.

I wrote out my predicted starting squad midday Thursday, then realized it was the same exact XI that started the last match before the break. That was before hearing that Gibbs was certainly out. So now, it's just one change, with Andre Santos slipping in.

Predicted XI: Mannone, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Santos, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, Podolski, Gervinho, Giroud.

Norwich Squad News

Out: Kane (foot)
Doubts: Snodgrass (ankle), Lappin (ankle), Whittaker (ankle)

Robert Snodgrass, formerly Leeds' captain, is a doubt
with an ankle injury. Here he is nearly giving Leeds a
cup upset win over Arsenal in January 2011. You may
recall that ended 1-1. Photo: Daily Mail.
Under Paul Lambert last season, Norwich was the type of team that could change their shape and formation on the fly, which in turn, made them more difficult to play against. They would occasionally play just three at the back, changing things up in midfield, which is something Wigan employed effectively to win at the Emirates last April.

Now, under Chris Hughton, they are back to playing more of a standard 4-4-2 (well, it's really more of a 4-4-1-1.) Two solid banks of four play behind Grant Holt up top with another forward servicing him, either Simeon Jackson or Wes Hoolahan. Norwich like to attack down the right flank, aided by the play of Robert Snodgrass, but he pulled out of Scotland's international squad with an ankle injury and may not be fit to return. Without Snodgrass, Norwich will struggle to get Holt and the other forward the ball in the first place.

Speaking of doubtful Scots, Simon Lappin and Steven Whittaker are both doubts with ankle injuries. Harry Kane, on loan from Tottenham, is out with a broken foot.

Current Form

Here's Norwich doing poorly at Stamford Bridge two
weeks ago. Photo: Daily Mirror.
It's really hard to talk about form when a team hasn't played in two weeks and many of the squad members departed to play for other teams during that time period. As it stands right now, Arsenal have played ten matches across all competitions. They have won six of them, drawn three, and lost just once. They have not lost a match on the road since March 31. They have conceded at least once in seven straight matches, but have only conceded more than once on one occasion (the one loss.)

As for Norwich, their form is struggling mightily. They are one of three Premier League teams with no wins in league play this season, and as such, would be relegated if the season were over at this point. They have conceded 17 goals in league play; only Southampton have conceded more (20). The Canaries' goal difference (-12) is the worst in the league. In seven matches, they have allowed at least four goals on three occasions. They do have a hard earned draw at White Hart Lane to their credit (thank you, Norwich, for that!) Their only other points have been home draws with Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United. They have lost three straight by scorelines of 1-0, 5-2, and 4-1.

Match Facts

STEVE GRANT HOLT, in the 3-3 draw last year.
Arsenal took four out of a possible six points from Paul Lambert's Norwich City side last year; though the two points dropped for the Gunners in the season's penultimate match looked like the death knell for their chances to finish third. At least, it was the death knell, until Tottenham dropped points at Aston Villa a day later.

That match, a 3-3 draw at the Emirates, was a ridiculous encounter. No doubt you remember it well. Yossi Benayoun opened the scoring with barely a minute gone and everything looked beautiful for the Gunners. Wes Hoolahan scored from a Szczesny mistake to level the match, then Grant Holt scored on a shot that deflected off Kieran Gibbs to give Norwich a 2-1 advantage. Robin van Persie picked up a brace with goals eight minutes apart to give Arsenal a 3-2 lead with ten minutes to play, but Steve Morison thundered in an equalizer in the 85th. Referee Anthony Taylor denied Arsenal a penalty in stoppage time, but on the day, Norwich deserved their point and Arsenal were left cursing their inability to put together 90 minutes. The Guardian, speaking neutrally, called it, "the kind of match that would make an alien a football fan for life." Of course, everything worked out in the end because Spurs remembered they were Spurs the next day.

As for this fixture last year, Norwich led just after a quarter of an hour with a goal from, you guessed it, Steve Morison (actually, if you did guess that without remembering, I'd be impressed.) Robin van Persie scored in the 26th and 59th minutes to put Arsenal ahead, and Grant Holt was booked late by Phil Dowd for diving for a penalty. Arsenal hung on to win 2-1, which at the time extended their winning streak to five in the league.

Norwich have not beaten Arsenal at Carrow Road since Boxing Day 1984.

The Referee

Lee Probert hates Arsenal. Photo: Guardian.
The referee is Gloucestershire-based Lee Probert. Arsenal saw Probert twice last year and lost both: 1-0 to Manchester City in the League Cup, and 2-1 at Fulham (where he sent off Johan Djourou.) He showed two cards that entire game and both were yellows to the Arsenal defender. That second yellow was shown for some off-the-ball jostling that happens all the time. It was the weakest second yellow I had seen since Massimo Busacca held a whistle. That's not to say Arsenal wasn't a bit to blame for utterly collapsing at that point, but it was a tough pill to swallow. Let's also not forget it was Probert's suggestion for Mike Dean to send off Arsene Wenger for kicking that water bottle at Old Trafford in 2009. The Professional Game Match Officials Board had to apologize to Wenger for that.

As for Norwich's record with Probert from last season, it's better than Arsenal's, to the tune of a 1-1 draw with Everton at Goodison Park and a 2-0 win over Bolton at Carrow Road. The latter match featured no bookings at all, which leads me to believe Probert forgot to bring his cards to the match entirely.

Around the League

I would enjoy White Hart Lane being engulfed by this
black hole on Saturday. Artist's depiction from NASA.
Norwich v. Arsenal is Saturday's late match, on a day where there are a whopping eight fixtures on the docket. The early match features the most insufferable London derby, as Tottenham hosts Chelsea. They can't both lose, unfortunately... I suppose if they draw, they both lose points. But, still. I'm gonna try to ignore the match entirely.

That means there are six matches slated for the 10:00 a.m. Eastern time standard time slot. Among them, Manchester United hosts Stoke City at Old Trafford (oy, that's unpleasant, too,) Manchester City faces sixth place West Brom at the Hawthorns, where the Baggies have four wins from four in the league this year, Liverpool hosts Reading at Anfield, where the Reds still have just two league wins this calendar year (Arsenal also has two league wins at Anfield in 2012,) Fulham hosts Aston Villa at the Cottage, Swansea hosts Wigan in Wales, and West Ham hosts Southampton in a battle between promoted sides.

Two matches close off the weekend on Sunday. The early match is the always vitriolic North East derby, as Sunderland hosts Newcastle at the Stadium of Light. The late match sees QPR host Everton at Loftus Road.

The reverse of these fixtures will be played the weekend of April 13-14.

West Ham United 1-3 Arsenal: Scintillating Performance

I have to begin with a moment of full disclosure - outside of the usual suspects, I loathe no club nearly as much as West Ham. I hate their club, their history of hooliganism, their supporters, and that godforsaken bubbles song. I have attended matches in several countries and several divisions, and the only time I have ever been physically threatened was by one of their pond-life away support (the joke was on him though, the horseback cop with the truncheon five feet away and all).

I can't say I was happy to see them come back up.

That they did, though, so the mission was to halt their recent hot streak within the confines of the Boleyn Ground. Arsene Wenger made a few changes, most notably returning Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud to the first XI in place of Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The rest of the starters were the usual lot.

Frankly, I had feared a rocky first ten minutes against a motivated Hammers side. Their support was in fine voice as well, but their heroes never got off the mark. Arsenal's attacking intent was immediate and urgent, Lukas Podolski forcing a save from Jussi Jaaskelainen inside of 30 seconds. This was a welcome change from the Chelsea and Olympiacos matches, though to their credit West Ham were well-drilled and difficult to breach.

It was a good thing for them, as Arsenal had a stranglehold on possession. The men in yellow (it was nice to not see that Grimace-inspired purple abomination) pinged the ball around purposefully and incisively, with only the excellent James Collins-marshaled backline keeping our guys at bay.

There were several notable performances in the first half. It's nearing copy-paste status to say it, but Carl Jenkinson was fantastic at right-back, to the point where Bacary Sagna's return to the team should not be automatic when he passes fit again. Aaron Ramsey continued his fine form, spraying passes around brilliantly and tracking back when needed. For their mob, Collins was a colossus in the back, and bizarrely so was Andy Carroll - the big striker often pressed into emergency center-half duty due to Arsenal's dominance.

There was one sequence where we had several consecutive corners and looked for all the world like we were about to break through. Instead, West Ham hit a sucker-punch in the 21st minute.

For once, it was not a defensive mistake - you have to tip your cap to a moment of inspiration from Mohamed Diamé. The former Wigan man picked up a long ball down the left, and turned Ramsey inside-out despite the further attentions of Jenkinson. Both were left for dead, and he bore down on the Arsenal goal. Despite the acute angle, he hammered a shot past Vito Mannone into the top corner. No one will mention it, but Mannone was partially at fault - you simply must come off your line there. It was a ridiculous finish from Diamé, but you can't make it that easy for him to pick his shot. I hate to keep picking on him because he's a No. 3 thrown into the deep end, but it's wholly indicative of how jittery and indecisive he's been under the surface.

Meanwhile, the Senegalese midfielder was booked for the awful crime of celebrating the goal with his own fans. It pains me greatly to agree with Ashley Cole, but the FA really do match his description. It's such middle-management jobsworth bullshit.

Oh, and Cole's assessment is also correct simply because Phil Dowd still officiates Premier League matches. How many high-profile errors must this horse-faced incompetent make before he's rightly consigned to the lower leagues? Diamé, on an (unfair) yellow, viciously clattered into Mikael Arteta with a late challenge. In a vacuum, that is a yellow card 100% of the time. Perhaps there's an argument that the softness of the first caution led to his leniency here, but I imagine he'd have been all too happy to send off our man were the roles reversed.

The home side briefly contested on equal terms after the goal, but Arsenal recovered nicely and threatened again. Olivier Giroud was unlucky to not get on the end of a Mertesacker flick-on, but I felt like he was in the zone and was going to score eventually. I had gotten it into my head to tell someone at the pub "Two predictions - we're going to win today and Giroud is going to score", but I never got around to it. I wish I had, I'd have looked like a bloody genius.

Indeed, the goal came a few minutes before the interval...and it was that man Giroud who got it. Podolski was the provider, sending in a purposeful cross to the near post. Collins looked to have it covered, but he didn't account for the perfectly-timed late run of Giroud. The Frenchman fully extended his leg to get the merest toe-poke onto the ball, sending it past Jaaskelainen. It was a massive goal, not only to reinforce the belief of the player but for the side as well.

How different things may have been if Kevin Nolan had a better performance, though. The West Ham captain badly fluffed an easy chance presented to him by Carroll's flick-on. No doubt, that would have changed the mood had that turned out differently.

Instead, the second half continued where the first left off, Arsenal dominating with the hosts occasionally countering. There was little goalmouth incident in the first quarter-hour, though Andre Santos did come on in place of Kieran Gibbs. If there was an injury, I didn't see it. The home side had medical worries of their own though, the sprightly Ricardo Vaz Te coming off the worse in a collision with Mannone. In the meantime, Theo Walcott replaced the quiet (but not bad) Gervinho.

A goal looked like it was coming, but it was the Hammers who should have taken the lead. Another Route One ball came to Carroll, with Mannone again absolutely nowhere. Luckily, what a waste of money, etc and so on. Minutes later, the one defensive breakdown from the visitors - a bunch of idiotic standing around waiting for an offside call - led to Nolan having the entire penalty area at his mercy. He legitimately had 7-8 seconds to pick his shot past a third-string keeper, but his indecision allowed Mertesacker to recover with a majestic sliding tackle.

Suddenly, this had become a pulsating encounter. Ramsey was in the thick of the next incident, his superb run crudely cut out by Matthew Taylor. If it wasn't a penalty, then it was a free kick just outside the area. Instead, Horseface Incompetent waved play on.


Karma ensured that the breakthrough came just after, though. A West Ham attack was repelled, and the ball was played up to Giroud. For all the talk of Arteta being the new "Pass Master" - and rightfully so - our assists leader once again came up with a through-ball that eviscerated the home defense. Walcott ran onto it, and hit a subtly-brilliant finish to the near post. Jaaskelainen had that side just about covered, but Theo found the one place he could put it that would beat the Finnish stopper. Perhaps he still has something to offer after all. Oh, and he got booked for celebrating too. Bloody hell.

That was the dagger that effectively ended the Hammers' resistance. They did have one more decent chance from Nolan, but he was always going to blaze that over. Up the other end, Mertesacker almost scored off of an audacious turn and shot at the edge of the West Ham area. Sadly, Jaaskelainen saw the danger just in time.

There was nothing he could do a few minutes later, though. A cross from Walcott was cut out, and the ball was played back outside the area. Cazorla was given a tiny bit of space to shoot, but he still had it all to do. The little Spanish dynamo was on it though, curling a magnificent shot into the far corner. No goalkeeper on this planet (or any other) would have saved that one.

Five minutes of injury time were given, but Cazorla's wonder strike drained the fight from West Ham. The boss made his last substitution, which I thought was bizarre at the time though I've come to realize that it made perfect sense. Koscielny came on for Podolski, which gave him 10 minutes of match time in a controlled environment. Hopefully, that will help him get his head back on straight.

So, if the Chelsea result was a disappointment and the Olympiacos match unconvincing, then this has to be described as a heartening result against a team that played far better than their possession stats would indicate. The Gunners looked much better on the offensive side of the ball, and head into the Interlull with something approaching momentum again. Now, let's just hope we don't have our players come back from international play as broken as usual!

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

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

Man of the Match: There are no shortage of candidates on this occasion, eh? There are serious arguments for the BFG, Ramsey and Podolski. All were excellent on the day. Many will go for Santi Cazorla, and I wouldn't blame them - that was a magical strike indeed. For me though, Olivier Giroud takes the honors. It's not just for his brilliant finish, either - his assist for Theo's goal was top class, and he could have had a hat trick if luck was on his side.

Preview by Numbers: West Ham United v. Arsenal

Boleyn Ground, London
Saturday, October 6
12:30 p.m. EDT, 5:30 p.m. BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Phil Dowd
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • This Match, Last Time: West Ham 0 - 3 Arsenal (January 15, 2011)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 54 Arsenal wins, 33 West Ham wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-D-W-W-D-L
  • West Ham's League Form: W-L-W-D-D-W
Damn bubbles... Photo: Mikes.
For each match preview, I try to talk up why that particular match is important, or at least more important than you think it is. And here, the bulk of my reasoning is that I hate West Ham. I hate them. I hate their stupid bubbles, and the fact that they're managed by the Walrus now, and their... claret......

Anyway, it's been a nice little month and a half in Arsenal Land, overall. Our only goal scorer from last year is gone (if you believed some of the things you read on the Internet, you might honestly think only RVP scored goals for us last year) but the current squad has done a great job of spreading the wealth around offensively. Gervinho looks like a new signing (yeah, I said it,) the actual new signings are coming along nicely (don't forget that Olivier Giroud leads the team in assists,) and the defense was doing better, at least until recently.

But last week, there was a hiccup. Our center backs have been unsettled a bit and are starting to struggle; it's leading to stupid goals conceded. Arsenal lost a winnable game at home to a major rival. Wednesday's Champions League win was a step back in the right direction, but the first 45 minutes were really disjointed and discouraging. There's an international break on the horizon. It's important to step into that abyss with another win under your belt and put that hiccup behind you.

So, let's tell those EastEnders where to stick their bubbles.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Diaby (thigh), Szczesny (ankle), Fabianski (shoulder), Rosicky (Achilles), Sagna (broken leg), Wilshere (foot)
Doubts: Coquelin (leg), Mertesacker (illness)

That almost looks like snow... Photo: Guardian.
Well, the team news is light right now, but there's plenty we know about the long term injuries. Abou Diaby won't be available until after the break, but Arsene Wenger sure is pissed at France for overplaying him. He has, obviously, not been selected for France's matches. It's wishful thinking, but maybe Arsenal said "three weeks" just so he couldn't be called up for France... ... nah, they probably meant three months. Francis Coquelin ended Wednesday's match limping, though it looked more serious at first. I suspect he'll miss out tomorrow and Aaron Ramsey will start in the midfield with Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla.

The Poles are still out injured in goal, so Vito Mannone will retain his place between the sticks. The full backs pick themselves; Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs have been wonderful this year. The center backs have been iffy lately; well, Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny have been iffy this week, is what I mean. No word at the time I'm writing this on whether Per Mertesacker has recovered from his illness yet.

Up top, I'd suspect Lukas Podolski and Gervinho to retain their places. I'd like Olivier Giroud to get a start, but every time I've predicted that so far, it hasn't happened. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a more than acceptable alternative.

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

West Ham Squad News

Out: Collison (knee)
Doubts: Carroll (match fitness), Reid (concussion), O'Brien (knock), Taylor (knock)

Here's Andy Carroll doing soccer wrong. Photo: Telegraph.
Andy Carroll's back...ish. The on loan forward was withdrawn from his first match in claret and blue with a hamstring injury, but returned to come off the bench in West Ham's 2-1 win over QPR on Monday and could make a case to return to the starting XI for this match, which is just perfect timing considering Arsenal's center backs have forgotten how to play defense lately. Sam Allardyce has stated that he is "woefully short" of match fitness, so it actually looks like he'll be featuring off the bench again.

Winston Reid, who has started all six matches this season, left Monday's match on 20 minutes with a concussion after colliding with teammate Jussi Jaaskelainen. I haven't heard anything about his recovery, so I've left him in the doubtful category. Joey O'Brien left after 34 minutes with a knock.

Jack Collison looks to have a long term knee injury, and I've heard it's a lot like the injury that plagued Ledley King for his entire career. The 23-year-old will, according to Allardyce, "never be 100 percent."

Matthew Taylor missed Monday's match with a knock (Matthew Jarvis started in his place and scored the opener within three minutes.) Taylor is still a doubt.

Current Form

RVT celebrates scoring for WHU against QPR. There are
too many three letter acronyms in this sport.
Photo: Telegraph.
It has been a very long time since Arsenal went into a match against West Ham where the Hammers had more points than matches played (late 2009, actually, for the last instance.) What's also a bit astonishing is that West Ham comes into this match higher in the table than Arsenal, as the sides sit seventh and eighth, respectively. Both sides have only lost once this season (in league play; West Ham crashed out of the League Cup to Wigan in ugly fashion,) but West Ham have one more win and one fewer draw.

Arsenal's unbeaten start to their season came to a crashing halt with their 2-1 loss to Chelsea last week, but it has still been a solid start to the year when you look at the entire thing as a whole. The season is nine matches old, across all competitions. After the first two matches, there were no goals to show for them, either scored or conceded. Since then, the defense has gotten a bit leakier (which is worrying; they have not kept a clean sheet in six tries,) but Arsenal have also scored 21 times in seven matches. Goals conceded in six straight games matches the longest such streak of goals allowed from last season (which basically encompassed the month of February and the first weekend of March.) The last time Arsenal went seven across all competitions without a clean sheet? September and October of 2010, but there were still four wins in those seven, as there are four wins in Arsenal's current six. So, I won't be complaining that much if Arsenal concedes tomorrow but wins 4-1. Well, I take that back, it depends on how they concede and when...

As for the Hammers, they have had a nice start to Premier League life under Walrus Allardyce. 11 points from six matches is pretty good for a side that was relegated with 33 points in 2011. However, the quality of West Ham's opening fixtures kind of takes away from the luster of those 11 points. The 3-0 win over Fulham looks good, considering how Fulham has turned it around since then. It does not say quite as much when you beat Aston Villa or Queens Park Rangers. They've drawn Norwich and Sunderland. Their trip to Swansea ended with a 3-0 defeat. On the whole of it, West Ham are doing better than one would have expected coming into this season, but their seventh place start is a little deceiving.

Match Facts

Vito Mannone challenged Manuel Almunia for the starting job
in the fall of 2009, but blew it at West Ham. Photo: Daily Mail.
Arsenal have won four consecutive matches against West Ham United across all competitions and are unbeaten in their last nine against the Hammers. Two years ago, when West Ham were relegated, Arsenal took all six available points from their East London rivals. On October 30, 2010 at the Emirates, Arsenal left it late, but took the win thanks to an 88th minute winner from Alex Song. In this exact fixture the last time it was played, January 15, 2011, Arsenal won much more comfortably, 3-0 in a match in which West Ham were never competitive.

Arsenal also won at the Boleyn Ground in the FA Cup in January of 2010, coming from 1-0 down to win 2-1 thanks to goals from Aaron Ramsey and Eduardo. Earlier in that year, West Ham had come from 2-0 down to draw Arsenal 2-2. The Gunners were floating along nicely for over 70 minutes until they imploded once Carlton Cole pulled one back (off a Mannone fumble on a set piece.) Song then conceded a soft penalty, Mannone got booked for arguing about it and not going back to his line, Alessandro Diamanti pounded in the equalizer, the West Ham fans at Nevada's threw beer at us, I got drenched, then Scott Parker got sent off, a winner never came, and then I drank wine in Tompkins Square Park with a few people. Okay, that story went too far, but that was a really ridiculous Sunday afternoon for me. Mannone had been challenging to take the #1 spot from Manuel Almunia up to that point. He didn't start a league game for Arsenal again until this season.

West Ham's last win over Arsenal came in a season in which the Hammers took all six points from the Gunners, winning both matches by 1-0 scorelines, in 2006/07. West Ham won at the Emirates via a Bobby Zamora goal just before the stroke of halftime. On that day, they became the first visiting side to win at the new stadium. Earlier in the year, West Ham had won 1-0 at Upton Park, thanks to an 89th minute winner from Marlon Harewood.

The Referee

Well, how bad could he be if he's sending off John Terry?
Photo: 7 AM Kickoff.
The referee is Staffordshire-based Phil Dowd. Everyone groan your disapproval now.

Is it me, or do we fear more than half of the refs available these days? Dowd, Dean, Webb, Mason, Probert, Halsey, ... the list goes on. Much of the vitriol towards Dowd harkens back to the 4-4 at Newcastle in February 2011. So, let's examine Arsenal's record with him in the middle since that fateful afternoon on Tyneside, shall we?

Arsenal had one more match with Dowd in the middle in the spring of 2011, a 0-0 draw at home with Blackburn, in which he sent off Steven N'Zonzi. My memory of that day is fuzzy regarding whether he was dreadful or Arsenal were, so I consulted this blog's history to see what Sean said back then in his recap: he doesn't mention Dowd at all, so it must've just been Arsenal.

Last season with Dowd in charge, Arsenal won 2-1 at Norwich (he also didn't bite on Grant Holt's late dive to draw a penalty and booked him for simulation,) the 1-0 loss at Manchester City (nothing really to blame him about there,) and the 3-0 league win over Aston Villa at the Emirates (which was barely even a contest.)

So, since the 4-4, it's been two wins, a draw, and one loss that felt like a moral victory at the time. I like to look on the bright side of things, with the optimistic hope that maybe the referee won't screw us over this time. My fingers are crossed.

As for Dowd's record with West Ham, you'll have to go back to 2010/11 for the last time he was involved in a Hammers match. West Ham lost 3-1 to Manchester City, beat Birmingham City 2-1 on ten men in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg, and lost 3-0 to Chelsea at the Bridge.

Around the League

TGSTEL scored in this fixture last year.
Photo: FCF.
Well, it's a Europa League week, so that means a number of matches get pushed to Sunday that would normally have been played on Saturday. Six matches take place on Saturday, four will be played Sunday.

The weekend kicks off at Eastlands, where Manchester City hosts Sunderland. This fixture last year featured the only points City dropped at home all year; Sunderland led 3-1 but blew it late and City salvaged a 3-3 draw. It may come as a surprise, but both of these sides are still unbeaten this season. Sunderland have a win and four draws, which is good enough for seven points and 13th place in the table.

Four matches take place in the 10:00 a.m. Eastern / 3:00 p.m. England time slot. Also unbeaten Chelsea hosts Norwich at Stamford Bridge, Swansea hosts Reading in Wales, West Brom hosts QPR at the Hawthorns, and Wigan hosts Everton at the DW. Arsenal's match is Saturday's late game.

Super Sunday starts with Southampton hosting Fulham at St. Mary's (really?) Two matches involving Europa League sides kick-off at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, as Liverpool hosts Stoke at Anfield and Tottenham hosts Villa at the Lane. The weekend ends with Newcastle hosting Manchester United at Mike Ashley is Awesome at Sports Direct Arena at St. James' Park at Newcastle upon Tyne at England at United Kingdom at Europe at Earth at Solar System at Milky Way at Universe.

The reverse of these fixtures will take place on Boxing Day.