Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Swansea City

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, December 1
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials:
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Stephen Child
    • 4th Official: Stuart Attwell
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 0 Swansea
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 6 Arsenal wins, 4 Swansea wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-D-W-D-D
  • Swansea's League Form: L-D-D-W-D-W
  • Weather Forecast: Partly Cloudy, 39°F / 4°C
This is the first calendar cover I got
when doing a Google image search
for "2013 calendar." I'm curious if
Theo Walcott is maybe in this one.
You know what I hate about the Internet? That there's a thing happening right now called "Calendar-gate."

What is happening is that Arsenal have released images of their 2013 team calendar, and Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna are not in said images, which means they are guaranteed to be sold, apparently. You know, it doesn't look like Carl Jenkinson or Laurent Koscielny or Abou Diaby or Gervinho or Francis Coquelin or Johan Djourou are in the calendar either. Maybe they're all being sold, too. Tomorrow, when you flip your 2012 calendar to December, you will see Robin van Persie, so clearly, being out of a contract has nothing to do with this calendar.

The lesson here: make your own damn calendar and stop complaining. Better yet, I'm going to make a special "Preview by Numbers Sardonic 2013 Arsenal Calendar" and it's going to be available in the preview for the Boxing Day fixture against West Ham as your holiday present. It's going to be ridiculous, so prepare yourself.

Back to the matter at hand here and Arsenal have won just five out of 14 league fixtures this season, which is, quite honestly, a horrible record that is fully deserving of seventh place. But, they have two straight home fixtures against sides that have been playing some tricky football this season: Swansea and West Brom. Two wins in these and things are suddenly rosy again. Remember, Arsenal finished third last season after being in seventh as late as early February.

So, let's get started on turning this mess around. And, keep an eye out for that calendar...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (thigh), Santos (abdominal), Diaby (thigh), Fabianski (shoulder)
Doubts: Sagna (foot), Podolski (illness)

Please start driving Arteta and Cazorla around so they
can use their legs less.
The news from the Everton match is that Laurent Koscielny has picked up a groin strain that "usually" means "three weeks" on the sidelines. He should be back in time to appear in my Boxing Day calendar. Lukas Podolski did not feature, even on the bench, on Wednesday due to an apparent illness. I haven't heard that he's back to full fitness yet, so I've listed him in the doubts category.

Meanwhile, Bacary Sagna picked up a knock to his foot early in the Everton match, which has now swollen, leaving the fullback as a "big doubt," as Arsene Wenger put it yesterday. If necessary, Carl Jenkinson can deputize, but this really leaves the bench thin on defense.

As for the rest, well, there's no real news on Andre Santos (tummy ache), Abou Diaby (injury malaise), and Lukasz Fabianski (inability to catch ball.)

As for squad rotation, since this will be Arsenal's fifth match over a 15 day span, HA! That's hilarious. Rotation, that's a good one. I gotta save that joke for later. We'll need jokes to cheer up Mikel Arteta when his legs fall off from overuse. Santi Cazorla, though, he's always happy.

Swansea Squad News

Out: Vorm (groin), Taylor (ankle)
Doubts: Graham (illness), Bartley (thigh)

In spite of his abilities to play goalkeeper in The Matrix,
Michel Vorm is still out for at least another week with a groin
A large number of Swansea players have missed matches lately due to illness, but striker Danny Graham has missed the last two and is still considered a doubt. Also a doubt for inclusion is ex-Arsenal center back Kyle Bartley, who has a thigh problem.

Michel Vorm has been out since the loss to Manchester City with a groin injury (a partial rupture of the adductor muscle,) suffered while trying to save a Carlos Tevez shot that became the match's only goal. The Swansea physio called it "six to eight weeks" at the time, and that was just over a month ago, so he still has at least a week to go. Gerhard Tremmel has been deputizing in his place.

Welsh defender Neil Taylor, who played for Team GB in the Olympics, is out for the season with a broken ankle, which he suffered in his first league match of the season against Sunderland in early September.

Current Form

"Fast kickin'! Low scorin'! And ties? You bet!"
Arsenal on the year now have more draws than any other results in the league: six draws, five wins, and three losses. They have picked up 21 points from a possible 42 points, or, exactly half of the maximum. That puts them on pace to end the season with 57, which is, on average, good enough for about seventh place, which happens to be exactly where Arsenal is right now in the table. On the other hand, Arsenal, across all competitions, are unbeaten in six since losing at Old Trafford. However, the sad truth is, you have to go back to October 6 against West Ham for both 1) the last time Arsenal won a road game (excluding the 7-5 at Reading, which would have been a 4-4 draw if it were a league game) and 2) the last time Arsenal won a league game in which their opponent did not have a man sent off. Their last two wins have come against ten man QPR and ten man Tottenham.

Prior to losing 2-1 at QPR last March, Arsenal had won eight straight games played in the mid-afternoon Saturday non-televised time slot (the 10:00 a.m. games here in New York.) Since that loss, Arsenal have two wins and three draws in these matches.

As for Swansea, across all competitions, they have lost just once in their last nine matches, and that was a 1-0 loss at Manchester City. They have won a League Cup tie with Liverpool, won three league matches, and drawn four. This all came after a three match losing streak saw them slip to 11th in the table. Swansea now sit 8th, just one point behind Arsenal. Swansea's road defense is fourth in the league, allowing just 1.17 goals per game away from home, but they have failed to score themselves in exactly half of their travels.

Match Facts

Nathan Dyer points, as if to say, "I have just scored a goal
against you." Actually, I don't know who he's pointing at.
This is Swansea's fourth top flight season facing Arsenal in league competition, meaning these sides have played six previous league meetings, which are evenly split with three wins apiece. Last year, the sides split the two meetings. Arsenal won at the Emirates in September, 1-0, via a fairly fluke goal from Andrei Arshavin after a goalkeeper miscue late in the first half. In Wales in January, the Swans won 3-2; Arsenal went ahead within five minutes only to see Swansea equalize on a controversial penalty. Swansea went ahead 2-1 via Nathan Dyer (pointing celebration pictured left) before Theo Walcott leveled in the 69th minute. But, Swansea nabbed a winner almost directly from the restart a minute later. It was one of those horrible moments where you're still celebrating a goal and then you get punched in the face, or something like that.

Swansea spent two years in the early '80s in the top flight, with the Swans winning both matches in 1981/82 and Arsenal winning both matches in 1982/83. Arsenal have won two out of three FA Cup ties with Swansea, while picking up a draw and a victory to win a 1980 League Cup tie on aggregate.

The Referee

"Okay, here are tonight's ground rules: no racism, okay?
Please? I am so sick of racism."
The referee is Tyneside-based Mark Clattenburg. Hmmmm, I have not heard much of his name lately in the media, have you? Oh, right, yes. There was a little something that went like this:

Chelsea: Hey, Mark Clattenburg. Look at this pot I have. It's kind of like this kettle.
Clattenburg: Ah, I see they are both black.

...aaaaaaand, scene. See what I did there... with the whole thing of Chelsea calling someone a racist... the hilarious (read: sad) part is that Chelsea launched their accusations with absolutely no proof of the incident. Anyway, in the end, Chelsea was charged by the FA and Mark Clattenburg returned to officiating this midweek for Southampton's 1-1 draw with Norwich.

This is good news for Arsenal, who have a better record with Clattenburg in the middle than with any other referee, to the tune of seven consecutive victories. Arsenal won all three matches they played with Clatts as the referee last year (3-0 over Bolton, 4-0 over Wigan, and 1-0 over Leeds via Thierry Henry in the FA Cup) and all four matches with Clattenburg the year before that (3-0 over City, 4-2 over Villa, 3-1 over Chelsea, and a 2-1 win over Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup.)

Swansea have yet to see Clattenburg this season either. Last year, the Swans had a record of two wins from two with him, though both were at home against sides who were relegated (Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers.)

Around the League

Rafa Benitez and Sam Allardyce meet again, to replicate this
image where they are both doing the Macarena.
This is only the fifth time this season Arsenal have played in the Saturday non-televised-in-England slot (it's on Fox Soccer Plus Stateside.) Previously, they have beaten Southampton and QPR and drawn Sunderland and Fulham in matches at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time. I love 10:00 a.m. matches; they're not absurdly early and when they're over, you still have your whole weekend ahead of you.

This weekend, there are eight matches slated for Saturday (six of them in that 10:00 a.m. slot,) there is one match on "Super" Sunday that doesn't sound very super at all, and one on Sky's Monday Night Football.

Saturday's early match is a London derby, as struggling Chelsea travels east to face West Ham, who have fallen to tenth in the table, at Upton Park. As for the five other 10:00 a.m. matches aside from Arsenal v. Swansea, the marquee fixture sees Manchester City host Everton at Eastlands. Before last season, the Toffees had won four straight league encounters away to City. Meanwhile, 12th place Liverpool hosts Southampton at Anfield. The Reds have only two home wins in the league this season, so they'll be thankful to face a Saints side that has only won once away from St. Mary's. Elsewhere, dead last Queens Park Rangers hosts 17th place Aston Villa at Loftus Road in what is probably a relegation six-pointer by this stage in the season and West Bromwich Albion, who have fallen back down to fourth after being dismantled by Swansea midweek, host Stoke City at the Hawthorns. Saturday's late match sees Reading attempt to hold off Manchester United at the Madejski.

Super Sunday is a battle between two sides that tend to struggle to score goals, as Norwich hosts Sunderland at Carrow Road. As I mentioned in my midweek preview, both of these sides are in the bottom four when it comes to goals scored in the league this season. Monday Night Football sees struggling Newcastle host Wigan. Enthralling stuff!

The reverse of these fixtures will be played the weekend of March 16-17. So, it'll be post-Swansea away when we have to deal with St. Patrick's Day pub crawlers attempting to take over the bar.

Preview by Numbers: Everton v. Arsenal

Goodison Park, Liverpool
Wednesday, November 28
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Darren England
    • 4th Official: Neil Swarbrick
  • This Match, Last Year: Everton 0 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 98 Arsenal wins, 58 Everton wins, 41 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-L-D-W-D
  • Everton's League Form: D-D-D-W-L-D
  • Weather Forecast: Clear, 39°F / 4°C
After Saturday's dire scoreless draw with Aston Villa, I have been racking my brain trying to figure out how to approach writing this opening section of the preview.

Ultimately, I have decided to keep it simple:

Today is my birthday and I demand a win. Thank you.

Arsenal Squad News

Say it with me now: LIKE A NEW SIGNING.
Out: Santos (abdominal), Diaby (thigh), Fabianski (shoulder), Rosicky (match fitness)

The news from Arsene Wenger's press conference yesterday is fairly good: Theo Walcott will be returning to the line-up after his shoulder problem and Tomas Rosicky has returned to full training but lacks the match fitness required to feature at this point. Aside from that, there are no other injuries or returns to report.

So, the question again is down to rotation. It is starting to look like Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla are never going to get a rest, doesn't it? This, combined with having to sub off your one remaining forward with a defensive midfielder late in a 0-0 game screams of the lack of depth with this squad. But, you've already read that elsewhere, I won't bore you with it all over again. I stand by my instant reaction to claim that that substitution "will haunt my dreams."

All things considered, you can tell this team is getting tired from playing so often, and there is no fix for that until the window opens again in January. They'll just have to bite the bullet.

Everton Squad News

Out: Coleman (knock), Gibson (thigh), Mirallas (hamstring), Anichebe (hamstring), Neville (knee)

"Do you have any idea how much time I spend on my hair?"
The good news for Everton (and bad news for Arsenal) is that Marouane Fellaini returns from a one match ban he served on Saturday for yellow card accumulation.

The bad news for Everton is that the squad David Moyes has available for selection for this match is largely the same squad he had available on Saturday (with the exception of Fellaini,) so that means no returns for Darron Gibson, who has been out since September with a thigh injury, Kevin Mirallas, Victor Anichebe (both with hamstring injuries,) Phil Neville (out until January with a knee problem,) or Seamus Coleman (who has a knock, apparently.)

Current Form

Everton was doomed by this late header in the rain on
Saturday. Look at that water splash off Bassong's head.
We have now reached a point where Arsenal's most common scoreline in this season, is 0-0. 23% of Arsenal's league matches (3 out of 13) have ended scoreless. I guess that's a little better than the second most common scoreline being a 2-1 loss, which has happened twice.

Arsenal have now gone three straight road matches without a win, having lost to Manchester United and drawn at Schalke and Villa. The win preceding this stretch was the 7-5 at Reading the League Cup, so Arsenal's last league win on the road was at West Ham on October 6. That is all dreadful, when you consider the fact that Arsenal is now two matches into a stretch where they play on the road for six out of eight games leading up to Christmas. It's a crucial stretch of the season, and Arsenal has to learn to win away from the Emirates again.

Meanwhile, Everton have been dropping points left and right lately as well, having dropped from a momentary stay as high as second place after a win over Southampton in September down to fifth place, just one point clear of Arsenal and Tottenham. The Toffees have one win from their last seven league fixtures, but five of them were draws. They have won just twice since they complacently dropped their League Cup tie to Leeds in September (the Southampton win mentioned above was one of those wins, the other was over Sunderland.) They are, however, unbeaten in six at Goodison Park, and have not lost a league match at home since Arsenal won there in March. Everton are one of three teams that have not lost a home match this season; Manchester City and Stoke City are the others, sites where Arsenal have already traveled and drawn this year.

The weekend before last, Everton was cruising, up 1-0 at relegation-threatened Reading. Then, in the second half, Adam Le Fondre scored twice, including once from the penalty spot, to give the Royals their first top flight win since 2008. This past weekend, Everton was again up 1-0 early before Sebastien Bassong's 90th minute header earned Norwich a point. The script has been similar of late: Everton have dominated the early goings in matches, they have failed to build an insurmountable lead, and then they have capitulated. Sounds kind of familiar...

Match Facts

"Hello there! I have just scored a goal! Congratulate me!"
Vermaelen has one goal since.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last ten matches against the Toffees, having won four straight, including both meetings in the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons. Last year, Arsenal won both matches 1-0. The year before that, they won both 2-1. Arsenal won the meeting at the Emirates last year thanks to a second half volleyed goal scored by a certain former captain. Last year's meeting at Goodison was decided by an early Thomas Vermaelen header, though Everton later had an equalizing goal incorrectly ruled offside.

Arsenal have handed Everton some of their heaviest defeats under David Moyes, including a 7-0 victory and a 6-1 win at Goodison Park in the season opening game in August of 2009. Everton's last win over Arsenal was on March 18, 2007 by a 1-0 scoreline. 17th President of the United States Andrew Johnson had the only goal in injury time.

The Referee

Oh my God, referee glamour shot! I enjoy that he's got the
whistle in there, just so you don't confuse him for a
player or anything like that.
The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Oliver took charge of two Arsenal matches last year: the 3-0 win over West Brom at the Emirates last November and the 3-2 loss at Swansea in Wales in January. I can't think of much to say about Oliver's performance in either of those matches: the former was a comprehensive victory, the latter was a match where Swansea was the better side on the day. Odd about those two matches combined is that there were no bookings from Oliver whatsoever.

Since I couldn't think of anything to say about him, I went to my own preview for that Swansea match (the last time Arsenal saw Oliver) to see what I knew about him them and found "Oliver appeared out of his depth in the two Arsenal matches he worked last season (2010/11), both losses for the Gunners." Well, that was then, and Oliver has come a long way since then, so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt, in spite of (practically ancient) history.

Oliver has taken charge of one Everton match this season, a 3-1 win at Aston Villa in which Villa's Ciaran Clark was sent off after the score was already 3-0 in favor of the Toffees.

Around the League

"I forget how to celebrate goals!"
On Tuesday, Aston Villa put an 80th minute winner past Reading at Villa Park, possibly because Reading didn't switch a striker for a holding midfielder off the bench, or something. Christian Benteke's goal moved Villa up to 17th place, two points clear of the drop zone. Meanwhile, on-the-hot-seat Martin O'Neill and Sunderland hosted Harry Redknapp for his first match in charge of Queens Park Rangers and, predictably, it ended scoreless. QPR continue to bolt themselves to the foot of the table.

Would you be surprised if I told you that there are actually four teams that have scored fewer goals than Sunderland this year? Would it also surprise you that among those four teams (and, I suppose you could include Sunderland too,) Arsenal have beaten only one of them, despite conceding only one goal in those five matches? Sunderland have scored 12, Stoke and Aston Villa have scored 11, while Norwich and QPR have only 10.

Back to the matter at hand, there are eight matches scheduled for tonight. Six of them, including Everton v. Arsenal, kick off at a quarter to eight in the U.K.; the other two, Manchester United v. West Ham at Old Trafford and Wigan v. Manchester City at the DW, kick off at eight.

As for those earlier six, there's a few good marquee match-ups thrown into the mix, including Tottenham hosting Liverpool at the Lane (good might not be the right word for it...), Chelsea hosts Fulham in a West London derby at the Bridge, Swansea hosts third place West Bromwich Albion in Wales, Southampton (who started yesterday a point clear of the drop zone, but fell back into it thanks to Villa's win) hosts Norwich at St. Mary's, and Stoke hosts struggling Newcastle at the Britannia.

The reverse of these fixtures will be played the weekend of March 9-10, unless a team is still playing in the sixth round of the FA Cup scheduled that same weekend. Incidentally, that happened with this very fixture last year.

NYC Arsenal Supporters Presents: I Am Arsenal, Episode 02: Brett Chase

I Am Arsenal is a series we will continue to feature here on The Modern Gooner to show passionate Arsenal supporters in New York City.

The NYC Arsenal Supporters are easily the largest group of Arsenal Supporters in America, and we hope that by highlighting our members, people become inspired by our stories, and also see that we're not just a bunch of yanks. We meet every week, for every match at The Blind Pig and O'Hanlons Bar here in NYC, as early as 7:45 Kickoffs. We're a mix of Americans and Ex-Pats, and every other culture that makes up our very diverse city. We're Arsenal til We Die!

Episode 02 features Brett Chase, co-founder of the NYC Arsenal Supporters, The Modern Gooner Blog, and contributor to's Fans Roundtable.

Please follow the NYC Arsenal Supporters on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Aston Villa 0-0 Arsenal: Dire Stalemate

There will be sections of the support that will have a proper old go at the side today...and in one sense, I can't blame them. I'm hardly alone in wishing I had that two hours of my life back. On the other hand, this isn't my first time around with Arsenal - I remember these soul-destroying nil-nils from when the opposition were Wimbledon or Coventry City.

The fact of the matter is, these borefests will happen. Keep in mind that Chelsea had one earlier this season at Loftus Road, and so did Manchester City at Upton Park. Sometimes, the wind blows, the rain lashes down, and 11 cloggers fighting for their Premeirship lives neutralize a better side. 

Long time readers know that I date back to the days before the Arsenal were so readily available on American television. For several years, there was a single website that I knew of where I could get any dispatches from North London - have a gander at this one from October 1997 against these same opponents, and tell me you don't see the similarities.

That said, I think some of this was down to team selection. There was some rotation - Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere were all rested - but Santi Cazorla looked knackered out there and we suffered for it. I also would have liked to have seen a start from Andrei Arshavin, though in retrospect the weather and the eventual need for our wide forwards to track back vindicates the boss there.

Given the demoralizing hammering that Villa suffered at the hands of Manchester City last week, the one thing they desperately needed was a pedestrian start to the match. That's exactly what they got, as Arsenal were out of sorts. The home side were the first to threaten, a long ball to Christian Benteke overhit just enough to allow Wojceich Szczesny to clean up.

The Pole had to be sharp again a few minutes later, when Andreas Weimann's audacious tight-angle shot had to be fisted away at his near post. Second later, Benteke had an effort flash inches wide.

As you may have gathered, the visitors had contributed nothing to the match so far.

Thankfully, the Arsenal defense were up to the task. Carl Jenkinson put himself about on both sides of the ball, with some nice tackles and a few good crosses into the box. As ever, Per Mertesacker was the very model of a proper center-half, intercepting where necessary and making a few superlative last-ditch sliding tackles. The German's blistering form once again made this more comfortable than it might have been otherwise.

Eventually, Arsenal started doing enough to control possession of the ball. Lukas Podolski in particular did good work down the left, aided by the return of the lively Kieran Gibbs. Villa deployed two disciplined banks of four, marshaled by the excellent Ron Vlaar. Any time they wavered, the slick pitch was there to play havoc with first touches.

A bit before halftime, there was a worrying moment when a routine loose ball catch by Szczesny saw his momentum take him outside the penalty area. Thankfully, referee Lee Mason (who was consistent and had an exceptional game) opted to not show him a card. The resulting free kick saw Weimann stray offside before turning the ball into the net. Hearts exited mouths, and the interval came with neither side looking like they could score in a women's prison with a fistful of pardons.

Still, the opening was theoretically there when Vlaar went off injured early in the second half. His replacement was Eric Lichaj, whose inability to win the right-back slot for the USMNT is all you need to know about him. Other than one Aaron Ramsey shot from distance though, that threat never materialized. Arsenal huffed and puffed, Olivier Giroud doing all he could as a target man. He never got much help from the supporting cast, though.

As usual, the boss took ages to make substitutions. Gervinho replaced Podolski after 70 minutes, but the rust from his injury layoff was evident. Ramsey had one more effort go wide, but the Villa substitute Brett Holman showed him how it's done from distance a while later. The BFG made his one mistake of the match, giving him far too much time and space to pick his shot. The Australian duly obliged, and fired a scorcher towards the top half of the net. Thankfully, it was not too far to either side, and Szczesny was able to claw it to safety. A fabulous save, that, and one that I highly doubt Vito Mannone would have made.

Belatedly, Arshavin came on for a 10-minute cameo in place of the largely anonymous Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He didn't have much time to make an impact, and his detractors will point to some poor touches. I choose to point to the outstanding cross he almost put onto the toe of Gervinho on the edge of the six. Only a fantastic intervention from Ciaran Clark prevented the Ivorian from getting a clean shot on the stranded Brad Guzan.

That was to be the last serious chance for either side, Villa long since having gone into bunker mode. That does remind me, though. The last substitution that Arsene Wenger made was shocking in that situation - Giroud coming off for Francis Coquelin. I would understand if Villa were feeling frisky and if they offered anything on the counter. By that point though, Arsenal were bossing the game and the chance for all three points had not yet entirely disappeared. I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again, but presently that substitution makes me want to break something. 

In the long run though, this result is not a disaster. Sure, we were playing a hopeless rabble, whose manager had a touchline ban, coming off the back of two excellent performances. In that context, this was infuriating. Over the course of the season though, we may look back at this as a point well won instead of two dispiritedly lost. Also, for that minority who prattles on about Szczesny not being a top-level keeper, have a look at that save on Holman a few times before you type those words again.

Now, what's done is done. There are two serious threats to the top-four places at the moment, and we've got dates with both of them upcoming. Everton is a challenge we know well by now, they're usually there or thereabouts at this point of the season. West Bromwich Albion is a bit different, Steve Clarke working wonders up there for the Baggies. Despite their differences in pedigree, both are crucial fixtures, and both will tell us a lot about where we're heading this season.

I swear, I've never seen a single campaign with so many season-defining games as this one has...and will continue to have, apparently.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 8, Jenkinson 7, Podolski 7 (Gervinho 6), Arteta 7, Cazorla 6, Ramsey 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6 (Arshavin 7), Giroud 7 (Coquelin N/A)

Man of the Match:   Again, my now-customary informal poll of the Pig regulars came up with some good candidates. Szczesny's save was brilliant and arguably turned zero points into one. Podolski had a decent game, as did Giroud. Jenkinson clearly enjoyed being back in the side, and was lively as ever. However, Per Mertesacker gets the honors from me for a rock-solid defensive performance that kept our backline from ever getting too far out of shape.


Preview by Numbers: Aston Villa v. Arsenal

Villa Park, Birmingham
Saturday, September 24
12:30 p.m. EST, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials:
    • Referee: Lee Mason
    • Assistants: Mick McDonough and Peter Bankes
    • 4th Official: Phil Dowd
  • This Match, Last Year: Aston Villa 1 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 75 Arsenal wins, 65 Aston Villa, 44 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-W-L-D-W
  • Aston Villa's League Form: L-L-D-W-L-L
Jack Wilshere scored his first goal in almost two years on
Wednesday. The last time he scored? Villa away in 2010.
Photo: Daily Mail.
Well, that's one job done. Arsenal's 2-0 win over Montpellier ensures Arsenal's passage into the group stage of the Champions League for the 13th consecutive season, which is more than you can say about Manchester City, amiright? It's also another step in the right direction, which means the positive momentum from the win against Spurs last weekend hasn't been lost.

The concern now is with fixture congestion. Arsenal play Wednesday and Saturday this week, Wednesday and Saturday next week, then Tuesday, Saturday, and Tuesday after that leading into the middle of December. In addition, six of Arsenal's next eight matches, across all competitions, are away from home.

On paper, those fixtures, aside from Everton away on Wednesday, are largely winnable. And Everton away falls on my birthday, so Arsenal has to win, right? It's not like any Everton supporters share my birthday... They are away to the likes of Bradford City in the League Cup, Olympiacos (who are locked in third already) in the Champions League), and Aston Villa, Everton, Reading, and Wigan in the league. They'll have Swansea and West Brom at home in that span as well, and then it's Christmas.

So, it's time to build a winning streak and that needs to start with 18th place Aston Villa this weekend.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Walcott (shoulder), Santos (abdominal), Diaby (thigh), Fabianski (shoulder), Rosicky (Achilles)

Theo Walcott's time out injured gives him a little more time
Photo: Daily Mail.
So, here's the ten bajillion dollar question: will there be squad rotation for this match? I'll quote directly from Sean's Montpellier recap post from yesterday: "Should there be no rotation at all, then we can surmise that the boss intends to play Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta until their legs fall off." We'll have to see what Arsene Wenger chooses. It's not like Arsenal has that many options in the midfield, given the injuries in the squad. On the other hand, Wenger has mentioned that his squad has some "tired legs," so he's at least aware of it. That's something.

Speaking of those injuries, there will be no return for Theo Walcott in this match, still out with a shoulder problem, though he could be available for Everton on Wednesday. There'll be no return for Andre Santos either, but it appears Kieran Gibbs will be available for selection, which is fantastic news. He made the bench against Montpellier.

As for the long term injuries, Abou Diaby is now "3 to 4 weeks away," which is up from the "2 to 3 weeks away" that he was seven weeks ago. On the other hand, Tomas Rosicky will return to full training this week.

I won't try to guess the XI; I have no idea what Wenger will choose to do with rotation. You can't rotate too much, or the squad loses the cohesion they've built over the last two weeks, but you can't rotate too little, or players will no longer be effective.

Aston Villa Squad News

Out: Gardner (knee), Petrov (leukemia)
Doubts: Bennett (knee), Bent (ankle), Herd (knee), N'Zogbia (knee), Dunne (groin)

Paul Lambert has been handed a week off from touchline
duties, which are probably driving him crazy.
Photo: Guardian.
Without much to go on in the way of news for injured players, I've had to list a number of players in the "doubtful" category, just because I'm not that sure. Close to returns from injury are noted Arsenal-killer Darren Bent, who has been out of favor, then out with an ankle injury. Defender Joe Bennett could return from a knee problem, as might midfielder Chris Herd. Less likely to return from injury are Charles N'Zogbia and Richard Dunne.

Definitely out are Gary Gardner, who is recovering from an ACL tear, and club captain Stiliyan Petrov, who continues to battle acute leukemia. Ron Vlaar currently wears the captain's armband, despite this being his first season at Villa.

Manager Paul Lambert will serve a one match touchline ban after admitting to an FA charge for improper conduct.

Current Form

Here's an artsy shot of Villa losing 5-0 last week.
Photo: Daily Mail.
It's funny what a win over your most bitter rival can do. Arsenal are now unbeaten in four matches across all competitions, which is the longest stretch they've gone without a loss since starting the season with seven unbeaten. In addition, since losing 2-1 at Manchester United, Arsenal have scored 12 goals over those four matches. Suddenly, it appears that the confidence is back in the side. So, everybody, be quiet. Don't scare it away!

As for Aston Villa, they have won five matches out of 15, across two competitions. Three of those wins have come in the League Cup, and while one was in extra time at Manchester City, the other two were against Tranmere Rovers and Swindon Town. They have a handful of positive league results, including wins over Swansea (who were in form at the time) and Sunderland, and draws against Newcastle, West Brom, and Norwich. The wins over Tranmere and Swansea are their only home wins of the season. Villa's last two matches were against Manchester United and City; they played United well at home and lost 3-2, but capitulated 5-0 at Eastlands last week.

Match Facts

This was the 20,000th goal in Premier League history.
Remember how that was a big deal... that day... and then
never again? Photo: Premier League.
Arsenal faced Aston Villa three times over the course of last season and won all three. Arsenal played Aston Villa away just before Christmas last year, winning 2-1 thanks to a Yossi Benayoun header three minutes from time. Earlier in the match, Marc Albrighton equalized for Villa, scoring the 20,000th goal in Premier League history in the process. Did you remember that highly important fact? Of course not; I had to look it up myself. Surprisingly, Aston Villa had 57% possession in the match and probably deserved a better fate.

Arsenal played Villa twice at the Emirates last year. The first match was a fourth round FA Cup tie, in which Villa went ahead 2-0 at halftime before Arsenal stormed back with three goals in seven minutes, including two from the penalty spot, to win 3-2. In the league match at the Emirates in March, Kieran Gibbs scored 16 minutes in, Theo Walcott added another in the 25th, and Aston Villa didn't really show up for the rest. Mikel Arteta added a third in injury time to seal a 3-0 Arsenal victory.

Arsenal have only lost two of their last 27 league meetings with Aston Villa, though one of those came at the end of 2011. The last time Aston Villa beat Arsenal at Villa Park was December of 1998. Arsenal took a 2-0 lead in that match before the Villans stormed back to win 3-2. Since then, Villa have lost seven and drawn six at home against the Gunners.

The Referee

Lee Mason calls off Arsenal v. Stoke in December 2010
because he is cold.
The referee is Lancashire-based Lee Mason. Mason took charge of one prior Arsenal match this season, the 0-0 draw at Stoke on the second weekend of the season. He's also taken charge of one Aston Villa match this year, one of their two league wins, the 2-0 result in mid-September.

Last year, Mason took charge of two Arsenal matches, both wins: 3-1 over Stoke and 1-0 at Everton. He also only took charge of two Aston Villa matches last year: a 0-0 season opening draw with Fulham and a 4-2 loss to Chelsea later in the year.

Lee Mason was last in the spotlight at the end of last month, when he worked the League Cup tie between Chelsea and Manchester United in the days following the Mark Clattenburg unpleasantness (which has been resolved hilariously in that John Obi Mikel is now being charged with misconduct as Clattenburg has been cleared.) I don't recall anything controversial happening in that match with Mason in the middle.

Around the League

This man is giving Roman Abramovich ideas...
Photo: Daily Mail.
Arsenal's trip to Birmingham is the late Saturday match this week; five matches will be played prior to Arsenal's on Saturday, four more will be played on Sunday.

The weekend kicks off with Sunderland hosting West Bromwich Albion. West Brom continues to impress; they have 23 points, they're in fourth place, and they're five points back of table topping City. Sunderland, on the other hand, are in 15th and have only scored 10 goals this season, three of which were last weekend against ten man Fulham. Martin O'Neill, meet the hot seat.

Four matches kick-off in the 10:00 a.m. Eastern / 3:00 p.m. England time slot. Manchester United hosts Queens Park Rangers at Old Trafford, Everton (still in fifth place) hosts Norwich at Goodison Park, Stoke hosts Fulham at the Britannia, and Wigan hosts Reading at the DW.

Four matches will be played on Sunday, which often happens after Europa League Thursdays. The early match sees Liverpool travel to Swansea to face Brendan Rodgers's former squad. Later in the day, Newcastle travels to the South coast to face Southampton, while Tottenham hosts West Ham at the Lane.

The glamour fixture of the weekend sees Chelsea host Manchester City, in what should be a ridiculous first fixture for Rafael Benitez in charge of Chelsea. Also, that happened...

The reverse of these fixtures will be played the weekend of February 23-24.

Arsenal 2-0 Montpellier: Job Done

Here's the truth - the French league is a joke, their champions a rabble that have made zero impact on the competition. It's not completely unfair to wish that Arsenal had put this lot away with a bit more gloss on the scoreline. Then again, as I said in the NLD recap, you have to take your chances to coast when they come along. Arsenal triumphed with the minimum of effort, which may be a blessed relief if Aston Villa turn up on Saturday having realized how uncomfortably close they are to the relegation trap door. 

The team selection was always going to be a bit of a conundrum for the manager - do you rotate the squad here and play the starters for Aston Villa, or stay the course and change it up a bit for Saturday? Arsene Wenger opted for the latter, rightly in my estimation. Should the worst happen and Villa get a result, there's some margin for error there to make it up. If we had let Montpellier nick a result, Champions League progression would come down to one tricky game in Greece.

Should there be no rotation at all, then we can surmise that the boss intends to play Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta until their legs fall off. Time will tell.

So, there was one change from the NLD lineup, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming in for the injured Theo Walcott. Unlike in that contest, Arsenal did not start slowly. However, that is not to say they bolted out of the starting blocks, either. The visitors vaguely threatened in the early exchanges, but only in the same sense as a drunk at a bar loudly bellowing to his friends to hold him back. All talk, no trousers.

Ten minutes elapsed as the match ambled along, whistling a tune. Briefly, the Gunners emerged from their narcolepsy when Thomas Vermaelen rampaged down the left. His cross was spot-on, and Laurent Koscielny thumped his header authoritatively. Sadly, the crossbar came to Montpellier keeper Jeffrey Jourdren's rescue. Up the other end, Wojceich Szczesny had to be alert and decisive to sweep up a through-ball that had eluded the Arsenal backline.

The half returned to its walking pace, Arsenal barely enjoying the better of it. Lukas Podolski grew into the game, the first danger sign for the visitors as he created several half-chances from the left wing. Mikel Arteta was also notable in that he seemed to neutralize every counter that Montpellier could muster. The "covered every blade of grass" cliche is overused in the best of times, but it's appropriate here.

Just as the home side started to wrest some sustained momentum out of proceedings, the halftime break came. Your mileage may have varied, but I wasn't that worried about the goalless first stanza. I didn't see where Montpellier's goal was coming from, and it seemed obvious to me that Arsenal were drawing ever closer.

That said, I don't know if anyone expected the Gunners to strike so rapidly after the re-start. I've railed on before about the importance of goals just before or after halftime, and this is no different. What little Gallic resistance had been on show up to that point dissipated entirely once Arsenal went ahead.  Vermaelen, much improved over recent efforts, again tormented the Montpellier right back, skinning him with an inside-out feint. His cross, despite coming from his weaker right foot, was majestic. Olivier Giroud continued his fantastic target-man play by knocking it down into the path of Jack Wilshere. Jourdren was a half-second too slow coming off his line, and Jack made him pay with a deftly-chipped finish over him. That was a goal both lovely and desperately needed in equal measure.

Soon after, that little bastard Younes Belhanda got Giroud booked when a stray brushed-hand to his face sent him sprawling like a Mike Tyson opponent circa 1987. Referees have a tough job and all, but you hate to see one conned so easily at this level. Actually, this one (Firat Aydinus - of course, we couldn't get the good Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir) was generally awful but thankfully irrelevant.

All credit to our big striker though, as he didn't lose his head. In fact, on the hour mark he legged it all the way back to our goal line to make a determined block. I'm beginning to change my tune about the man - he's quickly becoming undroppable.

A few minutes later, Podolski got the goal his play so richly deserved. And, what a goal it was, too. If you missed the game, seriously, stop reading this drivel and get thee hence to 101 Great Goals. The Ox started the move with a nice steal in midfield, and his interplay with Podolski left the defense in tatters. The ball was played out to Giroud, who scooped a perfectly-weighted ball over the statues in blue. Podolski, at full canter, volleyed the ball sweetly over the arm of Jourdren and into the roof of the net. Frankly, it was a lucky thing for the keeper - had he gotten a hand to that, it would have come off at the wrist. A proper thunderbolt, that.

From that point on, the only reason the last half hour needed to be played was to comply with the Laws of Association Football. Montpellier were a beaten team, Arsenal were intent on saving their energy for future engagements. Giroud had a few chances well saved by Joudren, some subs came on, and that was about it.

Schalke '04's win over Olympiacos means that we have our now-annual Matchday 6 Dead Rubber in Athens. Importantly, that will be another opportunity for Wenger to get some minutes in for guys like Francis Coquelin, Andrei Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh. Injuries and suspensions happen, and you never know who you'll need to depend on five games from now. In the meantime, the job is done for now, and hopefully this will serve as practice for putting a crap side to the sword. Three points is the minimum when Saturday rolls on.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Wilshere 8, Arteta 8, Podolski 8, Cazorla 8 (Coquelin N/A), Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Ramsey 7), Giroud 8 (Gervinho N/A)

Man of the Match: This one is one of those tough ones where all of our attacking players had excellent games. Wilshere's first goal since his return and Podolski's thunderbolt make them both fine candidates, and Giroud had another storming game leading the line. I have to give it to Mikel Arteta though, for an absolutely brilliant performance on both sides of the ball. He pulled the strings in midfield, and covered every blade of grass on the rare occasions Montpellier had the ball.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Montpellier, Champions League Group Matchday 5

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, November 21
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials from Turkey
    • Referee: Fırat Aydınus
    • Assistants: Serkan Ok and Alek Tascioglu
    • 4th Official: Cem Satman
    • Additional Assistants: Mete Kalkavan and Tolga Ozkalfa
  • Reverse Fixture: Montpellier 1 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win
  • Arsenal's European Form: L-W // W-W-L-D
  • Montpellier's European Form: W-L // L-D-L-L
I love the photos of Mertesacker's goal celebration. It
just looks like he's about to explode.
Photo: Arseblog News.
Well, that match on Saturday sure was fun, wasn't it? Perhaps that's the catalyst for an improvement in form, just as it was last year, just as I've been saying it could be all along.

But, it's back to business straight away, and Arsenal have a job to do. Three points get Arsenal to 10 in the group, which could ensure qualification to the knockout phase if Schalke also wins. If Olympiacos gets a result, things get a little more tricky, but clearly, they will be much trickier if Arsenal does not get all three points tonight.

To put it simply: Arsenal qualify for the knockout stage if they win AND Schalke wins. If Arsenal wins and Schalke draws with Olympiacos, the Greek side can still better Arsenal on goal difference after Matchday 6. If Olympiacos wins, then both the Greek and German sides can finish above Arsenal, even if Arsenal wins tonight. Arsenal will need a win and help from Schalke to make the trip to Athens on Matchday 6 less meaningful.

Montpellier is out of the competition, having only picked up one point in four matches. They will be looking to play the role of spoiler. Arsenal cannot allow that to happen; not only would it make qualification difficult, it would also undo all of the positive vibes from the derby win.

And we can't have that happen now, can we?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Walcott (shoulder), Santos (abdominal), Diaby (thigh), Fabianski (shoulder), Rosicky (Achilles)

O. M. GIBBS. Photo: Arseblog News.
Kieran Gibbs and Gervinho have made their returns to training from thigh and ankle injuries, respectively, and could feature tonight, though I doubt either would start. Theo Walcott has been left out of the 18-man squad with a shoulder injury he picked up against Tottenham, though his time out will likely be "short term". Andre Santos is also left out of the squad after picking up a abdominal strain on Saturday.

Arsenal's form really went in the tank after Gibbs's injury, to the tune of three wins, three losses, and two draws across all competitions, so having the Englishman back at left back is a tremendous plus for the Gunners.

Arsenal's "long term" injuries now just include the perma-crocked Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, and Lukasz Fabianski.

Montpellier Squad News

Out: Ait-Fana (knee)
Suspended: Camara (accumulation)

Team news for the opponents in the Champions League is always light, so my apologies. As far as I can tell, Montpellier have only one long term injury concern and that's Moroccan forward Karim Ait-Fana, who has been out with a knee injury he picked up in training.

Senegalese international Souleymane Camara serves a one match ban for accumulating three yellow cards.

Current Form

Arsenal blew a two goal lead on Matchday 4 in Germany.
Photo: BBC.
The last time Arsenal won back to back matches, across all competitions, it was a 1-0 league win over Queens Park Rangers and the 7-5 madness in the Capital One Cup against Reading. There have been only three occasions this season, over 18 total fixtures, in which Arsenal have won at least two in a row (three straight in September before the draw at City and two straight after the loss to Chelsea but before the loss to Norwich.)

As mentioned earlier, Arsenal won just three of the eight matches Kieran Gibbs missed through injury. They have won exactly half of their games this year (nine of 18), and that's across all competitions. In the league, it's five wins over 12 games, and that's just frankly not good enough.

Meanwhile, Arsenal's opponents tonight, Montpellier, are sitting in 14th place in Ligue 1. They have won just three in the league over 13 matches. They are unbeaten in four, however, that has comprised of a win and three straight draws. However, and of note to Arsenal, Montpellier have only been kept off the scoresheet once this season, across all competitions. That feat was accomplished by Marseille, who won 1-0 in Montpellier on August 26. Montpellier have scored in 15 consecutive matches across all competitions. They have goals in them and clean sheets have been hard to come by for Arsenal; Arsenal have kept just one clean sheet (1-0 over QPR) since opening the season with three straight.

Match Facts

Gervinho picked up the eventual winner two minutes after
Podolski brought Arsenal level. Photo: Daily Mail.
Montpellier and Arsenal have only met once before, on Matchday 1 in France. Montpellier went ahead from the penalty spot in the ninth minute before Lukas Podolski and Gervinho scored two minutes apart to give Arsenal a 2-1 lead. Montpellier pounded on the door to get an equalizer the rest of the way, but Arsenal held strong, and left France with three points.

Arsenal have played eight home matches against French competition in the past and have a surprisingly poor record in those matches: three wins, three draws, and two losses. Last year, Marseille picked up a 0-0 draw at the Emirates. Prior to that, in 2002, Auxerre picked up a 2-1 win at Highbury. Lyon got a 1-1 draw in 2001. Arsenal picked up two of their three home wins against the French in the 1999/2000 UEFA Cup, against the likes of Nantes and Lens. Lens won in the 1998 Champions League in London, 1-0. Auxerre earned a 1-1 draw in the 1995 Cup Winners' Cup quarterfinal (Arsenal won the return leg in France.) The one other Arsenal win came in the 1994 Cup Winners' Cup semi-final, over PSG, en route to winning that final.

As for Montpellier's record in England, they've played on English soil once, at Old Trafford, in the 1991 Cup Winners' Cup, and got a 1-1 draw. Brian McClair fired United ahead in the first minute before Montpellier pulled level on a Lee Martin own goal just seven minutes later. United won the return leg in France 2-0 to win the tie.

The Referee

No word on if this is what Aydinus's
uniform will look like.
Image via Shirtoid.
The match officials for tonight's match are from Turkey; the referee is Istanbul-based Firat Aydinus. This will be Aydinus's third Champions League match as referee.

You might know that referees often have interesting side professions; sometimes it goes beyond thought that they must have other jobs during the week in addition to their refereeing on the weekend. You may have heard that Howard Webb was a sergeant with the South Yorkshire police. Massimo Busacca, whom you may recall thinks not hearing the whistle is a bookable offense, owns his own business. Firat Aydinus, on the other hand, is a geologist.

Aydinus's other two Champions League matches, both from this season, were Bayern Munich's 2-1 win over Valencia on September 19 and PSG's 2-0 win over Dynamo Zagreb on October 24. This is his first match involving an English side.

Around Europe

Didn't you come to Chelsea to play in the Champions
League, Eden?
So, Chelsea are in some trouble, eh? After last night's 3-0 Chelsea loss in Turin, combined with Shakhtar Donetsk's 5-2 win over Nordsjaelland, Chelesa need a win over the Danish side and a win from Shakhtar (who are already through) to advance. A draw between Shakhtar and Juventus is enough to see both sides through at Chelsea's expense.

Manchester United are already through as group winners, so they were able to start a youthful lineup in Turkey, where they lost 1-0 to Galatasaray. Elsewhere in their group, CFR Cluj beat Braga 3-1.

Benfica beat Celtic 2-1 to give themselves a leg up on the Scottish side for second place in the group, though Benfica's remaining match is against group winner Barcelona at Nou Camp. Barcelona won 3-0 at Spartak Moscow. Elsewhere, Lille beat BATE Borisov 2-0 in Belarus, while Valencia and Bayern Munich drew 1-1. That draw was enough to send both of those sides through.

As you know from reading the rest of this preview, and also via the process of elimination, Group B's other match features Schalke 04 and Olympiacos, who will face off in Gelsenkirchen.

Group C features an early match in Russia, as Zenit hosts Malaga, while the other Group C match sees Anderlecht host AC Milan in Belgium. In Group A, Dynamo Kyiv hosts PSG in Ukraine and Porto hosts Dinamo Zagreb in Portugal. As for the Group of Death, Manchester City is home at Eastlands to face Real Madrid and Ajax hosts Dortmund in Amsterdam.

Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham Hotspur: The Best Kind of Deja-Vu

So, you know what sucked about this game?


...wait for it...


We all know that with our stuttering opening to the season, a loss or even a draw could have sent us into a tailspin that we may not have recovered from. Instead, with an assist from You Know Who, the side overcame early nerves to chalk up an emphatic win - hopefully one that kickstarts the run we need to get back into the Champions League places.

Given our injury list, the starters mostly picked themselves. Arsene Wenger's only decisions were that Theo Walcott was the right wide forward, and Wojceich Szczesny made a welcome return in goal. Meanwhile, of course it was against us that Andre Villas-Boas finally worked out that he should play his best goalkeeper. Hugo Lloris manned the Spurs net, which honestly made me a bit nervous.

Then again, Villas-Boas couldn't find a place for Clint Dempsey or Gylfi Sigurdsson, who both specialize in shredding mediocre defenses like ours. That made me feel a lot better.

That feeling quickly dissipated though, as the visitors ferociously tore into us from the first whistle. The Gunners barely touched the ball, and the backline looked as fragile as ever. An early free kick led to a William Gallas goal rightly chalked off for offside. Still, it was a danger sign that went unheeded, and our nearest and dearest were 1-0 up two minutes later.

Tottenham's ridiculously-high defensive line paid dividends, as Jan Vertonghen reached the halfway line before playing a long ball over the top. The Arsenal defense were all over the shop, Per Mertesacker the worst offender. The BFG was miles outside of the penalty area, marking no one in particular. That allowed the long ball to find Defoe, who ran at our short-handed defense. His angled shot caught Szczesny leaning the wrong way, but the Polish stopper shifted his weight to make a fabulous save. Sadly, the rebound was dead-central in the six-yard box, and our old friend Emmanuel Adebayor easily tapped it in. Thomas Vermaelen can't entirely be blamed for losing him due to the BFG's bizarre wanderings, but he didn't cover himself in glory, either.

Worse, only an iffy finish from Aaron Lennon kept it from being 2-0 seconds later. Luckily, he dragged his shot wide. At this stage though, the visitors were rampant, with no outward sign that Arsenal would find their way back into the match.

That said, the great thing about our rivals is that they never fail to find a way to fail. Nineteen minutes in, they were threatening to run away with a famous win. Twenty minutes in, they were down to 10 men thanks to a petulant and moronic challenge from Adebayor. His flying two-footed Jeet Kune Do kick on Santi Cazorla earned serious Bruce Lee style points. However, it also earned a deserved red bit of cardboard from Howard Webb.

Game on.

Arsenal immediately flipped the script on the match and dominated proceedings. It only took five minutes for the men in red to find the equalizer - however fragile we may be at times, their mob are twice as frail.

Walcott was the catalyst, his run down the right tormenting the overmatched Kyle Naughton. He sent his cross in, perfectly anticipating that Per Mertesacker would drift off his marker. Tom Huddlestone was nowhere to be found as the Big Fucking German guided a gorgeously-weighted precision header over the dive of Lloris and into the top corner. It was his first for the club, with hopefully many more to follow.

Unsurprisingly, that was all it took for Spurs to go to pieces. Arsenal's tails were up now, and Lloris has to be sharp to palm over a header from Olivier Giroud. Cazorla fired just over the bar seconds later, and you had to think the breakthrough was arriving soon. Spurs had one more let-off when Giroud thumped another header straight at Lloris, who did exceptionally well to catch and hold it. In fairness, he was fantastic for having given up 5 goals - sorry if it angers you that I'm praising one of their lot here, but I'm a goalkeeper and we stick together. Deal with it.

Had they made it to halftime at 1-1, this may have been a much different report. Thankfully, a slice of luck and determined pressing from the Arsenal saw us take the lead in the 42nd minute. Bacary Sagna played in Mikel Arteta, who worked a one-two with Jack Wilshere. The Spurs defense just about dealt with it, but it bobbled out to Lukas Podolski, whose shot banked off of Gallas and in.


Well, actually, bliss was going 3-1 up just before the stroke of halftime. Lennon conceded a free kick, which was cleared out as far as Cazorla. The little Spaniard proceeded to rampage through the Tottenham defense, even getting hacked down at one point. He simply got up, kept running, and cut it back to Giroud on the edge of the six. The pass was a bit behind him, but the Frenchman was able to lean back and direct a quick shot past Lloris at his near post. Quietly, the big man has been on a fine run of form in the last few weeks, and that in particular was a great goal.

The second half saw Villas-Boas make two changes - Naughton's day mercifully ended in favor of Michael Dawson, and Dempsey on in place of Kyle Walker. It was bizarre on the face of it - that left them with no fullbacks, and a three-man defense. It worked though, as they clawed their way back into the game and might have gotten back into it were the Arsenal not so strong on the day.

That strength showed when Walcott shrugged off what appeared to be a horrific landing on his shoulder, then popped up to play a part in Arsenal's fourth goal minutes later. Around the hour mark, a long goal kick was well won by Giroud, on to Walcott. Theo played in Podolski down the left, who in turn dragged a pass back along the edge of the six. Cazorla timed his run impeccably, and was left with the easiest of tap-ins at the back post.

I suppose you can forgive the Gunners for taking their foot off the gas at that point. As supporters, we would want them to run up the score as much as possible against a demoralized 10-man Tottenham side. However, practicality dictates that with games coming thick and fast, you take your chances to coast when they come along.

Still, it could have been 5-1 had Lloris not robbed Walcott. Instead, they went up the other end and clawed one back when Laurent Koscielny stood way too far off of Gareth Bale. It was an annoying goal to give up, but there's no better time to do so than when you're up 4-1.

Of course, it's easy to be that cavalier after our guests spurned two solid chances to get back into the game. Bale was at the center of the first, his run down the left stretching the Arsenal defense. Luckily, he opted to shovel a poor-angle shot wide rather than cut back to the open Defoe. The second was Defoe hilariously air-kicking a shot after Szczesny flapped at a corner.

I shudder to think what may have happened had they got it back to 4-3. Instead, they punched themselves out with those missed chances, leading to a largely comfortable last 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Arsene's letter of the day was clearly "A", his subs comprising of Andre Santos, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

There was one moment of joy left though, thanks to a moment of panic from Vertonghen. His pass was well pressured by Oxlade-Chamberlain, who won possession and was off to the races. The back side of the Spurs defense fell asleep, and Walcott took advantage. The Ox played him in, and Theo finished brilliantly past Lloris. It was the perfect capstone to the day, adding deserved gloss to the scoreline.

Beating the auld enemy in this fashion can't help but galvanize the team, and the timing couldn't be better. The truth is that Montpellier is a joke of a team and should be dispatched without a second thought - especially at home. But, we cannot afford a slip-up - even a draw will make Matchday 6 at Olympiacos far too nervy an occasion for my liking. A good win there, followed by another at a flailing Aston Villa side, should leave us in good stead for the tricky visit to Everton on the 28th.

That's all for another time though. For me, the only acceptable reaction to Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham is joy, laughter....and perhaps just a soupcon of gloating. We'll analyze everything else after Montpellier.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Vermaelen 6, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Podolski 8 (Santos 7), Arteta 7, Wilshere 7 (Ramsey 7), Cazorla 8, Walcott 9, Giroud 8 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7)

Man of the Match: An informal poll at the Blind Pig saw quite a few votes for Giroud, and several for Cazorla. Both are great shouts - our whole forward line was dynamic and incisive. However, as ever I'm the outlier - I have to stump for Theo Walcott. His pace made Tottenham pay for their suicidally-high defensive line, and he seemed to be in the center of every dangerous offensive move we put together.


NYC Arsenal Supporters Presents: I Am Arsenal, Episode 01: Laura Howard

I Am Arsenal is a series we'll be featuring here on The Modern Gooner to show passionate Arsenal supporters in New York City.

The NYC Arsenal Supporters are easily the largest group of Arsenal Supporters in America, and we hope that by highlighting our members, people become inspired by our stories, and also see that we're not just a bunch of yanks. We meet every week, for every match at The Blind Pig and O'Hanlons Bar here in NYC, as early as 7:45 Kickoffs. We're a mix of Americans and Ex-Pats, and every other culture that makes up our very diverse city. We're Arsenal til We Die!

Episode 01 features a lifelong Arsenal Supporter, Laura "Gooner" Howard.

Please follow the NYC Arsenal Supporters on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Tottenham Hotspur

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, November 17
7:45 a.m. EST, 12:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Howard Webb
    • Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Darren Cann
    • 4th Official: Chris Foy
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 5 - 2 Tottenham
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 70 Arsenal wins, 53 Tottenham wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-L-W-L-D
  • Tottenham's League Form: W-W-L-W-L-L

AHHHHHHH!!!!!! AHHHHH!!!!!!!

Ahem. At this time, I would like to formally apologize for calling you all "bitches" a few seconds ago. That was really uncalled for. But, I hope you understand that this is a big fixture and it's cause for excitement.

The last time Arsenal was in a run of form this anxiety inducing, it was late February of this calendar year. Arsenal had recently lost 4-0 in Milan, then lost 2-0 at Sunderland to crash out of the FA Cup. Things were pretty dreadful coming into this fixture nine months ago. Things got worse after half an hour. But then, finally, Arsenal woke up. We all know the story (and I'll tell it again later in the "match facts" section below) but the point is, this is the match that turned the end of the season around last year.

However you may feel about the state of the team, Arsene Wenger, the board, the stadium, Gunnersaurus, Nike, Emirates Airlines, the color red, or cannons in general, it's time to get behind this team, because it's the North London derby, and it's a big deal.


Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gervinho (ankle), Gibbs (thigh), Diaby (thigh), Fabianski (shoulder), Rosicky (Achilles)
Doubts: Sagna (match fitness), Walcott (gluteus), Oxlade-Chamberlain (hip), Szczesny (ankle)

At least Jack Wilshere only played half an hour for England
on Wednesday. Photo: Daily Mail.
In news we did not want to start with, Kieran Gibbs has now been classed as a "long term" injury, joining the ranks of Tomas Rosicky and Abou Diaby in the "uhhh, two or three weeks or so, yeah, something like that" category. So, that's bad news.

As for everyone else, there is very little news, as many were away on international duty and we don't have any updates on them yet. Theo Walcott could be available after he missed England duty, having been pulled from Saturday's Arsenal match with an injury to the gluteal muscle (that's really the cleanest way I could think of to say it.)

Bacary Sagna faces a fitness test on Friday, since he has played a lot lately not long after returning from a six month layoff. Carl Jenkinson might get a start after picking up his first cap for England. It saddens me that he made his England debut simultaneously with Ryan Shawcross, though.

Meanwhile, there might just be returns on the cards for Wojciech Szczesny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, which is fantastic news. They'll face fitness tests as well. Because of all of these late fitness tests, I think it's too dicey to predict a starting XI.

Tottenham Squad News

I can see you stealing that wire person, AVB!
Photo: Daily Mail.
Out: Dembele (hip), Assou-Ekotto (knee), Kaboul (knee), Parker (Achilles)
Doubts: Walker (hamstring), Defoe (hamstring)

The only bit of good news for Tottenham so far, in terms of injuries, is that Aaron Lennon passed a scan on his hamstring, and he will likely be available for selection on Saturday. He was one of three Spurs players who picked up hamstring injuries in their 2-1 loss at Manchester City last Sunday. Kyle Walker and Jermain Defoe were the other two, and they both face fitness tests themselves. They have not trained with the team since their injuries.

Moussa Demebele, who joined Spurs from Fulham in August, will not be fit to return from a hip injury that has kept him out for the past eight matches. Tottenham's long-term injury list includes Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Younes Kaboul, and Scott Parker.

Current Form

Before last week's match, I put up a graphic showing that Arsenal was five points behind where they were last year (against common opponents) and that fact remains, since Arsenal drew Fulham at home both last week and last year. I also erroneously said last week that Arsenal was playing Tottenham away this week. Nobody corrected me. IS ANYBODY EVEN READING THIS? HELLO?!?

The fact of the matter is, Arsenal have 16 points from 11 matches. The chart to the right (I'm pretty sure you can click it to expand; if not, might I suggest squinting?) shows Arsenal's past point total through the first 11 matches of the season, going back 30 years. The black horizontal line represents where Arsenal are now, 16 points. The last time Arsenal had fewer points than that through 11 matches was 1982, thirty years ago. Graphical proof that this is Arsenal's worst start to a season in 30 years.

As for Tottenham, they are just one point ahead, with 17. Spurs have eight fewer points than they had through 11 matches last year. While Arsenal have struggled since the October international break, Spurs have one win and three losses since then themselves. While they have lost to Chelsea and Manchester City in that span, they also dropped a 1-0 home match to Wigan Athletic.

So, really, neither side is coming into this one with the wind at their back.

Match Facts

Last year's 5-2 encounter at the Emirates reversed a trend where Spurs had lately had the better of the derby results. Even still, Spurs went up 2-0 in that one through a weird bounce for a Louis Saha goal and an Emmanuel Adebayor penalty after Gareth Bale went down in the box. Then, Bacary Sagna said "I'm sick of this," and opened the floodgates for Arsenal. Last year's captain who shall remain nameless leveled the score before halftime, then Tomas Rosicky poked Arsenal ahead before a Theo Walcott brace really poured salt in the wound.

Prior to that, Arsenal had not won a league encounter with Spurs since a 3-0 win on Halloween of 2009, famous for goals scored by each of the last two Arsenal captains 11 seconds of playing time apart. After that point, Spurs started picking off a few results: 2-1 at the Lane twice (April 2010 and October 2011,) a come from behind 3-2 win at the Emirates in November 2010, and a 3-3 draw at the Lane in April 2011. In that meantime, Arsenal's only win over Spurs was a pretty incredible 4-1 extra time win in the Carling Cup at White Hart Lane, which saw Arsenal score three in the first quarter hour of the extra time, two from the penalty spot. I won't outright say to you who scored those two goals, but I will say that he likes money, wears light blue now, and has bad teeth.

In league matches all-time at Arsenal, the Gunners have won 38, lost 18, and drawn 19.

The Referee

"Hey! How much Fergie time should I be adding?"
Photo: The Independent.
The referee is South Yorkshire-based Howard Webb. Are you surprised? We haven't seen him in a while...

The good news is this game isn't being played at Old Trafford, so this is not some sort of worst case scenario. In fact, in 13 home matches with Howard Webb as the referee, Arsenal have never lost (nine wins and four draws.) Two of those draws were at Highbury, so at the Emirates it is, in fact, nine wins and two draws. Last year, Webb took charge of three Arsenal matches at home: a 2-1 win over Sunderland, a 1-0 win over Everton, and a 2-1 win over Newcastle. This year, Webb was in charge of Arsenal's 2-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield.

As for his record with Spurs, Webb was in the middle for Tottenham's 3-1 win at Reading in September. Last year, he was in charge of a 3-1 win over QPR, a 1-1 draw with Chelsea, a 3-2 loss at Manchester City that featured an injury time penalty to City, and their FA Cup win over Bolton (after previously also being the referee for the abandoned match when Fabrice Muamba collapsed.)

Around the League

Gareth McAuley's late winner gave West Brom a 1-0 win over
Chelsea in their fixture last year at the Hawthorns. It was
Andre Villas-Boas's final match in charge at Chelsea.
Photo: BBC.
The North London derby is the weekend's curtain raiser, kicking off a Saturday that features a huge slate of eight fixtures. You don't normally see as many as six matches starting in the 10:00 a.m. Eastern, 3:00 p.m. England time slot, but that's what we have this weekend.

Among those six, still unbeaten Manchester City (the only unbeaten side remaining in the league, which has kind of been forgotten since they've been so poor in Europe, but please, let's hope they lose soon, so they don't start talking about the Invincibles again) hosts Aston Villa at Eastlands. Third place Chelsea is on the road at fifth place West Brom (no, really, the Baggies are still in fifth place, look it up) in a surprisingly huge fixture at The Hawthorns. Liverpool and Wigan are just one point apart, in 13th and 14th respectively; they'll have their mid-table battle at Anfield. Newcastle and Swansea are also one point apart, in 10th and 11th respectively, and they'll face off at St. James' Park or whatever they're calling it now. Relegation threatened Reading is three points adrift of safety; they'll host fourth place Everton at the Madejski. And last place hosts next to last place, as Queens Park Rangers host Southampton at Loftus Road.

Saturday's late game (12:30 Eastern, 5:30 England) sees top of the table Manchester United travel to Carrow Road to face Norwich. Maybe the Canaries will pull off the shock in this one, like they did a few weeks back...

There's one match leftover for Sunday and one for Monday night; Sunday sees Fulham host Sunderland at Craven Cottage and Monday sees sixth place West Ham (sixth!) host Stoke at Upton Park.

The reverse of these fixtures will be played on the weekend of March 2-3.