Arsenal 7-3 Newcastle United: Second Half Explosion

It was just how we drew it up, right?

On a day that saw goals flying in from all corners around the Premier League, Arsenal topped them all with a second half firestorm of strikes. Quietly, this is four wins on the bounce for the good guys, and we find ourselves three points behind our nearest and dearest with a game in hand.

It's a very happy holiday season indeed, Gooners.

The home side lined up much as they have in the last few matches, albeit without the services of Per Mertesacker. Laurent Koscielny deputized for the BFG, while Theo Walcott continued as the tiniest lone striker in history. Newcastle, as mentioned in John's preview, was missing roughly 947 first-team squad members. It was bad enough where James Perch, a right-back by trade, was pressed into center-half service. Also, they had no Hatem Ben Arfa or Yohan Cabaye. In short, this was a good time to catch the Magpies.

Despite that, Arsenal barely troubled the visitors' makeshift backline during the first quarter of an hour. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain screwed a shot wide seconds into the match, but then the Geordies closed ranks effectively. Meanwhile, Arsenal did their usual probing-around-the-edges bit, with no openings in the barcoded wall to be found.

The most entertaining part of that opening period had nothing to do with Arsenal v. Newcastle, and everything to do with Arsene Wenger v. His Puffy Jacket. In the corresponding fixture last season, you may remember it was the pocket failing to open that did in our manager. This time, the zipper was the Man of the Match, poor old Arsene failing to deal with it over the course of several minutes.

Thankfully for Le Boss, Walcott made us all forget about his outwear-based travails. A fantastic long, low pass from Lukas Podolski sprung Theo down the left-hand side. Walcott bore down on Tim Krul at a tough shooting angle. The low across-the-keeper finish is his trademark though, and he curled a peach of a shot around Krul and just inside the post.

We all know the deal with Theo, though. As talented as he is, he can also be unbelievably exasperating. First, he was played in one-on-one with Krul, again by an exceptional pass from Podolski. This time, he could only shovel a weak pass into the Dutch keeper's body. Next, a counter-attack saw Arsenal breaking at speed, but a criminally-underhit pass from Walcott killed the move before it began.

Meanwhile, Newcastle had barely made it into our half, a long-range scorcher from Chieck Tiote the only instance where Wojceich Szczesny was called into action. It was on one of their rare forays upfield though where they fluked a lucky equalizer. Bacary Sagna fouled Gabriel Obertan just outside of the penalty area, Demba Ba the man to take the kick. Ba's effort looked comfortable for Szczesny, but Jack Wilshere's deflection wrong-footed the keeper.

Those goals right before or after halftime are a killer, and Arsenal were reeling a bit. Had Sylvain Marveaux come up with a better shot with the Gunner backline in disarray, we could have found ourselves trailing at the interval.

Credit must be given to our boys though. They composed themselves during the break and came back out with verve and a sense of purpose. Here's the thing - offensively, Kieran Gibbs was one of our best players. He tormented Danny Simpson all day down the left-hand side, and that width allowed our central players more room to operate. On the other hand, defensively he was as abject as any Arsenal player has been all season. This time, Podolski was the creator once again, his through-ball leaving the Newcastle defense in tatters. Gibbs was in alone on Krul, but could only fire a weak shot directly into the keeper's chest. Truly, that was the finish of a left-back.

Three minutes later, though, Arsenal were ahead. Simpson's throw-in deflected off of Podolski, who passed to Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard played a fantastic square ball along the edge of the area to Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose low shot went through the legs of Davide Santon and past the dive of Krul. That was a terrific finish from a guy who badly needed a goal after recent weeks.

Every time we took the lead, though, we seemed committed to handing it right back. Sagna was roasted down the right wing by Obertan, and the ensuing cross was deflected by Koscielny into the path of the onrushing Marveaux at the back post. Not for the first time on the day and not the last, either, Gibbs was nowhere to be found.  Shocking defending from the England man there.

The "no sir, after you" nature of the match continued as both sides again traded goals, and now they were even in time as well. Five minutes after the 2-2 goal, we took the lead. Five further minutes later, Newcastle were back on level terms. How pleasantly symmetrical.

Jack Wilshere was the driving force behind the next goal, as he won the ball with some ferocious pressing in the middle of the park (Arsenal did an exceptional job all day of harassing the Geordie midfield to win possession). He surged into the area and crossed in from the endline. Krul was beaten, but Fabricio Coloccini was there to head it onto the bar. Podolski got the goal his efforts deserved though, as he came barreling in to nod home the rebound from a centimeter out.

The home side once again were out in front, and then the Kieran Gibbs Experience happened again. Marveaux started the move, ambling from left wing to center with no red shirts anywhere. Sagna in particular was much too far inside, leaving it to Wilshere to have to come back to try and stop him. The Frenchman's cross to the back post found Ba in acres of space, Gibbs once again far out of position. One simple tap-in later, it was 3-3 and looking like another one of those days.

The pattern of the match largely continued though, except the go-ahead goal came in four minutes this time (seriously, we need to get Arsenal and Newcastle working with the MTA). Podolski and Gibbs re-enacted their partnership from the first half, the German again playing the left back into space. This time though, Gibbs was smart enough to play it back across the face of goal. Podolski mistimed his kick, but the ball came out to Walcott. Somehow, he was able to pirouette and smash a shot into the top corner despite the fact that half the Newcastle side was between him and the goal. That was an amazing finish, and if he keeps doing that I'm going to have to eat my words about how he's not worth what he's asking for.

That one took the fight out of the visitors, I think. They rarely threatened again, while Arsenal ran rampant. First though, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey came on in place of the Ox and Podolski. The former was the man who put Arsenal up 5-3 in the 85th minute, sparking a 10-minute stretch that may have been the finest we've seen this team play for a long time. A patient build-up saw Sagna receive the ball out right, and he tapped it over to Walcott. The England man's surging run left Santon for dead, and his cross was inch-perfect. Giroud split the static center-half pairing with a perfectly-timed run, and he simply nodded it past the stranded Krul. That was a goal that was beautiful in its simplicity.

Arsenal were not remotely done though, with further goals coming in the 87th minute and then in injury time. Walcott drew the Newcastle defense with yet another barnstorming run into the area, but he was muscled off the ball. It fortuitously fell to Giroud, who side-stepped Coloccini like he was made of granite and lashed a thunderbolt past Krul and into the near corner.

The last goal started from a free kick just in front of the corner flag. Walcott and Ramsey did almost a short-corner routine, leading to the former once again running at the defense with one thing on his mind. He was bundled over in the penalty area by a defender, which could very well have been whistled for a penalty kick. Referee Chris Foy played advantage though, and Walcott capitalized on the confusion in the Geordie backline. He got back up, collected the ball, and chipped it over the onrushing Krul to put the exclamation point on the scoreline.

Oh, and Giroud hit the bar right at the end, so it could have been eight. Hell, on another day this could have been 10-0.  Arsene said after the match that it wasn't an accurate reflection of the match, but I tend to disagree. The visiting defense was creaky and disjointed, the Arsenal attackers driven and clinical. Naturally, I would hope that the result doesn't convince the boss that reinforcements aren't needed in January now. But, on the day the Gunners were presented with an out-of-sorts opponent mentally and physically fatigued from a brutal Boxing Day match against Manchester United, and they did what they had to do. End of story.

See you in 2013, Gooners.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 5, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 7, Sagna 6, Arteta 7, Wilshere 8, Podolski 9 (Ramsey 7), Cazorla 8 (Coquelin N/A), Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Giroud 8), Walcott 9

Man of the Match: Podolski is a bit hard done by as this was easily his best match in an Arsenal shirt, but it can't be anyone other than Theo Walcott. I think it will be another 6-7 matches before we know for sure what his ceiling is as a lone center-forward, but the early signs have been promising. I'd like to see him replicate this against better opposition, but you can only play what is put in front of you and he was absolutely brilliant today.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Newcastle United

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, December 29
12:30 p.m. EST, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Chris Foy
    • Assistants: Stephen Child and Harry Lennard
    • 4th Official: Anthony Taylor
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 1 Newcastle
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 66 Arsenal wins, 66 Newcastle wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-D-L-W-W-W
  • Newcastle's League Form: L-W-L-L-W-L
  • Weather: Chance of Rain / Windy. 47 °F / 8 °C
I'm pretty sure my good luck charm only works because
Carlsberg sponsors Arsenal now.
Arsenal have now won three straight matches in the league and that's moderate cause for excitement, but I've got a bit of a quandry. Before the West Brom match, I decided to switch up the beer that I normally drink at the Blind Pig during matches, and the switch to Carlsberg appeared to work. It worked for the Reading and Wigan matches, too.

However, it also dawned on me that for all three matches, I was, for one reason or another, also wearing a button-down shirt, instead of a T-shirt or Arsenal jersey. So, now I'm not sure which change has brought about the good luck. Such is my superstitious nature that I can't change either of these things now. So, make sure you say hello to me at the pub on Saturday, in my button-down shirt while I'm drinking Carlsberg.

But, enough about me, you're here to read about Arsenal. Some good vibes are starting to flow around the team and now is not the time to halt that run. Newcastle played an epic match against United on Wednesday and probably deserved a point, but it was at Old Trafford, so Fergie's deal with Satan meant the hosts got all three. The Magpies have lost seven of their last nine and will be tired, so the Gunners will hope to pounce and make that postponed Boxing Day fixture advantageous instead of just disappointing.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Santos (abdominal), Fabianski (shoulder), Diaby (thigh)

Theo Walcott draws a penalty after being fouled by
Jean Beausejour, whose name I find stupid, leading to
an irrational level of hatred.
It appears that Arsenal got through last week's match against Wigan fairly unscathed in terms of injuries, though Jack Wilshere did get knocked around quite a bit. That means the team news is, once again, surprisingly light, which is such a lovely change of pace.

Tomas Rosicky and Olivier Giroud both missed the trip to Wigan through illness, but both are available once again. Andre Santos and Abou Diaby (!) return to training next week. The only long term injury remains Lukasz Fabianski, who will be out until at least mid-January after shoulder surgery in October.

I suspect there will be little need to change the side too much from the XI that beat both Reading and Wigan, though there is a fixture on Tuesday to think about, so perhaps the question of rotation should be asked. Then again, when Arsenal last played a congested string of fixtures, in late November, there was no rotation, so why would I assume there would be any now?

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott.

Newcastle Squad News

Out: Gutierrez (knee), Anita (ankle), Ben Arfa (hamstring), S. Taylor (hamstring), Cabaye (groin), Gosling (knee), Vuckic (knee), R. Taylor (knee)
Suspended: Williamson (accumulation)

Vurnon Anita's injury was not as serious as first feared,
considering the death stare he's getting from Fergie in this
Newcastle picked up more injuries in Wednesday's loss at Old Trafford, bringing their list of wounded up to eight players. On the other hand, Cheick Tiote returns after a one match ban for yellow card accumulation. On yet another hand, Mike Williamson picked up his fifth booking of the year on Wednesday, so he has to sit this one out for accumulation.

As for that injury list, I mentioned that it is now at eight. Jonas Gutierrez was withdrawn from the squad before the match with a knee injury that has required an injection; he will miss two or three matches according to manager Alan Pardew. Vurnon Anita left the match in injury time on a stretcher after a bad challenge from Antonio Valencia (who was already on a yellow;) Anita's injury is not as severe as first thought and his ankle is merely inflamed. He will not, however, be able to play Saturday.

That leaves six players still on Newcastle's long term injury list. There is no information on the return of Dan Gosling from a knee injury, so I suspect he's out a while. Steven Taylor and Hatem Ben Arfa are both out until some point in January with hamstring injuries. Yohan Cabaye is out until February with a groin injury. Haris Vuckic and Ryan Taylor are out for the season with knee ligament injuries.

Newcastle remains a threat to score goals, however, even with all of these injuries. Demba Ba's knees still work, at the moment, and he and Papiss Cisse have formed a formidable strike pair up front. The problem is, the team leaks goals with so many problems and injuries at the back, made worse by Williamson's suspension.

Current Form

These kits are horrible. Why the hell did Newcastle wear
these? Did their black and white stripes clash with
Manchester United's red? Just awful.
Arsenal have played eight home games in the league so far this season and have won just as many as they have not won. They've beaten Spurs, West Brom, Southampton, and QPR. They've drawn Sunderland and Fulham. They've lost to Chelsea and Swansea. After that loss to Swansea just four weeks ago, Arsenal sat 10th place in the table. Then, they climbed as high as third after beating Wigan last week. It's been a weird, weird season. Arsenal now sit in seventh place, as most sides have played twice since the last time the Gunners took the pitch. They're three points back of fourth with a game in hand. All things considered, this is where Arsenal was in December last year, granted, with fewer teams around them in the same spot.

After the Boxing Day round of fixtures last season, Newcastle United had 30 points and were in a respectable seventh place, though they had fallen from as high as third. Right now, after one more fixture than last year, they have ten fewer points. They currently sit in 15th place with 20 points. In their last nine league fixtures, Newcastle have lost seven, only managing wins, at home, against Wigan and QPR. More astonishingly, across all competitions, in their last six road games, they have conceded at least twice in each of them (that's over four league games and two Europa League matches.) Perhaps yet even more astonishing, Newcastle have yet to win away from home this season, across all competitions.

Match Facts

After Vermaelen's winner, Wojciech Szczesny casually
stole the ball.
Arsenal took four out of a possible six points from Newcastle last year, after Newcastle had taken four of six from Arsenal the year before. After a season opening 0-0 draw on Tyneside that saw Joey Barton be a jerk, leading to three match bans for both Gervinho and Alex Song, Arsenal won the reverse at the Emirates, 2-1. Hatem Ben Arfa opened the scoring in the 14th minute, after a Thomas Vermaelen give away gave the ball straight to Demba Ba. Arsenal trailed for all of 50 seconds, as the former captain buried an equalizer straight away from the restart. Then, nothing really happened for a while. In the 94th minute, Vermaelen made up for the earlier error, burying a winner off a rebound.

Entering this fixture last year, Newcastle was one of only three Premier League teams that had beaten Arsenal more than they had lost to Arsenal over all competitions. Arsenal's win evened the all-time series at 66-66. Currently, only Liverpool and Manchester United, among top flight English sides, have beaten Arsenal more times than Arsenal have beaten them. Other sides that can make the same claim are based only on small sample sizes (like Championship side Peterborough United, who won their only ever meeting with Arsenal, in 1965.)

The Referee

The referee is Merseyside-based Chris Foy. Are the jokes about how Tottenham fans confused him with Olympian Chris Hoy still funny? No? Well, Morrissey and that cat in the picture don't think it's funny, so I'll drop it.

Arsenal have seen Foy once this year, in the season opening match against Sunderland, which was a 0-0 draw that saw zero bookings. Foy also worked only Arsenal draws last season: 0-0 with Bolton in February and 1-1 with Stoke in April. Arsenal's last win with Foy in the middle came on May 1, 2011, at home against Manchester United. Remember that? That time we beat United? That was nice.

As for Newcastle, they have also only seen Foy once this year, though they won that match, 2-1, over West Bromwich Albion in October.

Foy is one of three Select Group officials who has not shown a red card this year. Lee Mason and Andre Marriner are the other two. Foy's 31 yellow cards is second fewest, behind Anthony Taylor, who happens to be the fourth official tomorrow.

Around the League

Everton, fresh off a victory over Wigan on Boxing Day, face
Chelsea on Sunday, in what is probably the best match of
the weekend. Yes, I only used this photo to show a
dejected Jean Beausejour, whom you may recall that I
irrationally hate from an earlier photo in this preview.
It's still the festive period, which means a ton of fixtures get cramped into a relatively small period of time. After this weekend, there's a mid-week round of fixtures (Arsenal plays again Tuesday, along with most teams,) which is then followed by an FA Cup weekend.

It is also a fairly normal weekend of fixtures in terms of the scheduling: early matches on Saturday and Sunday with the other six kicking off at 10:00 a.m. Eastern / 3:00 p.m. England on Saturday. As you may have noticed, Arsenal and Newcastle is Saturday's late game this week. Late games are weird for me in this time zone; yes, you don't have to wake up at an ungodly hour, but by the time the match is over, it's almost evening, which is disorienting when you usually still have the whole day ahead of you after matches.

As for the other matches moved for television this weekend, Sunderland, fresh off beating Manchester City, will host Tottenham Hotspur at the Stadium of Light. Sunday is a London v. Liverpool day. In the early match, Chelsea travels to face Everton at Goodison Park. In the late match, Liverpool travels to London to face Queens Park Rangers.

There are six matches in the standard time slot this week. Manchester United hosts West Bromwich Albion, who are still hanging on to sixth spot. Manchester City is away at Carrow Road to face Norwich, in a stadium where both Arsenal and United (and Stoke, Sunderland, and Wigan) have lost this year. Stoke City, who are unbeaten in nine, host Southampton at the Britannia. Stoke have not lost a league game at home since early February. Aston Villa will attempt to not lose embarrassingly again as they host Wigan at Villa Park. Struggling Fulham hosts Swansea in West London. Lastly, Reading (no longer in last place thanks to goal difference and their Boxing Day draw) hosts West Ham at the Madejski.

The reverse of these fixtures will be played on Sunday, May 19, the final day of the season.

Wigan Athletic 0-1 Arsenal: Rediscovering Fun

This is going to be short and sweet this time around, I think.

To be honest, we all were in a festive mood at the Pig today, and the jokes and witticisms were flying in thick and fast. Real's real, this is the most fun I've had watching Arsenal in at least two or three years. I can't be truthful and say that I was paying my usual close attention to formations and tactics - at least on this day, I was infinitely more concerned with the next one-liner.

To give you an idea, my noting that my voice gets high when I bitch at a referee turned into a 20-minute long riff about how Don Knotts would sound complaining that a foul wasn't called. I mean, there was nothing going on in the game so we had to make our own fun, anyway.

But, I suppose I should touch on the match itself. Arsene named an unchanged side from the evisceration of Reading, while Wigan fielded the eleven people in their metropolitan area not carrying a knock of some sort. 

Oddly, for a side in the relegation mire, the home side played with zero tenacity. Rather like Reading, they did not press nor did they pack the middle of the field. Arsenal were a bit out of sorts offensively, but the back four deserve credit for never letting Wigan get out of the starting blocks. So, this ended up looking a lot like two FIFA teams of equal strength with the computer playing out the game.

It was the visitors who threatened first, the feisty Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain testing Ali Al-Habsi with a low drive. Up the other end, Wojciech Szczesny had to be quick off his line to smother at the feet of Shaun Maloney.

That, friends, summed up all of the notable points from the first twenty minutes.

To be fair, Wigan had a glorious chance when Franco di Santo sprung Arouna Kone on the counter. He was in alone, but Per Mertesacker belied the brainless conventional wisdom about his lack of pace to match the Ivorian stride for stride. That removed the rounding-the-keeper option, and forced him into an earlier shot. Thankfully, Kone blazed an effort somewhere into the Van Allen Belt, and the danger passed.

The game settled down from there back into its earlier pattern of Zen-like balance, but there was a highly annoying incident right before halftime. Jack Wilshere made one of the best tackles I've seen this season to get the ball from a Wigan player - it was all ball and perfectly-timed. The referee didn't see it that way, unfortunately, and booked him for it. Hopefully, this is the last we see of Jonathan Moss for a good long while.

Halftime came and went, but the overall theme of the day remained the same. Very little happened, although this time it was Arsenal that spurned a glorious chance. Santi Cazorla played in the Ox, who in turn crossed into the box. Theo Walcott, again deployed as the central striker, got there first and fired a shot with all the space in the world. Frankly, he should have done better. However, you have to give credit to Al-Habsi for coming up with a decent save to keep the scores level.

Speaking of the Omani stopper, I feel like I should mention that I do not have a single bad word to say about Wigan, or any of its players. I mean, there are clubs out there that I loathe with the fury of a thousand burning suns. There are players out there who I would love to see visited by nothing but misfortune and missed nets for the rest of their careers. Many of them play in Manchester these days. But, I have to admit that I really like Wigan, and I pull for them when they're not playing us. Also, as a goalkeeper myself, I have to express my admiration for Al-Habsi's brilliance. If we didn't have Szczesny, I'd be proud to see him in our net.

OK, the love-fest over, back to the game.

It was around the hour mark that the Gunners would race out to the lead that they wouldn't relinquish. A bog-standard attacking play came to Walcott in the penalty area, and if we're being honest with ourselves, he went down very easily to Jean Beausejour's challenge. You know what, though? I'm fine with that. If you want moralizing about diving, you're asking the wrong guy. First off, it happens to us often enough where I'm OK with it due to the Swings and Roundabouts rule.

Besides that though, I am one who believes in doing anything you can to win. If referees don't call diving, then it's to my mind a dereliction of duty if you don't when the opportunity presents itself. Hell, I have faked injuries before in my own 7-v-7 matches late in games with a one-goal lead. Do what you have to in order to give yourself the best chance to win. Nothing else is acceptable to me.

Mikel Arteta stepped up to take the spot-kick, and coolly dispatched it past Al-Habsi.

Wigan didn't have much to offer in response, Szczesny having to save once with his legs and another shot going well wide. The home side also claimed a penalty in injury time, but the referee rightly played on (when on earth will people understand that the rule is "intentional handling", meaning it has to be a deliberate handling of the ball?).  Beyond that, Arsenal defended competently enough the few times where it was required.

There's not much else to say about this one. Three badly-needed points were won today, getting us much closer to the good end of the table. You can only beat what is in front of you, so it's not our fault if our opponents on the day were out of sorts and couldn't be bothered. Onwards and upwards, especially with our nearest and dearest dropping points at home to Stoke.

On behalf of all of us at the Modern Gooner and the NYC Arsenal Supporters, I wish you all a very happy holiday season.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

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

Man of the Match: You know, there are times where it is hard to select a MOTM because there is a multitude of candidates, and other instances in which the difficulty lies in our utter crapness, with no one standing out. Here, everyone played well enough, but no one distinguished themselves beyond quiet competence. I'll go with Mikel Arteta though for slotting home the penalty.

Preview by Numbers: Wigan Athletic v. Arsenal

DW Stadium, Wigan
Saturday, December 22
7:45 a.m. EST, 12:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Jonathan Moss
    • Assistants: Peter Kirkup and Ceri Richards
    • 4th Official: Mark Halsey
  • This Match, Last Year: Wigan 0 - 4 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 13 Arsenal wins, 3 Wigan wins, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-D-L-W-W
  • Wigan's League Form: L-W-L-L-D-L
  • Weather: 90% Chance of Rain, 7 °C / 45 °F
I don't think Arsene Wenger notices that spaceship that's
coming to get him.
For everything Arsenal has been through already this season (and it's not even half over,) for all of the negativity that has surrounded certain moves and certain results, Arsenal still finds themselves just two points back of third place in the table. That's exactly where they were after 17 matches last year and at that time, third place Tottenham had two games in hand. And I think we all know how that gap turned out for them. Right now, third place Chelsea has one game in hand, but still, Arsenal's relative positioning is slightly better than it was last year.

That said, Arsenal has got to get into the habit of winning their... well, winnable games. There is no excuse for dropping points to Wigan, even away from home, such is the form and injury list of the Latics. And, with this being the first match of the weekend, Arsenal can (at least for a little while) move into third place with a win.

So, three more points, please.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Santos (abdominal), Fabianski (shoulder), Diaby (thigh)

"I would like THIIIIIIIIIIIS much money."
Could it be? Could that really be the entire injury list? Just three players?

As the opposite of last week, when Arsenal played on Monday and I had no idea what the team news would be, Arsene Wenger's press conference came yesterday since Saturday's start is so early. During that press conference, Wenger stated that there are no fresh injury concerns in the side and that the same squad that was available for Reading will be available for selection Saturday.

That basically means the back eight players pick themselves, right? Szczesny in goal, Sagna, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, and Gibbs on the back line, with Arteta, Wilshere, and Cazorla in the midfield.

Up front is where you start to get questions. Does the Theo Walcott Experience continue as a central forward at the expense of the tall handsome French guy? Does Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain retain his place at right wing? Will Gervinho continue to dominate at right bench?

I'll take a shot at guessing and say the XI will be unchanged and Theo gets another chance up top. But who knows, I'm probably wrong. It's starting to get impossible to accurately predict what Wenger is going to do.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott.

Wigan Squad News

Out: Lopez (hamstring), Caldwell (hamstring), Ramis (hamstring), Miyaichi (ankle/loan terms), Watson (broken leg), Crusat (knee), Alcaraz (groin)
Doubts: McCarthy (ankle)

Ryo Miyaichi watches from the bench, before he was even
injured. Not the ideal loan from an Arsenal perspective.
Well, that is an Arsenal-esque list of injuries there, isn't it?

With a list already huge, Wigan picked up more injuries in their 2-1 loss to Norwich City last weekend. Center back Adrian Lopez could miss up to 10 weeks with a hamstring tear, while it's a short term absence for midfielder James McCarthy after he picked up an ankle injury.

Wigan have a few players coming back soon, though most of the sources I have seen for this match list them as "out," so I've done the same. That list includes captain Gary Caldwell, and other defenders Antolin Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis.

Ryo Miyaichi would not have been allowed to play against his parent club anyway, but Arsenal have got to be disappointed the youngster has only been able to play five matches for Wigan this season, having dealt with an ankle injury all autumn.

Ben Watson, out with a broken leg, has just had his cast removed this week. Albert Crusat is out long term with a knee injury.

Current Form

"Is... is this part of the Macarena?"
Quick! Off the top of your head, tell me the last team Arsenal beat on the road that wasn't Reading.

I'll give you some time to think about it by discussing Wigan's form first. On October 30, while Arsenal was playing in an absurd 7-5 cup tie at Reading, Wigan was at home to League Two's Bradford City and the Latics did what Arsenal would make all the wrong headlines for over a month later: they lost to the Bantams on penalties. A few days later, Wigan would rebound from the shock with a win in the league (just like Arsenal did,) and more impressively, that Wigan win came 1-0 over Tottenham at White Hard Lane.

But, since then, Wigan have lost five of their last seven matches, only beating Reading and drawing Queens Park Rangers along the way. That Reading victory is one of only two home wins for Wigan this year; the other came over West Ham United. Wigan have shipped 16 goals over their last seven.

Speaking of West Ham United, that's the answer to the question I posed at the top of this section as the last non-Reading team to lose to Arsenal at home, a Gunners win which took place on October 6, some 86 days ago. Since then, the Gunners have lost matches at Norwich, Manchester United, Olympiacos, and on penalties at Bradford, drawn matches at Schalke, Aston Villa, and Everton, and won twice at Reading.

Match Facts

This happened on Lukasz Fabianski's birthday, too.
A year after he ruined an FA Cup semi-final against
Chelsea, also on his birthday.
Wigan have become a bit of a bogey team for the Gunners, as Arsenal have not taken six points out of six from the Latics in league play in the last three seasons. Of course, Wigan scalping a result from Arsenal usually falls in April or May, when they are fighting for their Premier League lives (this has been the case two of the last three years.) This year, the reverse fixture is scheduled for the penultimate weekend of the year, when the Latics might well again be desperate for points.

Last year, Arsenal won convincingly at the DW, 4-0, in early December, getting goals from four different goal scorers: Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen scored twice in two minutes to put Arsenal up 2-0 at halftime, Gervinho added the third, before some Dutch guy added the fourth. In the reverse fixture, however, Arteta left early with an injury, and it was Wigan who scored twice in two minutes (the 7th and 8th minutes, no less) to take a shock 2-0 lead. Thomas Vermaelen grabbed a goal back in the 21st, but that was it for the scoring, as Arsenal fell 2-1. Many may not recall that Arteta was on the sidelines receiving treatment when Wigan scored their goals; Arsenal were playing scattered with ten men.

Arsenal dropped points at the DW in April and December of 2010. In April, Arsenal led 2-0 after 80 minutes, and then Lukasz Fabianski happened, and Wigan won 3-2. In December, Arsenal led 2-1 late in the match against ten man Wigan, and then Sebastien Squillaci happened, and Wigan drew 2-2.

The Referee

Jon Moss is a common
name. I understand that.
But, I have no idea why
this image came up on
Google images...
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Jonathan Moss, a man Arsenal has not seen very much. Moss, now aged 42, worked his first career Premier League match in January of 2011. Arsenal saw Moss only once last season, in the 2-1 win at Aston Villa exactly one year ago today (today being Friday, the day you are most likely reading this.) In that match, he awarded Arsenal a penalty and sent off Villa's Alan Hutton for going crazy and committing two bookable offenses in quick succession. That was Moss's only Arsenal match in his career.

Moss has worked one Wigan match this season, a 2-1 win over West Ham in late October. Wigan lost twice with Moss in the middle last season, 2-1 to Tottenham and 3-1 to Queens Park Rangers.

In 13 matches this season, Moss has shown only one red card (a second yellow to Steven Pienaar in Everton's 1-1 draw with QPR.) Last year, Moss showed 11 red cards, including two red cards twice. On both of those occasions, the two red cards were to the same team (Millwall and Sheffield United.)

Around the League

Nice effort, Michel Vorm.
It's a fairly standard line-up of matches this weekend: one early Saturday match, one late Saturday match, six matches in the standard time slot in between, one early Sunday match, and one late Sunday match. Wigan v. Arsenal kicks the weekend off before seven more matches follow on Saturday.

Highlights of the 10:00 a.m. Eastern matches include last place Reading heading to Manchester to face City at Eastlands. Elsewhere, Newcastle hosts Queens Park Rangers on Tyneside, Southampton hosts Sunderland on the South coast, Tottenham hosts Stoke at the Lane, West Brom hosts Norwich at the Hawthorns, and West Ham hosts Everton in East London. Saturday's late match sees Liverpool and Fulham meet at Anfield. Last week, Fulham became the only team this year to lose to QPR, while Liverpool were surprisingly ripped apart at home by Villa.

Speaking of Aston Villa, they play in the late game on Sunday, at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea, who have returned from their silver medal finish in Japan. The marquee match-up of the weekend, in my opinion, is the early match on Sunday, as Swansea City hosts Manchester United in Wales.

The reverse of these fixtures will be played on Sunday, May 12, to avoid clashing with the FA Cup Final on May 11.

Reading 2-5 Arsenal: A Badly Needed Knees-Up

Those of you who read the NYC Arsenal Supporters Facebook page know why there hasn't been anything from me over the last few games. The Cliff Notes version: I forgot to DVR the Olympiacos dead rubber, was out of state for West Brom and the Bradford game wasn't on the teevee. At some point, I had intended to write a "What it All Means" piece about the latter, but you know what? It's been done to death. You know what I was going to write - my feelings on the manager are well-known and haven't changed.

With that in mind, suffice to say that the result against the Bantams is easily the most humiliating I've had to endure in my tenure as an Arsenal fan (I just missed Wrexham) - ten times as bad as the Massacre of Old Trafford from last season or the League Cup final from two seasons ago.

Clearly, a fillip was badly needed for the men in red today. Thankfully, the brilliance of a little Spaniard ensured that we got it.

The big news heading in was that Theo Walcott finally got his wish, Arsene deploying him as the central striker. Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey were thankfully banished to the bench. Across the way, Reading bizarrely threw the returning Pavel Pogrebnyak right back into the fray, and benched the in-form Adam Le Fondre to do it.

Arsenal's problem during this barren run of results has been a lack of energy and attacking purpose. That was emphatically not the problem today, as the visitors took out their frustrations on an oddly-sedate Reading side early and often. Within the first five minutes, neat interplay between Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain resulted in the latter stinging Adam Federici's palms from distance, while Theo Walcott flashed a free kick just wide.

Naturally though, there were frailties at the other end. Pogrebnyak slalomed through the Arsenal defense with Kieran Gibbs nowhere. His cutback could have been touched on by any of three Reading players, all of whom contrived to miss.

How different could this game have been if that had gone in, huh?

Instead, six minutes later Arsenal were in front. Gibbs took the ball down the left and abused the horrendous Jimmy Kebe with a simple feint. The ensuing cross found Lukas Podolski inside the area, the statues in blue and white failing to bother trying to cut it out. The Medium-Sized German had time to take a touch and drill a shot past the stranded Federici.

Reading were all at sea, and Arsenal were not in the mood to let them get their bearings. I honestly have no idea what the home side were playing at - they did not play a pressing game nor did they pack the middle and try and deny their opponents space. If anything, the Arsenal attackers had all the time and space they could possibly want, and they duly used it to keep shots coming at Federici's net. Walcott had the best chance during this spell, a simple long ball from the Ox leaving their suicidally-high line for dead. He was in completely alone on the Aussie stopper, but could only shovel a weak shot into his legs. Highly frustrating at the time, but better things were to come.

Federici made another decent save to keep out a Podolski drive, but he couldn't prevent Arsenal from doubling their lead at the half-hour mark. Podolski was in the thick of it again, with the run of the left wing. He sent in a gorgeous cross into the area, where Cazorla was allowed to run in unopposed to nod it into the corner. That was shocking defending from the Royals, but you won't see me complaining.

Speaking of shocking defending, Arsenal bagged another one just 120 seconds later. This time, Walcott was allowed to cross in under no pressure whatsoever. Cazorla controlled brilliantly, and guided a low shot past Federici. Even worse for Reading, it could have been 4-0 had Federici not come to their rescue again when Walcott was the latest tiny person to get a free header in the area.

Honestly, it was like playing the computer on Easy in FIFA.

The second half began much as the first ended, Cazorla slightly unlucky to miss out on his hat trick with Federici on point again. Reading couldn't hold out forever though, and a goal of exquisite quality got Santi the third goal his brilliance deserved. The Ox, Jack Wilshere and Podolski were all involved, a dizzying array of passing and movement shredding the home defense. The coup de grace was a low cross from Podolski to the unmarked Cazorla (the two-goal man unmarked on the back post - can there be a more damning indictment of the muppets in blue and white?) for the easy tap-in.

It even could have been 5-0 a minute later, Theo once again frustrated by Federici. But, Brian McDermott then made the changes that he arguably should have at halftime. Noel Hunt and Pogrebnyak weren't helped much by the midfield, but they also failed to drop back and fight for the ball themselves (despite their manager yelling at them to do exactly that). Le Fondre and Hal Robson-Kanu came on, and immediately the home side hauled themselves back into the match.

However, that doesn't excuse the fact that Arsenal shut off a bit once it got to 4-0. Sure, it's a comfortable lead. But, having come back from that very deficit themselves on this ground a few months ago, they should have kept their boots on Reading's throat for all 90 minutes. It didn't end up hurting anything on this occasion, but it was an annoyance that didn't need to be.

As it stands, Le Fondre was the beneficiary when Gibbs played a spectacularly brain-dead pass to no one in particular. Jay Tabb found the former lower-league man, who simply rounded poor Wojceich Szczesny and tapped it in. That was a galling one to give up, as a clean sheet would have gone even further to salve recent wounds.

Instead, Reading got back to within two with 20 minutes to play. An innocuous Reading attack saw Robson-Kanu beat several defenders before hitting the overlapping Kebe. Podolski lazily played him onside, and the otherwise useless Malian stroked a shot past the helpless Szczesny, and now the match was much closer than it had a right to be.

So frustrating. So unnecessary.

That said, Arsenal kept their composure and decided to do that "playing football" thing again. Cazorla's effort for a fourth was clawed out by Federici (albeit at a comfortable height - the Aussie was excellent but not world-beating...a lot of those saves, you'd expect your keeper to make. As I keep saying, the next English pundit that knows anything about goalkeeping will be the first).

He had already gotten his fill of goals on the day though, but had just enough time to play provider before coming off to a well-deserved ovation from the traveling support. He found Walcott on the edge of the area, Reading once again completely all over the shop. The England man bamboozled the hapless Kaspars Gorkss and slid a low daisy-cutter into the far corner.

That ended whatever resistance the home side had left, leaving Arsenal with three precious points. It was a good performance against a horrendous opponent, but there were still some worrying lapses that could punish us against better opposition. Luckily, our next opponent is a Wigan Athletic side short of form and confidence themselves. More of the same on Saturday would be lovely.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Vermaelen 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 8, Arteta 8, Wilshere 7, Podolski 7, Cazorla 10 (Coquelin N/A), Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Ramsey 7), Walcott 8 (Giroud N/A)

Man of the Match: Tiny. Spanish. Brilliant.  Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, Santi Cazorla!

Preview by Numbers: Reading v. Arsenal

Madejski Stadium, Reading
Monday, December 17
3:00 p.m. EST, 20:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Andy Garratt and Gary Beswick
    • 4th Official: Mark Clattenburg
  • This Match, Last Time: Reading 1 - 3 Arsenal (November 12, 2007)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 10 Arsenal wins, no Reading wins, no draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-D-D-L-W
  • Reading's League Form: W-L-L-L-L-L
  • Weather: Clear, 43 °F (6 °C)

Times are tough right now, so I'm
replacing all normal images with
pictures of animals from Twitter's

Okay, calm down. Calm down, stop yelling.

It's gonna be... calm down, shhh, just be quiet for... DAMN IT, STOP YELLING!

Yes, yes, things are bad right now. While it is not my job to do any sort of analysis of past events (I leave my analysis for the future based on past events,) I would feel remiss not to touch on the... touchy... subjects.

I've always been pretty firmly in the pro-Wenger camp, something which is becoming more and more difficult as results continue to falter. However, it is also already mid-December and the transfer window is opening again in just a couple of weeks. A new manager or even an interim manager would not have enough time to come up with an attack plan to fix a desperately thin squad in this amount of time. Changing managers now would do more damage than standing pat, I believe. At least give Wenger one last chance to fix this mess. I do not trust any currently available possible replacements to do a better job with the same players. If the mess is not fixed by season's end, then some serious moves have to be made.

Alright, on to Monday night's match. Reading have lost five straight, and they and QPR look pretty much like locks to be relegated.

Three points, please!

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Some People (with injured things)
Doubts: Everyone Else (shattered confidence)

I think this squad could beat
Bradford City.

I'm typing this on the Thursday before a Monday night match, so there is practically nothing available in terms of concrete team news for the match. Random guesswork to follow:
  • Abou Diaby? What do we think, about two or three weeks away? It's gotta be something like that.
  • Theo Walcott? Acute contract-itis.
  • Laurent Koscielny? Still out with a... what was it? Thigh? Groin?
  • Andre Santos? Tummyache.
  • Olivier Giroud? Missed the fiasco with a back injury. I think he'll return. If not, there's always Gervinho up top, right? Amiright, folks?
  • Lukasz Fabianski? Next question.
  • Can't we just agree that this is all Denilson's fault?
If you're wondering why I didn't just wait longer for team news to come out and post this later, it's that I've learned over the years that nobody reads this if it's not up on Friday morning. And, let's face it, injury reports probably aren't the reason you read these previews. It's my sharp wit and handsomeness! Yeah, that must be it...

Reading Squad News

Out: Karacan (knee), McCarthy (shoulder), Morrison (foot)
Doubts: Roberts (knock), Pogrebnyak (knock), Kebe (who's there?), Robson-Kanu (knock) (knock who?) (I'm sorry...)

Leicester City are nicknamed the
Foxes... so this picture is pretty much
irrelevant for Reading...
Reading actually released a team news update on Thursday! Oh my God, I actually have something to say here. This is exciting. I shall start with a quote from their official site:

"With the Arsenal clash still days away, Brian [McDermott] couldn't confirm whether a number of players would be available for Monday night."

Oh well, that's just... this is no better than the Arsenal news situation!

Jason Roberts pulled out of the squad the day before the loss to Sunderland, and Reading will "wait and see." As for Pavel Pogrebnyak, Brian McDermott said "we don't know."

You know, this is really unhelpful, guys.

"The fitness of Hal Robson-Kanu will also be waited on." Jimmy Kebe will "hopefully train."

Gahhhhhhhhh, this is the worst.

Let's talk about who we know is out: Jem Karacan has returned to training after a setback in his MCL injury, but he will be short for this match. Alex McCarthy is out for the season. Sean Morrison is out for an indeterminate period of time.

Current Form

Arsenal's last road win came at the
Madejski. This dog is all ready to
have another away day.
You know, technically speaking, losing on penalties counts as a draw when you're talking about form. So, Arsenal are unbeaten in two, kinda. They still have not won on the road since winning at the Madejski against Reading in the fourth round of the League Cup, though.

To make ourselves feel better, let's talk about how Reading have lost five in a row (sorry, Reading fans who are reading an Arsenal blog, for some reason.) While Arsenal were struggling in Bradford, Reading shipped three goals to a Sunderland side that entered the match with fewer goals scored than games played.

Reading have won once in the league this year, a shock 2-1 win over Everton on November 17. Since then, they have lost 3-2 to Wigan, 1-0 to Aston Villa, 4-3 to Manchester United, 1-0 to Southampton, and 3-0 to Sunderland. Relegation seems to beckon, based on these results.

Judging by what I've read around the Internet, Reading probably fancy their chances against Arsenal less than Bradford City did.

Match Facts

Marouane Chamakh scored twice at
Reading in the 7-5 absurd-fest.
Arsenal and Reading have now met ten times throughout all of history, including the bonkers 7-5 League Cup tie at the end of October. Arsenal have won all ten meetings.

You'll likely already recall the story of the 7-5 cup tie, but I'll tell you again, because we all need to feel a little better about our decisions to support Arsenal Football Club. As you know, Reading went ahead 4-0 in half an hour. Arsenal pinged one back just before halftime. Then, they scored three more, including the equalizer with the final kick of regular time. Then, Marouane Chamakh scored to put Arsenal ahead, but Reading drew level again. In the 120th minute, Theo Walcott scored a winner. Then, Chamakh scored again, just to further confuse everyone.

Four of Arsenal's ten previous meetings with Reading have come in the league; the other six have come in cup ties. 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.

The Referee

Here's the dog I voted for
in November.
The referee is Manchester-based Anthony Taylor. Arsenal have seen Taylor once this season. On that occasion, late in a 0-0 match against Queens Park Rangers, Taylor showed a red card to Stephane Mbia, then Mikel Arteta scored an 84th minute winner that was probably offside. So, there was some luck with Taylor that will hopefully carry over, considering he had denied Arsenal penalties in two of the previous three matches he worked for the Gunners.

As for Taylor's record with Reading, this will be his first such match this season. He last worked a Reading match on October 1 of last year, in the Championship, when the Royals drew 0-0 with Middlesbrough at the Madejski. He showed all of one yellow card in that match.

Around the League

Sunderland looks for their first win at Old Trafford since
the late '60s and I think these surprise starters might help.
Arsenal plays Reading on Monday night, meaning there's a full weekend of games to be played beforehand. Actually, it's not a full weekend at all, since Chelsea is in Japan to face Corinthians in the Club World Cup Final. That means their scheduled fixture, home to Southampton, has been postponed.

That leaves six matches on Saturday, two on Sunday, and Reading v. Arsenal on Monday. Saturday's early match will take place in the North East, as struggling Newcastle host no-longer-unbeaten Manchester City. There's no late game, so the other five Saturday matches are at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time. Manchester United hosts Sunderland at Old Trafford; the Black Cats have not won there since 1968. Meanwhile, Liverpool hosts Aston Villa at Anfield, Norwich hosts Wigan at Carrow Road, QPR hosts Fulham in a West London derby, and Stoke hosts Everton at the Britannia.

On Sunday, Swansea takes their show on the road to face Tottenham at White Hart Lane, so let's hope the Swans win another one in North London. In the late game, stumbling West Brom hosts West Ham at the Hawthorns.

The reverse of these fixtures will be played the weekend of March 30-31.

Preview by Numbers: Bradford City v. Arsenal, Capital One Cup Fifth Round

Coral Windows Stadium, Bradford
Tuesday, December 11
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and John Brooks
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 11 Arsenal wins, 9 Bradford wins, 5 draws
  • Arsenal's League Cup Path
    • Third Round: 6-1 win over Coventry City
    • Fourth Round: 7-5 win over Reading, after extra time 
  • Bradford's League Cup Path
    • First Round: 1-0 win over Notts County, after extra time
    • Second Round: 2-1 win over Watford
    • Third Round: 3-2 win over Burton Albion, after extra time
    • Fourth Round:  0-0 win over Wigan Athletic, 4-2 on penalties
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: D-W-D-D-L-W
  • Bradford's League Two Form: D-W-L-W-D-W
Scolding should be a yellow card.
As some would have you believe, on Saturday, Arsenal became the first team in history to have a player simulate a challenge to deceive the referee into giving a penalty. What an outrage! This kind of thing has never happened before, ever, in the history of the sport!

Those focusing squarely on Santi Cazorla's tumble do tend to ignore the fact that Arsenal was the better side on the day and fully deserved the victory over West Bromwich Albion, no matter how they actually ended up getting there. West Brom may feel hard done by the decision, but they won a cheeky penalty as recently as two weeks ago against Sunderland. Let's just drop it, though you should be aware that Arsenal probably won't win a penalty again until April.

The break of luck was just what the doctor ordered for an Arsenal side that desperately needed three points from Saturday's match. Now, with another six days to go until league play resumes on Monday night against Reading, Arsenal travel to West Yorkshire to face off against League Two Bradford City in the quarterfinals of the League Cup. They are potentially three matches away from a second trip to Wembley in three years, but have a history of faltering in this round. This is the tenth consecutive season they have made it to the final eight, but they have been bounced from the quarterfinals in four of the nine previous seasons, including three of the last four. On the other hand, Arsenal have never lost a cup tie to a fourth tier side, in eight prior matches.

So, come on you Gunners!

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Giroud (back), Sagna (foot), Walcott (calf), Koscielny (thigh), Santos (abdominal), Diaby (thigh), Fabianski (shoulder), Yennaris, Djourou, Miquel (all unspecified)

I imagine Jack Wilshere will be rested tonight.
Also, this picture is awesome.
The initial word is that Arsenal will be sending a fairly strong line-up to Bradford for the match, considering the Gunners do not play again in the league until Monday night at Reading. It's not a full week off in between, but six days is a lot more than you would normally get after playing in midweek. That said, the players currently have had only Sunday and Monday of rest since beating West Brom, so you're more likely to have tired legs here than next week at Reading.

Olivier Giroud will not make the trip; he picked up a back twinge against West Brom and will be rested. Bacary Sagna surprisingly returned at the weekend, so he will be rested tonight. There are still no returns on the cards for Theo Walcott, Laurent Koscielny, Andre Santos, or Abou Diaby (ha!) As for players who might have gotten League Cup starts, but won't through injury, Nico Yennaris, Ignasi Miquel, and Johan Djourou all remain out.

Damian Martinez started the third and fourth round cup ties since Arsenal had no other fit goalkeepers; now that Vito Mannone has dropped to the bench (and he will be available again after missing Saturday through an undisclosed injury), one wonders if the Italian will get the start here. Arsenal have only three fit center backs, so Sebastien Squillaci looks assured to be selected (and may God help us.)

As for the rest, I haven't the slightest idea how young or how experienced Arsene Wenger will go. It is a quarterfinal, but it's also against League Two opposition.

Bradford Squad News

Out: Reid (groin), Hines (ankle), Davies (knee), Oliver (Achilles)

Valley Parade is now called Coral Windows Stadium, for
sponsorship reasons. I don't see any coral windows at all.
Like Arsenal, Bradford City played twice last week, which led to some squad rotation. In midweek, the Bantams breezed past Port Vale 2-0 in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Northern semi-finals. At the weekend, they beat ten man Torquay United with an 85th minute winner. Bradford boss Phil Parkinson made eight changes to the starting XI between both matches.

In terms of Bradford's long term injuries, Kyel Reid (that is not a typo) and Zavon Hines are out until around Christmas with groin and ankle injuries, respectively. Andrew Davies is out until the New Year with a knee problem, while Luke Oliver is out for the season with an Achilles injury.

Current Form

This is an image from a 1-0 Bradford City win over
Torquay United that was not this weekend's 1-0 Bradford
City win over Torquay United. But, it's really hard to find
pictures of League Two matches.
Arsenal got a much needed 2-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion at the weekend, but their road form still leaves much to be desired, considering Arsenal have upcoming trips to Reading and Wigan, both winnable, in the league. Arsenal's 7-5 win over Reading in the last round of the Capital One Cup marks the last time the Gunners have won on the road, across all competitions. Since then, they lost at Old Trafford and Olympiacos and have drawn at Schalke, Aston Villa, and Everton. The Gunners have won once on the road in their last seven road games.

Bradford City have only lost twice at home this season, to the likes of Port Vale and Exeter City, and currently sit fourth in League Two. The top three teams promote automatically in League Two, meaning the Bantams are three points short of auto-promotion, behind the likes of Gillingham, Port Vale, and Cheltenham.

In the second round proper of the FA Cup, Bradford City picked up a 1-1 draw with Brentford, with the replay scheduled for next week; however, the Bantams have been charged with fielding an ineligible player (Curtis Good, on loan from Newcastle) and have been expelled from the competition. Bradford is currently appealing the decision. Good was not registered on Bradford's roster by noon on the day of the game in which he played, leading to the claim of ineligibility.

Match Facts

This image is actually from the 1-1
draw in September of 2000.
Bradford City most recently spent two years in the top flight in 1999/2000 and 2000/01, during which Arsenal failed to win at Valley Parade. In September of 2000, Arsenal picked up a 1-1 draw (the equalizer being Ashley Cole's first Arsenal goal); in February of 2000, Bradford won 2-1.

This means you have to go back to 1922 to find the last time Arsenal won away against Bradford City. The Gunners have only won away to Bradford three times, but bear in mind, there's a really small sample size to select from here. While most recently winning at Bradford in 1922, Arsenal also won matches there in 1904 and 1910.

Arsenal and Bradford have never met in the League Cup before, but have met three times in the FA Cup, with Arsenal winning two (1962 and 1973) and Bradford winning one (1914.)

Bradford City have never advanced past this round of the League Cup.

The Referee

The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean. Please excuse me for a moment while I go panic about this...


Okay, glad I got that out of my system. Arsenal's record with Mike Dean is, as you might know, terrible. Every time Arsenal draws Mike Dean as the referee, I pull out their run of form with him in the middle, which is now D-D-L-D-L-D-L-L-W-L-L-D-L-W-L-D-D-L. That is two wins from 18. The latter two are from this season, both matches in Manchester, as Arsenal drew 1-1 at City and lost 2-1 at United. What an unbelievably dreadful record.

You have to go all the way back to the Invincibles season, 2003/04, to find the last time Mike Dean was the referee for a Bradford City match (I envy them, in this respect.) It was on September 20, 2003 in the old First Division (now the Championship.) Bradford lost 4-0 at Turf Moor against Burnley that day. The Bantams were relegated that season into what would then become League One.

Around the Fifth Round

"I got this."
We're down to the quarterfinals, meaning there are a total of four match-ups in this round. There'll be one more drawing after this round, with paired up sides meeting in a two-legged semi-final in January. The final is held at Wembley at the end of February.

In addition to Bradford v. Arsenal today, Norwich hosts Aston Villa at Carrow Road, as Paul Lambert comes back to town seven points and four places in the table behind his former employers. Lambert has already faced Norwich once this year, at Villa Park at the end of October. Norwich got a 79th minute equalizer, but could not beat 10-man Villa, as the match ended 1-1. There's a Premier League match today, too, as Sunderland hosts Reading in the make-up of a game that was postponed due to pitch conditions in August.

Tomorrow, Swansea hosts Middlesbrough in Wales in another quarterfinal, but the fourth and final cup tie won't be played until next Wednesday, as Leeds hosts Chelsea at Elland Road. This postponement is because Chelsea, technically Champions of Europe/Third Place Champions League Group Finishers, are taking part in the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. They'll face Monterrey on Thursday at 5:30 a.m. Eastern time.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. West Bromwich Albion

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, December 8
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Jones
    • Assistants: Simon Bennett and Richard West
    • 4th Official: Michael Oliver
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 3 - 0 West Brom
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 63 Arsenal wins, 36 West Brom wins, 29 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-D-W-D-D-L
  • West Brom's League Form: W-W-W-W-L-L
Myself and our recap writer Sean started forming a bit of a long-winded joke about this match during the course of Saturday's loss to Swansea (this was all before Michu's brace brought about even more cynicism from me.) We were discussing how well West Brom were performing this year when Sean said it was as if they and Arsenal had switched places, that the Baggies were playing as if they were Arsenal, and vice versa.

That's when the ridiculous theory kicked in. Perhaps the switch took place during the course of that final match of last season between these two sides. Arsenal needed a win to secure Champions League football, and got just that, thanks to the inept goalkeeping of Marton Fulop. Perhaps that was Arsenal's deal with the devil. Perhaps that was the reason the teams have now seemingly switched places, with West Brom battling for European positioning and Arsenal mid-table.

I closed the theory/joke with the belief that if this was indeed the case, then this match brings about Arsenal's opportunity to switch things back. Perhaps a win tomorrow sets everything right again and breaks the evil curse.

All things considered and joke theories aside, Arsenal is only five points back of third place right now, so their 10th place in the table is not entirely due to being terrible lately; there's a little more parity at the top than there used to be. That said, this is as critical as critical matches can be in December. The train is barreling fast in the wrong direction for Arsenal, and while just one win doesn't exactly turn the train in the correct direction, it will slow it down and perhaps bring that dreadful spiral to a halt.

Plus, after the match is the NYC Arsenal Supporters holiday party, so we'll all hopefully be in good spirits following three points.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Podolski (hamstring), Walcott (calf), Sagna (foot), Koscielny (thigh), Santos (abdominal), Diaby (thigh), Fabianski (shoulder)

Well, now who do we sub off after 70 minutes?
Of the players that were left behind from this week's trip to Greece in order to rest, at least two of them are now actually out with injuries. Lukas Podolski has a minor hamstring injury and Theo Walcott has a calf injury. Both will miss out tomorrow. I'll be interested to see how these injuries will enable Arsene Wenger to utilize Tomas Rosicky, who was brilliant on Tuesday, but probably does not have 90 minutes in his legs yet as he returns to fitness.

Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny are both still out from injuries they suffered in the draw against Everton. This leaves Arsenal's back four pretty light and will force two players who started in Greece, Carl Jenkinson and Thomas Vermaelen, to continue starting. That's not surprising in the case of the captain, but keep in mind that injuries to Koscielny, Johan Djourou, and Ignasi Miquel means that Sebastien Squillaci maintains a place on the bench.

Nothing has changed in terms of the long term injuries. Abou Diaby is, what, two or three weeks away now?

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Gervinho (but I'd prefer Rosicky), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud.

West Brom Squad News

Out: Foster (groin)

West Brom's mascot can fly. Your move, Gunnersaurus.
West Bromwich Albion's Web site gave an article the headline "Boss gives squad clean bill of health," before announcing that goalkeeper Ben Foster is still out with a groin strain. This clearly indicates that someone who writes for their Web site doesn't know what "clean bill of health" means.

There has recently been an illness that has gone through the Albion camp, affecting goalkeeper Boaz Myhill, as well as Billy Jones and Yassine El Ghanassy, but all three are available for selection.

West Brom might have some weaknesses on the back line, but they have made up for that this season by having an excellent midfield. The Baggies like to counterattack, but can be exposed at the fullback position. Good timing for Arsenal to have their top choice wingers out injured, no?

Current Form

You can see Chamakh's hair from a mile away.
Do I really have to talk about form? Really?

Okay, here goes nothing...

Arsenal have now lost two straight for the second time this season, though you still have to go back to April of 2010 for the last time the Gunners lost three straight across all competitions (that terrible week included losses to Barcelona, Tottenham, and Wigan.) Arsenal have now gone four matches without a win, last winning 2-0 over Montpellier on November 21. The last time Arsenal went this long without a win? The end of last year, when they lost to Wigan, then drew Chelsea, Stoke, and Norwich. That streak was snapped against West Brom.

I'm also noticing that losing to Wigan is a theme here; Arsenal play at Wigan on the 22nd of this month, their first match following the Mayan apocalypse. Ugh, and it's an early morning game, too. I hate waking up early the day after the apocalypse.

Arsenal have not dropped points against a team whose name starts with W since... losing to Wigan! Okay, okay, now I'm just grasping at straws, you got me.

As for West Brom, their win over Sunderland on November 24 moved the Baggies up, temporarily, to third place in the league. Since then, they have lost two straight: 3-1 to Swansea in Wales last midweek and 1-0 at home to Stoke last weekend. They're still technically tied for third, though currently sit in fifth in the table after tie-breakers. West Brom have not lost three straight in the league since January.

Match Facts

"Alright, let me just lean over and pick up...
... oh, drats."
Arsenal took all six points from West Brom last season, but only took one of six from the Baggies the year before that, which was West Brom's first year back after yo-yoing into the Championship.

The Gunners won comfortably, 3-0, at the Emirates last November in this corresponding fixture, with goals coming from an unnamed former captain, the present day captain, and the current vice-captain who probably should be captain. The reverse fixture, at the Hawthorns, was basically a microcosm of Arsenal's entire season last year. Arsenal needed a win to secure third place and led after four minutes via Yossi Benayoun capitalizing on a Marton Fulop error. West Brom went ahead 2-1 by the quarter hour mark, with goals four minutes apart from Shane Long and Graeme Dorrans. Arsenal were level by 30 minutes, with an Andre Santos equalizer, then won it in the 55th after Fulop dropped a corner and Laurent Koscielny fired home. Kieran Gibbs came through with a brilliant slide tackle in injury time to deny West Brom an equalizer, which would have doomed Arsenal to the Europa League.

Two years ago, West Brom won 3-2 at the Emirates. Manuel Almunia injured his arm conceding a penalty, then saved that penalty, but conceded three goals early in the second half to put Arsenal well and truly out of it. Samir Nasri pinged two back, but it was not enough. At the Hawthorns, we got the Manuel Almunia experience again, including one tremendous error of attempting to play the ball about 35 yards out from goal. Arsenal was able to come back from 2-0 down to draw that match, 2-2.

West Brom's 3-2 win at the Emirates in September of 2010 is the Baggies' only win against Arsenal in their last nine matches, having lost seven of them.

The Referee

Maintaining my rule to
post the wrong Mike Jones
every time.
The referee is Chester-based Mike Jones, who incidentally was the referee on the final day of the season last year at the Hawthorns for the match between these two teams. Even more reason to believe this is Arsenal's chance to reverse the curse! The stars are aligning! Or something!

Jones worked that match and another 3-2 Arsenal win last year, in the FA Cup over Aston Villa. His only Arsenal match this season was the 6-1 win over Coventry in the third round of the Capital One Cup. As for Jones's record with West Brom, the Baggies have a 3-2 win of their own with him in the middle; that came over QPR in early October.

Mike Jones worked Monday night's match between Newcastle and Wigan and sent off Wigan's Maynor Figueroa in the 12th minute for a last man foul, as Newcastle went on to win 3-0. That was the first red card Jones has shown this season, in what was his 14th game.

Around the League

What a deal! You'd be crazy not to buy
a bike!
There are no early games in this week's slate (Sky Sports 1 is showing European rugby on Saturday) and there's no late game on Saturday either (ESPN in the UK, which airs matches in that time slot, are showing a Bundesliga match... and it's Frankfurt and Werder Bremen?) That means six matches take place at 10:00 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, three matches take place on Sunday (thank you, Europa League) and there's one on Monday night.

Arsenal v. West Brom is one of the six matches to be played in the standard time slot this week. The others include soon to be Europa League debutante Chelsea facing Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, Aston Villa hosting Stoke in Birmingham, Southampton battling Reading at St. Mary's, Wigan clashing with QPR at the DW, and Swansea grappling Norwich (wow, I need a better thesaurus for words that means "facing in a sporting event"...) in Wales.

Sunday includes two matches moved due to the Europa League teams playing on Thursday, including Spurs away to Everton at Goodison Park and Liverpool away to West Ham in East London. The marquee match comes earlier in the day, the Manchester derby, at Eastlands.

Monday Night Football on Sky Sports sees Newcastle face Fulham at Craven Cottage. Oooooooh.

The reverse of these fixtures will be played the weekend of April 6-7.

Meanwhile, Sunderland v. Reading, postponed during the second week of the season, has been rescheduled for Tuesday night at the Stadium of Light.