Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool: Mirror Images

I frequently post on the message forums of one of the larger Arsenal blogs out there. Earlier this season, I posted something to the effect of how we used to laugh at Liverpool, but really, we are them now. At the time, I got roundly slaughtered for it, despite all evidence to the contrary. Well, here we sit neck-and-neck in the table, having dropped points to them at home in disappointing and preventable fashion and susceptible to the same indifferent periods in games that costs both of our clubs valuable points.

Oh, except they've significantly strengthened in the transfer window, while we've done nothing to address the gaping holes in the squad.

Of course, our starting XI is fairly good on paper. Aaron Ramsey came into central midfield for Abou Diaby, but otherwise we had our best non-injured players out on the pitch. But, what does us in time and again is a complete inability to grasp the basics of defending. Wojceich Szczesny was largely correct in his Guardian interview the other day about how it isn't the personnel that's the problem -  I guarantee you that if you took Thomas Vermaelen or even Bacary Sagna on current form and stuck them on Bayern Munich tomorrow, they'd recapture their old form inside of a month.

I bet you could take Andre Santos...ahh, hell. Who am I kidding?

They're here though, and inside of five minutes they conceded one of the stupidest goals of the Premier League season. A standard attack down the left led to Luis Suarez miskicking a pass to Glen Johnson. Sagna had a one-car accident, falling over and allowing Johnson in. Per Mertesacker should have been quicker to come over to help, but Johnson got his low cross in. Vermaelen tried a flying kung fu clearance that got nothing but air, letting Daniel Sturridge in alone. Szczesny stayed composed and made a wonderful save to keep it out. The rebound came to Ramsey who made a ridiculously poor attempt to clear. Mertesacker was again slow to close down Suarez, who tucked it into the net - replays showed that Per had deflected it in and wrong-footed poor Szczesny.

That is, by my count, six catastrophic individual defensive mistakes - three by a player with over 80 caps for Germany, one by the man who was until recently the best right back in the country, and one by a man who was known as a fearsome defensive stopper for his last club.

Something is seriously wrong here. Training, coaching, mentality...probably some combination of all three, really. That is all on the manager. All of it.

Less than a minute later, a raking diagonal pass from Jack Wilshere sprung Theo Walcott in completely alone. The angle was a bit tight though, and Pepe Reina covered it well in the Liverpool goal.

It so easily could have been 0-2 a while later, Szczesny guilty of an ill-advised Cryuff Turn in the penalty area. In a sense, I don't blame him though. When you're dealing with Keystone Kops defending like the events of the first goal, you can lose your head as a goalkeeper sometimes, and try too much to take the law into your own hands.

Arsenal did control much of the play afterwards though, and Reina had to be sharp again to claw out another decent effort from Walcott. The passing and movement from the home side was largely there, but more often than not the Liverpool defense did just enough to deal with the threat.

They were dangerous on set pieces though, and soon before the hour Szczesny flapped badly at a corner. Luckily, he was bailed out by Lukas Podolski on the goal line. That was soon the least of our worries though, as Kieran Gibbs pulled up short after running for a ball and eventually he had to be substituted. Who knows how long he'll be out, meaning we're treated to the comedy stylings of Santos for a significant period of time. SUPER TOP QUALITY.

It didn't take long for the Brazilian to make an instant impact, as he lagged behind the rest of the defense to allow Stewart Downing to beat the offside trap. He crossed to Jordan Henderson at the edge of the 18-yard box. Szczesny came all the way to the edge of the area, stranding himself. Luckily, Henderson panicked and his chip attempt went harmlessly over the bar. Again, mental goalkeeping whose roots can be found in our Sunday league defending.

The visitors improved after the halftime break, and could have extended their lead further a few minutes into the second 45. Thankfully, referee Kevin Friend correctly applied the intentional handling rule and did not whistle when the ball inadvertently struck Vermaelen on the upper shoulder area. Up the other end, Podolski had a shout for a penalty that was also rightly turned down.

Arsenal were still in it, though, the German hitting a thunderbolt that Jamie Carragher was lucky to block without it making an exit wound. Unfortunately for us, the second goal came out of nothing a few minutes later. Unsurprisingly, Santos was in the midst of it. Sturridge dropped deep to receive the ball, and he played it forward to Henderson. Mertesacker was in attendance, but his pointless lunge was easily evaded. Santos came to help, but was effortlessly brushed off. The initial shot was blocked, but somehow Henderson was first to it despite being outnumbered literally five to one. Ramsey had slid forward and missed everything, the captain jogged back Denilson-style like nothing was wrong, Mertesacker again was found wanting.

I have been an Arsenal supporter since 1992. I have never, ever in my time seen an Arsenal side defend like this. It's astonishing, and it'd be hilarious if it were any other club than the team I support.

It must be said though that the Arsenal refused to give up, as they continued to press the attack. Giroud sent the first warning shot, flashing an effort just wide. Soon after, the home side had pegged a goal back. Johnson put his team under pressure when he fouled Walcott just outside the area. Wilshere sent in a beautiful curling free kick, and Giroud ghosted past the static Daniel Agger to nod home from close range.

He has taken his share of stick this season, but where would we be without our French hitman this season?

Liverpool seemed shaken by loosening their grip on the game so soon after they had it by the throat. Arsenal smelled blood, and pressed forward with urgency. Before they knew what hit them, the Scousers had thrown it all away.

Off a clearance from Carragher, Friend (who had a brilliant game) rightly played advantage when Suarez fouled Walcott. Cazorla and Sagna played a one-two, the Spaniard's resulting through ball eluding the lunge of Steven Gerrard. Giroud smartly tapped it into the path of Walcott, who fired a screamer past Reina, the ball nestling in the net before the Spaniard could so much as think to dive.

As bad as the first half was, we could have gone on to win it. Walcott sent another tracer just wide of the post, while Brendan Rodgers pulled off Sturridge for a defender, Jose Enrique. Liverpool were clearly on the back foot, but Arsenal couldn't find the decisive third goal.

Giroud came the closest, with one effort parried away by Reina and another miskicked after Podolski had fed him a chance on a plate.

The visitors played the rope-a-dope all through the second half, but they nearly nicked it at the death,. A ridiculous slip by the hapless Santos allowed Suarez the run of our penalty area. Szczesny got down low to make the save, and Sagna was able to clear.

The curtain came down on a ludicrous game soon after, leaving us to ponder the aftermath. There are 14 matches left to play, with us in sixth place, three points ahead of Liverpool. Swansea and West Bromwich Albion lurk a point behind them, with this weekend's opponents Stoke trailing a bit further. Needless to say, a home loss to those Neanderthals would be disastrous. Everton's win sees them three points clear of us, the scum down the lane one point better in 4th.

So, there is truly all to play for. Champions League football has not eluded us yet, but even the most ardent Gooner must admit that it is not the foregone conclusion that it has been in seasons past. This team cannot defend worth a good goddamn, and the manager refuses to do anything about it. Andre Santos is now going to get tons of playing time, and the manager refuses to do anything about it. The team hasn't worked out for a good month now that games are 90 minutes long, and you have to play the first 45 and stuff. You guessed it, the manager can't or won't do anything about it.

The potential for 4th is there...but do you have confidence that we'll get there? Unless this nonsense gets cut out of our game and quick-smart at that, I frankly do not.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 6, Gibbs 7 (Santos 4), Vermaelen 5, Mertesacker 3, Sagna 6, Ramsey 6, Wilshere 8, Podolski 8, Cazorla 8, Walcott 8, Giroud 8.

Man of the Match:  Now, this one is actually difficult as our five forward players were equally fantastic on the night. But, despite the several bad misses that could have won us the game, I think it has to go to Olivier Giroud. If he hadn't have scored so soon after Liverpool went up by two, we may never have gotten back into the game. The assist on Walcott's scorcher was exceptional as well.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Liverpool

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, January 30
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Darren England
    • 4th Official: Jonathan Moss
  • Reverse Fixture: Liverpool 0 - 2 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 0 - 2 Liverpool
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 76 Arsenal wins, 82 Liverpool, 55 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-L-L-W
  • Liverpool's League Form: W-L-W-W-L-W
  • Weather: Clear, 8 C / 46 F
Saturday's win at Brighton would have been much more
comfortable if it weren't for those two instances of Arsenal
deciding they didn't feel like defending.
The insanely hectic string of fixtures continues with yet another midweek match; this time, Arsenal faces fellow Top Four contender Liverpool. Arsenal will be playing midweek for the fourth time in the last five weeks, and thankfully avoided another midweek replay with an 85th minute winner over Brighton & Hove Albion at the weekend.

Speaking of the FA Cup, you have to like the fifth round draw of Blackburn at home, considering that as far as I can tell, Rovers are still in a bit of a mess. In addition, only seven Premier League teams remain: Arsenal, both Manchesters, Chelsea (who still face a fourth round replay,) Everton, Reading, and Wigan. Luton Town's gonna win this whole thing, aren't they?

Liverpool's shock loss to Oldham Athletic at Boundary Park means that the Reds are going to be fired up for tonight's encounter at the Emirates. Liverpool need a win desperately in this match, perhaps more desperately than Arsenal, which could be some cause for concern from an Arsenal perspective. We've seen the Gunners start on the back foot far too often in big matches lately (see Manchester City and Chelsea.)

Arsenal have only one league win in the month of January and that was last week against West Ham. Let's end the month with two, shall we? Then we can talk about the lack of transfer moves...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Coquelin (hamstring), Arteta (calf), Fabianski (ankle, I'm pretty sure it's ankle)

Marouane Chamakh's loan time at West Ham has really
changed him.
Team news is a bit of a mixed bag for this one. On the good side, Thomas Vermaelen will return to the side, after missing the weekend after having picked up a knock against West Ham. On the bad side, Mikel Arteta is not yet back from his calf injury, and the perfect-haired Spaniard might be missing from Saturday's visit of Stoke as well. Francis Coquelin is a little farther behind Arteta on the comeback trail, so he will still be short, likely for both.

The last of the injuries is long-term injured Lukasz Fabianski. Arsene Wenger says he's doing well in training, but just needs to get some games in now. I'm going to go out on a limb and say those games are going to be at the reserve level. Honestly, I could not logically see it being otherwise.

As for transfer window signings, bwahahahahaha. Good one.

Meanwhile, David Beckham has been training at Arsenal just to distract everybody.

Liverpool Squad News

Pepe Reina's back. I suppose that's news.
Out: Kelly (knee)
Doubts: Johnson (hamstring), Reina (thigh), Enrique (hamstring)

Liverpool's only long term injury is defender Martin Kelly, who is out until at least the end of March after rupturing his ACL against Manchester United in late September.

Goalkeeper Pepe Reina (thigh) and fullback Glen Johnson (hamstring) are both expected to return to the starting XI after injury, meaning Arsenal won't get to face the same depleted back line that Oldham Athletic put three past at the weekend. Still a doubt is left back Jose Enrique, who might be out a bit longer with his hamstring injury.

Current Form

Matt Smith scored twice for Oldham on
Sunday. I am just pointing out that
even if you specify "Matt Smith soccer"
or "Matt Smith football" on Google, you
still get Doctor Who.
Over the weekend, both Arsenal and Liverpool visited non-Premier League sides in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Arsenal faced Brighton & Hove Albion, seventh in the Championship, and needed a late Theo Walcott winner to take a 3-2 win. Liverpool faced Oldham Athletic, 19th in League One and facing relegation, and lost 3-2, as Matt Smith had a brace. It capped off what was a brutal Sunday for the Premier League in the FA Cup (but a hilarious Sunday for Arsenal fans, as Tottenham lost and Chelsea were nearly eliminated by Brentford.) All that aside, that result means nothing right now. It would be foolish to assume Liverpool would just roll over in a league match.

Liverpool have climbed from 13th place in November to 7th in the table right now, three points back of Arsenal in 6th. Liverpool have won seven of their last 12 games in the league; Arsenal, on the other hand, have won six of 12 in that same time span. However, when you look at the list of teams Liverpool have beaten this season, it's not particularly impressive: Norwich twice, Reading, Wigan, Southampton, West Ham, Fulham, QPR, and Sunderland. By the same token, Arsenal's list isn't that much more impressive: West Ham twice, Liverpool, Southampton, QPR, Tottenham, West Brom, Reading, Wigan, and Newcastle.

A win for Arsenal would mark the third time this season that the Gunners have won three straight across all competitions. They have yet to stretch such a streak as far as four games.

Match Facts

Podolski's first goal in red and white (errr... purple and
black) was Arsenal's first goal of the season.
Liverpool have won just once in the last 10 meetings with Arsenal, across all competitions, dating back to the infamous Champions League match at Anfield in 2008. Four of those 10 meetings were draws, with Arsenal winning the other five.

Arsenal won the reverse fixture in the third week of the season, at Anfield, 2-0. At the time Arsenal had played two 0-0 draws against Sunderland and Stoke, while Liverpool had lost to West Brom but drawn Manchester City. Lukas Podolski finally broke through to score in the 31st minute, while Santi Cazorla added his first as a Gunner in the 68th. That match broke a streak of four straight meetings between the sides that included a second half injury time goal.

This match last season stands as Liverpool's only win over Arsenal since April 8, 2008. It, of course, came at a time when Arsenal was in a bit of shambles. It was days before Arsenal sold Samir Nasri to City (recall, Nasri actually played that game.) Laurent Koscielny was forced off through injury after a quarter of an hour, forcing Ignasi Miquel off the bench. Emmanuel Frimpong was sent off for a second yellow card by Martin Atkinson in the 70th minute (the first yellow was harsh, but the second could have been straight red.) Liverpool got the breakthrough in the 76th minute, as a bizarre deflection resulted in an Aaron Ramsey own goal. Luis Suarez added an insurance goal in injury time against the ten man Gunners.

The Referee

John Terry no doubt being a racist
here. Or something...
The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. Arsenal have seen Friend twice this season, and both were goalfests, as the Gunners hit six past Southampton in a 6-1 win in September and seven past Reading in that bonkers 7-5 League Cup tie in October. Arsenal did not see Friend at all last year; the year prior, he worked his first two Arsenal matches: a 3-0 win over Wigan and the 1-1 FA Cup draw at Leyton Orient.

Liverpool have had Friend once this season, in November, when they comfortably beat Wigan 3-0 at Anfield. The Reds have won three straight with Friend in the middle, including a comprehensive 4-1 win over Chelsea at Anfield last year. Their road record with Friend last season, however, includes losses at Fulham and Bolton.
  • Arsenal's All-Time Form with Friend: W-D-W-W
  • Liverpool's Last Six with Friend: W-L-L-W-W-W
Around the League
  • Tuesday: Aston Villa 1 - 2 Newcastle United
  • Tuesday: Queens Park Rangers 0 - 0 Manchester City
  • Tuesday: Stoke City 2 - 2 Wigan Athletic
  • Tuesday: Sunderland 0 - 0 Swansea City
  • Wednesday: Everton v. West Bromwich Albion; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Wednesday: Norwich City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Wednesday: Fulham v. West Ham United; Craven Cottage, London
  • Wednesday: Manchester United v. Southampton; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Wednesday: Reading v. Chelsea; Madejski Stadium, Reading

Brighton & Hove Albion 2-3 Arsenal: Late Heroics

The trophy hunt is still alive, despite the best efforts of a game Brighton side - and the worst efforts of our reserve left-back.

There was plenty of rotation from the manager today; Laurent Koscielny, Andre Santos, Carl Jenkinson and Tomas Rosicky all getting rare starts. That gave us, for once, an especially strong bench to call upon should the need arise.

The main team news for Brighton, for the untrained eye, was the presence of former Manchester United goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak on the bench. The poor guy can't get a game no matter where he goes, Danish stopper Casper Ankergren preferred to him on this occasion.

The first quarter hour was quiet, holding true to recent form for Arsenal. Brighton defended well, and set out their stall to attack at pace when the opportunity arose. The Seagulls had the first scoring chance of the match, as Ashley Barnes took advantage of a poorly-executed offside trap. He was in alone on Wojceich Szczesny, but the Polish stopper was off his line in a flash to cut down the angle. That was a superb save.

When you play this game often enough (don't laugh - no matter what level you play at, it's the same sport with the same rhythms and patterns), you start to notice the common themes in matches like this. A great save on one end will often spark that team to go up the other end and score. Such was the case today.

The Gunners broke at pace down the right wing, Brighton struggling to keep up. The ball was played centrally to Lukas Podolski, who had cut in from the left. The German fed Olivier Giroud with a hockey-style drop pass, and the Frenchman took advantage of the space to curl a beauty over Ankergren and into the top corner.

The visitors were comfortable for a decent stretch after the goal, but the usual arrogance set in after a while. Brighton had a goal chalked back for offside, Santos' giveaway leading to the chance. Szczesny did well to beat away the cross, and thankfully it came to Leonardo Ulloa in an offisde position.

It hasn't been Arsenal's strong point to learn from mistakes this season though, and two minutes later the Seagulls were level. Szczesny is going to get slaughtered for this by many people, all of whom are idiots. The marking scheme on a corner kick has to have someone guarding the front of the goalkeeper, Per Mertesacker failing to do so this time. Barnes ghosted through the center and nodded home an unmarked header from a few yards out.

I am forever amazed at the amount of people paid to commentate on this game who lack the most basic understanding of it.

An injury to Gordon Greer soon after meant that the mighty Gary Dicker had to come on as a sub for Brighton. I know, I know, I'm 34 years old going on 9. It's still funny, though.

Much like the West Ham match, Arsenal went into the dressing room locked at 1-1 after playing a largely decent half of football. This time, though, the opposing goal was stupid and preventable. Still, the men in red were not discouraged and only a decent stop from Ankergren prevented us from taking the lead. Soon after, Podolski hit the crossbar on a free kick. You can't say the team was lacking in intent.

The goal was always coming, and with Giroud in this kind of form it's not surprising that it came from him. It didn't look all that threatening at the time, but Abou Diaby's scooped pass over the top caught Brighton's defense out. Giroud did fantastically well to even knock it down, but he still had all to do at that point. The angle was tight, Ankergren rushed out (though he didn't make himself as big as he could have), and there was only a split-second window for Giroud to act. He found it though, threading the ball past the advancing keeper and inside the near post.

There may be prettier or more emphatic goals, but there are few that are harder to convert than that one was. That was sheer brilliance from Giroud to score there.

He could have had his hat trick shortly thereafter, but Ankergren was sharp to deny him. How important that could have been, especially since the home side were level a minute later. Again, the Arsenal defense was shoddy in allowing a preventable goal. Brighton attacked down their right, with Santos woefully out of position, a full 10 or 12 yards away from his mark. The cross came in, and Mertesacker was easily beaten to the ball by Ulloa, who nodded home from close range.

I keep using the Sunday league analogy, but I would give my 7-a-side team hell if we conceded one like that.

At least Arsene knew that changes needed to be made. First, the rusty Rosicky and the anonymous Oxlade-Chamberlain were withdrawn for Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. A few more defensive mistakes later (thankfully not punished by Brighton), Santos was mercifully removed for Kieran Gibbs. It took a bit for Wilshere to find his way into the game, but soon enough the Man Who Should Be Captain gave Arsenal the drive to win the game.

Also, it should be mentioned that shortly after Gibbs came on, I turned to our own Brett Chase and told him that we'd win the game. Like I keep saying, you play this game long enough (at any level), and patterns will sometimes jump out at you. I've been in games like this before, on the winning and losing sides. I knew this was going to be 3-2, and I wasn't disappointed.

Giroud had another decent chance for his hat trick, but the ball took a bad bounce off the ground and went over the bar. It was always coming though, and Walcott came through in the 86th minute. The fantastic Giroud was in the thick of it though, causing all sorts of bother on a corner kick. Ankergren got a decent enough punch to it, but it only went as far as Walcott on the edge of the area. He hit a first-time shot that the Danish keeper could only awkwardly punch into his own net.

One day, I will tire of being right. Today is not that day.

Arsenal comfortably saw out the dying stages of the match, and will join an interesting field in the last 16 of the competition. Both Manchester sides loom in the distance, as will Chelsea in all likelihood (though I should say that Brentford are my lower-league team - I've even been to Griffin Park to see a 2-1 win over Chester City back in 1998. I'll be hoping for an upset from the Bees).

Either way, we're alive...and that's all we can ask for. I mean, we could be in Norwich City's shoes, right?

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Santos 2 (Gibbs 7), Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 5, Jenkinson 6, Diaby 7, Ramsey 7, Podolski 7, Rosicky 7 (Wilshere 7), Oxlade-Chamberlain 6 (Walcott 8), Giroud 8

Man of the Match: This one is a no-brainer. Two goals and fantastic hold-up play from Olivier Giroud makes this one of the easier awards in recent memory.

Preview by Numbers: Brighton & Hove Albion v. Arsenal, FA Cup Fourth Round

American Express Community Stadium, Brighton
Saturday, January 26
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Simon Bennett and Ron Ganfield
    • 4th Official: Anthony D'Urso
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 9 Arsenal wins, 2 Brighton wins, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Drew Swansea 2-2. Won replay 1-0.
  • Brighton's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Newcastle 2-0.
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: W-W-D-L-L-W
  • Brighton's Championship Form: D-L-W-W-D-D
  • Weather: Clouds Increasing and Windy, 8 C / 46 F
Oh, a joke about signing contracts? NOT FUNNY.
Well, hey! Four goals in 11 minutes! That was excellent! You know what would be even more excellent? Winning again!

Yes, it was fantastic that Arsenal won with such a comprehensive second half performance on Wednesday, but that all goes for naught if it doesn't get the ball rolling. There have been many false starts for this Arsenal team this year; it's getting a little late in the season to still not have turned the corner.

We turn our focuses to the FA Cup (with Budweiser!) again this weekend, as Arsenal takes a trip to the seaside to face Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion, who themselves easily handled struggling Newcastle United in the last round.

At least they're not a League Two side; bad things happen when you face a League Two side in the cup. Thankfully, there's only one such squad left, and it's Aldershot Town.

Arsenal Squad News

Okay, I'm not going to dwell on things:
  • Thomas Vermaelen will miss out, after picking up a knock on Wednesday.
  • Mikel Arteta is still out with a calf injury.
  • Gervinho is still at the Africa Cup.
  • Lukasz Fabianski remains on a milk carton. 
  • Tomas Rosicky: question mark.
  • Abou Diaby: rested? illness? who knows?
  • Rotation: Probably? I can't even be sure.
  • New signings? Surely, you jest.
Brighton Squad News

Defender Bruno may be returning from an Achilles injury.
Let's see... what to say about Brighton & Hove Albion's squad that you might not know...

Well... they have ex-Manchester United Tomasz Kuszczak in goal. He signed on a free this summer after a loan spell at Watford last spring. The last time he faced Arsenal, Emmanuel Adebayor scored an 86th minute to give the Gunners a 1-0 win at Old Trafford.

THEY HAVE WAYNE BRIDGE ON LOAN! He's made 26 appearances for the Seagulls so far this year, scoring three to date. Craig Mackail-Smith leads the team in scoring, with 11 goals in league play this season (he scored six goals in four games earlier in the season.) They have a defender who is just named Bruno. I can only assume it's the Sacha Baron Cohen character. He has an Achilles injury, returned to training this week, and could still be short.

Spanish midfielder Vicente returned from a long-term thigh injury with a substitute's appearance recently. Brighton signed Argentinian striker Leonardo Ulloa last week.

Current Form

More of the same, please.
Well, you can't say that the 5-1 win over West Ham was a turning point yet, because it's just one win, lovely as it might have been to score four goals in 11 minutes. The fact is, Arsenal have not won consecutive games since the end of December. That streak, which included wins over Reading, Wigan, and Newcastle, was one of only two Arsenal winning streaks of three games this season. They have yet to win four in a row, across all competitions. Only then can you start talking about turning corners. The 1-0 win over Wigan last month remains the last time Arsenal got a win away from home. Since then, they have drawn at Southampton and Swansea and lost at Chelsea.

Despite having sat at the top of the Championship table a few times this season, Brighton & Hove Albion are currently in seventh, four points back of Watford for the final play-off spot. Since a December 1 loss to Crystal Palace, Brighton have lost just once, but it was at home and to Watford (and Manuel Almunia!) After the loss to Palace, Brighton continued to struggle; the loss to Watford was their fifth straight without a win in the Championship, following draws with Charlton Athletic, Nottingham Forest, and Millwall. In the New Year, Brighton bounced back with wins over Ipswich Town, Derby County, and their third round 2-0 win over Newcastle United. That three match winning streak was snapped with road draws against Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers.

Match Facts

The last time Arsenal faced Brighton, the match winning
goal was scored by Perry Groves.
Arsenal have not met Brighton & Hove Albion in a competitive fixture since 1988, so there is not much present day relevance to this section. But, in case you're curious, here's what's happened between the two sides so far:

Arsenal's first meeting with Brighton came in the FA Cup in 1935, with Arsenal winning 2-0 away. The sides did not meet again until 1979, when Brighton was promoted to the top flight. In 1979/80, the two sides managed to meet five times, thanks to an FA Cup tie and a League Cup tie that required a replay. Brighton did not score in any of the five matches. Both league meetings came first (oddly,) with Arsenal winning 4-0 away and 3-0 at home. In the League Cup, the sides drew 0-0 in Brighton before Arsenal won the replay 4-0 at home. Then, in the FA Cup, Arsenal won 2-0 at Highbury, en route to a final they would lose to second tier West Ham.

In 1980/81, Arsenal won 2-0 at home and 1-0 away. In the first meeting of 1981/82, the sides drew 0-0, before Brighton finally got a win against the Gunners, 2-1 at home on April 10, 1982. It took 10 matches for Brighton to finally score a goal against Arsenal.

Those goals continued to come, as Brighton won the first meeting the following season, 1-0. Arsenal won at home later in the year, 3-1, and Brighton were relegated. The only other meeting since Brighton's 1983 relegation was an FA Cup tie in January of 1988, which Arsenal won 2-1 in Brighton.

That means in 13 total matches, Arsenal have outscored Brighton 24-5.

The Referee

"What do you want from me? I'm like five years old!"
The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal have seen Oliver just once this season, for the 1-1 draw at Everton. He has taken charge of two Championship matches, but neither involved Brighton. Arsenal struggled with Oliver in the 2010/11 season, as I have noted in the past that he appeared "out of his depth" at the time, but split results with him last season (a win over West Brom and a loss at Swansea.) While Swansea were the better side on the day in that match, I do recall that their first goal came from a controversial penalty.

Oliver took charge of one Brighton match last season, when they hosted Liverpool in the third round of the League Cup. Liverpool won 2-1, with Brighton merely scoring consolation from a penalty in injury time. As far as I can tell, that's the only Brighton match he has worked in his career.

Then again, he only turns 28 next month.
  • Arsenal All-Time with Oliver: L-L-W-L-D
  • Brighton All-Time with Oliver: L
Around the Fourth Round

32 teams remain in the FA Cup. 14 are from the Premier League, 11 are from the Championship, 4 are from League One, 1 is from League Two, and 2 are from Conference National.
  • Friday night: Millwall v. Aston Villa; The Den, London
  • Saturday (early): Stoke City v. Manchester City; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Bolton Wanderers v. Everton; Reebok Stadium, Bolton
  • Saturday: Derby County v. Blackburn Rovers; Pride Park Stadium, Derby
  • Saturday: Huddersfield Town v. Leicester City; John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Barnsley; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Macclesfield Town v. Wigan Athletic; Moss Rose, Macclesfield
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Aldershot Town; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Luton Town; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. Milton Keynes Dons; Loftus Road, London
  • Saturday: Reading v. Sheffield United; Madejski Stadium, Reading
  • Saturday (late): Manchester United v. Fulham; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Sunday (early): Brentford v. Chelsea; Griffin Park, London
  • Sunday (not as early): Leeds United v. Tottenham Hotspur; Elland Road, Leeds
  • Sunday (late): Oldham Athletic v. Liverpool; Boundary Park, Oldham

Arsenal 5-1 West Ham United: Ten Irresistable Minutes

It is no understatement to say that Arsenal's season would have been in irreparable tatters had they come away with anything less than three points today. Briefly, it looked like West Ham might pull off the upset. That fleeting fear dissipated first thanks to an immediate reply, and then more emphatically amidst a maelstrom of second-half strikes.

Needless to say though, the euphoria of the win was blunted a bit due to the sickening injury suffered by Hammers defender Daniel Potts, sustained in a mid-air collision with Bacary Sagna. I hope I speak for all of us when I wish him a speedy recovery, in the hope that it's just a concussion and not something more serious.

That said, Arsenal struggled out of the blocks once again, though their opponents weren't overflowing with ambition either. I admit to only half-watching here as I tried to regain feelings in my extremities after my own 7-a-side game this evening.

Theo Walcott had the first half-chance, and what looked like a dreadful miss proved to be excellent defending by Guy Demel. No corner kick was forthcoming, of course.

How important that seemed at the time as well, as the Hammers were 1-0 up four minutes later. A corner kick was cleared out by Olivier Giroud, but only as far as James Collison at the edge of the penalty area. All of the red shirts in the area were far too deep, so he strode forward and lashed an unstoppable shot through the forest of bodies and past the helpless Wojceich Szczesny.

Let's be honest with ourselves - what did we all think about where this season was heading when that one went in?

Either way, those thoughts were to be recalibrated four minutes later. Jack Wilshere tapped a pass to Lukas Podolski on the left. Demel stood too far off of him, which gave the German space to one-up Collison with a thunderbolt of his own. Jussi Jaaskelainen was left with no chance whatsoever.

The momentum of the match was firmly with Arsenal, but the Gunners failed to take advantage. Fair play to the West Ham defense, they were disciplined and did well to go into the interval on level terms. They even could have gone in with a lead had it not been for a timely intervention on the goal line. A cross from Demel was poorly cleared out by Sagna, and it deflected to Carlton Cole. The ensuing shot lacked conviction, allowing Szczesny to get a small piece of it off his shoulder. It looked like it might sneak over the line, but Aaron Ramsey and Thomas Vermaelen combined to clear the danger.

The bad news is that the injury sustained in doing so meant that Vermaelen had to be substituted. The good news is that Arsenal were 5-1 up by that point.

The West Ham defense continued their strong play from the first half for all of two minutes after their halftime tea. By the end, they were a disorganized rabble, routed by the men in red.

Giroud started the party off of a corner kick. Per Mertesacker executed a basketball-style pick-and-roll play, distracting James Tomkins long enough for Giroud to run into space and volley it in off the shoulder of Jaaskelainen.

Six entire minutes would elapse until the next goal, but it could easily have been five had Walcott not dallied in the area after a gorgeous long diagonal ball from Santi Cazorla. Directly afterwards, a glorious team goal made it 3-1. Podolski was in the thick of it again, cutting in from the wing. His one-two with Giroud, made possible by the latter's fantastic flick-on, shredded West Ham's defense. A square ball to Cazorla saw the Spaniard bundle it in off of the defender's body.

It's safe to say that we all breathed easier by this point, but Arsenal were just getting started. Less than 60 ticks of the clock later, Jaaskelainen was picking the ball out of his net again. The Hammers pressed far up the field, the defense all at the halfway line. Wilshere's pass to Podolski would have been offside, but the left-back was a good three or four yards behind his mates. Walcott timed his run onto Podolski's diagonal pass perfectly, and smashed one past the Finnish stopper.

Now, the Hammers were all at sea, and overcompensated for the previous mistake by stationing the defense too far back. This left a country-sized gap between their lines, which Wilshere was happy to utilize. He once again found Podolski on the left, and once again Podolski's delivery was exquisite. Giroud gratefully tapped into the net, effectively ending the match as a contest.

Arsenal had several more chances, but wisely didn't overexert too much against a well-beaten opponent. Andre Santos got a rare run-out, and the Ox got a few minutes late on. While it would have been ludicrously funny to see Sam Allardyce's face as an eighth or ninth went in, the relatively serene last 30 minutes of actual gameplay (Potts' injury aside) was for the best.

So, we Gooners feel a tad bit better about life than we had a few days ago. But, consistency is going to be key now. This win won't do that much good if the next four or five results aren't just like it. Hopefully, this emphatic ass-beating gives the side the confidence they need to do exactly that - especially because if there was perhaps a 1.5% chance that the boss would buy someone before the transfer window ended, that has shrunk to zero now.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

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

Man of the Match: Ein Tor. Drei unterst├╝tzen. Lukas Podolski!

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. West Ham United

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, January 23
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Andy Garratt
    • 4th Official: Anthony Taylor
  • Reverse Fixture: West Ham 1 - 3 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 1 - 0 West Ham (October 30, 2010)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 55 Arsenal wins, 33 West Ham wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-D-L-L
  • West Ham's League Form: D-L-L-W-L-D
  • Weather: Cloudy, 2 C / 35 F
Well, Gervinho scored.
Arsenal needs to turn in the right direction and fast. I'm not going to go on any long rants about not making any signings now that we're 23 days into January; that's not really my bag. As your preview writer, my purpose here is to tell you about what to expect on the pitch, not in the boardroom.

Arsenal are quickly working themselves into a position where they cannot continue to drop points in such a wasteful manner. They need to start racking up wins, lest they lose all hope of a top four finish. There's still plenty of time left, but you cannot dig the hole too deep.

This is Arsenal's game in hand; having not played this fixture on Boxing Day is the reason they look a little lower in the table than they should be. That is, they're lower in the table than they should be only if they get a result tonight. Win, and Arsenal are just four points out of fourth.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Coquelin (hamstring), Arteta (calf), Rosicky (calf), Gervinho (Africa Cup), Fabianski (shoulder? ankle?)

In terms of those Arsenal have lost since the Chelsea match, Francis Coquelin is out with a hamstring problem. In terms of those coming back, it appears that Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are both back in training after both battled illness.

Mikel Arteta is still out with a calf injury, which is now at one-and-a-half out of three weeks. Let's hope it's not Diaby "three weeks," though. There's still no word on Tomas Rosicky whatsoever, aside from the fact that Thomas Eisfeld is amused by him:

Ditto the lack of news on Lukasz Fabianski (though, that should not concern you as much.) Meanwhile, Gervinho scored a rather tidy winner against Emmanuel Adebayor's Togo yesterday.

As for the squad to select tonight, well, there has to be some rotation, right? Arsenal have been playing two games a week for a bit now, and that's not going to ease up any time soon. Abou Diaby needs a rest. Ditto Santi Cazorla. Probably Jack Wilshere too. Basically, the whole midfield. And, some of the defenders. Especially Bacary Sagna, who might been in his worst form yet in red and white.

So, with all that said, I won't be making any squad predictions, again, because I have long given up attempting to read Arsene Wenger's mind.

West Ham Squad News

Out: Carroll (knee), McCartney (knee), Maiga (Africa Cup), Chamakh (loan terms)
Doubts: Collins (hamstring)

Well, Marouane Chamakh can't play. That's something, right?

Welsh defender James Collins faces a late fitness test with a hamstring problem. Andy Carroll is out until February with a knee injury; George McCartney is out until March, also with a knee injury.

Modibo Maiga is on international duty, representing Mali in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Current Form

In 2013, Arsenal now have just one point out of a possible nine in league play, and have now lost consecutive Premier League fixtures for the first time this season, and the first time since losing three in a row last January. The FA Cup replay victory over Swansea means that Arsenal have avoided losing consecutive matches across all competitions yet again, something that has already happened twice this season. Arsenal have scored just five goals in five matches since hitting Newcastle for seven at the end of December. It would be nice to turn this ship around a bit, wouldn't it?

As for West Ham, they have only won twice in their last 13 (11 league matches plus two FA Cup matches with Manchester United.) In this 13 match span, West Ham have only picked up a point on the road on one occasion, with a 0-0 draw at West Bromwich Albion on December 16.

Match Facts

Theo Walcott, in October, preparing to ask for "this many"
wages. I've made that joke before, haven't I?
Arsenal's 3-1 win in the reverse fixture was probably the last point this season we all felt really confident in their abilities. The Gunners were in fifth place at the time, but this win meant they had rebounded nicely from a disappointing 2-1 loss to Chelsea. After the win over West Ham, an international break followed. Then, Arsenal lost to Norwich, and the wheels fell off.

In that match at Upton Park, Arsenal controlled the opening exchanges, but the Hammers struck first against the run of play, as Mohamed Diame hit a wonderful strike. Arsenal were level at halftime, thanks to Olivier Giroud's first league goal, and the Gunners pulled ahead in the second half, with goals from Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla.

Arsenal won this fixture 1-0 the last time it was played, in late October 2010. It took 88 minutes for Arsenal to find the breakthrough that day, which they did through an Alex Song header. Arsenal have now won five straight against West Ham, across all competitions, and are unbeaten in ten. West Ham's last win over Arsenal marked the first time a visiting team had ever won at the new Emirates Stadium, in 2007. Bobby Zamora scored just before halftime and West Ham held on to win 1-0.

The Referee

He looks so utterly distraught here. Did he have to give
a penalty against United at Old Trafford, or something?
The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner. This is the first time Arsenal will see Andre Marriner this season. Last year, Arsenal split the four matches he worked for them, with two wins and two losses. There were a combined 26 goals scored in those four games. Those two losses, however, came against the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic.

Marriner has worked one West Ham match this year, a 3-1 loss at Tottenham. Marriner took charge of no West Ham matches last season, while the Hammers were in the Championship.
  • Arsenal's Last Six with Marriner: W-D-L-W-W-L
  • West Ham's Last Six with Marriner: L-L-D-L-W-L
Around England
  • Tuesday, League Cup Semi-Final: Aston Villa 2 - 1 Bradford City (Bradford City wins 4-3 on aggregate)
  • Wednesday, League Cup Semi-Final: Swansea City v. Chelsea; Liberty Stadium, Swansea (Swansea leads 2-0)

Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal: Late Comeback Falls Short

This result comes down to nothing other than the fact that Arsenal could not be bothered to show up for the entirety of the first half. Anything approaching 90 minutes of full effort would have resulted in at least a point today, and likely all three. A listless first 45 minutes combined with the ever-present schoolboy defending instead saw us come home with nothing.

I don't understand it. I don't understand how an entire side can come into a match of this magnitude this unprepared mentally to play. I do understand that as a one-off, these things happen. But when it happens with the frequency that it happens from Arsenal, it speaks volumes about the character of the players on the pitch and the manager who is supposed to get the best out of them.

I honestly believe it will take a miracle to finish 4th now.

This time, it wasn't about team selection. The eleven that eviscerated Swansea City started this match as well, which was clearly the right decision (the usual caveat about Santi Cazorla being played into the ground aside). It's not like we have much else in the way of options anyway.

Matches like this often turn on a single moment, and indeed the 4th minute saw that moment come our way. Theo Walcott created the chance, fresh off of signing da ting. Side note: I had meant to write something here outlining my thoughts on his contract, but could not find the time. Short version - it's far too much money but my sense is that we had to stop the bleeding as far as big-name players leaving the club. Much like when Chelsea and Manchester City first got their benefactors, they had to overpay for the first wave of players that they signed. Likewise, we had to do the same to get that first player to stay. We continue.

Olivier Giroud ran onto Walcott's pass, and had a clear sight of goal. Mitigating factors were there - it was a tight angle, and there were a few defenders in semi-attendance. But, a top-level striker hits the target in that situation. Perhaps it goes in, maybe Petr Cech saves it. What a top-level striker does not do is screw a tame shot hopelessly wide. That's Giroud in a nutshell. He's a good player, but not a great one.

That's Arsenal in a nutshell. We're a good side, but emphatically not a great one.

Chelsea are arguably also not a great side, but they are a good one and they were at home. Despite the odd choice to start Fernando Torres instead of Demba Ba (my theory is that the weather and field conditions decided that for Rafa Benitez), they have a frightening attacking midfield trio and they were the ones to make us pay.

The excellent Cesar Azpilicueta played a long ball which was run on to by Juan Mata. Bacary Sagna was playing ridiculously high up the pitch, and Mata exploited the gap perfectly. He took a touch and walloped an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. It was a fantastic finish, but basic positioning and competence from Sagna would have prevented it. So, while Francis Coquelin was undoubtedly fouled in the build-up and thus the goal should not have stood, we can't claim much in the way of sympathy either.

Szczesny did well a few minutes later to repel Mata after the Spaniard had effortlessly weaved through the entire Arsenal defense, but there was little he could do to avoid conceding a penalty a few minutes later. Abou Diaby did poorly to give the ball away in the center of the park, and Chelsea were away. Torres passed to Mata, who left Thomas Vermaelen for dead. The cutback came to Ramires, who was in completely alone. Not only was Per Mertesacker guilty of ball-watching and cutting too far inside, but Sagna was once again absolutely nowhere to be found. Szczesny came out and mistimed his challenge. The replay showed minimal or no contact, but that's a difficult call for the referee in real time.

Frank Lampard took the penalty, and was as clinical as ever.

That proved to be too large of a deficit to overcome for the Gunners. The job may have been easier if our first goal had come in the first half, but even conceding two early goals did not spark Arsenal to life. Torres could have extended the lead further in the waning seconds of the half, but his finishing failed him for the umpteenth time.

As far as Arsenal goes, where do you begin to describe that half? Our erstwhile target striker was constantly outmuscled by his markers. Cazorla looked jaded once again. Diaby and Coquelin were an ineffectual Maginot line, Chelsea's attackers simply going around them by exploiting the flanks. Sagna, as mentioned, was Sunday-league standard.

If ever a match was crying out for all three subs to be used at halftime, this was it. Not only were there many passengers out on the pitch, but it would have sent a message to the squad that such listlessness will not be accepted. Instead, of course, the manager made no changes. I'll put my money where my mouth is - I would have withdrawn Sagna, Diaby and Giroud and replaced them with Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey and Andrey Arshavin.

Speaking of which, look at this bench. I mean, just bloody look at it:  Mannone, Jenkinson, Ramsey, Arshavin, Koscielny, Santos, Frimpong.

Whenever the boss witters on about "super top quality", he is trying to sell us on the idea that he cannot locate better players than these men. Turn that over in your mind for a few seconds.

That said, whatever the boss said to the squad during the halftime break worked, as they came out with intensity and purpose. We can all be forgiven, I think, for asking why those words weren't said 45 minutes previously.

There were a few fits and starts, Cech saving comfortably on a few occasions. The goal did come on the hour mark though, Walcott going some way towards justifying the new contract. Torres was caught in possession, and Arsenal were away. Cazorla arced a perfect ball over the Chelsea backline. Walcott ran onto it, took a touch, and coolly chipped it over Cech and in.

Arsenal had their tails up now, and belatedly Arsene did make two changes. Ramsey replaced the injured Coquelin, while Arshavin came on for Diaby. Neither got into the flow of the match, though in Ramsey's case it was mainly down to how little we went through the center. Arshavin did show some effort, but he was no danger to the home side. I don't blame him, though. He's been frozen out for months now, and all of a sudden the boss is asking him to do a job against a top team on the road.

Again, this is a function of squad depth, which is supposed to be a function of the manager. I apologize for being a bit of a broken record here, but I report what I see. 

The last half-hour played out with Arsenal often in possession, but unable to apply tangible pressure on their opponents. I don't recall Cech having to make a serious save from that point on. The home side were happy to concede a long succession of corner kicks, and there were a several free kicks from the edge of the area as well. The guys who are supposed to be the threat in those situations - Giroud and Mertesacker in particular - were found desperately wanting. I don't exaggerate when I say that Chelsea could comfortably have defended 500 of those set pieces without ever looking like conceding.

When Demba Ba did come on with 10 minutes to play, he should have killed the game off. Arsenal were pressing for the equalizer, and Chelsea were able to get him in behind. Szczesny bizarrely came out of his area, and was easily rounded. Vermaelen did fantastically well to block the shot, but how Ba didn't just roll it to either side of him is a mystery.

The Belgian was less effective on the other half of the pitch, wasting a late free kick uselessly wide. Is he honestly our best option to take those? I understand we can ask that question about a lot of things, but this in particular irks me.

In the beginning of this report, I outlined a few things I don't understand. Here is one more: What does the manager see in this squad and in our situation that gives him his unshakeable belief that we don't need reinforcements? The situation is dire. Six losses and seven draws in 22 league games. We stand in sixth place, a full seven points behind our nearest and dearest in 4th place. Chelsea are four further points clear in 3rd place. I took a little stick earlier this season for saying we're Liverpool now, but look who's there tied in points with us (West Brom too, since we're on the subject).

Trouble is coming, and this season I don't know if anyone is manning the watchtowers.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 5, Gibbs 7, Vermaelen 7, Mertesacker 5, Sagna 3, Diaby 5 (Arshavin 6), Coquelin 7 (Ramsey 6), Cazorla 6, Wilshere 7, Walcott 7, Giroud 5

Man of the Match:  Not much to choose from today, so Theo Walcott for the goal.

Preview by Numbers: Chelsea v. Arsenal

Stamford Bridge, London
Sunday, January 20
8:30 a.m. EST, 13:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Stephen Child and Charles Breakspear
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 2 Chelsea
  • This Match, Last Year: Chelsea 3 - 5 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 71 Arsenal wins, 55 Chelsea wins, 52 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-D-L
  • Chelsea's League Form: W-W-W-L-W-D
  • Weather: Cloudy, 0 C / 32 F
Another quick preview this time around, considering I feel like Arsenal just played the other day, and there isn't much more to say.

Jack Wilshere: WOO.

Arsenal Squad News
  • There really is not much injury news, is there? Considering Arsenal just played on Wednesday...
  • Laurent Koscielny returns from his one match ban; I would hope he does not start.
  • As for other injuries, I am working on the assumption that Arsenal is still without Mikel Arteta (calf), Tomas Rosicky (calf), and Lukasz Fabianski (something...)
  • Otherwise, I see no reason why there would be a change to the starting XI from Wednesday, considering there wasn't really any rotation and considering how positive the forward shift of Jack Wilshere in the midfield turned out.
  • There is a 99% chance of Theo Walcott signing a contract. I'll believe it only when they complete the photo shoot to go along with the article for the official site.
Chelsea Squad News
  • Yossi Benayoun was on loan to West Ham before pulling a ligament in his knee, which ended the loan spell. He is back at Chelsea retrieving treatment.
  • Romeu, Romeu, where for art thou Romeu? Oriol Romeu is out for the season with a knee injury.
Current Form
  • Arsenal's 1-0 win over Swansea on Wednesday was their first victory of the 2013 calendar year. It snapped a three match winless streak, which included road draws with Southampton (1-1) and Swansea (2-2) and a home loss to Manchester City (2-0.)
  • This season, Arsenal has a record of three wins, one draw, and one loss in London derbies. Only the win against West Ham was played away from home.
  • Chelsea have yet to win at Stamford Bridge in 2013. They have lost 1-0 to QPR, 2-0 to Swansea in the League Cup semi-final first leg, and on Wednesday, blew a 2-0 lead to draw Southampton 2-2. In their two road matches of 2013, they have outscored their opponents 9-1, winning both.
  • Chelsea's record in London derbies this season is two wins, two draws, and two losses. They managed one point out of a possible six against Queens Park Rangers. They lost to West Ham at Upton Park. They drew Fulham at the Bridge. Their wins came against Arsenal and Tottenham, both away from home.
  • In domestic competitions under Rafael Benitez, Chelsea have six wins from seven games away from home and one win from six at Stamford Bridge.
Match Facts
  • Arsenal had been unbeaten in three straight matches against Chelsea before losing 2-1 at the Emirates in September.
  • Chelsea undid Arsenal via set pieces in that match; Fernando Torres beat Laurent Koscielny to deflect in a Juan Mata free kick to put Chelsea up 1-0 in the first half. At 1-1, another Mata free kick was turned into the net by Koscielny himself. Gervinho had the goal for Arsenal.
  • This match last year was bonkers. Chelsea led 2-1 at halftime before Andre Santos and Theo Walcott put Arsenal up 3-2. Juan Mata equalized in the 80th, but then John Terry fell down, allowing eventual traitor Robin van Persie to put Arsenal up again with his second of the match. The Dutchman completed his hat trick in injury time to put the game away, 5-3.
  • Last year's 5-3 was Arsenal's first win at Stamford Bridge since 2008.
  • Prior to Arsenal's recent three match unbeaten run over Chelsea, the Blues had won five straight over the Gunners.
The Referee
  • The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson.
  • Atkinson was in charge of the reverse fixture between these two sides in September. Sean's recap of that match notes that Atkinson had a dreadful first quarter of an hour from an Arsenal fan's perspective, but evened out in the end.
  • The 2-1 loss to Chelsea is the only Arsenal match Atkinson has worked this season.
  • Atkinson has worked one other Chelsea match: their 3-1 loss to West Ham United at Upton Park in early December.
  • Atkinson has shown more yellow cards (100) than any other Select Group official this year, though he has only shown one red.
  • Arsenal's Last Six with Atkinson: D-D-L-W-W-L
  • Chelsea's Last Six with Atkinson: D-D-D-W-W-L
Around the League
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. Norwich City; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Fulham; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Reading; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Stoke City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Queens Park Rangers; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday: Wigan Athletic v. Sunderland; DW Stadium, Wigan
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Aston Villa; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Sunday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Manchester United; White Hart Lane, London
  • Monday: Southampton v. Everton; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton

Arsenal 1-0 Swansea City: Moment of Magic

Arsenal spent 80 minutes politely knocking on Swansea City's door, an endeavor that shouldn't have been necessary with a 2-1 lead after a similar timeframe in the last game. That didn't work, so the Man Who Should Be Captain took a sledgehammer to the thing, ensuring safe passage to Brighton & Hove Albion in the 4th round.

The starting lineup was an interesting one. Olivier Giroud led the line, with Theo Walcott on the wing, along with Santi Cazorla. That is the first I can remember of the little Spaniard not playing through the center, Jack Wilshere occupying that role on the night. Abou Diaby got another start, Francis Coquelin beside him.

I am usually the first to criticize the manager when he gets it wrong, but he got it right today. Diaby and Coquelin protected the back four well, and gave the attacking players a platform from which to work. The Gunners largely dominated the match, though it should be noted that the Swans didn't foster much resistance. Michael Laudrup decided to rest Michu, and his team in turn had no focus to the few attacks they mustered.

The early exchanges were subdued, but eventually Arsenal took the initiative. They may not have been the fully-fluent Arsenal at their best - they may have forgotten some of the words, but the melody was there. Swansea's midfield was non-existent, but their backline kept our forwards corralled. It didn't help our cause that the final ball was consistently poor as well.

Giroud and Walcott both could have done better with early chances, but it was nothing to keep Michel Vorm up at night.

How different would this match have been though if Swansea had put away their best chance of the match in the 26th minute? Wayne Routledge was given far too much space to cross by Bacary Sagna, which has been a weakness of our marking scheme all season. The former Arsenal man Kyle Bartley badly torched Thomas Vermaelen, but his free header luckily hit the crossbar.

Speaking of the captain, his woeful run of form continued. Sure, he had two nice slide tackles in the first half, but his positioning was spotty and he contributed to some heart-in-mouth moments. Several minutes after losing Bartley, he went up for a corner and could have had a good chance had he executed a simple chest trap. The ball ballooned up in the air instead, the opportunity going with it. Later, he would have a better chance, again on a corner. A freak deflection off of Per Mertesacker came to him with the goal at his mercy. He could only shovel a weak shot at Vorm's legs.

What has happened to The Verminator?

Swansea found their sea legs in the latter stages of the first half, but could not fashion any chances for all of their possession. It's nice for that old boot to be on the other foot for once, isn't it? They had an awful time dealing with the Arsenal midfield, who harried them at every opportunity and forced them into a series of giveaways and poor passes.

They weren't the only ones who needed to recalibrate their passing sights, though. Cazorla had his share of misfires, though I think that's down to two things: First, the manager has played him into the ground. Second, much of the time, he plays a ball into space for the target to run onto. His teammates tend to expect it to come to their feet, which of course is part of why we're in offensive stasis so often these days. It's all so static and stationary. 

It has to be said though that Diaby was not any of those s-words. Some of the rust is starting to come off, and his range of passing is improving as well. Early in the second half, he arced a lovely effort over the top to the onrushing Walcott. He was one-on-one with Vorm, and while he was lightly pushed in the back, he should have done much better than a tame dribbler wide.

There were times where it looked like Vorm had a forcefield around his six-yard box. A great spell of pressure from Arsenal on the hour mark should have seen the Dutch keeper picking the ball out of his net, but it ended in more frustration. Coquelin won the ball in midfield, and Wilshere's resulting shot was blocked. The ensuring corner was half-cleared to the excellent Kieran Gibbs, the England man keeping it in with a dazzling bit of footwork along the sideline. Wilshere's second crack was clawed out by Vorm, but the rebound came to the open Walcott. He had time to chest it down and poke it in, but his flying Bruce Lee kick was instead cleared off the line.

Frankly, Walcott was putrid and should have been substituted early in the second stanza. The fact that he wasn't is entirely down to the manager consenting to allow his team selections to be held hostage as part of the contract negotiations. I don't know if this guy is worth it - I've yo-yoed on that point for weeks with no signs of slowing.

His teammates were far more incisive though, Wilshere in particular swashbuckling forward and causing no end of panic. Here was a player leading by example. Meanwhile, Walcott latched onto another long ball, again worked himself some space, and again arced a soft effort wide. I can't help thinking that a player really worth 90,000 a week would have killed this game off long before this point.

For his part, Laudrup decided to replace the ineffectual Danny Graham with Michu, sending shivers down Gooner spines worldwide. Thankfully, the prolific Spaniard never found the rhythm of the match and remained safely on the periphery. The ball was mostly in the visitors' half anyway, Vorm called into action several times on long-range tracers.

His counterpart Wojceich Szczesny could have read a magazine for long stretches of the contest, but he did have to be alert in the 80th minute when Ki Seung-Yung made space on Diaby and fired a long-range effort of his own. Szczesny was at full stretch, but it was always a comfortable save for him. Chico Flores did have a free header from the resulting corner, Giroud at fault this time, but it nestled harmlessly into the side netting.

A few minutes later, the visitors were the ones to receive a lucky break. Sagna beat his man and curled in a perfect cross to the unmarked Walcott at the back post. Unsurprisingly, our contract holdout was unable to get anything on it. Vorm was crossed up by the miss though, and could only watch as the ball bounced off the post and away to safety.

Finally, Arsene made a substitution in the 82nd minute, Aaron Ramsey coming on for the exhausted Diaby. He was playing with extra time in mind for sure, but I would have liked to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain come on for the wasteful Walcott.

The Welshman's first contribution was to provide Walcott with yet another chance, but in fairness this one was at a tight angle. Vorm again blocked with his legs, and we all could be forgiven for wondering if anything would get past this guy. Well, actually, Giroud managed it off the corner kick, but it was cleared off the line by a defender.

I had written "This is a siege now" in my notes at this point, and a goal was still always possible despite Vorm's valiant display. Fittingly, it was Wilshere who showed his teammates the way. A weak clearance was brilliantly charged down by Gibbs, who laid it off to Cazorla. This time, his pass to Giroud was at his feet, and the target man did his job to deflect it into the path of the rampaging Wilshere. The Hopefully Future Captain hit a thundering first-time volley over the dive of Vorm and into the top of the net.

The truth is, we had to have this one. The FA Cup has a talismanic quality for us that is not true for any other side. Sure, the mid-table rabble want to win it because they have so few chances, and the bigger sides will be in the hunt by inertia alone. But, especially given the disgraceful capitulation to Bradford City in the League Cup (made worse by just how badly Aston Villa - who would have been the semifinal opposition - are reeling), every effort must be made to win this trophy.

An honest assessment of the league would say that we are not a factor, and a similar one for the Champions League would indicate that we're going to be on the end of a royal whooping by Bayern Munich. Much has been made by other commentators of how this is our only hope of winning something, and none of them are wrong.

Hopefully, Jack continues to show us the way.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 8, Vermaelen 5, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Diaby 7 (Ramsey 7), Coquelin 7, Cazorla 7, Wilshere 8, Walcott 5, Giroud 6

Man of the Match: Gibbs was awesome and would have had it on any other night, but there is simply no way that anyone other than Jack Wilshere can take the honors today.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Swansea City, FA Cup Third Round Replay

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, January 16
2:30 p.m. EST, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and John Flynn
    • 4th Official: Roger East
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 6 Arsenal wins, 5 Swansea wins, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-D-L
  • Swansea's League Form: L-D-D-W-D-D
  • Weather: Clear, 0 C / 32 F
Sad Jack is sad. And, probably cold...
Sunday was the weirdest Arsenal match I've ever experienced.

Going in, personally speaking, there was a feeling of moderate acceptance even before the match started. I had remarkably low expectations (and that's probably the biggest damnation of the state of Arsenal right now.) A win would have been amazing, even a point would have been great, but I went into that match mentally prepared for a loss. When Laurent Koscielny was sent off before double digit minutes had been played, the last lingering bits of hope for a point vanished. And I, along with many of the others who were at O'Hanlon's for this match, reached a turning point in our cynicism.

The mindset changed drastically. Now, it was more like, "Well, better make the best of a bad situation. Otherwise, it's just sad." For the remaining eighty minutes of the match, we celebrated our status as Gooners and friends. It was all we could do, lest it become like a funeral. And, I have to say, the chant of "We only drink when we're drinking" remains a highlight for me.

When it comes down to it, that's what I love about being a member of the NYC Arsenal Supporters and what I love about sports in general. Sometimes, it's not just about the results, but it's about the camaraderie and the people you meet and spend time with along the way. And while we all wish Arsenal would return to their glory days of the not-so-distant past, well, that's largely out of our control as fans. There is a lot of work that needs to be done for Arsenal to return to that glory and I certainly am not advocating just accepting what has become a dreadful status quo. The system is, quite honestly, broken. We all want success for this club. But, I cannot stand for all of the bickering and in-fighting among supporters.

We're all Arsenal 'til we die; let's make the best of it.

In the interest of brevity this week (and because these are becoming a bit of a chore to write with such fixture congestion,) you'll get bullet points instead of paragraphs until things become a bit lighter.

Arsenal Squad News
  • "Denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity" red cards carry a one match ban, not three. Laurent Koscielny will be available again on Sunday, to score more own goals against Chelsea.
  • Mikel Arteta could miss three weeks of Arsenal losses with a calf injury. Since Arsenal signed Arteta from Everton, the Gunners have won just one of the 11 league games he has missed. They're starting to say the strain is "minor" now, so perhaps it won't be as many as three weeks.
  • Andrei Arshavin takes Arteta's place in the 18-man squad and will likely be as mercurial as possible.
  • Why have we not seen Tomas Rosicky, since he has supposedly returned? Well, it's a calf injury for him, too. He'll miss out for Swansea, but could return to not making the bench on Sunday.
  • Lukasz Fabianski remains out. I think we've all long forgotten what he's even hurt. Shoulder? Ankle? Soul?
  • Somehow, Abou Diaby remains fit. Keep your fingers crossed he stays that way.
Swansea Squad News
  • The Swans have only one injury, as Neil Taylor is out for the season with a broken ankle.
  • So, really, I don't know what else to say in this section...
  • Here are some facts about Swansea:
    • In it's "industrial revolution heyday," Swansea was known for its copper industry, leading to the nickname "Copperopolis."
    • Wait, no, really? Copperopolis? That's absurd.
    • Ummm...
    • Catherine Zeta-Jones is from Swansea.
    • So was Dylan Thomas.
Current Form
  • Arsenal have not won a match in the 2013 calendar year, drawing two and losing one.
  • Arsenal have already lost four times at home this season. The last time they lost more than four times at home in a given season was 1996/97 (Arsene Wenger's first season with the club,) when they lost six home games.
  • Arsene Wenger has never been eliminated from the third round of the FA Cup. You have to go back to January 1996 (and a replay loss to Sheffield United) for the last time Arsenal did not escape the third round.
  • Swansea City have won one out of four matches in the 2013 calendar year, beating Chelsea in their first leg of the League Cup semifinal. They drew the other three.
  • Swansea have not lost since a 1-0 setback against Tottenham on December 16.
Match Facts
  • Swansea have a 4-3 lead in all-time league meetings between the two sides; Arsenal lead in overall cup ties, 3-1.
  • Nothing else has really changed since the last time I wrote this section a week and a half ago, aside from the one extra draw...
The Referee
  • The referee is Tyne & Wear-based Mark Clattenburg.
  • Clattenburg worked this very match-up when it occurred in the league on December 1, the 2-0 Swansea win. This cup replay and that December match mark the only two occasions so far this year in which Arsenal and Swansea have had Clattenburg.
  • Arsenal had won seven consecutive matches with Clattenburg as referee before the December loss.
  • Clattenburg's five red cards this season is joint highest among Select Group officials this year, even though he was removed from duty for a full month.
  • Swansea won both matches last season where they had Clattenburg in the middle.
Around England
  • Tonight, Premier League: Chelsea v. Southampton; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Tonight, Replay: Manchester United v. West Ham United; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Third Round Replays from Yesterday:
    • Birmingham City 1 - 2 Leeds United
    • AFC Bournemouth 0 - 1 Wigan Athletic
    • Brentford 2 - 1 Southend United
    • Leyton Orient 1 - 2 Hull City
    • Milton Keynes Dons 2 - 0 Sheffield Wednesday
    • Stoke City 4 - 1 Crystal Palace
    • Sunderland 0 - 2 Bolton Wanderers
    • Blackpool 1 - 2 Fulham
    • West Bromwich Albion 0 - 1 Queens Park Rangers

Arsenal 0-2 Manchester City: Useless

Part of the difficulty around writing match reports for this season is that you start to run out of different ways to describe the same things. With that in mind, I'm going to go about this a bit differently this week.

Today's word of the day is "callow". And now, a list of things that match that description:

The team selection: Once again, the manager has graced us with an absolutely bizarre squad choice given the magnitude of the game. Where do we even begin? How about the woefully out-of-form Laurent Koscielny selected in central defense ahead of the assured Per Mertesacker? Or, perhaps the mystifying decision to start the rusty Abou Diaby in central midfield? Turning our attention to the bench, where was Tomas Rosicky?

The squad depth: Related to the above, it's not like the boss had given himself tons of options, either. As ever, there is no Plan B. Faced with an opponent boasting the size and power of Vincent Kompany in central defense, the muscle of Edin Dzeko up top and a decent midfield destroyer in Gareth Barry, we're left with the same squad of midgets to combat them that we'd deploy against any other side. I get that this was part of the reason for starting Diaby, but given his lack of match fitness it wasn't that strong of an option.

But, you see, we can't buy any players because there isn't any "super super top quality" in the marketplace.

Of course, what the manager deems to be super quality enough to buy is questionable to begin with. Fun fact: Marouane Chamakh was decided to be unworthy of a place in Morocco's African Cup of Nations squad. Instead, the six (!) strikers they took have a combined number of caps less than our man, including an uncapped kid from something called Raja Casablanca. Super quality!

Also, it should be noted that with the transfer window almost halfway gone, Daniel Sturridge and Lucas Moura have both changed clubs. Either would moonwalk into our first team right now.

The referee:  As much as I'd like to call Mike Dean the worst referee on the Premier League Select list, the existence of Phil Dowd and Mark Halsey prevent me from doing so (though it does lend itself to a Three Blind Mice joke).

Koscielny's idiotic football tackle on Edin Dzeko in the 9th minute was absolutely a penalty kick - no doubt about it. But, how on earth that was a red card, I'll never know. Perhaps by the letter of the law it was, but in that case teams up and down the length of Albion would be down to 5 men by the end of most games. That odious prick Dean couldn't wait to get the card out, though. Thankfully for us, Szczesny came up trumps on the penalty, saving with his legs and then keeping the presence of mind to track the ball off the post and catch it before it could sneak over the line.

Our Polish stopper is one of the few out there who emphatically did not fit in with today's word of the day.

Back to Dean, fair play, he did send off Kompany for a vicious tackle on Jack Wilshere (who was fouled roughly 800 times by City on the day). But, by that point the visitors had enjoyed a man advantage for 66 minutes, and the game was effectively over.

Besides that, he never had control of this match...not for one minute. In a way though, I don't blame Dean - I blame the hierarchy that appoints him to matches that he clearly is not equipped for. I think it says everything that Mike Riley is in charge of the referees these days. He's the same guy as Dean - a bald, sniveling little troll that displayed little aptitude for his chosen profession.

Our home record:  We have lost at home in the league to Chelsea, Swansea and Manchester City to go along with draws with Sunderland and Fulham. That's not even counting the hideous capitulation on display when Schalke '04 came to town. In other words, we have taken 11 out of a possible 24 points from our home matches.

The defense...again: What can you say? Even if we had 11 men on the field, we probably would have lost by the exact same scoreline. The first goal came from everyone in red standing around like idiots while Manchester City took a free kick quickly. The resulting confusion left James Milner all the time and space he needed to lash an unstoppable shot past Szczesny and into the far corner.

The second started with a terrible giveaway from Kieran Gibbs, allowing Milner to cross in. Carlos Tevez should have scored, but Szczesny managed to keep him out at full stretch. The disorganization in our backline meant it was all in vain though, as Dzeko was left unmarked on the back post for the easiest tap-in he'll have in his career.

Same old, same old. Frankly, I don't believe this is a personnel issue, either. All of these guys (and many of those who came before) were solid-to-great defenders at their former clubs. They come to Arsenal, and they regress. Every time. Again, I believe this is down to the manager's insistence on not coaching the defensive side of the ball.

Manchester City:  Yes, least a little bit. Two seasons ago, they came to the Grove with 10 center halves and cowardly played for the 0-0. This wasn't that much different - had we been playing the red half of Manchester, we might easily have conceded in double digits. Their near neighbors were content to faff around the park once they took the 2-0 lead, barely troubling themselves to enter second gear.

Sure, you could argue for keeping something in reserve to bring out when the other mob is actually fighting back. But, those games where you massacre a good team by a clear 5 or 6 goals - those are the ones that other clubs remember when it comes time for them to be the opposition. Why do you think the same no-mark mid-table sides that give us everything we could ask for in turn lie down and die whenever United or Chelsea come to town?

Despite their callowness, at least City can say that they'll have something to play for this season. Us? We're too good (and there are too many dreadful sides) for us to be relegated...but don't think for one second that European football of any kind is guaranteed next season. If we don't get some reinforcements in (and we won't, because super super quality!!!!!!!!), then 8th place or so is not out of the question.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Gibbs 5, Vermaelen 5, Koscielny 4, Sagna 6, Wilshere 8, Diaby 6 (Ramsey 7), Podolski 5 (Giroud 5), Cazorla 5, Oxlade-Chamberlain N/A (Mertesacker 7), Walcott 5

Man of the Match:  Wojceich Szczesny deserves a lot of credit for his determined play in goal today, but I have to give the nod to Jack Wilshere. The young dynamo was the only player in red who provided any kind of attacking impetus, and he did so while getting kicked up in the air all day by a City team left with the freedom to do so by a feckless, incompetent referee.