Arsenal 4-1 Reading: Walkover

Bloody hell, Reading are awful, aren't they?

This was always going to be one of the easier games of the run-in for Arsenal, but few would have imagined that a side fighting for their Premier League lives would display so little ambition and fight. A rampant Gunners side made easy work of them, and frankly should have at least doubled their score on the day.

The boss had some personnel decisions going into the match, mainly around Theo Walcott's injury during the international break and the fact that our weak opponents would allow for some rotation. Nacho Monreal was preferred to Kieran Gibbs at left back, there were starts for Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey, and Gervinho stepped in for Theo.

The visitors managed to win a corner inside of the first 60 seconds, but Arsenal asserted their dominance immediately thereafter. Olivier Giroud reacted quickly to get an early header on goal, but former Gunners keeper Stuart Taylor was there to collect (Side note: Has any man in sports made as much money to do so little as Taylor, the Professional Number Three?).

Not too long after, a perfect minute of applause and song was followed at the Emirates (and the Pig, naturally) in memory of Rocky Rocastle. Reading's away support, in a highly classy move, joined in.

Perhaps the man himself was looking down on the proceedings...if he was, he would have been delighted to see Arsenal take the lead a few minutes afterwards. The Gunners let the ball do the work on this occasion, with a series of passes leaving Reading defenders chasing shadows. Giroud found the overlapping Santi Cazorla on the wing, and the Spaniard's resulting low cross was perfect. Gervinho ghosted in off the shoulder of the last defender and hammered the ball into the empty net.

The early lead was welcome, but the rest of the half would prove to be frustrating. Over and over, Arsenal would carve open what passed for the Reading defense, and over and over the chance would be spurned. Gervinho in particular was wasteful. As many plaudits as he will gain for his tally of a goal and two assists (and he did have a pretty good game), it should be noted that he still lacked end product on far too many occasions. I remain to be convinced that he has turned a corner quite yet, but I'd love to see it happen.

When the Arsenal players weren't missing chances, referee Chris Foy was missing obvious calls. It is a damning indictment of the standard of match officials these days that he is nowhere near the worst in the division. But, he had a horrendous afternoon - evidenced by his failure to award a penalty against Taylor for his challenge on Giroud. Look, I'm a keeper and I give my brethren the benefit of the doubt every time. That collision had to be a good four seconds after the ball bobbled away though.

Later, Cazorla just missed wide, followed by Gervinho blazing a shot over the bar. Somehow, Arsenal trudged into the locker room up by a solitary goal despite their comprehensive dominance.

I would love to know what Reading's new boss, Nigel Adkins, had told his club during the interval. Whatever it was, it didn't work - Arsenal doubled their lead just three minutes after the restart. Gervinho was the provider this time, as he teed up Cazorla at the top of the box. Santi picked his shot through a mass of bodies and threaded it just inside the near post. Taylor had no chance, and the points were effectively won.

Much like the first half, the Royals saw precious little of the ball and accomplished nothing when they had it. There was one instance where Pavel Pogrebnyak had the ball at his feet in the penalty area, but Laurent Koscielny nullified the danger with a brilliant sliding tackle. Alex Pearce was able to get a shot away from the resulting corner, but Lukasz Fabianski held it well.

The third was inevitable though, and Gervinho made up for a horrific cut-back to no one by playing in Giroud a minute later. Giroud's shot was pacy and powerful, but from Reading's perspective Taylor had to stop that. Absolutely shocking goalkeeping.

It's difficult for any side to play 90 perfect minutes, but it was disappointing to see us concede a stupid goal just two minutes after going up 3-0. Fabianski had a nice little shutout streak going, and to lose it through no fault of his own must be galling for him. As has been the case all season, the narrowness of our fullbacks has resulted in a goal against. This time, Bacary Sagna was much too far off of Reading captain Jobi McAnuff, allowing his cross to come in uncontested. Nacho Monreal was torched for pace by Hal Robson-Kanu on the back post, leaving him with an easy tap-in.

Worse, Monreal collided with the post as he slid to try and prevent the goal, and he eventually had to be subbed off for Gibbs. Here's hoping he's not too seriously injured.

Arsene made his last two subs with 15 minutes to go, Giroud and Gervinho making way for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski. Clearly, the boss wanted to kill the game off before Reading had a chance to pull another one back.

He got his wish, and it was AOC in the thick of it as Foy finally awarded us a penalty. He got the ball out on the wing and made one of his trademark surging runs into the area. Adrian Mariappa lost out badly to AOC's pace, and could only foul him as he went by. Replays showed that the contact was outside the area, but swings and roundabouts - we should have had one in the first half.  Mikel Arteta put the penalty kick away, cool as you like.

Arsenal didn't rest on their laurels though, and Taylor was called into action again to fist away a shot by Ramsey. The Welshman hit that one right at the keeper, but his passing and movement were solid on the day.

Foy blew the full-time whistle soon after, and three precious points went into the books for the Gunners. Results elsewhere were mixed - our nearest and dearest saw off Swansea, but Chelsea hilariously managed to lose at Southampton. Still, it looks like our boys are peaking at the right time (in the chase for 4th anyway), and the run-in is piss easy other than Everton and United. I would say at this point that it would be a tremendous disappoint to not finish somewhere in that top four, and should in fact be the minimum expectation.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 7, Monreal 7 (Gibbs 7), Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Arteta 7, Ramsey 7, Cazorla 8, Rosicky 7, Gervinho 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Giroud 7 (Podolski 7)

Man of the Match: Many will say it should be it turns out, many are incorrect. The Ivorian did have a goal and two assists, but Santi Cazorla was the best player on the field.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Reading

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, March 30
11:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Chris Foy
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Dean Richards
    • 4th Official: Mark Halsey
  • Reverse Fixture: Reading 2 - 5 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 2 - 0 Reading (April 19, 2008)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 11 Arsenal wins, no Reading wins, no draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-W-W-L-W
  • Reading's League Form: W-L-L-L-L-L
  • Weather: Mostly Cloudy, 6 C / 42 F
Only nine games to go this season.
Tick tock goes the...... calendar?
Don't you just hate international breaks? There we were, nicely winning big away games against teams that had troubled us at home, Bayern Munich and Swansea, when then suddenly, everyone goes away for almost two weeks, killing the momentum.

We're down to the final nine games of the season. Arsenal are four points back of Spurs with a game in hand (thank you, Dimitar Berbatov.) Of their remaining nine opponents, Arsenal won the reverse fixture against five of them, drawing two (Everton and Fulham, both of which saw Arsenal blowing a lead) and losing two (United and Norwich, oh God, remember losing that game? That was depressing.)

Okay, it seems doable, right? 27 more points up for grabs. Arsenal's odds at finishing Top Four (capitalized because "trophies" are proper nouns) are now higher than Spurs (funny what a few weeks can do.) 70 points on the season would give Arsenal a 94% chance of finishing in the Top Four, so that's, what, seven wins from nine? The odds are still better than 75% even with six wins from nine. Five wins, however, will almost certainly not be enough. And let's also keep an eye on Everton, okay?

So yes, Spurs' recent little tumble has made the numbers a little easier to digest. But you can't go into Saturday's game and take 20 points. It's three at a time. And against 19th place Reading at the Emirates, three points is a must. The Royals are fighting for their lives and they'll have the infusion of a new manager to help.

Let's get back to business, shall we?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Diaby (knee), Walcott (pelvis), Wilshere (ankle)
Doubts: Gibbs (illness)

At least he's back on Twitter, so we can know when he's
making stir fry.
We'll start with the good news, in that Lukas Podolski (ankle) and Bacary Sagna (knee) will both be able to return from their respective injuries. Hooray for options!

On the flip side, Jack Wilshere will need another "two weeks" to rehab his ankle, as Arsene Wenger does not want to rush him back, given his history of injuries. I've still got my fingers crossed that he's not on the "Diaby timetable."

Speaking of Diaby, Arsene Wenger said on Thursday morning that he had "a little problem." By Thursday afternoon, it was a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and he's out nine months. I mean, what do you even say about that? He injured himself in training. It's a shame. That's all you can say. It's such a shame.

Kieran Gibbs has been sick with the flu, so I suspect Nacho Monreal, fresh off his assist against France and his goal against Swansea, will retain his place. Also, out-of-form Theo Walcott, as you know, picked up an injury in England training and will miss at least this match.

Predicted XI: Fabianski, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud.

Reading Squad News

Out: Roberts (hip)
Doubts: Kebe (groin), Federici (ankle)

Reading will have Pavel Pogrebnyak available after he served a three match ban, but he hasn't played a match in five weeks and likely lacks match fitness.

In terms of injuries, the only player certainly missing out is Jason Roberts, who is out for the season after a hip operation. Jimmy Kebe (groin) and Adam Federici (ankle) are both doubts with their respective injuries. On the other hand, Danny Guthrie and Alex McCarthy are both back in training.

Current Form

Oh, wrong kind of form... Sorry, it's been a while.
Can we even talk about form? I feel like it's been a million years since Arsenal played and it's been even longer since the North London derby loss. Arsenal won their last two games on the road by 2-0 scorelines at Bayern Munich and Swansea. I vaguely recall them happening.

As for Reading; they have lost six straight across all competitions, and I guess, yes, that's the kind of thing that can get your manager sacked when you're in a relegation battle. Among those six, they lost at Old Trafford twice, each by a single goal. They lost games at Everton and Stoke. But, the real crushing blows were home losses in relegation six-pointers, including 3-0 to Wigan and 2-1 to Aston Villa. Reading enters the weekend seven points adrift from safety.

Reading have picked up only five points on their travels this season, drawing at QPR and Swansea and winning at Newcastle.

Match Facts

They should throw hats onto the pitch after hat tricks, like in
ice hockey. And then, they should have made Santi wear them.
Across all competitions, Arsenal have played Reading 11 times and won all 11, including two meetings at the Madejski earlier this year. In late October, the two sides met in an absolutely bonkers League Cup tie, which saw Reading go ahead 4-0, only to blow the lead and eventually lose 7-5 in extra time. During that extra time, Reading even allowed Marouane Chamakh to score twice. Yeah.

The sides met at the Madejski again in mid-December, when Arsenal were coming off their cup loss to Bradford City. Lukas Podolski and a Santi Cazorla hat trick put Arsenal ahead 4-0, but Reading scored twice in five minutes to cut the deficit in half after 71 minutes. Theo Walcott's 80th minute goal put the match to bed.

As for their other four league meetings: 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 sides have also met in six cup ties won by Arsenal.

The Referee

"Woah, hey. Slow down there, sparky. I've got this."
I imagine Chris Foy is the kind of person that calls people
"sparky" on the pitch.
The referee is Merseyside-based Chris Foy. Arsenal have seen Foy three times this season and all three were at the Emirates. Those matches include the 0-0 season opening draw with Sunderland, the 7-3 win over Newcastle just before New Year's, and the 1-0 win over Stoke in February. Across those three matches, Foy did not book a single Arsenal player. Last season, Foy worked three Arsenal matches that all ended in draws.

As for Reading, Foy has taken charge of their 1-0 loss at West Brom in September, a 0-0 draw with Norwich in November, and a 4-0 win over Sheffield United in the FA Cup in January.

Foy found himself in the midst of some controversy two weeks ago in a match between Sunderland and Norwich, in which he sent off Canaries goalkeeper Mark Bunn for handling outside of the box after half an hour. Not long after, Foy gave Sunderland a penalty for another Norwich handball, which gave the Black Cats an equalizing goal, in what would go on to be a 1-1 draw. To be fair though, the linesman flagged for the penalty.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Sunderland v. Manchester United; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Newcastle United; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Chelsea; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. West Bromwich Albion; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday: Wigan Athletic v. Norwich City; DW Stadium, Wigan
  • Saturday (late): Everton v. Stoke City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Aston Villa v. Liverpool; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Monday (night): Fulham v. Queens Park Rangers; Craven Cottage, London

The FA's Dereliction of Duty

There are many beautiful and wonderful things in this world that are badly let down by those charged with their stewardship. The Football Association of England, however, staked their strongest claim yet for leadership of that clubhouse with their cowardly and despicable failure to throw the book at Wigan Athletic's Callum McManaman for his brutal attack on Newcastle United's Massadio Haidara.

Some out there may not have seen the incident in question. Here it is, in all its hideous splendor:

I cannot fathom how a sane and just person can see this footage and come to the logical or moral conclusion that nothing untoward has happened. I cannot wrap my mind around how an intelligent person can arrive at a conclusion other than that this was a deliberate attempt to injure a fellow professional.

We have all heard the litany of excuses that come with the territory here - hell, as Arsenal supporters that song is well overplayed for us. He's not that kind of player. He's a good, honest kid who was just trying to win the ball. He was just a few seconds late, he couldn't stop in time. Alternatively, you can read Wigan Athletic owner Dave Whelan's odious defense of the player, a marvel in cognitive dissonance when you recall that the man saw his own career cut short in similar circumstances.

Yeah, tell it to Eduardo...or Aaron Ramsey...or Abou Diaby. That's just on our team, in the last few years. All suffered grotesque injuries as a result of horror tackles like this, and none have been the same since. They all have had their livelihoods affected by needlessly violent play.

That isn't to say that legitimately mistimed challenges don't happen - far from it, you might see 20 of them in an average game. The difference is that those challenges rarely result in injury to either player. At worst, they'll warrant a talking-to or a yellow card if it's been persistent from one party.

What you see in the GIF above is a calculated attempt at the old "reducer". You will hear this term lionized by the usual suspects, chiefly older players and the media types that fell in love with the sport decades ago. Ha ha, wasn't it great when Graeme Souness almost ended that guy's career? Ho ho, wasn't it excellent when Roy Keane did end Alf-Inge Haland's? Boys will be boys, right lads?

It's hard to be surprised at how this keeps happening when we've made a cottage industry out of putting these men up on pedestals.

Admittedly, my first thought is that the perpetrators are mainly psychopaths who do it out of some nefarious machismo, a need to make up for lack of innate ability, or both. Naturally there are times where that is the sum total of the explanation. I think that may oversimplify it though. Given that the villains in these cases are often British, I wonder if there isn't something infesting the grassroots of the game where the need to opt for the reducer is deliberately instilled into young players.

Unfortunately, football players now are far stronger and faster than their counterparts of the 70s or 80s. The same reckless tackle that may have given an opposing player a bad bruise and second thoughts now gives them a year on the shelf with a fibula in tatters.

Ultimately though, these tackles exist because they are tacitly endorsed by the guardians of the game. The FA has a long and storied history of insularity, arrogance and short-sightedness - the national team's current woes can arguably be traced back to decisions they made in the early part of last century, especially their smug belief that no one else in the world could teach them anything new. Then, you know, this happened.

It is one thing to be a failure when it comes to the 11 dolts in Three Lions kit and their risible output. It is quite another to inadequately protect the players under your care due to what is perceived to be political expedience, despite the fact that these empty blazers have all the gravitas of a mailroom clerk.

Their excuse for not reviewing the footage was the sort of flimsy technicality that would make the sleaziest ambulance-chaser embarrassed for his profession. One linesman thinks he saw part of the incident, so no action can be taken so as not to "re-officiate the game." What a rich vein of stupid this is!

First, remember how I mentioned the increased speed of the game a few paragraphs ago? That doesn't just have consequences for unlucky femurs - it has also made the game much harder to effectively adjudicate. That is true even for the best referees, let alone a habitually substandard one like Mark Halsey who would have been put out to pasture ages ago if there weren't a dearth of quality match officials.

Compounding the problem is that the fossils at the top of FIFA have had their heads firmly in the sand on this issue. This effectively prevents the national bodies from straying off-message. However, other leagues do allow for retroactive video review of an incident after a match has ended. This starts from the sensible notion that referees are fallible, and some actions deserve punishment regardless of whether the official got it right the first time.

Basic common sense, as ever, eludes the FA much like German, Argentinian or Brazilian shots on goal elude their goalkeepers.

It isn't just that, though. That lack of common sense forms a toxic alchemy with the arrogance of infallibility, the insularity against readily-available technology and the small-but-potent chorus of voices who gallingly find nothing wrong with these tackles.

I don't know if anything short of a generation-and-a-half of the game's powers dying off before we see the easily-implementable changes that would prevent this from happening. In the meantime, these incidents will continue unabated...all with the FA's intangible seal of approval.

The cowards don't even have the minerals to own their incompetence.

Swansea City 0-2 Arsenal: Crucial Late Strikes

Time is running out in Arsenal's mission to get back to the top four. Every dropped point from here until the end of the season is a potential season-killer, as evidenced by Everton's heroic defensive effort to beat Manchester City. Thankfully, two late goals allowed us to keep pace with the rest of the field, and puts some pressure on our nearest and dearest for their game today.

The manager largely kept faith with the eleven who so successfully raided Bavaria in midweek, with just Nacho Monreal and Abou Diaby coming into the team in place of Kieran Gibbs and Tomas Rosicky. As expected, Thomas Vermaelen and Wojceich Szczesny remained on the bench.

Arsenal largely stuck with the same tactical setup that undid Munich, and they could have taken a similarly-early lead with a little luck. Swansea packed their defenders deep in their half, so Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain decided to have a pop from long range. The ball fizzed past the beaten Michel Vorm, but unfortunately it rebounded off the crossbar.

That almost proved to be costly, as the only three chances of any note that Swansea could muster on the day all happened in a four-minute window soon after. First, Ki Seung-Yueng's excellent pass left Nacho Monreal for dead, but thankfully Angel Rangel could only shovel a tame shot wide.

Next, Michu couldn't get a volley from the edge of the box on target, but came a lot closer soon after thanks to a mistake by Carl Jenkinson. He horrendous cross-field pass just ahead of our penalty area was intercepted by Jonathan De Guzman, who played in Michu. You would have bet money on him scoring, but he didn't so much as test Lukasz Fabianski in the Arsenal goal, dragging his shot wide of the post.

The home side had much of the possession thereafter, but it was Arsenal who came closer to scoring through Santi Cazorla. He teed himself up for a half-volley and rocketed a dipping effort on net, but it was right at Vorm and ultimately comfortable for the Dutch keeper.

Swansea took control of the game again soon thereafter, but only passively so. I had been surprised as to how unambitious they were (it felt like the FA Cup win against them all over again), but it occurred to me that they don't have much left to play for this season. They have their trophy, they're safe in midtable, and are already in Europe thanks to that trophy win.

Meanwhile, Arsenal were mostly poor on the ball in the rare instances where they had it. Diaby in particular looked miles off the pace, and made one wonder why Rosicky wasn't back in the team after an excellent performance against the German champions-elect.

Halftime didn't do much to change the rhythm of the game. One early Cazorla chance aside, both sides canceled each other out. It should be said though that Arsenal were much better defensively, far more solid-looking without the captain in there. However, it should also be mentioned that Theo Walcott has been utter toilet since signing his new deal. He contributed nothing once again today.

Substitutions were not made until the 70th minute - insert my usual rant here. Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain and the ineffectual Diaby. The former elicited the usual groans when he made a determined run forward only to play a useless pass across. There were better things to come from him, though.

There were better things to come from Cazorla too, as he orchestrated the opening goal that admittedly looked like it was never coming. He scything run from right to left took him past most of the Swansea defenders. His cutback to Ramsey on the back post was perfect, but Olivier Giroud intercepted it. The Frenchman did well though to play it back to Monreal, who demonstrated why placement is often superior to power. His shot threaded through a forest of bodies and then past the outstretched hand of Vorm. The Spaniard could not have picked a better time to open his Arsenal account, that's for sure.

Whatever fight was left in Swansea was killed off by the goal. The visitors had much of the ball in the final minutes of the match, and added gloss to the scoreline with an injury time counter-attack. Swansea poured attackers forward, but the play was broken up. The ball came to Giroud, who sprung Ramsey out on the right wing. The Welshman played it to the onrushing Gervinho, but the pass was poorly-hit and behind the Ivorian. It was a 2-on-1 though, so Gervinho had time to corral it, move forward, and slide a low shot past Vorm and into the net.

It's a St. Patrick's Day miracle!

Anyway, the win takes us back above Everton into 5th, two points behind Chelsea in 4th (though they have a game in hand). Our nearest and dearest are a further two points ahead in 3rd, again with a game in hand. Liverpool's risible loss to Southampton has opened up some welcome breathing room between us and them, however.

There isn't much else to say. Job done, with equally important missions coming up.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 7, Monreal 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Jenkinson 7, Arteta 7, Diaby 5 (Ramsey 7), Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Gervinho 7), Cazorla 8, Walcott 5 (Gibbs N/A), Giroud 7

Man of the Match:   Not for the first time this season, Santi Cazorla was the engine that made us go.

Preview by Numbers: Swansea City v. Arsenal

Liberty Stadium, Swansea
Saturday, March 16
11:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Jonathan Moss
    • Assistants: Darren England and Harry Lennard
    • 4th Official: Dean Whitestone
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 0 - 2 Swansea
  • This Match, Last Year: Swansea 3 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 7 Arsenal wins, 5 Swansea wins, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-W-W-W-L
  • Swansea's League Form: D-L-W-L-W-L
  • Weather: Cloudy, 4 C / 40 F
This is the universe, by the way...
10 MATCHES THAT WILL DECIDE THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE! The Arsenal Universe, at least. Maybe the whole universe, I don't know.

The mission is clear. 10 matches remain and Arsenal Football Club are five points back of fourth place. There are 30 points left on the table for the taking. Swansea away, Reading home, West Brom away, Norwich home, Everton home, Fulham away, United home, QPR away, Wigan home, Newcastle away. Arsenal have to overcome the Evil Rich Russian's West London side and/or their bitterest rivals from up the road. Who else to do the job than this loveable ragtag bunch of misfits!?

Really, this plot leads itself perfectly to the classic sports movie. Can this team that hasn't really convinced anybody all year turn it around when it really matters?

Let's find out...

Your Heroes

Out: Wilshere (ankle, but not that ankle), Sagna (knee), Podolski (ankle)

Starring Sir Ian McKellen as
Arsene Wenger.
Like any film, there are obstacles for our heroes to overcome, and right now, it's the absence of Jack Wilshere. Wilshere's the engine that drives the midfield, so of course, in the Hollywood movie that is this season, he finds himself out of the lineup at a critical juncture, forcing everyone else to rally.

With Lukas Podolski still out with his ankle knock, Santi Cazorla will retain his place on the left wing, meaning it's likely Tomas Rosicky who will continue in Jack's place in front of Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey, as he did in Germany on Wednesday night.

As for the back line, Thomas Vermaelen was dropped for the test in Munich and Arsenal's back four (plus Lukasz Fabianski, of all people) responded by becoming the first team to keep a clean sheet against Bayern Munich all season. I think Kieran Gibbs retains his place at left back, Carl Jenkinson will retain his place at right back with Bacary Sagna still out, and the Koscielny-Mertesacker partnership has to continue based on recent evidence.

As for which Pole starts in goal, well, the fact that that's even a question is mind boggling, so I can't expect to wrap my head around an answer.

The Antagonists

Out: Agustien (thigh), Flores (ankle), Taylor (ankle)
Doubts: Moore (calf), Britton (hip)

Is the other guy Michu?
Well, let's be honest, the biggest villain on the other side of the pitch is Michu, who has three goals in three games against Arsenal this year. Arsenal have struggled to maintain Danny Graham in the past, but he was sold to Sunderland in the transfer window.

Swansea will be sweating over the fitness of Luke Moore, who left last week's loss to West Brom just after the hour mark with a calf injury. He returned to training this week but still faces a fitness test. Leon Britton missed last week's trip to the Hawthorns with a hip injury and is also a doubt.

Kemy Agustien is on the way back from a thigh injury but he will still be far too short for this match. Chico (and the man) Flores is out with ruptured ankle ligaments, and Neil Taylor, a long term absentee with an ankle injury, is expected to make a return for the Swans next month.

Recent Plot Arcs

Swansea won the Capital One Cup, this year, which, according
to, is "awarded annually to each of the
best men's and women's Division I college athletics programs
in the [United States]." Congratulations?
Well, Arsenal's story has been wild, as you no doubt know. Every time it looks like they've turned a corner, they got shot right back down, whether it be by Blackburn Rovers or Tottenham Hotspur. As it stands now, they had ten days to recover from losing the derby, then put in a brilliant performance while coming up just short against Bayern. You have to think that's some kind of momentum, and with another long break coming up after this match, it's imperative to get another three points under their belt now. It's not always easy to win after playing in Europe in midweek, but Arsenal have a record of four wins, three draws, and no losses in such weekend matches this season.

As for Swansea, they come in having won the first piece of silverware of the season (done by becoming the first team in the cup to finally beat Bradford City this season,) but their league form is a bit rocky. They have not won consecutive league matches since beating West Brom and Arsenal months ago. In fact, they have won just four of 14 matches since that day at the Emirates, beating the likes of Fulham, Stoke, QPR, and Newcastle. Those wins over West Brom and Arsenal in late November and early December also mark the Swans' only victories against teams ahead of them in the table (Swansea are currently ninth.) However, in the league, only Norwich and Everton have won at the Liberty Stadium this season (Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool all settled for draws.)


Wilshere's facial expression, after scoring the FA Cup winner,
seems more like "I just ate too much sour candy!"
Okay, Arsenal and Swansea have played each other a million times already this season, and by a million, I mean three. Both sides have won one with the other ending in a draw.

Swansea won the first meeting at the Emirates in December 2-0, with Michu scoring twice very late in the match. When the sides met in the FA Cup a month later, it was again Michu drawing first blood, just seconds after his introduction as a substitute. Lukas Podolski and Kieran Gibbs scored two minutes apart to give Arsenal a 2-1 lead in the 83rd, but Danny Graham equalized in the 87th to force a replay at the Emirates. Arsenal went on to win that replay 1-0, thanks to Jack Wilshere's 86th minute goal. So, seven goals between these two sides in three meetings this season; six of them were scored in the 81st minute or later.

Arsenal lost this match last year, 3-2. Arsenal scored early, but Swansea equalized just after the quarter-hour mark after a controversial penalty. Nathan Dyer put Swansea ahead in the 57th minute, but Theo Walcott equalized for Arsenal in the 69th. The celebration was short-lived, however, as Danny Graham put Swansea on top for good just a minute later.

Another Villain, Maybe

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Jonathan Moss. Arsenal have only seen Moss twice in his short Select Group career (this is Moss's first full season working in the top flight, at age 42.) Last season, Moss was in the middle of Arsenal's 2-1 win at Aston Villa and earlier this year, he worked Arsenal's 1-0 win at Wigan Athletic. Two road wins for Arsenal, both of which included an Arsenal goal from the penalty spot.

Swansea have had Moss twice this season and failed to win on both occasions: they lost 2-0 at Stoke in September and drew 0-0 with Liverpool in November.

Moss showed 11 red cards in 32 games last season, but has only shown one, to Steven Pienaar of Everton, in 24 games this year.


Arsenal also need some help, in the form of Chelsea and Spurs dropping points over the next two months. The other nine matches in the fixture list this weekend are:
  • Saturday (early): Everton v. Manchester City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Queens Park Rangers; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Liverpool; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. West Bromwich Albion; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday (late): Manchester United v. Reading; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Sunday (early): Sunderland v. Norwich City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Sunday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Fulham; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (late): Chelsea v. West Ham United; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (late): Wigan Athletic v. Newcastle United; DW Stadium, Wigan

Bayern Munich 0-2 Arsenal: We Went Out on Our Shield

I freely admit that before the match, I had never dreaded watching an Arsenal match nearly as much as I have this one. Given how badly they tonked us at home, given how tactically inept we generally are and the missing bodies that we had, I thought this may be a cricket score. I don't mean that 20-20 one-day shit either, I mean the 5-day test international kind.

The big news was that Wojceich Szczesny was not only benched, he was left home in London entirely. Such was my state of mind that I theorized on a message board I post at that Lukasz Fabianski was playing only to prevent Szczesny from having this battering on his psyche, in much the same way that the home 0-5 loss to Chelsea in the the 1998-99 League Cup destroyed Alex Manninger's career.

Oh, and also that Jack Wilshire guy didn't play.

On the other hand, Thomas Vermaelen also didn't get into the starting XI, so that was progress. Kieran Gibbs returned, Laurent Koscielny slotted into central defense, with a midfield three of Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky. The rest of the team essentially picked itself.

Anyway, if you had told me that this match would have a goal in the third minute, I would have asked "Oh, who on Bayern scored it?"  Instead, the home side found themselves picking the ball out of the net before they could find their bearings in the game.

It all came from nothing, too. A Bayern player won a long ball, but there was no one to pick up the scraps. It bobbled to Koscielny instead, who played it quickly up to Cazorla. The little Spaniard played it first time up to Ramsey with a lovely flick of the boot. The Welshman ran at the Munich backline with purpose, and shifted it to Rosicky as the red shirts converged on him. Tommy wasted no time playing it wide to Theo Walcott, as David Alaba fell over. Half the Bayern defense swarmed towards Walcott, while the other half ball-watched. That allowed Theo to cut it back across the face of goal to Olivier Giroud, who had slipped in unnoticed. He emphatically hammered his shot into the roof of the net, with Manuel Neuer stranded in the Bayern goal.

You would think the teams swapped shirts before the opening whistle.

Bayern did recover quickly though, and Fabianski was called into action a minute later to get behind a tame long-range shot. The match quickly settled into passive domination from the home side, though they rarely threatened. A few long-range shots were comfortably handled by our reserve keeper, but that was the sum total of their contribution to the half. It must be said that Arsenal were much better defensively than they have been since the first two matches of the season. The suicidally-high line was abandoned for a more sensible withdrawn defense, and Koscielny was excellent in place of our erstwhile captain.

A special mention has to go to the goalkeeper though. As I mentioned, I thought he was only playing as a sacrificial lamb. His previous inability to perform a minimally-acceptable level has been well-documented. But, he was absolutely fantastic today. He was everything that he had not been before - decisive, confident, fundamentally-sound and a serious vocal presence behind the defense. It was apparent even in his body language - I don't know what's gotten into him in his long absence, but if it continues then frankly Szczesny has to be on the bench for the Swansea game.

That said, I do feel that the home side were somewhat there for the taking, and as good as the result ended up being, this was there to be won. Especially in the first half, Walcott and Ramsey were found wanting on the offensive side of the ball. Passes were misplaced with disturbing frequency, and better performances from the two of them may have seen us through to the quarterfinals.

However, in fairness to Bayern, they were better in the second half and they carved us open a few times. If Arjen Robben in particular had his shooting boots on, we might have conceded the goal that would have ended the tie prematurely. The Dutchman had a glorious chance in the 65th minute when he was put through clean on goal, but Fabianski did brilliantly to stand his ground and parry the shot away. Since we're on the subject,  Toni Kroos is another who will be thankful that Arsenal could not find a third goal.

As time ticked along, it became apparent just how unfortunate the risible joke of the first leg was. Even if we had lost 2-1, we'd have gone through. I'll spare you my usual rant as to how tactically inept we were on that day, but one can't help imagining what could have been if we had a manager who didn't need until mid-March to work out that perhaps TV5 should sit, and that maybe we don't have the personnel for a high line.

I won't even get into the fact that Gervinho came on as a sub in this game.

Sadly for us, the second goal came too late to let it sink in for Bayern mentally that they were in trouble. It was nice when it came - Koscielny doing exceptionally well to nod in a corner kick despite Javi Martinez being draped all over him. Had that come 10 or 15 minutes earlier though, it might have triggered Bayern's gag reflex. As it happened though, the home side were able to comfortable see out the last few minutes.

So, once again, Arsenal manage to recover from a hideous first leg just enough to make it interesting without progressing. Once again, it calls into question why we can't play a decent enough first leg to not have to need a ridiculous miracle to go through, and it also makes me wonder why we can win 2-0 at the Allianz but somehow lose in the FA Cup to a team that couldn't beat Millwall at home.

I do feel better about our chances of getting 4th place, but make no mistake - this does not make me believe for one nanosecond that the rot isn't still deep inside our setup. I would still give half my soul to see Stan Kroenke on a one-way rocket to the Sun.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 8, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 7, Jenkinson 7, Ramsey 6 (Gervinho 6), Arteta 5, Cazorla 7, Rosicky 6, Walcott 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 6), Giroud 7

Man of the Match: I don't know what odds you could have gotten before the match but Lukasz Fabianski came out of nowhere to play perhaps the best match of his life.

Preview by Numbers: Bayern Munich v. Arsenal, Champions League Round of 16, Second Leg

Allianz Arena, Munich
Wednesday, March 13
3:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 GMT
Bayern leads 3-1
  • Match Officials from Czech Republic
    • Referee: Pavel Kralovec
    • Assistants: Roman Slysko and Martin Wilczek
    • 4th Official: Antonin Kordula
    • Additional Assistants: Radek Prihoda and Michal Patak
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win, 3 Bayern wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: W-D-W-W-W-L
  • Bayern's Bundesliga Form: W-W-W-W-W-W
  • Weather: Cloudy, 1 C / 34 F
UEFA's headline for this reads "History and form favors Bayern." Yeah, thanks.

In many ways, this is just a little hurdle before Arsenal's run-in, the "10 Games That Will Define The Universe". How much can Arsenal really expect from this tie, away from home and needing to score three? Their expectations are such that their #1 goalkeeper is being held out to rest.

As such, there really isn't much to say in this preview that hasn't been said already. But, I promise I'll come back strong at the weekend. I've got good plans.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Szczesny (rest), Podolski (knock), Sagna (knee), Wilshere (ankle), Monreal (cup tied)
Doubts: Diaby (Diaby-itis)
Accumulation Trouble: Koscielny, Cazorla, Vermaelen, Arteta, Podolski, and Ramsey each face a one match ban with their next yellow card.

"Three" weeks...
The good news is that Kieran Gibbs is back from his thigh injury, but the bad news is DEAR GOD, JACK, NO! NOOOOOO! TAKE ME INSTEAD!

Jack Wilshere will be out "three weeks" with an inflamed ankle. It's not the same ankle that caused him to miss all of last season, which is a relief, but you also never like to hear the phrase "three weeks" when it comes to Arsenal injuries. Is that three weeks on the Gregorian calendar or is three weeks on the Diaby calendar?

Speaking of Diaby, he's still questionable with what I believe was a calf injury. He's in the squad but faces a fitness test. Lukas Podolski has been carrying a knock, which would explain why he's been limited to cameo appearances off the bench; he does not make the trip. And, of course, Nacho Monreal is unavailable, as he is cup tied.

The surprise of the squad news, as alluded to earlier, is that Wojciech Szczesny is being left behind to rest. I think that pretty much speaks for itself in terms of how much faith Arsene Wenger has in getting a result in Munich.

Bayern Squad News

Out: Ribery (ankle)
Doubts: Robben (calf)
Suspended: Schweinsteiger (one match), Boateng (second of two)
Accumulation Trouble: Dante and Martinez each face a one match ban with their next yellow card.

There's some good news for Arsenal in terms of who could be missing for Bayern Munich. Jerome Boateng serves the second of his two match ban for his Matchday 6 red card. Bastian Schweinsteiger will miss this match due to yellow card accumulation. Frank Ribery injured ankle ligaments at the weekend against Dusseldorf and will miss out. Arjen Robben did not play at the weekend due to a calf problem and faces a fitness test today.

Current Form

Alright, if they're going to be allowed to use the bear,
we get to use the dinosaur.
It's hard to talk about Arsenal's form because, well, they have not played in 10 days. They say form goes out the window in derbies, so how much does losing 2-1 to your bitterest of bitter rivals contribute to the lack of form Arsenal have right now? Ultimately, it feels like you have to take this match as a one-off, hope to gain some sort of momentum from a positive display, and then take it from there for the rest of the league run-in.

As for Bayern Munich, they are continuing to bend everyone over the proverbial barrel. They are 20 points clear of Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga. Since we last saw the Bavarian side, they beat Dortmund 1-0 in the German Cup (DFB-Pokal) quarter-finals, they beat Werder Bremen 6-1, Hoffenheim 1-0, and Fortuna Dusseldorf 3-2. They have still lost only twice this season, across all competitions, while drawing four, and winning 30 (31, if you count the DFL-Supercup, the German equivalent of the Community Shield.) That's a win percentage of nearly 84%.

Match Facts

The only time Arsenal have overturned a first leg deficit
in Europe since 2004, Nicklas Bendtner had a hat trick.
I'm not going to go into ridiculous detail about Arsenal's history against Bayern Munich here as I normally would, because you can just read the first leg preview and that tack on "miserable 3-1 home defeat" to the list of matches.

What we should talk about here are Arsenal's previous attempts at overcoming first leg deficits in Champions League knockout play. Since 2003/04, when the Champions League switched to the 16-team knockout phase set-up, Arsenal have lost the first match of a two-legged tie six times, including this year. In the five previous occurrences before this year, Arsenal have come from behind to win the tie only once, against Porto in 2010, when they overturned a 2-1 deficit by winning 5-0 at the Emirates.

The other four occurrences ended in losses: to Bayern Munich in 2005, to PSV in 2007, to Manchester United in 2009, and to AC Milan last year. It should be noted, in some manner of consolation, that Arsenal did win the second legs against Bayern and Milan in those ties; they drew against PSV and ... well, we all know how that United tie ended...

Only twice in the Champions League have any team overcome losing the first leg at home: Ajax did it 1996 and Inter Milan did it (against Bayern Munich) in 2011.

Arsenal have only won three times in 12 matches on German soil. Bayern have only lost once ever against an English opponent at home (technically their Final loss to Chelsea last year doesn't count in that statistic.) In 1992, Bayern lost 2-1 to Norwich City in the UEFA Cup.

The Referee

I can't think of a caption.
The referee is Czech Republic based engineer Pavel Kralovec. An engineer by trade, Kralovec has been a UEFA official since 2004, but only worked his first Champions League match on Matchday 2 of last season. This is his first time being involved with either Arsenal or Bayern Munich.

As for other teams from their respective countries, Kralovec has worked Manchester City matches in the Champions League twice: a 2-1 City win over Villarreal last season and a 1-1 draw with Dortmund this season. That Dortmund match was the only German match Kralovec has done in the Champions League to date.

This is his seventh UEFA Champions League match, overall.

Around Europe
  • Last Tuesday: Manchester United 1 - 2 Real Madrid
    • Real Madrid wins 3-2 on aggregate.
  • Last Tuesday: Borussia Dortmund 3 - 0 Shakhtar Donetsk
    • Borussia Dortmund wins 5-2 on aggregate.
  • Last Wednesday: Paris Saint-Germain 1 - 1 Valencia
    • Paris Saint-Germain wins 3-2 on aggregate.
  • Last Wednesday: Juventus 2 - 0 Celtic
    • Juventus wins 5-0 on aggregate.
  • Yesterday: Schalke 04 2 - 3 Galatasaray
    • Galatasaray wins 4-3 on aggregate.
  • Yesterday: Barcelona 4 - 0  AC Milan
    • Barcelona wins 4-2 on aggregate.
  • Today: Malaga v. Porto; Estadio La Rosaleda, Malaga
    • Porto leads 1-0.

Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Arsenal: Two Fateful Minutes

Arsenal outplayed Tottenham for almost 95 minutes of yesterday's edition of the North London Derby. Unfortunately, the game consisted of 97. However, it would be misguided to say that Arsenal deserved anything out of the game. Once again, the stubborn insistence on refusing to coach the basic tenets of team defense has consigned us to defeat.

That said, the first 20 minutes was one of the most heartening periods of play in the season. The side defended tenaciously and played with the drive and energy that has been sorely lacking against lesser opponents. To their credit, the hosts also defended well and kept Arsenal largely on the periphery.

Despite the overall fine play of the team, there were individuals who were found wanting. Theo Walcott was invisible throughout the match. I had expressed concern about his new contract back when he signed it, and occasions like this are exactly why. He added nothing.

Olivier Giroud was another one. The fine form he had displayed a month or two ago has dissipated to nothing. He did do a fine job in his target man duties, but without a support striker up there with him there is no one to collect the scraps. But, when he has the ball at his feet and an opportunity on goal, I never think it likely that he will score.

Exhibit A came 10 minutes in, as a long raking ball from Mikel Artera was corralled beautifully by the French striker. Had he acted decisively, he would have had a free shot on Hugo Lloris' goal. Instead, he hesitated and allowed Jan Vertonghen to slide in and clear the danger.

Other than a few crosses that Lloris collected (and one excellent intervention to cut out a low pass from the excellent Carl Jenkinson), Arsenal never seriously threatened. Our counterparts, on the other hand, were content to soak up pressure and look for an opportunity. It's odd, I had figured that they'd tear into us from the off and try and take advantage of our shaky defending. Their caution paid off though, as a single ridiculous two-minute stretch was enough to give them all three points.

It began in the 37th minute with Spurs breaking upfield on the counter. Gylfi Sigurdsson's pass to the onrushing Gareth Bale was excellent, but it should never have been allowed to put him in alone on Wojceich Szczesny. Thomas Vermaelen - who did have a decent opening 20 minutes - was caught out and could only hopelessly lunge (and miss) at the pass. Per Mertesacker was statuesque in allowing Bale to run by him uncontested.

Finally, and this may be harsh, Szczesny wasn't great on it either. Bale only had a few seconds after collecting the ball, and Szczesny did come partially out of his net. He then stopped and allowed Bale to pick his shot, where a simple dive at his feet would have had a great chance of smothering the danger  (There isn't much of a penalty worry there because those tend to be cases where the forward has rounded the keeper rather than the keeper diving at the striker straight on).

Most sides in the world, coached by damn near anyone else in the world, would have been stung into action by the goal conceded and tighten things up. Arsenal, coached by the single most inept tactician in Europe, instead conceded another just like it a minute later.

This time, it was Scott Parker who played the defense-splitting pass. This time, it was Vermaelen who stood rooted in place while his man eased past him and onto the diagonal ball. This time, there wasn't much Szczesny could do, though the nitpick is that he took a terrible first few steps off his line, away from the direction that Aaron Lennon was running.

Either way, a fiercely-contested 0-0 where anything was possible became 2-0 and mission impossible in the span of two minutes, mainly because the powers that be at this club couldn't coach Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta to defend a parking space.

The hits kept coming, too. Just before the hour mark, Tomas Rosicky made a substitute appearance. I'm fine with that...hell, he probably should have started in place of Aaron Ramsey. But, instead of taking off the Welshman (who was in the book by this point, mind), he took off Jenkinson and shifted Ramsey to right back. The best part is that the Corporal was easily our best player on the day on both sides of the ball. He put in quite a few tasty crosses that deserved better, and his energy often had the home side on the back foot.

While Rosicky did provide some incisive passes once the rust came off, overall the substitution had made us significantly less dangerous. Had it been for Ramsey, the balance would have been far better.

To be fair though, it was a wonderful, slashing run from Ramsey that led to our goal. The Welshman eviscerated three defenders before being hauled down just outside the area. Walcott curled a decent ball into the 18, which was contested by Mertesacker and Bale. The BFG got a slight touch, deflecting it off of Bale's head and past the diving Lloris.

I won't lie - despite it all, I thought 2-2 was the most likely scoreline once that one went in. Perhaps this was the last dregs of my naivety talking, but I felt like we'd kick on and remind our neighbors about their place in the world. Instead, Arsenal muddled along the same way they had before. Actually, the best two chances of the remaining time both fell to Spurs. Bale missed a sitter when Sigurdsson put a chance for him on a plate (OMG BETTER THAN MESSI!), then the Icelandic midfielder passed up a wide-open shot to try and pass to the double-covered Bale.

And that, friends, is the real kick in the balls about this game. Spurs are a very good team, but they are far from being a great one. As bad as we've been this season, as horrific as the last month or two have been, we still easily could have won this game. I shudder to think about what United are going to do to us when we play them next.

The rest of the half petered out, and even six minutes of injury time were not enough to fashion a half-decent chance to test Lloris. Our season went out with a soundless whimper, against our most hated rivals.

Save us, unnamed Qatari businessmen. You're our only hope.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 6, Monreal 7, Vermaelen 4, Mertesacker 5, Jenkinson 8 (Rosicky 7), Arteta 7 (Podolski 6), Wilshere 6, Ramsey 6, Cazorla 7, Walcott 5, Giroud 5

Man of the Match: LEEEEERRRROOOOOYYYY Jenkinson! One of the few bright spots of a miserable day.

Preview by Numbers: Tottenham Hotspur v. Arsenal

White Hart Lane, London
Sunday, March 3
11:00 a.m. EST, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Darren Cann and Simon Beck
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 5 - 2 Tottenham
  • This Match, Last Year: Tottenham 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 71 Arsenal wins, 53 Tottenham wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-D-W-W-W
  • Tottenham's League Form: D-D-D-W-W-W
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 9 C / 49 F
It would not be difficult for me to explain, in words, how important this North London derby is for both teams involved. However, I am instead going to do it with numbers, and a chart, because it's more striking that way. I'm pretty sure it should enlarge when you click it.

The chart covers the percentage chance each team will qualify in the top four. On the far left, you see the current situation. Spurs are at 67%, Arsenal are at 53.2%. The second series of bars shows you what happens to the scenario if Arsenal wins; they basically switch. Arsenal's odds improve to nearly 72%, Spurs drops close to 50%. In the third series, if Tottenham wins, Arsenal's odds plummet below 38%, while Spurs will nearly be at 82%. If it's a draw (far right), very little changes.

The magnitude of this six-pointer is right there in the chart. It's a drastic swing in both directions. A match of this importance to the table would be huge anyway, but throw into the mix that it's a derby, and suddenly Sunday is much more than just a football game.

Sunday will define this season for both of these teams, in one way or the other. Or, they'll draw, and it'll define nothing...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Sagna (knee), Gibbs (thigh)
Doubts: Diaby (calf)

Bacary Sagna will miss out on the derby on Sunday. Last year
at White Hart Lane, the advertising board broke his leg.

It sounds as if Diaby is on the more likely than 50/50 side to be available with a slight calf problem, but that's not really the big story, since I would not have expected him to start. Then again, Arsene Wenger has been deploying Santi Cazorla on the wing and playing with an extra midfielder, so I don't know what's going on anymore.

The bigger news is that Bacary Sagna is still out with a knee injury he suffered against Bayern Munich. After Sunday, Arsenal have 10 days off before the second leg in Germany, so one hopes Bac will be better by then. In the meantime, boyhood Arsenal fan Carl Jenkinson will get another chance, and you just know he'll want to impress against the hated Spurs.

Wait, doesn't Gareth Bale play on that side? Fuck.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertescaker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Podolski, Walcott, Giroud.

Tottenham Squad News

Out: Dempsey (calf), Huddlestone (knee), Defoe (ankle), Sandro (knee)
Doubts: Kaboul (knee)

Bale Bale Bale Bale Bale. Bale Bale. Bale Bale Bale. Bale.
Spurs are without American-international-who-is-now-dead-to-me Clint Dempsey for a fortnight with a calf injury. Sandro is out for the season with a knee injury he picked up against QPR in January. Tom Huddlestone has not played since late January with a knee injury. Jermain Defoe last appeared against West Brom earlier this month and left with an ankle injury after 39 minutes.

Younes Kaboul is close to a return; he's been out since August with a knee injury which required surgery.

As for the rest of Spurs' squad news: Bale Bale Bale Bale Bale Bale Bale.

Current Form

Santi Cazorla scored twice last week against
Highlighter Fashion Disaster F.C.
Arsenal's form has been all over the map in February, much like it was last season. Arsenal went through the month of February last year moderately unfazed in the league, but they crashed out of the FA Cup to Sunderland and lost 4-0 in Milan, which put a damper on things. This year, they've won four of five in the league, but crashed out of the FA Cup to Blackburn and lost 3-1 to Bayern Munich. It's basically the same exact situation. And at that stage last year, Arsenal beat Tottenham 5-2 to emphatically turn things around. The similarities are eerie.

As for Spurs, you may or may not have realized that they are unbeaten in 11 league games dating back to December. They also lost to Leeds United in that span, but I digress; we're talking about the league here. After losing to Everton on December 9, Spurs have won seven league games, drawn four, and lost none. The list of teams beaten, however, isn't particularly impressive: Swansea, Villa, Sunderland, Reading, West Brom, Newcastle, and West Ham. They've drawn Manchester United in this span, but they've also drawn QPR, Norwich, and Stoke. However, 11 games unbeaten is an impressive run, no doubt about it.

Match Facts

Let's aim for this again, shall we?
Since Arsenal's last trip to White Hart Lane, these two sides have met twice at the Emirates, with Arsenal winning both by a 5-2 scoreline. You'll remember those stories well, no doubt. Earlier this year, Spurs went ahead early but were reduced to ten men after a red card to Emmanuel Adebayor. Arsenal then scored four straight before Spurs pulled one back. The Gunners added a final goal in injury time for good measure, just so they could duplicate the now famous scoreline from last year's match at the Emirates.

You'll remember that story well too, I'm sure. Spurs went ahead 2-0 and were coasting as they suspected they would widen that gap they kept telling us to mind. Then, a booming Bacary Sagna header and Arsenal were back in it, level by halftime. Tomas Rosicky put Arsenal ahead in the second half, then Theo Walcott scored his patented goal (under the keeper's arm and into the far corner from the right wing) twice to make it 5-2.

Arsenal's record at the Lane has not been so peachy in recent years. More often than not, the games at the Lane ended in draws during the Wenger era. Arsenal's 2-2 draw there in 2004 won the league for the Invincibles (even if Spurs drew the match via a late penalty.) That match made it four straight league derbies at the Lane that ended level. Arsenal won the next league meeting there 5-4 in November of 2004. Then, three more draws across all competitions, before a 3-1 Arsenal win in September of 2007. Spurs won a Carling Cup semi-final second leg 5-1 in January of 2008, then drew 0-0 in the league there in 2009 (famous for Eboue being sent off within 37 minutes.) That match, by the way, is the start of Arsenal's poor record with Mike Dean, but that's another story. Spurs then won 2-1 in April of 2010 (that's covered below, as the referee was the same that day,) then lost 4-1 in extra time in the Carling Cup in September, drew 3-3 in April of 2011, and won last year 2-1.

So, after all of that, what it amounts to is that Arsenal have not won a league game at White Hart Lane since the 3-1 in September of 2007. Adebayor scored twice.

The Referee

Sassy Face.
The referee is Tyne & Wear-based Mark Clattenburg.

A brief aside: at the pub on Saturday during the Villa match, there was a brief conversation about how bad Arsenal's record is with Mike Dean in the middle (regular readers of this blog feature will know how often I highlight it.) At that moment, I (the go-to guy for referee facts) was asked with which referee Arsenal have the best record, since their record is clearly worst with Dean. I responded with Mark Clattenburg and we've been rewarded with him for the North London derby, perhaps as a test for my judgment.

Arsenal have lost with Clattenburg against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the past; that happened in April of 2010. You may recall Danny Rose, something something something. But, after that match, Arsenal then went on a seven match winning streak with Clattenburg in the middle. That streak was snapped by Michu and Swansea City at the Emirates in December, but was perhaps restarted against Michu and Swansea City at the Emirates in January. So, Arsenal have won eight of their last nine matches with Clattenburg in the middle. The only referee trend Arsenal have that's better right now is that they've never lost at home with Howard Webb, but that was relevant in the reverse fixture.

As for Tottenham's record with Clattenburg since that April 2010 evening, they have won five of seven, including one match this year (against West Brom.) At the end of last season, Clattenburg was in the middle of a damaging 1-0 Spurs loss at QPR in which Spurs could not find an equalizer against ten men after Adel Taarabt (the goalscorer) was sent off. Back in October of 2010, he also screwed over Tottenham at Old Trafford, allowing Nani to score from a live ball while Spurs believed it was their free kick.

Around the League

There is no early game on either Saturday or Sunday this week. Sky Sports is airing Scottish Cup quarter-finals in those time slots.
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. West Bromwich Albion; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Reading; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. Norwich City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Queens Park Rangers; St. Mary's, Southampton
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. West Ham United; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Fulham; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Newcastle United; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday (late): Wigan Athletic v. Liverpool; DW Stadium, Wigan
  • Monday (night): Aston Villa v. Manchester City; Villa Park, Birmingham