Preview by Numbers: Swansea City v. Arsenal

Liberty Stadium, Swansea
Saturday, September 28
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Stephen Child
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • This Match, Last Year: Swansea 0 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 8 Arsenal wins, 5 Swansea wins, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W // L-W-W-W-W
  • Swansea's League Form: L // L-L-W-D-W
  • Weather: Scattered Light Rain, 17 C / 63 F
I love this picture.
Arsenal's roll continued, albeit barely, on Wednesday night after a penalty shootout in West Bromwich saw the Gunners through to the fourth round of the League Cup. West Brom let Arsenal off the hook a few of times, especially toward the end of extra time and most certainly in the shootout. Arsenal's reward for sneaking by is a date with Chelsea at the Emirates, in a midweek match before Arsenal plays Liverpool, Dortmund, and Manchester United in an eight-day span. So, you know, no problem...

Back to the business at hand, however, and it's a tricky road fixture in the league as Arsenal head to Wales to take on a Swansea side that stumbled out of the gate this season, but has rounded into form since the last international break. Arsenal's fixture list, of course, does not get any easier, with Napoli visiting on Tuesday before another trip to West Brom next Sunday.

The Gunners have done well to rebound from their opening day loss, rising to top of the league in just four games. Staying at the top of the league over the remaining 34 games is probably too much to ask (ending there is the goal, of course,) but it wouldn't hurt to keep checking off the tricky fixtures with three points.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Walcott (stomach,) Cazorla (ankle,) Rosicky (thigh,) Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)

Mikel Arteta played 95 minutes
on Wednesday before coming
off with a cramp. I suspect he'll
appear from the bench tomorrow.
It doesn't look like there's going to be much of a change in Arsenal's injury situation between Wednesday's League Cup tie and tomorrow's match.

Theo Walcott's minor stomach surgery was a success; I suspect he'll be back after the October international break. Santi Cazorla, meanwhile, is hopeful that he will be back for next week's return trip to the Hawthorns. Tomas Rosicky is the next due back and he could be available Tuesday against Napoli if all goes well (but all never goes well when it comes to Arsenal injuries.)

The result will likely be a largely unchanged side from the XI that beat Stoke last week, including Serge Gnabry, who ran so much against West Brom on Wednesday that I think his legs nearly fell off. Mikel Arteta might slip in as well to give someone in midfield a breather; I suspect that would be either Mathieu Flamini or even Jack Wilshere, but not in-form Aaron Ramsey or Mesut Ozil.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Gnabry, Giroud.

Swansea Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Williams (ankle,) Hernandez (hamstring)

Wait a minute, Swansea have no injuries? That's unfair, though it does make my research for writing this section a little easier.

Ashley Williams has a slight problem with his ankle, though he was able to play the full 90 minutes against Crystal Palace last weekend; I would expect he and Chico Flores to be the partnership at center back. Pablo Hernandez, however, has not played since scoring at West Brom on September 1.

If Hernandez passes fit, I don't expect him to start, as it would appear that Michael Laudrup will start an unchanged XI from last week's win over Palace. Swansea play a 4-2-3-1, with Jonjo Shelvey and Leon Britton in the holding roles, Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge out wide, and Michu playing behind a central striker, likely Alvaro Vazquez, as record signing Wilfried Bony played in the League Cup Tuesday.

Current Form

The last time Arsenal won eight straight road games in the
league, the eighth won the league in Manchester.
Technically, when a match goes to penalties it is considered a draw, so Arsenal's penalty shootout win over West Brom actually snapped the Gunners' seven match winning streak across all competitions and their 10 match road winning streak. That being said, they've still won seven straight Premier League road fixtures and will look to make it eight straight league road wins for the second time in the Premier League era (that came at the end of the Double-winning 2001/02 season, but was snapped with a draw at West Ham in the second week of the following season.)

Swansea opened the season in last place after each of the first two weeks of the season, following losses to Manchester United and Tottenham. Since then, the Swans have righted the ship a bit, going unbeaten in three league matches (away wins at West Brom and Crystal Palace and a home draw with Liverpool.) They opened Europa League group play with a 3-0 win over 10-man Valencia as well. However, their changed squad for the League Cup fell 3-1 at Birmingham City on Tuesday (then again, I think we know a little something about losing to Birmingham in the League Cup ourselves.)

Match Facts

Nacho's first Arsenal goal won this match last year.
Arsenal and Swansea met approximately ten billion times during the course of last season, with Arsenal slightly getting the better of the results. Okay, fine, it was four meetings, two in the league and one FA Cup tie that required a replay. The first meeting came just around when Arsenal started to hit their first pack of doldrums in early December. A 0-0 affair suddenly ended 2-0 to the visiting Swans when Michu scored in the 88th and 90th minutes, then did that hand thing. What's with that celebration? (Editor's Note: I do know what's with that thing, but that's not going to stop me from finding humor in it.)

Literally the next day, the two sides were drawn together in the third round of the FA Cup. Swansea led 1-0 through Michu (of course) before Arsenal took a 2-1 lead late. Swansea earned a replay with an equalizer from a set piece just a couple of minutes later. That replay ended 1-0 to the Arsenal after a late Jack Wilshere goal. The league meeting at Liberty Stadium was the last of the four matches, which Arsenal went on to win 2-0 after goals from Nacho Monreal and Gervinho. That was the first league match for Arsenal after the loss at White Hart Lane and kicked off the 10-match unbeaten run that saw them clinch fourth.

Arsenal and Swansea have met a total of eight times in league play and have split the results evenly, four wins apiece. Swansea won both meetings in 1981/82, Arsenal won both meetings in 1982/83, each side won at home in 2011/12, and each side won on the road last year.

The Referee

Presented without comment.
The referee is County Durham-based Mark Clattenburg; I'm pretty sure he was listed as Tyne & Wear-based last season, but Durham is just south of there... maybe he moved down the road, I don't know. Arsenal last saw Clattenburg as referee in their 2-1 loss at Tottenham in March.

As you may recall from the "Match Facts" section (if you don't, you have a very short attention span,) Arsenal played Swansea four times last season; incidentally, Clattenburg was the referee for two of them, though both were at the Emirates and not at the Liberty.

Arsenal, historically, have a strong record with Clattenburg, but last year lost twice (to Michu in the league and Spurs as mentioned earlier) and won only once (the FA Cup replay against Swansea.) Aside from those two matches for Swansea, Clattenburg also worked the Swans' 2-0 loss at Chelsea in late April.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Chelsea; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Manchester City; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Fulham v. Cardiff City; Craven Cottage, London
  • Saturday: Hull City v. West Ham United; The KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. West Bromwich Albion; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Crystal Palace; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Sunday (early): Stoke City v. Norwich City; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Sunday (late): Sunderland v. Liverpool; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Monday (night): Everton v. Newcastle United; Goodison Park, Liverpool

Preview by Numbers: West Bromwich Albion v. Arsenal, Capital One Cup Third Round

The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Wednesday, September 25
3:00 p.m. EDT, 20:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Robert Madley
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Simon Bennett
    • 4th Official: Howard Webb
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 65 Arsenal wins, 36 West Brom wins, 29 draws
  • All-Time in the League Cup: 3 Arsenal wins
  • Arsenal's League Form: W // L-W-W-W-W
  • West Brom's League Form: D // L-D-L-D-W
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 16 C / 62 F
Well, this is confusing...
Ah, the League Cup... where I don't have anything interesting to say in this section. Arsenal are in a fine run of form right now, having won seven on the trot and ten straight on the road. The League Cup, however, offers a different kind of challenge.

Both of the sides will rue the fact that they have to face Premier League opposition right off the bat, and both have tricky road fixtures at the weekend: Arsenal are at Swansea, West Brom visit Old Trafford.

I have nothing else to add to this, so let's just get straight into the details...

Arsenal Squad News

Theo Walcott, shown here playing for the
planet Mars's national team, needs surgery
because Arsenal's not allowed to have
wide players available anymore.
Out: Walcott (stomach,) Cazorla (ankle,) Rosicky (thigh,) Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)

Apparently, Arsenal are required to have at least seven players out injured at all times. Now that Mikel Arteta is back, Theo Walcott is out a fortnight with a stomach strain that requires minor surgery. Arsenal's complete lack of wide players is staggering, with Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all unavailable.

That aside, it was unlikely Theo would have played tonight anyway. With fixture congestion and all, the squad does need to be rotated a bit. The good news is Arsenal have a number of players itching to get a start, including Arteta, Thomas Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal, Carl Jenkinson, and other youngsters. Ideally you want to have a mix of experience and youth in these cup ties.

I would expect a rest for many of the midfielders who have kept the team clicking lately, including Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, and Jack Wilshere.

Also, it seems like Nicklas Bendtner is going to start. So, you know, that should be fun. Arsene Wenger's wording seemed to indicate that Lukasz Fabianski will get the start over Emiliano Viviano.

Likely Hilariously Wrong Predicted XI: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Frimpong, Arteta, Midfielder Chosen at Random, Miyaichi, Gnabry, Bendtner.

West Brom Squad News

Out: Gera (knee,) Thorne (knee,) Vydra (hamstring,) Foster (ankle)
Doubts: Brunt (groin,) Long (knee,) Reid (calf)

I can see how he has a knee injury, cramped
in that tiny box.
Prior to the weekend, West Brom were the only team in the top flight to play a 4-4-2 formation in each of their league games; incidentally, they also hadn't won yet. They switched to the more en vogue 4-2-3-1 and beat Sunderland 3-0.

The biggest question about the Baggies is whether or not they'll rotate their squad. They face a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United this weekend. Manager Steve Clarke has alluded to the fact that he will make some changes to the squad.

The Baggies are boosted by the news that Shane Long and Steven Reid are both available for selection again, returning from knee and calf injuries, respectively. Chris Brunt could be in contention as well, as he tries to shake off a groin injury he picked up at the weekend.

Goalkeeper Ben Foster is out until November with an ankle injury and Boaz Myhill might get a rest; that means Luke Daniels may start in goal. West Brom will also be without Zoltan Gera, George Thorne, and Matej Vydra.

Current Form

I'm at a loss for pictures to use. Here's Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal have won seven straight matches across all competitions for the first time since October of 2009. What you might not have remembered about that particular streak is that six of those matches featured Vito Mannone in goal (the other was a League Cup tie, against West Brom, in which Wojciech Szczesny received his first start for the first team.) Arsenal have also won 10 straight road matches, which, as you probably know by this point, is a club record.

Ah, but form is a funny ol' thing when it comes to the League Cup. Does winning a game with a rotated squad of youth players and non-regulars contribute to the team's run of form in the same way as a win from the starters would? Probably not. Would a loss disrupt the club's streak? Again, if it's not the usual squad playing, probably not. Form is ultimately tied to the players who play, not the team as a whole. That's why these early round League Cup ties can feel like they exist in a different world. Of course, if you were to, say, lose on penalties to a lower division team with your starting XI in the fifth round, that's the kind of thing that affects you.

West Brom has had a bit of a sluggish start to their season, picking up their first league win of the season at the expense of last place Sunderland. Oddly enough, before this weekend, the Baggies had drawn both of their road games (to Everton and Fulham) and lost both of their home games (to Southampton and Swansea.) West Brom advanced to the third round by beating League Two newcomer Newport County 3-0 in the second round.

Match Facts

Touching Jack Wilshere used to be a red card offense.
Now you just get Flamini threatening to blind you.
In 2010/11, West Brom got away with facing Manuel Almunia twice and took four out of a possible six points from the Gunners. Since then, Arsenal have won all four league meetings. Last year, in the first meeting at the Emirates, Arsenal won 2-0 on the strength of two penalties; controversy surrounded Santi Cazorla's dive to win the first, but the Gunners still controlled the match from beginning to end and deserved the win. In the last meeting at the Hawthorns, Tomas Rosicky fired Arsenal to a 2-0 lead, but Per Mertesacker's red card set up James Morrison's penalty to make it 2-1 and 25 of the most nervous minutes of my life followed.

Of course, we can't talk about Arsenal at the Hawthorns and not mention the final day of the 2011/12 season, in which Marton Fulop's follies aided Arsenal to a 3-2 win and a third place finish. West Brom's last win over Arsenal at home came in October of 2005.

Arsenal and West Brom have met in the League Cup on three occasions, with Arsenal winning all three. Most recently, the sides met in the 2009 third round at the Emirates; as I mentioned earlier, that was Szczesny's first start for Arsenal's first team, a 2-0 win. Jerome Thomas was sent off for West Brom in that match for shoving Jack Wilshere; later, Sanchez Watt and Carlos Vela scored for Arsenal. Arsenal's previous League Cup wins over West Brom came in 2003 and 2006, both were also by 2-0 scorelines.

The Referee

"Well, I seem to have forgotten my yellow card in the hotel,
so I'm just going to send everyone off."
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Robert Madley, who is in his first season in the Select Group, having earned promotion this summer.

Incidentally, Madley's first career Premier League match was at the end of last season and it involved West Bromwich Albion; he showed three red cards in that 3-0 Baggies win over Southampton. While that might make it seem like Madley was caught out of his depth, all three decisions were arguably spot on: Gaston Ramirez was sent off in the 70th minute for catching Shane Long with an elbow to the face (one could debate whether it was accidental or not, however,) Marc-Andre Fortune was sent off for shoving Ramirez in the face during the ensuing melee (Madley consulted with the fourth official for that one,) and Daniel Fox was sent off 12 minutes later for a dreadful two-footed lunge on Steven Reid.

This will be Madley's first career match involving Arsenal.

Around the Third Round
  • Tuesday: Aston Villa 0 - 4 Tottenham Hotspur
  • Tuesday: Burnley 2 - 1 Nottingham Forest
  • Tuesday: Fulham 2 - 1 Everton
  • Tuesday: Hull City 1 - 0 Huddersfield Town
  • Tuesday: Leicester City 2 - 1 Derby County
  • Tuesday: Manchester City 5 - 0 Wigan Athletic
  • Tuesday: Southampton 2 - 0 Bristol City
  • Tuesday: Sunderland 2 - 0 Peterborough United
  • Tuesday: Swindon Town 0 - 2 Chelsea
  • Tuesday: Watford 2 - 3 Norwich City, after extra time
  • Tuesday: West Ham United 3 - 2 Cardiff City
  • Wednesday: Birmingham City v. Swansea City; St. Andrew's, Birmingham
  • Wednesday: Manchester United v. Liverpool; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Wednesday: Newcastle United v. Leeds United; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Wednesday: Tranmere Rovers v. Stoke City; Prenton Park, Birkenhead

Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City: Bizarro World

Once again, a match between these two sides saw the one with much of the possession fall short in the wake of a barrage of set-piece goals. Unusually, it was Arsenal whose prowess in dead-ball situations won the day against a Stoke City side struggling with their transition into something resembling a football team.

Before that though, there was plenty of intrigue to be found before a ball was kicked. Theo Walcott didn't make it through the warmup, meaning young Serge Gnabry was pressed into emergency service on the right of the attacking midfield three. Ryo Miyaichi came into the squad on the subs bench, joining prodigal son Nicklas Bendtner and the fit again Mikel Arteta.

While Stoke would eventually have a lot more of the ball, especially in the second half, it was Arsenal who raced out to the early lead. The Potters aren't entirely divested of their orc tendencies, and a silly foul was what gave us a free kick in a dangerous position. Mesut Ozil stood over it, and drilled in a beautiful low shot. Asmir Begovic did well to get across to tip it wide, but he could only divert it into the path of Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman surged past his dozing marker and tapped the rebound past Begovic.

The Gunners pinged the ball around decently in the ensuing 10-15 minutes, but Stoke defended resolutely. That may be their usual, but part of that was down to a lack of fluency on Arsenal's end. Often, that final pass would be the one to let them down. It's a story we've seen many times in the last few seasons, and it would usually end with the other mob going down the other end and putting one in our net.

Sure enough, Stoke got the equalizer that we all probably knew was coming. Kieran Gibbs was guilty of a bad giveaway, sending the visitors on the counter. Steven N'Zonzi's floated ball came in to Marko Arnautovic on the back post, who had torched Per Mertesacker for pace.  He could only fire off the post, but they got a fortuitous bounce back into the center of the area. The Arsenal defense had all risibly gone to sleep, and USA international Geoff Cameron was there to fire home. You do have to give him some credit though, Wojciech Szczesny was up quickly after the first shot, and it took a perfect strike into the bottom corner to get the rebound past him.

It may be forgotten in the aftermath of the match, but our opponents could so easily have taken the lead a minute or two later. A long ball over the top was met with a poor touch by Kenwyne Jones - it was tough in fairness, but if he had corralled that he would have been in on goal. The miscue allowed Mertesacker to get it away, though.

This isn't your older brother's Arsenal team though, and they got right back to the business of getting the goal back. Isn't it funny how much more dangerous we are on corners and free kicks when Ozil is taking them instead of Walcott? A warning shot was fired when Mertesacker had a header from a corner cleared desperately off the line by Cameron, but it wouldn't be too much longer until Begovic was picking the ball out of his net again.

Yet another silly foul led to a free kick, which was cleared out for a corner. Ozil fired it in again, and again Mert got on the end of it. This was more of a glancing connection though, and it looped into the air and into the far corner. Laurent Koscielny was making a far-post run, and in doing so did well to legally block off Begovic from getting over there. Fantastic set-piece play all around, and it got us into halftime with the lead.

Stoke did give it more of a go in the second half, and oddly had a lot more of the ball than we did. Arsenal seemed content to sit back a bit, absorb pressure, and catch them out on the break. I honestly can't say if this was a conscious decision based on our disjointed-at-times play or if we got a bit nervous, but thankfully the Potters rarely did much with it when they had it.

Still, only the excellence of Begovic kept us from wrapping things up a lot sooner. An excellent run by Gnabry saw him get leveled by that mutant Robert Huth as he passed it out to Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman reared back and hit the hell out of it, but Begovic got up to get a hand on it.

From there, the match settled back into its now-familiar patterns - Stoke probing away at the edges of our penalty area without ever threatening, while Arsenal countered every so often but could only get shots away from distance.

Read that previous paragraph again - when was the last time that happened in an Arsenal match? Was Dennis Bergkamp signed yet?

The third goal did come though, once again on a set piece. This time, Jack Wilshere was the catalyst with a driving run through the middle of the field. Two Stoke orcs plowed into him, giving us a free kick. Once again, Ozil's delivery was perfect. Once again, an Arsenal man got on the end of it. This time, Bacary Sagna was that man, and his header was a lot like the BFG's. The result was similar as well, the ball looping over Begovic and in.

That well and truly knocked what wind was left out of Stoke's sails,and we saw out the game with no further incident. Nacho Monreal and Miyaichi got run-outs, as did Arteta late on. It was quite nice to have a drama-free finish, and it is nice to once again be top of the league. Especially after the Aston Villa match, you can't complain with where we are right now.

Side note:  I will miss the next three weeks of matches - I am off to Eastern Europe on vacation. There should be some combination of pinch-hitters to cover while I'm out. So, have a great month one and all, and keep checking back here after matches to read our guest stars!

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Ramsey 7, Flamini 7, Wilshere 8 (Monreal 7), Ozil 8 (Arteta N/A), Gnabry 7 (Miyaichi 7), Giroud 7

Man of the Match: 2 matches, 4 assists. Good god.  Mesut Ozil!

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Stoke City

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, September 22
8:30 a.m. EDT, 13:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and Gary Beswick
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 0 Stoke
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 51 Arsenal wins, 23 Stoke wins, 23 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W // L-W-W-W
  • Stoke's League Form: L-D // L-W-W-D
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 19 C / 66 F
Who's up for some VENGEANCE?!?
Arsenal's first nine league matches this season are all fixtures they won last season: Aston Villa at home, Fulham away, Spurs at home, Sunderland away, Stoke at home, Swansea away, West Brom away, Norwich at home, and Crystal Palace away (in that Arsenal beat all three relegated teams twice last year.) Liverpool at home, on November 2, is the first match of this season in which Arsenal did not take all three points last year.

It's an odd quirk of scheduling that really makes you think. After losing to Villa the opening weekend of the season, there's no way Arsenal can be ahead of the pace they set last year until November, and that's if they continue their winning streak. Maybe this isn't a good way at looking at things, but it's something I just noticed as weird this week.

You can only play one game at a time, of course, so now it's time to focus on Stoke. It's always a tricky fixture, but Arsenal have a fantastic record at home against the Potters. Given Arsenal's positive run of form since the Villa debacle, I would say the expectation is for nothing less than three points.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (ankle,) Rosicky (thigh,) Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Arteta (thigh,) Diaby (knee)

Not this kind of magic square.
So, as far as I can tell, there are no updates and no changes. Arsenal will likely start the same XI they started at Marseille because they have to.

However, Gunnerblog pointed out that Arsenal's player availability has led to a shift in tactical set-up: the injuries to Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mikel Arteta, and Abou Diaby has forced Arsenal to play with a midfield four of Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, and Mesut Ozil behind Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. The shift comes because none of Arsenal's available players are particularly suited for the left wing, save maybe Ozil, though he's certainly more of a threat as a number 10.

It's not really a 4-4-2; it's a "magic square," a 4-2-2-2, where Flamini and Ramsey sit in the back and Wilshere and Ozil push forward. The four in the square are permitted to move around the pitch freely, allowing them to find between passing angles. Meanwhile, the wingbacks are free to move up and down the lines as well.

I would not, under any circumstances, make any big changes to the back four; they're playing well together right now and you need that kind of understanding against a side that attacks like Stoke.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud.

Stoke Squad News

Out: Ness (hip,) Shea (knee)
Doubts: Muniesa (groin)

... ... ...The Aristocrats!
Sunday's visitors do not nearly have the same injury problems as the hosts. Stoke are without two players who have never made a Premier League appearance for the club: Jamie Ness with a hip problem and Brek Shea with a knee injury. Doubtful is Marc Muniesa with a groin injury; he's only appeared for Stoke in their recent League Cup tie.

Under Mark Hughes, Stoke plays a 4-4-1-1 with two banks of four playing behind two fowards, generally Jonathan Walters and Peter Crouch, with occasional exceptions. Last week, Kenwyne Jones started in place of Crouch. As they have been in the past, Stoke try to be very organized at the back, with Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross at center back and Geoff Cameron and Erik Pieters at right and left back, respectively.

There's still a bit of long-ball smash-and-grab about Stoke though, even if their midfield is a little better with the ball than it was under Tony Pulis. The onus will not only be on Arsenal's "magic square" to retain most of the possession, but also on their back line to clear out any dangerous long balls.

Current Form

Theo Walcott always pretends he is an airplane.
What's with that?
Arsenal's win in Marseille on Wednesday was their tenth consecutive win away from home, which set a club record. An amazing accomplishment for the team, to say the least, especially when you consider the first of the ten wins was at Bayern Munich. Their upcoming road games include two against West Brom (League Cup and league,) one at Swansea, one at Crystal Palace, and possibly another League Cup tie (depending on how Wednesday's goes) before trips to Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United four days apart.

Now, this isn't a road game, so let's move on. In terms of form as a whole, Arsenal have now lost once in their last 18 matches: W-W-W-W-W-D-W-D-W-W-W-L-W-W-W-W-W-W. That's good stuff. Arsenal have now won six straight across all competitions, something they did not accomplish at any point last year. Arsenal's last streak of this length was kick-started by the first 5-2 over Spurs in February of 2012 and snapped, shockingly, by QPR (Mike Dean was the referee that day... more on him later.)

As for Stoke, they are 7th in the table and have lost only once this season. They would be unbeaten if they had converted the late penalty they were given at Anfield, but fell 1-0 to Liverpool. After a League Cup win over Walsall, Stoke went on to beat Crystal Palace and West Ham, then drew Manchester City (who were caught out resting too many starters ahead of the Champions League) at the Britannia last week.

Match Facts

If you look very closely, you can see a very upset Ryan
Shawcross in the background.
Arsenal took four of a possible six points from Stoke City last year, and in 180 minutes of action only one goal was scored. That came in this fixture, played in February at the Emirates, from Lukas Podolski. The German scored in the 78th minute from a deflected free kick after coming off the bench just ten minutes prior. The goal looked to be initially ruled offside, but after a conference between the referee, Chris Foy, and his linesman, the goal was given. Arsenal had previously drawn 0-0 at the Britannia in August, in a match where they had two-thirds of the possession and 11 corners, but just two shots on target.

I mention this every time Arsenal plays Stoke at home, but the statistic still holds, so it's relevant: the last time Stoke won against Arsenal in North London, the #1 hit in the U.K. was Soft Cell's "Tainted Love." The date was August 29, 1981. Since then, Arsenal have won 11 straight against the Potters in North London. Eight of those have been league meetings, with three victories in cup ties coming during the time when Stoke was not top flight.

Additionally, this fixture in the 2010/11 season ended 1-0 to the Arsenal after an 8th minute Sebastien Squillaci goal. I like to throw that in there, too, just to remind everyone that that was a thing that happened. Of course, then Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas got hurt that day and missed the Carling Cup Final. When you look at it that way, it might have been one of the costlier victories in recent memory.

The Referee

Mike Dean illustrates his evil sorcery as he levitates the ball.
The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean. Everyone groan loudly now. The last time Arsenal saw Mike Dean, it was the penultimate game of last season and Arsenal needed a win against recent FA Cup champion Wigan Athletic. Arsenal scored first, but Wigan were level at halftime on a goal scored straight from a dubiously given set piece. Arsenal, however, had the quality on the day to overcome Wigan and Dean, and picked up the three points as they sailed towards fourth place.

That means Arsenal's record with Dean is now three wins in their last 22 matches, including 11 losses and eight draws. Last year, aside from the Wigan victory, Dean was on hand for the cup exit to Bradford City, the cup exit to Blackburn Rovers (I'm sensing a trend,) the loss at Old Trafford, and the loss to Manchester City in which Laurent Koscielny was sent off within ten minutes. He also worked Arsenal's 1-1 draw at Manchester City, in which he wasn't too dreadful.

Last year for Stoke, Dean was in the middle for a 3-1 loss at Swansea in which nobody was even booked and a 0-0 draw with West Brom at the Britannia.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Norwich City v. Aston Villa; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. Southampton; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Hull City; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Sunderland; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Everton; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday (late): Chelsea v. Fulham; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (early): Crystal Palace v. Swansea City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Sunday (late): Cardiff City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
  • Sunday (late): Manchester City v. Manchester United; Etihad Stadium, Manchester

Preview by Numbers: Marseille v. Arsenal, Champions League Group Matchday 1

Stade Velodrome, Marseille
Wednesday, September 18
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials from Portugal
    • Referee: Olegario Benquerenca
    • Assistants: Ricardo Santos and Rui Tavares
    • 4th Official: Joao Santos
    • Additional Assistants: Artur Soares and Carlos Xistra
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-L-L-W // W-W
  • Marseille's European Form: D-W-L-D-L-L
  • Weather: Clear, 22 C / 71 F
Back your bags for the Group
of Death!
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Group of Death! Arsenal find themselves in a similar group to 2011, except this time around Dortmund is much stronger, Marseille is much stronger, and Olympiacos has been replaced by Napoli.

In each of the last two seasons, Arsenal have picked up four of a possible nine points on the road. In 2011, they won all three home games and won the group. Last year, the won two of three home games and finished second. It's obvious in a group as strong as this one that just taking care of business at home will not be enough; you have to steal points on the road to advance. On paper, Arsenal's easiest road fixture in the group is tonight's trip to France.

These look to be a vital three points for Arsenal. Dropping points puts the Gunners behind the eight ball, with trickier fixtures lying ahead for them this fall. A loss would put enormous pressure on their trips to Dortmund and Naples.

But, this is what the Champions League is all about; to be the best, you've got to beat the best. I wouldn't trade this for a trip to FC Glarbinglarp in southern Moldova, and anyone who would is missing the point.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (ankle,) Rosicky (thigh,) Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Arteta (thigh,) Diaby (knee)

These two have passed fit, so you can stop panicking. A
little. By all means, you can still panic a bit.
The injury list continues to fluctuate wildly. Arsenal lost Santi Cazorla to an ankle injury before the Sunderland match even started and he's expected to be out until the next international break in early October. On the other hand, a number of names are on their way back. Thomas Vermaelen came off the bench to make his first appearance of the season on Saturday, having recovered from a back injury. Per Mertesacker missed the trip to Sunderland through illness but has made the trip to France.

Mesut Ozil was subbed off around 70 minutes as he battled illness (if that was him battling illness and barely knowing the other players in the side, then what is he going to be like once he's comfortable?!) but he is fit for the trip as well. Olivier Giroud left the match late with a knee injury but has been declared fit as well.

Arsenal suddenly have options at the back. Does Vermaelen get a start, giving Mertesacker a break to ease his way back in? Or do you throw the successful Mertesacker-Koscielny axis straight back together?

They most certainly don't have options up front, considering the injuries to Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Lukas Podolski, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Given the personnel available, it looks like it should be Ozil, Theo Walcott, and Giroud as the front three again, as it was Saturday. The midfield three should be the same, then, between Mathieu Flamini (who left Marseille to join Arsenal "treasonously,") Aaron Ramsey, and Jack Wilshere.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud.

Marseille Squad News

Valbuena's even as tiny as Cazorla, as you can see by this
photograph that ISN'T PHOTOSHOPPED. He's 10 inches
shorter than Fellaini and Kompany and also bent back while
falling, creating an optical illusion.
Marseille are a significantly better side than they were two years ago and strengthened this summer with purchases including Florian Thauvin and Dimitri Payet from Lille. Marseille are strong up front, with Andre-Pierre Gignac operating in front of a dynamic trio of Payet, Andre Ayew, and Mathieu Valbuena. Valbuena is the man to watch, a creative playmaker in the vein of Santi Cazorla.

When they don't have the ball, Marseille are highly organized on defense and drop back into two banks of four, with Ayew and Payet dropping back to cover the fullbacks. Their center backs, Nicolas N'Koulou and Lucas Mendes, are very good at withstanding pressure.

Their manner of winning games last season will sound familiar to you; it was a lot like Arsenal's late season tactics. 12 of Marseille's 21 victories in Ligue 1 last year came by a 1-0 scoreline and 18 of them were by a single goal. Marseille would score the odd goal while defending in a methodically organized fashion. They finished second in the league behind PSG, despite only scoring 42 goals in 38 games. Bordeaux was the only other side to score fewer (40) in the top-10 and you'd have to go to 14th place Reims to find another side that scored fewer (33.)

Current and European Form

Here's Valbuena again, from this weekend, when Marseille
left it late to draw Toulouse. I can't tell how far away the
corner flag is, given Valbuena's height.
Arsenal have won five straight across all competitions for the first time since last spring. Across all competitions and spanning both seasons, Arsenal have lost just once in their last 17 matches. They have also won nine straight games away from home spanning that same period, dating back to the 2-1 loss at White Hart Lane in early March.

Arsenal have won two straight on the road in Europe (Fenerbahce this year and Bayern Munich last year,) dating back to the dead rubber loss at Olympiacos. As mentioned at the top of this preview, in each of the last two seasons, Arsenal have picked up four of a possible nine points in group stage road matches. They'll have to do similar this year and take care of business at home to survive their Group of Death.

Marseille have played five matches this season, all in Ligue 1. They opened the year on a three match winning streak, beating EA Guingamp 3-1, Evian Thonon Gaillard 2-0, and Valenciennes 1-0. They then lost at home to Monaco 2-1 before the international break, then drew Toulouse 1-1 at the weekend. They currently reside fourth in the Ligue 1 table.

Marseille were in the Europa League last year, but finished third in a group stage that included Borussia Monchengladbach, Fenerbahce, and Cypriot side Limassol.

Match Facts

I often forget how much I hated the away kits two years ago.
Arsenal and Marseille have met twice before, in the 2011 group stage of the Champions League. The matches were low scoring, to say the least, with Arsenal winning 1-0 in Marseille and drawing 0-0 at the Emirates. Aaron Ramsey had the 92nd minute winner on October 19, 2011. The next day, Muammar Gaddafi died, adding more credence to the "Aaron Ramsey kills people when he scores goals" theory. That has petered out more recently, now that Ramsey is scoring more often.

The reverse fixture in London ended in a 0-0 draw on November 1, 2011. You might recall that Ju Young Park started that game for Arsenal, getting his big chance after scoring a cracker against Bolton in the Carling Cup two weeks prior. He did nothing with his 62 minutes on the pitch and made only one other start for Arsenal afterwards.

Arsenal are unbeaten in nine previous trips to France, at least against French competition (six wins and three draws.) It should be noted that their 2006 Champions League Final loss to Barcelona, however, was in Paris. Against the French, though, Arsenal have won five straight in France: 2-1 against Montpellier last year, 1-0 against Marseille in 2011, 1-0 over Auxerre in 2002, 1-0 over Lyon in 2001, and 2-1 over Lens in 2000.

Marseille have a record of seven wins, three losses, and one draw against English competition at home. The only other English side to beat Marseille in France was Liverpool, who did it in the group stages in both 2007 and 2008.

The Referee

Remember when Arsenal wanted to sign Suarez this summer?
The crew of match officials is from Portugal; the referee is Olegario Benquerenca. UEFA's press kit mentions that Benquerenca has never worked a match for either of these sides; that is false. Benquerenca was the referee when Arsenal beat Udinese 2-1 in Udine in their 2011 qualifier; the match in which Wojciech Szczesny saved Antonio di Natale's penalty (which was harshly given by Benquerenca.)

His most famous moment came in the 2010 FIFA World Cup quarterfinal between Uruguay and Ghana, when he sent off Luis Suarez for handling Ghana's sure winner off the line. Of course, you'll recall that Ghana missed the ensuing penalty and lost in the shootout.

Benquerenca was at the center of a controversial Champions League match in October 2010 between Auxerre and Ajax in which he showed three red cards, including one to Auxerre's Jean-Pascal Mignot, who was warming up on the sidelines at the time.

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Manchester United 4 - 2 Bayer Leverkusen
  • Tuesday: Real Sociedad 0 - 2 Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Tuesday: Galatasaray 1 - 6 Real Madrid
  • Tuesday: Copenhagen 1 - 1 Juventus
  • Tuesday: Benfica 2 - 0 Anderlecht
  • Tuesday: Olympiacos 1 - 4 Paris Saint-Germain
  • Tuesday: Bayern Munich 3 - 0 CSKA Moscow
  • Tuesday: Viktoria Plzen 0 - 3 Manchester City
  • Wednesday: Schalke 04 v. Steaua Bucuresti; Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen
  • Wednesday: Chelsea v. Basel; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Wednesday: Napoli v. Borussia Dortmund; Stadio San Paolo, Naples
  • Wednesday: Austria Wien v. Porto; Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Vienna
  • Wednesday: Atletico Madrid v. Zenit Saint Petersburg; Vicente Calderon, Madrid
  • Wednesday: AC Milan v. Celtic; San Siro, Milan
  • Wednesday: Barcelona v. Ajax; Camp Nou, Barcelona

Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal: Enervation

Many of Arsenal's leading lights spent the offseason loudly clamoring for reinforcements to be brought in. Belatedly, that was done in the person of Mesut Ozil, arguably a top-10 player in the world today. To my eyes, that lifted his teammates to a match-winning performance that I believe would have been a draw or even a loss had he not donned the famous red and white.

Unquestionably, Ozil's signing has given the fanbase a jolt of adrenaline as well. I've been going to Arsenal matches at the pub for a good decade-plus, and I can tell you that Sunderland away is not typically a hot-ticket fixture. However, I got to the Pig in the 6th minute and literally had to elbow people out of the way just to get in the door.

Sometimes these marquee signings take a while to bed in, and that combined with the weight of expectation makes them ultimately disappointing in their debut. Ozil took about ten minutes to make a mockery of that potential outcome.

Kieran Gibbs began the move, punishing Sunderland's high line with a long ball into space on the left wing. Ozil nonchalantly trapped it on the dead run, let the defender commit, and then slid a perfect square ball underneath him.The timing was perfect, and was just far enough in front of Olivier Giroud where he could strike it first time. Similarly to his goal against the Scum, Giroud's redirection was perfectly placed in the near corner, leaving Kieran Westwood no chance in the Sunderland goal.

Arsenal were all over the home side, with the industry of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini giving Ozil room to pull the strings in midfield. Still, it was Sunderland who would have the next great chance, Modibo Diakite rising highest over Giroud on a corner kick. Thankfully, his header caromed off the crossbar and away to safety.

American goal-machine Jozy Altidore also had a long drive expertly palmed away by Wojciech Szczesny, but on either side of it Arsenal created the chances that should have put the game on ice. Ozil was unsurprisingly the catalyst, as he shredded the Sunderland defense with a through-ball to Theo Walcott. The Englishman was in alone on Westwood with all the time in the world - too much time, perhaps - and he could only shovel a shot right at the Irish keeper. That same pairing connected again in the 28th minute, and this time Westwood was off his line in a flash before Theo could react.

It isn't obvious from the description so far, but Sunderland were not that bad on the day. They had the courage to commit men forward and you could see them gelling into an effective unit later on in the season. Arsenal were just too good though, especially in the first half. Just before halftime, Giroud's knock-down to Wilshere was crossed to the back post, Theo in all the space he could want yet again. Yet again, his finishing let him down, though to be fair heading isn't one of his strong suits.

So, it was a storyline that we've seen all too much of in recent years - Act I being near-total domination over a weak opponent but without the goals to show for it. When Act II (a ridiculous moment of defense idiocy leading to an equalizer) followed early in the second half, we could be forgiven for assuming the worst.

A Sunderland corner was cleared out poorly by (I think) Giroud, and the follow-up header was underhit by Gibbs. The Black Cats looped it into penalty area for Adam Johnson, with Laurent Koscielny in attendance. The Frenchman panicked, not realizing that Gibbs was backing him up. Johnson was hauled down, and Martin Atkinson rightly called the penalty. Craig Gardner sent Szczesny the wrong way, and more dropped points in the northeast looked to be on the horizon.

But, I never felt like that, though. Arsenal looked lively and mostly made the right decisions, even if the execution wasn't always there. Someone needs to have a word with Gibbs though - he was open in or near the penalty area several times and should have had a go.

Meanwhile, the home side did threaten on the counter several times. Steven Fletcher bundled in off penalty-area scramble, but he was miles offside in the build-up. Later, a free kick eluded everyone, hit the post and went out. However, the offside flag was up on that occasion too. This was mostly sound and fury signifying nothing, but Sunderland did have an goal later on that should have stood. More on that in a bit.

Arsenal would first shake off their second-half doldrums to take the lead, though. Wilshere surged at the Sunderland defense, and passed to the overlapping Carl Jenkinson. The Corporal took a touch, looked up, and curled a beautiful cross in to the top of the area. Ramsey hit a howitzer of a volley into the far corner, Westwood again with a snowball's chance.

Sunderland didn't waste time going after the equalizer, and they should have had it minutes later. Altidore tussled with Sagna, muscled him off, and slid the ball past the advancing Szczesny. Atkinson blew for the foul in the initial run though, when he should have played an obvious advantage. That had to be deflating to the Black Cats, and it is perhaps not surprising that Arsenal got the third soon after.

Walcott made up for his earlier profligacy by expertly tapping a big switch to the right wing. He played it back into the center, and a few quick passes later Giroud sent Ramsey in alone with a deftly-played touch. The Welshman took his time and calmly steered it past him. That was a great team goal, the side-to-side movement stretching Sunderland's defense and giving Ramsey the seam to exploit.

There may have been 15 minutes to play, but the game was over at that point. Sunderland could offer nothing further besides Paolo Di Canio hilariously being sent off. Thomas Vermaelen made his return to shore up the defense, and Nacho Monreal made a cameo as well. More worryingly, Giroud limped off right at the end, and was replaced by Chuba Akpom. Hopefully he is OK, as the first half showed us the possibilities of his partnership with Ozil.

So, the Umlaut Era begins with a solid win, and a tantalizing view of things to come. Chelsea have lost, City have drawn, and we are still top of the league. It's not a bad time to be a Gooner, is it?

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7: Should have done better on the free kick that hit the post, but was rock-solid otherwise.

Gibbs 7: Excellent assist on the first goal, but could have been more direct at times offensively and was partially at fault for the goal.

Koscielny 6: Brain-dead penalty to concede, but he had a decent game otherwise.

Sagna 7: Once again, did well in an unfamiliar role. He continues to grow into it, though.

Jenkinson 7: Excellent cross for the second goal, was caught out a few times defensively but nothing too major though.

Flamini 7: Did what was required. In the absence of Arteta he's proving to be an inspired signing so far.

Wilshere 7: He's still only showing flashes of what he's truly capable of, but he was tenacious on defense and contributed to some of our best passing moves.

Ramsey 8: That volley. My god, that volley. 

Ozil 8: Handled the expectations of his debut brilliantly. He ran out of gas somewhat in the second half, but if this is what he can do when he's playing with an illness, I can't wait to see what he can do when he's well.

(Vermaelen 7): Helped tighten things up in the back once we were up 3-1. Good to see the captain back, hopefully he's put last season behind him.

Walcott 6: Maybe should be a 5 for his woeful finishing, but he was in the right areas and on another day would have bagged a brace.

(Monreal N/A): Brief cameo, nothing more.

Giroud 8: Yet another excellent performance both on the scoresheet and with his hold-up play. He's become so critical for us, and it'd be a huge blow if he's out for any length of time. 

(Akpom N/A): I highly doubt he's ready for this level. Please be OK, Olivier.

Man of the Match:  Ozil was great on his debut, but it has to be Aaron Ramsey.


Preview by Numbers: Sunderland v. Arsenal

Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Saturday, September 14
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Richard West and Harry Lennard
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • This Match, Last Year: Sunderland 0 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 55 Arsenal wins, 50 Sunderland wins, 39 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W // L-W-W
  • Sunderland's League Form: D-D-L // L-D-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 13 C / 56 F
Özil Özil Özil Özil.

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Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil.

Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil Özil.


Arsenal Squad News

Out: Rosicky (thigh,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Arteta (thigh,) Vermaelen (back,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Sanogo (back)

Our striking depth will be fine! We found this homeless guy
sleeping at the training ground!
For the record, that's the last I'll be using the umlauts for Ozil's name. If you're going to give me a hard time about it, then I expect you to use them across the board. That means Rosický, Szczęsny, and Fabiański. Didn't think so.

I don't see any reason why Mesut Ozil should not start tomorrow's game, considering he's match fit. It's not like he's coming in after missing a pre-season. Throw in the fact that Tomas Rosicky injured his thigh on international duty (because of course he did,) that's even more reason for Ozil to start.

Despite limping off the pitch during England's turgid 0-0 draw in Kiev, Theo Walcott is fit to start this weekend. The same goes for Jack Wilshere, who spent all weekend being kicked by opponents (I sense a running theme with him.)

There is word that Yaya Sanogo picked up a back injury with France's Under-21's, but I haven't heard anything further about that and Arsene Wenger only mentioned Rosicky as a casualty from the international break, so let's just put Sanogo in the "doubts" category, shall we?

As for the long term injured: Thomas Vermaelen and Mikel Arteta are the closest two to returning. It'll be much longer for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski, and (heh) Abou Diaby.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Cazorla, Walcott, Giroud.

Sunderland Squad News

Out: Cattermole (knee,) Brown (knee)
Doubts: Wickham (knock,) Gardner (groin,) Bardsley (ankle)
Suspended: O'Shea (one match)

I have nothing funny to add to this Lee Cattermole photo.
Captain John O'Shea picked up an ankle injury on international duty and a Daily Mail article suggests that he's a serious doubt for the weekend. This would be good information if it didn't ignore the fact that he'll be serving a one match ban anyway for the red card he picked up against Crystal Palace in Sunderland's last outing.

It does not appear that Sunderland picked up any other new injury problems during the break. American Jozy Altidore returned from a hamstring problem and came on as a sub in Costa Rica, only to pick up a foolish yellow card and serve an accumulation ban against Mexico on Tuesday night. He should be available for selection.

Lee Cattermole and Wes Brown, both with knee injuries, are back training with the first team but are expected to be short for the weekend. In terms of doubts, Sunderland could be without Conor Wickham (knock,) Craig Gardner (groin,) and Phil Bardsley (ankle.)

Current Form

This penalty condemned Sunderland to a second league
defeat in three games to open the season.
After the season opening loss to Aston Villa, hopefully just a blip on the radar screen, Arsenal have won four straight across all competitions, conceding just once in the process (to Darren Bent, of course, because Darren Bent always scores against Arsenal; see the last paragraph of Match Facts below.) Add this to the streak at the end of last season and the loss to Villa is Arsenal's only loss over their last 16 matches. Arsenal have also managed eight consecutive road victories since the loss to Spurs in March, which is no small accomplishment.

As for Sunderland, well, they've seen better days. Last year, the Black Cats finished just above the relegation line, three points clear of Wigan. Consecutive April wins over Newcastle and Everton are Sunderland's only league wins over their last 18 matches (2 wins, 6 draws, 10 losses.) This season, they have lost 1-0 to Fulham, drawn 1-1 with Southampton, and lost 3-1 to Crystal Palace (a scoreline largely caused by and exacerbated by John O'Shea's red card.)

Match Facts

I do recall this being an odd way to celebrate a victory...
The Stadium of Light has never been a kind place to play for Arsenal, though the Gunners have won their last two league fixtures there. It's never easy, though. Last season, Santi Cazorla's first half goal gave Arsenal a 1-0 advantage which they held on to, despite Carl Jenkinson's red card, a very nervous final half an hour, and Aaron Ramsey: Right Back. The year before that, it was Per Mertesacker's injury leading to Sunderland's opener, Aaron Ramsey's equalizer, and Thierry Henry's injury time winner.

In between those two wins, Arsenal crashed out of the 2012 FA Cup at the Stadium of Light, falling 2-0 after a tepid performance from the B-team. That still wasn't nearly as bad as crashing out of the 2013 FA Cup at home to second division Blackburn (or the Bradford City thing...)

Prior to the aforementioned three matches, Arsenal went winless in three at Sunderland. They drew 1-1 in September of 2010 (Darren Bent scoring a 95th minute equalizer after Alex Song had been sent off by Phil Dowd and Tomas Rosicky missed a penalty,) lost 1-0 in November of 2009 (Darren Bent had that goal, too,) and drew 1-1 in October of 2008 (Cesc Fabregas had the injury time equalizer after Grant Leadbitter scored in the 86th.)

The Referee

Remember this at the Emirates? Good times...
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Arsenal saw Atkinson for both of their matches with Chelsea last season, both 2-1 losses, as well as the 2-1 win over Aston Villa at the Emirates in February. You'll recall Atkinson made two critical judgment calls that led directly to Chelsea's early 2-0 lead in that January match at the Bridge (missing a foul in the build-up to the first and calling a penalty for the second.) Arsenal won two of three matches with Atkinson the year prior.

Sunderland saw Atkinson three times last year as well, a 1-1 draw with Liverpool, a 1-1 draw in their derby with Newcastle, and a 2-1 loss to Tottenham, all at the Stadium of Light. The 1-1 North East derby draw with Newcastle was the only match last year in which Atkinson showed a red card, to Cheick Tiote. It still took Sunderland until a Demba Ba 85th minute own goal to get on the board, after conceding to Yohan Cabaye in the 3rd.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Manchester United v. Crystal Palace; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Newcastle United; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Fulham v. West Bromwich Albion; Craven Cottage, London
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Cardiff City; Kingston Communications Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Manchester City; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Norwich City; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday (late): Everton v. Chelsea; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Southampton v. West Ham United; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Monday (night): Swansea City v. Liverpool; Liberty Stadium, Swansea

Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur: Forever in our Shadow

So, it turns out that 110M Euros only gives you a nicer apartment in the postal code of Arsenal's shadow.

There were many who honestly worried about this fixture in the run-up to it, but I can say that I never did. While I failed to get the score correct (I had said we'd win 3-1), the underlying reasons for my optimism were proved right in the end. Whatever our frustrations with the manager's reluctance to add to the squad, our first team is a strong one and is improving as time goes by. Meanwhile, our nearest and dearest have brought in too many players in too quick a time, and it showed in the incoherence of their play this morning.

Of course, there is still the open question as to whether our paper-thin squad depth can hold up over four competitions, and the inevitability that they will massively improve as their squad starts to gel. However, those are worries for another day - today is for reveling in a fantastic and spirited win over our rivals.

The starting XI picked itself because, really, who else was going to play? The visitors threw almost all of their new boys at us - Christian Eriksen was not signed in time and Erik Lamela only made the bench, but Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Nacer Chadli all suited up against us.

Unlike the last few NLDs, Arsenal did not give up an early goal or two that they would have to claw back later. The Gunners were solid early on, and could have been ahead in the first few minutes via a Santi Cazorla free kick had Hugo Lloris not been sharp to palm it to safety. A few minutes later, the little Spaniard had another free kick in a dangerous area, and outwitted the wall by shooting it under them as they jumped. Sadly, it went inches wide of the post.

We didn't entirely have it our way though, the visitors pouring numbers forward at every opportunity. While Carl Jenkinson looked vulnerable and continued to do so throughout the match, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were an impassable bulwark in the center of defense. The German in particular shone with his intelligent reading of the game, popping up with priceless interceptions and key tackles countless times throughout the match.

Tottenham had defended decently well in the early going themselves, but Arsenal ruthlessly took advantage of the one mistake they made in the first half. Tomas Rosicky's through-ball to Theo Walcott down the right was inch-perfect, and onside thanks to the dozing Michael Dawson. That same man was then beaten to the cutback by Olivier Giroud, who brilliantly redirected the ball on the dead run. Lloris was beaten at his near post, but no one was saving that - the placement could not be better.

The Gunners were not about to rest on the laurels of such a slim lead though, and only another fine stop from Lloris kept Walcott from doubling the advantage a few minutes later. The angle was tight, but those shots so close to your body are often awkward for a keeper to deal with. You'll see more of this theme as we continue, but this would have been a rout were it not for their French stopper.

Actually, on another day it could have been 3-0 a few minutes after that, or at least 2-0 with Lloris sent off. Yet another lightning-fast counterattack saw Theo break out into the open, but Lloris had read the danger immediately and was quickly off his line. Admittedly, in real time I was indignant that Michael Oliver had bottled it by not sending Lloris off. But, replays clearly showed that he had gotten the ball first - I hate to praise their players but that was an astonishingly brilliant tackle.

That almost took us to halftime, but not before Jack Wilshere had to come off due to the effects of the virus he's suffering with. I promise I won't belabor this point too much, but we had him in the starting XI and Bacary Sagna on the bench, both of whom should have been at home resting. I just don't get what Arsene is thinking. Anyway, Mathieu Flamini came on to kick off his second go-round with the club, and it has to be said that it was like he never left. He dealt well with the frenetic pace of the match, and gave us some bite in the center of the park. We can't complain about that performance, whatever you may think about how he left us in the lurch years ago.

The visitors started the brighter of the two sides in the second half, and if we're being honest they largely controlled the game from then on out. It was almost a Bizzaro World version of one of our matches, with us defending well and countering when the opportunity presented itself. You can't speak highly enough of our midfield's efforts, with guys like Aaron Ramsey and Rosicky haring to and fro breaking up attacks and pressuring them into mistakes.

That pressure did unfortunately result in a serious injury to Etienne Capoue, though. Santi Cazorla pressed in on him, and in the resulting tangle Santi fell heavily on the Frenchman's leg. There was no malice in it, it's the sort of thing that happens 10 or 20 times in a game - Capoue was desperately unlucky that he landed the way he did. I hear it may be a double leg break, but I hope for his sake that it's less serious than all that - I don't care who he plays for, that shouldn't be wished on anybody. We at TMG wish him a speedy recovery.

Spurs had their best chance of the match from the resulting free kick, but Wojciech Szczesny simply refused to be beaten. He really is making a mockery out of those who have been banging the drums for a new keeper (and really, Emiliano Viviano is emphatically NOT better than Szczesny - he has never made it past the fringes of the Italian national side for a reason). The first ball in was deflected out by the defense, but the substitute Jermain Defoe's volley banked off of Koscielny and looked for all the world like it was going in. Szczesny was originally wrong-footed, but stopped his momentum, got a few steps over and managed to fingertip it out at full extension. Roberto Soldado was there to pick up the rebound, but it was stopped on the line by, of all people, a certain dreamy French striker.

You will not see a better save all season - I promise you that. 99 times out of 100, you just can't save that as a keeper.

Soon after, our ludicrous lack of squad depth came into play again as Nacho Monreal replaced Rosicky in the forward three. Yes, kids, a left-back playing up top. You can cross that one off the bucket list. Sure enough, seconds later that very man had a glorious chance to tap in an easy rebound after Lloris brilliantly saved a shot from Walcott. Monreal was beaten to it by Kyle Walker though, and the chance went begging.

In a sense though, I'm glad Nacho didn't score there. The precarious 1-0 scoreline meant that the last 10 minutes (plus 5 of injury time) asked serious questions of our defense, our spirit, our toughness and our tenacity. Arsenal passed all of those tests with flying colors. It was nerve-wracking at times, as Tottenham threw more and more players forward as we retreated further and further back. A patently unfit Sagna was thrown on for Walcott in the dying minutes, as it was truly all hands to the pumps at that point.

However many heart attacks we may have collectively had in that last ten minutes, the truth of the matter is that they never seriously threatened Szczesny's goal. Everything they threw at us was repelled by Kos, or Per, or the excellent Kieran Gibbs, or even Giroud. Everyone was back there putting in a shift, and the heroes in red withstood the siege and protected those precious three points.

Look, it hasn't always been easy to be an Arsenal supporter in the last 6-7 years. All of the heartbreak, the near-misses, the transfer failures, the ridiculous reverses against poor opponents..there has been no shortage of hardships to endure. But, times like that last ten minutes make everything worth it. That was Arsenal Football Club to the bone - squint hard enough and that could have been Adams and Bould clearing out those headers, or McClintock or even Eddie Hapgood if we want to get seriously old-school.

I could not be prouder of my club today. Hours after the final whistle, I'm still buzzing. What a match. What heart. What spirit. You give us three more top-class players and we're going to win this league.

Mind the gap, Tottenham. You wish you were in our league, no matter how many millions you spend.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8:  He didn't have much to do, but made that one wonder-save when it counted. His distribution has also markedly improved, and he calmly got us out of trouble a few times by dealing with backpasses well.

Gibbs 7: Played well on both sides of the ball.

Mertesacker 8: Absolutely many critical interceptions and tackles, and was a colossus during those last ten minutes.

Koscielny 8: As awesome as the BFG was, Kos matched him key tackle for key tackle. He has had some hiccups in big matches earlier in his Arsenal career, but that part of his game is long gone.

Jenkinson 6: He was victimized more than once by Andros Townsend down the right flank, but never catastrophically. His forward runs did help keep Townsend and Walker honest, as well.

Wilshere 6: Looked off the pace, but he never should have been in there in the first place.

(Flamini 7): Honestly looked like he never left. Slotted right in and gave us a battling midfield performance on a day where it was badly needed. I for one am stoked to have him back, free transfer or not.

Ramsey 7: Definitely not his best day offensively, but he more than made up for it with a sturdy defensive outing. As noted before, he gave absolutely everything for the shirt.

Cazorla 7: Ordinary by his standards, meaning he had a good game by any reasonable measurement. Didn't quite give us the customary moment of magic, but he also put in a shift defensively and was unlucky not to score on either of his early free kicks.

Rosicky 6: I've seen a lot of people say he had a great game, but I just didn't see it. There were several times where I think he could have made a better pass, and he took a stupid yellow card in the first half. In normal circumstances he probably would have been subbed off sooner.

(Monreal 6): Like Wilshere, this rating isn't really his fault - this is what happens when you ask a left back to convert an important chance as a de facto striker. He also got skinned a few times in the dying minutes to put us under more pressure.

Walcott 7: This game won't go on his end-of-career DVD, but he worked hard and tested Lloris on several occasions.

(Sagna N/A): Did OK in a late cameo - he never should have been asked to play, but gave us a few solid minutes at the end.

Giroud 9: As close to a 10 as a 9 can get - not only did he brilliantly take his goal on a dead run, he was right back there at the end with the rest of the defense, repelling Spurs brilliantly. Not only that, he was the one to keep out Soldado's follow-up after Szczesny's wonder save.

Man of the Match: I am super, super glad that we held the lead, otherwise I'd have had to give it to Lloris in good conscience. That said, as recently as 2 hours ago (it is 7:40 in the PM at the moment), I was leaning towards Mertesacker. But, in the end, it has to be Olivier Giroud. Not just for the goal, but for a brilliant defensive performance as well. What a player he's turning out to be.