Preview by Numbers: Cardiff City v. Arsenal

Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
Saturday, November 30
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Mason
    • Assistants: Lee Betts and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Roger East
  • This Match, Last Time: Cardiff 1 - 1 Arsenal (October 28, 1961)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 18 Arsenal wins, 10 Cardiff wins, 14 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-W-W-L-W
  • Cardiff's League Form: L-L-D-W-L-D
  • Weather: Clear, 8 C / 46 F
We're coming into a log jam of fixtures here, and it's not even the notoriously busy holiday period yet: Arsenal play Saturday in Cardiff, then Wednesday night against Hull, late Sunday against Everton, then Wednesday night in Naples, before the early Saturday game at Manchester City; that last bit there is especially unfortunate scheduling. Then, a rest, as Arsenal get eight days off before Chelsea at the Emirates on the 23rd, West Ham on Boxing Day, Newcastle on the 29th, and Cardiff again on New Year's Day. Nine matches ahead for the Gunners in the next 33 days.

Technically, we're already in the middle of the log jam, as it's a total of 11 games in 40 days, which started with the 2-0 win over Southampton last weekend. Arsenal's results have been strong this year, and their positions in the tables (in England and in Europe) will tell you that, but when the going gets tough is when you truly see what teams are made of. Critical stretch, this, and Arsenal have to pick up all the points they can.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Gibbs (illness)

No changes to Arsenal's injured list, after Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla were rested on Tuesday. Theo Walcott could be back in contention for a start while someone else gets a rest, considering Arsenal play again on Wednesday. Rotation is the word and for a change, Arsenal have depth in midfield to do that. Kieran Gibbs should likely be available again, after missing Tuesday through illness.

Otherwise, it's as you were in terms of available squad. Who rests in the midfield? Aaron Ramsey? Jack Wilshere? It's impossible to know, so I'll take my best stab at it.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini, Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil, Giroud.

Cardiff Squad News

Out: None

Cardiff had only one injury concern, as Rudy Gestede was doubtful with a knee problem, but he's been loaned to Blackburn until January. So, that leaves Cardiff with zero injuries.

As such, I don't expect there to be any changes to the side that drew United at the weekend. Cardiff play basically a 4-5-1, with left wing Peter Odemwingie playing a little more forward behind striker Frazier Campbell. Well, maybe it's more of a 4-1-4-1, with Gary Medel hanging deep as a holding midfielder. Anyway, I suspect it'll be the same XI for Cardiff tomorrow as last week.

Predicted XI: Marshall, Theophile-Catherine, Caulker, Turner, Taylor, Medel, Mutch, Whittingham, Cowie, Odemwingie, Campbell.

Current Form

Over their last nine matches, across all competitions, Arsenal have won six, but have lost once in each of the competitions they've played. Still, that's good enough for top of their Champions League group, top of the Premier League, and being out of the distracting League Cup at a stage where it wasn't damaging to the team's psychology. Best case scenario, all things considered. Moreover, this will be Arsenal's sixth and final match in the month of November. November is often Arsenal's trickiest month, but they've won four and lost one so far, and have only conceded once in the process. Yes, that's right, van Persie's header is the only goal Arsenal have conceded in the month of November, and all four wins have been clean sheets. Considering the competition (Liverpool, Dortmund, Marseille, and Southampton,) that's nothing to shake a stick at.

Cardiff are coming off a hard fought 2-2 draw with Manchester United last weekend, but on the whole, their results have been all over the map this season. They've beaten Manchester City, and Fulham, and rival Swansea. They've drawn United and Everton, but also Hull and Norwich. They've lost to West Ham, Tottenham (in the 90th minute,) Newcastle, Chelsea, and Aston Villa. They've actually lost twice to West Ham, including once in the League Cup. All-in-all, those results are good enough for 15th place, just three points clear of relegation. It's the definition of low-to-mid-table. They're not as bad as Crystal Palace or Sunderland, but they're not good enough to be comfortable either, and that's what makes them tricky to prepare for. They've taken four points out of six from the Manchester clubs at home this season, so it's a fixture not to be taken lightly.

Match Facts

The Cardiff City Stadium opened in the summer of 2009; this is Arsenal's first game there. Arsenal's last trip to Cardiff came in January of 2009 in the third round of the FA Cup; Cardiff took the tie back to the Emirates after a 0-0 draw. Arsenal then won that replay 4-0. Arsenal's previous trip to Cardiff came in the 1982/83 League Cup, when the Gunners won the tie 5-2 on aggregate; they won 3-1 in Cardiff in the second leg, after winning 2-1 at Highbury.

Cardiff's last year in the top flight, before this season, was 1961/62. Both matches between the clubs ended in 1-1 draws that season. Arsenal finished 10th that year. It should be noted that Cardiff were relegated along with Chelsea in 1962. Cardiff's last win over Arsenal came the season before that, 3-2 at Highbury. Cardiff's last home win over Arsenal was on September 24, 1960, as Cardiff took both matches in 1960/61.

The Referee

The referee is Lancashire-based Lee Mason. Arsenal saw Mason earlier this year in their 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion. This will be Mason's first Cardiff match of the season.

Arsenal also drew both matches in which they had Mason as the referee last year, 0-0 at Stoke and 0-0 at Aston Villa. They won both of their matches with Mason the year before that, over Stoke and Everton. While I've never been fond of Mason as a referee, Arsenal are unbeaten in their last eight matches with him, dating back to Lukasz Fabianski's 3-2 loss to Wigan in April of 2010.

Cardiff have not had Lee Mason as a referee since April 28, 2012 for a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Sunderland; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Everton v. Stoke City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Crystal Palace; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Fulham; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday (late): Newcastle United v. West Bromwich Albion; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Sunday (earliest): Tottenham Hotspur v. Manchester United; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (early): Hull City v. Liverpool; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Sunday (late): Chelsea v. Southampton; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (late): Manchester City v. Swansea City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester

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

Emirates Stadium, London
Tuesday, November 26
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT

  • Match Officials from Spain
    • Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz
    • Assistants: Pau Cebrian Devis and Javier Rodriguez
    • 4th Official: Teodoro Sobrino
    • Additional Assistants: Carlos Gomez and Javier Estrada
  • Reverse Fixture: Marseille 1 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 2 Arsenal wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-W-W-W-L-W
  • Marseille's European Form: L-L // L-L-L-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 2 C / 36 F
I don't know about you, but I had a pretty good weekend, and not just because I celebrated my birthday on Saturday night (my actual birthday is Thursday, which this year falls on an American holiday; I have to remember that this blog has an international audience.) What I mean is that the results largely went Arsenal's way this weekend: a 2-0 win for the Gunners against a tricky Southampton side, Liverpool and Everton splitting the points in their derby, Cardiff City's late equalizer against Manchester United, and as for Tottenham, well, I'm glad another North London club knows what it's like to lose by six in Manchester. The results leave Arsenal four points clear, but there's still 26 games to play. It's a marathon, not a sprint, but you have to be encouraged by the start.

Tonight's match sees Arsenal switch gears back to a Champions League group they currently lead by virtue of their head-to-head result with Napoli. A win would be massively helpful, as Arsenal currently controls their own destiny, and this is their last home game of the group stage. The scenarios play out as follows:

Group F Scenarios

Marseille are already eliminated from advancing to the knock-out stage, as they are nine points back with two games remaining; they could still run the table and finish in the Europa League spot, but even that looks like too tall of an order.

Arsenal would be through to the knock-out stage with a win only if Borussia Dortmund, currently in third, fail to win at home against Napoli. Napoli are through with a win, which would also carry Arsenal through as long as they don't lose. A draw between Napoli and Dortmund would be enough to see the Italian side through, as they would remain three points clear of Dortmund with the better head-to-head tie-breaker standing. Since Arsenal split their head-to-head with Dortmund, a draw is enough for Arsenal to advance only if Dortmund loses.

Essentially, Arsenal are through if and only if they better Dortmund's result.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)

I expect Flamini to just not have sleeves at all tonight.
There's good news for Arsenal on the injury front as Mikel Arteta, who was substituted from Saturday's match as a precaution, has passed fit to remain in the squad. In addition, Mathieu Flamini returns, having served a one league match ban for yellow card accumulation. While that would not have affected his availability for this European match anyway, it is notable as he and his sleeves have not played since November 10, which certainly feels like a million years ago at this point.

Other than that, there are no other changes to the available squad. Lukas Podolski is training with the first team again but is still a few weeks away, while the long-term injured trio of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Abou Diaby, and Yaya Sanogo are not yet close to returning.

That leaves the question of rotation as Arsenal did just play three days ago. I think the most plausible scenario is that Mikel Arteta starts from the bench for a rest, as do Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, giving starts to Flamini and Tomas Rosicky.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Rosicky, Cazorla, Ozil, Giroud.

Marseille Squad News

Out: Payet (knee,) Ayew (knee,) Fanni (muscle strain)

Marseille are without three of the players who started against Arsenal on Matchday 1: Dmitri Payet picked up a knee injury on Friday night against Ajaccio and will miss this match, Andre Ayew is out eight weeks after knee surgery, and Rod Fanni will miss out with a muscle strain.

Current Form

Marseille struggled through much of October.
Arsenal have lost at home three times this season, once in every competition (Aston Villa in the league, Borussia Dortmund in Europe, and Chelsea in the League Cup.) Their 2-0 victory over Southampton showed no ill mental effects of their 1-0 loss to Manchester United before the international break. The going will get tough for Arsenal ahead, thanks to fixture congestion. They face Cardiff at the weekend, Hull City next Wednesday, Everton at the Emirates on Sunday the 8th, then Napoli in Italy, and Manchester City at the Etihad before a nine day break. That nine day break is followed, however, by Chelsea's second visit to the Emirates of the season.

Marseille have won two straight after going seven winless across all competitions.They played on Friday night against Ajaccio, giving them an extra day's rest, and won 3-1. Before the break, they had beaten Sochaux 2-1 thanks to an 83rd minute penalty. Despite their troubles, Marseille are still in fourth in Ligue 1, though they trail league leading PSG by 10 points. Marseille have lost six straight matches in Europe, including some from last year's Europa League, and are winless in their last eight European outings.

Match Facts

Theo Walcott opened the scoring on Matchday 1.
Arsenal and Marseille have now met three times in the UEFA Champions League, all over the last three years. Arsenal have won twice in Marseille, winning earlier this year by a 2-1 scoreline that was blemished slightly by the home side's late penalty. When these clubs met at the Emirates in 2011 on Matchday 4, the Gunners were held to a 0-0 draw; it was the only start of consequence in Ju Young Park's Arsenal career. Marseille finished second in the group behind Arsenal that season.

Arsenal have a mixed record of results against French sides in London, winning four, drawing three, and losing two. Arsenal lost 2-1 to Auxerre in 2002 and 1-0 to Lens in 1998. The draws came against Marseille in 2011, as mentioned earlier, Lyon in 2001, and Auxerre in 1995. The wins came over Montpellier last year, Lens and Nantes in the 1999/2000 UEFA Cup, and PSG in the 1994 Cup Winners' Cup.

On English soil, Marseille have a record of just one win, four draws, and six losses; the win came in Liverpool in 2007. They have lost on the road against in England against Manchester United twice, Chelsea twice, Liverpool, and Southampton. Their draws have come against Arsenal, Liverpool, Newcastle, and (surprise!) Bolton Wanderers.

The Referee

The match officials are from Spain; the referee is Antonio Mateu Lahoz. This will be his third UEFA Champions League match of his career, excluding qualifiers. As such, this is his first time working a match for either Arsenal or Marseille. On Matchday 4, he took charge of Bayern Munich's 1-0 win at Viktoria Plzen; last year, he worked a 1-1 draw between Montpellier and Schalke in Arsenal's group on Matchday 6. He also worked a qualifying round game between Lyon and Grasshopper this August.

Two English sides had Mateu Lahoz last year in the Europa League, and both won by 3-0 scorelines: Newcastle against Bordeaux in the group stage and Tottenham over Inter Milan in the Round of 16. Last week, he worked an international friendly between Turkey and Belarus.

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Basel v. Chelsea; St. Jakob-Park, Basel
  • Tuesday: Steaua Bucuresti v. Schalke 04; Arena Nationala, Bucharest
  • Tuesday: Borussia Dortmund v. Napoli; Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund
  • Tuesday: Porto v. Austria Wien; Estadio do Dragao, Porto
  • Tuesday: Zenit St. Petersburg v. Atletico Madrid; Petrovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg
  • Tuesday: Celtic v. AC Milan; Celtic Park, Glasgow
  • Tuesday: Ajax v. Barcelona; Amsterdam Arena, Amsterdam
  • Wednesday: Bayer Leverkusen v. Manchester United; BayArena, Leverkusen
  • Wednesday: Shakhtar Donetsk v. Real Sociedad; Donbass Arena, Donetsk
  • Wednesday: Juventus v. Copehagen; Juventus Stadium, Turin
  • Wednesday: Real Madrid v. Galatasaray; Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
  • Wednesday: Anderlecht v. Benfica; Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, Anderlecht
  • Wednesday: Paris St. Germain v. Olympiacos; Parc des Princes, Paris
  • Wednesday: Manchester City v. Viktoria Plzen, Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Wednesday: CSKA Moscow v. Bayern Munich; Arena Khimki, Khimki

Arsenal 2-0 Southampton: The Artur Boruc Experience

There is quite a lot about this current iteration of Southampton that is jarring to someone who started supporting when I did. The historic red-and-white stripes are gone, replaced with a Nottingham Forest-esque plain red. The defensively abject side with one superlative skill player in Matt Le Tissier is gone, a hard-pressing, hard-working colossus of a defense in its place. The old Saints boasted a solid-but unspectacular keeper in Paul Jones who was notable in his long-serving loyalty to the club. This lot have a mostly brilliant netminder notable for his vagabond tendencies.

Given all of this change, it is nice to know that some things are still rock-solid in this crazy world of ours. Long-time readers know that Celtic are my second team, and thus I am intimately familiar with The Artur Boruc Experience. He will give you many astonishing performances in a season, but you take them in the knowledge that he will cost you one or two matches thanks to some moments of high lunacy (I distinctly remember one match away to Inverness Caledonian Thistle where Celtic scored twice and still lost, Boruc badly at fault for all three Caley goals). 

Thankfully, one of those moments arrived yesterday at the Grove. Southampton, as expected, battled in the midfield and made it difficult for Arsenal to get their flowing passing football going. I could have also written that as "Southampton kicked everything that moved, with the hilariously incompetent Mark Clattenburg allowing them to get away with various shades of assault for most of the match". Still, Boruc's error gave us the breathing space we needed to focus on keeping the excellent Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert at bay, even if we never could reach top gear ourselves.

That's not to say that we didn't fashion any chances, though. Jack Wilshere's gorgeous chip from a tough angle had Boruc beaten, but bounced off the post and into the Polish stopper's hands. A few minutes later, Aaron Ramsey backheel-volleyed Mesut Ozil's cross, only for it to hit the same post that Wilshere had.

I was beginning to think that it was not going to be our day, when Boruc received a harmless backpass. He was under no immediate pressure, and even when it first got tangled in his feet he still had time to boot it out to touch and let his defense get back. Instead, he panicked, tried several Cryuff turns in his own area, only to get shouldered off the ball by Giroud. The HFB tapped into the empty net, capping off the morning's show under the big top.

As mentioned, the visitors worked hard, but they created little themselves. Lallana did have one tracer tipped over the bar by Wojciech Szczesny, but our Pole had little to do otherwise. Part of that was the Saints not finding any rhythm, but credit also must go to our midfield and the two fullbacks, all of whom put in a shift themselves.

The second half was played out with the same theme - both sides huffing and puffing without finding a way past the opposing backline. All credit to Southampton - they did an excellent job of marking Ozil and Santi Cazorla out of the game, which stifled much of our creativity. Still, Arsenal had more of the ball, and made Lallana such a non-factor that he was hauled off on the hour mark.

There were some noteworthy occurrences, though. Theo Walcott made a welcome return from injury, while Mikel Arteta couldn't run off a knock and had to be withdrawn for Tomas Rosicky. Nacho Monreal came on to shore things up with ten minutes to go.

Injury time loomed as we won a corner. We had generated zero threat on any of them, but on this occasion Rui Fonte stupidly grabbed enough of Per Mertesacker's jersey where even Clattenburg could do nothing but point to the spot. Giroud stepped up, and smashed home the penalty kick. Sharp-eyed viewers would have noticed that Boruc moved unbelievably early, so it was no surprise that the HFB's shot went to the other side of the net.

Frankly, the 2-0 scoreline probably flattered us a bit. The Saints were as defensively-solid as advertised, and our skill players did little to break them down. I mentioned that Ozil and Cazorla had off-days, but Ramsey was a bit off as well, other than the back-flick. But, to me that is actually a heartening development. Think of it this way - Arsenal could not stamp their authority on the match at home against a tough opponent, and still came away with a comfortable win.

It is too early to plan any parades, but this Arsenal team are going to be there or thereabouts when the season reaches its denouement. I promise you that.

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Arteta 7 (Rosicky 7), Ramsey 7, Wilshere 7, Ozil 6 (Monreal N/A), Cazorla 6 (Walcott 7), Giroud 8

Man of the Match: This was more of a workmanlike team performance rather than one where anyone particularly stood out - so I'll go with Olivier Giroud for the two goals.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Southampton

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, November 23
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Adrian Holmes
    • 4th Official: Anthony D'Urso
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 6 - 1 Southampton
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 43 Arsenal wins, 16 Southampton wins, 23 draws
  • Arsenal's Current Form: W-D-W-W-W-L
  • Southampton's Current Form: W-W-D-W-D-W
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 6 C / 43 F
How did you spend your break? Per Mertesacker spent his
single-handedly beating England 1-0.
Welcome back! How was your international break? I already forgot what I did last weekend. Without an Arsenal match to jog my memory, everything else becomes a strange blur. I don't think I left the house much and there was a James Bond film involved starring George Lazenby. I won't tell you which one, but I think you can figure it out.

But it's back to business now, and first place hosts third place at the Emirates tomorrow. I don't think anyone thought first place vs. third place on November 23 would have been Arsenal and Southampton when this season started, but here we are. You'll get a lot of the same rhetoric as we saw before Arsenal's trip to Old Trafford, though in a slight reversal of fortunes. This match is another acid test for Southampton, who have picked up four points from Anfield and Old Trafford this season. For Arsenal, it's another test of mental strength (but what isn't?)

In my opinion, it's better that Southampton have had they start to this season that they have and that Arsenal has not played them earlier; the Gunners won't be taken by surprise by the upstart Saints like Liverpool and United were.

So, let's get back to work.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Walcott (stomach)
Suspended: Flamini (one match, accumulation)

"Okay, I'm going to need a bigger measuring tape..."
It seems so far, so good in terms of injury news after the international break, with the only major scare being Aaron Ramsey's hamstring. That could put Arsenal in a tough spot if it's worse than expected, because Mathieu Flamini will serve a one match ban for yellow card accumulation. If Ramsey's not fit to go, then Arsenal is down two midfielders, with Jack Wilshere still a bit touch-and-go with his ankle. I assume Tomas Rosicky is fit to start, however.

Provided nobody gets another random virus right before kick-off, there isn't much other news around the team; Theo Walcott is back in contention, but unless Arsenal is truly bereft of options, I can only see him coming back from the bench. Lukas Podolski is about three weeks away, but it'll be much longer for the Ox (who had a set-back, it would appear,) Yaya Sanogo, and Abou Diaby (who remains Diaby.)

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Rosicky, Cazorla, Ozil, Giroud.

Southampton Squad News

Out: Do Prado (knee)

Southampton have only one injury concern in their squad, as Guly Do Prado (whose own goal equalized for Arsenal at St. Mary's last season) is out until early January after he underwent knee surgery earlier this month. Do Prado has only appeared in three league matches this season, all off the bench.

As such, there's no reason to assume the Saints will make any changes to their line-up; the only change I could foresee would be on the wing, where Pablo Osvaldo could return to the starting XI for the first time since their draw at Old Trafford and replace James Ward-Prowse. Their threats up front were all selected by the English national side during this last international break; both Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez picked up their first career caps, with Lallana starting both England losses. Adam Lambert appeared only once, coming off the bench to replace Lallana against Germany. England did not score in either match and were outscored by Per Mertesacker on Tuesday.

Predicted XI: Boruc, Clyne, Lovren, Fonte, Shaw, Schneiderlin, Wanyama, Ward-Prowse, Rodriguez, Lallana, Lambert.

Current Form

Here's Southampton picking up more points at Old Trafford
than Arsenal have in years.
Arsenal might still be top of the league, but Southampton is the in-form side of the Premier League right now, as they have only lost one match this season and have picked up 14 points out of a possible 18 from their last six matches (compared to Arsenal's 13 of 18.) Southampton's away form this year, however, has been... ah, I want to use the term "bumpy" for some reason: they got a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford (where Arsenal lost,) a 1-0 win at Anfield, and a 1-0 win at the Hawthorns (where Arsenal drew,) but they also lost 1-0 at Norwich and drew 1-1 at Stoke. Those aren't bad results, mind you, but they've only picked up eight points on their travels; five clubs have done better (Arsenal, United, Everton, Newcastle, and Spurs.)

The most stunning part of Southampton's record this season is that they've only conceded five goals in 11 games (that's the fewest in the league,) and have never allowed their opponents to hit the net twice in a game; it would be four goals if it weren't for Asmir Begovic's fluke goal for Stoke.

Depending on how the results shake out, a Southampton win, however, would bring them level on points with Arsenal and bring them at least level on goal difference. If Liverpool fail to beat Everton in the early game, the Saints could go top of the league with a victory, though Arsenal's superior goals scored total means Southampton would need a two-goal or more win to do so.

Match Facts

Arsenal got a brace from Own Goal last September in this
Arsenal took four of a possible six points from Southampton last year, winning 6-1 at the Emirates in September, then drawing 1-1 at St. Mary's on New Year's Day. In the 6-1 win, Arsenal opened the scoring in the 11th minute, when a Kieran Gibbs cross was turned into the Southampton net by defender Jos Hooiveld. Just after the half hour mark, a Lukas Podolski free kick made it 2-0 to the good, and four minutes later, Gervinho added a third, and another own goal two minutes after that made it four. Southampton pinged one back just before the break, after a Wojciech Szczesny error gifted the ball to Daniel Fox, making it 4-1 at the half. Gervinho picked up a brace in the 71st, then Theo Walcott picked up a goal against his former club to close the scoring in the 88th. In the 1-1 draw, Gaston Ramirez opened the scoring in the 35th minute, but Arsenal equalized from an own goal off a set piece six minutes later. The rest of the match, however, was a dreadful display.

Southampton's last win at Arsenal came on November 21, 1987.

The Referee

Clattenburg Sass Face
The referee is County Durham-based Mark Clattenburg. Clattenburg has not worked a Premier League match since before the last international break, October 5 for Hull's 0-0 draw with Aston Villa. The week before that was his only Arsenal match of the year, the Gunners' 2-1 win at Swansea. This will be his first Southampton match of the season.

In any case, that's because Clatts was in the United Arab Emirates for the U-17 World Cup, where he worked two group stage matches.

Arsenal won once and lost twice with Clattenburg last year, despite a historically strong record with him as the referee over the last two or three years. Southampton had Clattenburg five times last year and drew four of them, each by a different scoreline (2-2 with Fulham, 1-1 with Norwich, 3-3 with Stoke, and 0-0 with Norwich again,) then lost 1-0 to Spurs in late May, back when Spurs only won games by one late Gareth Bale goal instead of one penalty.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Everton v. Liverpool; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Fulham v. Swansea City; Craven Cottage, London
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Crystal Palace; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Norwich City; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Sunderland; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday (late): West Ham United v. Chelsea; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Sunday (early): Manchester City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (late): Cardiff City v. Manchester United; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
  • Monday (night): West Bromwich Albion v. Aston Villa; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich

Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal: Not too Disheartened

Everything I am about to say will not have the proper context until I say this: If aliens invaded and a Premier League team had to play 11 of theirs for control of the Earth, I would support most of our lot in full voice. Liverpool, Manchester City, even Chelsea...I'm with them all the way. Tottenham? I'll hold my nose, I won't be vocal, but I'd want them to win.

Manchester United? Well, I for one welcome our new alien overlords.

Still, I am not as down about this as I would be in most other cases. At the end of the day, I look at this game, look at our opponents, and ask myself: "THAT was the great and terrible Manchester United at Old Trafford? THAT is all you got?". They got one set piece goal and contributed almost nothing else.

You bring that shit into our house, United, and we're going to massacre you.

The Arsenal are left to wonder though what could have been had they not played the first half gripped in an inexplicable panic. Arsene will trot out the old handbrake chestnut again I'm sure, but this was well beyond handbrakes...this was plain old fear, and it was obvious in the terrible first touches and panicked decisions on display.

Some culprits were worse than others, though. It took Kieran Gibbs the best part of 70 minutes to work out that the guys in red shirts weren't his mates. Santi Cazorla and to a lesser extent Mesut Ozil both played like the playing surface was lined with kryptonite. Aaron Ramsey was peripheral at best, spraying horrible passes to no one in particular.

Oh, and Judas was the one to score...because of course he did. It was one moment, one spot of terrible marking and miscommunication on a corner kick. Credit to them, though, they executed it perfectly and Judas made no mistake.

Arsene must have given them a hell of a kick up the hole at halftime though, as our boys were a much different team after the interval. Whatever we may think of the result, we should take heart in the fact that the big bad Manchester United retreated immediately into their shell and never came out the first time we strung three passes together. Rooney did have a few pops at goal that he may have done better with, but they barely had the ball otherwise.

In the end though, Arsenal's execution was just that tad bit off all day, which was the only thing that kept United from dropping points. There will be bitching about squad depth, but if we had options like Tomas Rosicky or Theo Walcott or Lukas Podolski or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain available, I imagine this may have been a different story. As it was, Serge Gnabry tried, but didn't make much of an impact. The less said about Nicklas Bendtner, the better. Bacary Sagna's crossing deserved better all day, but one in particular late on should have been turned in - unfortunately, the Danish Samurai was on the other end of it.

There is an argument that we should have done better with Nemanja Vidic being out for the whole second half (thanks to a horror collision with his own goalkeeper), one that I would mostly agree with. That said, we had a stonewall penalty in the last 10 minutes turned down, a scythe on Olivier Giroud in the penalty area uncalled by the referee. I will simply note my lack of surprise that a 28-year old kid bottled a big decision against United at Old Trafford. Quelle surprise.

Anyway, there will be better days, Gooners. This is tough to take, I get it. The performance was not the best, believe me, I understand that. But everything that could go wrong did so today, and even still if they played this game 10 times United MIGHT win two of them. We'll still be there or thereabouts when it gets to the sharp end of the season - I promise you that. Keep the faith.

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 4, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 8, Sagna 8, Arteta 7 (Bendtner 5), Flamini 7 (Wilshere 7), Cazorla 5 (Gnabry 7), Ramsey 5, Ozil 6, Giroud 6

Man of the Match: I hate to say it, but it has to be Wayne Rooney. Sure, Judas got the goal - but Rooney put himself about on both sides of the ball, covering every proverbial blade of grass.

Preview by Numbers: Manchester United v. Arsenal

Old Trafford, Manchester
Sunday, November 10
11:10 a.m. EST, 16:10 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Simon Long
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • This Match, Last Year: Manchester United 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 79 Arsenal wins, 91 United wins, 47 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-W-W-W
  • Manchester United's League Form: L-L-W-D-W-W
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 8 C / 46 F
This was going to be the week that defined whether or not Arsenal were truly contenders. The pundits tried to write off Arsenal's run of form, claiming they hadn't played anyone of note (despite home wins and clean sheets against Tottenham and Napoli during the course of the streak.)

Then, Arsenal lost 2-1 to Borussia Dortmund, beat Crystal Palace unconvincingly, then crashed out of the League Cup to Chelsea. With Liverpool, Dortmund, and Manchester United on the horizon before the international break, this was certainly the week to scrutinize Arsenal's pedigree.

Well, two games down, two wins, three goals scored, none conceded, and one very big match-up at Old Trafford to play.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Wilshere (ankle,) Flamini (groin,) Walcott (stomach)

We start with the news that Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere have been called up to the England squad for two friendlies during this upcoming international break. The news about Wilshere is most interesting, because he remains a doubt with his ankle injury (again, it's not that ankle this time.) According to Roy Hodgson, he'll only be called into the England squad if he passes fit for Arsenal at the weekend, so methinks it might be wiser just to shut him down until after the break. The midfield has been clicking well, but the lack of options from the bench is what's worrying, which is why this decision could go either way.

Mathieu Flamini may come back into the squad after picking up a groin injury two weeks ago, so that remains to be seen. I've listed Theo Walcott as a doubt, but he wasn't named in the England squad at all, suggesting that he's almost certainly out until after the break.

If there are, in fact, no new returns, then I can't see the boss deviating from the recent XI too much.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud.

Manchester United Squad News

Out: Rafael (ankle,) Fletcher (illness,) Evans (back)
Doubts: Welbeck (knee,) Cleverley (double vision,) Carrick (calf)

United lost three players to injury during their 3-1 win over Fulham at the weekend: Rafael with an ankle injury, Jonny Evans with a back problem, and Tom Cleverley with double vision. Cleverley trained with the team, but did not make the trip to Spain, the other two missed training.

Michael Carrick sat out training before the trip with a calf problem and is a big doubt in the center of midfield; I believe it'd be Antonio Valencia starting in that place if Carrick misses out, but I honestly try not to watch a lot of United... Danny Welbeck also trained, after missing the Fulham match with a knee injury, though he did not make the trip to Spain either.

Tactically, in my predicted XI below, I've got Chris Smalling starting with Rafael missing out, Valencia in place of Carrick, Nani and Adnan Januzaj starting on the wings, and Wayne Rooney playing behind some traitor.

Predicted XI: De Gea, Smalling, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Valencia, Fellaini, Nani, Januzaj, Rooney, Van Persie.

Current Form

Arsenal extended their unbeaten streak away from home to 15 games on Wednesday, with their accomplished 1-0 smash-and-grab against Borussia Dortmund, which left them again on top of the Group of Death in the Champions League. Since losing at Tottenham in early March, Arsenal have beaten, in order, the likes of Bayern Munich, Swansea, West Brom, Fulham, QPR, Newcastle, Fenerbahce, Fulham again, Sunderland, Marseille, Swansea again, Crystal Palace, and Borussia Dortmund, with a league draw and a League Cup draw that was won on penalties against West Brom at the Hawthorns. That's 13 wins and 2 draws at West Brom away from home over the last nine months. It's been enough to be at the top of the table in Europe two-thirds of the way through the group stage and five points clear at the top of the Premier League after 10 games.

Manchester United, on the other hand, have struggled  under new manager David Moyes. Their league results have turned around a little bit after losing three out of four earlier in the season, but their four match unbeaten run has been against Sunderland, Southampton, Stoke, and Fulham, winning three and drawing the upstart Saints. They're unbeaten in eight across all competitions, and doing moderately well in Europe, but have drawn both of their road matches, against Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Sociedad, the latter 0-0 earlier this week, after Robin van Persie missed a penalty.

Match Facts

Manchester United have had the better of Arsenal in recent meetings, which you probably know already (possibly because I copied and pasted a lot of this section from my last United preview.) In 2006/07, Arsenal won both league meetings between the sides. Since that year, across all competitions, United have met Arsenal 16 times. Arsenal have won two of those matches, drawn three, and lost 11.

In this corresponding fixture last season, United dominated after scoring pretty much right away in the most cliched way possible. Vito Mannone kept Arsenal in the match with a string of good saves and Wayne Rooney missed a penalty, but Jack Wilshere was sent off with the match already at 2-0. Santi Cazorla scored a consolation goal with the last kick of the match to make the scoreline look more respectable, but that was just papering over the cracks. On the day, Arsenal were the much lesser team.

Then, of course, in April, United came to the Emirates having already won the league earlier in the week. That time, it was Arsenal that opened the scoring pretty much right away through Theo Walcott, but that guy again scored from the penalty spot to make it 1-1 at halftime. It was a much better performance from Arsenal and a vital point in the hunt for fourth place.

United are unbeaten in their last nine home matches against Arsenal, winning eight of them (and clinching the league title with the one draw). September 17, 2006 marks Arsenal's last win at Old Trafford, during that aforementioned season when Arsenal took six points from United. That match ended 1-0; Emmanuel Adebayor had the 86th minute winner. Since then, in nine matches at Old Trafford, United has outscored Arsenal 22-5.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. This is Oliver's second Arsenal match this season and the second time it's been a rather huge fixture; Oliver took charge of the North London derby and Arsenal's 1-0 win in early September. Last year, Arsenal drew Everton 1-1 at Goodison Park and beat Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup with Oliver in the middle.

This will be Oliver's first Manchester United match of the season. Last year with Oliver, the Red Devils beat Wigan 4-0, drew at Swansea 1-1, and drew at West Brom 5-5 on the final day of the season.

Oliver, who turned 28 in February, is the youngest referee to ever work a Premier League game, a record he took from Stuart Attwell (who has since been demoted.) Oliver's biggest honor to date was to referee the FA Cup semi-final between Wigan and Millwall last year; he was also the fourth official at last year's League Cup final and this year's Community Shield.

He recently came into some controversy however, awarding Tottenham a borderline penalty for handball against Hull on October 27, which Roberto Soldado converted to give Spurs a 1-0 win, because of course. Oliver was then dropped last week, only to then be given United v. Arsenal at Old Trafford, which seems a bit counter-intuitive when you think about it.

Still, it's better than Mike Dean or Howard Webb or Phil Dowd at Old Trafford, so let's count our blessings and thank the FA.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Cardiff City; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. West Bromwich Albion; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Everton; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. Fulham; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Hull City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday (late): Norwich City v. West Ham United; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Sunday (very early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Newcastle United; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (regular early): Sunderland v. Manchester City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Sunday: Swansea City v. Stoke City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea

Preview by Numbers: Borussia Dortmund v. Arsenal, Champions League Group Matchday 4

Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund
Wednesday, October 6
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials from the Netherlands
    • Referee: Bjorn Kuipers
    • Assistants: Sander van Roekel and Erwin Zeinstra
    • 4th Official: Angelo Boonman
    • Additional Assistants: Pol van Boekel and Richard Liesveld
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 2 Dortmund
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 2 Arsenal wins, 2 Dortmund wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's European Form: W // W-W-W-W-L
  • Dortmund's European Form: W-L-L // L-W-W
  • Weather: Scattered Light Rain, 10 C / 49 F
Arsenal's standing would be a lot more comfortable if they
had even drawn two weeks ago.
I'll frame this with the case of a few scenarios: right now, Arsenal, Dortmund, and Napoli are all tied with six points earned and three games to play. The first tie-breaker is points earned between tied teams and on that, they are also all tied, with a win and a loss against the others. So, it comes down to goal difference in games between the tied teams, which Arsenal leads +1 to even to -1.

I'm going forward with the premise that Napoli will beat Marseille at home and be on nine points by tomorrow's end. If Arsenal beat Dortmund, they will also have nine points and things look fairly comfortable for qualification, with Marseille coming to London Matchday 5.

If Arsenal lose to Dortmund, then the Gunners are on the outside, staring the Europa League in the face. They'll have to win out to finish on 12 points. If they were to do that, it might still not be enough to win the group, because if everyone beats Marseille and Napoli beat Dortmund on Matchday 5, then all three teams finish with 12 points. And then, it comes down to goal difference in games between the tied teams.

If that doesn't give you even more anxiety going into this game then you already had, then I don't know if anything could, and if that's the case, then you're an enviably confident person.

Big match, this.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Wilshere (ankle,) Flamini (groin,) Walcott (stomach,) Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Gibbs (calf)

Here are some Germans. This picture isn't totally relevant.
Well, that's a list of "out" players that just keeps getting longer, doesn't it? It does appear, however, that Mathieu Flamini could be available in some way, shape, or form, against Manchester United on Sunday. Unfortunately, this blog post is about tonight, so that's irrelevant. Theo Walcott will not likely return until after the international break (he just keeps getting pushed forward, doesn't he? It's almost Diaby-esque.)

Jack Wilshere did not make the trip to Germany, still nursing an ankle injury (it's the other ankle, not the one previously seriously injured.) Kieran Gibbs, who left the 2-0 win over Liverpool with a calf injury, trained with the first team on Tuesday and was called "completely available," so it's really a judgment call for Arsene Wenger as to whether he starts. I'm going to guess that he will.

Serge Gnabry will be available from the bench after missing some time with an ankle problem he suffered against Crystal Palace. It's as you were with everyone else.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud.

Dortmund Squad News

Out: Gundogan (spine,) Piszczek (hip/groin)
Doubts: Hummels (back/thigh,) Kehl (ankle)

So, the German word for goal is "tor." Fascinating...
There was a very strong likelihood that Jurgen Klopp will not make any changes from the XI that won at the Emirates a fortnight ago. Then, yesterday, he mentioned that Mats Hummels had a very specific 97.5% chance of missing out through injury. Replacing him the side would be Sokratis, one of the founders of Western philosophy, the 25-year-old Greek defender.

Aside from Hummels, the injury list basically remains the same from two weeks ago, as Dortmund are missing Lukasz Piszczesk, who underwent hip and groin surgery over the summer, and Ilkay Gundogan, who has been out since August with compression of the spine. Sebastien Kehl, who suffered ligament damage to the ankle in training mid-September, has been upgraded to "doubtful" status, but it's much more likely that Sven Bender and Nuri Sahin will start in the holding roles.

The other potential change Klopp could make would be to start the speedy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the right wing, but the expectation is for Jakub Blaszczykowski to start, and the Gabonese international Aubameyang to come off the bench; he did just that in the 66th minute at the Emirates.

Predicted XI: Weidenfeller, Grosskreutz, Subotic, Sokratis, Schmelzer, Bender, Sahin, Mikhitaryan, Reus, Blaszczykowski, Lewandowski.

Current Form

Arsenal were just about teetering over the edge of the media's "CLUB IN CRISIS" zone after they lost to Dortmund and Chelsea in non-consecutive non-league games, but now, after a 2-0 win over Liverpool moved them an astonishing five points clear at the top of the Premier League table, those whispers have disappeared. Now, the next two games over the next five days could define the narrative for the rest of the Arsenal season.

As for Dortmund, they've won four straight since the last international break, after they had lost to Borussia Monchengladbach 2-0 on October 5. Since winning at the Emirates, Dortmund beat Schalke in Gelsenkirchen in the Revierderby, 3-1, then beat Stuttgart on Friday by a  6-1 scoreline at home. Dortmund have not dropped points at home at all this season.

Match Facts

A young Rosicky scores twice for Dortmund against
his future club.
You should recall the reverse fixture rather easily, as it was only two weeks ago and it was a pretty big game. Dortmund controlled play early and led 1-0 before Olivier Giroud pinged one back before halftime. Then, Arsenal looked the more likely side to win before being burned on the counterattack in the 82nd minute. You know the rest.

Arsenal have never won in Dortmund on their previous two trips, but then again, Dortmund had never won at Arsenal in their previous two trips before two weeks ago. So, there's that. In 2011, Arsenal led through Robin van Persie before Ivan Perisic's 88th minute equalizer. In 2002, Arsenal led through Thierry Henry before Tomas Rosicky scored twice to give Dortmund a 2-1 win.

All-time on German soil, Arsenal have a record of four wins, four draws, and five losses, though Arsenal are unbeaten in their last four trips to Germany, dating back to a loss to Bayern Munich in 2005. On the other hand, Dortmund have never lost to an English side at home, with a record of four wins and three draws.

The Referee

Oh my...
The match officials are from the Netherlands; the referee is Bjorn Kuipers. Kuipers has been working Champions League fixtures since 2009 and yet this is his first Arsenal match. Dortmund saw Kuipers once last year, in their 4-1 win over Real Madrid in the semifinal. He has already worked an English side v. German side match this season, too, taking charge of Bayern Munich's 3-1 win over Manchester City on Matchday 2.

In Champions League play, English sides have a record of four wins, one draw, and two losses with Kuipers as the referee. One of those losses, Manchester United to Basel in 2011, saw the Red Devils crash out of the group stage. German sides have five wins, one draw, and one loss, which was Wolfsburg to Manchester United in 2009.

Kuipers has worked other notable games in recent years, including last year's Europa League final, won by Chelsea over Benfica, and the Confederations Cup final, won by Brazil over Spain. He also has a business degree and co-owns three supermarkets and a hair salon (really? A hair salon? Do you see that picture?)

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Real Sociedad 0 - 0 Manchester United
  • Tuesday: Shakhtar Donetsk 0 - 0 Bayer Leverkusen
  • Tuesday: Juventus 2 -2 Real Madrid
  • Tuesday: Copenhagen 1 - 0 Galatasaray
  • Tuesday: Paris St. Germain 1 - 1 Anderlecht
  • Tuesday: Olympiacos 1 - 0 Benfica
  • Tuesday: Manchester City 5 - 2 CSKA Moscow
  • Tuesday: Viktoria Plzen 0 - 1 Bayern Munich
  • Wednesday: Chelsea v. Schalke 04; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Wednesday: Basel v. Steaua Bucurseti; St. Jakob-Park, Basel
  • Wednesday: Napoli v. Marseille; Stadio San Paolo, Naples
  • Wednesday: Atletico Madrid v. Austria Wien; Vincente Calderon Stadium, Madrid
  • Wednesday: Zenit St. Petersbug v. Porto; Petrovsky Stadium, St. Petersbug
  • Wednesday: Ajax v. Celtic; Amsterdam Arena, Amsterdam
  • Wednesday: Barcelona v. AC Milan; Camp Nou, Barcelona

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Liverpool

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, November 2
1:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Mike Jones
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 2 Liverpool
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 76 Arsenal wins, 82 Liverpool, 56 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-D-W-W
  • Liverpool's League Form: D-L-W-W-D-W
  • Weather: Light Rain, 11 C / 52 F
Well, this went poorly...
This season has been a roller coaster already and it's only two and a half months old. We've gone from the lowest of low starting points on opening day to the high of beating Tottenham followed quickly by the purchase of Mesut Ozil the following day. We've seen winning streaks and unbeaten streaks and a truly dominant performance in the Champions League against Napoli. We've seen Arsenal rip teams apart and we've also seen them squeak by through strong... I guess "mental strength" is the phrase I'm looking for.

But now, the test has well and truly begun.

Third place Liverpool (they'd have been second if City could have held Chelsea to a draw last weekend and not gone all stupid at the back) comes to town on Saturday evening and there is a massive amount riding on this match. Arsenal have lost two of three and the fixtures don't get any easier: Dortmund away, United at Old Trafford, an international break, then fifth place Southampton once they return from that break.

I consider it a blessing that the distraction of the League Cup is out of the way before the matches got serious; losing the tournament under worse circumstances could have really tested that mental strength we've heard so much about. Losing to the world's most expensive B-team does not mess with the psyche like losing on penalties to a League Two side would.

This is the biggest match of the season up to this point, easily. Three points would do wonders going forward. The feeling I'll have after a draw will really depend on the circumstances of how that draw was earned. A loss could be devastating.

Try not to be nervous. I'm talking to you, Arsenal, not just the fans.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Walcott (stomach,) Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Flamini (groin,) Gnabry (ankle)

I don't think anyone predicted how important this guy was
going to be this summer. And yes, I'm referring to that bald
bloke making that face.
Mikel Arteta will return from suspension, but the biggest question mark for me is the health of Mathieu Flamini. It has become increasingly obvious of the past few weeks of just how important the Frenchman has been at shielding the defenders in the holding role. He could miss two or three weeks; Arsenal therefore need to have Aaron Ramsey play the Flamini role, which is fine, but we've seen Arsenal at their best this season when Ramsey has the freedom to push forward.

That could, however, be supplemented by the fact that Arsenal have an increasingly healthier trio of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, and Mesut Ozil in the attacking midfield, while Olivier Giroud remains in the best form of his Arsenal career. This is good news, considering Arsenal's long-term injuries in attacking midfield (Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) are not yet ready for returns.

Meanwhile, there's no reason to change a thing at the back, something we all learned on Tuesday.

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

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Aspis (thigh,) Coates (knee)
Doubts: Coutinho (shoulder,) Enrique (knee)

This is the cover photo for their upcoming album.
Liverpool have potentially huge good news, as Philippe Coutinho might be back in contention after missing a month with a shoulder injury. Given the positive form of Liverpool over the past few weeks, however, I would be shocked if Coutinho started. Jose Enrique is in contention to return from a knee injury, though I suspect he'll start from the bench as well; Enrique has not played since October 5. Liverpool's long term injuries include Iago Aspis, out until December with a thigh injury, and Sebastian Coates, out for the season with an ACL injury.

In terms of formation, Liverpool play a 3-5-2 with three center backs, two wing-backs that are expected to get up and down the pitch, three midfielders, and a strike partnership, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, that has 14 combined goals this season. The formation is designed to attack, meaning there will be a lot of pressure on Arsenal's midfield to retain ball possession. While the formation is designed to attack, that of course means there is a little more weakness at the back; Liverpool have not kept a clean sheet since switching to the 3-5-2.

Predicted XI: Mignolet, Toure, Skrtel, Sakho, Johnson, Cissokho, Henderson, Leiva, Gerrard, Sturridge, Suarez.

Current Form

Who doesn't love a good "Arsenal in crisis" logo?
CLUB IN CRISIS! Arsenal have lost two of their last three games! EVERYONE PANIC! Never mind that the losses were to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea's fabulously expensive B-team. Tuesday's loss to crash out of the Capital One Cup was the first time Arsenal have been shut out this season. The last clean sheet kept against the Gunners was by Everton in a 0-0 draw on April 16. The last time Arsenal had lost two out of three, the losses were to Bayern Munich and Tottenham in early March, which was basically rock bottom before Arsenal rattled off an 11-match unbeaten run across all competitions to claim fourth.

Liverpool have enjoyed a surprisingly strong start to their season; they won their first three league matches before a 2-2 draw in Swansea and a 1-0 loss to Southampton (which is becoming increasingly clear might not have been a fluke.) After that loss, they crashed out of the League Cup against Manchester United, but have responded by winning three and drawing one of their last four. You could make the case that Liverpool's wins have not been against strong opponents, as Arsenal's haven't been. Yes, Liverpool beat United, but Arsenal beat Spurs. Aside from that, Liverpool's wins have been against Stoke, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, and West Brom. It's the manner with which they've been winning lately, however, that is scary. They hit three past Sunderland and Palace and four past West Brom. Their 17 league goals is good for third in the league, behind Manchester City's 21 and the 20 from, well... Arsenal.

Match Facts

Theo Walcott's goal gave Arsenal some hope against
Liverpool in this match last year, making it 2-1. Olivier
Giroud made it 2-2 three minutes later.
Arsenal took four out of a possible six points from Liverpool last year. Among Arsenal's league fixtures so far this season, this game is the first that they did not win last year. Arsenal came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at the Emirates on a midweek night in January just before the transfer window closed. Kieran Gibbs was injured during the match, Andre Santos deputized poorly, and Nacho Monreal was purchased from Malaga the next day. Luis Suarez opened the scoring through some poor Arsenal defense in the 5th minute and Jordan Henderson scored on the hour mark to make it look like three points for the visiting Reds, but then Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud each scored three minutes apart to level the score by the 67th minute. It was yet another instance last January, though, of Arsenal being nervous at the start of a match against a rival; they had previously lost to Manchester City and Chelsea that month by allowing early leads.

Arsenal have not beaten Liverpool at the Emirates in three tries, dating back to Abou Diaby's winner in a 1-0 victory on February 10, 2010, a midweek game I was conveniently able to watch because a massive snowstorm had shut down much of New York City. Since then, Arsenal have drawn 1-1 with Liverpool (when Emmanuel Eboue conceded a penalty in the 359th minute,) lost 2-0 (when Emmanuel Frimpong was sent off,) and drawn 2-2 last year, as explained above. That 2-0 game from August of 2011, however, is Liverpool's only win over Arsenal in their last 11 tries, dating back to the 2008 Champions League (when Kolo Toure conceded a penalty in the 359th minute.)

The Referee

"Look at my whistle. Isn't it shiny?"
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Arsenal have already seen Atkinson once this year, in their 3-1 win at Sunderland in September. You may recall he controversially did not play advantage for Sunderland when Jozy Altidore was fouled by Bacary Sagna outside of the box; Altidore's equalizing goal that followed despite the whistle was called back, then Arsenal went on to score another to put the game to bed.

Arsenal have a bit of a mixed record on the whole with Atkinson, winning four out of seven games with Atkinson in the middle over the last two seasons.

Liverpool have also already seen Atkinson once this year, for their season opening 1-0 win over Stoke. Atkinson gave Stoke a penalty late in the game, only for Simon Mignolet to save it. Last year, for Liverpool, Atkinson took charge of their 1-1 draw at Sunderland, their 4-0 win at Wigan, and their 1-0 win over QPR at Anfield on the final day of the season.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Newcastle United v. Chelsea; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Fulham v. Manchester United; Craven Cottage, London
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Sunderland; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Norwich City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Southampton; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Crystal Palace; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Aston Villa; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Sunday (early): Everton v. Tottenham Hotspur; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Cardiff City v. Swansea City; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff