Preview by Numbers: Holiday Fixtures

Merry Christmas, everybody!

I'll be out of town from today through New Year's, a span of time during which Arsenal will play three league fixtures. Since I won't have the time on holiday to cobble together any up-to-the-minute hot match preview action, you're going to get this awesome all-at-once cold preview action instead. I'll be back with you again live (read: not live) for the FA Cup third round preview, which will be posted Saturday the 3rd.

Anyway, let's get to it!

Emirates Stadium, London
Friday, December 26
12:30 p.m. EST, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Peter Kirkup
    • 4th Official: Phil Dowd
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 1 - 0 QPR (October 27, 2012)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 22 Arsenal wins, 15 QPR wins, 14 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-L-W-D
  • QPR's League Form: L-W-L-W-L-W
Arsenal Squad News

Out: Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Diaby (???,) Ozil (knee)
Doubts: Ramsey (hamstring,) Koscielny (Achilles)

Arsenal's scientists were able to snap this
photograph of Abou Diaby before he
Here's what we know right now: Mikel Arteta has had a setback with his calf injury, meaning he will not be available for any of these holiday fixtures. Mesut Ozil is in light training and while he won't play in any of these three games, he will likely be available in early January, fingers crossed. Aaron Ramsey could be available for the New Year's Day match at Southampton (which is why I've moved him to "doubts" here, since this section covers all three matches,) while it's still late February at best for Jack Wilshere. Abou Diaby remains missing in a parallel universe while Arsenal's top scientists are on the case.

Tomas Rosicky (thigh) and Yaya Sanogo (hamstring) could both return from their injuries and will likely get a start somewhere in this stretch in the name of squad rotation. It's been hinted at that Laurent Koscielny (Achilles) and Hector Bellerin (apparently a foot injury) could get the nod in the back four against West Ham on Sunday.

Second choice goalkeeper David Ospina is now available as well.

QPR Squad News

Out: Faurlin (knee,) Sandro (knee,) Taarabt (groin)
Doubts: Yun (ankle)

Don't shush me, Charlie!
The Hoops will be without three players through injury, as Alejandro Faurlin is out for the season with his third ACL injury in as many years, Sandro is out until January with a knee problem of his own, and Adel Taarabt is out until January with a groin problem. Defender Yun Suk-young is a doubt with an ankle injury as he was withdrawn from last weekend's match at halftime.

Arsenal will have to be wary of Charlie Austin up top; he had a hat trick as QPR came from 2-0 down to beat West Bromwich Albion 3-2 last week at Loftus Road. On the road, however, QPR will be expected to play a little more defensively.

Current Form

QPR: Not so good away from home.
If someone handed you a note before Sunday's match and it read "Liverpool 2 - 2 Arsenal," how would you have reacted? Personally, I would have been frustrated but not surprised. Therefore, it's so interesting how context changes things so drastically within an individual match.

On the whole of the 101 minutes of football played at Anfield, Arsenal certainly did not deserve a point. Yet, with under three minutes to play, they were leading 2-1 against ten men. Suddenly, 2-2 felt like a loss. As a result, it's hard to remember that Arsenal have lost just one of their last seven matches across all competitions, thanks to that first half suckfest at the Britannia.

QPR, on the other hand, are the league's worst travelers, losing all eight of their road matches. Charlie Austin, with 11 goals now on the season, has scored only two of them away from Loftus Road. This goes back to what I mentioned in the team news section; Harry Redknapp usually opts to play cautiously on the road, using Austin as a single striker. Austin benefits from a formation that utilizes two forwards at home. The Hoops are 7th in the league at home and dead last on the road. The combination of the two leaves them two points clear of relegation.

Match Facts

Probably offside Mikel Arteta bundles home the winner in
this corresponding fixture two years ago.
Arsenal won this fixture 1-0 when it was last played at the Emirates in October of 2012, although they left it very uncomfortably late. Arsenal had 70% of the possession over 96 minutes but Julio Cesar made 10 saves for QPR. Stephane Mbia was sent off in the 80th minute and four minutes later Mikel Arteta finally bundled a shot across the goal line, though the Spaniard was arguably offside when he did so. QPR had two solid chances to equalize in injury time, but both went begging. Arsenal won the match at Loftus Road later in the season by a 1-0 scoreline as well, with Theo Walcott scoring in the first minute.

Over their last 14 league meetings, Arsenal have just four wins against QPR. This stat is largely meaningless since prior to the two seasons QPR spent in the top flight between 2011 and 2013, the club had not been in the Premier League since their relegation in 1996.

The Referee

"I got this!"
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Arsenal have lost three straight with Atkinson in the middle, including the 2-0 loss at Stamford Bridge in October. Last season, Arsenal had won twice with Atkinson in the middle before two huge road losses at Manchester City last December and Everton last April. Arsenal have not lost at home with Atkinson as the referee since a 2-0 loss to Liverpool on August 20, 2011, in which he sent off Emmanuel Frimpong for two yellow cards.

QPR have seen Atkinson once this season as well, drawing 2-2 with Stoke City on September 20. Earlier this month, Atkinson had the privilege of taking charge of the Champions League matchday six showdown between Barcelona and Paris St. Germain at Camp Nou that decided the group winner.

Around the League

All matches are Friday, December 26. Arsenal v. QPR is the late match, meaning all matches, aside from the specifically marked early game, kick off at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, 3:00 p.m. England.
  • Early match: Chelsea v. West Ham United; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Burnley v. Liverpool; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Crystal Palace v. Southampton; Selhurst Park, London
  • Everton v. Stoke City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Leicester City v. Tottenham Hotspur; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Manchester United v. Newcastle United; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Sunderland v. Hull City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Swansea City v. Aston Villa; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • West Bromwich Albion v. Manchester City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich

Boleyn Ground, London
Sunday, December 28
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Neil Swarbrick
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Matthew Wilkes
    • 4th Official: Kevin Stroud
  • This Match, Last Year: West Ham 1 - 3 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 58 Arsenal wins, 33 West Ham wins, 38 draws
  • West Ham's League Form (pre-Boxing Day): L-W-W-W-D-W
West Ham Squad News (pre-Boxing Day)

Out: Jenkinson (loan terms)
Doubts: Noble (calf,) Tomkins (hamstring)

This still looks weird.
West Ham play the early match on Boxing Day as they visit Chelsea in West London; they'll enter that match with no certain injuries, though two players are listed as doubts. Mark Noble is a doubt after he missed the win over Leicester last weekend with a calf injury. James Tomkins was forced off from that match with a hamstring injury and is also a doubt.

West Ham will be without right back Carl Jenkinson against his parent club, thanks to the terms of his loan.

Current Form

West Ham are beating everyone at home right now.
Even Leicester!
West Ham enter their Boxing Day fixture at Chelsea in fourth place, one point shy of third place Manchester United, two points clear of fifth place Southampton, and four points clear of sixth place Arsenal.

The Hammers have not lost at home since August, when they lost to Spurs and Southampton and also fell on penalties to Sheffield United in the League Cup (the Blades have now gone on to the semi-finals.) Since then, West Ham have beaten Liverpool, Queens Park Rangers, Manchester City, Newcastle United, Swansea City, and Leicester City at Upton Park. Only Aston Villa has earned a point there since the start of September, a 0-0 draw in early November.

West Ham have only lost four times this season, the aforementioned two home games in August, a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford where they had an equalizer ruled offside, and a 2-1 defeat at Goodison Park in November. In addition to Aston Villa at home, West Ham have drawn Hull, Stoke, and Sunderland on the road.

Match Facts

Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski scored goals in this
fixture last year as both were on the road back from injuries.
Theo got hurt a week later and has played twice since.
Arsenal have developed a strange habit of conceding first to West Ham before turning on the thrusters. Last season, Arsenal came from behind to win both fixtures 3-1, including this corresponding fixture on last year's Boxing Day: Lukas Podolski returned from a hamstring injury from the bench to ignite the Gunners; the German scored and Theo Walcott netted a brace after Carlton Cole gave West Ham the lead in the 46th. At the Emirates, Arsenal came from 1-0 down to win 3-1 as well.

The year before that, Arsenal came from 1-0 down to win 3-1 at Boleyn Ground and came from 1-0 down to win 5-1 at the Emirates. So, if you're counting at home, that's four consecutive matches against West Ham where the Hammers have scored first and Arsenal have gone on to win comfortably.

Arsenal have won their eight seven matches against West Ham, across all competitions, dating back to a 2-2 draw in October of 2009 during which I got drenched in beer by West Ham fans celebrating their equalizer; Arsenal had led 2-0. That game sucked. The Gunners are also unbeaten in 13 against the Hammers. West Ham's last win against Arsenal marked the first time a visiting team won at the Emirates Stadium; Bobby Zamora scored just before halftime and West Ham held on to win 1-0 in April of 2007.

The Referee

Why is the ref off the pitch here?
The referee is Lancashire-based Neil Swarbrick. Arsenal have never lost a match with Swarbrick as the referee, winning four and drawing one. This will be his first Arsenal match of the season; last season, Swarbrick took charge of Arsenal's win at Aston Villa and home win against Newcastle. This will also be his first West Ham match of the season; last year, he took charge of their 2-1 League Cup win at Tottenham and their park-the-bus 0-0 draw at Chelsea.

Swarbrick will come into this match having worked Leicester City v. Tottenham on Boxing Day.

Around the League
  • Sunday (very early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Manchester United; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (early): Southampton v. Chelsea; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Sunday: Aston Villa v. Sunderland; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Sunday: Hull City v. Leicester City; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Sunday: Manchester City v. Burnley; Etihad Staduim, Manchester
  • Sunday: Queens Park Rangers v. Crystal Palace; Loftus Road, London
  • Sunday: Stoke City v. West Bromwich Albion; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Sunday (late): Newcastle United v. Everton; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Monday (night): Liverpool v. Swansea City; Anfield, Liverpool

St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
Thursday, January 1
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Craig Pawson
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Stuart Burt
    • 4th Official: Roger East
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 0 Southampton
  • This Match, Last Year: Southampton 2 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 45 Arsenal wins, 17 Southampton wins, 24 draws
  • Southampton's League Form (pre-Boxing Day): D-L-L-L-L-W
Southampton Squad News (pre-Boxing Day)

Out: Rodriguez (knee,) Gallagher (knee,) Cork (ankle)
Doubts: Hesketh (knee,) Tadic (muscular)

Gallagher (right), shown here celebrating someone else's
goal against Arsenal last year, might be fit again for this one.
Obviously, Southampton will play twice before facing Arsenal on New Year's Day, meaning any number of things can change in terms of their injury list. Going into Boxing Day, Jake Hesketh and Dusan Tadic are both doubts with knee and muscle injuries, respectively.

Sam Gallagher, currently out with a knee injury, could find himself available by the time next week rolls around. Southampton will be without Jay Rodriguez with his long-term knee injury and Jack Cork with his ankle injury.

Current Form

All I can figure out about Everton right now is that we
played them at the wrong time and apparently Southampton
played them at the right time, even though it should've been
the right time for Everton to play Southampton, or something.
The Saints will face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Boxing Day, then Chelsea at St. Mary's on Sunday before this fixture.

Entering the holiday period, Southampton will be buoyed by their 3-0 win over Everton last Saturday, which snapped a four game losing streak. The Saints had also been winless in five since a draw at Aston Villa on November 24. Over that five match span, the Saints fell from second place to fifth in the league table. Southampton have been fairly strong at home this season, falling only to the two Manchesters, while also drawing West Brom back in August.

The Saints average 2.33 goals per game at home (a number strengthened by the 8-0 thumping of Sunderland in October;) only Chelsea score more goals per game in front of their home fans.

Match Facts

I feel like we've played Southampton like eight times this year.
Arsenal have already played Southampton twice at the Emirates Stadium this season, first in the League Cup in September and then again in the league a month ago. Alexis Sanchez scored the only goal for Arsenal in each of those two matches, but while his goal stood up as the winner in the league fixture on December 3, Southampton responded with two goals, including a long range screamer from Nathaniel Clyne, to win the cup tie a few months back. The Saints, of course, went on to get knocked out of the competition by Sheffield United two weeks ago.

This fixture last year was a bit bonkers. Arsenal played a dreadful first half and fell behind 1-0, then scored twice in four minutes to take a 2-1 lead. Their lead, however, lasted all of two minutes, as Adam Lallana equalized. Those two dropped points proved to be the beginning of the end for Arsenal's run at the top of the table; the Gunners went on to win just three of their next 10 league games before closing out the year winning their final five.

Arsenal's last win at St. Mary's was on December 29, 2003; Robert Pires scored the only goal in a 1-0 Gunners' victory. Just seven months earlier, Arsenal had also beaten Southampton 1-0 via a Robert Pires goal in the FA Cup Final. Southampton, of course, were not in the top flight between 2005 and 2012.

The Referee

Crazy eyes!
The referee is South Yorkshire-based Craig Pawson. Arsenal have only had Pawson once in his career, for the 3-0 win over Burnley at the Emirates in November. Southampton have not seen Pawson yet this season, but he did work their 2-2 draw with Stoke at St. Mary's back in February.

Pawson will come into this match after refereeing the Newcastle v. Everton match on Sunday the 28th; he will not be in action on Boxing Day.

Around the League

All matches are Thursday, January 1.
  • Early match: Stoke City v. Manchester United; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Aston Villa v. Crystal Palace; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Hull City v. Everton; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Liverpool v. Leicester City; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Manchester City v. Sunderland; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Newcastle United v. Burnley; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Queens Park Rangers v. Swansea City; Loftus Road, London
  • West Ham United v. West Bromwich Albion; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Late match: Tottenham Hotspur v. Chelsea; White Hart Lane, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and is very impressed you read to the bottom of this. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat so you can let him know personally that you read to the bottom of this.

When you are set up to avoid defeat...

Guess also rarely, if ever, actually win.  Perhaps all along that was the plan on the tactics board on Sunday - avoid another catastrophe at Anfield and settle for a point.  There is no doubt in my mind that the thrashing administered by Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool last campaign weighed heavily on Arsene Wenger's mind in the run up to kick off, but it was his overly cautious approach that caused us to miss out on a golden opportunity to achieve the maximum point haul on Merseyside.

I finally had the pleasure of making it to The Football Factory for the first time, meeting up with my friend Laura, my former Riverdale FC midfield partner in crime AJ and plenty of regulars who also live and breathe the club as much as I do.  Before the match we were all positive...once the XI's were made public, we had even more reason to be confident.  Apart from missing Koscielny and Ramsey, the XI was strong...for me, far more potent than Liverpool, who had to turn to Raheem Sterling to lead the line (at least on paper).  But their front three was a bit of a concern, wasn't it...Sterling with Lallana and Coutinho (highly underrated) in support, with a bank of four midfielders behind them.  Still and yet, as Sean stated in our previous post, this has been the worst Liverpool side for years.  We needed to be confident, we needed to take the pitch with that bit of self belief and determination to walk away and leave 'Pool with nothing to take away from it.  We didn' all.
From Arsene Wenger to Zeke, the Cowardly Lion...
Twenty minutes into the match...Liverpool sitting on 75%-80% being unable to string together more than three passes before being dispossessed...what in the name of all that is good and holy were we bearing witness to?  To put it bluntly, we played like complete shit on the whole, but the first thirty minutes set the tone for the entire match, all the way to stoppage time in the second half.  We took our goals well, especially Giroud's excellent finish through Brad Jones' wickets, but when you've set your team up to soak up pressure for the duration of the match, an bereft of the personnel to effectively do it, what did you really expect, honestly?

There was never a more telling moment to sum up the entire bit of proceedings than the events after Signore Borini's sending off.  Up a man, Liverpool getting tired legs, Walcott's jet-fighter pace on the bench and the only Liverpool player remotely close to being capable of stopping him being Sterling, Wenger opts to bunker down and hold a 2-1 lead rather than look to bring on pace to put Liverpool's back three of Skrtel, Sakho and Toure to the sword - in a word, six words, the reason why we didn't win.

Now, I will admit that it is easy to criticize from an armchair, or in our case at the time, a bar stool...but the point really is, these are decisions that any half knowledgable football supporter of more than five years could probably get right...somehow, Wenger gets them wrong...time and time again.  I think by now that any of you who are frequent readers know my stance on the Alsatian...the point here is not to ramble on about why he needs to go, but rather to continue to bring to light why we will never have a chance in hell of truly competing - he's not tactically up for it.
"I have no idea what I am doing anymore" should be the words being uttered (Image courtesy of Arsenal's official Facebook page)
Time after time after time, Wenger is completely outclassed, and not just by gaffers like Mourinho, but the flipping Gary Monk's of the world.  No, he was not outclassed by Rodgers on Sunday, but he certainly stood in his own way...and more importantly, the clubs way.  Yes ladies and gentlemen, we are now at the point where the second greatest manager in Premier League history was afraid to take the game to a Liverpool side that lost Luis Suarez, was without the injured Daniel Sturridge, had zero pace in defense, and who has a club legend in Steven Gerrard who looks more and more like he belongs in moth's come to this.  Wenger's tactical failings in the past have caused him to be afraid of making those same mistakes again, so he then goes and makes new ones...truthfully, it's beyond mind boggling.

No, in all honestly, if there ever was a time to put in a high-flying, show stopping performance, it was yesterday.  Think about the pace and direct players we had in our XI; Sanchez, Welbeck, Chamberlain, Cazorla, Gibbs...on what planet is that EVER a side that is going to be efficient in sitting back, bunkering in, and trying to hold on for dear life?  I really am trying to avoid going into a frustrated tirade, but I think you see my point - not only did Wenger get our tactics wrong, but he also clearly has no idea how to utilize the personnel who are on the pitch.  If he wanted to set up more defensively, why didn't both Coquelin AND Flamini start from the off, providing ample cover for the back four and support of (likely) Cazorla at the top of the midfield triangle?  I could go on, but it was all, so wrong.

The most telling part of my time at The Football Factory was when, in typical AJ fashion (please excuse the incoming profanity...and, you know, for the one or two instances I let fly previously) he blurted out; "we're dog shit at trying to hold a lead, Liverpool are going to equalize"...sure enough, like most of us could have predicted, Skrtel's orc-like head nodded home to level matters - a very valuable three point haul lost.
Zonal marking? Sad sack of Man Mountain cowering rather than challenging? What could possibly go awry...(Image courtesy of Liverpool's official Facebook page)
So, we enter the Christmas period sitting in sixth on 27 points, a whopping 15 behind league-leaders Chelsea, 12 behind City who are in second, and 5 behind United who are in third (and who are playing better football than we are despite having their own injury crisis).  We're level on points with Spurs and only 4 out of 4th...our not so welcomed comfort level.  Correct me if I am wrong but...was this not meant to be the season where we built on our FA Cup success and truly challenged the league's elite?  Sorry, but 4th it is, if that.

All in all, the Premier League is either take your chances well or you suffer the consequences. When it comes to our performance at Anfield, it was our own manager who shot us in our own foot, and when that happens as routinely as it does, you haven't got a hope or a prayer of ever reaching the summit.

Post Script - just as a closing remark, don't get your hopes up about us remedying any of our personnel issues in January - see more on that here, and prepare yourselves for the usual winter window foolishness.

Andrew Thompson is a contributing writer at both The Modern Gooner and Outside of the Boot - he just wants his beloved club to remember it's Premier League roots...and go back to them with the utmost haste - follow him on Twitter @AFCBvB1410

Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal: Sub-Professional All Around

Picture: Screencap from NBC coverage

Well, at least that picture is funny.

Anyway, I think at this point that me watching might be the problem. Of course, the two weeks I miss are both 4-1 wins, and as soon as I'm able to watch again, the team lays this epic turd at our feet.

The first half in particular may have been the worst 45 minutes I've seen this side play in ages. The general idea of sitting deep and letting Liverpool come at us was not a bad one - they were forced into a weird strikerless formation, and of course we all remember what happened at Anfield last season.

But, for that to work, you need to be able to pass your way into transition quickly and accurately. As it was, we couldn't pass gas, let alone the ball to a teammate. Further, were it not for the excellence of Wojciech Szczesny, we'd have been down 1-0 early and who knows what may have happened then? Callum Chambers - our worst player on a day when we had few good ones - was guilty of a poor clearance and then of charging out of position. Lazar Markovic was able to run in alone on goal, but thankfully Szczesny cut the angle well, made himself big, and got it out with his trailing leg.

The worst part? Soon after a play where he dribbled it right over the sideline, Chambers got caught out AGAIN, and Markovic again had a glorious chance. Ay-yai-yai.

Meanwhile, all of our attacks consisted of bombing long balls to Giroud, many of which he won. But, with no one there to collect the scraps, the Scousers would simply start back the other way. For their part, they mostly ripped our non-existent central midfield to tatters, with our skill players like Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez having to drop deeper and deeper to put out those fires.

We have, in my estimation, the literal worst manager in the Premier League. I mean, this is the worst Liverpool team in a long time, and we were lucky to get a point out of it. Unreal.

Anyway, a truly preposterous defensive showing from both sides ensured that it would be 1-1 going into the interval. Liverpool got theirs from a silly giveaway followed by Mathieu Debuchy getting torched on a simple turn from Coutinho, who then lashed a shot in off the post. Up the other end, Alexis Sanchez won a free kick taking on three defenders, then Liverpool managed to lose headers to Per Mertesacker and then Mathieu Flamini (lucky to be on the field at that point) before Debuchy made up for his error by planting his back-post header over Brad Jones.

The result at the time was fine, but the god, it was just a dreadful game of football.

Things didn't get much better in the second half, either. Szczesny made one mistake early on by haring off his line for no reason, but the home side over-elaborated in their attempt to take advantage and the chance passed.

Now, the one thing I haven't mentioned yet was thanks to their insane manager, Liverpool were playing with a frankly sub-professional goalkeeper between the sticks. I mean, Jones is godawful - I hear he once failed a trial with Shelbourne of the Irish league. Seriously. I would put his level at somewhere midtable in League One, and so you would think we would make it a priority to test him at every opportunity. That did not happen often enough to make a difference.

We did get one gift from him, though. After some good work down the left, Cazorla crossed into Giroud. He never should have had that time and space, but how Jones gets nutmegged there is astonishing. Giroud really only had one place to put that shot, and to not protect that first is brutal goalkeeping.

That one flash of decency aside, the game immediately reverted back to form. I can't help thinking that a Theo Walcott might have drove the dagger in and gotten us the third goal that would have put this away. Instead, Arsene didn't make his first sub until the 82nd minute, and it was Francis Coquelin on for Giroud (that one I can understand though, Flamini was still getting overrun at every opportunity). Joel Campbell came on for the Ox soon after, though I don't think he touched the ball once.

Still, once that genius Fabio Borini got sent off (once for spiking the ball when a throw-in didn't go their way, once for karate kicking Cazorla in the chest), that should have been game over. Damn near any competently-coached and drilled team would have seen that out.

But, honestly, was anyone out there shocked when they scored? Was anyone out there stunned that we left their biggest aerial threat unmarked on a set piece? It's all so boring now. For the record, it was Chambers who got caught ball-watching there, too. He's a strong talent but man, our lack of options is biting us in the ass right now.

So, in the end, a point is probably fair for two struggling sides who played out a godawful match of football. It sure doesn't point to anything better coming over the horizon, though. On this evidence, I still think 4th place is going to be a serious reach.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Gibbs 6, Debuchy 7, Mertesacker 5, Chambers 3, Flamini 4, Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Campbell 6), Cazorla 7, Welbeck 5, Sanchez 6 (Monreal N/A), Giroud 6 (Coquelin 6)

Man of the Match: There's not much to choose from here, but arguably Wojciech Szczesny earned us a point with his stellar play - that one ramble outside the area aside.

Preview by Numbers: Liverpool v. Arsenal

Anfield, Liverpool
Sunday, December 21
11:00 a.m. EST, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Lee Betts
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • This Match, Last Year: Liverpool 5 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 78 Arsenal wins, 83 Liverpool wins, 56 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-L-W-W-L-W
  • Liverpool's League Form: L-L-W-W-D-L
This is normally where I would talk about the magnitude and implications of the upcoming fixture, and believe me, this is a big one. But, instead, we need to talk about this picture Santi Cazorla tweeted before the players had their annual Christmas party last weekend.

Santi is shown far left wearing a silver blazer so shiny I think it was manufactured in space in the future. Hector Bellerin looks ready for a cameo in Saturday Night Fever. Nacho Monreal is there #WelcomeNacho. Danny Welbeck has gone in a traditional suit.

Meanwhile, Alexis Sanchez has really big glasses, Theo Walcott has a Santa Claus sweater, and Mikel Arteta's seems to have... something on it? What is that? Some sort of Christmas pastry? I can't tell...

Then, we come to Kieran Gibbs, whose sweater actually appear to light up. Congratulations, Kieran, you win Christmas. Please see Andre Marriner for your prize.

...What? Too soon?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (Achilles,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (thigh,) Diaby (???,) Ozil (knee)
Doubts: Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Monreal (ankle,) Walcott (groin,) Ospina (thigh)

If the Ox doesn't pass fit, I have no idea who is available
to replace him...
A trio of Arsenal players will face late fitness tests before the weekend trip. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a doubt with a groin strain he picked up against Newcastle last weekend, while Nacho Monreal could return from the ankle injury he suffered against Southampton on December 3. Theo Walcott has been out since the November international break with a groin strain he picked up on international duty, but could return for this match. Theo made only two cameo appearances since his return from a knee ligament injury before this new injury sidelined him. The Ox has not been in training; Theo returned to training yesterday.

Second-string goalkeeper David Ospina is back in full training and could make the bench behind Wojciech Szczesny. Tomas Rosicky, out for two weeks with a thigh problem, should be back in full training next week. The long-term injured remain on schedule. And still, nobody even mentions Abou Diaby or Serge Gnabry...

In the back four, Calum Chambers returns from suspension, meaning he likely fills in at center back and Mathieu Debuchy returns to his natural right back position. Hector Bellerin played very well against Newcastle last weekend, but this is Liverpool away.

A back four of Debuchy, Chambers, Per Mertesacker, and Gibbs would be the 14th different combination of defenders Arsenal have started in 27 matches across all competitions this season. Incidentally, the ideal top combination (Debuchy, Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Gibbs) has yet to occur, as Gibbs got hurt before Mertesacker came back from World Cup break, Debuchy got hurt before Gibbs came back, and Koscielny got hurt before Debuchy came back. Wild stuff.

With Aaron Ramsey out, who would start alongside Mathieu Flamini if the Ox doesn't pass fit? Francis Coquelin? Seriously, I don't know the answer to this question, so I'm just going to predict Ox passes fit and cross my fingers...

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Alexis, Welbeck, Giroud.

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Flanagan (knee,) Suso (groin,) Sturridge (thigh,) Johnson (groin)
Doubts: Lovren (groin)
Suspended: Balotelli (one match, FA charge)

Why always him? Balotelli might not have passed fit anyway,
but he's suspended now.
Lot of groin injuries going on here. Dejan Lovren was forced to be removed at halftime of Wednesday night's cup tie against Bournemouth with a groin injury, leaving him a major doubt to start at center back on Sunday; Mamadou Sakho might get a start along with Martin Sktrel and Kolo Toure in Liverpool's three-man defense. An appearance for Sakho would be just his third of this league season.

Elsewhere, Mario Balotelli missed the cup tie to focus on his fitness; Balotelli's second half cameo against Manchester United, in which he was shut down by David De Gea, was his first appearance since November 8 as he continues to undergo treatment for his groin problem. He's been suspended by the FA anyway and fined for his controversial Instagram post. Balotelli will not appeal the suspension, since he's likely not one hundred percent fit to begin with.

In terms of those definitely out, Liverpool will be without both Glen Johnson and Suso with groin injuries of their own. Daniel Sturridge is out until January with a thigh injury and Jon Flanagan is out with a knee problem.

Predicted XI: Jones, Toure, Skrtel, Sakho, Henderson, Markovic, Lucas, Gerrard, Coutinho, Lallana, Sterling.

Current Form

Every time Arsenal have a string of 3+ goal victories,
Newcastle is usually one of the teams beaten in the string.
I guess this is where I can talk about everything I should have talked about in the opening. Arsenal have bounced back from the loss at Stoke by winning convincingly twice, both by 4-1 margins. It's the first time Arsenal have won consecutive matches by at least three goals since 3-0 victories over Hull and Newcastle last April. The last time Arsenal won three straight by three or more was in October of 2010, with wins over Shakhtar Donetsk in Europe, Manchester City in the league, and Newcastle in the League Cup. The Gunners have also won five of their last six after going winless in three.

Liverpool desperately needed a victory in midweek and got one against Bournemouth in the League Cup. The Reds have booked their passage through to the semifinals, though their progress in the other competitions this season has been less than stellar; they've crashed into the Europa League where they will face a Besiktas side that North London is now familiar with and they sit 11th in the Premier League table. Liverpool's win against Bournemouth was just the club's third in their last 11 matches across all competitions.

Match Facts

I don't want to see this again, which I suppose can be
accomplished by the fact that three of the four players in this
picture won't be involved.
Arsenal and Liverpool split their two league meetings last season, with both sides winning at home. The clubs also met in the fifth round of the FA Cup, with Arsenal winning 2-1 at the Emirates en route to winning the trophy.

This fixture, of course, ended 5-1 in favor of Liverpool. The Reds built a 4-0 lead in 20 minutes and never looked back. Before that result, Arsenal had not lost at Anfield since since the 2008 Champions League quarter-final, though it was the two-goal margin of that loss which saw the Gunners out of the tie (thanks, Kolo Toure.) The last time Liverpool won the league fixture against Arsenal at Anfield prior to last season, Peter Crouch had a hat trick and William Gallas scored Arsenal's goal in a 4-1 match on March 31, 2007.

Still, Liverpool have beaten Arsenal twice across their last 14 meetings in all competitions. Eight of the last 18 meetings have ended drawn.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Might this be a bad omen for Arsenal? Oliver was the man in the middle of this fixture last year which, as covered above, did not go very well for the visitors.

This will be the third time Arsenal have had Oliver this season; he previously worked the 1-1 draw with Spurs and the Community Shield win over Manchester City. It will be his third Liverpool match as well, as he also worked their 3-1 loss to City and 2-1 win over West Brom.

Oliver came under some fire during the Manchester derby in November. Oliver showed Chris Smalling a yellow card after an attempt to close down City goalkeeper Joe Hart, but in the aftermath, Hart appeared to slightly headbutt the official during his protests. The City goalkeeper was not punished and Smalling was later sent off for a second yellow. This handling of this situation is endemic in refereeing right now; officials love making the easy calls, happily booking defenders for shirt tugs on the halfway line. But, when it comes to violent conduct, they hesitate and choose not to make the big choices whatsoever.

Around the League

Saturday (early): Manchester City v. Crystal Palace (Etihad Stadium, Manchester)
City have won seven straight, even if they weren't exactly convincing in a 1-0 win over bottom-feeding Leicester last weekend. City remain light up front due to injuries; they'll open the weekend of fixtures hosting Crystal Palace, who have won just once in their last 10. Palace put up a great fight in this fixture last year, but lost 1-0.

Why have we, collectively as a league, allowed United
to start winning things again?
Saturday: Aston Villa v. Manchester United (Villa Park, Birmingham)
Manchester United have won six straight and are being discussed in some circles as title contenders again; many would agree that they haven't exactly been convincing in many of these victories. Villa, however, have struggled mightily this season. Alan Hutton and Kieran Richardson are both suspended, which will put the Villans further behind the eight ball.

Saturday: Hull City v. Swansea City (KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull)
Hull have gone nine league games without a win and have failed to score in six of their last eight. They'll be without Tom Huddlestone, serving the first match of a four match ban. Swansea, on the other hand, have no injury concerns, and Lukasz Fabianski will return from suspension. Hull have the league's worst home record and Swansea are the third worst team on the road.

Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. West Bromwich Albion (Loftus Road, London)
QPR have won more home games (four) than anyone else in the bottom half of the table. Even Arsenal have only won four home games this year. The R's, however, have eight losses in eight road games, which contributes to their 18th place standing. They'll be home to a West Brom team that won last time out, but struggled to break down 10-man Villa.

Saturday: Southampton v. Everton (St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton)
The Saints were dumped out of the League Cup by Sheffield United midweek and the club lost more than just that. Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama both picked up their fifth yellow cards of the season and will be suspended for accumulation. Southampton have now lost five in a row across all competitions after their loss to the Blades on Tuesday, but Everton have won just twice away from Goodison Park in the league this year.

Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Burnley (White Hart Lane, London)
Spurs have one foot in Wembley for the League Cup final; their win midweek over Newcastle has set them up for a semifinal date with a Sheffield United side that shocked Southampton. It's much harder to pull off a shock in the League Cup semis, since it's over two legs. Burnley will hope that Spurs' fixture congestion helps them pull off a shock of their own; the Clarets have won three of their last six and have lost only once in that span.

We're also letting Alex Song be in fourth.
Fourth is ours, damn it!
Saturday: West Ham United v. Leicester City (Boleyn Ground, London)
The visiting Foxes have lost four straight and are now without a win in their last 11 matches. On the other side, West Ham are flying high, and have only conceded two goals in their last five home games. Play this game on paper and the Hammers win every time; in reality, anything can happen.

Sunday (early): Newcastle United v. Sunderland (St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne)
The Tyne-Wear derby is always a heated encounter and this one could be more heated than usual with Anthony Taylor selected as the referee. Newcastle have allowed four goals in two straight matches after they beat Chelsea, likely down to the fact that they have about 13+ players injured right now. Sunderland are winless in six, but they've drawn five of them. Safe bet says this ends all square.

Monday (night): Stoke City v. Chelsea (Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent)
Stoke have won just one of their last six league meetings with Chelsea, but that came in this corresponding fixture last season. Chelsea have been perfect at home this season (24 out of 24 points,) but have picked up 15 of a possible 24 points from their travels. Stoke sit 12th in the table and have failed to beat any teams in 13th or worse this year. All five of their wins have come against teams currently in the top half of the league table.

John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and owns no sweaters that light up. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, especially if you know where he can get one of those sweaters.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Newcastle United

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, December 13
12:30 p.m. EST, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Mason
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Andrew Halliday
    • 4th Official: Neil Swarbrick
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 3 - 0 Newcastle
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 70 Arsenal wins, 66 Newcastle wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-L-W-W-L
  • Newcastle's League Form: W-W-W-L-D-W
Alexis Sanchez has a tradition of going back to his hometown
with Christmas gifts every year. England's holiday fixture
list looks like it might prevent that this year.
I have a coworker from Chile whose favorite football club has always been "whoever Alexis Sanchez plays for"; I think they're actually from the same hometown. So, as you might have guessed, this is his very first season as an Arsenal supporter. It's fascinating to talk about upcoming matches with someone who doesn't spend every minute waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Anyway, in the midst of all of the fury surrounding the club after last week's loss in Stoke, he asked me how many games were left in the season and I told him 23. And he was like, "23! That's a ton! There's plenty of time! Why is everybody so pissed off?!" Again, it's that expectation that it might not get better, that the other shoe will indeed drop.

Arsenal went out on Tuesday and did what they had to do; they ripped a pretty poor Galatasaray side apart. No margin of victory would have completely turned the corner for Arsenal (it turns out, a margin of victory of six would have won the group, but if "ifs" and "buts" were candy and nuts, then something involving Christmas, or something.)

Newcastle come in riding high, after beating Chelsea 2-1 last week, but they've got a ton of injuries and suspensions to worry about. Arsenal come in riding low, but they've... got a ton of injuries and suspensions to worry about.

Let's start getting some wins together. Then we can talk about turning corners. Then we can talk about how there's plenty of time left in this season. Then maybe the other shoe won't drop.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (Achilles,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Monreal (ankle,) Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Walcott (groin,) Diaby (???,) Ospina (thigh,) Ozil (knee)
Doubts: Rosicky (thigh)
Suspended: Chambers (one match, two yellows)
*Updated Below*

New strategy: One center back, two fullbacks...
...a ton of midfielders?
After resting a glut of players for the trip to Turkey midweek, Arsenal should be fresh as some moderately fresh daisies for this fixture. With a full week off before next weekend's match against Liverpool on the 21st, there's no excuse of fatigue.

Laurent Koscielny will hopefully come back in the squad; with his "chronic" Achilles problem, the Frenchman was rested against Stoke and Galatasaray. He's been called a "major doubt," which is less than comforting because Arsenal are running out of options; Nacho Monreal is out with an ankle problem, while Calum Chambers is suspended. At right back, Arsene Wenger has a choice to make: is Mathieu Debuchy ready for another start (and one against his old club) after playing his first 77 minutes since September midweek, or will he go with Hector Bellerin, who had a shocker at Stoke last weekend? In the middle, I have this sense that Koscielny is going to start. That might just be hope.

The midfield is full of some longer-range injuries: it's still January, at best, for Mikel Arteta and Mesut Ozil and late February or early March for Jack Wilshere. I still find it amusing that the media tried to say Jack had a "setback" while his ankle is still in a protective boot. There is no back from there! A setback from there is having surgery again.

Abou Diaby remains unavailable, but most Web sites that list injuries have completely stopped listing Diaby at all. I still don't know what he's hurt now! Theo Walcott remains out with a groin problem (remember when he played for like 10 minutes twice in November?) while Tomas Rosicky is still in the "doubtful" category with a thigh injury picked up in training last week.

Aside from what I've already discussed on the backline, I don't expect many changes to the midfield and forward corps. The Flamsey axis is the only option in the deep midfield. Aaron Ramsey appears to have shaken off the hamstring problem that saw him removed at halftime on Tuesday, while Mathieu Flamini was removed because he was on a booking (and it was 3-0...)

The only real question you can ask ahead of the defenders is Welbeck or Giroud up top? I'd personally go with the latter, but that's just a gut instinct.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Cazorla, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud.

UPDATE: Well, Koscielny and Ramsey are actually out, sooooooooo.... can anybody out there play center back?

Newcastle Squad News

Out: Elliot (thigh,) Krul (ankle,) R. Taylor (knee,) Aarons (hamstring,) Obertan (thigh,) de Jong (thigh,) Santon (knee,) Good (groin,) Gutierrez (match fitness)
Doubts: Coloccini (calf,) Abeid (toe)
Suspended: S. Taylor (one match, two yellows,) Sissoko (one match, accumulation)

Coloccini replaced David Luiz as "that guy with that hair"
in the Premier League this season.
Newcastle might be without as many as 13 players for this match. Let's start with the suspensions: Steven Taylor was sent off in the 81st minute of the win over Chelsea, meaning the fullback will serve a one match ban. Midfielder Moussa Sissoko had picked up his fifth yellow card of the year against West Ham two weeks ago, but the second yellow he picked up in that match means he served a one match suspension for a different reason. After getting booked again against Chelsea last weekend, Sissoko will now serve his one match ban for accumulation. Newcastle looked significantly worse without Sissoko in midfield against Burnley when he was suspended earlier, though they were also without Jack Colback in that match, as he was also suspended.

As for the doubts, captain Fabricio Coloccini has struggled for fitness lately with a thigh problem; he started against Chelsea after missing the previous three matches and remains a doubt for this one. Mehdi Abeid is on the way back from a broken toe; he was forced to play through the pain against Burnley on his return, as Sissoko and Colback were both banned. Abeid did not make the bench against Chelsea last week.

Between the poles, Newcastle are without both Tim Krul and Rob Elliot; 21-year-old Jak Alnwick deputized well in the second half against Chelsea. During that half, I couldn't find his own Wikipedia article, because apparently it had been nominated for deletion three times due to his lack of notability. That's not so true anymore.

The Magpies have seven (!) other absences of note, as they have been without Curtis Good, Davide Santon, and Jonas Gutierrez all season, the latter of whom may never play for Alan Pardew again despite overcoming cancer. Forward Siem de Jong has been out since August with a thigh injury. Gabriel Obertan is out until March after a thigh injury of his own. Ryan Taylor and Rolando Aarons are out with knee and hamstring injuries, respectively.

Predicted XI: Alnwick, Janmaat, Coloccini, Dummett, Haidara, Tiote, Colback, Perez, Ameobi, Cabella, Cisse.

Current Form

Can Newcastle keep up their form with their third string
keeper between the sticks?
Arsenal really haven't had anything even closely resembling form this season. They went unbeaten in their first six, seven if you count the Community Shield, but drew four of them. Their two longest winning streaks of the year have been only three matches. They've lost six across all competitions, which, to be fair, matches how many they had lost across all matches through this weekend last year. It's the home games that have been hurting Arsenal in the table; the Gunners' home form is ninth in the league, with only three home victories.

Newcastle have won six of their last eight in the Premier League and certainly come in flying high, having become the first team this season to defeat Chelsea last weekend. The Magpies are level with Arsenal on points (23) and are behind the Gunners only on goal difference. They had won six straight across all competitions between October 18 and November 22, before a 1-0 loss to West Ham. 

Match Facts

Laurent Koscielny prepares to start a really weird
celebration after opening the scoring in this fixture last year.
Arsenal took all six possible points from Newcastle last year. Just before New Year's, in the final match of the first half of the season, Olivier Giroud's second half goal stood up as the Gunners took a 1-0 win from St. James's Park. In the reverse fixture at the Emirates, Arsenal celebrated St. Totteringham's Day with a 3-0 win against a Newcastle side that was woefully out of form at the time; Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil, and Olivier Giroud had the goals. On that day, the Gunners had 61% of the possession and took an astonishing 14 corners to Newcastle's zero.

Arsenal have won five straight against Newcastle and are unbeaten in their last seven against the Toon dating back to November of 2010, when an Andy Carroll header won this fixture for the visitors, 1-0. Arsenal then drew two straight visits to St. James's Park, the first of which in a rather ridiculous fashion I don't believe I really need to cover again, before winning five straight. The Gunners have kept three straight clean sheets against Newcastle as well; the Magpies have not scored against Arsenal since the 7-3 Arsenal win in December of 2012.

Newcastle were recently one of only three Premier League teams that had beaten Arsenal more times than Arsenal had beaten them, though Arsenal's run of five straight wins means the Gunners now have a 70-66 advantage. The remaining two teams in the list are Liverpool and Manchester United.

The Referee

Lee Mason sends off Mathieu Debuchy last season.
The referee is Lancashire-based Lee Mason. Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 11 matches with Mason in the middle, with wins over Everton twice, Leyton Orient in an FA Cup replay, Blackpool, Stoke City, Cardiff City, and Norwich City on the season's final day last year, plus draws against Stoke at the Britannia (that's like a win...,) Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, and Southampton. Arsenal's last loss with Mason as the referee came at the end of the 2009/10 season when Lukasz Fabianski helped Wigan overcome a 2-0 deficit inside of ten minutes to win 3-2.

Newcastle, unlike Arsenal, have already seen Mason once this season, for their 2-2 draw at Swansea in early October. Last year, Newcastle had Mason for their 2-0 win over Chelsea, as well as a 1-0 loss to West Brom and a 3-0 loss to Everton; it's worth noting that in the loss to West Brom, he sent off Mathieu Debuchy for what was an absolutely horrendous two-footed lunge. Incidentally, he also won the ball in the challenge at the feet of Claudio Yacob, making the challenge eerily similar to the way in which Yacob himself got sent off against Chelsea a few weeks ago... by Lee Mason!

Around the League

Saturday: Burnley v. Southampton (Turf Moor, Burnley)
The high flying Saints have gone four without a win, losing three straight as well, as they've tumbled from third to fifth. They'll hope a trip to Turf Moor cures what ails them; the Clarets are three without a win themselves, but last weekend's loss to QPR was their first since November 1 at the Emirates.

Saturday: Chelsea v. Hull City (Stamford Bridge, London)
Chelsea have not lost consecutive league fixtures since May of 2012, which came at a time when they were more focused on winning the Champions League than anything domestically. Still, for as long as their unbeaten run went this season, they are only three points clear of Manchester City. Hull come in without a win in their last eight; they're currently in the relegation zone.

Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Stoke City (Selhurst Park, London)
The Eagles have won once in their last nine, but that did come against Liverpool. Selhurst Park, like the Britannia, is not an easy place to play, though even Aston Villa and Sunderland have taken all three points there this season. Stoke have won only twice on their travels this season, though those wins came at City and Spurs.

Saturday: Leicester City v. Manchester City (King Power Stadium, Leicester)
The Foxes are bolted to the bottom of the table now that they've gone ten matches without a victory. To think, they were 7th when they beat United 5-3. A visit from Manchester City is not exactly welcome at any time for a relegation candidate; City have won six straight across all competitions since their draw at QPR.

Saturday: Sunderland v. West Ham United (Stadium of Light, Sunderland)
West Ham had a bit of a blip in November, but have since won three straight. They're still fourth in the table, and had briefly gone third when they beat Swansea at the weekend. Sunderland have climbed into 14th place after they got a point at Anfield last week. The Black Cats have lost once in their last six, but they've also only won once and drawn four.

Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Aston Villa (The Hawthorns, West Bromwich)
It's a West Midlands derby at the Hawthorns as 16th place West Brom host 11th place Aston Villa. Villa have been the streakiest team in the league this year; they opened the year unbeaten in four, then lost six straight, then drew three straight, and now have won two straight. Make up your mind! Meanwhile, the Baggies have just one win in their last nine.

Sunday (early): Manchester United v. Liverpool (Old Trafford, Manchester)
Manchester United have climbed to third in the table, having won five on the bounce. They'll host a Liverpool team that is unbeaten in their last five across all competitions, but also crashed into the Europa League this week and still sit ninth in the table.

Sunday (late): Swansea City v. Tottenham Hotspur (Liberty Stadium, Swansea)
Swansea, now eighth in the table, will be without the suspended Lukasz Fabianski as they host Spurs this weekend. Spurs, who are 10th, are just one point back of the Swans. I don't have much else to say about this match, except Spurs are going to have to wear some kind of change kit because Swansea also wear white. How's that for analysis?

Monday (night): Everton v. Queens Park Rangers (Goodison Park, Liverpool)
Everton are through to the knockout phase of the Europa League, though their domestic form has hurt badly this year. The Toffees enter the weekend 12th as they host QPR in the Monday night match. QPR's win over Burnley last weekend saw them move out of the bottom three for the first time since August.

John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and professional logician. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, if you dare.

Sanchez, The Ox, and Podolski's 88mm gun

Arsenal [ahr-suh-nl] noun: 1. An English football team based in London, England 2. The main source of stress of millions of its fan base, foreign and domestic 3. The direct relative of inconsistency.

Yes, that was a made up definition, and yes all of that rings true over the years...especially this year.  It really does boggle the mind that a club of such prowess (well, supposed prowess anyway) who on paper have a very good side, can produce scintillating football one minute, and the next be more akin to a Sunday pub side that hails from the Faroe Islands.

If it's one thing above all else that a side looking to truly challenge needs, it's consistent form - sure you can lose a match or two, but consistency is not just results on paper, it's how you play on the whole.  Win, lose, or draw, if you're playing well and you happen to just get bested on the day, then credit to your opponent as long as you continue to play well.  Arsenal have clearly not renewed their subscription to that particular publication this season, but as the season draws closer to the halfway point and our players continue to come back to us fit, it's not too late to hit the ground running as soon as possible.
Tuesday's result cannot plaster over the many cracks, but we can all hope it's the stepping stone we have desperately needed
I will be the first to admit that I have been increasingly negative this season as each week passed, though truthfully, could you really blame me?  So it is with great pleasure that I come to you this time around with a piece that contains hope and positivity - I sincerely hope I don't regret this.

With Mathieu Debuchy, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny (though he has a bit of a fresh injury concern) back in the side, having our cadre of preferred players being re-introduced into the fold, or at least close to a full return, is a welcome early Christmas present.  However, despite the timely reinforcements, Arsene Wenger needs to strongly consider keeping faith in a few select players who could very well have a profound impact as the season trudges on - Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Lukas Podolski.

There is not much more I can say about our Chilean spark-plug that hasn't already been stated.  Beyond his brilliant technical ability, his work rate is second to none at the club, but he also brings a desire to win and an ability to make something out of nothing that Arsenal have not had since Robin van Persie at least, if not for longer.
Sanchez underwhelmed at the Britannia, but he's easily been our best player this season
If you would have asked me my honest opinion about Sanchez in the summer after his brilliant World Cup performances, I would have told you that I would love to have him, but that we did not need him - far more pressing matters needed to be addressed, and still do...we all know what those are so there is no need to delve into them yet again.  But what I will say is that it is funny how a luxury can turn into a necessity given a certain set of circumstances, and that is exactly what Sanchez has been for us this season - without him in our ranks this season, we'd surely be sitting somewhere between 10th and 12th in the table, if not worse.

They key for the club, and Sanchez for that matter, is that Le Prof finally begins to understand the finer art of squad rotation, else he'll likely be completely spent come February with nothing left in the tank to give.  Top players such as him will always be crucial, but if he is expected to keep up the influential performances, his batteries certainly need to recharge every now and then.  Joel Campbell may not have been stellar against Galatasaray, but against a bottom side, giving him a run out and Sanchez a break surely won't hurt us too's an option we need to consider, if for no other reason than to keep Sanchez ready and raring to go in the bigger fixtures.

The Ox has been one of our best players in the last month or two, really stepping into the breach in the absence of Walcott and truly taking hold of his increased playing time, vindicating the sentiment of many who have been clamoring for the England international to have an increase in his importance in the first-team.  But it may have been his performance in the center of midfield against Galatasaray in midweek that could be they key to his continue involvement over the next few months.
With our injury list being a longer read than War and Piece, the Ox has stepped up for the club in a huge way 
It was Wenger himself that once stated that he saw Chamberlain as a central midfielder in the long term - powerful on and off the ball, able to work hard to win it back as well as drive us forward, unafraid to have a crack at goal from distance...these are all attributes that we could use in the center of the park.  Alongside Aaron Ramsey on Tuesday evening in Istanbul, the midfield pairing bossed our Turkish opponents in a display where they helped one another bring the best out of themselves.  Considering Jack Wilshere is out for three months, Mikel Arteta also sidelined and Abou Diaby most likely fit sometime after 2016, it may be the center of the park where Chamberlain see's the majority of his time moving forward, especially with Walcott coming back into the fold in the near future.

As for Lukas Podolski, the German international's two goal performance provided further proof that he indeed should be relied upon far more often.  Already lauded as the best finisher at the club (even Wenger stated as such), his ruthless left foot and ability to bulge the back of the net at crucial junctures makes him invaluable.  Danny Welbeck has been misfiring as of late, making quite a few people question his continued inclusion, while Olivier Giroud is the foremost specialist we have when it comes to inconsistency - that is not to say that Giroud does not have parts to his game that are invaluable, he certainly does, but he is not a killer.

Lukas? that you...?
The beauty of Podolski is his willingness to score one at the club apart from Alexis Sanchez maintains that character trait.  Both Welbeck and Giroud often subscribe to our usual passing around the box for 90minutes, and while I do not think Podolski should play the lone striker role, using him out on the left more often gives us something different - someone willing to pick his head up, look at goal and put one on frame nearly every time he has even an inkling of space.  If not for anything else, when you have a top class finisher who almost certainly will literally put a ball straight through the net, you must allow his abilities to be woven into our tactical fabric.

For so many, it surely is the variety of football that makes it the beautiful game.  For years, Arsenal have been a one trick pony...same tactics, same game plan, same passing around the box for an hour, and the same first-team selection despite Wenger routinely going on about our strength in depth that he refuses to use.  Maybe what we need in the coming months is something "out of the box" by our standards...fielding a side that is multi-faceted, able to cope with different scenarios it is bound to come across.

Whether Podolski begins to start more matches, if Ox is used centrally our out wide, or if Sanchez is rested or not, these three players can have/will continue to have a very big role to play as the season rolls on.  Perhaps what is needed above all else, is for Wenger to put a little faith where faith is due.  So here is hoping that Tuesday's result helps the boys find that bit of self belief, but also hoping that Wenger realizes he can truly believe and rely in all his players.

Andrew Thompson is a contributing writer at both The Modern Gooner and Outside of the Boot - feel free to follow him on Twitter @AFCBvB1410

Preview by Numbers: Galatasaray v. Arsenal, Champions League Group Matchday 6

Turk Telekom Arena, Istanbul
Tuesday, December 9
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials from Spain
    • Referee: David Fernandez Borbalan
    • Assistants: Raul Cabanero Martinez and Jose Miranda
    • 4th Official: Teodoro Sobrino
    • Additional Assistants: Fernando Teixeira and Javier Estrada
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 4 - 1 Galatasaray
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-L-W-W-D-W
  • Galatasaray's European Form: L // D-L-L-L-L
Where's the forest? All I can see are trees.
Arsene Wenger always insists that his record per season should be judged in May and I think that's a pretty reasonable suggestion. If you judge a team wholly after every single match, then emotions are bound to sway you too far in one direction. You can't see the forest for the trees until the full picture comes into focus.

With all the talk of various "brigades" among Arsenal fans, I've always found myself more in line with Gingers for Limpar's humorous "Arsene Knows a Lot But Admittedly Has His Faults" brigade. Wenger's tactical decisions drive me mad sometimes, but I'm also convinced that Arsenal would be no better without him, at least over the remainder of this season. Let's not forget the man's strengths, either; it's hard to imagine we'd have Alexis Sanchez this season without Wenger's involvement in the transfer.

Anyway, that's an argument I really don't want to touch with a ten-foot pole; both extremes are so entrenched in their beliefs that the whole thing becomes a ridiculous shouting match. Let's get back to what this feature focuses on: the next upcoming fixture.

There's so little at stake here on matchday six that any result is not likely going to be a panacea for the Gunners' woes. There's some good news in the squad with the return of Mathieu Debuchy, so let's remember to leave this match alone as what it is: dead rubber.

Group D Scenarios

Arsenal can still win the group with a victory and a Dortmund loss to Anderlecht. If Dortmund and Anderlecht draw, Arsenal can only win the group if they defeat Galatasaray by six goals or more; the Turks have never lost by that wide of a margin at home in Europe.

Let's just remember that even if Arsenal win the group, they'll probably end up drawing whoever comes second between PSG and Barcelona anyway.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Alexis (rest,) Cazorla (rest,) Koscielny (rest,) Gibbs (rest,) Welbeck (rest,) Giroud (unregistered,) Monreal (ankle,) Rosicky (hip,) Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Walcott (groin,) Diaby (???,) Ospina (thigh,) Ozil (knee)

Some people were pretty upset that Tomas Rosicky didn't even
make the bench on Saturday. I mean, it was because he
was hurt, but why let the facts get in the way of anger?
Arsenal have taken the unprecedented step of announcing who their starting XI is going to be a day in advance; this likely comes because 1) there are only 18 players on the plane and 2) the entire bench is made up of reserves. You probably could've picked the XI from the list with your eyes closed. With at least four first-team players being intentionally rested, that bloats the "out" list to 14 players.

The biggest surprise is the return of Mathieu Debuchy to the starting XI; the French right back has been out for almost three months. Wojciech Szczesny returns to the lineup as well as Emiliano Martinez will drop to the bench. Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs, and Nacho Monreal all will not make the trip.

A few news outlets tried to compound Arsenal's misery by announcing that Jack Wilshere will now be out until March. Considering that in my West Brom preview, dated November 28, Wilshere was going to be out for "three months," that means he was always set to be back in March. This is strongly reminiscent of the announcement in November that said that Mesut Ozil was going to be out six more weeks, even though that announcement came six weeks after Ozil was going to be out for 12 weeks. That's just subtraction.

The media banks on the (sadly accurate) belief that most people don't pay attention to the details, then compound their fears with information that isn't even news. Two weeks ago, it was news that Jack Wilshere could be out until March. Now it's just repetition.

The sheer number of injuries to the side means that Arsenal can't rotate that much in midfield. Tomas Rosicky trained yesterday, but is not fit to make the trip. Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla will be rested. Olivier Giroud is ineligible and Danny Welbeck will not make the trip, meaning the forward trio will be Yaya Sanogo, Lukas Podolski, and Joel Campbell. I'd expect Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to start centrally.

Expected XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Chambers, Bellerin, Flamini, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell, Podolski, Sanogo.

Galatasaray Squad News

Out: Dzemaili (hamstring)
Suspended: İnan (one match, two bookings)

Blerim Dzemaili is Cimbom's only player missing through injury; he picked up a hamstring injury in training with the Swiss national team during the last international break. In addition, new manager Hamza Hamzaoglu will be without Selcuk İnan in his first European match in charge of the club; İnan was sent off for two bookings on matchday five at Anderlecht.

Predicted XI: Muslera, Camdal, Kaya, Chedjou, Telles, Felipe Melo, Kurtulus, Altintop, Sneijder, Bulut, Burak Yılmaz.

Current Form

Vito Mannone shows off some skillz on a matchday six
long past...
Arsenal's day to forget at Stoke marked only the second time this season the Gunners have conceded three in a match; the other occasion was on Champions League group matchday four against Anderlecht. Both of those matches snapped Arsenal's two three-match winning streaks of the season.

It's now matchday six, so often dead rubber for the Gunners, to the point where they have lost three straight Champions League matches in the month of December. Arsenal's last matchday six victory came against Partizan Belgrade in 2010, a day when they still needed a result to advance. Arsenal lost 2-0 at Napoli on matchday six last year and lost in Olympiacos three times over the previous four year span in those final group fixtures. The last time Arsenal won on the road on matchday six was 1999, which was also the last time Arsenal did not progress from the group stage.

Galatasaray are second in the Turkish Super Lig despite an even goal difference on the season. They've won twice since losing to Anderlecht in Belgium on matchday five, a loss which eliminated them from further European competition this season. After that loss, manager Cesare Prandelli was sacked after just 148 days in charge. In Europe, Galatasaray are currently winless over their last seven matches.

Of Galatasaray's 18 goals scored this season across all competitions, Burak Yılmaz has scored half of them.

Match Facts

Danny Welbeck's matchday two hat trick was the first of
his senior career.
Arsenal ran rampant against Galatasaray at the Emirates on matchday two; Danny Welbeck had a hat trick as Arsenal built up a 4-0 lead against the Turks. Wojciech Szczesny's red card put a damper on the proceedings as the visitors scored from the ensuing penalty (one of Yılmaz's nine goals on the season.) David Ospina made his second appearance for the club in relief and re-injured his thigh in the process; he still hasn't returned.

These two clubs have only met once prior in terms of competitive matches, that coming in the 2000 UEFA Cup Final, which Galatasaray won on penalties after a 0-0 draw. The less said about that day, the better.

All-time, Arsenal have a record of six wins, four draws, and no losses (aside from that penalty shootout) against Turkish competition, including a record of two wins and a draw against Turkish sides this season alone. On Turkish soil, Arsenal have a record of two wins and two draws. At home against English sides, Galatasaray have a record of three wins, four draws, and two losses. Those losses came to West Bromwich Albion in 1978 and Chelsea in 1999.

The Referee

Finally! A ref who understands that bad hair is worthy
of a red card!
The match officials are from Spain; the referee is David Fernandez Borbalan. This will be his first match for either club. He's been working in La Liga since 2004 and in international competition since 2010.

He's worked 10 Champions League matches in his career, only one of which involved a Turkish or English side; that was Manchester City's 3-2 win at Bayern Munich during last year's group stage. He's worked two Champions League matches so far in this group stage: Roma's 5-1 win over CSKA Moscow and Benfica's 1-0 win over Monaco.

He also took charge of the second leg of this year's Spanish Super Cup, which saw Atletico Madrid beat Real Madrid 1-0 and 2-1 on aggregate. He sent off Luka Modric in the 91st minute for a second yellow; it's the only red card he's shown this season.

Around Europe

Group A: Atletico Madrid travel to Italy to face Juventus knowing that just a point will clinch first place in the group. Olympiacos host Malmo in the other match and the Greeks still have an outside shot at qualifying; since Olympiacos hold the tie-breaker over Juve, they'll be through with a win and a Juventus loss.

Liverpool lost to Basel in Switzerland on matchday two.
Group B: Real Madrid have been perfect in the group and will look to take the full 18 points as they host Ludogorets Razgrad. Liverpool host Basel at Anfield; the Reds must win to advance. Even though the Bulgarian side are level on points with Liverpool, the fact that they do not hold a tie-breaker means they cannot qualify.

Group C: Bayer Leverkusen have qualified; they'll face an already eliminated Benfica in Portugal. Monaco lead Zenit St. Petersburg by a point for second place; they'll meet in Monaco where the home side are through with a win or tie. Zenit must win to advance.

Group D: In the other Group D match, Borussia Dortmund host an Anderlecht side that is guaranteed third place. Dortmund will likely win the group with a draw, unless Arsenal win by six.

Group E: Bayern Munich have won the group, even if their perfect record was snapped by Manchester City's brilliant comeback on matchday five. The German juggernaut will host CSKA Moscow, while the English champions visit Roma.

City will be without Sergio Aguero on Wednesday.
The potential tie-breakers here are complicated, because Roma, City, and CSKA all have five points. The only result that makes things less complicated is a Roma win; that would see the Italians take second place. CSKA need Roma to drop points to advance, even if they win in Germany. City will advance with a win only if CSKA doesn't win.

Roma would win a tie-breaker with CSKA Moscow, CSKA Moscow would beat Manchester City in a tie-breaker, and the winner of a Roma-Manchester City tie-breaker would depend on the score of their draw (Roma wins it with 0-0 or 1-1; Manchester City wins it with a score draw of 2-2 or higher.)

If the Roma-Manchester City and Bayern Munich-CSKA Moscow games both end in draws, leaving the three teams behind Bayern all on six points, Roma would advance from a three-team tiebreaker. 

Group F: Paris St. Germain and Barcelona are both through and face each other for first place at Camp Nou; Barcelona must win to win the group, as they enter a point behind the French champions. Ajax hosts APOEL in the other match; APOEL need to win to take third.

Group G: Chelsea have already won their group; they'll host Sporting Lisbon at the Bridge. Maribor host Schalke in the other match. Sporting will take second with a win or draw in London, as they have the tie-breaker over the Germans. Schalke need a win and a Chelsea win to take second.

Group H: Porto have won the group; they host second place Shakhtar Donetsk, who are also through and can't finish anywhere other than second. Athletic Bilbao host BATE Borisov; the visiting Belarusian side need a win to finish in the Europa League place.

John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and is not very fond of brigades. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, if you like that kind of thing.