Preview by Numbers: Stoke City v. Arsenal

Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Saturday, March 1
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Jones
    • Assistants: Mark Scholes and Adrian Holmes
    • 4th Official: Anthony Taylor
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 1 Stoke City
  • This Match, Last Year: Stoke City 0 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 52 Arsenal wins, 23 Stoke wins, 23 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-W-L-D-W
  • Stoke City's League Form: L-L-W-D-D-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 6 C / 43 F
Well, I'm not gonna bring it up...
Ah, Stoke away. So much has already been said about this match-up and about this rivalry on the Interwebz, I don't feel the need to repeat it all for you here. The fact of the matter is, this fixture has been tricky for Arsenal in recent years; I go into detail after painful detail about that in the "Match Facts" section below.

The thing is, Arsenal have many more "tricky" fixtures ahead of them. They've won once at the Britannia since Stoke's 2008 promotion. They've won two of their last nine league games at Stamford Bridge. They haven't won at White Hart Lane in the league since 2007. They've won once in the league at home against Manchester City in their last four meetings. These are all tricky fixtures and they're all going to be played in March.

Stoke might be 15th in the league, but they've beaten Chelsea and United at the Britannia and held City to a draw there as well. In addition, they're Stoke. There's a psychological component to this fixture bubbling beneath the surface. All season long, Arsenal have responded to adversity, in ways Arsenal of three or four years ago would not have.

Things won't get easier until it's all decided. They're all tricky fixtures in some way. This one, in so many.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Kallstrom (back,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Monreal (foot,) Gibbs (hamstring,) Vermaelen (knee)

Where will Sagna start? Left or right?
The biggest concern for Arsenal is currently at left back, where Kieran Gibbs has been out since the Bayern game with a hamstring problem and Nacho Monreal was removed at halftime last weekend with a foot injury. Both are currently listed as "doubts;" for all I know, both could pass fit or both may not. In terms of deputizing, one would suspect the versatile Bacary Sagna to fill in on the left with Carl Jenkinson starting on the right if both Gibbs and Monreal fall short.

Meanwhile, Thomas Vermaelen has been declared fit again, though starting him on the left is not as good of an option, in my opinion, as shifting over Sagna; Vermaelen has been out since the beginning of January. There's been no talk of Laurent Koscielny having an injury, even after his removal from Saturday's match as well, so he's expected to start.

It's pretty much as you were with the rest of the squad; Mesut Ozil should be back from his mental vacation. Hopefully he's found his umlaut powers again.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Sagna, Arteta, Flamini, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Giroud.

Stoke City Squad News

Out: Assaidi (knee)
Doubts: Huth (knee)

Assaidi had the winner against Chelsea in December.
He's out six weeks with a knee injury.
Very little for Stoke in terms of absentees; Oussama Assaidi, on loan from Liverpool, could be out a number of weeks with a knee injury, while Robert Huth is about to return from a knee injury of his own. Huth has not played since November 23 and Marc Wilson has been deputizing at center back along with captain Ryan Shawcross.

Stoke play more visually appealing football under Mark Hughes than they did under Tony Pulis; it was the Potters who had 51% of the possession in the reverse fixture and the Gunners who scored three from set pieces. While Stoke played more of a 4-4-1-1 at the time of the reverse fixture in September, they've played more of a fluid midfield of late. Glenn Whelan plays as more of a holding role behind Charlie Adam, Peter Odemwingie, Marko Arnautovic, and Jonathan Walters. Peter Crouch plays as the target man.

I've read that Stoke have only scored twice from headers this season, which is astonishing if true, but I haven't been able to confirm it.

Predicted XI: Begovic, Cameron, Wilson, Shawcross, Pieters, Whelan, Arnautovic, Adam, Walters, Odemwingie, Crouch.

Current Form

A comfortable 4-1 win over Sunderland was just what the doctor ordered for an Arsenal side that had won twice in its previous six matches across all competitions. With another difficult run of fixtures looming on the horizon, a difficult run extended by a sixth round FA Cup tie with Everton, the Gunners need as many points as they can possibly get.

Stoke, meanwhile, have lost just twice at home in the league this season, to Liverpool and Norwich City. They have beaten Chelsea, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, and Sunderland at the Britannia while also drawing Manchester City, Everton, Southampton, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion, and Cardiff City. Stoke sit in 15th in the table, but they are 7th place overall in home matches and last place away from the Britannia.

On the other hand, Stoke have won just once in their last 10 league games (it was against United,) so there's that to consider as well.

Match Facts

Vermaelen celebrates Arsenal's third goal in this fixture
four years ago.
Arsenal have handled Stoke well at home; Stoke have not taken a point at Highbury/the Emirates since 1981. But, at the Britannia, it's a different story. Since Stoke's most recent promotion, Arsenal have one just once at the Britannia, drawn twice, and lost three times. Let's go down Horrible Memory Lane, shall we?

In November of 2008, Stoke won the first meeting 2-1; Robin van Persie was sent off for a senseless shoulder charge on Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen with the game already 2-0. Gael Clichy, apparently, scored a consolation goal in extra time. Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Bacary Sagna all left that match injured. After the match, Sorensen quipped that Arsenal "lack that bit of spine you need."

In January of 2010, Arsenal and Stoke met in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Arsene Wenger would later be heavily criticized for his player selection, starting the likes of returning Sol Campbell, Mikael Silvestre, Armand Traore, and Francis Coquelin across the back four, plus Carlos Vela, Craig Eastmond, and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas up front. Regardless, it was 1-1 at 67 minutes when Wenger brought in Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, and Eduardo to go for the win. Stoke then scored twice to win 3-1.

A month later, the sides met in the league and Stoke opened the scoring eight minutes in. Nicklas Bendtner equalized in the 32nd, but the match continued 1-1 into the second half. On 66 minutes, Ryan Shawcross barreled into Aaron Ramsey and the rest is, of course, history. Arsenal needed a late penalty via handball to take a 2-1 lead, then Thomas Vermaelen added an insurance goal two minutes later. It remains Arsenal's only win at the Britannia Stadium.

In late 2011, Arsenal lost again 3-1 at Stoke, though this came at a point (early May) when Arsenal had long stopped trying post-Carling Cup Final loss. Each of the last two meetings have ended in draws, 0-0 in April of 2012 and 1-1 in August of the same calendar year.

The Referee

I guess this isn't the right one.
It's a common name!
The referee is Chester-based Mike Jones, whom Arsenal are seeing for the first time this season. Arsenal won all three matches in which Jones was in the middle for them last year, including the League Cup 6-1 win over Coventry City, a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion which Arsenal won on the strength of two penalties, and the 3-1 win over Norwich City which Arsenal left pretty late.

In terms of other matches from the past from which you may remember Jones (and speaking of two penalties,) he was the referee for Arsenal's come from behind 3-2 win over Aston Villa in the fourth round of the 2012 FA Cup, in which he awarded Arsenal two penalties in the span of seven minutes. He was also the referee for Arsenal's final day of the season win at West Brom two years ago.

As for Stoke, Jones was in the middle for just one match this season, a 4-0 loss at Everton in November.

Astonishingly, the visiting side has won just five of Jones's 24 matches as referee this season, though that's likely an aberration; he awarded Swansea a controversial penalty at Anfield early in the second half last weekend to make that match 3-3, though Liverpool went on to win.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Everton v. West Ham United; Goodison Park, Liverpool
    • Reverse Fixture: West Ham United 2 - 3 Everton
  • Saturday: Fulham v. Chelsea; Craven Cottage, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Chelsea 2 - 0 Fulham
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Newcastle United; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
    • Reverse Fixture: Newcastle United 2 - 3 Hull City
  • Saturday (late): Southampton v. Liverpool; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
    • Reverse Fixture: Liverpool 0 - 1 Southampton
  • Sunday (early): Manchester City v. Sunderland; Wembley Stadium, London (League Cup Final)
  • Sunday (late): Aston Villa v. Norwich City; Villa Park, Birmingham
    • Reverse Fixture: Norwich City 0 - 1 Aston Villa
  • Sunday (late): Swansea City v. Crystal Palace; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
    • Reverse Fixture: Crystal Palace 0 - 2 Swansea City
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Cardiff City; White Hart Lane, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Cardiff City 0 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur
  • Not Playing: Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion

Arsenal 4-1 Sunderland: Back on Track

Coming off of a trying series of matches that did not exactly go the way we wanted it to, the worst thing that could have happened was a game Sunderland squad tearing into us in fashion you'd expect from a side fighting for survival. Thankfully, they could not have offered less resistance had they stayed in their hotel this afternoon.

(Speaking of that series of matches - there was no Manchester United report because I was too nervous to wait until I got home from work to see the score, and there was no Bayern Munich report because one of my indoor soccer teammates ruined the result for me after a whole day of avoiding social media. Sorry, but life is too short to watch matches that you know have poor results ahead of time.)

The Black Cats set out their stall to defend early on, but did so in oddly-passive fashion. Normally, if you're going to do the 10 center-halves thing, you wait until the opponents get into the final third before fiercely pressing the ball-carrier. Here, Sunderland stood around and let Arsenal pass their way through.

That is a horrendous game-plan against this Gunners side, and our boys duly punished them for it early on.  Lukas Podolski fed Tomas Rosicky, who flicked it first-time to Jack Wilshere. No less than 5 Sunderland defenders converged on him, but he was still able to thread a square pass out to Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman, having been abandoned by said 5 Sunderland defenders, was left with a fairly easy tap-in.

It should be noted, however, that old boy Vito Mannone did not make it difficult for him, either. There is a microscopic difference between a good goalkeeper and a great one at this level, often down to minor technical abilities. Sure, Ollie was going to score 8 times out of 10 there no matter what the keeper does. The difference between that 8 and a full 10 out of 10 is the fact that Mannone was already diving the wrong way when Giroud took the shot. Watch for this the next time you see Wojciech Szczesny in this position, or other great keepers like Thibault Courtois, Gigi Buffon, etc.

Sunderland responded to the goal by gingerly peeking their heads over the parapet, crossing over the halfway line like fugitives sneaking over a border without a passport. Marcos Alonso did take advantage of Bacary Sagna giving him the whole wing to work with to sneak a cross in that almost wrong-footed Szczesny. The Pole was able to come back across to smother, though.

We had no intention of easing off though, as Podolski stung Mannone's palms with a long-range effort soon after. Still, it looked like the visitors had stopped the bleeding enough to get back into the game. Then, one moment of slack play gave us the goal that killed off the match. Mannone played it out short, and under excellent pressure from our forwards it was passed back by Santiago Vergini. It was woefully under-hit though, which allowed Giroud to rush in and poke it past Mannone. Continuing our theme - Mannone probably had no chance, but he was also slow off his line and indecisive once he did come out.

Previously this season, our guys would tend to ease off and try to see the match out from there - you'll note that we haven't crushed too many opponents so far. This time, the Arsenal kept going and bagged a third shortly before the interval. What a goal it was, too.

It came right through the middle, Wilshere starting it with a pass to Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard returned it, and in turn Wilshere flicked it out to Rosicky. Tomas played a one-two with Giroud, eviscerating the Sunderland backline. Mannone was slow coming out once again, allowing Rosicky to guide the ball over his dive and in. The speed and precision were impeccable, and I would like to note for the Giroud haters that this goal wasn't possible without his quick pivot back to Tommy.

The second half was largely a procession, played out mainly because the Laws dictate that Arsenal couldn't declare after their innings. Injuries became the main storyline from here, beginning at halftime when Nacho Monreal came off for Carl Jenkinson. I didn't see Nacho struggling at any point, but it bears watching all the same.

To their credit, Sunderland didn't stop fighting. Borini tested Szczesny with a hard shot at his near post, which the keeper saved comfortably. Up the other end, their defense was still an absolute shower - Vergini's bad day almost got worse as his attempted clearance shanks behind. It was so close to a wonder volley into his own net. It merely delayed the inevitable though. On the resulting corner, Koscielny's late run darting to his right saw no one follow him, leaving him in acres to nod home the fourth.

Only then did Arsenal back off a bit, stroking the ball around at their leisure as Sunderland stood there and watched. Still, Koscielny managed to pick up a knock, Mathieu Flamini coming on in relief. That meant that poor Sagna had to play his third position of the day, moving to center-half as Flam slotted in at left back. The visitors took advantage almost immediately, a cross from the left causing trouble with Mathieu too far off of Sebastian Larsson. It was cut back to Ki-Sung Yeung, but Szczesny was able to save his near-post effort comfortably.

Those chances were intermittent at best though, the Gunners as firmly in control as you'd expect when there are passages of play with 40-50 passes consecutively without reply. The substitute Serge Gnabry almost made it five when Wilshere played him in, but he got the ball tangled up in his feet.

It looked like 4-0 would be the final, but sadly, the clean sheet was not to be. Sunderland found a solitary moment of magic to beat Szczesny, though he was partially the author of his undoing as well. Larsson, who barely missed on a free kick a few minutes before the goal, played in another dangerous ball from a set piece. Szczesny punched it out when he probably should have caught it, but it was still a good distance out. Emmanuele Giaccherini had it all to do, well outside the area and out to the right. He hit the absolute crap out of it though, and it arrowed through the bodies in the penalty area to nestle in the far corner.

That doesn't take too much sheen off of the result, though. This side badly needed a fillip after the last few weeks, and they got it today. Arsenal have mostly won the matches they should win this season, this one included. We can only hope they can keep it up long enough to make up for the indifferent performances against the rest of the big boys. And, we can only hope that Monreal, Koscielny and Wilshere are all OK - we can't afford any more absences.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Monreal 7 (Jenkinson 7), Mertesacker 8, Koscielny 8 (Flamini 7), Sagna 7, Arteta 7, Wilshere 8, Podolski 7, Rosicky 8 (Gnabry 7), Cazorla 7, Giroud 8

Man of the Match: Screw the haters - Olivier Giroud, all day.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Sunderland

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, February 22
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Marc Perry and Peter Bankes
    • 4th Official: Phil Dowd
  • Reverse Fixture: Sunderland 1 - 3 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 0 - 0 Sunderland
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 56 Arsenal wins, 50 Sunderland wins, 39 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-W-L-D
  • Sunderland's League Form: L-W-D-W-W-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 9 C / 49 F
Interesting story; I hope the ending
doesn't fall apart...
The narrative advances.

Every moment, a verse; every match, a chapter; every season, a novel. Plots and characters ebb and flow as the season ambles from autumn to winter to spring. Expectations change based on new evidence; what was once acceptable may now be unthinkable, what was once unthinkable may now be grim reality.

Twenty clubs write a new book every season in the Premier League. For some like Sunderland, the story is one of initial struggles followed by a thrilling fight for their top-flight lives. For comfortably mid-table clubs, the whole book is probably boring unless a scandal pops up somewhere. For Manchester United, well, their fans probably want to burn the book of this season before the ink dries.

Still others, like Arsenal, weave multiple narratives at once. Events in the rising action cast aside initial expectations set forth by the disastrous opening passages. Multiple false climaxes have come and gone; December’s struggles gave way to newfound defensive solidarity in January. Wednesday’s loss to Bayern made for uncomfortable reading, but its narrative only tangentially effects the Premier League story. February’s “death run” has ended with a silverware conclusion still plausible without needing to introduce magic wizards. March’s “death run” will serve to be the climax, with the structure of April’s falling action and May’s denouement in the balance.

And so, the narrative advances.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gibbs (hamstring,) Kallstrom (back,) Vermaelen (knee,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Diaby (knee)

Can someone rebuild Gibbs's hamstrings from metal?
We need Robo-Gibbs.
And another casualty to the list, as Kieran Gibbs was removed from Wednesday's match on half an hour with a hamstring injury; what does Gibbs have to do to spend a season healthy? Nacho Monreal has been unconvincing in the last few fixtures, so hopefully a run of form can get him back in the right place. No change to the rest of Arsenal's injury list as Kim Kallstrom, Thomas Vermaelen, Aaron Ramsey, Abou Diaby, and Theo Walcott remain out.

Mikel Arteta should return to the side, serving a one match European ban on Wednesday. It would appear that Yaya Sanogo has pipped not only Nicklas Bendtner but also Olivier Giroud in the side, so I'll have to keep predicting the youngster to be in the XI now until Arsene Wenger decides otherwise.

Elsewhere in the side, I find it doubtful that Mesut Ozil will be given a rest any time soon, even though this is the type of match that clearly might call for it; with everyone getting on Ozil lately, benching him might not even do any good. I'd see no problem starting Jack Wilshere in an advanced midfield role with Arteta and Mathieu Flamini behind him, but I don't think that will happen. Meanwhile, Lukas Podolski is probably going to have to start thinking of ways to blackmail Wenger if he wants another start.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Sanogo.

Sunderland Squad News

Out: Westwood (shoulder)
Doubts: Cuellar (hip,) Fletcher (Achilles)
Suspended: Brown (second of two)

Did you know there was a Mannone to United rumor
during the transfer window?
Wes Brown picked up his third red card of the season in the 4th minute of Sunderland's 2-0 loss to Hull City on February 8; since Sunderland's match against Manchester City from February 12 was postponed, Brown remains unavailable.

Ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone will likely return to his position in goal, deputizing for the injured Kieren Westwood, who needed shoulder surgery in November. Oscar Ustari filled in for Sunderland's FA Cup tie last weekend. As for Sunderland's doubts, Carlos Cuellar is on his way back from a hip problem and Steven Fletcher could return from an Achilles injury.

Predicted XI: Mannone, Bardsley, O'Shea, Vergini, Alonso, Ki, Bridcutt, Colback, Borini, Johnson, Altidore.

Current Form

Wes Brown's 4th minute red card gave Sunderland one
of their bigger set-backs in recent memory.
DEATHRUN1 has come to a close. Arsenal are into the last eight of the FA Cup, they sit in striking distance of top of the league, and their first leg deficit in Europe is not as bad as last year's first leg deficit. Judging by Arsenal's pre-red card display on Wednesday, there is still a legitimate belief in this season. If you told me this would be the scenario at this point before the season started, I would have been pleasantly surprised; unfortunately, Arsenal's strong autumn means that the last few weeks have looked worse. DEATHRUN2 approaches in just two weeks, as Arsenal's match with Swansea, not originally part of the DEATHRUN, has been postponed to make room for the FA Cup quarter-final with Everton. Arsenal will play Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, Everton twice, and Bayern Munich in the month of March/early April.

As for Sunderland, you might be surprised to learn they have lost three of their last 16 matches, across all competitions. One of those three losses, to Manchester United, merely forced a penalty shootout which Sunderland went on to win. They've advanced to the last eight of the FA Cup as well, earning a tie with the winner of a replay between Hull City and Brighton & Hove Albion. Hull City, for your information, beat Sunderland in their last season match, 2-0. The Black Cats then had a match at Manchester City postponed due to high winds and dangerous conditions. It appears that Gus Poyet is the right kind of crazy to manage this team, rather than Paolo Di Canio. Recent results aside, Sunderland still sit in the relegation zone, sitting behind 17th place West Brom on goal difference, though the Black Cats have a game in hand.

Match Facts

Aaron Ramsey had a second half brace to give Arsenal
the win in Sunderland in October.
Though the match results might not necessarily show it, Arsenal have had a tricky time with Sunderland over the last several seasons. Earlier this year, Sunderland were aggrieved not to have equalized at 2-2 when referee Martin Atkinson failed to play advantage after a Bacary Sagna foul; Arsenal went on to win 3-1 through two goals from Aaron Ramsey and another from Olivier Giroud.

Last year, Arsenal were frustrated to a 0-0 draw in this fixture in the season's opening match, after Giroud, a 64th minute substitute, missed a number of chances. Arsenal won later in the season 1-0 at the Stadium of Light in a match made highly nervous by Carl Jenkinson's 62nd minute red card. The year before last Arsenal won both league meetings 2-1, needing a Thierry Henry injury time winner in the road match; the Black Cats got revenge a week later, knocking Arsenal out of the FA Cup, 2-0. Prior to that year, the previous time Arsenal took all six points from Sunderland was 2007/08.

Even though there are many draws in the mix, Arsenal have lost just one of their last 20 league meetings with Sunderland; that Sunderland win came by a 1-0 scoreline on November 21, 2009, via a Darren Bent 71st minute winner. The hangover I had after that match turned into an ear infection. I don't know why I always tell that story...

The Referee

I've previously promised to use this photo of Marriner
for every match he works for Arsenal.
The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner. Arsenal have only had Marriner three times over this season and last, winning all three matches: 5-1 over West Ham, 1-0 over Fulham (in which both sides had players sent off,) and 2-0 over Hull City earlier this season. Sunderland have split three results with Marriner this season: they lost 1-0 to Hull City, drew West Ham 0-0, and beat Manchester United in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final, 2-1.

Speaking of red cards, as that's been the theme of this week, this chart shows all 100 red cards Arsenal have been shown during the Arsene Wenger era; Marriner has shown just one of those 100, to Olivier Giroud in the aforementioned Fulham match last season. That bit of information aside, Marriner has shown more red cards (10) this season than any other Select Group official. He showed three in one match between Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley earlier this month, the first of which was a second yellow for Emmanuel Frimpong on just half an hour. He also showed two to Sunderland in one match, to Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena, in their 1-0 loss to Hull in November.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Chelsea v. Everton; Stamford Bridge, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Everton 1 - 0 Chelsea
  • Saturday: Cardiff City v. Hull City; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
    • Reverse Fixture: Hull City 1 - 1 Cardiff City
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Stoke City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
    • Reverse Fixture: Stoke City 0 - 0 Manchester City
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Fulham; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
    • Reverse Fixture: Fulham 1 - 1 West Bromwich Albion
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Southampton; Boleyn Ground, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Southampton 0 - 0 West Ham United
  • Saturday (late): Crystal Palace v. Manchester United; Selhurst Park, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Manchester United 2 - 0 Crystal Palace
  • Sunday (early): Liverpool v. Swansea City; Anfield, Liverpool
    • Reverse Fixture: Swansea City 2 - 2 Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Newcastle United v. Aston Villa; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
    • Reverse Fixture: Aston Villa 1 - 2 Newcastle United
  • Sunday (late): Norwich City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Carrow Road, Norwich
    • Reverse Fixture: Tottenham Hotspur 2 - 0 Norwich City

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

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, February 19
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials from Italy
    • Referee: Nicola Rizzoli
    • Assistants: Andrea Stefani and Renato Faverani
    • 4th Official: Lorenzo Manganelli
    • Additional Assistants: Luca Banti and Antonio Damato
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 2 Arsenal wins, 3 Bayern wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal in the Group Stage: Group F Runner-Up
  • Bayern in the Group Stage: Group D Winner
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-W-L-W-W-L
  • Bayern's European Form: W-W-W-W-W-L
  • Weather: Cloudy, 8 C / 47 F
Arsenal dug themselves a hole in the first leg against
Bayern last year. Maybe don't dig a hole this time?
DEATHRUN1 comes to an end tonight with the biggest of them all, as the defending European champion Bayern Munich comes to the Emirates for the first leg of their Round of 16 Champions League tie. You really can't come in on better form than Bayern, who have drawn twice and lost twice this season, across all of their fixtures. You'll see more details in the "Current Form" section below, but to say they've been a powerhouse is an understatement. Last season's best team in Europe somehow got better.

But, it should be noted that the last team to keep Bayern from scoring was Arsenal in the second leg of last year's Round of 16 tie; it wasn't enough to salvage the tie but it was enough to give the Gunners belief in their fight for fourth place, which was ultimately successful.

The circumstances are much better for Arsenal this year, recent struggles included. They're challenging for first instead of fourth place in the Premier League. They won their fifth round FA Cup tie over Liverpool to head into this match, instead of losing their fifth round FA Cup tie to second division Blackburn, as they did last year.

Pundits have (correctly) pointed out that Arsenal have not won enough of the big challenge games this year. Yes, they won in Dortmund and yes, they've beaten Liverpool twice at the Emirates. But, they took only one point of six from a struggling United, failed to beat Chelsea in two tries at home (one in the League Cup, of course,) and have lost a few lopsided road games as well, 6-3 at the Etihad and 5-1 at Anfield.

Arsenal likely won't win silverware without a big victory somewhere down the line. Why not get the ball rolling now? Why not this one?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Kallstrom (back,) Vermaelen (knee,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Suspended: Arteta (one match)
Faces suspension with next yellow: Ramsey

They have some big work to do.
No injury updates for Arsenal since the FA Cup tie at the weekend; Arsene Wenger mentioned specifically that Tomas Rosicky is available, while Thomas Vermaelen has not yet returned to training. It's as you were with everyone else.

Unfortunately, there's bad news in that Mikel Arteta is banned for one match after his Matchday 6 red card at Napoli, though since that was well known in advance, Wenger opted to use Arteta on Sunday in a scenario where he likely would have only played one of the two matches anyway. This almost certainly means Jack Wilshere comes back into the side in the center of midfield, though I personally hope his playing alongside Mathieu Flamini means the youngster won't drift too far forward like he did at Anfield. Arsenal need the Frenchman to keep the back group in line, with regards to their positioning.

Up top, I would expect a return to the starting XI for Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla. I wouldn't be surprised if Big Game Rosicky started as well.

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

Bayern Munich Squad News

Out: Shaqiri (thigh,) Ribery (buttocks,) Badstuber (knee)
Faces suspension with next yellow: Dante

No, no, Shaqiri,
not Sha
While there might be some consolation in the fact that Franck Ribery and Xherdan Shaqiri have both been ruled out through injury for this match, it should be noted that Shaqiri was replaced by Bastian Schweinsteiger, himself returning from an ankle injury that kept him out for three months. I would expect that he'll slip straight into the midfield. Ribery's injury is expected to keep him out until March. In better injury news for Bayern, Holger Badstuber has returned to training; the 24-year-old has missed 14 months after needing four knee operations.

Bayern Munich are so deep that even without Ribery and Shaqiri and with my predicted squad including Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, and Mario Mandzukic, I'm still leaving out Thiago Alcantara and Mario Gotze. That's a bit terrifying.

Predicted XI: Neuer, Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba, Lahm, Muller, Robben, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Mandzukic.

Current Form

I've noticed Yaya Sanogo loves celebrating goals.
To be fair, so do I.
Arsenal come to the end of DEATHRUN1 with a strange record: they were on the wrong end of a tonking in the first match, played out a frustrating 0-0 draw in the second, then won the third despite many clamoring that they weren't the better team. Arsenal desperately needed their luck to change a bit at some point and Sunday's FA Cup tie might have been just that. Still, they will not likely face another opponent in as formidable form as Bayern Munich.

The visitors in tonight's match have lost just two games this season and the first of those was the German equivalent of the Community Shield, so it barely even counts. The other loss came to Manchester City in December, though it was on Matchday 6 with nothing to play for and they jumped out to a 2-0 lead, switched off a bit, and capitulated. Bayern have played 21 matches in the Bundesliga, yet, are already 16 points clear of Bayer Leverkusen in second. Bayern have won 19 and drawn two. They have not lost a league match since October 28, 2012. Last week, they coasted into the semi-final of the DFB-Pokal, Germany's domestic cup competition, with a 5-0 win in Hamburg; they'll face second tier Kaiserslautern in the semi in mid-April, while Dortmund faces Wolfsburg.

Bayern have scored in each of their last 50 matches, across all competitions (I think this includes their win in the FIFA Club World Cup as well.) The last team to keep them off the scoresheet was Arsenal.

Match Facts

Arsenal's 2-0 victory in Munich was not quite enough last
year. This is the most dejected 2-0 victory photo you'll find.
You might recall that Arsenal and Bayern met in this round of the Champions League last year, with Bayern advancing 3-3 on away goals. Of course, the tie overall never quite felt that close, as the Germans jumped out to an early lead at the Emirates in the first leg; Toni Kroos scored seven minutes in and Thomas Muller doubled Bayern's advantage in the 21st minute. Lukas Podolski pulled a goal back for Arsenal in the 55th, but Mario Mandzukic re-established Bayern's two goal advantage in the 77th, completing a 3-1 win for the visitors. That scoreline meant Arsenal had to win by three clear goals in the second leg in Munich; despite being the only visiting team to keep a clean sheet at the Allianz Arena all year, goals from Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny were not enough, as Arsenal bowed out on away goals.

Arsenal's only other victory over Bayern came in the second leg of the 2005 Round of 16, though that 1-0 win at the Emirates was not enough to overturn a 3-1 deficit from the first leg. In the 2000/01 second group stage, Arsenal lost 1-0 in Munich and drew 2-2 in London.

The Gunners are in the Round of 16 for the 14th consecutive year, however, they have not advanced past this stage since 2010, bowing out in this round to Barcelona, AC Milan, and Bayern Munich in the last three seasons, respectively. Arsenal have lost three consecutive home games against German opposition (Schalke and Bayern last year and Dortmund this year;) they have an all-time record of nine wins, four losses, and one draw against German sides in London.

Bayern have only won four times against English sides on English soil in 17 matches; they have lost six and drawn seven. They did win twice in 2013, winning at Arsenal and at Manchester City. They did lose to both sides, however, at home, which is astonishing when you look at Bayern's overall form and how rarely they lose at all.

The Referee

The crew of officials is from Italy; the referee is Nicola Rizzoli. Arsenal have seen Rizzoli twice, first for their famous 2-1 win over Pep Guardiola's Barcelona in 2011 and again last year, on German soil, when Schalke came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in the group stage.

Bayern, on the other hand, have a record of one win and two losses with Rizzoli, but their "record" is not as cut and dry as that, so let me explain. The one win was a pretty big one, as it was last year's final at Wembley, over Borussia Dortmund 2-1. In addition, their first loss with Rizzoli was really a win, as their 3-2 loss at Old Trafford saw Bayern through on away goals, after Rafael was controversially sent off. Their other loss completes the gamut of results, as it was a 1-0 loss at Basel in the first leg of the 2012 Round of 16; Bayern won the second leg 7-0.

Around the Round of 16
  • Tuesday: Bayer Leverkusen 0 - 4 Paris St. Germain
  • Tuesday: Manchester City 0 - 2 Barcelona
  • Wednesday: AC Milan v. Atletico Madrid; San Siro, Milan
  • Next Tuesday: Zenit St. Petersbug v. Borussia Dortmund; Petrovski Stadium, St. Petersburg
  • Next Tuesday: Olympiacos v. Manchester United; Karaiskaki Stadium, Piraeus
  • Next Wednesday: Galatasaray v. Chelsea; Turk Telekom Arena, Istanbul
  • Next Wednesday: Schalke 04 v. Real Madrid; Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen

Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool: Instant Classic

There were 75 minutes on the clock when I wrote in a closed Facebook group: "No hyperbole - this 15 minutes is our season".  Had Liverpool come back to draw or even win this game, I believe our campaign would have derailed in horrific oh-the-humanity fashion. Instead, Arsenal overcame their nerves and held firm under tremendous pressure to book a home date with Everton in the quarterfinals.

It could have been so different for the Scousers, had they taken the chances presented to them by a shaky Arsenal defense in the first few minutes. Fundamentally, there was no difference between the opening of this match and the previous meeting with this lot. Namely, a dynamic fast-attacking Liverpool tore the Gunners midfield and backline to shreds in a devastating blitzkreig.

The match was barely two minutes old when Steven Gerrard sprung Daniel Sturridge in past a terribly static backline with a precision through-ball. The England man was in alone on cup keeper Lukasz Fabianski, who did exceptionally well to block with his legs. Despite that, Sturridge had no excuse for not opening the scoring there.

Several minutes later, the visitors fashioned another glorious opportunity. This time, Luis Suarez was given far too much time to scoop a pass over the top, aided by Carl Jenkinson's horrendous positioning to play Sturridge onside. This time, he tried to round Fabianski. The Pole stayed with him just enough to force him out wide into a tougher shot, which was duly sent into the side-netting...another massive let-off for us.

It should have been 2-0 and the match gone at that point. Were that the case, I could easily envision us suffering another 5-1 hiding. That's the thing, though. If you don't take your chances, you're going to pay for it at this level.

The home side fought through the early jitters and started to impose themselves, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the center of it all. His interception and run down the right was the first warning of what was to come, even if Lukas Podolski couldn't be bothered to give him a target for his cross.

Five minutes later, we had the lead.

We won a free kick in their territory, which was floated into the box by Mesut Ozil. Yaya Sanogo,so beloved of the Twitter Mouthbreather Brigade, displayed his strength to hold the ball up and get a shot away. It pinballed off of a defender into the Ox's path, and our man took advantage of goalkeeper Brad Jones already diving the wrong way to dink it into the empty net.

That turned out to be a huge difference for us today. Our goalkeeper was upright, confident and in good positions. Theirs was fighting off the ball, never set on his feet and made life easier for us on both of our goals.

The Gunners kicked on from there, as they pinned Liverpool back for long periods. That said, for all of their pressing off the ball and their nifty one-touch passing on it, they never did threaten Jones' goal at any point. Liverpool, for their part, continued to be dangerous on the counter. Suarez almost hauled them level just before the break with a nice turn and shot off yet another long ball over the top, but Fabianski got a strong hand on it and parried to safety.

Apparently that wasn't enough of a warning, as Suarez again could have scored seconds after the restart. I don't know what it is about this team where there is so little focus at the start of halves, but it's getting on my last nerve. This time, Bitey Divey Argentine Guy danced his way through several half-hearted challenges and aimed for the far corner. Thankfully, Fabianski was there once again to repel the danger with a stellar foot save.

That was the theme of the game. They failed to take their chances, and we made them pay for it.

Immediately thereafter, Jenkinson broke up a play and sent it first-time up to Ozil. The German threaded a marvelous ball into the path of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who dragged it back to Podolski. This time, he had made the run, and scored in almost a mirror image of the Ox's goal - again, Jones falling the wrong way as the shot came in.

Frankly, that should have been the game done and dusted there. Jones did make an excellent save on Ozil to keep it from getting out of hand, but there was no reason to let them back into the game the way we did. I had wondered many times why Arsene was so reluctant to play Podolski when it matters, and today we got our answer. A nothing move in our area - with Monreal absolutely in control of the situation - saw Podolski come in from behind and take out Suarez's legs. It was a penalty all day, which Gerrard easily dispatched into the corner.

Now, we had a game. One stupid foul at the worst possible time and area transformed the visitors from a dejected and beaten lot into a ferocious attacking outfit. Maybe this is reactionary, but Podolski just isn't worth it.

It didn't take long for them to tear back into us, either. Philippe Coutinho destroyed our defense for the millionth time this season with a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of Sturridge. Fabianski was off his line decisively to smother at his feet though. What a moment that was - if he got that wrong, it's a penalty and red card and we're on our way out of the competition.

Arsene started to make some good changes though - Podolski was hauled off for Santi Cazorla, giving them a threat to worry about on the counter. He should have put the game to bed too when a weird clearance came out to him on the edge of the area, with no defender in the same postal code. His composure failed him though, opting to volley a horrid effort into the Van Allen Belt instead of taking a touch first.

It may have cost us had we had a lesser referee on the day. There was one moment where Suarez did Suarez things, flinging himself to the ground under a perfectly fair shoulder charge by Oxlade-Chamberlain. I swear, it is hard to read this guff about that being a stonewall penalty without wanting to scream at them all to read the fucking Laws sometime. I may get slaughtered for this and that's fine, but Howard Webb didn't put a foot wrong one time in that game. Not one. 

Anyway, the Boss then took off Oxlade-Chamberlain for Kieran Gibbs, allowing us to move the defensively-suspect Nacho Monreal further up the field. That largely settled us, and as nervous as we all were over the next ten minutes, they didn't get any chances worthy of the name.

Well, until Fabianski made one mistake.

They won a free kick in our half, which was sent in to the mixer by Gerrard. Fabianski was slow coming out, and Daniel Agger beat him to the ball. Thankfully for us, his header was high and wide...what a gutting moment that would have been had that gone in, and how unfair it would have been to our brave and excellent keeper. 

We were left with a nerve-shredding last few minutes, but Liverpool were a bit nervy themselves and weren't able to take advantage. The final whistle, that beautiful and glorious sound, soon came to deliver us into the quarterfinals.

I don't think anyone associated with the team would say that this was a perfect performance. Plainly put, Liverpool should have run us out of there - on our own damn patch - inside of the first ten minutes. AGAIN. However, they left the door open a crack and to our credit we kicked it down like a SWAT team. We gave ourselves an opportunity to implode, and chose this time to decline the option. It's nice to see.

Needless to say, if we open the Bayern match like we did this one, they will rack up an embarrassing scoreline. There is no doubt about that. Honestly, all I hope from that tie is that we get out of it with some modicum of dignity, to the extent that we don't bottle these next three extremely-winnable games in the league. We'll worry about that next week, though. Enjoy this day, Gooners. This one was a classic and we came out on the right end of it, deserved or not.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 9, Monreal 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Jenkinson 7, Arteta 7, Flamini 7, Podolski 5 (Cazorla 6),  Ozil 8, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Gibbs 7), Sanogo 7 (Giroud N/A)

Man of the Match: Poor Ox. On any other day, he'd have been as obvious a choice for MOTM as any there's been this season. However, without the inspired play of Lukasz Fabianski to keep us in the match until the jitters went away, we'd be lamenting an exit from yet another competition.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Liverpool, FA Cup Fifth Round

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, February 16
11:00 a.m. EST, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Howard Webb
    • Assistants: Darren England and Simon Beck
    • 4th Official: Neil Swarbrick
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 77 Arsenal wins, 83 Liverpool wins, 56 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 7 Arsenal wins, 5 Liverpool wins, 4 draws
  • Arsenal's Path Here:
    • Third Round: Beat Tottenham Hotspur, 2-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Coventry City, 4-0
  • Liverpool's Path Here:
    • Third Round: Beat Oldham Athletic, 2-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Bournemouth, 2-0
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-W-L-D
  • Liverpool's League Form: W-D-W-D-W-W
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 7 C / 45 F
Quick preview for this one because 1) Arsenal just played Liverpool, so the information has not changed much and 2) current form has been so down that it's not really worth diving any deeper into things. People are frustrated with whatever the hell they can sink their teeth into; why try to argue with that?

Arsenal need a good result to turn the tide back in the other direction and they need it now.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Kallstrom (back,) Vermaelen (knee,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Diaby (knee)

No injury changes for Arsenal, though Mathieu Flamini returns from his poorly timed three match ban. Given how... what's a nice way of putting this?... out of sorts Jack Wilshere has been in the center of midfield, I would expect the Frenchman to come in for the Englishman. Perhaps Mikel Arteta gets a rest as well, though Arsenal remain bereft of options in those positions. I've been advocating for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to get another game there, but who knows with Arsene Wenger these days.

Remember, Arsenal have to play Bayern Munich on Wednesday, so "rotation" is required in a few positions and Wenger has said as much. Personally, I'd rather Wenger prioritize this match over Europe, as this is a better chance for silverware. Unfortunately, nobody seems to be able to read Wenger's decisions anymore.

Given the importance of the game, I think Wojciech Szczesny will start in goal, even though Lukasz Fabianski has started other domestic cup ties this year. But, we shall see.

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Sakho (hamstring,) Enrique (knee,) Coates (knee,) Lucas (knee)

Daniel Agger is available again after a calf injury; expect him to replace Kolo Toure, who has made a number of high profile errors in the last two weeks (though, his error against Arsenal was not scoring a rebound that should have made it a million to nil.) Glen Johnson should be available again at right back as well.

As with Arsenal, I expect Simon Mignolet to start in goal even though Brad Jones has been starting cup ties. Up front, I wouldn't expect many changes from last week's Liverpool XI, considering how well their midfield and attack performed.

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Match Facts

Since Arsenal just played Liverpool and the history is likely fresh in your mind anyway, let's talk about their history in the FA Cup here:

Arsenal have won the last two FA Cup meetings, winning 3-1 at Anfield in 2007 (Tomas Rosicky scored twice, Thierry Henry had the other) and 1-0 at Highbury in 2002 (Dennis Bergkamp had the goal in a match that saw three red cards.) Liverpool's last FA Cup win over Arsenal came in the 2001 final, when Michael Owen scored twice in the final 10 minutes after Freddie Ljungberg opened the scoring in the 72nd.

A few other famous meetings include the 1980 semi-final, which Arsenal won 1-0 in the third replay, after draws of 0-0, 1-1, and 1-1. In 1971, Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 in extra time to win their first Double. Arsenal also defeated Liverpool in the 1950 final, 2-0.

The Referee

The referee is South Yorkshire-based Howard Webb. Arsenal have four points from two league matches with Webb in the middle this season: the 3-1 win at Fulham and the 1-1 draw with Everton. While the match with the Toffees might have felt like two points dropped (and it was,) it maintained a surprising statistic: Arsenal have never lost a home game with Howard Webb as the referee. They've won 10 and drawn five. Perhaps a good omen; Arsenal could really use one of those.

Liverpool do not have as good of a record with Webb this season; after beating Sunderland 3-1 in September with Webb in the middle, the Reds lost 3-1 to Hull City and 2-1 to Chelsea. Those are two of Liverpool's last three losses across all competitions.

Around the Fifth Round
  • Saturday (early): Sunderland v. Southampton; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Cardiff City v. Wigan Athletic; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
  • Saturday: Sheffield Wednesday v. Charlton Athletic; Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield
  • Saturday (late): Manchester City v. Chelsea; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (early): Everton v. Swansea City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday: Sheffield United v. Nottingham Forest; Bramall Lane, Sheffield
  • Monday (night): Brighton & Hove Albion v. Hull City; American Express Community Stadium, Brighton

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Manchester United

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, February 12
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Darren Cann
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • Reverse Fixture: Manchester United 1 - 0 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 1 Manchester United
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 79 Arsenal wins, 92 United wins, 47 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-D-W-L
  • Manchester United's League Form: L-W-L-W-L-D
  • Weather: Light Rain and Windy, 6 C / 43 F
Arsenal have lost an absurdly high number of clunkers this year, including the Killa' v. Villa to open the season, the Fester in Manchester in December, and the Yield at Anfield just days ago. After the previous two shockers, however, Arsenal have rebounded resiliently; they went unbeaten in 12 after the loss to Aston Villa and unbeaten in 10 after the loss to City, a streak snapped by the 5-1 hiding to Liverpool. Sometimes, in the wake of confusingly devastating losses, it's hard to see the forest for the trees.

The Gunners still hold their fate in their hands: they can go top again with a win and they still play Chelsea and Manchester City this season; win both and they have to be title favorites. When you trail 4-0 after 20 minutes, it isn't easy to remember that those three points count the same as the others. So, while the Internet ridiculously debates the merits of Mesut Ozil in midfield (really, Internet? Really?!) the professionals get ready to right the ship the only place they can: on the pitch.

In that respect, it could be either a blessing or a curse that they're square in the middle of DEATHRUN 1. Seventh place Manchester United comes calling to the Emirates tonight, a place where Arsenal have not lost since October. Three points will likely get everyone to calm down a bit. Anything less and we'll start having serious discussions as to whether loaning Ju-Young Park to Watford led to some sort of witch's curse (which is to say, the conversation will get out of hand.)

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Kallstrom (back,) Vermaelen (knee,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Suspended: Flamini (third of three, violent conduct)

There's no significant change in the injury list from Saturday, with the only exception being the fact that Yaya Sanogo is now available. So, that's something, right? Mathieu Flamini will serve the third match of this three match ban and will be available for Liverpool 2: Electric Boogaloo on Sunday. Thomas Vermaelen remains out with a knee problem, Aaron Ramsey is still out with his thigh injury, Theo Walcott is still out for a long while, New Swedish guy remains Diaby'd, and Diaby remains New Swedish guy'd, or something.

As for predicting a line-up, here's what I want to see, but that actually happening is a whole other story:
  1. Kieran Gibbs should return at left back.
  2. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should get another run in the center of midfield. For all the talk of how "at least Jack Wilshere showed spirit" in the loss at Liverpool, I thought his positioning was a liability. He was a holding midfielder; he didn't do much holding.
  3. Either Lukas Podolski or Tomas Rosicky should start on the left wing. Arsenal sorely missed Rosicky's drive during those fateful 20 minutes.
Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud.

Manchester United Squad News

Out: Nani (hamstring,) Evans (calf)
Doubts: Cleverley (knock,) Fellaini (groin,) Jones (concussion,) Ferdinand (knee)

"Scapegoat" Tom Cleverley could return from a knock to replace Darren Fletcher in the midfield, while Marouane Fellaini, Phil Jones, and Rio Ferdinand all remain doubts. It's expected that Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling will start in the center of defense, as Jonny Evans remains out with a calf injury.

As Nani is out with a calf injury himself, United will likely start with an attacking trio of Robin van Persie, Juan Mata, and Wayne Rooney. As for the other midfielder, it could be either Adnan Januzaj or Ashley Young.

Predicted XI: De Gea, Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Fletcher, Mata, Rooney, Janet Jazz Jazz Jam, Van Persie.

Current Form

Well, so much for Arsenal's form. As mentioned above, Arsenal had been unbeaten in 10 across all competitions before the Yield at Anfield, but a margin like 5-1 will make you forget anything that's happened up to that point. So, let's look at Arsenal's home form at the moment: they've won five straight at the Emirates since back-to-back draws against Everton and Chelsea and are unbeaten at home since losing to Chelsea in the League Cup in October. It is important that this continue; this match starts a streak of four consecutive home games across all competitions.

As for United, well, suffice it to say they've seen better days. They went out of the League Cup in the semi-finals on penalties and they went out of the FA Cup to Swansea in the third round. On the other hand, only Olympiacos stands between them and the quarterfinals of the Champions League. But, most importantly, they are 7th in the Premier League. They have won twice in six league fixtures in the 2014 calendar year; they've lost to Spurs, Chelsea, and Stoke in the process. Last weekend, they scored twice in quick succession to turn a 1-0 deficit against last place Fulham into a 2-1 lead, yet then let Darren Bent equalize at the death. We've been there...

Match Facts

Manchester United have had the better of Arsenal in recent meetings, which you probably know already (because I continuously copy and paste this section from my previous United previews while only changing the numbers.) In 2006/07, Arsenal won both league meetings between the sides. Since that year, across all competitions, United have met Arsenal 17 times. Arsenal have won two of those matches, drawn three, and lost 12. Then again, Arsenal had lost once in their last 12 against Liverpool and we all know how Saturday went...

In the reverse fixture in November, some guy scored the lone goal in a 1-0 United win, because Arsenal can't win at Old Trafford even if they're favored. In this corresponding fixture last April, United came to the Emirates having already won the league earlier in the week. Arsenal 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. In the end, it was a vital point for Arsenal in the hunt for fourth place.

The Referee

The referee is County Durham-based Mark Clattenburg. Arsenal have three wins from three matches with Clatts this year, including their 2-1 win at Swansea, the 2-0 win over Southampton, and the 2-0 FA Cup win over Tottenham. Manchester United also have three wins from three with Clattenburg in the middle this year, though they have yet to have him in a league game. They've won 1-0 over Wigan for the Community Shield and 1-0 over Liverpool and 2-0 over Stoke in the League Cup.

This will be the first time Clattenburg has worked a league match for Manchester United since sending off two Chelsea players in a 3-2 United win at Stamford Bridge in October 2012. Clatts didn't work a league game at all for a month after that, considering Chelsea accused him of a racial slur. He later worked a 4-1 United win over Fulham in the FA Cup last year.

Around the League
  • Tuesday: Cardiff City 0 - 0 Aston Villa
  • Tuesday: Hull City 0 - 1 Southampton
  • Tuesday: West Ham United 2 - 0 Norwich City
  • Tuesday: West Bromwich Albion 1 - 1 Chelsea
  • Wednesday: Everton v. Crystal Palace; Goodison Park, Liverpool
    • Reverse Fixture: Crystal Palace 0 - 0 Everton
  • Wednesday: Manchester City v. Sunderland; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
    • Reverse Fixture: Sunderland 1 - 0 Manchester City
  • Wednesday: Newcastle United v. Tottenham Hotspur; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
    • Reverse Fixture: Tottenham Hotspur 0 - 1 Newcastle United
  • Wednesday: Stoke City v. Swansea City; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
    • Reverse Fixture: Swansea City 3 - 3 Stoke City
  • Wednesday: Fulham v. Liverpool; Craven Cottage, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Liverpool 4 - 0 Fulham

Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal: Once Again, No Plan B

 Photo: Associated Press

You get bullet points, because generally I endeavor to put as much effort into these write-ups as the team does into the game itself.

  • Nacho Monreal = Andre Santos 2.0.  I've been banging this drum for a while - Monreal has no pace, no strength and no positional awareness. He belongs at Arsenal as much as I do.
  • Jack Wilshere, who I do continue to think will be a true Arsenal legend someday, had no business starting this match. He was clearly not match-fit, and how he stayed out there all 90 minutes...
  • Once again, we exhibited no Plan B when situations call for it. All of the other big sides treat big away matches with more respect, and play accordingly. Naive old Arsene, after all of these years and after all of the tonkings we've taken in games like this, continues to set his stall for all-out attack no matter what the situation or opposition is. Once again, we paid for it.
  • As bad as Monreal was, Bacary Sagna was not much better. Go back and look at the matches where we've been truly turned over such as this one, and damn near every goal against starts with poor fullback play. Sagna has been mostly good this season and in the short-term this should be viewed as an anomaly. However, this is a 30-year old with several serious leg breaks in his past, who every so often has games like this. Let's keep that in mind before demanding that he sign da ting for 2 or 3 more years.

  • For the record, Liverpool's 4-0 lead was the fastest in Premier League history. Bang up job, guys. Really well done.
  • I will completely write off anyone's opinion as utterly irrelevant forever if they blame poor old Wojciech Szczesny for this. I thought he might have come off his line and dived at Daniel Sturridge's feet on the fourth, but that is a horrible nitpick and wouldn't have changed anything at the end of the day anyway. He made some solid saves to keep this from getting worse - I'm thinking especially the one on Luis Suarez's free kick. Most people don't know just how hard that was.
  • Beyond that, we were damn lucky it wasn't worse anyway. Had Sturridge and Kolo Toure not spurned glorious chances in the first half, we could have easily been 6-0 down before the interval.
  • That said, your homework is to read this. The whole world wrote us off after this game back in December 1997 - you may recall that the 97-98 season ended with the Double.

That's all I've got. We will find out for sure on Wednesday what this team is truly made of. Win against United, and this becomes a highly-annoying but eminently-forgettable result. Lose that one, and we may be fighting for 4th for the umpteenth season in a row before you know it.

So I'm on record, I think we'll beat them. I still believe in this team and in these players. Hopefully, Arsene gets the teamsheet right this time (KIERAN GIBBS, PLEASE), and hopefully we get some performances from some excellent players going through bad stretches at the moment (looking at you, Giroud and Ozil). At the end of the day, Manchester United are a garbage fire this season, and if we don't beat them, we don't deserve shit anyway.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Monreal 3 (Gibbs 7), Koscielny 5, Mertesacker 5, Sagna 4, Arteta 5, Wilshere 4, Cazorla 5, Ozil 5 (Rosicky 7), Oxlade-Chamberlain 7, Giroud 5 (Podolski 7)

Man of the Match: The closest thing Arsenal had to one was Szcz or the Ox, but in truth Raheem Sterling was the best player on the pitch today. Liverpool clearly was out to attack our weak spot - namely our fullbacks - and Sterling was a key part of that plan.

Preview by Numbers: Liverpool v. Arsenal

Anfield, Liverpool
Saturday, February 8
7:45 a.m. EST, 12:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Gary Beswick
    • 4th Official: Robert Madley
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 0 Liverpool
  • This Match, Last Year: Liverpool 0 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 77 Arsenal wins, 82 Liverpool wins, 56 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-D-W
  • Liverpool's League Form: L-W-W-D-W-D
  • Weather: Scattered Light Rain, 7 C / 45 F
If you've been reading this column for the past few seasons, you'll know that I like to use Sports Club Stats to highlight the chances each team has to finish in a particular position; over the last few years, it's been examining the race for third or fourth, so it's a nice change of pace to be able to talk about title chances. The chart at left highlights the current odds each team has to win the Premier League this year, based on a million simulations of the upcoming fixtures, taking into account the results up to this point. As you can see, it's absurdly even.

Arsenal currently have a 34.5% chance of winning the league based on past results; for Manchester City, it's 32.1% and for Chelsea, it's 30% even. Liverpool's odds are 3.1%, Everton are in with a shout at 0.3%, and the remaining sides have a statistically insignificant odds (take that, Spurs and United.)

So, what does this mean right now? Absolutely nothing. There are 14 games to play and Arsenal still have to play all four of the others teams represented in this pie chart, plus a number of other tricky matches to boot. If Arsenal win those games, the first of which comes tomorrow at Anfield, then their slice of this pie stands to grow larger as the list of remaining matches shrinks. If Arsenal start dropping points, their title hopes will drop with them.

With "DeathRun 1" starting now and "DeathRun 2" to follow in March, Arsenal cannot afford to drop points in big matches. For those of you who complain about the media not giving Arsenal's title hopes the time of day, it's put up or shut up time.

Arsenal need to win games like these.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Kallstrom (back,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Sanogo (back,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Wilshere (ankle)
Suspended: Flamini (second of three, violent conduct)

When Kim Kallstrom arrived from Spartak
like this, I'm not really sure why Arsenal
went ahead with the loan...
There's some good news in the injury list this week, as Mikel Arteta, seen limping at the end of the Crystal Palace match last week, should be fine to play tomorrow. In addition, Jack Wilshere has been moved to the "facing a fitness test" category with his ankle problem. After the match he had on Sunday, however, I would suspect Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gets another crack at playing centrally, alongside Mikel Arteta. Alternatively, Arsene Wenger could opt to use Tomas Rosicky, as he often does for experience in matches like these.

As for the other questions: does Nacho Monreal retain his place at left back or does Kieran Gibbs get a start? Nacho has started six of the last seven Arsenal matches across all competitions; he was left on the bench for the cup tie against Coventry City.

The other question centers around whether Lukas Podolski will earn his second straight start. Color me pessimistic on that one. I can see Wenger opting for the Ox centrally and Rosicky in the more attacking role.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Cazorla, Rosicky, Giroud.

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Agger (calf,) Sakho (hamstring,) Enrique (knee,) Coates (knee,) Lucas (knee,) Johnson (ankle)

Sturridge scores Liverpool's opener against West Brom
last weekend; the match ended 1-1 after a comedy error
from Kolo Toure.
Liverpool are stretched thin at the back, as center backs Daniel Agger (calf) and Mamadou Sakho (hamstring) will again miss out, while long-term injured fullbacks Glen Johnson (ankle) and Jose Enrique (knee) remain out as well. The Reds will liekly start with Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure in the center of the back four, while Aly Cissokho and Jon Flanagan should start at the fullback positions.

The Reds will likely field a 4-3-3, with Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho, and Jordan Henderson in midfield and an attack trio of Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, and Luis Suarez. Sturridge and Suarez have started 11 matches together up top for Liverpool this year and at least one of them have scored in 10 of those 11 matches; the only team to keep both off the score sheet in such matches? Arsenal.

The 4-3-3 is a tactical switch from earlier this season, when Liverpool was playing a 3-5-2 with two wing-backs and three in the middle of defense; Flanagan and Cissokho were the wingbacks when these teams met at the Emirates, while Toure, Skrtel, and Sakho started in the middle. At halftime, down 1-0, Cissokho was removed for midfielder Coutinho, himself returning from injury, as Liverpool were chasing the game.

Predicted XI: Mignolet, Flanagan, Toure, Skrtel, Cissokho, Gerrard, Coutinho, Henderson, Sterling, Sturridge, Suarez.

Current Form

Ox in the Box...
Both Arsenal and Liverpool had blips in the month of December that involved playing Manchester City and Chelsea; Arsenal, you'll recall, lost 6-3 in Manchester before taking a point from a dour 0-0 draw with Chelsea at the Emirates. Of course, that 0-0 draw started an Arsenal run that now stands at 10 matches unbeaten, including eight wins (six in the league and two in the FA Cup.)

Liverpool's blip came a little later, as they played City and Chelsea over the holiday period (December 26 and 29.) As such, their unbeaten run currently stands at seven, with two FA Cup wins, three league wins, and two draws. The wins have been dramatic (4-0 over rival Everton, a 5-3 over Stoke included,) but they have not been numerous.

Last weekend, West Brom came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw against Liverpool at the Hawthorns; given the Baggies' recent form, that result is two points dropped for the Reds, while the same scoreline earlier in the season was largely considered one point gained for Arsenal. Funny thing, sports; it's not who you play, it's when you play them.

Liverpool have lost just once at home this season, to Southampton in September; Aston Villa took a point from Anfield two weeks ago. Arsenal on the road have lost just twice in the league, both times in Manchester. They've also drawn at West Brom and Southampton. In road games, Arsenal are tied for first place with eight wins, two draws, and two losses. Somehow, they're tied with Spurs in that respect; thing is, Spurs are 11th in the league at home.

Match Facts

Kolo Toure gets out of the way of Aaron Ramsey's shot
in the reverse fixture in November.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last four meetings with Liverpool and the Reds have beaten Arsenal just once in their last 12 fixtures; that win came 2-0 early in the 2011/12 season. You might recall that match as when Emmanuel Frimpong was sent off and Arsenal made Samir Nasri start even though he was already practically wearing City blue. Since then, Arsenal have beaten Liverpool on three occasions and came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 on the other.

Arsenal have not lost at Anfield 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, Peter Crouch had a hat trick and William Gallas scored Arsenal's goal in a 4-1 match on March 31, 2007.

Across all competitions, eight of the last 16 meetings between the clubs have ended drawn.

The Referee

I have nothing clever to add here, I just thought the picture
was funny. I guess he is just stretching. I'm sorry.
The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal have seen Oliver twice this season, each occasion being a rather huge match. The Gunners beat Spurs 1-0 with Oliver in the middle back in early September, but also lost 1-0 to Manchester United with Oliver as the referee in November. I went back to the United preview to see what else I have said about Oliver in the past, only to find that I called the fixtures he tends to work for Arsenal "rather huge" then too. Three months later and I'm using the same language flourishes; I suppose I'm not that creative.

This will be Oliver's third Liverpool match of the season as well; the Reds previously drew 2-2 at Swansea and beat West Ham 4-1 at Anfield.

The youngest referee in the Select Group, Oliver turns 29 on February 20.

Around the League

  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. West Ham United; Villa Park, Birmingham
    • Reverse Fixture: West Ham United 0 - 0 Aston Villa
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Newcastle United; Stamford Bridge, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Newcastle United 2 - 0 Chelsea
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. West Bromwich Albion; Selhurst Park, London
    • Reverse Fixture: West Bromwich Albion 2 - 0 Crystal Palace
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Manchester City; Carrow Road, Norwich
    • Reverse Fixture: Manchester City 7 - 0 Norwich City
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Stoke City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
    • Reverse Fixture: Stoke City 1 - 1 Southampton
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Hull City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
    • Reverse Fixture: Hull City 1 - 0 Sunderland
  • Saturday (late): Swansea City v. Cardiff City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
    • Reverse Fixture: Cardiff City 1 - 0 Swansea City
  • Sunday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Everton; White Hart Lane, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Everton 0 - 0 Tottenham Hotspur
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. Fulham; Old Trafford, Manchester
    • Reverse Fixture: Fulham 1 - 3 Manchester United

Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace: Resistance Overcome

 Photo: Getty Images

 My mental picture of the Crystal Palace training ground these days is remarkably similar to the montage in Lord of the Rings where they show the orc army being hatched, slowly but surely. To no one's surprise, Tony Pulis' men came into the Grove with a game plan of 9 center-halves hacking at everything that moves, in the hopes that somehow Marouane Chamakh could nick something on the break.

We could have told you how well that one was going to work, Tone, old son.

The thing is, there are three crucial differences between now and when we'd drop points at Stoke on the regular - 1. Arsenal are miles more resilient than they were back then. 2. Palace are clearly not at their O-Levels yet in Advanced Football Thuggery (though that prick Mile Jedinak seems to be the star pupil).  3. All season long, Arsenal have found ways to win these games where not everything is clicking offensively.

Look, that first half was dreadful. I know it, you know it. Palace set their stall to defend, aided and abetted by Jonathan Moss' insistence on calling absolutely nothing. The Gunners monstered possession as you would expect against these opponents, but barely troubled them until half an hour had elapsed. At times it looked like Bad Old Arsenal trying to walk the ball into the net, except with worse final passes than usual. Even the technical genius Santi Cazorla exhibited the first touch of a fourth-tier player on several occasions. It was hard to watch, I'll tell you that for free.

Other than one half-chance that Julian Speroni did well to cut the angle on in the opening exchanges, the Palace keeper was a virtual spectator for much of the opening stanza. Despite that, and despite his culpability on both of our goals (more on that in a bit), he came up with one of the more astonishing saves of the season to keep it 0-0 heading into the interval.

Olivier Giroud won a free kick, the latest to suffer from Jedinak's over-enthusiastic defending. Mesut Ozil floated in a beauty, which may or may not have been slightly flicked on by Laurent Koscielny. As a keeper, this is the worst-case scenario for you - you expect someone, anyone to get a solid head onto it, and have to be ready for that. When it just floats on through, you're often flat-footed and at a serious disadvantage to get there. I don't think Speroni is a truly Premier League-level keeper, but credit where it's due, he did fantastically well to get over and claw it to safety.

That took them to half-time, and as a gent I was talking to at the Pig was saying, surely all Pulis said during the break was "Keep doing what you're doing". Fortunately for us, we found a moment of magic to make the Orc King tear up his halftime notes in just the 47th minute. A rare spell on the ball for the visitors was broken up, and Cazorla was away. He skied a gorgeous curving ball over the sleeping Palace backline, into the path of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Speroni sort of came out, then stopped...then fell over as the Ox tapped it in the other direction. I would stop just short of saying the goal was the Argentine's fault, but a better keeper may have done more to cut off the angle.

I can't say I'm complaining that he didn't.

Let's be fair to Palace, though. I had expected the goal to force them to open up, allowing Arsenal to run riot and score three or four more goals. Instead, they stuck to their game plan and could so easily have been level just a few minutes later. I didn't see who played the pass into him, but Cameron Jerome took advantage of horrific back-post defending by Nacho Monreal to come in alone on Wojciech Szczezny. Jerome's header was solid, but Szczesny did brilliantly well to block with his legs.

The Eagles never seriously threatened again though, and our boys sealed the win with 15 minutes left on the clock. The Ox started the move with a cheeky back-heel into the path of Giroud. The Frenchman - who had a good game with his hold-up play, for the record - completed the one-two to the Ox. The youngster still had it all to do, with several defenders in attendance. He beat one, cut inside, and fired a shot on goal. It was a nice effort, but damn near anyone in the Premier League stops it. Speroni, however, let it squirm under him and into the net.

Gooners with longer memories may remember the last time Palace were in the division, and that the miles-past-it Gabor Kiraly was their number 1 back then. Guess who was the guy backing him up, who couldn't get him out of the team? Yep. Julian Speroni. Pulis bought Wayne Hennessey from Wolves on deadline day for a reason, friends.

Anyway, that was pretty much that. Palace essentially gave up the ghost, and our boys mostly played keep-ball the rest of the way. There will be some grumblings from the never-happy set about how we didn't stick 4 or 5 past this lot, but I for one am heartened at how we see these games out now. There's a lot of season left to go, a lot of big games to play, and we do not have a massive squad of players to do it with. How many times in the last 5-6 years have we given up stupid late goals because we were still pouring men forward despite having the lead?

We're smart now. We shut the door, and save something in the tank for the next one. Which, by the way, happens to be Liverpool away. If we ease up on the pedal a bit at home to Crystal Palace so that we have a bit more to give against, as odd as this is to say, a direct title challenger...that's something I'll do all day.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Monreal 6, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 8, Sagna 7, Arteta 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8, Podolski 7 (Rosicky 7), Ozil 7 (Gibbs N/A), Giroud 7 (Bendtner N/A)

Man of the Match: The Ox in the Box, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Side Rant:  Some of what I've been reading on Twitter (AKA The Realm of the Damned) and other social media in the last week or two has been almost vomit-inducing. Seriously, some of the abuse leveled at the manager for not buying a striker - despite the fact that we get so many goals from midfield anyway with our style of play - has been ridiculous. Hey, I know I've said my piece about Arsene on several occasions, and to this day I insist that much of the length of our trophy drought falls squarely on his shoulders.

However, anyone with the correct number of chromosomes should be able to work out that this Arsenal team is different, and is in with a real shout of winning a trophy this season. I expect the media to continue their tongue-bathing of Manchester City and Chelsea - the bloody lot of them have always hated us and most of them have severe cases of recency bias anyway. But, I expect better from Gooners. Really, I do. There is one passage in Fever Pitch where Hornby speaks about how everyone hates us, and our united front in the face of that is one of the things he loves about the club. Hell, me too. We're the Arsenal and two fingers up at the rest of you if you don't like us.

Let's just say that it's a damn good thing that the players themselves seem to have a lot more spirit, heart, fight and balls than some of the people who claim to support them. Fuck Man City. Fuck Chelsea. As far as I'm concerned, this is our title to lose.

Who's with me?