Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City: Could Have Been A Lot Worse

This result is a bit of a weird one - disappointing in the sense that an outstanding second half could have seen us win it and go within kicking distance of Chelsea at the top of the league, but also heartening in the sense that we played a top team and fought back to a draw when we so easily could have went to pieces. Again.

The best news coming into it was that Mathieu Flamini was in the starting 11. The last few reverses against the bigger sides have come without our most combative player on the pitch, for reasons that frankly elude me. His influence was felt right from the off, with not only his tackles flying in from all sides but our shape was also held thanks to his timely shouts.

Still, Arsenal survived a nervy opening ten minutes, with City dominating early. Had their play been a bit more direct, we may have been blown away before we got our bearings. Sergio Aguero was definitely a big miss for them, that's for sure.

Slowly, our boys did get back into it. Had anyone been refereeing this match other than that odious fucking troll Mike Dean (I mean, he has has much business referring matches of this magnitude as I do presenting papers on advanced nuclear physics), we may have taken the lead soon after. Flamini played Tomas Rosicky into the box with a beautiful through-ball, only for the Czech man to be crudely hacked down by Pablo Zabaleta. It was an absolute stonewall penalty, but we were never going to get that with Dean in the middle. Bastard.

Naturally, City scored almost immediately afterward.

There were several at fault, not least of which was Lukas Podolski, He lost possession cheaply at midfield, and the Sky Blues were away. David Silva threaded a wonderful pass to Edin Dzeko on the left side of the area. His shot was tipped onto the bar by Wojciech Szczesny, and unfortunately bounced back into the center rather than out to the side. Still, Thomas Vermaelen was badly beaten by Silva to the rebound, leaving their man the easiest of tap-ins to put them into the lead.

I must be honest with you - once that went in, I assumed that City would go on to hammer us. Thankfully, Arsenal had a lot more fight on the day than that. Even though you could say the visitors got much the better of the opening stanza, it wasn't to the same extent that Chelsea did. It wasn't that Arsenal were being outplayed, per se. Actually, it was heartening to see the men in red contest every loose ball, getting stuck in on the 50/50s, just plain fighting their asses off. No one typified that more for me than little Santi Cazorla, who had a storming game on the defensive side of the ball. His passing was not so great on the day, but he came up with a litany of timely interceptions and tackles in midfield to break up attacks.

I know, I thought it was weird, too. But, how vital it proved to be on the day.

Arsenal kept plugging away, and we even had the ball in their net through Flamini though it was rightly pulled back for offside. Still they kept coming though, and back-to-back bookings for Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany showed that we were getting to them a bit.

Dean struck again though, again giving our more moneyed opponents the benefit of the doubt for no discernible reason. Mikel Arteta played a long ball upfield, but was taken out immediately after by a late and violent kick from Silva. The City man absolutely should have walked - it was as clear of a red card as you'll ever seen. Odious Fucking Troll did wave a card, but it was emphatically the wrong color.

I hate Mike Dean so much.

Arsenal did well in the opening exchanges of the second half, but there was a bit of a let-off when Szczesny parried Jesus Navas' cross onto the shins of Edin Dzeko. The way things have been going, you'd have expected that to dribble into the far corner of our net. Thankfully, it ended up the right side of the post from our point of view.

Sure enough, we went straight down the other end and got the equalizer. Podolski, making up for his poor giveaway leading to their goal, did great work down the left and whipped in a nice cross. The City defense were all over the place, allowing Flamini to sneak in and guide a low effort past Joe Hart and into the far corner. As you might imagine, the pub went berserk in a mixture of joy and relief.

From that point on, I never thought we'd lose it. City retreated into a bit of a shell, content to take the point and get out of London alive For our part, we battered them with everything we had, but just couldn't find that little bit of magic to get the winner. Podolski had the best chance to do so shortly after the tying goal, but Hart brilliantly saved with his legs to knock it out for a corner. Maybe Poldi could have done a bit better there, but you have to tip your cap to the England No. 1 there.

City mostly stood in their shell, but they did attempt to counter at times. When they did, the Arsenal defense largely held, none better than Kieran Gibbs. He was fantastic on the day. On the other end of the spectrum though, Arteta was absolutely awful on both sides of the ball. He was utterly lightweight when called upon defensively, and he often wasted possession with awful passes when we had it. Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful. For me, he absolutely should not be an automatic first choice at this point.

Still, this was a point that might just do us the world of good. We have a generous run-in, with the caveat that the Swansea result should hopefully prevent our guys from getting too complacent. The rest of the big teams all still have to play each other, so who knows? It seems utterly bizarre that we're still in with a shout for this thing despite getting embarrassed at City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Stranger things have happened, though.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 8, Vermaelen 6, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Arteta 5, Flamini 8, Podolski 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Rosicky 7, Cazorla 8, Giroud 7 (Sanogo N/A)

Man of the Match: Flamini got the goal, but for me Santi Cazorla was our best player overall. He gave absolutely everything in an all-action performance.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Manchester City

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, March 29
1:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and John Brooks
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • Reverse Fixture: Manchester City 6 - 3 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 0 - 2 Manchester City
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 93 Arsenal wins, 49 Manchester City wins, 41 draws
  • Arsenal's Recent Form: Disaster-Comfortable Win-Disaster-LOL Spurs-Dumpster Fire-Disaster
  • Manchester City's Recent Form: Loss to Chelsea-Draw to Norwich-Four Clean Sheet Wins
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 14 C / 57 F
Things feel pretty bleak. Arguments between the "Arsene Knows Brigade" and the "Wenger Out Brigade" generally leave me wondering how we ended up with so many brigades in the first place. I think it's safe to assume we all want the best for Arsenal Football Club and with so many important players sidelined through injury (more on that in a bit,) it can be kind of hard to see the forest for the... draws to Swansea.

Of course, things could always be bleaker. No matter how many trophies Arsenal have won or will win in the future, the Earth is going to be nearly engulfed by a red giant Sun in 5.4 billion years anyway and all life will be destroyed. Remember to keep some perspective (and your sense of humor) about things.

It's not a particularly wordy preview this week because, well, how much is there really to say right now?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (calf,) Ozil (hamstring,) Monreal (foot,) Wilshere (foot,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Ryo (ankle,) Diaby (knee)

Arsenal's wounded list is no better today than it was earlier this week, with seven first team players out for at least a little while longer. How long that may be is subjective, because time is merely a human construct which enables society to track the progression of events. Returns in something called "April" are slated for Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey, and Mesut Ozil. Jack Wilshere has stepped up rehabilitation on his fractured foot, while Abou Diaby, a textbook example of life's unfairness, still hopes to play some part in this season. Theo Walcott's season remains over, something that cannot be changed unless we redefine the term "season."

With such limited options, it's hard to see much of a change from the XI that drew Swansea midweek, though Kim Kallstrom's debut was a bright spot and the on-loan Swede might have earned a start in midfield. I'd say there's a chance of that, but not a strong one. Personally, I'd start Lukas Podolski over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as well, as the Ox has put in a few shaky performances of late.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini, Cazorla, Rosicky, Podolski, Giroud.

Manchester City Squad News

Out: Nastasic (knee,) Aguero (hamstring,) Richards (knee)

There are no fresh injury concerns for Manuel Pellegrini's side, who have already been without Matjia Nastasic, Micah Richards, and Sergio Aguero for a few matches. Aguero, who had recently scored in eight consecutive matches across all competitions, has been out since March 12 with a hamstring injury. City, of course, have eight billion attacking options who start in his place. Micah Richards, who has been out of favor anyway, has not started since the FA Cup loss to Wigan earlier this month. Meanwhile, Nastastic has not played since City's loss to Chelsea in early February.

Predicted XI: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure, Silva, Nasri, Navas, Dzeko.

Current Form

Form? I have nothing more to say about Arsenal's form.

Manchester City, on the other hand, have not conceded a goal in a Premier League match since Branislav Ivanovic scored for Chelsea in a 1-0 win on February 3. City have kept clean sheets against Norwich City, Stoke City, Hull City, Fulham, and Manchester United since. They did manage to crash out of two competitions in the same week (I call that "Arsenal style") by losing to Wigan in the FA Cup and Barcelona in the Champions League, but they also have the League Cup in two after a 3-1 win at Wembley over Sunderland.

City have won 15 of their last 18 league games, drawing two (Southampton and Norwich) and losing one, to Chelsea as mentioned above.

Match Facts

Arsenal have won just one of their last seven matches with Manchester City, which came 1-0 on Easter Sunday in 2012. In the reverse fixture, Arsenal found themselves trailing 14 minute in through Sergio Aguero, then found themselves cut apart on the counterattack searching for equalizers. In many ways, it was exactly like the 5-1 loss to Liverpool and the 6-0 loss to Chelsea, tactically speaking. Arsenal as a squad was not built to chase the game on the road; their defensive stalwarts get exposed when chasing the game. The difference with the match in Manchester was the fact that City was exposed at the back a bit as well; that match ended 6-3.

In this match last year, Laurent Koscielny saw red just nine minutes into the match after denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. City missed the ensuing penalty but scored twice later in the first half, en route to a comfortable 2-0 victory. Vincent Kompany was shown a straight red card on 75 minutes to even the match up 10-on-10, though the scoreline was decided by that point and his ban was later reversed.

The last three league meetings between the clubs at the Emirates have produced five red cards (Koscielny and Kompany last year, Mario Balotelli in the 1-0 Arsenal win in 2012, and Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta for headbutting each other at the end of a 0-0 draw in early 2011.)

The Referee

The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean, who Arsenal literally just had 13 days ago for the North London derby. Dean's reputation precedes him, of course, but Arsenal are now unbeaten in their last four with Dean, winning three (Wigan last year, Stoke and Spurs this year) and drawing one, to Chelsea just before Christmas. Before this current run, Arsenal had a record of two wins from 21 matches across all competitions with Dean in the middle, including last year's loss to Manchester City at the Emirates, outlined in the previous section.

On the other hand, while Manchester City have only lost five league games this season, they have two losses from two matches with Dean in the middle this season: 1-0 to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light in November and 1-0 to Chelsea at the Etihad in February. Those were City's only league losses since late October.

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

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Swansea City

Emirates Stadium, London
Tuesday, March 25
3:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Probert
    • Assistants: Ron Ganfield and Ian Hussin
    • 4th Official: Roger East
  • Reverse Fixture: Swansea 1 - 2 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 0 - 2 Swansea
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 9 Arsenal wins, 5 Swansea wins, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-D-W-L-W-L
  • Swansea's League Form: W-D-L-D-L-L
  • Weather: Light Rain Clearing, 7 C / 44 F
There is not much to say about Saturday that has not already been said on the Internet. In fact, in my opinion, far too much has been said on the Internet about that match. Horrible losses have a way of helping the lunatics come out of the woodwork while even the sane ones run the risk of jumping off the deep end.

I was going to go into a diatribe about how saddening the vitriol has been on the Internet, but I feel like those words would be wasted at this point. I think what frustrated me most was people who were angry about how the players were talking about moving on, as if they would be better off wallowing in their depression. I know that, as fans, we want the players to acknowledge how bad Saturday was, but it's best for the football club if it's forgotten.

Arsenal need to move on quickly, put Saturday behind them, and get three points tonight. On the pitch against Swansea is not the time or place to be thinking about the team's psyche.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (calf,) Ozil (hamstring,) Wilshere (foot,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Ryo (ankle,) Diaby (knee)

From what little information we have been able to glean considering Arsenal's media lockdown, Laurent Koscielny is out with a calf injury; he was removed from Saturday's debacle at halftime. Considering how prominently featured Thomas Vermaelen was in the official Web site's training photos yesterday, it would appear that the club's nominal captain will start in the Frenchman's place. Hector Bellerin has been called up to the first team to make up numbers on the back line.

Speaking of youngsters, Chuba Akpom has been recalled from his loan to Coventry, though I suspect a lot of that is related to the fact that Coventry was upset that Arsenal continued to recall him for youth matches. Akpom played 90 minutes yesterday against West Ham (and had a hat trick) so I don't suspect he'll make an appearance, on the bench or otherwise, tonight.

Arsenal got two bits of good news from the FA yesterday: Kieran Gibbs's red card was correctly transferred to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (how could it not be?) but then, more importantly, the appeal was accepted and the red card was overturned (the logic being that handling a shot that is going wide is not denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, intent or not.) Both are available tonight. Even so, I'd like to see Serge Gnabry get a start.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini, Cazorla, Podolski, Gnabry, Giroud.

Swansea Squad News

Doubts: Bartley (hamstring)

Swansea City have had a rough season in terms of injuries, but have a relatively clean bill of health now (because of course they would by the time Arsenal got around to playing them.) Michu and Jonjo Shelvey are both returning from injuries and both came in off the bench as Swansea lost to Everton at the weekend. Both are expected to be available to start tonight.

As for their injuries, ex-Arsenal center back Kyle Bartley is a doubt as he returns from a hamstring problem. That's it. They have no fresh injury concerns.

Predicted XI: Vorm, Rangel, Chico Flores, Williams, Davies, Shelvey, Britton, Routledge, Dyer, Michu, Bony.

Current Form

Form is flat out impossible to discuss after a result like Saturday's; it no longer really matters that Arsenal had been playing well against the likes of Everton, Bayern, and Spurs. The only proper place to bounce back from a 6-0 hiding is on the pitch and a string of results at the Emirates will do a lot to calm down the pitchfork-holding masses.

As for Swansea, they are four points clear of relegation, sitting in 15th place with 29 points. They have only won once against a side above them in the table this season, 3-0 over Newcastle in early December. They have not won against any side in the top ten on the road (though, they did win at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, which was awesome.) In addition, Swansea have not won since February 8; they have lost five and drawn three in the process while simultaneously crashing out of the FA Cup and the Europa League. Playing in Europe has taken its toll on the Swans; thanks to qualifiers, Swansea ended up playing 12 Europa League matches before bowing out to Napoli in the Round of 32 last week.

Match Facts

Arsenal won the reverse of this fixture 2-1 in late September at the Liberty Stadium; Serge Gnabry's first career first team goal opened the scoring in the 58th minute and Aaron Ramsey doubled Arsenal's lead just four minutes later. It looked to be a comfortable three points from there, but Ben Davies pinged one back for the hosts in the 81st minute to make the ending a bit interesting. In this fixture last year, Michu scored twice late to turn a 0-0 draw into a 2-0 Swansea victory. Arsenal also beat Swansea 1-0 at the Emirates in an FA Cup replay last January, via a late Jack Wilshere goal.

Arsenal and Swansea have met nine times in league fixtures with Arsenal winning five and Swansea winning four; it was an even split between the two teams entering this season. Swansea won both meetings in 1981/82, Arsenal won both meetings in 1982/83, each side won at home in 2011/12, and each side won on the road last year.

The Referee

The referee is Wiltshire-based Lee Probert. Arsenal have had poor luck with Probert in the past, but it's three wins from three for the Gunners with him this season: 4-1 over Norwich in October, 1-0 at Newcastle at the end of December, and 2-0 over Fulham in mid-January. Prior to this season, Arsenal had been winless in their last five with Probert holding the whistle.

Probert has not worked a Swansea match yet this season. The Swans had three wins and one draw with Probert in the middle last year. They defeated QPR 5-0 on the season's opening day while also collecting League Cup wins over Liverpool and Middlesbrough. The loss came 1-0 to West Ham in February 2013.

Around the League
  • Tuesday: Manchester United v. Manchester City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Tuesday: Newcastle United v. Everton; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Wednesday: West Ham United v. Hull City; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Wednesday: Liverpool v. Sunderland; Anfield, Liverpool

Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal: The View Never Changes


We play for the draw against this lot at home, go all-out attack at their gaff. Reverse that, and we probably have three points from the two matches instead of one...and we sure as hell don't have a demoralizing reverse like this.

I figure I'll just leave this here:

I wrote that three and a half years ago. The view never changes...

Ratings: Szczesny 6, Everyone else: 1

Man of the Match:  Well, the Ox was Chelsea's best player, if that counts. 

Preview by Numbers: Chelsea v. Arsenal

Stamford Bridge, London
Saturday, March 22
8:45 a.m. EDT, 12:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Marc Perry
    • 4th Official: Anthony Taylor
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 0 - 0 Chelsea
  • This Match, Last Year: Chelsea 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 71 Arsenal wins, 57 Chelsea wins, 53 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-D-W-L-W
  • Chelsea's League Form: W-D-W-W-W-L
  • Weather: Light Rain Clearing, 9 C / 48 F
Apologies to all of my Eastern Hemisphere readers as I've decided to push these posts forward from midnight New York time to 8:00 a.m. in the hopes to gain more local readership. For all I know, that will be a miserable failure and I'll be back to "normal" for Swansea on Tuesday.

Speaking of miserable failures, let's all hope this match isn't one, as this is likely Arsenal's trickiest fixture remaining on the docket among all nine league games to play. Chelsea's stumble in Birmingham last week reopened the title race according to... everybody in the media everywhere meaning, as Brian Moore would say, it's up for grabs now.

Arsenal sit third on goal difference, a number they likely won't be able to make up on the likes of +41 Liverpool and +44 Manchester City (Arsenal are +25.) City sit in fourth as they have two games in hand. The moral of the story is: if Arsenal are truly back in with a shout in the title race, they have to win this game to stay there.

Plus, it's Arsene Wenger's 1,000th match in charge of Arsenal, as you've no doubt heard this week. Honestly, there's no better time for a big win at the Bridge.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ozil (hamstring,) Wilshere (foot,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Ryo (ankle,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Rosicky (ankle,) Bendtner (drinking in Denmark)

The beauty of waiting another eight hours is that I get to write actual team news based on Wenger's presser, instead of mere speculation. This morning, Wenger's update included the fact that Tomas Rosicky, so important against Spurs last week, is a doubt with an ankle problem and faces a late fitness test.

Everyone else who was available against Spurs is available tomorrow, including Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who supposedly had a calf problem when he was removed on 85 minutes (since he was removed for Thomas Vermaelen in a defensive substitution, I'm not even sure if that was the actual reason or where that information originated.)

I expect Wenger to pick a more defensive line-up, especially if Rosicky does not pass fit. That would mean Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini in the holding roles, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, and the Ox in the attacking roles, and Olivier Giroud up top. All signs point to this likely being a pretty cagey affair.

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

Chelsea Squad News

Out: Cole (knee,) van Ginkel (match fitness)
Suspended: Willian (one match,) Ramires (first of three)

Chelsea will be short of some options in midfield after both Ramires and Willian were sent off last weekend. Ramires usually plays the holding role along with Nemanja Matic, who returned to the club in the January window. Ramires's absence means Frank Lampard will likely start. Willian is a bit easier to replace for the Blues, considering they will likely start with Andre Schurrle, Eden Hazard, and Oscar as their attacking midfield trio.

Chelsea's back four picks itself with Ashley Cole injured and Cesar Azpilicueta in fantastic form at left back. Meanwhile, up front, I suspect Samuel Eto'o will start, but could be quite wrong there; honestly, that's total guesswork from me. Jose Mourinho has been charged by the FA for his sending off last weekend, but he has until Monday to respond and I'm pretty sure he is eligible to patrol the technical area tomorrow.

Predicted XI: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Matic, Lampard, Schurrle, Hazard, Oscar, Eto'o

Current Form

Arsenal's victory at White Hart Lane last weekend was their first win away from home since January 13 at Aston Villa. They had only gone four winless on the road in those two months thanks to a fortuitous run of home games in the FA Cup, drawing in Munich and Southampton and losing at Liverpool and Stoke. Arsenal have not won consecutive league games since January, when they had won five straight; that streak was snapped by the Southampton draw. Since losing to Stoke, however, Arsenal have rebounded nicely overall, at least in quality of play, comprehensively beating Everton, earning a draw at the Allianz Arena, and protecting a 1-0 lead at Spurs for three eternities (or so it felt.)

Chelsea on the other hand had been unbeaten in 14 league games before imploding to Aston Villa at the weekend, a streak that dated back to a loss at Stoke in December. During the span of that league unbeaten streak, they did crash out of both domestic cups. They are, however, still kicking in the Champions League, having bounced Galatasaray after a 2-0 win at the Bridge on Tuesday.

Match Facts

Just before Christmas, Arsenal and Chelsea played a 0-0 draw in the pouring rain at Emirates Stadium. It was a cautious match as both sides appeared more afraid to lose than willing to win, and since Arsenal were coming off a 6-3 loss to Manchester City, that made some sense. After Arsenal had gone full throttle for a win there and failed miserably, Arsene Wenger knew the Gunners needed some kind of result; of course, had the tactics been switched, they could have had four points instead of one in a luckier universe. There's not much else to say about that 0-0 draw except for the fact that it was one of those weird games where Wenger made no substitutions. I hate those.

Chelsea got off to a rampant start in this fixture last year, jumping out to a 2-0 lead inside 16 minutes in the January snow at the Bridge. Arsenal calmed down in the second half, pinged a goal back through Theo Walcott in the 58th, then spent half an hour trying to find an equalizer that never came.

Prior to last week's match, Arsenal had not won a league game at White Hart Lane since 2007; you don't have to go back too far to find Arsenal's last win at the Bridge, though. It was in 2011 and it came by a ridiculous 5-3 scoreline. You might remember John Terry falling down. That was Arsenal's first win at the Bridge since 2008. So, it will likely surprise you, but Arsenal have more wins at the Bridge in the last six or so years than at the Lane.

Since 2004, Arsenal and Chelsea have met 23 times across all competitions and Arsenal have won four of them. It's also well established that Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho, drawing five and losing five. Throw into the mix Mourinho's home unbeaten record, now 76 matches without a loss at the Bridge and you've got a pretty daunting set of history that's just waiting to be broken at some point.

The Referee

The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner, the Select Group's leader in red cards with 11. Arsenal last saw Marriner quite recently, for their 4-1 win over Sunderland on February 22. That makes four wins from four for Arsenal with Marriner over this and last; Arsenal previously won this year 2-0 over Hull City with Marriner in the middle and last year won 5-1 over West Ham and 1-0 over Fulham (with a red card to both sides.)

Chelsea have seen Marriner three times this season, winning two and drawing one, but the draw (2-2 with West Brom) was a match they should have lost, as Marriner awarded a controversial penalty deep into injury time to preserve Jose Mourinho's unbeaten record at Stamford Bridge. Marriner booked 10 players in that match, including seven West Brom players. Chelsea have also won 2-0 over Fulham in the league and 2-0 over Derby County in the FA Cup with Marriner this season.

Marriner has taken charge of two previous Arsenal-Chelsea encounters, with Chelsea winning 3-0 at the Emirates in November of 2009 and Arsenal winning 5-3 at the Bridge in October of 2011.

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

Tottenham Hotspur 0-1 Arsenal: Three Massive Points

This is going to have to be quick because I have a game myself in an hour and a half, but in short this is the sort of match that title-winning teams have to gut out on their way to a title. I'm not saying we're going to win the title per se, but I do note that we have won matches like this on the way to glory before.

The thing is, the lineup that Arsene picked was about the best we could have hoped for based on our injury situation. Kieran Gibbs returned at LB, Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were in the middle, with Lukas Podolski, Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla as the front midfield three. A quick informal poll of O'Hanlon's confirmed that the only possible complaint was that no place was found for Mathieu Flamini.

As expected, the home side huffed and puffed right from the off, eager to tear into us in the manner that their manager did when he was in his playing career. We looked like we were playing off the counter from the opening whistle, and it only took three minutes for us to score a goal in precisely that fashion.

It was Rosicky's relentless industry that started it, with an Arsenal counter going directly through him. He played a one-two with the Ox, but the return put him a bit too wide...or so it seemed. I told people afterward that there was about a two-tenths of a second difference in my reaction - as he was aiming to shoot, I figured it wouldn't trouble anything other than the closest asteroid belt. A fraction of a second afterwards though, I thought: "Fuck me, that's going in!".  Sure enough, the bend and the dip on that thing ensured that Hugo Lloris has a snowball's chance as it whistled by him and into the far corner.

Fuck me, what a strike that was!

The second that went in, I figured that we would go on to absolutely batter them. This Spurs lot is not well-renowned for their mental strength, and they were playing a high defensive line that mirrored the worst of Andre Villas-Boas' tactics. It's true that we didn't have the raw pace of Theo Walcott to take advantage, but this 11 should have troubled them more than they did.

However, other than one breakaway that Oxlade-Chamberlain made a dog's dinner out of, I cannot recall a single instance of us so much as testing Lloris ever again. In truth, we were absolutely horrendous after we scored. The home side had 66% of the possession for most of the match afterwards, but it felt like that percentage was higher. Arsenal couldn't keep the ball if their lives depended on it. It's not that the Scum were doing well to win it back in the middle of the park - our decision-making was shocking at times.

Clearly, our boys were bricking it in a big match once again. I don't know what it is that leads to this inferiority complex that rears its head in these big matches, but it was there once again. As I told someone at the pub today, if we don't win the title it will be because we didn't take all six points off of Manchester United like we should have done.

Still, there were two men who did not succumb to the same fragility that the rest of this lot did. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker were twin colossuses in the center of defense. Even when Wojciech Szczesny contrived to flap badly at two crosses to hand the Scum glorious scoring chances, one of them was always there to clear the danger. No matter if it was that, or corners, or free kicks, or even the rare instances in which old friend Emmanuel Adebayor managed to stay onside...they were always there to calmly shepherd it out of play.

That was that, really. Referee Mike Dean showed roughly twelve million yellow cards (if we're being fair, Bacary Sagna was lucky not to walk for a vicious tackle in the first half, though we did have a stonewall penalty turned down in the second), the home side did nothing for all of their possession, and we saw out the game with much less fuss than it felt like as it was happening.

Despite how poor we were, we still exit this weekend very much in the title race (if someone could tell The Guardian that, that would be awesome - they seem to think it's only the Chavs and City). We'll learn a lot in the game against Chelsea - if we play like we did today, they will eviscerate us. Should we raise our game and see off Moaninho and his band of mercenary fucks, I have a suspicion that this season will reap more rewards than even the most optimistic of us reckoned with before the season started.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 6, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 8, Sagna 7, Arteta 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Vermaelen N/A), Podolski 6 (Monreal 7), Rosicky 8 (Flamini 7), Cazorla 5, Giroud 5

Man of the Match: Tommy has a great shout for his wonder goal, but I have to do something I don't usually do. We would have been utterly lost were it not for our center-half pairing, so this week it goes to the combination of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker.

Preview by Numbers: Tottenham Hotspur v. Arsenal

White Hart Lane, London
Sunday, March 16
12:00 p.m. EDT, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 0 Tottenham
  • This Match, Last Year: Tottenham 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 73 Arsenal wins, 54 Tottenham wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-L-D-W-L
  • Tottenham's League Form: D-W-W-L-W-L
  • Weather: Clear, 15 C / 59 F
With the book on European football closed for the season for Arsenal, attention's turn back to the domestic front, where Arsenal have 11 or 12 matches to play (depending on their FA Cup successes.) The matches come in two distinct phases, separated by the FA Cup Semi-Final, which I shall call "The Difficult Zone" and "The Probably Not a Difficult Zone on Paper But You Can't Take Anyone Lightly in This League Anymore." That title might need some work.

Arsenal's fixture list shakes out as such: North London derby on the road, Chelsea on the road, midweek make-up game against Swansea, Manchester City at the Emirates, Everton on the road, FA Cup Semi-Final against Wigan. That's "The Difficult Zone" or TDZ. That's followed by a make-up against West Ham somewhere, Hull City away, Newcastle at home, West Brom at home, Norwich away, and maybe (just maybe, if we all hope really hard) the FA Cup Final. That's TPNADZOPBYCTALITLA (or something.)

As I'll often remind everyone, you can't play all of those matches at once (imagine the injuries!) One game at a time, and all that cliche stuff, and when the next game on the list is the North London derby, it's cliches out the wazoo (which is generally from where cliches come.) So, something about form going out the window, something about one minute at a time, something something we don't like them something.

Come on, you Gunners.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ozil (hamstring,) Wilshere (foot,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Gibbs (ankle,) Monreal (ankle,) Bendtner (knee)

Look at him and his injured hamstring! Try harder!
Rabble rabble rabble rabble!
There is nothing like an injury setback to bring out the worst in Arsenal fans. News that Aaron Ramsey has had a "short-term setback" in his recovery from a thigh injury has set the Internet ablaze with "what is wrong with our medical team?" chatter. Muscle injuries, by nature, are tricky to create a timetable around, because setbacks can come at any point in rehabilitation. I don't know about you, but I'd rather have Ramsey back when he's fully fit rather than plug him in and hope for the best. Playing at any less than 100% with a muscle injury is like playing with fire; further aggravation of the injury in a match could end Ramsey's season. I think this is more about playing it safe, with a string of critical matches ahead, than a display of medical ineffectiveness.

As for Mesut Ozil, it's a hamstring injury, which Bayern and Germany team doctor (and most German sounding name ever) Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt called "quite bad." If it were a grade two strain, there would have been immediate pain, which would explain Ozil's lackluster first half display more accurately than a Daily Mail character assassination piece. Grade one pulls (which do not necessarily come with immediate pain) usually mean at least three weeks out; grade two tends to mean four to six weeks. If you had to circle a game where you could, within reason, expect Ozil to return, I'd be looking at the Newcastle match on April 28.

So, who is available? Kim Kallstrom! The on-loan Swede finally joined full training yesterday; with Arsenal light in midfield now, it's "not impossible" Kallstrom could be in the squad. Meanwhile, Yaya Sanogo returned to training as well after he was unavailable for the trip to Germany. Both left backs, Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal, face fitness tests on their injuries, but Arsene Wenger says both have "a good chance."

Due to the number of injuries in midfield, I hope Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain retains his place in the center of midfield; he had a stormer on Tuesday. Without Ozil, I think Wenger can shift Santi Cazorla into the center (he was pretty good in the same role last year, of course,) and play Lukas Podolski and Serge Gnabry on the wings. Tomas Rosicky remains an option in there as well.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, Cazorla, Gnabry, Giroud.

Tottenham Squad News

Michael Dawson would like you to stop, collaborate,
and listen.
Out: Dawson (hamstring,) Lamela (back,) Chiriches (back)
Doubts: Walker (knock,) Capoue (ankle,) Dembele (hamstring)

Since Spurs played Benfica yesterday (i.e. during the time I was researching and writing this preview,) it's highly likely that if someone picked up a knock during that match last night, there's no way for me to know the specifics. For example, Kyle Walker limped off on 76 minutes to be replaced by Danny Rose. Will he be out for Sunday? I have no idea!

Excuses aside, here's what we do know. Spurs are without captain Michael Dawson after he suffered a hamstring injury against Chelsea last weekend. Erik Lamela and Vlad Chiriches are both still sidelined by back injuries. Mousa Demeble and Etienne Capoue could both return, or maybe not. 

Current Form

I hope another red team wins there this weekend...
Arsenal's road form is kind of strange, in that they have not won away from home since January 13 at Aston Villa. It's strange because Arsenal have only played away from home four times in those two months. They lost two (Liverpool and Stoke) and drew two (Southampton and Bayern Munich.) It's fairly unheard of to play twice as many home games as road games in a two month span, but you can thank the lottery that is the FA Cup draw for that. Arsenal, of course, have some big road games to follow after this week, including matches at Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park. Against other teams in the top seven of the table, Arsenal have lost all three road games they have played, with three still to play. Aside from that, though, Arsenal's away form remains second best in the league.

Tottenham are rocking at the moment after what has been a week of bad results. After a 4-0 hiding at the hands of Chelsea last weekend, manager Tim Sherwood called on his players to step up to the challenge. They started brightly against Benfica in the first leg of their Europa League Round of 16, but ultimately lost handily, 3-1. That means Spurs have lost four of their last six, across all competitions, but Thursday's loss was their first at home in that group.

Match Facts

Arsenal have beaten Spurs twice already this season, both times at the Emirates. In the league, Arsenal won 1-0 through Olivier Giroud back in early September, then splashed the cash for Mesut Ozil the following day. In the third round of the FA Cup, Arsenal won again at the Emirates, via the scoreline Theo Walcott can tell you at the left.

Arsenal have not won at White Hart Lane within 90 minutes since September 15, 2007, when they won 3-1. Emmanuel Adebayor scored twice for Arsenal in the match and Cesc Fabregas had the other after Gareth Bale gave Spurs the lead on a quarter of an hour. The Gunners did win a League Cup tie there in 2010 by a 4-1 scoreline, but that was 1-1 after 90 and required extra time (and was so much fun when Arsenal scored three in the first 15 minute extra frame.)

Since the 2007 win, Arsenal have lost four times at the Lane and drawn twice. In January of 2008, Spurs knocked Arsenal out of the League Cup with a storming 5-1 win in the second leg of the semi-final. The following season in the league, the clubs played a 0-0 draw in which Emmanuel Eboue was sent off for two yellow cards in 37 minutes by Mike Dean. In April of 2010, Spurs won 2-1, with Danny Rose's long range opener being the match's most famous moment. I still blame Almunia for that.

In 2011, also played in April, the match ended in a ridiculous 3-3 draw; Arsenal led 1-0 after five minutes before the match was level two minutes later, then led 3-1 by the 40th, but Spurs pinged one back before halftime, then equalized from the penalty spot in the 70th. In October of 2011, Arsenal lost the match 2-1 again, and in the process, fell to 15th place in the table after seven games. They rattled off five straight wins in the league after that. Last season, Arsenal lost 2-1 again, but followed with 10 league games unbeaten.

The Referee

The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean. Arsenal's record with Dean is, of course, well documented. As you probably know, Arsenal are unbeaten in their last three matches with Dean: 0-0 with Chelsea in December, 3-1 over Stoke in September, and 4-1 over Wigan at the end of last season.

Oh, right, the bad results. Before this current run, Arsenal had a record of two wins from 21 matches across all competitions with Dean in the middle. But, one of those two wins was the first 5-2 over Spurs in February 2012. That's Arsenal's only win in five matches against Spurs with Dean in the middle; they've only lost one, though, and finished level in the other three, including the aforementioned match in which Eboue was sent off on 37 minutes, pictured here.

As for Spurs with Dean this season, it's two draws from two, against Chelsea and Manchester United.

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

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

Allianz Arena, Munich
Tuesday, March 11
3:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 GMT
Bayern Munich leads 2-0
  • Match Officials from Norway
    • Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen
    • Assistants: Kim Thomas Haglund and Frank Andas
    • 4th Official: Leif Erik Opland
    • Additional Assistants: Ken Henry Johnsen and Svein-Erik Edvartsen
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 2 Arsenal wins, 4 Bayern wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-L-W-W-L-L
  • Bayern Munich's European Form: W-W-W-W-L-W
  • Weather: Clear, 5 C / 42 F
At this stage last year, Arsenal were fighting for their lives in the league: with 10 matches to play, the Gunners were languishing in fifth. "A negative spiral," said Andre Villas-Boas, whose Tottenham had beaten Arsenal 2-1 at the Lane a week and a half prior. Of course, Arsenal won the match in Munich (but not the tie,) then went unbeaten in the final 10 league matches to claim fourth.

But this season, at least domestically, Arsenal have bigger fish to fry. Sure, they've fallen from the top spot, but they are still 12 points better after 28 matches this year than they were last year. Most importantly, they're going to Wembley for the FA Cup Semi-Final, and after Wigan's shock win against Manchester City yesterday, the other big guns are out (three of which were knocked out by Arsenal themselves.)

Now, of course, is not the time to talk about the FA Cup; we'll file that away for April (and hopefully again for May.) In many ways, down 2-0 to arguably the best team in the world, tonight's match is all about pride. There's almost nothing to lose for Arsenal. Let's go for a win and hold our heads up high.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gibbs (ankle,) Wilshere (foot,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Monreal (ankle)
Suspended: Szczesny (one match)

First, the bad news: Kieran Gibbs is out for tonight (though he could return for Sunday) with an ankle injury which saw him removed from Saturday's FA Cup tie on 88 minutes. The good news: Laurent Koscielny is expected to return from his hamstring injury. Gibbs's injury means we could very well see Thomas Vermaelen at left back, as Nacho Monreal is a doubt with an ankle injury.

Wojciech Szczesny serves a one match ban after his red card in the first leg, meaning Lukasz Fabianski will retain his place between the posts. Olivier Giroud should return to lead the forward line, after his brace off the bench on Saturday. Otherwise, I think the midfield five remains the same.

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

Bayern Munich Squad News

Out: Badstuber (knee)
Doubts: Gotze (knock)

Well, Mario Gotze is carrying a knock and might miss out. I mean, Bayern won 6-1 at the weekend without him and the German side has more depth in midfield than possibly any other side in the world, and I didn't even include him in my predicted XI for the first leg, but... but... yeah, I've got nothing.

In other news, Franck Ribery is back from his buttocks injury; he played 90 minutes at the weekend. The same goes for Xherdan Shaqiri, who also missed the first leg; he scored the opener in the 6-1 win over Wolfsburg on Saturday.

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

Current Form

Starting with the 2-2 draw at Southampton, Arsenal have won three matches, lost three, and drawn two. The 1-0 loss to Stoke felt like it could have either been the start of falling off a cliff, or a nadir from which the Gunners would rise again. Arsenal's accomplished display against Everton at the weekend, hopefully, points to it being the latter. Perhaps most worrying is that Arsenal have not won away from the Emirates since January 13, though that includes a surprisingly small sample size of three matches.

As for Bayern Munich, in their last 22 matches across all competitions, they have won 21 times. The one blip in the middle came at home to an English side (which, I suppose, can give Arsenal some hope.) However, Bayern had first place in their group all wrapped up when they hosted Manchester City on Matchday 6 and jumped out to an early 2-0 lead within a dozen minutes. Bayern switched off from there and City went on to take the three points. That means English sides have won two straight games at Allianz Arena, so that's something, right?

Since beating Arsenal at the Emirates, Bayern have gone back to thrashing German sides; they've won 4-0 over Hannover, 5-1 over Schalke, and, as mentioned earlier, 6-1 over Wolfsburg. They now sit an astonishing 20 points clear of second place Borussia Dortmund.

Match Facts

I'm not going to talk about Arsenal v. Bayern history here; you can go back and read my first leg preview for that. As I did in this space last season, I will instead talk about Arsenal's history in overcoming first leg deficits. It's not good.

Since 2003/04, when the Champions League switched to the 16-team knockout phase set-up, Arsenal have lost the first match of a two-legged tie seven times, including each of the last three seasons. Among the previous six occurrences, Arsenal came from behind to win the tie only once, against Porto in 2010, thanks to a 5-0 second leg win at the Emirates which included a Nicklas Bendtner hat trick.

Interestingly, Arsenal have gone on to win the second leg match yet not the tie as a whole on three occasions, including each of the last two years (against Bayern and AC Milan) and one other time against Bayern Munich in 2005. In 2007, they drew the second leg against PSV, and in 2009 against Manchester United, well, that didn't go quite as well.

The Referee

The match officials are from Norway; the referee is Svein Oddvar Moen. Arsenal and Bayern had Moen for their first leg encounter at the Emirates last season, which Bayern won 3-1. It is the only time Arsenal have lost with the Norwegian referee; they previously won matches over Shakhtar Donetsk 5-1 and Olympiacos 3-1 with Moen in the middle. It's two wins from two matches for Bayern with Moen, however; they also defeated Marseille 2-0 in the 2012 quarter-final with Moen as the referee.

Moen has already worked two English v. German matches in this year's Champions League, both big wins for the English sides. Chelsea beat Schalke 3-0 on November 6 at Stamford Bridge and Manchester United won 5-0 at Bayer Leverkusen on November 27.

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Atletico Madrid v. AC Milan; Vicente Calderon Stadium, Madrid
    • Atletico Madrid leads 1-0
  • Wednesday: Barcelona v. Manchester City; Camp Nou, Barcelona
    • Barcelona leads 2-0
  • Wednesday: Paris St. Germain v. Bayer Leverkusen; Parc des Princes, Paris
    • Paris St. Germain leads 4-0
  • Next Tuesday: Chelsea v. Galatasaray; Stamford Bridge, London
    • Tie level, 1-1
  • Next Tuesday: Real Madrid v. Schalke 04; Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
    • Real Madrid leads 6-1
  • Next Wednesday: Borussia Dortmund v. Zenit St. Petersburg; Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund
    • Borussia Dortmund leads 4-2
  • Next Wednesday: Manchester United v. Olympiacos; Old Trafford, Manchester
    • Olympiacos leads 2-0

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Everton, FA Cup Sixth Round

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, March 8
7:45 a.m. EST, 12:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Gary Beswick
    • 4th Official: Phil Dowd
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 98 Arsenal wins, 58 Everton wins, 44 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 1 Arsenal win, 2 Everton wins
  • Arsenal's Path Here:
    • Third Round: Beat Tottenham Hotspur, 2-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Coventry City, 4-0
    • Fifth Round: Beat Liverpool, 2-1
  • Everton's Path Here:
    • Third Round: Beat Queens Park Rangers, 4-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Stevenage, 4-0
    • Fifth Round: Beat Swansea City, 3-1
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-L-D-W-L
  • Everton's League Form: D-L-W-L-L-W
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 12 C / 54 F
Arsenal's official site posted an article I found to be pretty odd on Wednesday: this recap of the 2007/08 season. In case you don't recall or have blocked that season out of your memory, Arsenal sat top of the league for much of fall and winter before crashing out of the FA Cup dramatically at Old Trafford. One week later, Eduardo's ankle was broken and the Gunners slipped to a 2-2 draw at St. Andrew's. That was the first of four straight draws, which was followed by losses to Chelsea and Manchester United as well. They crashed out of Europe in dramatic fashion to Liverpool, too. By the end, Arsenal finished third, without silverware once again.

It seems strange for Arsenal to remind us now of the recent past, as the current Gunners sit perched in similar circumstances. They've slipped to nominally third in the league, though fourth-place Manchester City have two matches in hand. They have one foot in their European grave, with the second leg in Munich this Tuesday. Arsenal had approximately 30% odds of winning the league title this season before their trip to Anfield last month; those odds are now 6%.

So, you can see why the FA Cup means so much to us, the fans, right now. We know this is now Arsenal's best shot at silverware this season. They've swatted aside tricky challengers in Tottenham and Liverpool so far in this bracket and now, only eight teams remain: Arsenal, Everton, Manchester City, Hull City, Sunderland, Wigan Athletic, Charlton Athletic, and Sheffield United. The magic of the cup means each of these teams are in with a shout, for example, Wigan showed what they can do against Manchester City in this competition in last year's final.

Win tomorrow and Arsenal will be guaranteed a match at Wembley, in mid-April's semi-final, their first trip there since some unpleasantness three years ago. By 3:00 p.m. tomorrow, Arsenal could either be one step closer to exorcising their trophy demons or mentions of "nine years" will be getting a lot louder.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Wilshere (foot,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Koscielny (hamstring)

In terms of the super-annoying international midweek friendly nonsense squad news, Laurent Koscielny was held out of action by France because of a tight hamstring, leaving the center back doubtful for Everton's visit tomorrow. On the plus side, Thomas Vermaelen is now 100% available to slot in if he is required. I have a feeling Kos will start, though. Not sure why.

Jack Wilshere was clobbered on the foot by Liverpool's Daniel Agger in the England-Denmark match and reports indicate he'll miss six weeks (likely closer to 10, given time needed to return to training) with a small fracture. Personally, I would not have played Jack in this match anyway, and think Arsene Wenger should opt for the Mikel Arteta-Mathieu Flamini combination, or Flamteta, as I believe it's called.

Considering Lukasz Fabianski started against Liverpool, I would think he'll start again here. Up front, I think Mesut Ozil has got to come back into the squad. I'd like to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right and Santi Cazorla on the left. Since it's a cup tie, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Yaya Sanogo instead of Olivier Giroud leading the line.

Also, Kim Kallstrom might be available, apparently. I'll believe it when I see it...

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

Everton Squad News

Out: Oviedo (leg,) Gibson (knee,) Jagielka (hamstring,) Kone (knee,) Traore (hamstring)
Doubts: Alcaraz (fatigue)

Phil Jagielka, who picked up a hamstring injury in training last week, does not appear to be available for this weekend's cup tie, according to manager Roberto Martinez. However, he did add, "with Phil, you never know." Jagielka did not participate in England's friendly with Denmark. Antolin Alcaraz might remain out at center back as well, with muscle fatigue. Youngster John Stones started in that position, with Jagielka and Alcaraz out, last weekend for a clean sheet against West Ham.

As for Everton's longer-term injuries, Lacina Traore could be back in a week or two from a hamstring problem of his own, but it'll be early May at best for Arouna Kone and Darron Gibson, both out with knee injuries. Bryan Oviedo's season is over, after suffering a double leg fracture against Stevenage in the FA Cup fourth round.

As with Fabianski, Everton back-up keeper Joel Robles has started all three previous FA Cup ties instead of usual starter Tim Howard. The Toffees, however, have not really weakened their line-ups too considerably, aside from up front, something they cannot get away with against Arsenal. As such, I would not be surprised if Roberto Martinez fielded a moderately strong squad.

Predicted XI: Robles, Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines, McCarthy, Barry, Osman, Pienaar, Mirallas, Lukaku.

Current Form

When these sides met in December, I referred to it as "the formiest match to ever form," which is total gibberish, of course. Between the two sides, through 28 league matches up to that point, Arsenal and Everton had lost just three. Arsenal had conceded only 10 goals (good for best in the league) and Everton had conceded 13 (good for second.)

Now, both sides come in with similar form as well, though both are now stumbling. Arsenal have just two wins from their last six league games, losing two and drawing two as well. Everton, meanwhile, have not won away from home (aside from a win at Stevenage in the fourth round,) since December 22 at Swansea. They've lost at Liverpool, Tottenham, and Chelsea, and have drawn at Stoke and West Brom. The Toffees have fallen to sixth in the table, at 48 points, with a game in hand on much of the competition. Still, their chances for Champions League football next season look to be fading.

Match Facts

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 13 against Everton, whose last win over the Gunners was on March 18, 2007 by a 1-0 scoreline (note that Mark Clattenburg was the referee that day.) Everton are winless in their last 19 trips to the Emirates/Highbury, dating back to January 20, 1996. They have drawn each of the last two meetings in North London in league play, however, and four of the last eight.

This fixture, played in the league in early December, was a nervy high-stakes encounter, as tomorrow should be as well. Arsenal landed the first blow late in the match, with Mesut Ozil scoring in the 80th minute, but Everton countered within minutes to equalize. The match ended 1-1. The sides will meet at Goodison Park in the league in four week's time.

Despite a long and storied history of top flight football to the tune of December's draw being the 200th match between the clubs across all competitions, this will be only the fourth time the sides have met in the FA Cup. Everton have won twice, in Liverpool, by a 5-0 scoreline in 1910 and a 2-0 scoreline in 1981. Arsenal won the only meeting in North London, 4-3, in 1928.

The Referee

The referee is County Durham-based Mark Clattenburg. Arsenal have had Clattenburg recently, for their 0-0 draw with Manchester United in mid-February. Prior to that result, the Gunners had three wins from three with Clatts this season: 2-1 over Swansea, 2-0 over Southampton, and 2-0 over Spurs in the third round of the FA Cup. Arsenal have won 20 of their 29 matches all-time with Clattenburg as the referee; they've lost seven and drawn two. In the FA Cup, Arsenal have five wins from five with Clatts.

On the other hand, Everton hate Clattenburg, after a Merseyside derby in 2007. Every critical decision went against the Toffees that day. First, Tony Hibbert was sent off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, though it appeared Clattenburg only pulled out the red card after Steven Gerrard remonstrated with him. Everton ended the match with nine men after Phil Neville was sent off for handling a goal bound shot in the 92nd minute. Liverpool won the match 2-1, through two penalties scored through the aforementioned fouls, though Everton were denied a penalty shout of their own just before the 90th minute, when Jamie Carragher wrestled Joleon Lescott to the ground. Dirk Kuyt was also shown only yellow for a "kung fu style lunge" on Neville earlier in the match.

Everton have had Clattenburg just three times since then: a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa in January 2012, a 2-1 win over Southampton in late December, and a 1-0 loss at Tottenham in early February.

Around the Sixth Round
  • Sunday: Hull City v. Sunderland; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Sunday: Manchester City v. Wigan Athletic; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday: Sheffield United v. Charlton Athletic; Bramall Lane, Sheffield
Around the League
  • Saturday (early): West Bromwich Albion v. Manchester United; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday: Cardiff City v. Fulham; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Southampton; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Stoke City; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday (late): Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Not Playing: Aston Villa, Liverpool, Newcastle United, Swansea City, and West Ham United

Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal: A Thoroughly-Deserved Result

Well, that sucked.

Our title hopes have taken a severe blow at a stadium where, as ever, Arsenal joy goes to die. The chase for the title is not dead yet, but we now have no room for error in what was already a daunting series of fixtures. All season long, this Arsenal side have responded to adversity and earned points that would have been frittered away in previous seasons. That is all well and good, but if this lot truly do have the bottle for this fight, we need to see it now.

As for this abomination of a match, instead of the traditional format, I present disjointed rants on some specific topics:

The Arsenal Traveling Support: Impeccable, as always. Strode into Mordor and outsung the orcs. You did us proud, ladies and gentlemen.

Stoke City: What can you say? They were compact, hunted in packs, and worked their bollocks off harrying players off the ball. Some of the challenges were dubious, as ever...and that odious little troll Charlie Adam should have walked for that sly stamp on Olivier Giroud in the second half. But, if we're being fair, they played well and were full value for the three points. Marko Arnautovic and Peter Crouch were the best players on the field - the former supplying several excellent crosses for the latter, who won damn near all of them.

Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere: Awful, awful, awful. The pair of them spent half the match on the deck having a moan at the referee. All it did was feed the inbred trolls in the stands, and contribute to the home side's ever-growing belief that they were once again getting under our skin. Giroud in particular was the embodiment of the orc supporters' caricature of our club. It clearly rattled him - his holdup play was abysmal and the few half-chances he had were hit with an utter lack of conviction. Wilshere contributed nothing offensively as well, and lasted much longer on the pitch than he should have.

Lukas Podolski: Was he even on the pitch? This is supposed to be the kind of game he excels in...he's supposed to be the guy making direct runs, shooting on sight...essentially doing all of the things that the side as a whole doesn't do often enough.  He was found wanting once again this afternoon, and he's quickly playing his way off the team. If he goes in the summer, I won't cry in my beer...funny Instagram photos or otherwise.

Bacary Sagna: Speaking of people I won't be sad to see go, a word for our erstwhile right back. This may be an unpopular opinion...but he's 30, has a long history of injury and is clearly declining as a player. He got into some good positions going forward, but he couldn't cross a street, let alone the ball. He also stood much too far off Arnautovic all game long, allowing him to send crosses in whenever he liked. Were it not for the excellence of Wojciech Szczesny, we may have conceded earlier than we did. Also, what in the blue hell was he thinking with that bicycle kick clearance in our penalty area? Lucky for him that came out to their right back Geoff Cameron instead of one of the strikers.

Arsene Wenger: I'm not going to slate him for the initial team selection (except for one thing - why on earth  was Mathieu Flamini not playing? If he doesn't play in games like this, what is he for?). This was mostly the same 11 that saw off Sunderland in such brilliant fashion and surely they deserved another crack at it. But, once again, his ridiculous stubbornness with his substitution patterns did us in again. This was the sort of match where that rat bastard Jose Mourinho would make three changes at halftime, turn it around and win comfortably. Arsene sat on his hands until after the 65th, as usual, despite the fact that we displayed all the penetrative power of a marshmallow willy. Plan A isn't working? Cool, we'll just keep trying Plan A until it does.

This match was obviously screaming out for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to come on, and perhaps Serge Gnabry too. If it were me, I'd have hauled off Podolski, Wilshere and Rosicky at halftime, and played Ox in the middle with Cazorla-Ozil-Gnabry as the front midfield three. It would have offered us something different, at least...and it wouldn't have thrown Yaya Sanogo into a situation that he isn't ready for. Speaking of...

Yaya Sanogo: Seriously, if you're going to savage this kid for missing one chance late in injury time, do us all a favor and jump in front of a train. It's not his fault he was our best option at that point, and it's not his fault that we were down 1-0 to this lot at the time.

Mesut Ozil: Did OK when he came on. Hope you enjoyed your break, but now it's time for you to truly earn your keep, good sir. We need the real Mesut Ozil, and we need you now. I think the best is yet to come (and he hasn't had a bad season, no matter what the mouth-breathers among us say), and I would love to be proved right now.

Laurent Koscielny: A caveat: I say the following in the knowledge that Kos is one of the best - if not the best - defenders in the division. That said, what an absolutely catastrophic performance today. He is prone to these fits of lunacy, often at the worst possible times. His second half in particular was a masterclass in the art of untimely implosions. First, his misjudged header allowed Crouch to volley just wide of the post. A minute later, he lost Crouch on a free kick, giving him acres in the center of the penalty area to volley again - that time, Szczesny bailed him out. Crouch beat him again a bit later, forcing Szczesny to parry out his header.

There was no bailout forthcoming when he conceded a back-breaking penalty for roughly the 12,000,000th time in his Arsenal career, though. Yes kids, that was a stonewall penalty. Blame the referee all you like but the Laws are clear as day on this one. Kos had no reason to have his hands up like that...if Jonathan Walters scoops that over him, fine, there's support in the center of the area. Stupid, mindless, needless penalty. It cost us at least a point, full stop.

Right, then. That's enough for today. It's over, it's done with, the inbreds have got their moment in the sun (at which point they'll go immediately back under their rocks and bridges). We beat Chelsea and Everton and Spurs, and all of this will be forgotten tout suite (that means immediately, for any Stoke supporters who are having someone read this to you). Let's see what you're made of, Arsenal.  

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 4, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 5, Arteta 7, Wilshere 5 (Sanogo 5), Podolski 5 (Ozil 7), Rosicky 5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Cazorla 6, Giroud 4

Man of the Match: I was watching Setanta's coverage, and they gave it to Crouch. It's not a bad shout, but I thought Marko Arnautovic was the best player out there today. He tormented Sagna down the left wing over and over again, and his crossing was impeccable.