Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle United: Happy St. Totteringham's Day!

St. Totteringham's Day never gets old, does it?

We now find ourselves needing just one win out of matches with West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City to lock up Champions League football heading into the all-important FA Cup Final. But, it didn't look like we'd get there early on in this thing. Still, the little extra bit of class that guys like Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla provided was enough to get us over the line in the end.

It was a strong Arsenal lineup, the starting 11 essentially picking themselves after a long period of rest. Newcastle, despite their status as an active six-alarm dumpster fire, conducted themselves well in the early going. They were clearly trying to pull a Chelsea, with ten men behind the ball while the Gunners did their usual glacially-paced tippy-tappy nonsense. Ozil was the first to show any intent, his direct run down the right requiring a fabulous sliding block from Fabricio Coloccini to clear away the resulting cross.

There wasn't much joy for Arsenal in open play, but the visitors consistently looked ropey when defending against crosses and set pieces. Santi Cazorla's dead ball deliveries were a constant threat, as shown in the 17th minute when his cross was punched away well by Tim Krul. It only went as far as Ozil on the edge of the area, the Dutch keeper clearly relieved to see the German's low rasper go wide of the far post.

Our boys were beginning to feel it, but the Magpies could so easily have taken the lead against the run of play. A silly pass out into touch by Aaron Ramsey gave Newcastle a throw-in. They took it quick, and Moussa Sissoko won it easily with Mikel Arteta refusing to get stuck in. The Frenchman easily skipped around an oddly-tame challenge by Per Mertesacker, and had a yard of space. Thankfully, he opted for an ambitious curled chip shot, where he might have been better off just belting it hard and low. His chip ballooned high and wide, taking their best chance of the match with it.

Six minutes later, the Arsenal made them pay for it. A needless foul by Sissoko gave us a free kick in a dangerous area. Cazorla whipped in a beautiful curler, placed in an awkward location for the keeper. Still, Krul should have been far more decisive in coming for it. Instead, both the back line and the goalie stood there and let Laurent Kosicleny run on and deflect it in. The Grove collectively exhaled, and honestly there was only one winner in it from there. I can't say I was too impressed with Kos taking a ridiculous yellow for his goal celebration, but thankfully it didn't cost us in the end.

 Photo: Reuters

The next few minutes were the Lukas Podolski Show, as the social media maven fashioned two excellent chances to extend the lead. First, he ran onto a long ball over the top and did well to take it first time, but Krul was quick off his line to block with his knee at the edge of the area. Next, he stole a yard from his marker off a corner - another excellent delivery from Cazorla, for the record - but Krul's positioning was perfect and he was able to palm it away.

Newcastle had a few half-chances in response, the scariest moment probably the backpass to Wojciech Szczesny that the Pole was just quick enough to clear away from the onrushing Yoan Gouffran. They never did seriously threaten though, and the match was largely over just before halftime when we managed to find a second goal.

The long ball had worked for our opponents once before to create a scoring chance, but this time we were the ones to use it to devastating effect. Arteta was the one who played it, his pass inch-perfect into the path of Olivier Giroud. The offside trap was on, but Mathieu Debuchy badly lagged behind to play him on. Krul came out well to cut the angle, and Paul Dummett also did well to shepherd him into the shooting lane that the keeper was blocking. Giroud could only shovel it into Krul's body (the nutmeg was probably his only chance), but he stayed with it and fired another shot on net. The Dutch stopper recovered quickly to block that one too, but his rebound control let him down a bit, the ball going out to the side. The defense had neglected to check Ozil's run to the back post, and the German (despite arguably being offside) was there to tap in at the third time of asking.

As mentioned, there was little sting in the game from that point on. The Gunners, for our part, also largely didn't overextend themselves in the second early Cazorla drive that Krul had to be good to tip away otherwise.

Still, the Magpies did manage one chance to haul themselves back into it, but the play was a shining example of how fine the margins are at this level. Newcastle won a throw-in, and they again tried the long ball off of it. Loic Remy's pass sprung Gouffran, who went in alone on Szczesny. It was a mirror image of Giroud's chance, Szczesny coming off his line and Koscielny shepherding the attacker into the shooting lane the keeper was covering. But, Szczesny was just that one iota better with his rebound control, and Koscielny was a shade better in his anticipation and positioning. There was no second shot, let alone a third. Koscielny cleared to safety, and that was that.

There was time out from the procession that was the second half for one more goal, though. Arteta did well to win the ball in midfield, and the Arsenal were away. Ozil played in Ramsey down the left, and the Welshman played a one-two with him. Ozil's resulting cross was perfect, and Giroud did brilliantly well to anticipate the flight of it and head it powerfully past the helpless Krul.

If the match was largely over before, it was definitely over then. Newcastle well and truly gave up the ghost, and Arsenal were content to play out time and conserve energy for potentially more difficult challenges ahead. West Brom will likely be a much harder match than people are assuming it will be, and Norwich will be playing for their lives. We are so close to achieving the minimum aims of our season (as Groundhog Day-esque as it may be, and as bitterly disappointing as it is given our position a month ago), but concentration is needed. Complacency is now our only enemy.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Monreal 7, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Arteta 8, Ramsey 7 (Rosicky 7), Podolski 7, Ozil 8 (Flamini 7), Cazorla 9, Giroud 7 (Sanogo N/A)

Man of the Match: NBC reckoned it was Kosicelny, and I can dig it. Mesut Ozil also has a decent shout with a goal and an assist. But, for me, Santi Cazorla eviscerated the visitors with his set piece deliveries, and was a constant danger otherwise as well.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Newcastle United

Emirates Stadium, London
Monday, April 28
3:00 p.m. EDT, 20:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Neil Swarbrick
    • Assistants: Lee Betts and Ian Hussin
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • Reverse Fixture: Newcastle 0 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 7 - 3 Newcastle
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 69 Arsenal wins, 66 Newcastle wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-D-D-L-W-W
  • Newcastle's League Form: W-L-L-L-L-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 14 C / 58 F
  • Arsenal's Odds of Finishing Top Four, Entering Weekend: 79.1%
Three to go in the league, four to go overall. The pressure is building after Manchester United did Arsenal (and David Moyes) no favors at Goodison Park last Sunday. There is still no room for error; Arsenal maintain a one-point lead on Everton with three to play. The Gunners have cut Everton's lead in the goal difference tie-breaker from six to two over their last two matches.

Everton play before Arsenal in each of the next two weekends: the Toffees play at Southampton in tomorrow's early match before Arsenal play Monday night. Next week, Everton play Manchester City in Saturday's late game before Arsenal host West Brom in Sunday's early affair. Of course, all sides kick off simultaneously on the final weekend. This means that Arsenal, over their final two home games, will already know if they have to win to stay above the Toffees (and could, theoretically, kick off each match from 5th place.)

And there's no reason to think they shouldn't have to win. Now is not the time for excuses. Arsenal need all nine points left on the table. A win against Newcastle would give Arsenal 73 points, matching their total from last year, but that's not enough this year. They'll still need 79 to be sure.

If you want something positive to focus on, consider that St. Totteringham's Day is coming. A Stoke win over Spurs clinches it on Saturday; a draw means Spurs would need to make up 19 goals difference to win the tie-break.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Wilshere (foot,) Walcott (knee,) Ryo (ankle,) Diaby (match fitness)
Doubts: Gibbs (ankle,) Gnabry (knee)
  • Did you see him?! Did you see that Diaby played for the Under-21's? Diaby. D-I-A-B-Y. Lanky Frenchman? Remember? Anyway, good for him.
  • No real changes in the injured list this week: Jack Wilshere's still out, Theo Walcott's still out, Kieran Gibbs still a doubt with what I think is an ankle injury, etc.
  • There's not much news yet either, considering the match is not until Monday night.
  • As such, I wouldn't really be surprised with an unchanged XI from the squad that beat Hull last weekend.
Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud.

Newcastle Squad News

Out: Obertan (knee,) Santon (hamstring,) Cisse (knee,) Sammy Ameobi (ankle,) Taylor (knee)
Doubts: De Jong (ankle,) Ben Arfa (hip,) Sissoko (hamstring)

  • Newcastle are one of two Premier League teams with more injuries than Arsenal right now, according to the Web site Physio Room; the other, fortunately for the Gunners, is Everton.
  • Newcastle's list of eight injured players does not include Loic Remy, who returned from the bench last weekend after missing a month and a half with a calf injury. Mathieu Debuchy is likely returning from a groin injury himself.
  • The Magpies will, however, be without Ryan Taylor, Gabriel Obertan, Sammy Ameobi, Davide Santon, and Papiss Demba Cisse.
  • Luuk de Jong, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Moussa Sissoko are all doubtful, as well.
Predicted XI: Krul, Dummett, Williamson, Coloccini, Debuchy, Anita, Tiote, Gouffran, Gosling, Remy, Shola Ameobi.

Current Form
  • Arsenal have rebounded nicely from the terror of DEATHRUNs 1 and 2; they have won three straight if you include the penalty shootout over Wigan.
  • The 3-0 win over Hull marked Arsenal's second straight win in the league; astonishingly, they had not done that since the middle of January.
  • Through all of Arsenal's difficulties this calendar year, something that has not wavered is their record at home in the Premier League. The Gunners are unbeaten in 16 league games at the Emirates since the season opening loss to Aston Villa.
  • Arsenal's five draws at the Emirates mean their home record is only fifth best in the league, however. You might be astonished to find that their road record is third.
  • Newcastle, on the other hand, have been struggling for form lately and have lost five straight in the league and five of their last six on the road.
  • The Magpies had gone 383 minutes without scoring before Shola Ameobi gave Newcastle a 1-0 lead against Swansea last weekend, against the run of play. The Swans went on to win 2-1 thanks to a Wilfried Bony brace, scoring the winner from the penalty spot in injury time.
Match Facts
  • Arsenal have won four straight against Newcastle and have gone unbeaten in six against the Magpies dating back to a 1-0 loss at the Emirates in November of 2010. Andy Carroll had the goal in that match.
  • In the reverse fixture, just before New Year's, Arsenal held on to a 1-0 victory at St. James' Park, after Olivier Giroud scored from a set piece in the 65th minute, then Arsenal put on all of the defenders and hung on for dear life.
  • In this match last year, Theo Walcott had a hat trick and Giroud scored a brace from the bench, as a match that was 1-1 at halftime ended 7-3 to the Gunners.
  • Newcastle were recently one of only three Premier League teams that had beaten Arsenal more times than Arsenal had beaten them, though Arsenal's run of four straight wins means the Gunners now have a 69-66 advantage. The remaining two teams in the list are Liverpool and Manchester United.
The Referee
  • The referee is Lancashire-based Neil Swarbrick.
  • Arsenal have only seen Swarbrick once this year, for their 2-1 win at Aston Villa in January.
  • The Gunners had Swarbrick only once last season, their 0-0 draw with Everton at the Emirates, a match which Swarbrick lost control of early.
  • Newcastle have had Swarbrick three times this season, beating Crystal Palace but losing to Manchester City (in the League Cup) and Tottenham Hotspur.
  • Arsenal have three wins, no losses, and one draw all time with Swarbrick; Newcastle have four wins, three losses, and one draw.
Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Southampton v. Everton; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Fulham v. Hull City; Craven Cottage, London
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Aston Villa; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. West Ham United; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Manchester United v. Norwich City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Sunday (earliest): Sunderland v. Cardiff City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Sunday (early): Liverpool v. Chelsea; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Crystal Palace v. Manchester City; Selhurst Park, London

Hull City 0-3 Arsenal: Successful Dress Rehearsal

Much like Tuesday afternoon, Arsenal sputtered out of the blocks with a passionless display of inept passing and non-existent movement. Much like Tuesday afternoon, the Gunners recovered to roar back into the game and overwhelm inferior opponents with some class finishing by Der Hammer.

All in all, it was not a bad way to handle the dress rehearsal for the FA Cup Final on the 17th of May.

Before we start handing out yellow ribbons to our lovely Gooner lasses though, we had the small matter of this league fixture to deal with. The gloom of the last month was lifted some by the return of Mesut Ozil, playing alongside the now match-fit Aaron Ramsey (I have it on good authority that the two of them together are, and I quote, "like peanut butter and jelly").

Naturally, the German playmaking wizard took a while to find his sea legs having been out for so long. Personally, I would have been content for him to just have a quiet, average game and not get hurt again. Foreshadowing: He did a fair bit more than that before the 90 minutes were up.

The men in red struggled mightily in the beginning though, the home side starting well and dominating the first minutes of possession. I half-wonder if it hurt their cause that the advertising hoardings were windswept onto the field five minutes in. I'll tell you, it was some picture to see Santi Cazorla dragging one of them along, especially since it looked twice his size.

Once the home lot got that sorted out, they continued their bombardment of Wojciech Szczesny's net. He did well to claim several crosses, and also ventured well out of his net to sweep up on one occasion. Truth be told, he single-handedly kept us in it until the lads sorted themselves out.

There was a mild penalty shout on the occasion of our first trip into their penalty area, but frankly I think referee Jonathan Moss got it right by waving play on. However, soon after he missed a blatant elbow from one of their lot that sent one of Mikel Arteta's teeth flying. How he missed that, I have no idea...but don't fret, Gooners. His hair was still perfect.

The match picked up a bit after the opening quarter of an hour, with passes starting to find their targets and shots ending up actually on goal. Nikica Jelavic forced Szczesny into a full-extension fingertip save, while Lukas Podolski stung the palms of Steve Harper from distance. 

Hull were still on top though, until Arsenal somehow fashioned a goal utterly against the run of play. Ozil played in Cazorla, who spotted the excellent run of Ramsey. The Welshman's finish was excellent, though Harper may have wanted that one back, having tipped his dive a bit early. That's their problem, was 1-0 to the Arsenal and we couldn't have been more relieved.

How it might have played on Gunner minds though had Nearest and Dearest loanee Jake Livermore's long-range tracer been placed two inches to the right, inside the post instead of off it and out to safety. Instead, the visitors were two goals to the good right before halftime, but unfortunately all you will hear about is the controversial start of it rather than the gorgeous build-up play that created the chance. Again, may I remind you of the elbow that lost Arteta a tooth, which went completely uncalled?

Anyway, Arteta won the ball off of Jelavic, who I thought went down a bit easy. Like last week, Giroud ranged out onto a wing to devastating effect, albeit the right wing this time. Giroud hooked in a beautiful cross to the onrushing Ramsey, who chested it into the path of Podolski. You give Poldi time and space in an area like that, and he will make you pay 9 times out of 10. Sure enough, Harper didn't bother to dive as the German's low shot fizzed into the bottom corner. 2-0 to the Arsenal, and we were largely home and dry at that point.

The home side huffed and puffed a bit after the interval, but the points were wrapped up soon after. Arsenal poured forward with uncharacteristic pace, and Cazorla played in Ramsey with a precision through-ball. Harper did exceptionally well to block with his trailing foot, but the rebound came out to a wide-open Podolski. How the Tigers left him so badly unmarked, I have no idea. He could barely miss though, and placed his shot in the worst possible place for Harper to save, close enough to his body to prevent a dive, but not right at him.

It was largely over at that point, but there were still a fair few noteworthy incidents. Ozil made it through his 60 minutes unfazed, coming off for Mathieu Flamini. Flamini, for his part, somehow avoided getting booked in his half-hour on the pitch. Meanwhile, Giroud almost got his second in two games (which I was about to say would have shut the haters up a bit, but there I go assuming logic and reason where there is none) after Harper dallied on a backpass, but the HFB could only smash a shot against the crossbar.

Eventually, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for Giroud, and made a right nuisance of himself to the Hull defense. I imagine he might be worth a start in the big showpiece occasion itself, if he's fit. They barely had an answer for him, and a different (competent) referee may have awarded a penalty late on when he got bundled over in the area. Oh, and Yaya Sanogo made a cameo as well, but all he managed was a total whiff on the one shot he took. Ah well, can't win them all.

Sadly, the David Moyes Comedy Hour continued today, United weakly capitulating at Goodison Park. Still, if we win our games remaining - and given that it is Newcastle (H), West Brom (H), Norwich (A) we bloody well should - it won't matter what they do from now until the end of the season. Our destiny is well and truly in our own hands, and that is a wonderful place to be. 

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Monreal 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Arteta 8, Ramsey 8, Podolski 8 (Sanogo N/A), Ozil 8 (Flamini 7), Cazorla 8, Giroud 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 8)

Man of the Match: Szczesny kept us in it early doors, Arteta was fantastic in the middle of the park breaking up attacks, but I think it has to be Der Hammer, Lukas Podolski.

Preview by Numbers: Hull City v. Arsenal

KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
Sunday, April 20
9:05 a.m. EDT, 14:05 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Jonathan Moss
    • Assistants: Simon Long and John Flynn
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 0 Hull City
  • This Match, Last Time: Hull City 1 - 2 Arsenal (March 13, 2010)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 11 Arsenal wins, 3 Hull City wins, 3 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-D-D-L-W
  • Hull City's League Form: L-L-W-L-L-W
  • Weather: Cloudy, 11 C / 52 F
  • Over/Under on Mentions of this Being FA Cup Final Preview During Broadcast:
  • Arsenal's Odds of Finishing Top Four Entering Weekend: 73.3%
Advantage: Arsenal.

Thanks to Crystal Palace's 3-2 win at Goodison Park on Wednesday night, Arsenal control their own destiny for fourth place once more. Win all four remaining league games and Arsenal can finish no worse than fourth place. In addition, Arsenal gained some ground on Everton in the first potential tiebreaker; Everton's goal difference advantage has been trimmed from six to three.

Again, both teams still have to play Hull City away. Arsenal's other three matches are against Newcastle, West Brom, and Norwich. Everton's other three matches are against Southampton, Manchester United, and Manchester City. But, as Palace proved this week, no result is guaranteed.

It's time to bear down and focus. Arsenal, after a miserable winter, are in control of their European destiny once again. Beat Newcastle, West Brom, Norwich, and Hull twice, and Arsenal will look back on this season as a step forward from last year (fourth again but with silverware in tow.)

12 more points and a trophy on the table. Let's go for it.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gibbs (ankle?,) Wilshere (foot,) Walcott (knee,) Ryo (ankle,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Ozil (hamstring,) Monreal (dead leg,) Gnabry (knee)
  • First, the good news, as Mesut Ozil faces a fitness test to potentially return from the Grade 2 hamstring strain that has kept him out of action since March 11.
  • The bad news is that Kieran Gibbs is out and Nacho Monreal faces a fitness test meaning Arsenal could be, again, without a natural left back. On the other hand, Thomas Vermaelen filled the role admirably against West Ham midweek and I'd almost feel safer with the Belgian playing out of position than with the Spaniard playing there at all.
  • Precious few details on everyone else: Serge Gnabry's availability for the bench is still a doubt as he recovers from a knee problem, while Arsenal will still be without Jack Wilshere. Abou Diaby's season is probably over (surprise!) even as he returns to running. Theo Walcott and Ryo also remain done for this campaign.
  • Mathieu Flamini returns from his two match suspension, which should alleviate some of the weight on Mikel Arteta's tired legs. Aaron Ramsey should be available to start again and Kim Kallstrom was decent on Tuesday in that position as well.
  • My prediction that will be totally wrong? Arteta gets a rest, Kallstrom starts with Flamini, and Ramsey plays a more advanced forward role in the midfield. Alternatively, Tomas Rosicky could start in the advanced role again, leaving Kallstrom on the bench.
Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Flamini, Kallstrom, Ramsey, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud.

Hull City Squad News

Out: McShane (ankle,) Brady (groin,) McGregor (rib/kidney)
  • Hull will welcome forwards Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic back into their XI this week after being unable to use them at Wembley; both are cup tied and thus not eligible for the final in May. With both back in the picture, Steve Bruce's side will likely line-up in a 4-4-2.
  • The Tigers are without defender Paul McShane with ankle ligament damage, midfielder Robbie Brady with a groin strain, and goalkeeper Allan McGregor, whose broken rib damaged his kidney. All three are out for the season.
Predicted XI: Harper, Rosenior, Chester, Davies, Figueroa, Livermore, Huddlestone, Elmohamady, Meyler, Jelavic, Long.

Current Form
  • Well, this section should make for a little better reading after Arsenal snapped their four match + penalty shootout winless streak with their 3-1 win over West Ham on Tuesday.
  • When Lukas Podolski scored his second, he put Arsenal ahead by two goals in a match for the first time since the FA Cup win over Everton on March 8. It was their first two goal lead in a league match since the 4-1 win over Sunderland on February 22; they had gone six league matches without holding a two goal lead, winning just the one over Spurs during that span.
  • For the fourth straight time in meetings between the clubs, West Ham had taken the lead over Arsenal only for the Gunners to come back and take all three points. Arsenal have rescued all three points from a losing position just twice this season, both coming against West Ham.
  • The Gunners have just 10 points from matches where they have conceded first (they also have draws against West Brom, Southampton, Swansea, and City.) On the other hand, they have 55 points from matches where they've scored first. That adds up to 65 points, with Arsenal's other two coming from 0-0 draws. Unfortunately, Arsenal have conceded first in five straight league games and six straight across all competitions.
  • So, for those counting along at home, Arsenal have 18 wins, one loss, and one draw when scoring first and two wins, six losses, and four draws when conceding first, with two 0-0's for good measure.
  • Meanwhile, Hull City have been floating around comfortably mid-table (or rather, consistently among the highest in the table of teams near the relegation conversation) all season. They reached a high point of 7th in late September and have never fallen worse than 14th since.
  • However, that 14th place position was achieved just three weeks ago after a loss to Stoke. They rebounded with a win over Swansea to climb back to 12th, but have fallen back to 13th after playing in the FA Cup last weekend. Their match that would have been last week, against Manchester United, will be played Tuesday, May 6.
  • The Tigers have 36 points, leaving them six points clear of 17th-place Fulham with a game in hand. Conventional wisdom says that 40 points should be safe, so Hull need a win and a draw from their final five league fixtures to reach that mark.
  • Hull have a record of four wins in 14 league matches in the calendar year 2014, against Sunderland, Cardiff, West Brom, and Swansea. They have, of course, at the same time progressed to the FA Cup Final, though their quarterfinal win over last-place Sunderland was their only cup tie against a Premier League level opponent.
Match Facts
  • After Phil Brown-led Hull City shocked Arsenal 2-1 at the Emirates in September of 2008 in their first season after promotion to the Premier League, the Gunners have won five straight against the Tigers, though they have not always been easy.
  • The reverse fixtures earlier this season saw Nicklas Bendtner get a surprise start, and even more surprisingly, he opened the scoring in the second minute after a cross from Carl Jenkinson. Mesut Ozil added a second in the 47th minute for a 2-0 Arsenal victory.
  • Bendtner was the hero the last time Arsenal played at the KC Stadium, scoring in the 90th minute after Boaz Myhill could only parry a Denilson shot, to give Arsenal a 2-1 victory that kept their title hopes alive. Brown was sacked the following Monday, while Arsenal's title hopes were effectively dashed by Birmingham City with a late equalizer at St. Andrew's two weeks later.
  • I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the time Phil Brown's assistant Brian Horton accused Cesc Fabregas of spitting at him before an FA Cup tie in 2009, which Arsenal won 2-1. The FA later concluded that no such thing had happened.
  • The meeting between these sides in December of 2009 at the Emirates featured a 21-man fight which started when Samir Nasri stamped on Richard Garcia; both clubs were fined for failing to control their players, but Nasri was not retroactively banned. Arsenal won the match 3-0.
The Referee
  • The referee is West Yorkshire-based Jonathan Moss.
  • Arsenal have seen Moss twice this season, with two 2-0 home victories, against Cardiff City and Crystal Palace.
  • Moss also worked the second game of the Emirates Cup in August, in which he gave Galatasaray a controversial and dubious penalty to turn the tide of the match.
  • Arsenal have had Moss in six league matches prior to this week; the Gunners have won all six. The previous four were all road victories, over Aston Villa, Wigan Athletic, Swansea City, and Queens Park Rangers.
  • Hull City have had Moss as their referee on three occasions this season, losing 2-0 at Chelsea, drawing 1-1 at West Brom, and losing to Spurs on penalties in the League Cup.
  • In prior seasons, in the Championship, Hull have a record of one win and two draws with Moss in the middle.
Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Fulham; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Southampton; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Cardiff City v. Stoke City; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Swansea City; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Crystal Palace; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday (late): Chelsea v. Sunderland; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (very early): Norwich City v. Liverpool; Carrow Road Norwich
  • Sunday (late): Everton v. Manchester United; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Monday (night): Manchester City v. West Bromwich Albion; Etihad Stadium, Manchester

Arsenal 3-1 West Ham: Stirring Second Half Performance

Well, I suppose in retrospect you can sympathize for the first-half showing put on by the men in red and white. Two days ago, they struggled for 120 minutes against game opposition before finally winning on penalties. Today, it was back to the drudgery of the league, and the now-annual Fourth Place Trophy chase.

There were changes to the lineup that knocked out the FA Cup holders 48 short hours ago, as you might expect. Wojciech Szczesny, Kim Kallstrom and Tomas Rosicky were handed starts, with Thomas Vermaelen slotting into the left back slot left vacated by Gaping Chest Wound Nacho Monreal.

Perhaps the changes - along with the tired legs of those that remained - contributed to the lack of fluency that Arsenal showed going forward. Indeed, it was only Kallstrom (who hasn't had the "forward" trained out of him yet) that drove us in the early going - always looking for a positive pass, good energy and tracked back well also. The Swede ended up giving us a solid performance on his first start for the club. It was Yossi Benayoun-esque, which is meant as a compliment.

West Ham soaked up the early pressure though, and eventually made the odd sortie out of their half. Oddly, Vermaelen was among those who did impressively well to keep them at bay, alongside the more typical excellence of Per Mertesacker. The Arsenal, on the other hand, played well enough through the midfield but were guilty of timidness on that one final ball. Most were either under or over-hit, the worst culprits being Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla. It was all sort of encouraging in its own way, though.

Less encouraging was Olivier Giroud badly fluffing his lines when put through clean on goal around the half-hour mark. Cazorla's pass was a shade behind him, but the Frenchman surely could have done better than an odd "flick-this-thing-off-my-shoe" motion with his off foot. Adrian palmed it out at full stretch, but it was going so slow that the Spaniard likely made a bit of a meal of that one (and keep in mind that as a goalkeeper myself, I NEVER say that and typically find it offensive gobshitery from people who know the position in the same way that I know the detailed history of Outer Mongolia).

How important that miss looked when the Hammers snatched the lead soon after. Guy Demel played in Antonio Nocerino, whose shot was parried by Szczesny. Laurent Koscielny, just back from injury in fairness, was badly beaten to the rebound by Matt Jarvis. It might be an exaggeration, but this felt like the 10,000th in a series of goals that looked just like this one conceded to shit teams. It gets maddening after a while.

Kallstrom came right back with a tracer straight at Adrian, but it still looked like Arsenal would head into the interval with a demoralizing deficit. Cometh the hour, cometh Der Hammer though. West Ham went to sleep a bit, and this time Cazorla's through-ball was on the money. Podolski looked up and slid the ball into the far corner. It was a hell of a finish, but I suspect that Adrian got his angle slightly wrong there (he also might have had a shot if he had went for the dive instead of the leg save).

The visitors rebounded well in the early stages of the second half, only to come unstuck from (of all things) a bit of Route One football from the Gunners. A corner kick was cleared almost to the halfway line, where Vermaelen was waiting. He hooked a high, arcing ball back into the mixer. The Hammers defense and Adrian both looked like they thought the other was going to get it. Instead, Giroud came in, muscled his man off the ball in an excellent show of strength, and nutmegged the static Adrian. It was wonderful skill from the HFB, but Adrian was an absolute clown on that one. First, he probably should have come out for it in the first place. Second, Giroud had nowhere else to put that ball - you CAN'T get nutmegged there.

You know what, though? That's the Walrus' problem.

Anyway, the visitors were reeling now. Arsene, in turn, made what I thought was a brilliant substitution. The game but largely ineffective Rosicky came off, replaced by Aaron Ramsey. Any thought West Ham may have had of pouring forward for the equalizer was immediately superseded by having to deal with the new and serious threat heading towards their penalty area. For a guy who is two seconds back from a long injury, Ramsey was absolutely awesome.

The move paid immediate dividends, giving the points to Arsenal and giving Everton something to think about against an all-of-a-sudden feisty Crystal Palace side tomorrow. Giroud ranged out to the left, dragging that side of the defense with him. He put in a cross that was a bit behind Ramsey, but the Welshman brilliantly managed to track back and guide a through-header (yes, you read that right) into the path of the onrushing Podolski. Der Hammer struck again, Adrian lucky enough to not get his hands in front of the shot. He'd be taking them home in a shopping bag otherwise. What a hit, and what a relief to have the points firmly in our possession.

The rest of the match was just playing out time, the visitors a well-beaten side. There are five more must-win matches left in the season, counting the FA Cup. If nothing else, this was a badly-needed reminder that this side is capable of doing exactly that.

Your move, Toffees.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Vermaelen 8, Mertesacker 8, Koscielny 6, Sagna 8, Arteta 7, Kallstrom 8, Podolski 9, Rosicky 6 (Ramsey 8), Cazorla 8 (Jenkinson N/A), Giroud 8

Man of the Match: You can make an argument for Cazorla's excellence in the second half, or even Ramsey's cameo after coming on for the last 20 minutes. For me, though, Lukas Podolski takes the honors. How important was that goal right on the stroke of halftime for our season, let alone this match?

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. West Ham United

Emirates Stadium, London
Tuesday, April 15
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: Harry Lennard and Matthew Wilkes
    • 4th Officials: Chris Foy
  • Reverse Fixture: West Ham 1 - 3 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 5 - 1 West Ham
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 57 Arsenal wins, 33 West Ham wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-L-D-D-L
  • West Ham's League Form: L-L-L-W-W-L
  • Weather: Clear, 12 C / 53 F
With Arsenal having just played the little matter of an FA Cup Semi-Final just three days ago, not only will the players likely be a little less than rested, but this preview will be as well, meaning that due to a lack of time, it'll be another quick post, with the essentials honed down to bullet points.

It's time to put the FA Cup aside, tortuously thrilling as the victory may have been, and get back to basics. It's advantage Everton in the battle for fourth place; Sports Club Stats clocks them in at 57.2% odds to finish fourth, leaving Arsenal at 42.2%, based on over 842 million weighted simulations, most of which are done using small figurines, I believe.

In terms of remaining fixtures, both clubs will face 13th place Hull City away in their final five matches. Arsenal will also play 9th place Newcastle, 11th place West Ham, and 16th place West Brom at home, plus 17th place Norwich on the road. Everton have 3rd place Manchester City, 7th place Manchester United, and 12th place (!) Crystal Palace at home (this match is tomorrow,) plus 8th place Southampton on the road.

Everton have a two point lead and a +6 advantage on goal difference. Their schedule certainly looks more difficult on paper, but Arsenal will be facing more teams fighting against relegation than the Toffees. It's a big job to be done, but there are still 15 points up for grabs.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ozil (hamstring,) Wilshere (foot,) Walcott (knee,) Ryo (ankle,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Ramsey (muscle,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Monreal (dead leg,) Podolski (leg,) Rosicky (hip,) Gnabry (knee,) Koscielny (calf)
Suspended: Flamini (second of two, accumulation)
  • There is a chance that Laurent Koscielny (calf) may start for the first time since the loss to Chelsea, after he departed that debacle at halftime. He faces a late fitness test. It would be the first time Arsenal had all four of its first choice defenders playing at the same time since Kieran Gibbs was sent off for confusing Andre Marriner.
  • Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked knackered after extra time on Saturday; perhaps Kim Kallstrom gets his first Arsenal start here to give somebody a much needed rest, as Mathieu Flamini serves the second match of a two match ban.
  • Lukas Podolski also apparently had a "little muscle problem" but Arsene Wenger expects him to be all right.
Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Kallstrom, Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud.

West Ham Squad News

Out: McCartney (hamstring,) Borriello (calf)
Doubts: Nolan (hamstring,) O'Brien (shoulder,) Collins (calf)
  • Captain Kevin Nolan faces a late fitness test with a hamstring injury.
  • Joey O'Brien is a doubt; he's just returned to training from a dislocated shoulder. Meanwhile, James Collins also faces a late fitness test.
  • George McCartney and Marco Borriello are definitely out for the Hammers.
  • West Ham have not played since Sunday, April 6, meaning they have had eight days of rest.
Predicted XI: Adrian, Demel, Tomkins, Reid, Armero, Noble, Taylor, Diame, Downing, Jarvis, Carroll.

Current Form
  • As I had to remind many of you back in September when Arsenal dispatched West Brom from the League Cup on penalties, winning such a shootout counts not as a win but as a draw for the sake of discussing form.
  • As such, Arsenal have now gone five matches without a regulation victory across all competitions. Arsenal's last streak of this length came in March-April of 2011, in the aftermath of losing the Carling Cup Final to Birmingham City, but after beating Leyton Orient in an FA Cup replay. Arsenal ended that season with two wins from their final 13 matches.
  • West Ham sat in 18th place, even after a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge, on January 29. They rattled off four wins after that to rise to 10th and still sit in 11th, despite losing four of their last six.
  • The Hammers have kept 13 clean sheets in 33 league matches this season, though have gone seven league games without a shutout.
Match Facts
  • Arsenal have won their last seven matches against West Ham, across all competitions, dating back to a 2-2 draw in October of 2009 during which I got drenched in beer by West Ham fans celebrating their equalizer; Arsenal had led 2-0. That game sucked.
  • Arsenal came from behind to win the reverse fixture, 3-1, on Boxing Day. It remains the only time Arsenal have come from behind to win a league game this season. Lukas Podolski returned from a hamstring injury from the bench to ignite the Gunners; the German scored and Theo Walcott netted a brace after Carlton Cole gave West Ham the lead in the 46th.
  • The Gunners scored three goals in 10 minutes in this fixture last year, one in which they also came from 1-0 down to win. Olivier Giroud had a brace, while Podolski, Walcott, and Santi Cazorla also scored in a 5-1 Arsenal victory.
  • Arsenal have not only won their last seven against West Ham, but they are also unbeaten in 12 against the Hammers. West Ham's last win against Arsenal marked the first time a visiting team won at the Emirates Stadium; Bobby Zamora scored just before halftime and West Ham held on to win 1-0 in April of 2007.
The Referee
  • The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend.
  • Arsenal have not had Friend as referee this season.
  • Arsenal have a record of three wins (3-0 over Wigan,  6-1 over Southampton, and 7-5 over Reading in the League Cup) and two draws (1-1 with Leyton Orient in the 2011 FA Cup and 2-2 with Liverpool last January) all-time with Friend in the middle.
  • Kevin Friend has taken charge of one West Ham match this season, their 1-0 loss to Hull in September that was decided by a controversial penalty.
Around the League
  • Wednesday: Everton v. Crystal Palace; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Wednesday: Manchester City v. Sunderland; Etihad Stadium, Manchester

Arsenal 1-1 Wigan Athletic (4-2 PKs): We're the Famous Arsenal and We're Going to Wembley (Again) !

(Sorry for the delay, folks. This weekend got away from me!)

Eight minutes.

That is how far away we were from the precipice of another lost season. That is how fine the margins are at the highest levels of the game. That is how close we were to confirming that our trophy drought would reach double-digit years. Instead, as I write this, we have a date with Hull City at Wembley on May 17 to put paid to those demons once and for all.

But, man, did it look like we weren't going to get there for long stretches of the game. Despite my overly-breezy 4-1 pre-match prediction, Wigan were compact and fought their asses off. You could see how they dispatched the oil-rich might of Manchester City in last season's final and this term's quarterfinal.

As for us, Arsene sprung a few surprises in the starting XI. We knew that Lukasz Fabianski would continue as the cup keeper, but of the two shockers I don't know what scared me more - Yaya Sanogo preferred up front to the clearly knackered Olivier Giroud, or Nacho Monreal continuing at left back despite Kieran Gibbs passing a late fitness test.

The key man for us was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, though. We have sorely lacked pace and directness for much of this season, a failing which would plague us for much of the day as well. The Ox, on the other hand, tormented the Latics from the opening whistle. Five minutes in, he rampaged down the right and sent in a brilliant cross. Unfortunately, it was Sanogo on the end of it - the raw rookie only able to head tamely at Athletic keeper Scott Carson.

How important a goal would have been there. Instead, Wigan hauled themselves back into the match and soon were comfortable in defense. As soon as that happened, we were right back to the usual - tippy-tappy around the penalty area in slow motion without ever looking like finding a way through. You can set your bloody watch to it. The rare times we ever looked like threatening, we ended up with things like Sanogo getting the ball tangled up in his feet like he was a newborn foal. I don't mean to keep bagging on him - he tries hard and all. I just find it ridiculous that we're in the position where had to play a game of this magnitude.

Now it's going to seem like I'm piling on, but at the stroke of halftime we again could have taken the lead had we had a legitimate top-level striker on the end of a chance. The otherwise-anonymous Lukas Podolski galloped down the left and played a perfect defense-splitting pass. Sanogo ran onto it well, but his first touch sent it miles ahead of him, and Carson was able to clean up.

The second half began much as the first did, Arsenal listlessly "attacking" but never in a manner that threatened the holders. Then, out of nowhere, Wigan were ahead thanks to the gaping chest wound in our defense. A nothing play down our left saw the tissue-paper soft Monreal give away the ball and then go down injured. To be fair to our opponents, they took advantage as Callum McManaman stormed into our penalty area. Per Mertesacker was forced into a desperate sliding challenge, got the timing wrong, and ended up scything the man down. It was a clear penalty, which Jordi Gomez easily struck past Fabianski.

There will be those who blame the BFG for that, but that was Monreal's fault all the way. He's absolutely horrendous, and I will keep beating that drum as long as he plays for us. Anyway, Gibbs came on for him and the Latics barely ever threatened again. I decline to believe that this is a coincidence.

Anyway, once again, the offensive subs were belated in arriving, but then again, there wasn't much on the bench that could help. I mean, really, Thomas Eisfeld on the bench in a FA Cup Semifinal? Are you serious? Giroud was the only option, and it wasn't the green-as-grass Sanogo who came off, but Podolski. It's true that he hadn't done much, but come on! Wigan were not interested in attacking, and Sanogo was offering nothing. It was the latest in the string of bizarre substitutions from the manager.

Still, just having two strikers (if we're being fair, it was actually something of a Plan B for once) saw us immediately look more dangerous. The Ox tested Carson from range, Sagna hit the post off a header, and Gibbs forced the keeper into a brilliant save. Wigan were reeling, and sure enough it wasn't too long before Arsenal had the equalizer. Off a corner, the ball came out to the Ox, who sent it back in. Who was there to turn it in? None other than the man who conceded the penalty, the Big Fucking German, Per Mertesacker. The pub went absolutely berserk. I can't say I remember the goal itself, but I do remember the jumping screaming pogoing madness. Incredible scenes.

The Arsenal couldn't find that one game-winning moment to end it in normal time, meaning an already-exhausted and injury-plagued lot now had to play 30 more minutes. It showed, too, as both sides barely created anything in the extra period. As it reached the end of that time though, either side could of won it. Bacary Sagna had to be alert to cover for Fabianski when we went walkabout well off his line (the one mistake the Pole made all day), while the Ox hit a thunderbolt that caromed off the angle between post and crossbar. That was three posts hit on the day - rotten luck, really.

So, penalties.

While I loathe them as a way to decide a tie of this magnitude, I also fully understand that you can't have a million replays these days, either. Speaking of, yet more fixtures would be the last thing this Arsenal side need anyway.

Wigan went first, former Celtic man Gary Caldwell taking it. Though a central defender, he's no mug at spot-kicks - he took quite a few important ones for the Bhoys in Champions League games and all that. But, Fabianski guessed right and firmly parried away. Advantage, Arsenal.

Our normal PK taker, Mikel Arteta, sent Carson the wrong way. A lovely start, but one that got even better when Jack Collison's tame effort was easily beaten away by Fabianski.

The next one was huge - score this, it's 2-0 and Wigan have it all to do. Carson did everything he could to put off Kim Kallstrom, hopping around the goal line like a loon. It didn't matter. The Swede went right down the middle, Carson having already begun his dive.

Three penalty saves would probably have been too much to hope for, as Jean Beausejour and Olivier Giroud traded successful spot kicks. Say what you will about the HFB, but he took his penalty with aplomb. James McArthur took their fourth, and also buried it. You know, I just realized, but isn't it odd that Gomez - the guy who took the penalty in the actual game - never took one in the shootout? Maybe he was the designated 5th, but even so I think the strategy always has to be to put your best shooters out first, get points on the board, and hope the other side misses.

Anyway, it was Santi Cazorla to take the fourth. If he scored, we won. Like Kallstrom, he sent it down the middle, Carson dove out of the way, and our place was secure in the final.

Needless to say, it wasn't pretty and it damn sure wasn't enjoyable for long stretches. But, we're there, and that's all that matters. Now let's kick on, get 4th place, and hopefully send the boss into retirement with the FA Cup in his possession to go with his magic hat.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 8, Monreal 4 (Gibbs 7), Vermaelen 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 8, Arteta 7, Ramsey 7, Podolski 6 (Giroud 7), Cazorla 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Kallstrom 7), Sanogo 5

Man of the Match: Ox has a huge argument, but for me it has to be the penalty savior, Lukasz Fabianski. He surely has to play in the final. 

Preview by Numbers: Wigan Athletic v. Arsenal, FA Cup Semi-Final

Wembley Stadium, London
Saturday, April 12
12:07 p.m. EDT, 17:07 BST

  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Darren England
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 15 Arsenal wins, 3 Wigan wins, 2 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: First meeting
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Tottenham Hotspur, 2-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Coventry City, 4-0
    • Fifth Round: Beat Liverpool, 2-1
    • Sixth Round: Beat Everton, 4-1
  • Wigan's Path Here
    • Third Round: Drew MK Dons, 3-3; won replay 3-1 after extra time
    • Fourth Round: Beat Crystal Palace, 2-1
    • Fifth Round: Beat Cardiff City, 2-1
    • Sixth Round: Beat Manchester City, 2-1
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: L-W-L-D-D-L
  • Wigan's Championship Form: W-L-D-D-W-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 13 C / 55 F
During the course of this week, I've mulled over a wide swath of options regarding what I could write in the opening section; ultimately, in light of all the negativity out there, I've decided it's best to keep in short and sweet:

Everything that has happened is in the past. Arsenal Football Club is 90 minutes away from a Cup Final. The boys deserve your undivided support for each and every one of those minutes. Forget what you think about the manager, or specific players, or the board, or anything.

90 minutes. Support the players. Wear your yellow ribbons. Come on you Gunners.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (calf,) Ozil (hamstring,) Wilshere (foot,) Walcott (knee,) Ryo (ankle,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Rosicky (thigh,) Gibbs (ankle)
Suspended: Flamini (first of two, accumulation)

Hey, so, that's 10 first team players out. Let's get on with this, then:

Three players are doubts and face late fitness tests: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with a groin problem, Tomas Rosicky with a thigh problem, and Kieran Gibbs with an ankle problem. The latter is particularly a concern because Nacho Monreal is only just barely recovered from a foot injury that has sidelined him much of this spring. Considering Aaron Ramsey is now available to start, losing the Ox and Rosicky shouldn't be that bad, but combining it with Mathieu Flamini's accumulation ban makes everything a little more uncomfortable.

As for those definitely out, Laurent Koscielny will be back, at the earliest, midweek against West Ham and Mesut Ozil will be back, at the earliest, next Saturday against Hull. Jack Wilshere has not yet returned to running and it's as you were with the rest of the list.

So, who will start? Lukasz Fabianski in goal, that's for sure. Without Koscielny and Gibbs, it would be the same back four as started against Everton last weekend, which may or may not be good, depending on whether your glass is half-full or half-empty. Aaron Ramsey is being penciled in to start, especially with Flamini banned. As for the forward four, that's where things get tricky, because it depends on who among the Ox, Rosicky, and even Serge Gnabry, who has had a knock recently, passes fit.

Up top, the question is, do you go with Olivier Giroud or Yaya Sanogo? The latter has gotten the nod in FA Cup ties and with Giroud woefully out of form, it would not be totally surprising to see the younger Frenchman get the start.

Predicted XI: Fabianski, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, Gnabry, Podolski, Sanogo

Wigan Squad News

Out: Watson (broken leg,) McCann (knee)

Ben Watson, who scored the FA Cup winning goal last season in the final against Manchester City, is out for the season after breaking his tibia and fibula against Barnsley in February. Chris McCann is also out for the season after suffering a multiple kneecap fracture in the win over City in March.

Wigan will likely line-up in a conservative formation, as they did at the Etihad last month. Manager Uwe Rosler has said he's hoping to learn some lessons from the way former Wigan manager Roberto Martinez defeated Arsenal last weekend. With respect to their mentality, Rosler said, "there is a little bit of unrest [with Arsenal], expectation is sky high and the longer we are in the tie the more difficult it will be for Arsenal."

Ali Al-Habsi is a known quantity in goal for the Latics, from an Arsenal perspective. Wigan are more than capable of playing five along the backline, as they did for their recent win over Leeds. Jean Beausejour, the Chilean international, is available after serving an accumulation suspension, so he might be in line for a start. Beausejour came off the bench for Birmingham City the last time Arsenal played at Wembley Stadium...

Predicted XI: Al-Habsi, Perch, Boyce, Ramis, Barnett, Beausejour, McManaman, McArthur, McEachran, McGomez, McPowell

Current Form

Cup ties are often considered the kind of fixtures where "form goes out the window," but when your recent poor form is as much psychological as it is physical, it's hard to imagine Arsenal can just forget about how bad their results have been lately. Arsenal have gone four without a win for the second time this season; during the first such streak, they played three of the same opponents as during this current streak (Chelsea, Manchester City, and Everton.) Following that December "blip," as we called it then because Arsenal were still top of the league, Arsenal responded by winning seven on the bounce. They'll very likely have to do the same, or similar, now to have this season end positively.

As for a recap of Wigan's season, they are currently fifth in the Championship, six points clear of seventh place Brighton for a play-off spot with five league matches to play. Wigan were as low as 14th place on New Year's Day, but have since then, they have won 15 out of 24 matches across all competitions to salvage their season. Their 2-1 win over Manchester City in the sixth round came as part of eight match winning streak, which was snapped by Yeovil Town. The Latics have won just once in their last five games, which came last weekend against Leeds. They lost to Millwall in midweek (after resting eight starters,) but had previously lost to QPR and drawn Bolton and top of the table Leicester before the win over Leeds. While nothing should be taken away from Wigan for winning at the Etihad to advance to Wembley, Wigan's other FA Cup victories came over the likes of League One MK Dons and Premier League relegation threatened Crystal Palace and Cardiff City.

Match Facts

Arsenal know about Wigan's potential for late season magic just as much as Manchester City knows about their potential for FA Cup magic. Wigan have twice beaten Arsenal in mid-April in league fixtures while battling against relegation, first in 2010 when they scored three goals after the 80th minute to win 3-2 and again in 2012 when they scored twice in 94 seconds within the first eight minutes to win 2-1.

Arsenal beat Wigan in both league fixtures last year, relegating the Latics just days after their FA Cup Final victory. Arsenal won 1-0 on the strength of a dodgy penalty call at the DW Stadium shortly before Christmas, then won 4-1 at the Emirates in the season's penultimate game, with Lukas Podolski scoring twice.

These two sides have never met in the FA Cup, though they have met in the League Cup on three occasions: Wigan won the first, the two-legged semi-final in January of 2006, on away goals in the 119th minute; Arsenal won earlier round cup ties against Wigan in 2008 and 2010.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal have seen Oliver three times this season, all for "big" matches, and have a record of one win (1-0 over Spurs in September) and two losses (1-0 at Old Trafford and 5-1 at Anfield.) Oliver has not worked a Wigan match yet this season; the Latics had a record of two wins in three matches with Oliver last year, including their FA Cup Semi-Final win against Millwall. Both of Wigan's wins with Oliver in the middle last year came in the FA Cup, though both were against Championship opponents (which is, of course, where Wigan is now); in addition to the Semi-Final win over Millwall, Wigan had beaten Middlesbrough in the fifth round with Oliver as the referee.

Oliver has risen through the ranks of Select Group officials rather quickly (he just turned 29 in February) and he has remarkably seemed not out of his depth at all this season.

Logic seems to dictate that it will be Mark Clattenburg to referee the final on May 18; you may not know this, but English referees may only take charge of one FA Cup Final in their career (it is considered the highest possible domestic honor,) which means it cannot be Mike Dean, Howard Webb, Chris Foy, Martin Atkinson, Phil Dowd, or Andre Marriner, all of whom has had their finals already.

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

Everton 3-0 Arsenal: No Surprises Here

 Photo: Getty Images

I wish I could say that this result was a surprise to me. I really, really do. I wish I could say that I trusted this team and this manager to adequately prepare for a tough away match in a crunch situation, that they would go in with a lucid gameplan and with fire in their bellies.

For the fourth time out of four tricky away matches, nothing of the sort occurred.

There's almost no point in describing the match for you - it was another in a series of endless reruns, with a well-drilled home side allowing Arsenal to faff around with the ball in slow motion for a while, before ruthlessly breaking on the counter with pace and purpose. Go back and watch the highlights again. Arsenal kind of hoped they'd score at some point, where Everton NEEDED to score. The difference in desire and urgency was clear.

Leon Osman fired the first warning shot just two minutes in, beating his man to a throw-in and immediately flashing a shot just wide of goal. Drive. Desire. Urgency.

There were a few moments just before their opener where we resembled a professional football side. Mathieu Flamini had a go from range, which the excellent Tim Howard got firmly behind. The keeper also did well to deal with a shoddy backpass, his slide tackle easily clearing it before the sluggish Olivier Giroud could get near it.

Then, they scored. The thing is, a back line can just about deal with the presence of a below-average player like Thomas Vermaelen (make no mistake, that is exactly what he is at this point). But, when there is a gaping chest wound like Nacho Monreal in the side, that is a disaster on its own. Throw in said below-average player - also on that side of the field, no less - and you have a catastrophe in the making.

Leighton Baines whipped in a cross towards Romelu Lukaku. I've seen the big Belgian in person (playing for his country at Croatia). The man is unplayable at the best of times, but when you have an out-of-form player like Vermaelen marking him, there is little surprise to the outcome. Lukaku easily brushed him off and got his shot away, which was brilliantly parried by the foot of Wojciech Szczesny. The rebound came out to Steven Naismith, who easily tapped it in. Why was it so easy? Because, of course, Monreal was utterly incapable of boxing him out.

Discussion point: I honestly believe that Monreal is a worse defender than Andre Santos ever was. He may not be the worst left back in the history of the club, but he is surely in the conversation.

Just like the other 10,000 times this has happened, absolutely nothing was changed. Everton continued to tear through the Arsenal defense at will - only some tame finishing from Ross Barkley (among others) kept it respectable. The passage of play at the 30' mark showed it all, Everton's inspired play as well as Arsenal's disorganization. Barkley surged past Flamini, who assumed that Bacary Sagna would bail him out. Szczesny saved the sharp-angle shot with his foot, and then bravely punched out the corner. Arsenal couldn't clear, as Kevin Mirallas easily evaded Santi Cazorla to force Szczesny into another strong save. Only a loose pass from Naismith allowed the danger to pass.

Needless to say, Everton only needed a few more minutes to double their lead from there. A strange deflection off a throw came in to Mirallas. He played a wonderful ball to Lukaku, who was in absolute acres down the right. Normally he is a traditional center-forward, but Roberto Martinez stationed him out there the whole game to take advantage of Monreal's execrable positioning. Lukaku easily turned him inside-out, then surged past the static Vermaelen (who looked utterly terrified of having to challenge him). That left him all the space he needed to fire an unstoppable shot past the stranded Szczesny.

The only surprise was that it took Everton until the hour mark to complete the rout. It was all more of the same before then - the visitors slowly fumbling around, incapable of taking advantage when Everton had some nervy moments in the back. No intelligent movement, terrible passes, and all of it moving through treacle.

Meanwhile, Everton's third was another example of pace, power and determination. Sagna had plenty of time to pick a pass out on the right, but held onto it too long and was closed down. Everton were immediately away through Mirallas, who cut into the center with no red shirts within twelve postal codes. Mertesacker had to shade right because Sagna was caught out, and Vermaelen was not smart enough to cut over (he should have shifted into that space, Monreal should have went to Naismith - at that point, the back post is the least of your concerns). Either way, Naismith eviscerated TV5, forcing Szczesny to come out. He got to hit first, but the rebound crazily went out to the left. Arteta was going to lose the footrace to it, so he had to try and slide-tackle it away. All he managed was to turn it into our own net, Vermaelen in the area but unable to react in time.

Seriously? We played like the 5th-best team in the division.

The rest of the match was a dirge, with the fantastic away support grimly watching on as the Merseysiders ole-ing with glee as their men held onto the ball for ages. In classic "shutting the barn door after the livestock have bolted" fashion, Arsene made three quick subs after the third one went in. Not that it mattered, really. We had one moment late on were Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cut across the area and hit a thunderbolt at goal, but Howard did brilliantly well to tip it onto the crossbar. It makes me feel good as an American as we head to the World Cup, at least.

At the end of the day though, we were well-beaten away from home by a top team, in exactly the same fashion as the other three times this season. The only difference is that Everton have a slight talent gap behind Liverpool, City and they weren't able to punish us quite as severely.

I'll spare you the "Arsene out" rant. You've heard it from me twice's just that every day adds more and fresher evidence to the already overflowing pile. He's clearly finished as a top-level manager. I just hope he does the right thing and resigns before we end up joining our nearest and dearest on Thursday nights. Given our run-in, we can and should still finish fourth. Given the rest of the surviving sides in the FA Cup, we can and should win it at a canter.

But, do you think this lot can do it, with this manager?

At this point, I don't know. I just don't know.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 9, Monreal 1, Vermaelen 3, Mertesacker 5, Sagna 5, Arteta 4, Flamini 6 (Ramsey 7), Podolski 5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Rosicky 6, Cazorla 4, Giroud 5 (Sanogo 6)

Man of the Match: I thought it was Kevin Mirallas, but you could make a case for almost anyone on the home side. Or, from an Everton perspective, Nacho Monreal was probably their best player.

Preview by Numbers: Everton v. Arsenal

Goodison Park, Liverpool
Sunday, April 6
8:30 a.m. EDT, 13:30 BST

  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Peter Kirkup and David Bryan
    • 4th Official: Mike Jones
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 1 Everton
  • This Match, Last Year: Everton 1 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 99 Arsenal wins, 58 Everton wins, 44 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-W-L-D-D
  • Everton's League Form: L-W-W-W-W-W
  • Weather: Scattered Light Rain, 13 C / 55 F
It's the final countdown! Da na-na-nnaaaaaaa, da-na-na-na-naaaa!


Sorry about that. The point I'm trying to make is that the season is almost over. Over the past two months, Arsenal have slowly but surely slipped from first place to fourth; that makes this match against Everton, currently breathing down Arsenal's neck from fifth place, critical. Everton are four points back with a game in the hand. As I'll reiterate later in this preview, if Everton win, they control the keys to fourth place. If the Toffees win out, they will finish no worse than fourth. Arsenal do have a more favorable fixture list down the stretch, but no match is a guarantee.

That's why, for European qualification, this is the big one. A result is a necessity.

Arsenal Squad News

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

OMG REMEMBER AARON RAMSEY?!? He's "in the squad" again! That probably doesn't mean starting, in fact, it almost certainly just means he'll just be an option from the bench. But, but, but... Ramsey! In addition to that big news, Nacho Monreal, who quietly disappeared with a foot injury a few weeks ago, is also back in the squad.

As for the absentees, Abou Diaby is back running again, which is certainly progress for him. Laurent Koscielny is not available for Sunday, but could be back next week or the one after. Mesut Ozil will not be available for the FA Cup Semi-Final next weekend. Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere is "progressing well," while Theo Walcott and Ryo Miyaichi remain out for the season.

In terms of the starting XI, I honestly am not sure what changes I would make from last week's starters. The back, through injuries, picks itself. With Ramsey not yet ready to start, the holding midfielders would retain their place. Generally speaking, Tomas Rosicky is always a good bargain to start the big games.

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

Everton Squad News

Out: Pienaar (knee,) Oviedo (leg,) Gibson (knee,) Kone (knee,) Traore (hamstring)
Doubts: Barkley (calf,) Jagielka (hamstring)

Phil Jagielka, out since late February with a hamstring injury, is in line for a return soon; however, his replacement, 19-year-old John Stones, has performed admirable in Jagielka's absence. Elsewhere in the "doubt" category is midfielder Ross Barkley, removed at halftime from last week's 3-1 win over Fulham with a calf injury.

In terms of Everton's long term injuries, not much has changed there since Arsenal played Everton about a month ago: Lacina Traore has not played since mid-February with a hamstring injury, while 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. Steven Pienaar has been out since the FA Cup loss to Arsenal with knee cartilage damage.

Predicted XI: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines, Barry, McCarthy, Mirallas, Osman, Naismith, Lukaku.

Current Form

Arsenal are winless in their last three league matches for the second time this season, the first stretch coming in December, which included draws against Everton and Chelsea and the loss to Manchester City. The Gunners have only won twice in their last six league fixtures, leaving them 10th in the league's form table.

Everton's form is currently second best in the Premier League (only Liverpool, winners of six straight, rank higher on the form table,) as they have won five straight matches, though their FA Cup loss to Arsenal did come after their league winning run had started. While their five wins have come against the likes of West Ham, Cardiff, Swansea, Newcastle, and Fulham, they have still done an excellent job keeping the pressure on Arsenal for fourth place (Everton were seventh after losing to Chelsea on February 22.) 

Everton are four points behind Arsenal with a game in hand, meaning an Everton win on Sunday would mean the Toffees would control their own destiny to finish fourth. The Toffees do still have this match, a home game against Manchester City, and a trip to Southampton on their list of tricky remaining fixtures, while Arsenal will play West Ham, Hull, Newcastle, West Brom, and Norwich.

Match Facts

Arsenal have played Everton twice this season at the Emirates, drawing the league encounter 1-1 in December and winning the FA Cup tie 4-1 about a month ago. Arsenal led through Mesut Ozil late in the league match, but four minutes later, the Toffees equalized to split the points. Arsenal led early in the FA Cup tie, but again, Everton equalized. The Gunners went ahead through a Mikel Arteta penalty, which he had to take a second time after infringement, but Olivier Giroud scored twice from the bench to see Arsenal through to Wembley.

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 14 against Everton; the Toffees last win over Arsenal came on March 18, 2007 by a 1-0 scoreline. The last three league meetings between the two sides have each ended level, including a 1-1 draw in this fixture last year (on my birthday) when Theo Walcott scored after 51 minutes, but Marouane Fellaini equalized on 28 minutes; Everton had 53% possession in the match and were the more dominant side over the 90.

The Referee

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Arsenal have had Atkinson three times so far this season, for their 3-1 win over Sunderland, their 2-0 win over Liverpool, and their 6-3 loss to Manchester City. Atkinson has given a penalty to the home side in each of Arsenal's road matches with him as the referee this season; both were scored. On the other hand, Arsenal were lucky when Atkinson blew play dead for a foul on Bacary Sagna against Sunderland even though Jozy Altidore still scored on the play.

Everton have also had Atkinson three times this season, for their 2-1 League Cup loss to Fulham, their 1-0 win at Manchester United, and their 4-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield. Everton supporters appear to feel aggrieved by the appointment, as they feel Atkinson has called a number of controversial events against them; zero wins from three against rival Liverpool will do that, though.

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