Arsenal 3-2 Hull City (AET): Nine Years of Pain, OVER.

Perhaps it took nine years - fine, I don't mind telling you that the wait hurt, and hurt badly. But, at the end of the day, Arsenal put the lid on what must now be considered a successful season by snatching the FA Cup from the hands of a Hull City side that tried to sit on a lead far, far too early.

The side that started mostly picked itself, with the exception of Lukasz Fabianski starting in place of Wojciech Szczesny in goal. Despite what happened in the first 8 minutes, I refuse to second-guess that. I've been saying for weeks that Fab had to start this game - you go with the guy who got you there.

There will be some who bemoan that decision given that Arsenal conceded twice in the first eight minutes, but neither one was entirely the goalkeeper's fault. The first, after just four minutes, was a risible collective failure of set-piece defending on the part of the entire team. Perhaps most at fault was Lukas Podolski though, who started jogging forward as soon as the corner came in. There was a bit of pinballing around, but Podolski should have been then to cover James Chester. Instead, the Welshman had all the time and space he wanted to divert an unstoppable shot past Fabianski and into the far corner.

I can't say that was entirely unpredictable, but going down by two goals just a few short minutes later was definitely not in the script. Still, we had no one to blame but ourselves. A Hill free kick was fired in, but should have been dealt with comfortably. Instead, it bounced around, and got fired in by Alex Bruce. Fabianski did well to make the save, but this is one of those instances that illustrate how fine the margins at this level. He did well to save it, but a better goalkeeper tips it around the post and out to safety. Instead, Fabianski hooked it back out into play, allowing Curtis Davies to bury the rebound. That wasn't entirely on the keeper as the defense should have been far more alert, but it's another indication that Szczesny has always been the better goalkeeper.

So, damn it. Two goals down, Hull rampant and people already writing our obituary. What people didn't realize though is that this isn't your older brother's Arsenal team. This is a far more resilient lot, who has come back from the brink of disaster before. All we needed was that one moment of magic to remind Hull who their betters were, and to remind the Arsenal that they were fully capable of turning this around.

It should be noted, of course, that Hull almost made it 3-0. If they had, that would have been the jig well and truly up. Arsenal were still reeling, and our lack of organization on set pieces almost did us in again. Bruce won a header and sent it to the far corner, but Kieran Gibbs was there to head it off the line. I have people who can back me up on this though - even in this darkest of moments, I still had absolute faith that we were going to win.

And, it was Bruce who got us back into it, He took a needless foul (not surprising, as Hull set their stall out to defend in the Mortal Kombat style whenever possible, aided and abetted by the fact that Lee Probert let them do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted) in a dangerous area, and Santi Cazorla stood over it. This was a moment that demanded a hero, and the little wizard didn't disappoint. He ran up and hit a brilliant effort, just underneath the crossbar. Three inches lower, and Allan MacGregor's dive would have kept that out. Instead, all he could do was get one-tenth of a fingertip on it on its way in. WHAT a goal, and what a brilliant time to score it.

Make no mistake, this was about where Hull decided to try and sit on their lead - and this was right around the time where I knew that we were going to win. The rest of the half was played out with Hull defending in numbers while Arsenal were utterly inept in their attempts to break them down, but I still knew that we could do it. By way of evidence, I present my Facebook post at halftime (with my pre-match post also as a bonus).

The second half started with complete Arsenal domination, but in that ineffective way we've come to know and loathe. Olivier Giroud dived in the area, though I don't know what he was playing at given that Motherless Bastard Lee Probert wasn't calling legitimate yellow-card worthy fouls, let alone dodgy dives in the penalty area.

We were screaming out for substitutions - I wanted Tomas Rosicky on badly, but instead it was Yaya Sanogo who came on for the horrendous Lukas Podoslki. I fear that especially given how bad he was in a game of this importance, this may have been his last match in an Arsenal shirt. I hope not, but my word, he was awful today.

Now, I don't mean to pile on the kid, but the fact that he had to play in a match of this magnitude was another damning indictment of the boss' abject failure in the January transfer window. I won't spend too much time on this on this happy occasion, but if you replaced him with Helen Keller shot up with Quaaludes, we probably win this in normal time.

Anyway, Sanogo did have a header that was blocked in the penalty area by the outstretched arm of Jake Livermore - but, Probert was bound and determined to not give us a penalty. Shitbag. Soon after, Cazorla was scythed down in the area by Davies, but again, Probert opted to not give us the penalty. It was frustrating, to say the least. We could have been 3-2 up at this point, instead, we were still chasing the game.

There was nothing Probert could do about our equalizer, though. Robert Meyler's tackle on Laurent Koscielny was bad enough were even this poor excuse of a match official had to call it. I forget if it was Santi or Mesut Ozil who fired in the free kick, but Bacary Sagna won the first header. Koscielny beat MacGregor to the ball, and poked it in for the equalizing goal.

Needless to say, there was absolute bedlam in O'Hanlon's.

From this point on, we weren't losing. The only distinction was whether we were going to win in normal time, extra time, or penalties.

Gibbs could have settled it seconds after the equalizer, but, well, the finish of a left back. Probert then failed to whistle for another penalty, then Giroud's effort was repelled by MacGregor.

So, extra time, then.

I do think that there should have been more substitutions well before the ones that we got. I think that Hull were reeling, and we could have won in normal time had we gotten an injection of energy in the 60th or even 75th minutes.

That wasn't to be though, so extra time beckoned.

Once the extra stanzas started, there was only one team in it. Now that I can look back with some degree of objectivity, Hull were clearly playing for penalties. The bad old version of us would have gotten them there, but not this group. No way. Giroud even could have won it early on in extra time, but his open header hit the crossbar.

No worries, though.

While I thought the subs should have come much sooner, I thought the ones that did happen at halftime of extra time were brilliant. Ozil and Cazorla (both knackered) came off, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere came on. That injection of energy put us over the hump, and it isn't surprising that the go-ahead goal came scant minutes later. An Arsenal attack saw Giroud get the ball in the area - he backheeled it into the path of the onrushing Ramsey - and the Welshman was able to stab it in past MacGregor at his near post. The Scotsman had no chance, and at that point, really, the Cup was ours.

Well, that should have been the case, anyway. The cameras showed someone engraving Arsenal's name into the trophy as play was ongoing, an occurrence that gave me 87 consecutive heart attacks. And, of course, there was one last heart-in-throat moment. Look, I thought Fabianski had to play right from the off - you go with the guy who got you there. But, a long ball over the top eluded Per Mertesacker, and our Pole in goal ran way out to clean up. Unfortunately, he was much too slow, and Sone Aluko beat him to it. Frankly, he should have scored. But, thankfully, he's Sone Aluko and a bit shit, so he screwed his shot wide.

That was their moment.

Giroud could have iced it, but MacGregor saved his scuffed shot. Up the other end, Aluko had a strong effort on goal, and Fabiaski saw it late through a forest of bodies. He's going to catch a lot of shit for the time he came well off his line, but no one gets how fucking great that last save was. He caught and hold it, and that was that.

Arsenal's trophy drought is over. England's press is cordially invited to tongue-bathe the entire circumfrence of my balls.

I don't know what to even say beyond that. We have a trophy...the drought is finally over.

Hell yeah.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 6, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Arteta 7, Ramsey 8, Podolski 6 (Sanogo 4), Ozil 6 (Wilshere 7), Cazorla 7 (Rosicky 7), Giroud 7

Man of the Match:  Jessica, you were right. Aaron Ramsey.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Hull City, FA Cup Final

Wembley Stadium, London
Saturday, May 17
12:00 p.m. EDT, 17:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Probert
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 12 Arsenal wins, 3 Hull City wins, 3 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 2 Arsenal wins, 1 Hull City win, 2 draws
  • 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
    • Semi-Final: Beat Wigan Athletic, 1-1 (4-2 on penalties)
  • Hull City's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Middlesbrough, 2-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Southend United, 2-0
    • Fifth Round: Drew Brighton & Hove Albion, 1-1; won replay 2-1
    • Sixth Round: Beat Sunderland, 3-0
    • Semi-Final: Beat Sheffield United, 5-3
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-W-W-W
  • Hull City's League Form: W-L-D-L-L-L
  • Weather: Chance of Rain, 21 C / 70 F
It has been a weird season. Opening day frustration morphed quickly and one month later Arsenal were top of the league. They basically remained there for almost five months. Then, everything crumbled rather spectacularly and the league season ended in a familiar place, that is, above Tottenham.

For all the heartache and the anxiety and the arguments and the rabble-rousing that the last nine months have brought, it all comes down to this. One match at Wembley against Hull City to potentially end the cursed trophy drought once and for all.

Regardless of how you feel about specific players, the manager, the transfer window, etc., now is the time to rally around this team one more time.

This is it. Come on, you Gunners.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gnabry (knee,) Walcott (knee,) Ryo (ankle)
Doubts: Vermaelen (knee,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin)
  • I can say, with near certainty, that a Polish goalkeeper will start. Whether it's Lukasz Fabianski or Wojciech Szczesny, well, my guess is as good as yours.
  • Thomas Vermaelen is a serious doubt with a knee injury, which means the Arsenal back four basically picks itself.
  • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made a moderately surprising return to full training this week, though I don't expect him to start.
  • With no other new injures, there's no need to make any changes elsewhere, right? Since Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey returned, Arsenal have had a comfortable level of consistency up front; I can't see Arsene Wenger messing with that.
Predicted XI: Fabianski, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud.

Hull City Squad News

Out: Jelavic (cup tied,) Long (cup tied,) Dudgeon (knee)
Doubts: Brady (groin,) Chester (hamstring)
  • Obviously, the big squad news story for Hull City is the fact that Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long are cup tied, as they appeared in the third round of the FA Cup for their former clubs, Everton and West Bromwich Albion, respectively.
  • As a result, Hull will not likely start in a 4-4-2 formation. Intending to be difficult to break down, Hull should line up in a 4-5-1 with Yannick Sagbo as the lone striker.
  • In other big news, goalkeeper Allan McGregor has re-entered himself into the conversation, having recovered from a horrifying kidney injury. Whether he or Steve Harper starts between the sticks is as unanswerable for me as Arsenal's question in the same position.
  • Defender Paul McShane has made a moderately miraculous return from ankle ligament damage as well, but I would not expect him to start.
  • Robbie Brady is a long shot as he is recovering from groin surgery, though he also made an unexpected return to full training. That makes three Hull players who have made stunning returns to near-availability after I claimed they were all out for the season in my preview for the April 20 match.
  • Joe Dudgeon is out for sure, though; he's been out almost all year after knee surgery, only making two League Cup appearances this season.
  • Center back James Chester, who has just committed his international career to Wales, is a doubt with a hamstring injury he picked up on May 3 in the first half against Aston Villa. He missed last week but could very well start Saturday.
Predicted XI: Harper, Rosenior, Chester, Davies, Figueroa, Huddlestone, Livermore, Meyler, Boyd, Elmohamady, Sagbo.

Arsenal's Season in Brief Review
  • Things could not have started worse for Arsenal, as a 3-1 opening day loss to Aston Villa under moderately astonishing circumstances left the Gunners in seemingly dire straits. Aaron Ramsey helped pull Arsenal through their Champions League qualifier against Fenerbahce and a 1-0 win over Tottenham just before the international break did just enough to ease the fans' pitchforks away, before...
  • Arsenal went unbeaten in their next 12 after that opening day loss before a 2-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund on Champions League group Matchday 3. Arsenal first went top of the league on September 14, Ozil's first match with the Gunners.
  • Sitting atop the Premier League and their Champions League group, the League Cup felt like an afterthought, as the Gunners crashed out to Chelsea 2-0 in the fourth round.
  • Wins over Liverpool and Dortmund in Germany raised the bar yet again, and despite a 1-0 loss at Old Trafford thrown into the mix, Arsenal were four points clear at the summit in early December.
  • The first of a handful of stretches of terrible fixtures tripped up Arsenal just before the holiday period, but a light January fixture list meant Arsenal remained top through the first month of 2014.
  • A 2-2 draw at Southampton, however, marked the beginning of the end of their title aspirations; a week and a half later, Arsenal fell from top spot after a 5-1 drubbing at Anfield.
  • Arsenal crumbled into familiar fourth position after yet another rough run of fixtures in February and March and crashed out of Europe to Bayern Munich once again.
  • That run was tempered by Arsenal's progression in the FA Cup, with critical home wins over the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool, and Everton.
  • A 3-0 league loss to Everton on April 6 left fourth place out of Arsenal's control, but the Toffees would go on to lose to Crystal Palace, Southampton, and Manchester City to hand Arsenal another fourth place finish, as the Gunners finished the league season with five wins on the bounce.
Hull City's Season in Brief Review
  • Hull finished second in the Championship last year to return to the Premier League after a three-year absence.
  • Through their first seven league matches, Hull had only lost in road fixtures to Chelsea and Manchester City, climbing as high as seventh in the table in late September. They advanced to the fourth round of the League Cup, but crashed out to Spurs on penalties.
  • Hull stumbled a bit through November, losing four out of five, before shocking Liverpool 3-1 at the KC stadium; Hull sat 10th on December 1.
  • The Tigers won only once in their next 11 fixtures, but thanks to four draws in the mix, never fell beyond 13th place.
  • While they could not beat any top half teams, wins over Sunderland, Cardiff, West Brom, and Swansea through February, March, and April were enough to keep the Tigers afloat in 13th in mid-April.
  • Meanwhile, a moderately easy FA Cup run against just one Premier League opponent saw Hull head to Wembley against Sheffield United, booking their place in their first ever final with a 5-3 win.
  • A come from behind draw at Craven Cottage left Hull with 37 points, which was enough to survive the drop.
  • Hull did, however, lose four of their last five matches. They have not won since defeating Sheffield United in the Semi-Final.
Match Facts
  • Arsenal have won six consecutive matches against Hull, across all competitions, after losing the first meeting in the league after Hull's promotion in 2008. Hull won that opening encounter 2-1, scoring their goals four minutes apart just after the hour mark to stun Arsenal at the Emirates.
  • Arsenal won the reverse fixture 3-1 in Hull, then won in the sixth round of the FA Cup 2-1 at the Emirates, as detailed in the "Previous FA Cup Ties" section below.
  • In 2009/10, Arsenal won both league meetings, winning 3-0 at the Emirates before needing an injury time winner from Nicklas Bendtner to win 2-1 at the KC Stadium. Hull sacked manager Phil Brown the next day and were relegated at season's end.
  • Arsenal won both league meetings this season, winning 2-0 at the Emirates in December and 3-0 at the KC Stadium four weeks ago.
  • Arsenal have outscored Hull 15-3 during their six match winning streak; the Gunners have scored at least twice in each match.
Previous FA Cup Ties
  • This will be the fourth meeting between Arsenal and Hull City in the FA Cup; Arsenal have won two of the three prior meetings.
  • 2009, Sixth Round: Arsenal won 2-1 at the Emirates. Despite losing to Hull on home soil earlier in the campaign, Arsenal came from behind to defeat the Tigers on this occasion. Nick Barmby opened the scoring in the 13th minute, but Arsenal won through late second half goals from Robin van Persie and William Gallas. Speaking of former captains who have since left the club, this match might be most famous for the pre-match incident where Cesc Fabregas was accused of spitting at Hull assistant Brian Horton.
  • 1930, Semi-Final: Oh my, we've gone back a ways here, haven't we? Arsenal and Hull City played a 2-2 draw at Elland Road in Leeds in their semi-final, requiring a replay at Villa Park four days later, which Arsenal won 1-0. The Gunners then beat Huddersfield Town in the Final for the club's first piece of silverware.
  • 1908, First Round: Hull City earned a 0-0 draw in Southeast London at Woolwich Arsenal on January 11, 1908 before winning the replay at home, 4-1, five days later.
The Referee
  • The referee is Wiltshire-based Lee Probert.
  • Arsenal entered this season without a win in their previous five matches with Probert in the middle; this season, however, over four matches with Probert as referee, the Gunners won three and drew one.
  • With Probert, Arsenal defeated Norwich 4-1 in October, Newcastle 1-0 in December, and Fulham 2-0 in January. They then drew Swansea 2-2 in March after Mathieu Flamini's late own goal.
  • All-time across all competitions with Probert, Arsenal have a record of five wins, three losses, and four draws.
  • Probert has taken charge of just one Hull City match this season; incidentally, it was the one FA Cup match they did not win up to this point this year, the fifth round 1-1 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion that forced a replay.
  • All-time across all competitions with Probert, Hull City have a record of three wins, seven losses, and three draws. Their only top flight victory with Probert in the middle was a 3-0 win over West Brom in October of 2008.

Preview by Numbers: Norwich City v. Arsenal

Carrow Road, Norwich
Sunday, May 11
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Mason
    • Assistants: Richard West and Adrian Holmes
    • 4th Official: Anthony D'Urso
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 4 - 1 Norwich
  • This Match, Last Year: Norwich 1 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 25 Arsenal wins, 11 Norwich wins, 18 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-L-W-W-W-W
  • Norwich's League Form: L-L-L-L-L-D
  • Weather: Scattered Light Rain, 13 C / 55 F
Arsenal can still, mathematically, finish in third... they just need a win, a Chelsea loss to Cardiff, and an 18-goal swing in goal difference between themselves and Chelsea. Well, never mind then... And, as for Norwich, they need a win, a West Brom loss to Stoke, and a 17-goal swing in goal difference between themselves and West Brom to survive the drop.

That makes this match as dead as rubber can get. The Gunners will have one eye on next weekend's FA Cup Final for sure, while they realistically cannot improve on their fourth place position in the table. Norwich's odds of survival are... improbable, to say the least.

While it might be dead rubber, Arsenal will not want to go into the Final with a bad taste in their mouths. A solid performance against a team almost certainly to be in next year's Championship is required.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Gnabry (knee,) Walcott (knee,) Ryo (ankle)
Doubts: Wilshere (foot,) Diaby (match fitness)
  • Kieran Gibbs is back in contention, having not played since coming off the bench in the FA Cup Semi-Final with a hamstring injury that I had marked down as "ankle" for the last several weeks.
  • Aaron Ramsey should be available after he was not risked against West Brom last week.
  • Jack Wilshere is back in full training much earlier than expected and could play some part in either of the next two matches.
  • The larger concern is over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, out since April 20 with a groin injury. The Ox played about 20 minutes off the bench against Hull that week.
  • Is Serge Gnabry still hurt? Does anyone know?
  • I don't suspect there are any other changes in the injury list. The only miracle would be an appearance from Abou Diaby off the bench.
  • Anyway, since this match is dead rubber, you can expect some rotation in advance of the FA Cup Final. I won't predict an XI this week for that reason, but here are my thoughts:
    • Wojciech Szczesny will start, looking for one last clean sheet this season, especially with Lukasz Fabianski likely getting the call in next week's final.
    • Thomas Vermaelen and Carl Jenkinson could be in line for starts along the back line.
    • Aaron Ramsey will be available again; I'd consider giving a rest to Mikel Arteta this week.
    • Midfield? I haven't a clue; Arsenal have a lot of options in there.
    • I'd like to see Yaya Sanogo start this one. I know Sanogo has started pretty much all of the FA Cup ties, but I think Arsenal need to go with Olivier Giroud next week.
Norwich Squad News

Out: Pilkington (hip)
Doubts: Yobo (calf)

  • Very few injury concerns for the Canaries; Anthony Pilkington is out with a hip injury (he has not played since March) and Joseph Yobo could return from a calf injury (though he's only made 10 appearances all year.)
  • There's no reason for Norwich to close up shop; you can bet they'll do everything they can to end the season on a high note. They played a defensive formation at Stamford Bridge last weekend (and it worked,) but they'll be much more attacking on Sunday.
Current Form

  • Arsenal righted the ship just enough to claim the fourth place trophy for another season, winning four league games on the bounce following their 3-0 loss at Goodison Park. They would obviously like to go into Wembley with their winning streak intact, though ultimately, doing so would only provide a psychological advantage.
  • Norwich City have not won since March 22, when they beat Sunderland 2-0. That win helped Norwich climb to 13th place (!) and they were seven points clear of the Black Cats for the final relegation spot (though, Sunderland had an astonishing three games in hand.)
  • Norwich then lost five straight to tumble into relegation; their 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge last week appears to be mere consolation, as an in-form Sunderland side has spared themselves. Only goal difference could save the Canaries now, as they sit three points back of West Bromwich Albion.
Match Facts

  • Arsenal won the reverse fixture 4-1 in October; Jack Wilshere scored a truly marvelous team goal that you'll no doubt recall, while Mesut Ozil scored twice and Aaron Ramsey scored one of his many autumn goals. Jonathan Howson scored for Norwich, which made it 2-1 with 20 minutes to play, before Arsenal closed the match out.
  • Norwich won this match last year, 1-0 thanks to a Grant Holt goal off a Vito Mannone mistake, in October of 2013.
  • Arsenal have not taken all six points from Norwich in either of their previous two seasons in the top flight on this current go-around for the Canaries. Arsenal did take all six points from Norwich when they were last relegated in 2005.
  • Last season, Arsenal took all 18 points available from the three teams who were relegated. This year, they have taken 15 of 15 so far. The last time Arsenal dropped points to a team that ended that season relegated was in 2011/12, when the Gunners drew 1-1 with Wolves at the Emirates. Arsenal have not lost to a side that would go on to be relegated since 2006/07 when they lost to Sheffield United.
The Referee

  • The referee is Lancashire-based Lee Mason.
  • Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 10 with Mason in the middle, dating back to Lukasz Fabianski's antics at Wigan in April of 2010.
  • This year, their results aren't exactly sparkling with Mason as referee: a 1-1 draw at West Brom, a 3-0 win at Cardiff, and a 2-2 draw at Southampton in which Mathieu Flamini was (correctly) sent off.
  • Norwich have seen Mason twice this season and did not score a goal in either match, losing 2-0 to Spurs and 3-0 to Fulham; both matches were in London and the latter was an FA Cup tie.
Around the League

All matches kick-off simultaneously on Sunday.
  • Cardiff City v. Chelsea; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
  • Fulham v. Crystal Palace; Craven Cottage, London
  • Hull City v. Everton; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Liverpool v. Newcastle United; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Manchester City v. West Ham United; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Southampton v. Manchester United; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Sunderland v. Swansea City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Tottenham Hotspur v. Aston Villa; White Hart Lane, London
  • West Bromwich Albion v. Stoke City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich

Arsenal 1-0 West Bromwich Albion: Pleasant but Pointless

Manchester City's win over Everton yesterday likely handed them the Premier League trophy this season, but that wasn't the only fallout from that match - it also gift-wrapped the Arsene Wenger Memorial 4th Place Trophy for us, which in turn gave this fixture all the importance and intensity of a testimonial match.

The boss could have been forgiven for playing an under-strength lineup with one eye on the FA Cup Final in 13 days, but perhaps that is a bit too far out - we don't want the starters losing match fitness before then. Further, it might have been a bit harsh on Norwich City to gift the Baggies an easier game with the relegation battle still ongoing.

Still, I will lose my mind if all of the starters are in for the match against the Canaries next week. They are already largely down, and we don't need someone like Mesut Ozil or Olivier Giroud succumbing to injury before the most important game we've played in a long time.

It was a bit odd given that they were the only ones with anything to play for, but West Brom were the only ones less interested in this session of association football than we were. They shambled along like George Romero extras from the off, making our relative nonchalance look like the Argentina goal against Serbia & Montenegro by comparison.

Even the half-chances that the sides traded in the early going looked like a frame-by-frame slow-motion replay. Ozil - clearly the best player on the pitch - started with a great pass into the West Brom area, chested down by Giroud into the past of Lukas Podolski. I half-believe that if the match meant more, he may have done better. Instead, he skewed his first-time shot wide. Up the other end, Steven Reid skipped past an overenthusiastic tackle from Bacary Sagna to play in Saido Berahino. Laurent Koscielny blocked, but Wojciech Szczesny still had to do well to smother the loose ball.

It was the Arsenal that were doing much more on the ball, and sure enough it was the men in red who opened the scoring. One of the longer spells of pressure during the match saw Santi Cazorla's long shot blocked, but Arsenal came right back. It was worked around the perimeter before Per Mertesacker played in Ozil down the right. He beat his man and then cut inside, but passed when he should have taken the shot. Mathieu Flamini whiffed, but Cazorla was there to fire on goal.

The shot was blocked, but the goal came off the resulting corner. The little Spaniard curled a beauty into the space just outside the six-yard box. Giroud shrugged off the challenge of Craig Dawson and nodded the ball off the post and in.

Ben Foster hadn't moved on that one, not that he had much chance either way. Still, he did well later on to block a Giroud effort with his feet. Later, nice work from Ozil and Podolski gave Cazorla a shooting chance, which the big English keeper expertly parried away. Somewhere between those two chances, Szczesny spilled a wicked shot from Morgan Almalfitano directly into the path of Berahino. Thankfully, the World Cup hopeful was offside on the follow-up.;postID=786846149969114294
That was about it for incident in the first half...and if the opening period was dull, the second was much more so. Both sides may as well have downed tools and set up a gas grill on the center line. I honestly believe it would have been more interesting to watch the two sides nosh on beer and brats than the second 45 minutes of play were here.

As far as I could tell, each team had just the one chance of note in the second stanza. Amalfitano was played in by Benahino in the 71st minute, but Szczesny was off his line in a flash to smother at his feet. Up the other end, Podolski rang one off the goalpost and into the arms of a relieved Foster. Seriously, that was your lot if you sat through this whole thing.

Hopefully, Arsene plays some of the kids in the Norwich match (Gideon Zelalem, please!), who in turn use it as an opportunity to impress the boss for next season. Still, we are in the Champions League for the 17th consecutive season, and we have a quite important date with Hull City upcoming. Life isn't all bad if you're a Gooner, despite the disappointment of falling out of the title race in the fashion that we did.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

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

Man of the Match: Not much to choose from in this bland of a match, so we'll go with Mesut Ozil for some gorgeous passes and approach play.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. West Bromwich Albion

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, May 4
8:30 a.m. EDT, 13:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Jones
    • Assistants: Gary Beswick and Mike Mullarkey
    • 4th Official: Phil Dowd
  • Reverse Fixture: West Brom 1 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 0 West Brom
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 65 Arsenal wins, 36 West Brom wins, 31 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-D-L-W-W-W
  • West Brom's League Form: L-D-W-D-L-W
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 13 C / 56 F
  • Arsenal's Odds of Finishing Top Four, Entering Weekend: 97.6%
  • West Brom's Odds of Avoiding Relegation, Entering Weekend: 99.65%
Well, another St. Totteringham's Day has come and gone; thankfully, this one came in April instead of on the final day of the season (on which three of the past four had fallen.) It's nice to continue to leave Spurs forever in our shadow, but more importantly, let's hope St. Everington's Day is coming this weekend.

By the time Arsenal take the pitch on Sunday afternoon (early morning here in New York, my least favorite time slot of all) Arsenal may have fourth place already locked up; if Everton lose to Manchester City in Saturday's late game, the Toffees will be unable to catch Arsenal. Even if Everton win, Arsenal can lock fourth place down with a win of their own.

Let's get the job done.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gibbs (ankle,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Gnabry (knee,) Wilshere (foot,) Walcott (knee,) Ryo (ankle,) Diaby (groin)
  • No new injury concerns this week, though I previously was unaware of the extent to which Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were injured.
  • To that end, Gibbs is not quite back in full training, while the Ox may not return this season.
  • It's plausible that Jack Wilshere will take some part in the Norwich match next week, especially if Arsenal have fourth place wrapped up by then.
  • No other news elsewhere in the squad and for the second straight week I see no reason for Arsene Wenger to change his XI.
Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud.

West Brom Squad News

Out: Reid (hip,) Ridgewell (knee,) Gera (hamstring)
Doubts: McAuley (calf)

  • Steven Reid has been ruled out with a hip injury, which will force a reshuffling of West Brom's fullbacks. In this fixture last season, Reid played 45 minutes on a broken leg.
  • The Baggies will also be without Liam Ridgewell and Zoltan Gera.
  • Reid and Ridgewell are both fullbacks, meaning West Brom could need to get creative to fill the position. When Reid came off injured last weekend, he was replaced by attacking midfielder James Morrison (not to be confused with Jim Morrison.)
  • Chris Brunt might slide back from midfield to defense to cover while Billy Jones will likely start as the other fullback.
  • Center back Gareth McAuley could return from a calf injury.
Predicted XI: Foster, Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Brunt, Mulumbu, Dorrans, Amalfitano, Morrison, Sessegnon, Vydra.

Current Form
  • Arsenal have appeared to right the ship after failures in their two respective DEATHRUNs. Since the 3-0 loss to Everton, the Gunners have won four straight, though the first was technically a draw won on penalties. They've scored three in each of their last three fixtures.
  • West Brom's 1-0 win at the Hawthorns over West Ham last weekend might just have been enough to save them from the drop; the Baggies are now four points clear with three to play.
  • Entering the weekend, West Brom's odds of being relegated are a paltry 0.35%, which are worse odds than the chance of Arsenal finishing third (0.89%).
  • West Brom have only won twice away from home this season, at Manchester United, Swansea, and Norwich. The latter two of those have come in the last month and a half.
  • The Baggies play at Sunderland on Wednesday before closing the season against Stoke at home on Sunday. Any combination of three points earned by West Brom or dropped by Norwich will secure safety for West Brom; Norwich will play Chelsea after the Arsenal-West Brom match.
Match Facts
  • Arsenal are unbeaten in their last seven matches against West Brom across all competitions, after an Almunia-related debacle in September of 2011 saw the Baggies win 3-2 at the Emirates. That is West Brom's only win at Arsenal in their last six trips.
  • The Gunners played twice at the Hawthorns this fall, drawing both matches 1-1. In the League Cup, Arsenal advanced on penalties while in the league, Arsenal came from behind to secure a point. That was one of just 10 points Arsenal have claimed this year when conceding the first goal.
  • This match last year was played at a point in early December when Arsenal were winless in four. In desperate need of a result, the Gunners won 2-0 through two moderately dodgy penalties. Days later, they would lose to Bradford City on penalties, but let's try to forget that ever happened.
The Referee
  • The referee is Chester-based Mike Jones.
  • The good news about those dodgy penalties I mentioned above in "match facts" from this fixture last year is that Jones was the referee that day too. And, he was the referee for the 3-2 Arsenal win at the Hawthorns at the end of the 2011/12 season that saw Arsenal clinch Champions League football.
  • Arsenal's only match with Jones this year, however, was the 1-0 loss at Stoke, which the Potters won via a debatable penalty themselves.
  • All-time with Jones, Arsenal have a record of 10 wins, two losses, and one scoreless draw against Manchester City with a parked bus in 2011.
  • West Brom have not had Jones this year; the Baggies had a record of one win (over QPR,) one loss (to Arsenal,) and one draw (with Newcastle) with Jones in the middle last year.
Around the League
  • Saturday (early): West Ham United v. Tottenham Hotspur; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Hull City; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. Sunderland; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Cardiff City; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Fulham; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Southampton; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday (late): Everton v. Manchester City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Chelsea v. Norwich City; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Monday (night): Crystal Palace v. Liverpool; Selhurst Park, London