Preview by Numbers: Leicester City v. Arsenal

King Power Stadium, Leicester
Sunday, August 31
11:00 a.m. EDT, 16:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Gary Beswick and Darren Cann
    • 4th Official: Roger East
  • This Match, Last Time: Leicester 1 - 1 Arsenal (December 6, 2003)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 60 Arsenal wins, 28 Leicester wins, 43 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W // W-D
  • Leicester's League Form: W-W-W-W // D-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 18 C / 66 F
At times on Wednesday, Arsene Wenger looked like the
most nervous man in the world; apparently, so did I.
Leave it to Arsenal to make it as complicated as possible! Let's see, what have we gone through this year: it took 91 minutes to grab a winner against Crystal Palace, 83 minutes to get in gear against Everton, 135 minutes to put a goal past Besiktas, and then 45 more of hanging on, the final 15 of which were done with ten men. If that doesn't get your heart racing, I don't know what will. I was told by one of the bartenders at O'Hanlon's on Wednesday that I looked frozen in terror, clutching my practically empty pint of O'Hanlon's Lite, for much of the second half.

An international break looms on the horizon, but first a trip to Leicester, over which we all follow the Arsenal (see also: land, sea.) Let's all hope for two things: 1) Arsenal are able to pick up all three points in a less exhausting fashion and 2) some reinforcements before the close of the transfer window, maybe?

Don't forget to breathe.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Giroud (foot,) Arteta (ankle,) Gibbs (hamstring,) Ospina (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Gnabry (knee)

Playing Mesut Ozil down the left hand side just makes it
easier for tabloids to write articles about his quality.
It's probably too soon to assess any potential new injuries after Wednesday night's match. The boys looked knackered after the 90 minutes, but that's to be expected after the heroic performance they put in.

This means, at the time of writing this, Arsenal's injury picture looks the same as it did before Wednesday's game. The picture is clearer on Olivier Giroud's foot; unfortunately, it is clear that he will miss several months. Meanwhile, as we knew, Mikel Arteta and Kieran Gibbs should both be available after the upcoming international break. Theo Walcott should be back in full training soon; I'm optimistic he could make an appearance against Southampton in the League Cup.

As for the squad itself, they'll have everyone available that they had to choose from on Wednesday plus Aaron Ramsey, who was serving a European suspension. You would suspect that means one change to the side with one of the midfielders coming out. Who that will be is anyone's guess after all of the midfielders produced performances on Wednesday. However, I do have to say that I am not at all a fan of this whole "deploying Mesut Ozil on the left wing" thing. If that's the way Arsene Wenger is leaning these days, though, I can't predict a formation against it.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Flamini, Ozil, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Alexis.

Leicester Squad News

Remember when Matthew Upson was at Arsenal? No?
Out: Upson (foot)
Doubts: Drinkwater (hamstring,) James (shin,) Vardy (thigh,) Albrighton (groin)

Matthew Upson signed on a free with Leicester this summer and is out for an indeterminate amount of time with a foot injury. Marc Albrighton, who was released by Aston Villa this summer, returned from a groin injury off the bench at Stamford Bridge last week. There are also doubts for Leicester over Daniel Drinkwater, Matthew James, and Jamie Vardy.

With all of that in mind, it's highly likely Nigel Pearson will name an unchanged XI from the side that played Chelsea last week. Anthony Knockaert might start on the wing over Jeff Schlupp, however the latter is more versatile in his position.

Predicted XI: Schmeichel, de Laet, Morgan, Moore, Konchesky, Mahrez, Hammond, King, Schlupp, Nugent, Ulloa.

Current Form

Shrewsbury Town celebrates their goal, an unlikely winner,
against Leicester on Tuesday.
While Arsenal have certainly not made it easy on themselves, they still have gone 12 competitive matches without a loss, dating back to the 3-0 reverse at Goodison Park last season. Last week's league game looked to be playing out exactly the same way as that Sunday in April, but Arsenal showed resolve they never seemed to have when down on the road last season to take a point. Arsenal's unbeaten run now spans seven league games (six wins and a draw,) two European matches (one win and one draw,) and three matches at Wembley (two of which required extra time to win.) This is Arsenal's longest unbeaten streak since last year's 12 match run that ended with a loss to Dortmund in the Champions League.

Leicester City have yet to grab a win this season, though they have been impressive in their two league fixtures so far. The Foxes came from behind twice to take a draw from Everton in their opening fixture, then Chelsea needed an hour to break them down before finally emerging with a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge in the Blues' home opener. On the other hand, the Foxes now find themselves bounced from the League Cup after League Two Shrewsbury Town beat them 1-0 on Tuesday.

Match Facts

This is literally the best picture I could
find from that 1-1 draw in 2003.
Leicester's last season in the top flight was 2003/04, Arsenal's unbeaten year, and you may recall that the Invincibles season ended with a 2-1 Arsenal win over Leicester at Highbury. This will be the Gunners' first match in Leicester since December of 2003.

That match was one of Arsenal's 12 draws of the Invincibles season. It was the only league match of the year where Arsenal were without Thierry Henry; Arsenal were also without captain Patrick Vieira for what proved to be a difficult match. Arsenal led on the hour mark through a Gilberto Silva header, but Ashley Cole was sent off for a terrible two-footed challenge in the 73rd minute, and Leicester equalized at the death.

Leicester have not beaten Arsenal in their last 17 tries, dating back to a 2-1 win on November 23, 1994. The Foxes did, however, advance past Arsenal via a penalty shootout in the 2000 FA Cup fourth round, after consecutive 0-0 draws.

The Referee

Arsenal have had a lot to complain about from referees as of late, from Aaron Ramsey's red card last week and Mathieu Debuchy's red card on Wednesday, both soft second yellows, not to mention Kevin Friend's whistling of every 50/50 challenge in favor of Everton for about an hour last weekend.

Well, the referee for Sunday is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor. Taylor was the star of last season's opening day 3-1 debacle against Aston Villa. Villa were awarded two penalties in the match; Wojciech Szczesny saved the first but Christian Benteke banged in the rebound, while Benteke scored the second from 12 yards. Laurent Koscielny was sent off for two dubious yellow cards as well. While a neutral might think our reading of his performance is seen through shit-colored glasses, and that's true a bit, it does say something that Taylor was not assigned to another Arsenal match for the rest of the year. With a shrinking number of experienced match officials in the Select Group (Howard Webb has retired and both Andre Marriner and Lee Probert are carrying injuries,) the FA must feel that they can ease Taylor back into Arsenal matches by giving him a non-controversial road fixture.

Taylor took charge of one Leicester match last season, a 2-2 draw at Nottingham Forest in which Foxes defender Paul Konchesky was sent off on the hour mark with Leicester down 2-1. Riyad Mahrez scored an equalizer for Leicester in the 82nd after Kevin Phillips had a penalty saved. Forest converted an earlier chance from the penalty spot, so it sounds like that was nearly as "interesting" a match as Arsenal's one with Taylor.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Burnley v. Manchester United; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Stoke City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Crystal Palace; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. Sunderland; Loftus Road, London
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. West Bromwich Albion; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Southampton; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday (late): Everton v. Chelsea; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Aston Villa v. Hull City; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Sunday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Liverpool; White Hart Lane, London

Arsenal 1-0 Besiktas JK: Heroic Defending Against Twelve Men

Photo: Getty Images

It would hardly have been the Arsenal Way if we had taken the easy road, yeah?

I don't know about you, but this game took ten years off my life. The same false-nine strikerless formation that fizzled so badly against Everton at the weekend also stuttered at times against the Turkish visitors here, but the Gunners did just enough to make it to the Champions League proper for the 17th consecutive time. 

We damn sure wouldn't trade places with Manchester United today, anyway.

As mentioned, Alexis Sanchez was again handed the "striker" role in what amounted to a 4-6-0 formation. Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini were in the center, with Mesut Ozil on the left (WHY ARSENE?), Santi Cazorla in the hole, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right. You can see why this could work on paper, and the season is young enough where it still might in the end. However, the early returns are not that promising.

Admittedly, I did not see every second of this one - I normally will DVR the midweek games and watch when I get home from work, but given that I was getting my Arsenal tattoo (see bottom of the report) tonight, I knew there was no way I could wait until then to find out what happened. So, a stream it was, while doing just enough work to stay onside with the boss.

Still, I saw enough to know that Arsenal once again had the lion's share of possession with precious little incision to go with it. Wilshere and Ox were buoyant in the early exchanges, with the former fashioning one of the few early chances. He was one-on-one with Besiktas keeper Tolga Zengin, but screwed his shot wide when he should have tested him at minimum.

Sanchez and Cazorla both worked their tails off as well, but neither could find a way through the packed Turkish rearguard. Santi, like Jack before him, probably should have done better when a chance did come his way. Zengin played a horrendous pass from the top of his area straight to the Spaniard, but our little dynamo rushed his chip attempt and sent it well wide. 

Besiktas, for their part, rarely ventured upfield but threatened whenever they did. Wojciech Szczesny had to be alert to snuff out a long ball at the extreme edge of his penalty area, Demba Ba lurking in the background. 

Even when they did present a danger though, the Arsenal defense were little short of heroic. Shortly before halftime, the fantastic Mathieu Debuchy made one of those inch-perfect sliding tackles in the penalty area that would have spelled disaster if he had been any less precise. Olcay Sahan hurtled down the wing and crossed in to Ramon Motta. They will tell you that Wilshere pulled him down, but that was never a penalty. Never. Frankly, it may have been the only decision that this idiot referee got right all day.

Gooner doubts were unquestionably beginning to creep in by now, but thankfully Gunner hearts held firm. I always say how goals just the either side of the halftime break are killers, and Sanchez found one that sent us in the group stage. Wilshere played a one-two with the otherwise-dreadful-again Ozil, but the German's pass got beyond him. Alexis decisively horned in on Wilshere, took it himself, and slid a low shot under Zengin and in. Not that I'm complaining, but that was astonishingly brutal goalkeeping from the Besiktas captain. It was a major fillip for us, though.

A second goal would have been better, but the visitors proved over the two legs that they were no mugs, and made life difficult for our attackers. Laurent Koscielny might have eased our nerves on a corner, but he missed his header entirely. How costly a similar play would be for the Turks later on! Speaking of, they occasionally found their way into our half of the field, but in retrospect (now that the Sword of Damocles has been stashed away for the moment) they rarely fashioned anything meaningful.

At the time, however, it was torture any time they had the ball at their feet. That occurred far more often when Gokhan Tore came on as a sub - he was easily their best player on the day. 

Still, the match didn't truly flash over until about 15 minutes from time, when all of a sudden everything happened at once. One two-minute span saw the Ox get played in alone on Zengin - undoubtedly, he should have scored. He could only shovel a tame shot into the keeper's legs, though. Then, right after, this absolute clown of a referee showed Debuchy a second yellow card for an incident that perhaps may have been a garden-variety foul, but that's it.

The funny thing is, this muppet actually consistently gets Champions League and World Cup games, despite proving to be incapable of the responsibility at every turn. This is the same mong who bought Arjen Robben's dive in the 94th minute of the second round hook, line and sinker, resulting in the penalty kick that sent Mexico home. 

If the preceding 75 minutes were nerve-wracking, the final 15 were a horror show to watch. You would need the TARDIS to work out just how that quarter-hour took a week and a half to finish, but that's what it felt like. The Turks, their tails truly up now, poured forward in waves. 

However, much like the seaside fortress in their own home city of Istanbul, they encountered a bulwark that attackers could not overcome. Callum Chambers, on as a sub when Debuchy was dismissed, flung himself around with abandon. Nacho Monreal, so reviled on these pages normally, huffed and puffed and put out fires all over the place. Koscielny, as brave as ever, roamed the center and cleared out everything in sight. Per Mertesacker, our Big Fucking German, was calm and collected as ever with his signature brand of Teutonic cool.

Remember all those jokes about Arsenal's leaky defense over the last decade? They're done now. It's over. 

Despite the red card, despite the referee continuing to wave yellow things at anything that found its way into his Mr. Magoo-esque vision, despite Besiktas rampaging forward with the desperation of a decent team on its way out of the Champions League, those four men - further shielded by Flamini - held firm. Even Sanchez put in a shift defensively towards the end. 

There is something beautiful and so prototypically Arsenal about hanging on to a slim 1-0 lead with ten men. Somewhere, George Graham is smiling. 

Four minutes of stoppage time came and went, Besiktas no closer to even a shot on target. That nimrod Pedro Proenca then blew his stupid little whistle, and we could all exhale once more. Now, for the love of God spend some more money, Arsene, and get in a striker and a defensive midfielder. 

As for the Turks, they were ferocious opposition and it's a shame they couldn't get in along with us. Good luck to them in the UEFA Cup.

Onwards and upwards for us.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Monreal 8, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 8, Debuchy 8, Wilshere 8, Flamini 7, Ozil 5
(Chambers 8), Cazorla 8, Oxlade-Chamberlain 7, Sanchez 8

Man of the Match:  I can't give it to one player today...they were all goddamn heroes. No? OK, fine, Alexis Sanchez for the $40 million goal.

Postscript: Here it is!

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Besiktas, Champions League Play-off, Second Leg

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, August 27
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials from Portugal
    • Referee: Pedro Proenca
    • Assistants: Bertino Miranda and Paulo Soares
    • 4th Official: Antonio Godinho
    • Additional Assistants: Hugo Miguel and Joao Capela
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 draw
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-W-L-L-D // D
  • Beskitas's European Form: L-L-L // L-W-D
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 18 C / 65 F
"I got this."
So, it has come to this. One match to rule them all... or, something.

Dramatic phrases aside, there is a lot riding on this one match. Well, one thing in particular: Champions League qualification. After a scoreless draw in Istanbul, Arsenal and Besiktas will square off in London in a winner qualifies battle (Besiktas would also qualify on away goals with a score draw, of course.) So yes, Arsenal need a win at the Emirates tonight.

Leave it to Arsenal to make things as dramatic as possible. Every season feels like a story being told by a lunatic novelist. After about 75 minutes on Saturday (or, at least before the comeback was on,) I talked about how narratives require the hero to face adversity near the beginning, otherwise the viewer might not be hooked. "For example, that movie where we won the FA Cup last year started with that ridiculous loss to Aston Villa," I said. The point is, it wouldn't be interesting if your protagonist had all the money in the world to spend on players and opened the season coasting past two sides that played in the second division last year. Who would read that?

Nights like this are what sports fandom is all about. Dizzying tension. Gut-wrenching twists of the plot. High anxiety. Colossal stakes. "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat," as the old Wide World of Sports intro said. These matches build character, make you feel alive. May as well enjoy the ride.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Giroud (foot,) Arteta (ankle,) Gibbs (hamstring,) Ospina (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Gnabry (knee)
Doubts: Sanogo (hamstring)
Suspended: Ramsey (one match)

All right, let's just start with who's not playing. Massively unlucky news for Olivier Giroud, whose innocuous blocked clearance late in Saturday's 2-2 draw has resulted in a suspected broken foot which could keep the Handsome French Bloke out until the New Year; better this happen six days before the close of the transfer window than one day after. The news means Arsenal are now unlikely to sell Lukas Podolski, as the Gunners are now desperate for any sort of scoring touch. Up top, Yaya Sanogo trained with the team but was not in the 18-man squad against Everton at the weekend; he's still recovering from a hamstring tweak after starting the first match of the season against Crystal Palace. I'll venture a guess and say that Alexis Sanchez gets another crack at the center forward spot.

Mikel Arteta and Kieran Gibbs should both be back in contention after the upcoming international break. Theo Walcott should be back in full training by then, too, though his return won't be for a couple more weeks. Without Aaron Ramsey, suspended after his second yellow card in the first leg, I would expect Mathieu Flamini and Jack Wilshere to play centrally in the holding roles, unless Arsene Wenger massively shakes up the formation (which should not be expected...)

Arsenal will be buoyed by the first appearance of the defense pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny of the season; Mesut Ozil will hopefully provide the creative spark Arsenal need to nick a few goals. I'm predicting Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to start wide, though Lukas Podolski and/or Joel Campbell could be surprise inclusions.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Flamini, Wilshere, Ozil, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis.

Besiktas Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Hutchinson

Demba Ba remains a dangerous target man.
No changes for Beskitas from last week, in terms of player availability. Canadian Atiba Hutchinson remains a doubt, but a week of rest means he could be back in contention. With no reason to make any changes, I would not be surprised if Beskitas played the same XI as they started last week, which includes former Arsenal youngster Oguzhan Ozyakup.

It should be noted, however, that that XI was a more cautious 4-2-3-1 than the manager's usually preferred 4-4-2. Speaking of that manager, Slaven Bilic will be serving a one match touchline ban after being sent to the stands at the tail end of last week's 0-0 draw.

Predicted XI: Zengin, Koybasi, Franco, Gulum, Ramon Motta, Uysal, Kavlak, Sahan, Ozyakup, Pektemek, Ba.

Current Form

The last time Arsenal failed to win a European match at
home against a non-German side. That's Park on the left.
Park Chu-Young... the Korean... you know...
Arsenal's comeback against Everton at the weekend means they have extended their unbeaten run, across all competitive fixtures, to 11 matches (seven in the league, two in the FA Cup, one in Europe, and the Community Shield.)

At home in European competition, Arsenal have not dropped a match to a non-German opponent since a 0-0 draw with Marseille in 2011. You might not recall that Park Chu-Young started that game, so I included a picture of it. Not Photoshopped at all. Arsenal's results against German sides at the Emirates, however, has been poor since that time, including two losses to Bayern Munich, one to Borussia Dortmund, and one to Schalke 04. Good news, though, as Besiktas is not from Germany...

Nothing has changed for Besiktas in terms of their form; the Turkish Super Lig does not start until this weekend, when Besiktas will face Mersin Idmanyurdu, a side who yo-yo'ed back to the top flight after a year in the TFF First League, the Turkish second division.

Match Facts

Arsenal's streak of 12 consecutive Champions League play-off victories came to an end with last week's draw in Istanbul, though that means the club still has gone 13 unbeaten in such matches. Moreover, as the scene switches to London, it is of note that Arsenal have never conceded a goal at home to Turkish opposition.

This will be Besiktas's second visit to London in the club's history; they emerged victorious from their first, 2-0 over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 2003. Besiktas are also unbeaten in their last three away matches in the Champions League, a run which includes a 1-0 win at Old Trafford in 2009.

The Referee

"No, I didn't see the elbow. This is for your hair."
Thus concludes another Alex Song hair joke in my
photo captions.
The match officials are from Portugal; the referee is Pedro Proenca. You'll most recently remember Proenca as the referee from the World Cup Round of 16 match between the Netherlands and Mexico, when he controversially awarded Holland an injury time penalty kick after a theatrical tumble from Arjen Robben. He's also the referee who sent off Alex Song for his absurd elbow-in-the-back.

Proenca has never worked an Arsenal match in his career. English sides have an all-time record of five wins and two draws, with no losses, in Champions League play with Proenca in the middle. One of those five wins I guess could technically be counted as a draw; it was Chelsea's 2012 penalty shootout Final victory over Bayern Munich.

Besiktas have seen Proenca twice in the Europa League, with a 1-1 draw to Standard Liege in the 2004 group stage (when, I suppose, it was still the UEFA Cup,) and a 4-1 loss to Dynamo Kyiv in the 2011 Round of 32. Turkish sides have a record of one win (Galatasaray over Juventus last year) and one draw (Trabzonspor with Lille in 2011) in the Champions League with Proenca as the referee

Around Europe

  • Tuesday: Zenit St. Petersburg 3 - 0 Standard Liege
    • Zenit St. Petersburg wins 4-0 on aggregate.
  • Tuesday: Celtic 0 - 1 Maribor
    • Maribor wins 2-1 on aggregate.
  • Tuesday: APOEL 4 - 1 AaB Fodbold
    • APOEL wins 5-1 on aggregate.
  • Tuesday: BATE Borisov 3 - 0 Slovan Bratislava
    • BATE Borisov wins 4-1 on aggregate.
  • Tuesday: Porto 2 - 0 Lille
    • Porto wins 3-0 on aggregate.
  • Wednesday: Malmo v. Red Bull Salzburg; Swedbank Stadion, Malmo
    • Red Bull Salzburg leads 2-1.
  • Wednesday: Ludogorets Razgrad v. Steaua Bucharest; Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia
    • Steaua Bucharest leads 1-0.
  • Wednesday: Bayer Leverkusen v. Copenhagen; BayArena, Leverkusen
    • Bayer Leverkusen leads 3-2.
  • Wednesday: Athletic Bilbao v. Napoli; San Mames, Bilbao
    • Tie level 1-1.

Everton 2-2 Arsenal: Fighting Spirit

Photo: Getty Images

I missed the first half of this one due to my commitments for Arsenal NYC FC (Sadly out in the group stage of the NYC Supporters Club tournament, but only on goal difference - and with a cathartic win over Barcelona to go out on). So, no ratings, no usual long-form report. But, I did want to share a few thoughts in bullet point form.

  • All of the Olivier Giroud haters should have to march up to the nearest blackboard and write "I was wrong" 200 times. He was magnificent from the moment he came onto the pitch. His movement and hold-up play enabled Arsenal to get off of the back foot and start firing back, and of course it was he who popped up with the equalizer in the dying minutes of the match.
  • If you are an Arsenal supporter and Aaron Ramsey isn't the captain of your fantasy team, what on earth are you doing? The man simply can't stop scoring at the moment. While every player has purple patches and down moments, of course, the way that Arsenal play means that a late-arriving attacking midfielder such as he will always get a ton of scoring chances.
  • I wouldn't worry too much about Alexis Sanchez having (by all accounts) a rough game. It's his second outing in English football, let's give him a second to find his feet, eh?
  • Along the same lines, let's all cool it about Mesut Ozil. He's not nearly match fit yet, he'll be fine when he gets some minutes under his belt.
  • That relates to a larger point, actually. Our squad is not the finished article yet as far as team cohesion and fitness goes. Any non-loss result is a positive right now - take the points and run until you can get to a point where you've got everyone settled and playing well together. This goes double for a massively difficult fixture like Everton away, and double again for being down 2-0 at halftime.
  • That said, referee Kevin Friend and his lino sidekicks were absolutely horrendous. Embarrassing.  Never mind the fact that Everton's second goal was offside, but there was a foul not called in the build-up at the same level that would get Arsenal players whistled all throughout the second half. Don't even get me started on Ramsey's ridiculous second yellow - I would hope that Arsene appeals the shit out of that one.

The bottom line is that this result carries a tremendous feel-good factor to it heading into our all-important home date with Besiktas on Wednesday. Win that game, get one or two more reinforcements in, and this season just might shape up into something truly special.

Normal service will be resumed for that one

Preview by Numbers: Everton v. Arsenal

Goodison Park, Liverpool
Saturday, August 23
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: Andy Garratt and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Michael Oliver
  • This Match, Last Year: Everton 3 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 99 Arsenal wins, 59 Everton wins, 44 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-W // W
  • Everton's League Form: L-W-L-L-W // D
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 15 C / 59 F
It's hard to see his abs from this angle.
Arsenal always manage to get one tricky fixture thrown into their August slate while they are still trying to keep their squad together with duct tape. Last year, it was the North London derby, a satisfying 1-0 win. In 2012, it was a trip to Anfield and a 2-0 win. Before that, it was a trip to Old Trafford and a lopsided defeat.

This year, sandwiched between Champions League playoff matches, is a trip to Goodison Park, the site of one of Arsenal's four road capitulations last season. The season is a week old and Arsenal are already entering a critical phase. They need a result on Wednesday against Besiktas to progress in Europe. It would be a good idea to get the momentum rolling now with a good result against a tricky Everton side that will be no easier an opponent than they were last year, when the Toffees dominated both league encounters.

It's Arsenal's first crack this year at retaking the test they failed so many times last year. Let's hope the result is much different now.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Arteta (ankle,) Gibbs (hamstring,) Ospina (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Gnabry (knee,) Miyaichi (hamstring)
Doubts: Sanogo (hamstring,) Koscielny (Achilles)

Oh, so we're doing THIS again with all the injuries...
Well, this list is getting pretty long. Just like old times.

Mikel Arteta is the latest to join the list; his sprained ankle is going to keep him out of at least the next three matches, right into the international break. I wouldn't expect Kieran Gibbs back until after the Interlull, either.

The good news is the Germans should be close to available again. Per Mertesacker's availability means that Laurent Koscielny and his sore Achilles might be given a rest. On the other hand, this would really be considered throwing Per into the deep end. Then again, he is pretty tall...

As for the other Germans, well, we'll see if either are handed a start. I would, for the sake of being conservative in guesswork, bet against it. Arteta's injury should mean a start for Mathieu Flamini in the holding role. Having been ripped apart on the road for being too open last year, I would sincerely hope that Arsene Wenger stays conservative with his tactics. The onus will fall on Flamini, Jack Wilshere, and Aaron Ramsey to work hard in the midfield.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Chambers, Monreal, Flamini, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Alexis, Giroud.

Everton Squad News

Out: Barkley (knee,) Oviedo (leg,) Kone (knee)
Doubts: Mirallas (match fitness)

Everton will be without this face for six weeks.
Ross Barkley is facing about six weeks out of the lineup, after suffering a knee injury in training; Steven Naismith starts in midfield in his place. Bryan Oviedo remains out after breaking his leg in the FA Cup last January. Arouna Kone has not played for the Toffees since October with knee ligament damage; he is still about three weeks away. Everton's lack of depth up front (without Kone) has led to rumors swirling about Roberto Martinez considering buying another striker; Samuel Eto'o is the latest on that list.

Everton's summer business largely consisted of making some of their loan-ins permanent, in the case of Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry. Gerard Deulofeu, however, returned to Barcelona only to be loaned to Sevilla this season.

Tactically, nothing has changed for Everton this season; their starting XI hasn't really changed either. Seamus Coleman came off the bench last week after John Stones was handed a start. Kevin Mirallas is still on the road back from his World Cup with Belgium; he also came off the bench last week at Leicester and if he doesn't start tomorrow, Martinez will continue with Aiden McGeady on the wing.

Predicted XI: Howard, Coleman, Distin, Jagielka, Baines, Barry, McCarthy, Naismith, McGeady, Pienaar, Lukaku.

Current Form

Chris Wood's equalizer for the Foxes came in the 86th.
A 0-0 draw in the first leg of a Champions League playoff might not have been the best of results for Arsenal, but it wasn't the worst either. Arsenal have not lost a competitive fixture since their last trip to Goodison Park in April. They responded to that loss with six league wins spanning both seasons, three wins at Wembley to take the FA Cup and Community Shield, and Tuesday's draw in Istanbul.

Everton opened the season with what they would have to consider two points dropped; Leicester City came from behind twice to grab a season opening draw from the Toffees. Since that aforementioned win over Arsenal in April, Everton have won two league games (over Manchester United and Hull City,) drawn one (to Leicester City,) and lost three (to Crystal Palace, Southampton, and Manchester City.) While it's hard to compare one season to the next, especially in a World Cup year, it's clear that Everton had a true opportunity to condemn Arsenal to Europa League football last spring and they did not take it. To be fair, Besiktas still has that chance.

Match Facts

Everton looked like a good bet for fourth after this
fixture last season, but they stumbled in the run-in.
Arsenal took just one of a possible six points from Everton in the league last season, though the Gunners did boot the Toffees from the FA Cup one round before Wembley. This fixture last season was one of Arsenal's four disastrous road losses against each of the other sides finishing in the top five. Like in the others, Arsenal conceded early with Steven Naismith opening the scoring before a quarter of an hour had passed. Romelu Lukaku doubled the lead in the 34th and an Mikel Arteta own goal made it 3-0 just after the hour mark. The loss snapped Arsenal's 14-match unbeaten streak against Everton across all competitions.

In the league match at the Emirates, Arsenal led 1-0 through Mesut Ozil but conceded an equalizer just four minutes later and were resigned to a 1-1 draw. In the FA Cup, Arsenal won 4-1 with goals from Mesut Ozil, Mikel Arteta from a penalty he had to retake, and two from Olivier Giroud off the bench. 

The Referee

"This is my hairline."
The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. This is Friend's first Premier League appointment of the season; he worked two matches in the Championship earlier this month, while also handling fourth official duties for QPR v. Hull last week.

Arsenal had Friend as their referee only once last season, for the 3-1 come-from-behind win over West Ham United in April. Arsenal have a record of four wins, two draws, and no losses all-time with Friend in the middle. Friend took charge of three matches at Goodison Park last season: Everton's 0-0 draw with Tottenham in November, their 2-0 win over Norwich in January, and 3-1 win over Swansea in the FA Cup in February.

Around the League

  • Saturday (early): Aston Villa v. Newcastle United; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Leicester City; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. West Ham United; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Southampton v. West Bromwich Albion; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Burnley; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Sunday (early): Hull City v. Stoke City; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Sunday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Queens Park Rangers; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (late): Sunderland v. Manchester United; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Monday (night): Manchester City v. Liverpool; Etihad Stadium, Manchester

Besiktas JK 0-0 Arsenal: Can't Find an Away Goal

Earlier, before the match, I rather breezily predicted that we would win 2-0. Let me admit, right here in the lede, that I badly underestimated this Besiktas side. They fought their asses off, hunted in packs, and gave Arsenal everything they could handle in a spirited attempt to come to London with something substantial. Thankfully, a combination of resilience on Arsenal's part and horrendous finishing from the home side allowed us to escape Istanbul with a useful draw.

How different it could have been though had Wojciech Szczesny's reflexes and footwork been slightly less up to snuff. Demba Ba fired a cheeky effort on goal directly from the opening kick-off - normally those go several postal codes high and wide, but trajectory was on point here. Szczesny was equal to the task though, as he was able to tip it off the post and away to safety.

Besiktas has put down a marker that they were not going to gift the visitors with a free pass to the Champions League proper, and they continued to batter away at the Arsenal defense in the early exchanges, Ba was gifted another chance when Ersun Gulum's beautifully-weighted ball curled into the Senegal man's path. He struck it well on the full volley, but Szczesny was there to make a comfortable save.

The men in red managed to pull themselves back into it soon after, Alexis Sanchez unsurprisingly the focal point. The Chilean stormed past his man and played in Olivier Giroud, but the danger was snuffed out well by Pedro Franco. That was the first sign of life from Arsenal though, and Sanchez was in the thick of it again a few minutes later.

Ramon Motta had a mostly-excellent game for the Kara Kartallar, but he had his pocket picked by Sanchez just outside the penalty area. He found the onrushing Santi Cazorla, who had time and space to pick out the far corner. Sadly, he could only fire wide of the post. The Spaniard arguably should have done better there.

One would hope that such misses are more a function of the side's lack of match fitness more than anything else. Both sides seemed to be in thrall to a lack of sharpness, with sloppy passing and poor touches all over the field. Sanchez made a mockery of that idea though, as he tirelessly harried defenders in the first half. He fashioned a chance out of nothing at the half-hour mark when he stole the ball and played in Giroud. Once again, though, the big man fluffed his lines and the chance was lost.

He did better a few minutes later with a decent effort that Tolga Zengin did well to catch and hold, but it was the home side who should have scored twice, once either side of the interval. The otherwise-excellent Callum Chambers slipped when defending a long ball, allowing Ba the chance to run at the Arsenal goal. He danced past Laurent Koscielny and found some daylight, but he missed wide. 

Shortly after the halftime break, Mathieu Debuchy was caught upfield - and lucky to not see a card for a wild lunge at Veli Kavlak at that. Our old boy Oguzhan Ozyakup took advantage of the confusion with a gorgeous cross-field ball to the left wing. Olcay Sahan was in acres, the space vacated by Debuchy. Koscielny was once again easily evaded, but Sahan let himself down with a poor effort wide of the post.

That proved to be one of the last significant events of the match, as we dialed back the attacking intent somewhat at roughly the same time that Besiktas seemed to decide that perhaps 0-0 wasn't so bad after all. That's  not to say that there was an utter lack of incident, of course. Mathieu Flamini came on and got his customary yellow within six minutes, while Szczesny nullified one last dangerous situation with a strong punch on a corner kick.

It was up to referee Milorad Mazic to provide the biggest talking point of the match, though. He had an interesting strategy of calling nothing in the first half before issuing yellow cards for breathin in the second stanza. Aaron Ramsey, who had an otherwise-quiet match, was victimized by this in the 81st minute. His first yellow for a shirt pull was correct, I'll grant you. But, the second seemed to be for "Being in roughly the same area as Ozyakup as he fell over on his own accord". It was a crap call from a crap referee, but thankfully it didn't cost us in the end.

Actually, we could have nicked it in the end were it not for the excellence of the Turkish keeper. A Besiktas throw-in deep in their own end went to Kavlak, who was far too casual in possession. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, on as a sub for Sanchez, stole the ball and easily juked past Gulum's tame challenge. His curling shot seemed destined for the far corner, but Zengin fingertipped it onto the post at full stretch. What a fabulous can only tip your cap to the man, that was world-class.

So, we had back to London vulnerable to the away goal but also on even terms. It is perhaps more awkward than we'd like, but on the other hand we don't deserve to be in the Champions League if we can't beat this lot at home. I think we'll do it, for the record.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Monreal 7, Koscielny 6, Chambers 7, Debuchy 7, Arteta 7 (Flamini 7), Wilshere 7, Cazorla 6 (Rosicky N/A), Ramsey 7, Sanchez 8 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Giroud 6

Man of the Match: He may have gone off the boil somewhat in the second half, but Alexis Sanchez was clearly the best player on the field.

Preview by Numbers: Besiktas v. Arsenal, Champions League Play-off, First Leg

Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul
Tuesday, August 19
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials from Serbia
    • Referee: Milorad Mazic
    • Assistants: Milovan Ristic and Dalibor Djurdjevic
    • 4th Official: Danilo Grujic and Dejan Filipovic
    • Additional Assistants: Vladimir Jovanovic
  • All-Time in All Competitions: First competitive meeting
  • Arsenal's European Form: L-W-W-L-L-D
  • Beskitas's European Form: W-L-L-L // L-W
  • Weather: Clear and Breezy, 24 C / 76 F
Olivier Giroud hangs out with
some new friends during training.
It took 90+1 minutes, but Arsenal captured all three points on Saturday against Crystal Palace. While the performance might not have been anything to write home about, when you're coming back from a World Cup summer, where players return in drips and drabs, results are all that matter. The three points count the same from every match. Are there some things that need ironing out? Of course there are. But, that's the kind of thing (especially in terms of sharpness and match fitness) that can only be resolved in time.

Arsenal change gears now and look to qualify for the Champions League group stage for the 17th consecutive year as they take on Besiktas in Istanbul. In a much more dire position last summer in terms of the squad, Arsenal progressed nicely past Fenerbahce, which has to be seem as a similar situational circumstance. If last year's squad could advance 5-0 on aggregate, this year's squad has to have similar expectations.

Besiktas have a few threats in their squad, most notable Demba Ba, acquired from Chelsea this summer. That said, Arsenal seem to have their mindset right; all of their players have talked about how "desperate" they are to qualify, which clearly shows they won't be taking the Turkish side too lightly.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gibbs (hamstring,) Sanogo (hamstring,) Ospina (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Gnabry (knee,) Miyaichi (hamstring)
World Cup Absences: Ozil, Podolski, Mertesacker
Doubts: Koscielny (Achilles)

The German contingent does the robot during a
side training session this week.
Arsenal's big questions still revolve around the back four, especially with the news that Kieran Gibbs will miss three weeks thanks to a hamstring strain. There remain doubts over Laurent Koscielny's Achilles as well, though the fact that Per Mertesacker did not take the flight to Istanbul means that he will not be used as emergency cover, which must mean Kos is more than likely to start. With Gibbs out, Nacho Monreal will be forced to deputize. He struggled much of last season due to an inability to find anything close to form; hopefully some regular playing time after a full preseason will do him good. Hector Bellerin was on the flight to provide some cover.

The Germans are still not due back into the fold until the trip to Everton on Saturday at the earliest. With that big early season fixture looming on the horizon, one wonders how much Arsene Wenger may rotate his midfielders and forwards for this one. Yaya Sanogo did not make the trip with a hamstring strain of his own (though likely not as long-term as Gibbs's.) That means Olivier Giroud, who came off the bench on Saturday, should start up top. In terms of rotation, there could be starts in the cards for Mathieu Flamini, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and maybe even Joel Campbell.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Koscielny, Chambers, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell, Giroud.

Besiktas Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Hutchinson

I always find it weird when they make players take
promotional photos during their medicals.
Besiktas's only injury concern is to versatile midfielder and Canadian international Atiba Hutchinson. His absence would be a huge blow to the Turkish side's chances, though I can't find confirmation anywhere about what his injury may be.

The Black Eagles' captain is goalkeeper Tolga Zengin who has won 8 caps for the Turkish national team. The back four includes Brazilian Ramon Motta at left back, who made a loan move from Corinthians permanent this summer. Obviously, the Gunners will be well aware of Demba Ba up front; the Turkish club signed Ba from Chelsea for £8 million on July 17. Ba should start up top with Mustafa Pektemek in a 4-4-2.

Former Arsenal academy prospect Oguzhan Ozyakup has been with the Turkish side since 2012, making 42 league appearances in two seasons. Ozyakup made two League Cup appearances for Arsenal in 2011. Arsenal should also be moderately familiar with former Fulham midfielder Kerim Frei; Frei came off the bench for the Cottagers in their 2-1 win over Arsenal on January 2, 2012 and their 1-0 loss to Arsenal on April 20, 2013.

Predicted XI: Zengin, Kurtulus, Gulum, Franco, Ramon Motta, Frei, Kavlak, Uysal, Sahan, Pektemek, Ba

European Form

This referee went on to work the World Cup Final.
Last season in Europe, Arsenal had a record of six wins, one draw, and three losses. The Gunners won both matches against Fenerbahce in their play-off to reach the group stage, where they finished second in the Group of Death on 12 points (Napoli and Borussia Dortmund also finished on 12 points.) Arsenal, for the second straight year, drew Bayern Munich in the Round of 16 and were punished heavily by Wojciech Szczesny's 37th minute red card in the first leg. Bayern were able to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the tie against ten man Arsenal, then held on after a 1-1 draw in Munich. Arsenal finished last year's European campaign with a better record on the road (three wins, one loss, one draw) than at home (three wins, two losses.)

Besiktas have already advanced through one round of this year's Champions League, defeating Dutch side Feyenoord 5-2 on aggregate. On July 30, the Turks took a 2-1 road win to take the lead in the tie before a Demba Ba hat trick on August 6 in Istanbul closed out the tie. Last year, Beskitas qualified for the group stage of the Europa League, defeating Norwegian side Tromsø in the play-off, but were consequently banned from the competition as part of the punishment for the Turkish corruption scandal.

Match Facts

Arsenal's trip to Istanbul last season was the only time
they were forced to wear alternate colored shorts.
This is the first meeting between Arsenal and Besiktas. Arsenal faced Turkish opposition in last year's Champions League play-off round as well, advancing past Fenerbahce 5-0 on aggregate, winning 3-0 in Istanbul and 2-0 at the Emirates. Aaron Ramsey had three of the five Arsenal goals; Kieran Gibbs and Olivier Giroud had the others, the latter from the penalty spot. Arsenal had played Fenerbahce in four other matches prior to that tie, advancing 2-0 on aggregate in the 1979/80 Cup Winners' Cup and picking up four of a possible six points in the 2008 Champions League group stage. Arsenal's only other match against a Turkish side came in the 2000 UEFA Cup Final against Galatasaray, where there was some unpleasantness. In seven matches, Arsenal have never lost a competitive fixture against Turkish opposition.

Beskitas have played a total of 14 matches against English sides, losing half of them, winning four, and drawing three. Most recently, Besiktas faced Stoke City in the 2011 Europa League group stage; Stoke won 2-1 at the Britannia while Besiktas won 3-1 in Istanbul. In the 2009 Champions League group stage, Besiktas won 1-0 at Old Trafford after losing 1-0 to Manchester United at home. In the 2007 Champions League group stage, the Turkish side beat Liverpool 2-1 in Istanbul, but then lost 8-0 at Anfield. The Turkish side has a record of two wins, three draws, and three losses at home against English opposition.

In a friendly earlier this summer, Besiktas defeated Chelsea 1-0 on a late goal from center back Ersan Gulum.

The Referee

"No, I'm totally better looking than you!"
The match officials are from Serbia; the referee is Milorad Mazic. Mazic has taken charge of one Arsenal match in his career; that was last year's 2-0 win over Napoli at the Emirates on Matchday 2. Mazic has never worked a Champions League match involving a Turkish side (this will be his third season working matches in Europe's highest club competition.) English sides have a record of four wins, two draws, and two losses with Mazic in the middle. Besiktas have seen Mazic once, with that match coming in the 2011 Europa League group stage; Besiktas lost the match 1-0 in Ukraine to Dynamo Kiev.

Mazic found himself in the center of controversy twice during the group stage of this summer's World Cup. First, Mazic was in charge of Germany's 4-0 win over Portugal, during which he sent off Pepe for headbutting Thomas Muller. He had already previously awarded Germany a borderline penalty for a foul on Mario Gotze, which generated mixed opinions from pundits. Second, in the Argentina-Iran match, he failed to award Iran a penalty when Pablo Zabaleta collided with Ashkan Dejagah.

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Red Bull Salzburg v. Malmo; Red Bull Arena, Wals-Siezenheim
  • Tuesday: Steaua Bucharest v. Ludogorets Razgrad; Arena Nationala, Bucharest
  • Tuesday: Copenhagen v. Bayer Leverkusen; Telia Parken, Copenhagen
  • Tuesday: Napoli v. Athletic Bilbao; Stadio San Paolo, Naples
  • Wednesday: Maribor v. Celtic; Stadion Ljudski vrt, Maribor
  • Wednesday: AaB Fodbold v. APOEL; Nordjyske Arena, Aalborg
  • Wednesday: Slovan Bratislava v. BATE Borisov; Stadion Pasiensky, Bratislava
  • Wednesday: Standard Liege v. Zenit St. Petersburg; Stade Maurice Dufrasne, Liege
  • Wednesday: Lille v. Porto; Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Villeneuve-d'Ascq

Arsenal 2-1 Crystal Palace: Never in Doubt

There is a common fallacy in the reporting of this game that last-minute goals are somewhat unfair, fluky and undeserved. You know, as if it was a random act of luck as opposed to - usually - the natural extension of one team being better than the other for the entirety of the game. A goal in the 90th minute counts exactly the same as one in the first, the 15th, or the 60th.

Arsenal were always better than Crystal Palace over the 90 minutes, slack marking on one set piece aside. Anyone who tells you that we weren't worth all three points doesn't understand this sport enough to be worth listening to.

That said, Palace did play fairly well themselves, and would have come away from many other grounds with at least a point. They sat in two banks for four at times, but they did not attempt to bunker for the entire match. When they countered, they did so at pace and with purpose. Frazier Campbell might even have stunned the Emirates into silence before a full minute had elapsed, had a through-ball to him been better weighted.

Once that early chance was evaded though, the home side settled into a casual domination of the match. The visitors largely rode it out without too much bother, though I can't help thinking that a better starting lineup may have given them more to think about. Yaya Sanogo was preferred to Olivier Giroud up top, answers on a postcard if you can work out why. Dennis knows, I stumped. Jack Wilshere also got the nod alongside Mikel Arteta in central midfield, despite looking off the pace in the preseason friendlies.

It wasn't just the odd selections that contributed to our lack of chances, though. Santi Cazorla, who remains a magnificent player, had a dreadful match from first minute to last. His set piece deliveries were abysmal, and he kept getting muscled off the ball in good areas.

Still, the Gunners as a whole were not playing poorly. Callum Chambers dazzled in central defense, calmly breaking up attacks before building ours up intelligently. Alexis Sanchez tormented Palace down the right wing with dizzying stepovers and dribbles, albeit with the final ball somewhat lacking. Aaron Ramsey was, as ever, often our most dangerous attacker. Sanogo worked hard, and did hold the ball well on a few occasions.

Even when Palace took the lead, I was never worried that we would go on to lose the match. Frustratingly, their goal was down to crap defending on a set piece (I know, you must be stunned too).

Before I get to that, most of you know that I am Wojciech Szczesny's biggest fan. However, indirectly, he was at fault for the goal. A long ball over the top was Szczesny's to clean up, and he did the right thing by coming out of his area to do so. However, he badly shanked his clearance - and while old boy Marouane Chamakh's weak lob attempt was never going in, it did lead to Laurent Koscielny having to concede the corner.

Sanchez will get the blame for letting Brede Hangeland get away from him once that corner was taken, but the way that zonal marking works is that once the Norwegian made that darting run inside, he wasn't Sanchez's man anymore. Koscielny was badly at fault with his slow reaction to come over, and once Sanogo missed the first header, the result was never in doubt. Handeland guided an excellent header into the far corner, and the more nervous among us were already writing the game off.

That, of course, was silly.

Here's the thing - over 90 minutes, and more importantly over a season, success will tend to happen if a team is mostly doing the right things. The way I described it to people in the pub was that for most of the match, we were doing everything 95% right. It was just that final ball, one run not made, one unlucky bounce, one excellent tackle from the Palace defense that kept conspiring against us. But, people put far too much stock in the immediate short-term outcomes. What's important is the long view...keep doing the right things, keep getting in the right positions, keep playing with verve and attacking intent. Sooner or later, something will break for you.

By that, I don't mean referee Jonathan Moss managing to blast his own vanishing spray into the faces of himself and Cazorla. What a maroon.

What I do mean though is that Arsenal kept at it, and found an equalizer just before the stroke of halftime. Alexis was the man to take it, and his beauty of a set piece curled into the area directly in the path of Koscielny's run. The Palace defense were all over the place, and Kos was left completely free to atone for his earlier error by guiding a cushioned header past Julian Speroni.

The second half continued mostly as the first had gone on, though Kieran Gibbs did go off early with what looked like a hamstring problem. Given that I rate Nacho Monreal as one of the lesser defenders in the entire division, I hope it's not serious. Olivier Giroud also came on for the ineffectual Sanogo, but never managed to find a way into the game. Uncharacteristically, the third sub came soon after, the dreadful Wilshere off for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

None of it seemed to make much of a difference, though. As it had been before, Arsenal casually dominated but rarely threatened. Still, it comes back to what I said before, though. Keep doing the right things, and keep doing the right things, and sooner or later something goes your way.

Moss made liberal use of his yellow card in the second half, though in fairness most of them were deserved. I note it here because Jason Puncheon managed to receive two of them, and found himself taking the long walk in the 89th minute. I don't know if that little bit of extra space gave us the impetus we needed or if it was just a matter of time, as I've been saying. Either way, we shortly thereafter found a way to score the winning goal.

It started from a corner, which was initially cleared, but then pinballed around the Palace area. The excellent Mathieu Debuchy fired in a shot which Speroni saved, but his rebound control let him down as it came right out to the unmarked Ramsey. The Welsh Jesus couldn't miss, sending all of us Gooners into raptures as one point turned to three in the blink of an eye.

Anyway, it's true that the Arsenal did not play up to their potential today. But, I continue to insist that they were fairly decent on the day, all thinks considered. Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil should be back soon, and perhaps the Boss will have one or two more signings for us before the window closes. Maybe it wasn't a perfect day, but I don't think anyone out there will be in a hot hurry to trade places with Manchester United today.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 6, Gibbs 7 (Monreal 7), Koscielny 7, Chambers 8, Debuchy 8, Arteta 7, Wilshere 5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Cazorla 5, Ramsey 7, Sanchez 7, Sanogo 6 (Giroud 6)

Man of the Match: Oddly enough, I don't think it was either of our goalscorers. For me, Callum Chambers was the best Arsenal player on the field today, both defensively and with the way he efficiently linked up to the attackers. Well done, kid.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Crystal Palace

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, August 16
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Jonathan Moss
    • Assistants: Lee Betts and Mark Scholes
    • 4th Official: Robert Madley
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 0 Crystal Palace
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 22 Arsenal wins, 3 Crystal Palace wins, 10 draws
  • Arsenal's End of Season Form: L-W-W-W-W-W
  • Crystal Palace's End of Season Form: W-W-W-L-D-D
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 20 C / 68 F
Arsenal have won a giant plate to go along with the
cup they won last year. Now they just need some cutlery...
One trophy in the bag, four to go.

Arsenal's capture of the Community Shield last week was thrilling because of the manner in which it was done. Of course, since a half-strength Manchester City squad didn't really look like they bothered at all at times, Arsenal's victory has been written off by some as just a glorified friendly. These are likely the same people that would have lambasted the Gunners had they lost the match. Ultimately, you can only win the games that are put in front of you and last week Arsenal did that with aplomb.

Given the relative strength of this Arsenal squad in comparison to those over the last several seasons, it's astonishing how many pundits continue to predict Arsenal to fall out of the top four. Honestly, it's like a good luck charm at this point.

Anyway, going back to my earlier point, you can only win the games that are in front of you and you can only win them one at a time, so let's set the grand scope of the 2014/15 season aside and focus squarely on Crystal Palace for tomorrow's opener. Suddenly, Palace find themselves in turmoil as manager Tony Pulis resigned from his position by mutual consent yesterday. While Arsenal fans have never really thought too highly of Pulis dating back to his days at Stoke, it's clear what a positive impact he had on Palace's survival last season. Truly an astonishing development two days before the start of the season.

Back to the task at hand, the Gunners opened 2013/14 in one of the worst ways possible. Let's not do the same this year, shall we?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ospina (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Gnabry (knee,) Miyaichi (hamstring)
World Cup Absences: Ozil, Podolski, Mertesacker
Doubts: Koscielny (Achilles)

One of the new guys holds the plate.
For all of the positive moves the Gunners made this summer, it wouldn't really be the start of Arsenal season if the club didn't have some sort of massive hole somewhere in the squad. Presently, that hole is in the center of defense. The club sold Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker is just back from his post-World Cup vacation, and Laurent Koscielny was removed at halftime from last weekend's match with an Achilles injury.

So, what two players will start at center back? Well, Arsene Wenger has stated that Koscielny should be fit to start, so that's a bullet dodged. As with the Community Shield, I think Calum Chambers (who massively impressed) will start along with him.

The rest of the lineup should pick itself; the only change from the Shield that I would make is Olivier Giroud starting up top instead of Yaya Sanogo.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Koscielny, Chambers, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla, Alexis, Giroud.

Crystal Palace Squad News

Out: Thomas (knock)
Doubts: Mariappa (rib,) Delaney (knock,) Williams (thigh)

Brede Hangeland's release from Fulham was acrimonious,
with the defender claiming he was notified by e-mail.
Ex-Arsenal youth player Jerome Thomas suffered an injury-plagued season last year, making just nine appearances for the Eagles in midfield; he is not expected to take part in this match either. Right back Adrian Mariappa is a slight doubt with a rib injury; he was held out of Palace's last friendly of the summer as a precaution. Damien Delaney and Jonathan Williams are also doubts, but should both be available for selection.

This summer, Palace brought in Frazier Campbell from relegated Cardiff City to lead their front line ahead of ex-Arsenal man Marouane Chamakh. They also brought in Brede Hangeland from relegated Fulham at center back and free agent goalkeeper Chris Kettings from Blackpool. The club also announced the signing of Martin Kelly from Liverpool yesterday. In terms of exits, Palace made no sales this summer, but released the likes of Kagisho Dikgacoi and Danny Gabbidon.

Though Pulis is now out as manager, I would not expect the club's tactics to change drastically just hours after the announcement. The defenders play narrow and cut out crosses; they rely on the organization of the midfielders to force opponents out wide. Palace conceded just 48 goals last year, two fewer than Liverpool and three fewer than Tottenham. They'll line up with two banks of four in defense and midfield and Chamakh playing behind Campbell up top, a 4-4-1-1.

Predicted XI: Speroni, Mariappa, Delaney, Hangeland, Ward, Puncheon, Bolasie, Ledley, Jedinak, Chamakh, Campbell.

Last Season

Hey! Remember this?!
Well, I feel like last season has been recapped about eighty bazillion times, but let's have one more go, shall we?

Summer 2013: Arsenal announces they have a ton of money to spend, then doesn't end up spending it. The Gunners lose in incredible fashion on opening day. The team rebounds with a handful of wins, then finally spends the money on Mesut Ozil.

Autumn 2013: The introduction of Ozil helps the squad to a first place run and qualification for the Champions League knockout phase from the Group of Death. League Cup casually tossed aside with bigger aspirations.

Winter 2013/14: Injuries start to take their toll and Arsenal's record in big road fixtures is found sorely lacking. Club crashes out of Europe but progresses nicely in the FA Cup.

Spring 2014: Suddenly a battle for fourth is on after a dreadful March, but the Gunners end the season on a high note, claiming fourth spot and winning the FA Cup, the club's first trophy in nine billion years.

As for Crystal Palace, they won one of their first 11 games and sat 20th as late in the season as January 11. Tony Pulis took over in late November to attempt to turn things around, but the Eagles still sat 17th after a loss to Newcastle on March 22. From there, Palace won five straight (starting with a win over Chelsea) to climb to 11th place. The club famously came from 3-0 down to draw Liverpool 3-3, putting another dent in the Reds' title hopes. Palace's cup runs were nothing to write home about last year; they lost in the League Cup in August and in the FA Cup in January.

Match Facts

Everybody is floating! I don't recall this game being
played in zero-gravity...
Arsenal won both fixtures with Palace by 2-0 scorelines last year, though both matches were scoreless at halftime. At Selhurst Park in October, Palace conceded an early second half penalty which Mikel Arteta put away to make it 1-0 Arsenal. Later in the half, Arteta was sent off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity that was really way too far out to be that obvious. It got a bit nervous for 10-man Arsenal, but Olivier Giroud tallied a late insurance goal. In the match at the Emirates in early February, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored twice to give the Gunners the victory.

Crystal Palace have beaten Arsenal only three times in 35 all-time meetings, but two of their three wins came at Highbury, one in 1970 in the League Cup and the other in 1994.

Arsenal have not won on opening day since a 6-1 win over Everton in 2009; they drew three straight from 2010 through 2012 and lost last year. Last year's 3-1 loss to Aston Villa was Arsenal's first opening day loss since 2000 when they lost at Sunderland. Crystal Palace have lost three straight season openers; their last opening day win came over Leicester in 2010.

The Referee

Bah. Wrong moss again.
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Jonathan Moss. Moss, incidentally, was the man in the middle of this fixture last season. Arsenal saw Moss three times last year, winning all three via clean sheets: 2-0 over Cardiff, 2-0 over Crystal Palace, and 3-0 over Hull. Arsenal have seven wins all time from seven competitive fixtures with Moss as the referee. Arsenal did, however, lose to Galatasaray in the Emirates Cup in 2013 thanks, in part, to a dubious penalty awarded by Moss.

Crystal Palace saw Moss twice last season, both 2-0 losses. One was to Arsenal, as mentioned earlier, and the other was to Manchester United, in which Palace were controversially reduced to ten men in the 44th minute. Kagisho Dikgacoi had been involved in two incidents with Ashley Young in the match. In the first, Young was booked for diving; in the second, Dikgacoi was shown his marching orders. Incidentally, because it was the second time Young tumbled theatrically in the match, Moss had to send someone off in the incident, either Dikgacoi for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, or Young for a second simulation yellow; ultimately, it was the visitor because, hey, Old Trafford. The incident took place in September, long before everybody started beating United (except Arsenal.)

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Manchester United v. Swansea City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Everton; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. Hull City; Loftus Road, London
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Aston Villa; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Sunderland; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Tottenham Hotspur; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Sunday (early): Liverpool v. Southampton; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Newcastle United v. Manchester City; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Monday (night): Burnley v. Chelsea; Turf Moor, Burnley

Arsenal 3-0 Manchester City: Message Sent

I was half-tempted to have the entire body of this match report simply read:  " :) ". You loyal readers deserve better than that, of course, but the urge was there all the same. You know, it's funny to me how the same people who would have wittered on for ages about the "same old Arsenal" had this scoreline been reversed are the very same ones that immediately are pointing out that "it's just preseason".

You know what? It's not. It's just bloody not.

Photo: Reuters

Psychology matters in this game. Teams that believe in their heart and in their soul that they're going to win tend to do so. We've seen the reverse of this for far too long, with Arsenal succumbing to the other big teams in a shroud of self-perpetuating gloom. The moves that Arsene and the transfer team have made in this offseason have lifted much of that gloom, and the extra something that talents like Alexis Sanchez give us have allowed us to play these games with the freedom that our talent should always have allowed.

Meanwhile, many of the reports around this one have gone to great pains to call this an "under-strength" City team. Oh, really? This is who they started: Caballero, Clichy, Boyata, Nastasjic, Kolarov, Navas, Fernando, Toure, Nasri, Jovetic, Dzeko. The ONLY guy among that lot who won't get a ton of games this season for them is Boyata.. That's it. End of list. So, to say that City were under-strength is to take away from what was an astonishingly-great 25 minutes at the end of the first a half, a period of time that saw Arsenal effectively end the game as a contest.

As for the opening 20 minutes of the half, I wish I could tell you all about it - unfortunately, the MTA did its thing again and I was thus unable to catch it. I'm told I missed absolutely nothing, and wasn't it nice of the side to wait until I got into the pub to open the scoring? I may have had three sips of my Magners before Willy Caballero was picking the ball out of his net. Admittedly I didn't catch the build-up in the play, but I did see Santi Cazorla torment young Boyata with some excellent hold-up play before shifting to the side and drilling an unstoppable shot into the far corner.

Arsenal's tails were up, and frankly they monstered City for the rest of the half. Alexis Sanchez ran the show down the right wing, his dribbling and passing mesmerizing at every turn. Mathieu Debuchy and Callum Chambers both looked rock-solid in defense, while Jack Wilshere had his best match in ages.

Just wait until the boys get used to playing with one another.

City improved as the half went along, because how could they not? That just meant that Arsenal had more room to counter, and sure enough it was soon 2-0. Yaya Sanogo collected a long ball well, and used his strength to hold off Boyata. Help soon arrived in the form of Aaron Ramsey, and the Welsh Jesus coolly slotted past Caballero to double the lead.

The slick attacking prowess exhibited from the Arsenal got disrupted somewhat by the raft of substitutions, both sides clearly keeping one eye on next week's season opener. City did a little better, and forced a couple of excellent saves out of Wojciech Szczesny. That kept it at 2-0 long enough for Olivier Giroud to add some gloss to the scoreline with a ridiculous long-range tracer that left Caballero with a snowball's chance.

That was our lot, really. A fun little run-out with a 2/3rds-strength team against opponents that were about the same, though the result should prove to be a massive psychological benefit. This is a pretty damn good team we have here, and I think this is going to be a hell of a run ride this season.

No ratings or anything this week - insert jokes about me being in preseason form as well here. Normal service next week.

Anyway, if I were Tony Pulis, I'd be quaking in my baseball cap right about now.