Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur: What Could Have Been

Photo: Getty Images

Despite the fact that our nearest and dearest scored first and held the lead for a relatively long time in the second half, this result borders on the preposterous. Arsenal absolutely monstered Tottenham from first minute to last, and played well enough where on most days, the haul at the end would have been all three points.

Then again, I'd argue that the manager's tactics and team selection contributed in large part to the fact that it was only one (Drew touched on a lot of what I would have said here - go ahead and read his piece from yesterday, mark me down for "what he said", and take that as our starting point).

The defense picked itself, of course, as did most of the attackers. The utterly bizarre news from the opening teamsheet though was that Alexis Sanchez was left on the bench. Apparently, Arsene himself didn't have much of an explanation for it in the post-match inquest. Well, that's good. Nice to know that there's a serious plan behind the major decisions that he makes. Sigh. Instead, Jack Wilshere was shoehorned in along with Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Here's the thing - I don't know what Wilshere does, really. It's not that he's a bad player - far from it, in fact. I just don't get how the pieces are supposed to fit together here (Again, Drew covered this already in the link above).

So, while the team did not perform badly at all in the first half, many of our moves broke down because there was no coherent flow or gameplan to what we were doing. At times, the winger or fullback would get in a cross, and there was no one in the area to receive. Other times, two or three players would all be in the same space, making it easy for the Scum to keep their defensive shape and repel the attack.

That said, a quick word about the referee, Michael Oliver. He was surely overawed by the occasion, and his correspondingly erratic performance led to a small village's worth of yellow cards for not that much in particular. It's a derby match, for fuck's sake. On top of that, how is it that the challenges that injured Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey were not yellow card offenses, but any time we breathed on one of their guys, it was? What an absolute prize nimrod this man is.

Anyway, the two injuries meant that Mathieu Flamini came in as a like-for-like with Arteta, and Santi Cazorla replaced Rambo. The little Spaniard did OK, but how was Alexis not the first man off the bench there from an attacking perspective? Again, I find myself baffled by the manager's thought processes.

That took us to halftime, the sum total of serious chances being one good stop from Hugo Lloris on Oxlade-Chamberlain. Danny Welbeck was a phantom up top, visible to the naked eye but completely incorporeal to the flow of events. The match was screaming out for Alexis' directness and energy, but there he was, on the bench.

Still, we looked a little better after the restart, Lloris again saving well when Ozil got some space in the area. But, the visitors continued to defend well - Younes Kaboul in particular had a good game as did the debutant Ryan Mason - and found themselves in the lead in the 56th minute thanks to an indefensible cock-up in midfield. A free kick from Christen Eriksen was easily handled by Wojciech Szczesny, but as we moved up the field, Flamini was guilty of dallying on the ball. Somehow, our snarly, tough defensive midfielder was inexcusably muscled off the ball by the frail sprite that is Eriksen. Our fullbacks were caught out high up the field, Erik Lamela played in Nacer Chadli, and the Belgian coolly finished past the stranded Szczesny.

As so very Arsenal a goal as that was to concede, we almost pegged them back immediately. All throughout this time, I was confident that we weren't going to lose - all the signs were there. In fact, the sheer number of panicked yellow cards that Scum players took after their goal should tell you something. Also, the fact that we were running at defenders and shooting from distance occasionally were both good signs to me. Anyway, we got a quick free kick in their end, and Per Mertesacker got a strong header to it. Somehow, Lloris got down in a flash with a strong hand to sweep it off the goal line. I hate to admit it, but for me that's the save of the season so far. Many people just don't know how good that was.

The hour mark came soon after, and with it two substitutions that changed the match. Inexplicably, Mauricio Pochettino withdrew Eriksen, who to that point had arguably been their best player by some distance. Conversely, Arsene yanked the ineffectual Wilshere and belatedly introduced Alexis to the proceedings.

Now, we were getting somewhere.

Arsenal immediately looked that much more threatening, the Chilean bringing another gear that we hadn't shown previously. He had a few naff touches as he worked the rust off, but soon we were bearing down on the Tottenham goal in waves. Callum Chambers, of all people, so nearly found the equalizer with a ferocious half-volley from outside the area. He struck it so sweetly, and Lloris was beaten all ends up. Sadly, it whistled agonizingly just over the crossbar.

You always felt the goal was coming though, and sure enough we only had to wait a minute longer for it to arrive. Sanchez was the starting point of the move, as he played in Cazorla. The Spaniard fired the ball into the area towards Welbeck, who managed to connect with nothing but air. It proved to be a stellar dummy though, leaving the Ox unmarked in the back post to lash an unstoppable shot over Lloris and into the roof of the net.

Just after the goal, there was a stretch of a few minutes where I honestly thought we'd go on to win it. The men in red poured forward with renewed intensity, but to their credit the Scum backline held up long enough to take the sting out of the game. Arsenal soon ran out of ideas, and the match limped to its denouement despite there being five minutes of additional time at the end.

Side note, while I think of it. We had 15 corner kicks in this match. FIF-FUCKING-TEEN. Not once, on any of them, did we ever seriously threaten to score. It's a gaping hole in our offensive game. It strikes me that if we scored 5-6 more goals a season on set pieces like this, it could potentially make a massive difference in terms of turning 0 points into 1, or 1 into 3.

That said, I don't think the sky is falling here. There were definite signs of improvement in our overall attacking play, even if the end product wasn't always there. Despite that, we still win this game comfortably had Lloris not played out of his skin. While I frankly think that Chelsea is going to absolutely maul us at the Bridge next weekend, overall I think we're progressing to the point where if we can go 5 seconds without someone else being injured, we should be comfortable in our annual chase for the Arsene Wenger Memorial 4th-Place Trophy.

If that sounds like I'm writing off our title chances, it's only because I am. I don't think we have a prayer of winning the title as long as Wenger is still the manager, so I've resolved myself to enjoying the positives where and when I can and letting the rest of it roll off my back. It's definitely taken a lot of stress out of my life, that's for sure.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 6, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 7, Chambers 7, Arteta 7 (Flamini 5), Wilshere 6 (Sanchez 7), Ozil 7, Ramsey 7 (Cazorla 7), Welbeck 6

Man of the Match: It's true that Koscielny was an absolute boss in central defense, and the Ox of course scored the goal. But, if we're being honest...really, really honest...the Scum lose this match handily were it not for the heroics of Hugo Lloris. I may get slaughtered for this and that's fine, but some his saves were otherworldly today.

Too much of one and not enough of the other; an Arsenal dilemma

Match reviews are not my cup of tea really.  I love a good rundown of proceedings, but with the way my mind works, I love to write reactionary pieces given the days events.  Be it good or bad, there is something to be said about an article written by a fan who can encapsulate the voice of many on what transpired on the pitch for ninety minutes.  In the case of today's proceedings, it's hard to find many who are in camp Happy Town.  Surely, Arsenal's 1-1 draw with Tottenham will be felt by most as a massive let down and a big disappointment.

Football, like all other sports really, has that funny way of convincing supporters that a history of results ultimately means that the upcoming fixture and it's result is somehow preordained.  While so many Gooners love to rag on Spurs and our history of success over them, especially under Arsene Wenger, it's interesting to note all the gloating amongst the faithful despite the truth that we ourselves have not been playing incredibly well this season either.  

Yes, after today's result we are still undefeated, but that is not something we should boast about for more than .5 seconds.  A performance against Palace on opening day saw us struggle, we probably should have lost against Everton, and we have dropped points against City and now against the Spuds.  We've not been good, and it's not secret as to why.

When news of the team sheet came through, the media had most believe that we would deploy in a 4-2-3-1, with Ramsey and Arteta in midfield and Wilshere, Ozil and Chamberlain deployed behind Welbeck.  But anyone that looked at the player selection knew that a 4-1-4-1 was coming.  Yes, that shambles of a formation and tactical deployment that has been at the root of all our other disappointing performances this season was back again.  

After the excellent performance at Villa Park last weekend where the boys put in a strong all round showing highlighted by Mesut Ozil, why would Wenger revert back to a cautious team selection when we are playing Spurs at the Emirates in the North London Derby?  The answer is simple; too much of one and not enough of the other.

Ramsey, Wilshere and Arteta all started in midfield today; the prime example of too much of one and not enough of the other (image courtesy of Arsenal's official Facebook page)
In his post match thoughts, Wenger fully admitted that there was no justifiable reason that he did not start Sanchez today, but simply, that it was just the selection he made.  Not only was Sanchez left on the bench, but Cazorla was as well - why? Because there is a sense that Le Prof is trying his hardest to force the Wilshere/Ramsey central partnership any chance he can.  

While it's clearly not some sort of love affair, the problem is that we have too many of one type of midfielder and not enough of the other.  I perhaps can understand why Wenger would want to play a flat four midfield with Arteta just behind, but the problem is neither Ramsey nor Wilshere is made for it.  Time and time again, there is ample proof to show that you need midfielders with steel, grit and the ability to fight tooth and nail to win control of the midfield in order to be successful in the Premier League - bless their hearts, but neither Wilshere nor Ramsey can call on any of those traits.

Point being, is that Arsenal have too many creative players and not enough of the sort we have been missing since Gilberto Silva was at the club, and Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit before him.  Added to Rammer and Jack, we have Santi Cazorla (who prefers to play centrally), Tomas Rosicky, Mesut Ozil, Mikel Arteta (a creative player by trade and not defensive minded) and Abou Diaby - all players who prefer to get forward and be creative.  Only Mathieu Flamini and Francis Coquelin can boast that they are the type of player we lack, and that really is not saying much.  Given our overstocked central midfield, it's no shock that Wenger has tried to make a 4-1-4-1 work, but at what cost?  

In regards to today, yet again he shifted Ozil wide on the left, and given his insistence on trying to make this work, there was no room for Sanchez.  It is rather ironic that once Sanchez was introduced, we were a far more dangerous side, but any which way you slice it, when your choices of team selection alienate your most creative player, finds your second best player on the bench, and asks your third best player to play a role where he is not suited, there is a serious problem in that way of thinking.

It's probably a bit ironic that Chamberlain scored our goal today, considering he was the only midfielder to feature that isn't naturally central of the creative type (image courtesy of Arsenal's official Facebook page)
What frustrated so many come full time, was just how negative we were on the day.  Not only were we too cautious in our tactics, but for large spells of the game we were only interested in keeping possession rather than really creating a ton of quality chances.  Such play and underperforming can trace its origins back to the notion of that we have too many creative players always looking to slow things down.  Remember when players like G.Silva, Petit and Vieira used to win the ball, drive forward and then play a ball that saw us break?  Yes, I remember those days too, and it was when we had a far better balance in the squad than we do now.

Truthfully, I can understand the notion of wanting to maximize what you have in excess, but that does not necessarily make it wise.  Against Spurs, at home, in the North London Derby, you cannot go out and be anything other than positive and forward thinking in your tactics and deployment to make sure that you can get the result.  If Cazorla and Sanchez could come off the bench today, then they should have started. It's frustrating that we reverted back to a system that is sub-standard after we were so good last weekend, and this sentiment is echoed by many.  

What is even more frustrating, is that not only do we have Galatasaray in midweek, but more importantly, we have Chelsea at the Bridge next weekend - with that knowledge in hand, this was a match Wenger HAD to go out and make sure that maximum points were achieved.  As of now, it's hard to see how we can take any points off Chelsea at their ground given the type of scintillating football they are playing at the moment.

It's tough being a football supporter sometimes.  Truly, you always want your boys to go out, give their very best, and end up taking maximum points as often as possible.  The NLD is certainly no different in this matter, and it's a match that so many were looking forward to, but now have to settle once again for what could have and should have been.  You can never have too many points in a season, but unfortunately, you can when it comes to a certain type of player, and in the case of Arsenal right now, it's the reason why we're settling for saying we are undefeated rather than boasting about something greater.

Andrew Thompson is a contributing writer for The Modern Gooner, Outside Of The Boot and We Are Hooligans - follow him on Twitter @AFCBvB1410

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Tottenham Hotspur

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, September 27
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and John Brooks
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 0 Tottenham
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 74 Arsenal wins, 54 Tottenham wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W // W-D-D-D-W
  • Tottenham's League Form: W // W-W-L-D-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 19 C / 66 F
Not this derby.
It's DERBY DAY! Well, actually, it's Friday at the time of posting. Tomorrow is derby day. So... it's ALMOST DERBY DAY!

I feel like Arsenal always come into the North London derby in some kind of crisis. This time around I don't know how to feel. Arsenal have had some setbacks this month (in Dortmund and in the League Cup) but have had some positive league results to balance those out (a point from City and a comprehensive 3-0 win at Aston Villa last week.) So, if you've come here looking for some advice on how to feel, you're out of luck. Then again, I don't think that's why you're here.

It's a critical week ahead for Arsenal Football Club: Spurs at home, Galatasaray at home, Chelsea away, then an international break. So, let's dive right in, shall we?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Monreal (back,) Debuchy (ankle,) Sanogo (hamstring,) Giroud (ankle,) Gnabry (knee,) Walcott (knee)

Good news: Mathieu Flamini is available to yell at
things again.
No changes to the wounded list for Arsenal; we know that Nacho Monreal, Yaya Sanogo, Serge Gnabry, and most importantly Theo Walcott will not be returning until after the October international break. For Mathieu Debuchy, it'll be December and for Olivier Giroud, it'll be January.

That means there can be no questions about who starts in the back four for Arsenal, considering the only first team bench options at the defensive positions are midfielders, like Matheiu Flamini (himself returning from a dead leg) and Francis Coquelin.

There are, however, some questions in the midfield starting positions; Alexis Sanchez and Jack Wilshere dropped to the bench against Aston Villa, then played 90 minutes midweek in the League Cup. Arsenal have a home game with Galatasaray on the horizon (Wednesday) and a trip to Stamford Bridge next weekend (Sunday.) The good news is, Arsenal do have some rotation options in the midfield, though Arsene Wenger will not be happy with how some of his bench players performed against Southampton on Tuesday.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla, Alexis, Welbeck.

Tottenham Squad News

Out: Walker (abdominal)

Kyle Walker, shown here after his surgery, is Spurs'
only absentee.
Tottenham's only injured party is right back Kyle Walker, who underwent surgery on his lower abdomen in early September; there is no timetable for his return. Spurs have been delighted with the performance of Eric Dier, the 20-year-old who has deputized in the right back position.

Mauricio Pochettino has named an identical XI in each of Spurs' two matches in the league since the last international break. Jan Vertonghen was dropped at center back for Vlad Chiriches, who partners with Younes Kaboul. Danny Rose has started all five league matches at left back, though he was subbed out for Ben Davies when the club trailed 3-0 to Liverpool in August.

Mousa Dembele has come back into the starting lineup since the break to play in the holding role alongisde Etienne Capoue. Emmanuel Adebayor leads the attacking line, with Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, and Nacer Chadli behind him.

Predicted XI: Lloris, Dier, Kaboul, Chiriches, Rose, Dembele, Capoue, Eriksen, Lamela, Chadli, Adebayor.

Current Form

Mauricio Pochettino assumes the existential crisis stance.
I've often tried to argue that form goes out the window for the League Cup; when there are so many changes to a side (Arsenal made 10!) you can't really compare that match to the others around it. That being said, the high note of Arsenal's 3-0 win over Aston Villa at the weekend lost a little bit of its luster after the club crashed out of the cup at the first hurdle. That said, Arsenal have not lost consecutive matches across all competitions since last December (at Napoli and Manchester City,) so they have that going for them.

In their League Cup encounter, Spurs survived a bit of a scare from Nottingham Forest; the visitors led 1-0 at the Lane after a goal just after the hour mark, but Spurs netted three in the final 20 minutes to sneak through; Spurs will host Brighton and Hove Albion in the fourth round in late October. The win snapped a four match winless streak across all competitions for Spurs, dating back to the 3-0 reverse to Liverpool at the end of August. After the international break, Spurs drew Sunderland 2-2 at the Stadium of Light, drew Partizan in Belgrade 0-0 in the Europa league, then lost at home to previously winless West Bromwich Albion 1-0 last weekend.

Match Facts

Theo Walcott provides a service for those in the stadium
who cannot see ITV's on-screen graphic in the top left.
Arsenal beat Spurs by a cumulative 4-0 scoreline over three meetings last season. Both meetings in the league ended 1-0 to the Arsenal. At the Emirates in early September, the day before the close of the transfer deadline that brought in Mesut Ozil, Arsenal captured all three points via an Olivier Giroud goal in the 23rd minute. Spurs had 56% of the possession, but both sides generated five shots on target in the match. At the Lane in March, Spurs had even more of the ball, to the tune of 59% possession, but could not fashion a goal out of it, thanks to a brilliant display from Arsenal's back line. Tomas Rosicky scored a thunderous opener inside the second minute, which held up through 90.

The clubs also met at the Emirates in the third round of the FA Cup, a trophy Arsenal would, of course, go on to win. Arsenal won 2-0 with goals from Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky. That's a scoreline you'll most likely remember thanks to Theo Walcott, who reminded the Spurs visiting support of the score while they berated him as he was stretchered off; of course, Theo hasn't played since.

Last year's 1-0 win broke the streak of consecutive 5-2 victories for Arsenal over Spurs in the league encounter at the Emirates. Spurs' last win at the Emirates came in November of 2010, when Arsenal blew a 2-0 halftime lead to lose 3-2. At Highbury/the Emirates in the Premier League era, Arsenal have a record of 13 wins, 2 losses, and 7 draws against Tottenham.

The Referee

Oliver's red card to Younes Kaboul at the Bridge last year
was harsh and later rescinded.
The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. This is Oliver's second Arsenal match of the season, the first being the FA Community Shield, which the Gunners won 3-0 over Manchester City at Wembley in August.

Oliver took charge of four Arsenal matches last season; interestingly, this corresponding fixture was one of them. The others were the penalty shootout win over Wigan in the FA Cup Semi-Final and road losses to Liverpool and Manchester United.

Spurs had a mixed bag of results with Oliver in the middle last year: they beat Hull City 1-0 in October and Crystal Palace 2-0 in January, both at the Lane. On the other hand, they lost this fixture last September and also lost 4-0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in March. Younes Kaboul was sent off by Oliver in that latter match; that red card was later rescinded on appeal.

Around the League

  • Saturday (early): Liverpool v. Everton; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Aston Villa; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Leicester City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Manchester City; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. West Ham United; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Queens Park Rangers; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Swansea City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Sunday (late): West Bromwich Albion v. Burnley; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Monday (night): Stoke City v. Newcastle United; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent

Arsenal 1-2 Southampton: Not That Bothered

Photo: Getty Images

Naturally, we as Gooners want our boys to win every game. We'd love nothing better than a Football Manager-style (when you reset the game after each loss, that is) glorious quadruple from the Arsenal every season. Realistically though, there are priorities to our season and this is not one of them. Our youthful reserve side were well beaten by an excellent Southampton side, and really, good luck to them.

It was always going to be rough going with a defense consisting of Francis Coquelin out of position at left back, Callum Chambers and Isaac Hayden in the center, and Hector Bellerin at right back. Frankly, I think I have t-shirts older than at least three of those gentlemen. Beyond that, Alexis Sanchez and Jack Wilshere were the only first-teamers involved. David Ospina got his first start for the club in goal, as well.

The Colombian had to be sharp early doors, as he saved an early chance well with his feet. Southampton had most of the ball in the early going, in fact. They haven't lost a match since their season opener at Anfield, and there was no reason for them to be shy about attacking Arsenal's inexperienced defense.

However, it would be the home side who seized an early lead. A free kick was won just outside the penalty area, with Alexis Sanchez as the obvious candidate to take it. The Chilean didn't disappoint, his curler flying directly into the upper 90, leaving Fraser Forster with no chance. Do yourself a favor and hunt down a highlight of the goal if you didn't have a chance to see the match.

I don't believe that Forster was ever seriously threatened again after the goal, though. The Saints closed ranks brilliantly and then took their chances when they were presented to them. Speaking of, the lead would only last for six minutes. Tomas Rosicky, who played exactly like you'd expect someone with no first-team football yet this season, conceded a brain-dead penalty on a play where there was absolutely no danger.

This leads me to one of my pet theories on the art of goalkeeping - I believe it's a mistake for keepers to pick a side and dive. For one thing, the dink down the middle is utilized far more than it used to be. Besides, if a penalty is struck well and into a corner, you're not getting there even if you guessed right. But, you will concede 100% of the time when you guess wrong. Surely, it's better to wait that extra second and try and get to the ones that aren't struck that sweetly?

Anyway, Ospina guessed and Dusan Tadic dinked it down the middle.

One would think that the goal would have spurred the men in red into action, but they never did click in open play. Given that this version of the team has never played together before, it's not entirely surprising. For every 7-0 evisceration of Sheffield United with gorgeous chips from Carlos Vela, you're going to get ones like this as well.

The winner, when it came, was one of those ones where you can't do much other than shrug your shoulders and tip your cap to the guy who scored. A Southampton corner kick was cleared quite a long way outside the penalty area. Normally on a shot like that, you ask questions about why the shooter was not closed down. But, we're talking about a fullback who had to be 35 yards away from goal. If he's going to hit a wickedly-swerving rocket like that, what can you do? You'd want him to take that shot every time - 95% of the time it would end up in the Van Allen Belt anyway.

Side note: If you blame Ospina for that, please ask a friendly neighborhood goalkeeper for an informed opinion next time. Seriously.

Anyway, that was about it for incident. The remainder of the match was largely played out between the two penalty areas, the visitors mostly content to play time out knowing that Arsenal were not at their sharpest on the day. I do think that substitutions could have come earlier than the 67th minute (halftime would have worked for me), but I'm not even going to get upset about that stuff anymore. Arsene is Arsene, it would be like getting angry at the tides at this point.

So, we can cancel the quadruple celebrations then, I suppose. I can see already that some people are losing their minds out there about the result, but my advice is to chill out. We never take this competition seriously, and we have far bigger fish to fry in just a few days with the NLD upcoming anyway.

Breathe in, breathe out. The Scum on Saturday, let's smash 'em!

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Ospina 7, Coquelin 7, Hayden 7, Chambers 7, Bellerin 7 (Akpom N/A), Diaby 7 (Cazorla 7), Wilshere 6, Campbell 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Rosicky 5, Sanchez 7, Podolski 6

Man of the Match: I'm going to go ahead and give it to Southampton's Jose Fonte, who was calm and assured at the heart of their defense.


Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Southampton, Capital One Cup Third Round

Emirates Stadium, London
Tuesday, September 23
2:45 pm. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Keith Stroud
    • Assistants: Nigel Lugg and Alan Young
    • 4th Official: Keith Hill
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 44 Arsenal wins, 16 Southampton wins, 24 draws
  • All-Time in the League Cup: 4 Arsenal wins, 2 draws
  • Last Year in the League Cup
    • Arsenal: Lost Fourth Round to Chelsea
    • Southampton: Lost Fourth Round to Sunderland
  • Arsenal's League Form: W // W-D-D-D-W
  • Southampton's League Form: D // L-D-W-W-W
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 16 C / 62 F
The League Cup has provided a lot of upsets in the past.
Arsenal have been on the wrong end of a few of those in
recent memory, so let's all remember to laugh at United now.
Ah, the League Cup...

Astute readers (read: probably nobody) will recall that I started my third round League Cup preview with that exact line last year.

Now that Arsenal have broken the trophy drought with last year's FA Cup victory, Arsene Wenger will likely return to using the League Cup as a surefire chance at rotating the squad, this week especially, as the North London derby lurks around the corner. Arsenal have a lot of depth up front that needs to be rotated, as I'll discuss a bit below. The bigger concern is, of course, on the back line, as Arsenal will have to use youngsters to give their starters a rest.

Southampton, on the other hand, come into this game on a four match winning streak across all competitions; they have no reason to take this match lightly, so it could be a tight encounter at the Emirates tonight.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Monreal (back,) Debuchy (ankle,) Sanogo (hamstring,) Giroud (ankle,) Gnabry (knee,) Walcott (knee)

Semi Ajayi trained with the first team yesterday and could
be handed a start, if Wenger is cautious with his back line.
The news continues to get worse at the back. Mathieu Debuchy did indeed need surgery on his ankle injury and is expected to miss three months. Nacho Monreal also remains out with a back injury and he is not expected to be available again until after the October international break. This leaves Arsenal with exactly four fit first-team defenders: Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, and Calum Chambers.

Without any cover at the position, it's scary to imagine any of them being risked in a League Cup tie. Arsenal will field a very youthful back four that is basically guaranteed to feature Hector Bellerin, Isaac Hayden, and Semi Ajayi. None of those three players are left backs, however, which begs the serious question of who the fourth defender will be. Perhaps Arsene Wenger will play Francis Coquelin at fullback; he's done it before.

In the attack, I would expect a start from a few of the players who have been hurting for playing time this year: Tomas Rosicky, Lukas Podolski, and Joel Campbell, specifically. It's likely we'll even see Abou Diaby!

Aside from the two Frenchmen that are out long term, Arsenal's other injured players are, like Nacho, expected to return to full training after the October break; that list includes Yaya Sanogo (hamstring,) Serge Gnabry (knee,) and Theo Walcott (knee.)

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Hayden, Ajayi, Coquelin, Flamini, Diaby, Rosicky, Podolski, Campbell, Akpom.

Southampton Squad News

Out: Ward-Prowse (ankle,) Yoshida (ankle,) Alderweireld (hamstring,) Isgrove (knee,) Gallagher (knee,) Rodriguez (knee)

Jay Rodriguez has been out since April after injuring his knee.
Southampton will be without James Ward-Prowse and Maya Yoshida, both of whom were subbed out of their match at the weekend with ankle injuries. Toby Alderweireld is back in training after a hamstring strain, but is not likely to feature in this match. Long-term knee injuries continue to keep Sam Gallagher and Jay Rodriguez out of the lineup.

The Saints are expected to hand a first start to Sadio Mané, signed on deadline day from Red Bull Salzburg; the Senagalese midfielder's work permit was just sorted out last week and he joined the club for training on Friday.

Judging by the lineup Southampton fielded at Millwall in the second round, I would expect a strong XI; Arsenal's makeshift back four will have to be wary. 

Current Form

Southampton left it late to beat 10-man Swansea at the
Through their European qualifier matches and the Community Shield, Arsenal have played nine matches already this season to Southampton's six. Both clubs have lost only one of their games; while Arsenal had their unbeaten run to start the season snapped in Dortmund last week, the Saints have not tasted defeat since their opening weekend loss at Anfield.

Arsenal recovered nicely from their 2-0 humbling in Germany with Saturday's 3-0 win over Aston Villa. They'll be happy to return home for a string of big matches (they have the North London derby at the weekend and Galatasaray at home in Europe next week;) Arsenal have not lost at the Emirates since Bayern Munich's win in February.

After losing to Liverpool on the opening Sunday, Southampton further dropped points at home a week later to West Bromwich Albion. They've rattled off four straight wins across all competitions since then, beating Millwall in the second round of this competition, then defeating West Ham, Newcastle, and Swansea in the league. With three wins, a draw, and a +6 goal difference, the Saints sit second in the table.

Form, however, does go out the window a little bit when talking about the League Cup considering the expected amount of rotation in the sides.

Match Facts

Arsenal took four of a possible six points from Southampton last year. At the Emirates in November, Arsenal took a 1-0 lead when Olivier Giroud pounced on a ball control error from Saints goalkeeper Artur Boruc. Giroud later added a second from the penalty spot to give Arsenal a 2-0 win. At St. Mary's in late January, Arsenal trailed 1-0 at halftime before scoring twice in four minutes to take a 2-1 lead. Their lead, however, lasted all of two minutes, as Adam Lallana equalized. Those two dropped points proved to be the beginning of the end for Arsenal's run at the top of the table; the Gunners went on to win just three of their next 10 league games before closing out the year winning their final five.

Arsenal have met Southampton four times in the League Cup and have won all four ties. The sides met in the 1969 second round in Southampton, ending in a 1-1 draw; Arsenal won the replay at home 2-0 after extra time. The sides met in the third round in 1977 and in 1979, with Arsenal winning both at home. In the 1985 fourth round, the sides met at Highbury; it ended 0-0. Arsenal, as they did in 1969, won the replay, this by a 3-1 scoreline in Southampton.

All of Southampton's wins over Arsenal have come in league play; in addition to Arsenal's four of four record against the Saints in League Cup ties, the Gunners also have three wins from three FA Cup ties.

The Referee

The referee is Hampshire-based Keith Stroud. Stroud has been a Select Group referee before, starting in 2007/08 before eventually being demoted in the summer of 2009. Stroud has worked only one Arsenal match in his career, a 1-0 win for the Gunners at Sunderland on the final day of the season in May of 2008. Theo Walcott had Arsenal's goal, while Stroud denied Sunderland a penalty, as Michael Chopra tangled with Alex Song in the box.

You don't have to go back quite as far to find the only time Stroud worked a Southampton match; it was in May of 2009, when the Saints lost 3-1 at Nottingham Forest. The Saints led 1-0 through Bradley Wright-Phillips before Forest scored three in the last quarter of an hour. That match was Stroud's final game before demotion from the Select Group. It was also Southampton's last game in the Championship, as the Saints were relegated to League One.

Stroud has been working some of the bigger matches in the Championship over the past few seasons and earlier this year worked the East Anglian derby between Norwich City and Ipswich Town. At 45 years old, this is likely Stroud's last shot at regaining promotion to the top group of match officials.

Around the Third Round
  • Tuesday: Cardiff City v. Bournemouth; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
  • Tuesday: Derby County v. Reading; iPro Stadium, Derby
  • Tuesday: Fulham v. Doncaster Rovers; Craven Cottage, London
  • Tuesday: Leyton Orient v. Sheffield United; Matchroom Stadium, London
  • Tuesday: Liverpool v. Middlesbrough; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Tuesday: Milton Keynes Dons v. Bradford City; Stadium:MK, Milton Keynes
  • Tuesday: Shrewsbury Town v. Norwich City; Greenhous Meadow, Shrewsbury
  • Tuesday: Sunderland v. Stoke City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Tuesday: Swansea City v. Everton; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Wednesday: Burton Albion v. Brighton and Hove Albion; Pirelli Stadium, Burton-on-Trent
  • Wednesday: Chelsea v. Bolton Wanderers; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Wednesday: Crystal Palace v. Newcastle United; Selhurst Park, London
  • Wednesday: Manchester City v. Sheffield Wednesday; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Wednesday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Nottingham Forest; White Hart Lane, London
  • Wednesday: West Bromwich Albion v. Hull City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich

Weekend Recap; Ooh to be a Gooner

If there ever was a set of weekend results that made every Gooner the world over elated, it was the events that transpired over the last 48-hours.  While it is still early days in the league after just five matches played, no one can argue against the bit of confidence that is starting to creep into the back of our heads, especially when we were the only side from last season's top seven to win at the weekend.

Queens Park Rangers and Stoke City kicked the weekend off with the lunch-time special, playing to a 2-2 draw at Loftus Road.  Despite their dominant play over the 90-minute period, Harry Redknapp's men have Niko Kranjcar's free-kick in the 88th minute to thank for the point they took away from the match.  Despite their much improved starting XI, QPR still have set the benchmark on underperforming.  Whether Redknapp is actually the problem, or if it's their inability to learn their lesson from two season's ago, you just have to wonder why QPR's ownership would rather take to comedy than trying to establish themselves as a modern footballing institution.

Papiss Cisse's brace off the bench rescued Newcastle from another horror show - but who knew he still had any idea where the goal was? (image courtesy of the official Facebook page of the Premier League)

Despite the supporter protest up north at St. James' Park, Alan Pardew lives to manage (or, well, not manage) another day in Geordie country, as Newcastle battled back from 2-0 down thanks to a brace from second-half substitute Papiss Demba Cisse; ironically, the Senegalese international is probably the only attacking player on the books at the club that was not bought this summer.  While there is no telling how long Pardew has on Tyneside (surely, that famous little book he has on the touchline must contain all the dirt he has on owner Mike Ashley; it's the only way he can still have gainful employment), it does not bode  well for his managerial prospects that the club sit at the bottom of the cellar despite all their transfer activity in the summer.

Could there have ever been a more boring match on the fixture list than Burnley v Sunderland? Bless their hearts when it comes to their supporters, an Turf Moor always boasts a brilliant atmosphere, but surely no one will be shocked by the 0-0 scoreline after 90-minutes.  It's tough to see how Burnley will avoid the drop this season, and as for Sunderland, there is unlikely to be much breathing room for them from the bottom three, if any at all.  Sen Dyche and Gus Poyet may be standup gentlemen, but neither is capable enough of pulling off any feats of magic this season.

The Ronald Koeman renaissance on the south coast continues to press on, as Southampton dispatched fellow upstart Swansea City 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium thanks to a second-half strike from substitute and disguised tank Victor Wanyama.  Koeman will surely be happy with the points but not the scoreline, as Swans striker Wilfried Bony was given his marching orders for a second bookable offense after a two-footed tackle on Japanese international Maya Yoshida in the first-half.  The Saints would go on to dominate the match, but if it wasn't for Wanyama's 80th minute goal, it would have surely been three points missed.  But their performances this season have dispatched any notions of struggle in the wake of the summer player exodus, with the club currently sitting in second.  They won't finish there, but talk of relegation has come to a swift end.

Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck both put in an excellent performance at Villa Park.  Along with Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the rest of the Gunners, it was the response we were all hoping for (image courtesy of the official Facebook page of the Premier League)

As for our performance, despite our excellent record at Villa Park in recent years, this may have been the first time that many Arsenal supporters had one or two question marks coming into the match.  Aston Villa sat second in the table before kick-off and we had just gotten embarrassed in Dortmund - enter Mesut Ozil, and a brilliant overall team performance.  In just a three minute span, a goal and an assist each from Ozil and Danny Welbeck (the goal was his first in an Arsenal shirt) plus an Aly Cissokho own-goal sealed all the points in Birmingham.

It was a performance of quality from the German-born Turk, his best for the club in quite sometime, where he was deployed in his favored number 10 role and given the freedom to roam and create.  But more importantly than Ozil getting back on track, was that we responded after the disaster in midweek, showing mental strength in a situation where at times in the past we would have struggled.  With Spurs and Chelsea up next in the league, Southampton this midweek in the Capital One Cup tomorrow and Galatasaray next week, this was a performance that was necessary if we are to negotiate a tough run of fixtures to come.

"This is where the fun begins" - Han Solo
As for the other five matches? Well, to say that each and every result would contribute to the collective grin that swept across the Gooner kingdom would be putting it mildly.

Two goals inside the first eight minutes from Winston Reid and Diafra Sakho at Upton Park saw West Ham pull off a smash and grab 3-1 win over Liverpool.  Whether it was a bit of a European hangover that Brendan Rodgers has never had to deal with before, or if the influence of Daniel Sturridge in the lineup is truly missed, Liverpool could not turn their possession into any points in the table come full-time.  Raheem Sterling did score a brilliant half-volley from outside the box to make it 2-1 before thirty minutes were played out, but Sam Allardyce's troop held on and were rewarded by new signing Morgan Amalfitano in the 88th-minute.  The result led to the same questions being asked by so many; did Liverpool spend wisely to replace Luis Suarez?  While there are only a handful of footballers who could actually replace the Uruguayan Dracula, the Reds are currently doing their best Spurs impersonation, and thus far it looks like their massive recruitment program this summer may not have been the best option.

Jamie Vardy may not have bagged a brace, but he was the catalyst with which the Foxes rallied around to earn themselves a brilliant result in front of their home support (image courtesy of the official Facebook page of the Premier League)

When you spend over 150million pounds on summer acquisitions and your manager is Louis van Gaal, you'd imagine that Manchester United would be on the up and up again.  The harsh reality for the Red Devils, is that they are now amidst a start to the season that was worse than under David Moyes last year after they lost to newly promoted Leicester City 5-3 at the King Power Stadium.  To compound the situation further, United were 3-1 up with just 33-minutes let in the match.  Four straight goals later (two of which came from the spot), and the Foxes completed one of the greatest comebacks in Premier League history, and arguably the greatest result in their history.  Jamie Vardy was the standout performer (despite Jose Ulloa bagging a brace), putting in a brilliant shift that was one of the most influential of the early days in the season.  After their first five matches, it is hard to think that Leicester will be in the thick of the relegation battle, but as for United, it my all well come good for them overall but they'll have to remember two important things; 1. just because LvG made a goalkeeping change for a penalty shootout, it doesn't make him a tactical genius, and 2. apart from their thrashing of Spain, the Netherlands struggled in every other match during the World Cup this summer under his stewardship.

West Bromwich would earn their first three-point haul of the season yesterday in a 1-0 win over Tottenham at White Hart Lane.  New manager Mauricio Pochettino continues to head up "Operation Inconsistency" at a club who's recent exploits on the pitch are as hot and cold as Beyonce and Jay-Z.  It was never going to be easy for the Argentine gaffer, but after being unable to put his personal stamp on the squad this summer, Pochettino was left with a side that he had no hand in acquiring.  The loss was Spurs' second in three home matches thus far in the league, but the result lifted the Baggies out of the drop zone, though there is no telling if they'll be able to avoid slipping back down.  One thing is for sure, north London remains Red.

After a hugely successful first season at Goodison Park last year, Roberto Martinez is currently suffering a  sophomore slump at Everton.  The Toffees 3-2 loss at home against Crystal Palace saw them surrender three straight via Mile Jedinak, Fraizer Campbell and Yannick Bolasie after Romelu Lukaku's eighth minute opener.  A converted spot-kick from Leighton Baines in the 83rd-minute gave Everton a lifeline but they were unable to grab on with both hands.  Everton are now winless in three matches in front of their home support, surrendering an astonishing 11 goals.  While their away form has been solid, their home form must improve if they have any ambition of reaching the a similar high place as they did last campaign.

Frank Lampard refused to celebrate against his former club - a classy choice by a player who remains adored by the Chelsea faithful (image courtesy of the official Facebook page of the Premier League)

The weekend would be closed out by a titanic clash between the leagues pre-season favorites Manchester City and Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium.  While I personally wanted Chelsea to get a roasting, the 1-1 draw that was played keeps Chelsea honest, while City continue their annual slow start to the league.  Andre Schurrle bagged the goal for the Blues, but it was former player and Chelsea legend Frank Lampard who leveled matters for the home side with just five minutes remaining - surely, no one could have written a more ironic storyline to a match.  Despite being one of the two pre-season favorites, City have yet to truly look impressive this season, though the draw against Chelsea was the first time the Blues failed to secure the maximum point haul.  Still and yet, with Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas leading  the charge, it's hard to look past Jose Mourinho's men in the title race.

Arsenal news from this morning;

  • Nacho Monreal will be out till mid-October
  • Mathieu Debuchy came through his surgery successfully, but will be out for three months
  • Arsenal take on Southampton tomorrow at the Emirates in the Capital One Cup, with Arsene Wenger potentially set to make a host of changes to the starting XI
  • Theo Walcott will not be available for the clash with Chelsea as first expected

Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful week - COYG!!

Andrew Thompson is a contributing writer at The Modern Gooner, Outside Of The Boot and We Are Hooligans - you can follow him on Twitter @AFCBvB1410

The value of knowing your enemy; a cautionary tale from North Rhein-Westphalia and other locations

Are any of us all that surprised about the events that took place at the Westfalenstadion on Tuesday night?  I for one am not, and maybe that is part of the overall problem surrounding Arsenal Football Club these days.  This will not be a piece reviewing the match, but more so my personal reactions, which I can only hope cause some discussions and debate to be generated amongst ourselves.

To put the matter bluntly, we were not prepared to face Dortmund.  Despite their list of injuries to first-team personnel being far longer than ours, we were still played off the park from the first minute.  Apart from the odd chance or two (quite a few chances fell to Danny Welbeck actually, who has proven that he will not morph into the second coming of Thierry Henry, despite many hoping for such an occurrence), we had nothing on the night that ever caused Dortmund more than a slight moment of pause.

Yes , we were awful, but what so many people are failing to mention in the aftermath, is that our performance on the night (and perhaps the result itself) was completely avoidable.  Have we not run into Dortmund time and time again in the last three or four seasons? And each time, was Jurgen Klopp not the man at the helm, deploying in similar if not exact fashion on each occasion?  Yes he was without Marco Reus, Jakub Blaszczekowski, Ilkay Gundogan and a few other first-team regulars, but Dortmund were always going to deploy in the same fashion - I knew it, you knew it, Jurgen Klopp knew it, and worst of all, Wenger knew it, but did nothing about it.

Clap it up Klopp, you never had a care in the world did you...(image courtesy of Borussia Dortmund's official Facebook page)

Hannibal Barca and his Carthaginian army slaughtered nearly 70,000 Romans at Cannae because he knew exactly how to defeat them on the battlefield each time he faced them - Roman pragmatism and tactical systems were too engrained in their commanders, none of whom were willing to change their ways and it resulted in disaster.  Arsenal, yet again, were played off the park by equal or superior opposition, because everyone knows how to deploy against us and how to target the weaknesses in our tactics that are the same week in end and week out regardless of who the opposition is.

They key to tactical success on the pitch is not always trying to fix your system, it's about finding out the best way to counter your enemy.  Klopp was never going to deploy in any other way than he did on Tuesday, but he was confident in his own system because he knew we would not counter him, and in turn, the fate of the match was sealed before it began.

While I do not want this piece to divulge into a rant about tactics, the nature of this piece is about gaining intelligence on your opponent, but more importantly, what you do with it once you have it.

Again, think back to the fact that we have come up against Dortmund plenty in our recent Champions League future - would it not be sensible to think that, knowing how much pace they have, how direct they play, and how they often times target the center of the defense via diagonal runs from wider and deeper areas, why did we deploy the way we did?

Ask yourselves the two following questions, bearing in mind the knowledge of how Dortmund play

  • Why were our fullbacks instructed to not sit back and defend more rather than always maraud forward?
  • Why did we play a high line with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, even though every German knows just how exposed BFG is given his blatant lack of pace?

A prime example of how Klopp addressed our weaknesses was not by changing the way Dortmund play (which obviously did not happen), it was by a simple change in formation.  Dortmund usually play with a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, but on Tuesday, Klopp fielded a 4-3-1-2, and he did this for two reasons; First, to clog the midfield with Sven Bender (why we have not pushed harder to get him, I don't know), Sebastian Kehl and Kevin Grosskreutz - hard working midfielders who could (and did) shut down Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere, while at the same time offering added support to their fullbacks in dealing with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.

Speed demons Ciro Immobile and Pierre-Emerick Aubmeyang found space to their hearts content all evening, a testament that Klopp did his homework (image courtesy of Borussia Dortmund's official Facebook page)

Second, and more important, was the change of the attacking players.  Up till now, new striker Adrian Ramos has been one of their best performers, but being that he is a target man and lacks a bit of pace, he would not be able to effectively expose BFG the way Klopp needed, so he opted for Italian international and fellow new kid on the block Ciro Immobile instead.  Immobile would parter Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up top, and if you failed to realize just how much of a speed demon the the Gabonese striker is, you were reminded all evening.  Henrikh Mkhitaryan slotted behind the forward pair and ahead of the midfield trio, and hey would be key.  While the Armenian international would spend most of his time threatening central areas and trying to draw out one of our center-backs or exposing Arteta, Immobile and PEA routinely found space in behind Kieran Gibbs and youngster Hector Bellerin.  Once space was found, they were left with the freedom of choice to continue their runs out wide, or make a diagonal run; 90% of the time they opted for the diagonal run, and who can blame them.

The average person may blame Gibbs and Bellerin, but is that wise?  They did not go about their business because they wanted to, they did so because they were instructed to by Wenger.  Why were they instructed to?  Because these are the same instructions given each and every week, against each side we play, regardless if we are at the Emirates or away.  All that this means, is that far too many managers know how to play against us to exploit our weaknesses, while we make zero efforts to counter our opponents weaknesses in similar fashion - we're just far too busy playing the same football week in and week out, and somehow people are still shocked that we get trounced by any side that has a quality manager and good talent on the pitch.

The hardest truth to take away from Tuesday was not that we got obliterated, it's that it has happened so many times before, and that it will certainly happen again.  If you think back to last season when we were thrashed by City, Chelsea and Liverpool, you'll remember that they all killed us in the same way, and targeted the same exposed areas.  This is nothing knew, and what grinds my gears about it all is that it is one-hundred percent avoidable.

Many will always claim that Arsene Wenger is a genius, an innovator and one of the best managers in the world, but it is neither genius nor innovative to continuously make the same mistakes.  This it not a Wenger hate blog, it must be said that such pragmatism in a manager is unacceptable.

So yes Arsene, there is value in knowing your enemy.  And while it can be seen as commendable that you continuously put faith in the way you do things, go back in time and ask the Romans how that worked out for them near a little unknown village in the south east of Italy.

Preview by Numbers: Aston Villa v. Arsenal

Villa Park, Birmingham
Saturday, September 20
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Jones
    • Assistants: Mark Scholes and Ian Hussin
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • This Match, Last Year: Aston Villa 1 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 77 Arsenal wins, 66 Aston Villa wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W // W-D-D-D
  • Aston Villa's League Form: L-L // W-D-W-W
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 17 C / 64 F
When these cylinders aren't firing properly, it is usually
Mesut Ozil's fault.
PANIC STATIONS, PEOPLE! Okay, maybe not. Calm down.

Arsenal, who are, according to certain circles of the Internet, the worst team in the history of the known observable Universe, will look to get back on the right track this weekend in the Midlands as they take on an Aston Villa side that have been one of the surprises of the young season. So far this season, the Gunners have looked, well, what's the opposite of "firing on all cylinders?" I'm sure it involves jaded handbrakes...

The Gunners will hope that the trip to face a club that was predicted to finish in the league's bottom half will get the internal combustion engine working again, though Villa are in fine form, having won 1-0 at Anfield last weekend. Arsenal's performance in Germany on Tuesday made it painfully clear that some changes need to be made, either to the personnel or the formation or, ideally, both, to get back to winning ways.

There were enough positives to take out of last week's draw with the champions for me to be convinced that all is not lost; if you've watched Arsenal over the past five seasons or so, you know this kind of spell has frustratingly become part and parcel. There's simply too much individual talent on this team for this to be a long term problem.

As I often say, you can only win games one at a time, so it's time to put Tuesday's failures aside and focus on getting out of Villa Park with all three points.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Debuchy (ankle,) Giroud (ankle,) Gnabry (knee,) Walcott (knee)
Doubts: Wilshere (ankle,) Monreal (back,) Sanogo (hamstring)

This was the third Arsenal match this season where neither
team wore red.
Good news: as of writing this, it does not appear that anybody else has joined the "long term injury list."

Bad news: Jack Wilshere, one of the midfield's few bright spots this season, will likely be a doubt after rolling his ankle on Tuesday. Jack says he expects it to be fine, but Jack always says that and then misses several months. There may be some doubts about other players who did not make the bench midweek, like Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Flamini, and Yaya Sanogo. Flamini had a muscular problem, but even on Tuesday it was said he would likely be fine for the weekend. I still don't know what the issue was with Monreal and Sanogo, though I've heard it was a back injury and hamstring injury, respectively.

An unavailable Jack Wilshere might force Arsene Wenger to, oh, I don't know, return to the 4-2-3-1 formation that has worked in the past. Watching this new 4-1-4-1 has been like trying to jam square pegs into round holes. If it's designed to get the best out of the available talent (which is the approach you should take to select a formation, in my opinion,) then it isn't working.

Personally, I'd like to see some rotation, get some guys in that could use a start, like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, or Tomas Rosicky.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Chambers, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis, Welbeck. That's probably way off.

Aston Villa Squad News

Out: Vlaar (calf,) Kozak (leg,) Benteke (match fitness)

Darren Bent, shown here after scoring at the Emirates in
2011, has scored eight goals in his last 11 against Arsenal,
and has five in his last five against the Gunners.
Aston Villa captain and Dutch penalty misser Ron Vlaar is expected to remain out with a calf injury; Vlaar has not played since before the international break. Christian Benteke completed his first week of full training on his way back from a ruptured Achilles, but will not have the match fitness to feature this weekend. Libor Kozak remains out after breaking his leg in training in January.

Nathan Baker will continue to deputize at center back in place of Vlaar; he's partnered with ex-Arsenal Philippe Senderos. With no changes to the injury list, I would not expect Paul Lambert to make any changes to the XI that won at Liverpool last week. This means a 4-5-1 formation, including Tom Cleverley, purchased from Manchester United on deadline day. Alternatively, Lambert may start Carlos Sanchez, purchased for £4.7 million this summer, in midfield. Gabriel Agbonlahor will likely start up top, though Villa will have Darren Bent, always a threat against Arsenal, on the bench.

Predicted XI: Guzan, Hutton, Baker, Senderos, Cissokho, Weimann, Cleverley, Westwood, Delph, Richardson, Agbonlahor.

Current Form

Paul Lambert signed an extension after last week's win at
Liverpool, though in this image from that match, he looks
completely zoned out.
The tone of Arsenal's form has changed dramatically lately. After the draw with City, the opinion was largely, though not entirely, one of "well, they're still undefeated on the season." Now that that is no longer true, it feels more like Arsenal is staring down the barrel of a gun, because nothing among Arsenal supporters is done in moderation. Arsenal now have just one win in their last six across all competitions. Aside from the Community Shield, both of Arsenal's victories have been, for lack of a better word, uncomfortable. It took 91 minutes to beat Crystal Palace and the 1-0 over Besiktas was marked by hanging on for dear life at the end. Arsenal have not won outside of London since the final day of the Premier League season last year, at Norwich.

It should be noted, though, that Arsenal are one of three teams that are still unbeaten in the league; Aston Villa is one of the other two. Villa have three wins from four, beating Stoke at the Britannia on opening day, drawing Newcastle 0-0 at home, beating Hull City 2-1 at home, and last week winning 1-0 at Liverpool. The Villans have now picked up at least a point in each of their last four visits to Anfield. Villa's 10 points from their opening four matches marks their best start to a season in 16 years. Astonishingly, Villa have picked up those 10 points by scoring just four goals with a total of just six shots on target in their four matches. On the other hand, Villa have lost in the League Cup, dropping a 1-0 match to Leyton Orient at home.

Match Facts

Remember what being happy was like?
Arsenal have not lost in their last 15 matches at Villa Park, winning eight and drawing seven. Last year, Arsenal jumped out to a 2-0 first half lead, with Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud scoring a minute apart. Arsenal should have been out of sight, but after Christian Benteke pulled a goal back in the 76th minute, things got nervy because it was Arsenal after all.

Villa's last win over Arsenal at home came in December of 1998; Arsenal led that match 2-0 at halftime and lost 3-2. As alluded to above, that 1998/99 season was the last time Villa started a season as well as they have this season. At the time of that win, the Villans were top of the league. They remained top as late as December 28. In the spring, however, Aston Villa went winless over a 10 match span; the club fell to 6th.

The Villans have just three wins in their last 21 matches against Arsenal overall; of course, one of those wins came in the season opener last year. The less said about that match, the better.

The Referee

He looks a little like Sting, right?
The referee is Chester-based Mike Jones. Arsenal have a strong record with Jones as the referee, winning 11, losing two, and drawing one against a parked Manchester City bus in January of 2011. The Gunners split two matches with Jones as the referee last season, losing 1-0 at Stoke to a debatable penalty, then winning 1-0 over West Brom late in the season when the result was academic for both sides.

Aston Villa had Jones twice last season as well, though the Villans won both. They defeated Manchester City in a surprise at Villa Park last September and later won 1-0 at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland on New Year's Day.

Jones has worked two Premier League matches this season, both bonkers draws: the opening day 2-2 between Leicester and Everton and the 3-3 between Newcastle and Crystal Palace. Last week, Jones worked in the Championship, as an 18th minute red card doomed League One-bound Fulham to a 3-0 defeat at Reading.

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

Preview by Numbers: Borussia Dortmund v. Arsenal, Champions League Group Matchday 1

Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund
Tuesday, September 16
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials from Portugal
    • Referee: Olegario Benquerença
    • Assistants: Ricardo Santos and Nuno Pereira
    • 4th Official: Nelson Moniz
    • Additional Assistants: Carlos Xistra and Marco Ferreira
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 3 Arsenal wins, 2 Dortmund wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-L-L-D // D-W
  • Dortmund's European Form: W-W-W-L-L-W
  • Weather: Scattered Light Rain, 18 C / 66 F
Alexis Sanchez is going to take everyone on this year.
Arsenal faced another one of their early season tests at the weekend, hosting the champions Manchester City, and just as they did against Everton earlier in the season, they came out of that match with an incomplete grade. What could have been a failure turned into, well, neither a failure nor a success. The momentum of the match swung wildly, but on the whole, it was a match where Arsenal led with under 15 minutes to play and they could not snatch all three points. Gunnerblog pointed out yesterday that it felt a lot like the 1-1 draw with Everton last December; two points dropped at the death from what could have been a statement home win. Arsenal have endured some frustrating draws this season, but they also have yet to suffer defeat.

The Gunners and their duct-taped together backline will face another stern test tonight as they begin Champions League group play against fellow group favorite Borussia Dortmund, who come in with a mighty injury record of their own. The pressure in this match has to be on Dortmund, as you have to win your home games; I don't think I'm being pessimistic in saying that a draw would not be a horrible result from an Arsenal perspective, on the condition that Arsenal themselves take care of business at home. Winning your home games and taking, let's say, four points from the road games gives 13 points, which mathematically guarantees qualification to the knockout phase.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Monreal (unspecified,) Giroud (ankle,) Gnabry (knee,) Walcott (knee)
Doubts: Chambers (tonsillitis)
Suspended but also hurt: Debuchy (one match / ankle)

His hair is certainly ready to go.
With Arsenal already depleted at the back, the news is that Mathieu Debuchy is out for what appears to be three months with ankle ligament damage suffered late in the match on Saturday; Debuchy would have been suspended for this match anyway after his red card against Besiktas. To make that worse, Nacho Monreal missed training yesterday (though I have not heard what the reason might be) and did not make the trip to Germany. Thankfully, Kieran Gibbs is fit again, having recovered from his hamstring injury.

Adding a whole separate level of bad luck, Calum Chambers was kept out of training as well yesterday as he's suffering from tonsillitis. Really, you can't make this stuff up anymore. He was on the plane to Dortmund, but fever, tiredness, and malaise are symptoms of the ailment that would seriously damage the young man's effectiveness. This means Arsenal are bringing exactly four first team defenders on the trip, forcing Hector Bellerin and Isaac Hayden onto the flight as cover, while the former might actually start.

If you want some good news, it's that it's as you were with the midfielders and forwards. Olivier Giroud is still out until around New Year's, but Theo Walcott should be back by the start of next month. For the predicted line-up below, I've made only one change to the line in front of the back four from Saturday's XI, Mikel Arteta coming back for Mathieu Flamini. Until proven otherwise, I have to assume Arsene Wenger will still continue with the 4-1-4-1 formation that is horribly misusing some talent, but letting others shine; the work rate of Jack Wilshere, Alexis Sanchez, and Danny Welbeck at the weekend was top notch. Welbeck came off with a tight calf but should hopefully be available, otherwise Alexis would start up top and Santi Cazorla would come back into the XI.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck.

Dortmund Squad News

Out: Gundogan (back,) Blaszczykowski (thigh,) Sahin (knee,) Reus (ankle,) Kirch (thigh,) Ji (thigh)
Doubts: Hummels (match fitness,) Schmelzer (thigh)

Dortmund do have Shinji Kagawa back, but what the hell
is going on with that kit design this year?
If there is one top club in the world that have suffered a similarly ridiculous number of injuries, it's Borussia Dortmund. Der BVB are currently without five players, with three other starters slowly returning to full training. As such, I think this is one of the first times in my years of writing this segment that the other team's injury news is longer than Arsenal's.

Among those on their way back, Ilkay Gundogan is still not expected to play with a back injury, center back Mats Hummels has not played a minute since the World Cup Final, and left back Marcel Schmelzer, who missed the entire World Cup through injury, has not played since coming off injured again from Germany's Super Cup a month ago. Schmelzer made the bench for Dortmund's 3-1 win over Freiburg at the weekend, as Erik Durm has been deputizing for club and country (with disastrous results for the world champions against Argentina in a friendly recently.)

Speaking of the German national team, Marco Reus, who also missed the entire World Cup, picked up an ankle injury against Scotland and is expected to be out for another four weeks. Shinji Kagawa has returned after a disastrous period for him at Manchester United and is playing the attacking midfield position in Reus's absence. Polish international Jakub Blaszczykowksi is out for another four to six weeks after picking up a thigh injury in training (he hasn't played a match since January,) while Nuri Sahin is out two months after a knee injury. Elsewhere, Oliver Kirch is out, having not played since August 19 with a thigh injury and Ji Dong-won was left out of the club's European squad entirely.

As for Dortmund's XI tonight, I'm predicting a similar backline to the one that played against Freiburg at the weekend, with Durm still at left back. Sven Bender should return to central midfield playing alongside Sebastian Kehl. All purpose defender/midfielder Kevin Grosskreutz could be used in the midfield. As for who is leading the attacking line (after Robert Lewandowski was sold this summer,) it could be Adrian Ramos (purchased from Hertha Berlin to replace Lewandowski,) Ciro Immobile, or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Predicted XI: Weidenfeller, Piszczek, Subotic, Sokratis, Durm, Bender, Kehl, Mkhitaryan, Kagawa, Grosskreutz, Ramos.

Current and European Form

Marco Reus scored twice against Real Madrid last year, but it
was not enough to overturn a 3-0 first leg deficit.
Arsenal remain unbeaten to start the 2014/15 campaign, yet they have drawn three of four matches in the league and have yet to win away from London. Arsenal's six points in the league is good enough only for 7th, though they remain one of only three unbeaten teams, along with Chelsea and Aston Villa, the latter of whom Arsenal visit this coming weekend.

In Europe, Arsenal snapped a streak of four matches without a victory with their 1-0 win over Besiktas in the second leg of the qualifier. The Gunners have not won on their European travels since their win at Dortmund last season; they lost at Napoli and drew at Bayern Munich and Besiktas since.

Borussia Dortmund opened the season with a victory in the German Super Cup over Bayern Munich by a 2-0 scoreline. They followed that up with a DFB-Pokal first round win over third division Stuttgarter Kickers. Then, to open league play, they conceded the fastest goal in Bundesliga history, en route to a 2-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen. Dortmund have bounced back with consecutive wins over Augsburg and Freiburg.

In Europe last year, Dortmund ended up winning the group of death at the expense of Arsenal, then winning their Round of 16 tie over Zenit St. Petersburg 5-4 on aggregate, despite losing at home in the second leg. They then faced Real Madrid in the quarterfinal and fell behind 3-0 after the first leg. Their 2-0 win at home in the second leg was not enough to see Dortmund through and Real eventually won the title.

Match Facts

Aaron Ramsey scored the winner when Arsenal faced
Dortmund in Germany last year.
This is the third time in the last four seasons that Arsenal will face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League group stage; the clubs previously met in 2011 and last year. In last year's matches, each side won on the road. At the Emirates on Matchday 3, Robert Lewandowski punished Arsenal as they pressed for a winner, burning the Gunners on the counterattack in the 82nd minute to give the visitors a 2-1 victory. In Dortmund on Matchday 4, Arsenal got revenge, winning 1-0 through an Aaron Ramsey goal in the 62nd minute. Dortmund ended up winning the group with Arsenal finishing second and Napoli third, all on tie-breakers as all three clubs finished with 12 points.

In 2011, Dortmund came from behind to draw 1-1 with the Gunners in Germany on Matchday 1. Arsenal won at the Emirates 2-1 on Matchday 5. The clubs' previous meetings in the group stage came in 2002, as Arsenal won 2-0 at Highbury and Dortmund won 2-1 in Germany, through two goals from a young Tomas Rosicky.

Arsenal have an even split record in Germany all-time, winning five, losing five, and drawing five. Dortmund had previously been unbeaten at home against English sides before Arsenal's win there last November.

The Referee

The match officials are from Portugal; the referee is Olegario Benquerença. Arsenal have seen Benquerença twice, both road matches they won by a 2-1 scoreline. The first was in the second leg of the 2011 qualifier against Udinese and the other was on Matchday 1 last year in Marseille. This will be Benquerença's first time working a Dortmund match.

Benquerença's most famous match was arguably the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal between Uruguay and Ghana, when Luis Suarez was sent off for saving Ghana's sure last minute winner. Benquerença was also at the center of a controversial Champions League match in October 2010 between Auxerre and Ajax in which he showed three red cards, including one to Auxerre's Jean-Pascal Mignot, who was warming up on the sidelines at the time.

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Juventus v. Malmo; Juventus Stadium, Turin
  • Tuesday: Olympiacos v. Atletico Madrid; Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus
  • Tuesday: Liverpool v. Ludogorets Razgrad; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Tuesday: Real Madrid v. Basel; Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
  • Tuesday: Benfica v. Zenit St. Petersburg; Estadio da Luz, Lisbon
  • Tuesday: Monaco v. Bayer Leverkusen; Stade Louis II, Monaco
  • Tuesday: Galatasaray v. Anderlecht; Turk Telekom Arena, Istanbul
  • Wednesday: Bayern Munich v. Manchester City; Allianz Arena, Munich
  • Wednesday: Roma v. CSKA Moscow; Stadio Olimpico, Rome
  • Wednesday: Ajax v. Paris St. Germain; Amsterdam Arena, Amsterdam
  • Wednesday: Barcelona v. APOEL; Camp Nou, Barcelona
  • Wednesday: Chelsea v. Schalke 04; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Wednesday: Maribor v. Sporting Clube de Portugal; Ljudski vrt, Maribor
  • Wednesday: Porto v. BATE Borisov; Estadio do Dragao, Porto
  • Wednesday: Athletic Bilbao v. Shakhtar Donetsk; San Mames, Bilbao