Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Burnley

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, November 1
11:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Craig Pawson
    • Assistants: David Bryan and Derek Eaton
    • 4th Official: Jonathan Moss
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 3 - 1 Burnley (March 6, 2010)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 44 Arsenal wins, 33 Burnley wins, 21 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-D-L-D-W
  • Burnley's League Form: D-D-L-D-L-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 15 C / 60 F
Alexis Sanchez: The best thing ever.
Most teams wouldn't enter this match with any trepidation; after all, Burnley are without a win all season. Then again, most teams don't make everything as difficult as Arsenal.

I can't be the only one who has that sinking feeling, right? This is the kind of match where the opposition sets out to be difficult to break down at the start, where Arsenal often struggles to find that first goal. If Arsenal struggles creatively, as they have so often this year, this match could end up feeling a lot like last weekend's dour affair in Sunderland.

There's no question that Arsenal possess the quality to easily capture all three points from the league table's basement club. There was no question about having that quality against Anderlecht and Sunderland as well, and while Arsenal did take all six points from those matches, they made it as difficult as possible.

The Gunners have comfortably won just twice this year (Aston Villa and Galatasaray;) my stress levels could really use a third such win.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ospina (thigh,) Koscielny (Achilles,) Ozil (knee,) Debuchy (ankle,) Giroud (ankle)
Doubts: Gibbs (hip)

Kieran Gibbs is not expected to miss out after leaving last
week's match with a hip problem.
We're getting to the point where listing all of the players who are "lacking match fitness" can't really be listed as doubts anymore, because they're going to have to start playing some time. Theo Walcott was unused off the bench last weekend; perhaps this is the match where he finally makes a cameo?

As for the actual starting XI, I haven't heard any news about the hip injury that forced Kieran Gibbs off last weekend; to be safe, He's officially listed as a "doubt," but I think the expectation is it's not that serious. Jack Wilshere returns from suspension and Aaron Ramsey should be available to start again as he returns from a hamstring problem; the Welshman only appeared from the bench in Sunderland.

All that included, it's time to start asking some questions, and the largest is one of rotation. Will Arsene Wenger ring in some changes to the XI, with a Champions League fixture looming on Tuesday? One quote he gave (when referring to the odds of playing Walcott) seems to suggest he might not, as he said, "We dropped points at home unexpectedly against Hull and that's why we have to focus on winning the Burnley game before I can plan giving Theo some competition." This seems to suggest that the boss is focusing on securing the three points first before mixing and matching his squad.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla, Alexis, Welbeck.

Burnley Squad News

Out: Reid (groin,) Taylor (Achilles,) Vokes (knee)
Doubts: Marney (hamstring)

Danny Ings signals that he has a hearing problem.
The Clarets are without two summer midfield acquisitions as Steven Reid is out with a groin injury and Matthew Taylor is out after undergoing a minor Achilles operation. Meanwhile, Sam Vokes, who has been with the club for two years, also remains out after an ACL injury last March. There are doubts over Dean Marney, who has not played since September with a hamstring injury, though he may be close to a return.

Sean Dyche is expected to play it safe with his formation and will likely field a 4-5-1; the Clarets played a 4-4-2 through their second place finish in the Championship last season and like to play it out from the back. Against Arsenal at the Emirates, they'll probably need to pack the midfield a little more.

Burnley played a 4-4-2 against Everton at Turf Moor last weekend and gave the Toffees 62% of the possession in a 3-1 loss. To play a 4-5-1, Danny Ings will likely be the Clarets' only forward, while Lukas Jutkiewicz will drop to the bench in favor of a fifth midfielder.

Predicted XI: Heaton, Trippier, Duff, Shackell, Mee, Kightly, Jones, Chalobah, Boyd, Arfield, Ings.

Current Form

Everton celebrate a goal at Turf Moor last week.
They look like Spurs in this change kit...
Arsenal's late equalizer against Hull two weekends ago saved their home streak in the Premier League; the Gunners have not lost at home in the league since the season opener against Aston Villa last year, a streak that has now reached 22, 22 undefeated. 22, 22, I say. Arsenal have made difficult work of the past week of matches, but they did take two wins from as many games against Anderlecht and Sunderland, and ultimately, you can'd do more than that. That means, across all competitions, Arsenal are now three, three undefeated... wow, that doesn't work as well. It's also the first time they've won two straight since the span between last season and the start of this season.

Last-place Burnley, on the other hand, are the only team in the Premier League that have not won a match this year. They are already five points from safety, having drawn four matches and lost the other five. They have two draws away from home, against Crystal Palace and Leicester City, which is an improvement on their road record from the last time the Clarets were in the top flight, when they didn't pick up their second point away from Turf Moor until April 10. Burnley have scored just five goals all season (four of them coming in their last three matches) and have conceded 16. They had gone three straight matches with clean sheets at one point in the league (all of which ended 0-0,) but have picked the ball out of their net 12 times in the last four matches since.

Match Facts

This corresponding match last time took place a week after
Aaron Ramsey had his leg broken at Stoke; the Arsenal players
wore "Get Well Soon Aaron" shirts during warm-ups.
Only two of the players in this photo are still with Arsenal.
Arsenal took four of a possible six points from Burnley the last time the Clarets were in the Premier League, in 2009/10. At Turf Moor in December of 2009, Cesc Fabregas scored in the seventh minute, then picked up a hamstring injury that basically hung with him for the rest of his Arsenal career. Later in the first half, Thomas Vermaelen conceded a penalty as Burnley equalized. The match ended drawn at 1-1; it was one of the early matches in the long "Arsenal inexplicably can't win with Mike Dean" streak.

In this corresponding fixture, Arsenal led again through Cesc Fabregas before Burnley equalized again. At the Emirates, however, Arsenal got later goals from Theo Walcott and Andrei Arshavin to win 3-1. Nicklas Bendtner famously missed about three sitters in this match; he would go on to score a hat trick in the Champions League against Porto three days later.

Burnley's last win at Arsenal came on September 7, 1974, by a 2-1 scoreline. While that may seem like a long time, it really just means Arsenal have won three straight home matches against the Clarets; prior to 2009/10, Burnley had not been in the top flight since 1976.

The Referee

I think this is part of the Macarena...
The referee is South Yorkshire-based Craig Pawson. This is the second time in three Premier League matches where Arsenal will be seeing a referee for the first time, after Roger East for Arsenal v. Hull. Pawson has been the fourth official for Arsenal on a number of occasions, most notably the FA Cup semi-final last season. This is already Pawson's second Burnley match of the season; he previously took charge of the Clarets' 1-0 loss at Swansea in August.

Pawson did not referee a match last week; he was the fourth official for West Ham v. Manchester City. Prior to that, Pawson was the referee for the Crystal Palace v. Chelsea match, which saw each side have a man sent off three minutes apart.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Newcastle United v. Liverpool; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Queens Park Rangers; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Swansea City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Southampton; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. West Bromwich Albion; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. West Ham United; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Sunday (early): Manchester City v. Manchester United; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (late): Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Monday (night): Crystal Palace v. Sunderland; Selhurst Park, London

Sunderland 0-2 Arsenal: Stuff Happened, Sort Of

Photo: Getty Images

Alternatively, the score in the header could have been Sunderland 2-0 Themselves, which honestly goes much further towards describing what actually happened here. The Gunners were incidental to proceedings, so many Vladimirs and Estragons vainly waiting for Godot while Sunderland went about the task of their now-usual comedic self-implosion.

I fully understand that this probably sticks me in the "miserable bastard" section of the fanbase, but this was utterly dreadful to watch. Sure, I'm happy that we got the three points, and I do hope that it gives us some momentum to take maximum value from a kind section of the fixture list upcoming. But, if the idea that we play beautiful football hadn't been killed off by now, surely today is when the doctor declared it DOA.

Theoretically, I could describe proceedings in rough chronological order, like I usually do. But, honestly, what's the point? We've all heard this song before - dominate possession, pass it sideways, watch in wonder as the opponent masses ten outfield players (plus the tea lady, four stewards and a literal double-decker bus) behind the ball while they wait to counter on the break...even the Groundhog Day comparisons have gotten old by now.

Sunderland, to their credit, were largely solid given the circumstances of last week. There was always the possibility that their previous result could have sent them on a tailspin the likes of which could see them relegated by Christmas, but they fought hard and were only undone by two ludicrous individual mistakes.

Our lot, meanwhile, did what they always do. The team almost entirely picked itself, but interestingly the boss went with two deeper midfielders in Mathieu Flamini and Mikael Arteta. That seemed a bit odd to me given that the Mackems showed little attacking inclination. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was handed a start out wide, but there was no place for midweek hero Lukas Podolski.

So, the game ambled along, as our games tend to do these days. Somewhere along the line, Wes Brown (this man once played for Manchester United...really) whiffed on a backpass that was a questionable decision in the first place. It ended up turning into a hell of an assist for the marauding Alexis Sanchez, who was in alone on old boy Vito Mannone. The Italian demonstrated why he now plays at Sunderland, coming off his line a bit but then stopping, putting the Chilean under no pressure. Then, as Sanchez arrogantly chipped over him, Mannone dove the wrong way. Our man was probably always scoring anyway, but the keeper didn't exactly make it difficult on him.

The goal was a brief flashpoint in the vacuum, to which we returned immediately thereafter. Sunderland tried, but for the most part their best player was referee Kevin Friend. He sure did wave yellow bits of cardboard around at anything in a matching-colored shirt, didn't he? That said, Arteta was unbelievably lucky not to walk for his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon impersonation. His high kick, missing only some spinning nunchucks to complete the affect - only warranted a yellow in Friend's eyes.

Back to our slumbers we went until just about the end of the match. You'll be stunned to know that with weapons like Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Joel Campbell on the bench, we did not make any subs (with the exception of Hector Bellerin on for the crocked-once-again Kieran Gibbs) until scant minutes before the end. Here, I note the contrast to Southampton, who were still bound and determined to put the boot to Sunderland's throat even when they were 5-0, 6-0 ahead. Anyway, like I've said before, I don't even get mad at this shit anymore. Why ask why?

That said, the Sunderland AFC Comedy Troupe had one more act for us in injury time. Santiago Verigni, aka the man who scored the wonder own-goal last week, played a ludicrous backpass to Mannone. The Italian was immediately put under intense pressure by Alexis, and he could only shovel the ball a yard or two ahead of him. Sanchez, for the second time on the afternoon, accepted the gift and slotted the ball into the empty net.

Honestly, I feel for Mannone here. While he wasn't fantastic on either goal, neither was entirely his fault either. But, he's now coming off an 8-0 loss (also not entirely his fault), and now a second match where he's made a mistake...with Costel Pantilimion lurking on the bench. The glamorous life of a goalkeeper, folks.  Oh, and sidenote: Yeah, maybe Szczesny shouldn't have come off his line at the end there, but aggression is his game and for eff's sake he did just enough in that situation. The way some people are talking, you'd think he picked up the ball and threw it into his own net. 

At the end of the day, I suppose that the three points were the most important priority and we take them back to London with us. I've largely resigned myself to the idea that the pretty football that we've played in seasons past will be reduced to isolated moments in a sea of sideways passes. If it's going to be a grind, I'll take boredom and three points over boredom alone, that's for sure. The next fixture is Burnley at home, and that's another one where boredom and three points is the absolute minimum acceptable benchmark. We'll see.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7 (Bellerin 6), Mertesacker 7, Monreal 6, Chambers 7, Arteta 6 (Ramsey N/A), Flamini 7, Cazorla 6, Sanchez 8, Oxlade-Chamberlain 5 (Rosicky N/A), Welbeck 6

Man of the Match: It's safe to say that there is literally no other option that Alexis Sanchez.

Preview by Numbers: Sunderland v. Arsenal

Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Saturday, October 25
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and Constantine Hatzidakis
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • This Match, Last Year: Sunderland 1 - 3 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 57 Arsenal wins, 50 Sunderland wins, 39 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-D-W-D-L-D
  • Sunderland's League Form: L-D-D-D-W-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 13 C / 56 F
Wednesday's classic smash and grab has left Arsenal sitting somewhat pretty in their European group; a win from both Arsenal and Dortmund on Matchday 4 will see both clubs through to the Round of 16 with two games to spare. That's nice. Arsenal's only realistic shot at winning the group at that point would be to beat Dortmund on Matchday 5 by a large enough margin to claim the tiebreaker. Honestly, right about now, that sounds nearly impossible, but we'll cross that bridge if we come to it.

Back to domestic matters and Arsenal have just two wins from eight Premier League matches. Their opponent on Saturday, Sunderland, is coming off an eight goal loss. The atmosphere is going to be pretty tense. Arsenal have to do everything they can to keep the good times flowing after their surprise Belgian comeback. All of these draws are going to have to start turning into wins if Arsenal want to spend 2015 talking about Champions League qualification.

We're at a point right now where 4th place West Ham and 18th place Newcastle are separated by just six points. Wins are at a premium. Three points are vital.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ospina (thigh,) Koscielny (Achilles,) Ozil (knee,) Debuchy (ankle,) Giroud (ankle)
Doubts: Walcott, Gnabry, and Diaby (all match fitness,) Sanogo (hamstring)
Suspended: Wilshere (one match, yellow card accumulation)

Jack Wilshere needed treatment after leaving his leg out
in a tackle with Gaston Ramirez. The booking Jack picked up
for doing so leaves him suspended this weekend.
Well, the good news is that this list hasn't really changed all that much since midweek, unless someone picked up something in Anderlecht that I am, at writing time, unaware of. Danny Welbeck was limping around a bit, but that's all I can think of to be concerned about.

Because Arsenal are really good at getting bookings this year, Jack Wilshere will serve a one match ban for yellow card accumulation; it's really quite insane that Arsenal have now had two players pick up five domestic bookings since it's not even November. Calum Chambers will return to the XI, though whether he starts at right back or center back is Arsene Wenger's call. Given how uncomfortable Nacho Monreal has looked in the center, I'd really prefer Chambers in the middle and Hector Bellerin at right; I predict Arsene Wenger will side with experience, however.

Mikel Arteta still has not made an appearance since his calf injury, though I do believe he's available, so whether Mathieu Flamini retains his starting position remains to be seen. Wilshere's suspension and Mesut Ozil's injury means if Arsenal continue to play a 4-1-4-1 (God, why?!?) it'll be Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla centrally.

As for the wide positions, I don't expect Theo Walcott to be ready to go yet; we'll need at least a cameo appearance from him off the bench before I start predicting him in the starting XI. Alexis Sanchez should start on one side, though which side remains to be seen. I'm curious as to what Lukas Podolski will have to do to get a start; the last remaining question in the XI would be whether you start Poldi or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I'd love to see the nod go to Poldi, but for the sake of safe predictions, I'll slide the Ox in there and see if I'm pleasantly wrong.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Cazorla, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck.

Sunderland Squad News

Out: Jones (hamstring,) Alvarez (knee,) Coates (hip,) Giaccherini (ankle)

Wait, you can bring in defenders after the window closed?
Does Wenger know this?
The Black Cats have four injury concerns at the moment. Defender Billy Jones has made only four appearances all season and is currently out with a hamstring injury. Midfielder Ricky Alvarez, on loan from Inter, has been out for a month with a knee injury and defender Sebastian Coates, on loan from Liverpool, has a hip injury. Both are expected back in November. Meanwhile, Emanuele Giaccherini, who scored against Arsenal last year, is out until December with an ankle injury.

Gus Poyet is highly likely to make a number of changes to his squad after they lost 8-0 to Southampton last week. Whether former Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone retains his place remains to be seen; Poyet has the availability of a decent back-up in ex-Manchester City keeper Costel Pantilimon.

This week, Poyet signed free agent and former French international defender Anthony Reveillere. Even with that in mind, if Poyet makes changes, it's not likely to be to the back line and is more likely in midfield, where he has options like Jack Rodwell and Aaron Johnson, both of whom did not start last weekend. Jordi Gomez and Will Buckley are the two midfielders most likely to drop out of the XI.

Predicted XI: Mannone, Vergini, Brown, O'Shea, van Aanholt, Cattermole, Larsson, Rodwell, Johnson, Wickham, Fletcher.

Current Form

Tough day at the office.
The pessimist will say that Arsenal's 2-1 win over Anderlecht midweek is just paper over the cracks; the optimist will say that it's the kind of win that can galvanize the team. The opportunist will sneak past both of them to order the next drink at the bar.

If you don't count the Community Shield, then Arsenal have yet to win back-to-back matches this season. After beating Crystal Palace, they drew Besiktas. After beating Aston Villa, they lost to Southampton in the League Cup. After beating Galatasaray, they lost to Chelsea. Through eight league matches, Arsenal have just two wins. The last time Arsenal had two or fewer wins through their first eight matches? 1994. Arsenal finished 12th that season. Of course, Arsenal had fewer points after eight games just three years ago, when they had 10 points from their first eight matches; Arsenal still finished 3rd that year.

Sunderland's heavy loss to Southampton last week dropped the Black Cats to 17th place, though they are only three points behind 7th place Arsenal and five points behind 4th place West Ham. That's how insane the table is this season: Chelsea and City are running away with the top two, Southampton are making a strong case for being a legitimate third right now, Burnley and QPR are certainly the bottom two, and everyone else is in the middle.

Prior to last week's 8-0 reverse, Sunderland had lost only once this season in the league, though that result itself remains QPR's only win. Sunderland, like Arsenal, have a ton of draws. They took a point from the Hawthorns. They took a point from United. They took a point from Spurs. They played consecutive 0-0 draws with Burnley and Swansea. They beat Stoke 3-1 just before the international break (after Stoke bounced Sunderland from the League Cup.) Then, last week's 8-0 shocker happened.

Match Facts

Some currently hurt players are shown here, looking
happier in days gone by.
Arsenal took all six possible points from Sunderland last season, winning 3-1 at the Stadium of Light in September and 4-1 at the Emirates in February.

This corresponding fixture last year was played just after the September international break; it was Mesut Ozil's first match in red and white (well, yellow and blue really, since Sunderland was actually in red and white.) Ozil assisted on Olivier Giroud's opening goal just 11 minutes into the match. Sunderland, however, were level just minutes after the restart from a Craig Gardner penalty. Aaron Ramsey went on to score twice to seal the three points, though Jozy Altidore should have had an equalizer to make it 2-2 when Martin Atkinson failed to play advantage on a foul.

Arsenal won the reverse fixture comfortably, with a brace from Olivier Giroud and goals from Tomas Rosicky and Laurent Koscielny to make it 4-0 before the hour mark. Emanuele Giaccherini scored a consolation goal in the 81st.

Arsenal's recent record at the Stadium of Light, however, is a mixed bag. Arsenal won a nervy 1-0 there in February of 2013, after Carl Jenkinson was sent off. Arsenal had to come from behind to win 2-1 in February of 2012, with the on-loan Thierry Henry scoring the injury time winner; a week later, Arsenal played at the Stadium of Light again in the FA Cup and lost 2-0.  Prior to Henry's winner, Arsenal had gone three matches without a win in Sunderland.

The Referee

They don't look too happy...
The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. Arsenal have seen Friend once this year and Gunners fans may recall that he didn't appear to do a very good job; he was the man in the middle for the 2-2 draw at Everton in August. During a large swath of that match, it felt like Arsenal were whistled for a foul every time they breathed on an Everton player; indeed, four different Arsenal players were booked to Everton's one. Arsenal were whistled for 18 fouls to Everton's 10. Arsenal's comeback, however, means they still have not lost a match with Friend as the referee, with four wins and three draws over seven matches.

Sunderland fans are also not thrilled at the prospect of having Kevin Friend; the Black Cats lost both matches last year in which Friend was in the middle. Last November at Stoke, center back Wes Brown was controversially sent off in the 36th minute for clattering into Charlie Adam; Brown won the ball in the challenge. Stoke won the match 2-0. That was the only red card Friend showed all of last season. Friend was subsequently dropped for the next week of matches after the decision. Sunderland also, later in the season, lost 2-1 to Liverpool at Anfield with Friend as the referee.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): West Ham United v. Manchester City; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. Hull City; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Stoke City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Crystal Palace; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Swansea City v. Leicester City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Sunday (early): Burnley v. Everton; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Sunday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Newcastle United; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. Chelsea; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Monday (night): Queens Park Rangers v. Aston Villa; Loftus Road, London

Nothing is unthinkable on a European away night

"It wasn't the result that Arsenal deserved but it was what they needed right now" - Jim Gordon

It all happened in the blink of an eye, didn't it? Ten minutes before Kieran Gibbs' world class equalizer after a brilliant Calum Chambers cross, Belgian international Anthony Vanden Borre has a wonderful opportunity to put Belgian upstarts Anderlecht 2-0 up with a little over ten minutes remaining - fortunately, all the right back could do was fluffed his chance off the bar and then saw Andy Najar drill the rebound into the side netting. Yes, Arsenal were just THAT close to going 2-0 down late on and unlikely to score three in the final ten minutes...but football has a funny way of doing the unthinkable.

After Gibbs' brilliant volley, a stoppage time winner came by way of the happy-go-lucky but not so content Lukas Podolski after Sanchez's cross deflected in the box and fell to the German less than six yards out with only the keeper to blast it past. The final score read 2-1 Arsenal and we headed back to London with all three points - yes, in the end that is all that matters, but perhaps you shouldn't look at it in such simple terms when push comes to shove.
Kieran Gibbs celebrates his brilliantly struck equalizer - it, along with Anthony Vanden Borre's miss, flipped the match on it's head...but it should never have come to that (image courtesy of the official Facebook page of the UEFA Champions League)
Truthfully, inches do win matches and at the end of the day, football is about winning matches, but if you're honest with yourselves, we were poor and no we should not have taken all three points. Anyone that will sit there and tell you that Anderlecht are not worthy or more akin to a pub side really doesn't do the side or themselves any credit - the Belgian side can call on the likes of the immensely talented Youri Tielemans, the craft of Dennis Praet, Andy Najar's pace and trickery, Steven Defour's grit and leadership and a general nature of hard work, desire and youthful exuberance that makes Anderlecht a more formidable opponent than most want to discuss. Are they in the same class as Arsenal? No, surely not and no one can ever claim anything of the sort, but the first 87-minutes of the match showed just how close the young purple upstarts came to shocking the very foundations of the Arsenal fan-base.

At the end of the day, Anderlecht did not find the critical second goal and our European experience and talent kicked in when it mattered most...the final four minutes of the match. While at the end of the day we are all happy to be sitting comfortably in second in the group (despite the likelihood of a round of 16 clash with a European giant), we still need to ask questions...a lot of questions. While Sean and I will probably continue to disagree (haha) about the quality of yesterday's opponent, Sean and I will also agree on the state of which the team currently sits - once again, we were not good enough, and other than the performances of Sanchez and Gibbs, we were abysmally poor.
Even Nick Clegg does such a wonderful job in conveying the collective feelings on last night's result - thanks Nick
Arsene Wenger's press conference in the post-match came with an interesting bit from Le Prof. While the gaffer will have himself (and many others) that our spirit saw us through, I am going to have to disagree. We could have very easily lost this match, and in truth, while we did incredibly well to fight back at the end, the truth of the matter is that it was Anderlecht's lack of mental strength that saw them lose all the points. Perhaps even more significant is the notion of the question being posed to the tune of "What if this was not Anderlecht...what if this was Dortmund, Bayern, Real, Barca?" - said question was seen all over Twitter and Facebook, with many Gooners recognizing the importance of the three points, but not being under any illusions of just how poor we were.

There are many times were certain things can fall on the blame on the manager. That is not to say that people hate the man (though some certainly seem to these days), but the headmaster is usually the first point of contact for many when things do not go as planned - I can honestly say tonight that I do not think Wenger can shoulder the blame. I will admit that I was rather put off by the XI we fielded, but it's the performance of the players on the whole that was the biggest issue of all. Lacking enthusiasm, cutting-edge, often being outworked in many areas of the pitch and seemingly bereft of desire, this must fall on the players.  

Many will say that it's up to the manager to motivate his players on the touchline or in the dressing room during the break; we did come out a little stronger in the second half after a woeful performance in the first 45minutes, but if the manager is not going to push you on from the touchline ( Wenger often does not), then the players certainly must dig deep.
For better or worse, Alexis Sanchez has been our most inspired player this season.   One can only hope his performances will rub off on the rest of the squad (image courtesy of Arsenal's official Facebook page)
So often, and for many years now, Arsenal seem to lack the aforementioned qualities that we need to show consistently - for me, this comes down to a lack of real leadership on the pitch. We rarely have players who want to lead by either example, words or both. Sanchez put in another brilliant all around display yesterday from the first minute till the last, but it was not till the 88th minute that we finally showed a will to win...where was this for the first 87minutes? All to often, it seems as though we do not start playing until we have to - sure it's impressive that we have a strong track record of storming back into matches, but against top quality sides, that'll never cut the mustard (see any of our recent pastings against sides of note). It's an area we must improve in, and it's hard to see us being a contender in any competition until we learn to take a match by the scruff of the neck from kick-off till the final whistle.

Perhaps Jim Gordon put it best. A loss last night and we were potentially in a bit of quick sand, but the win see's us just three points away from being all but assured of our passage into the knockout stages. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't efficient but it was in fact a win, one that hopefully puts a little more confidence in the players and gives us a platform to hopefully build on moving forward.

All in all, we can all agree that football is fluid, ever changing, and possesses the ability produce moments where surely you'd think it could never be. For much of the match, the unthinkable was that Anderlecht as going to steal all three points. Once the Belgians went 1-0 and then spurned their glorious chance to make it two to the good, the unthinkable was that they would walk way with nothing. Many of us are likely to remain divided on so many issues and the unfortunate truth is that a performance and a result such as last night's will do nothing but exacerbate the divide, but we can all certainly agree that we're all grateful that the unthinkable shined down on us during a frustrating night in Brussels.

Oh where oh where could our first-team balance be...?

As usual these days, I recently found myself perusing ye olde inter-webs on Facebook and Twitter for a topic of inspiration...and then it smacked me right in the face as if I was Freddy Benson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels trying to lay a move or two on some unsuspecting tourist; our lack of balance in the first-team.

While I am tempted to write and rant about another player to come down with our own version of King Tut's curse (incase you haven't heard, David Ospina is now our for three months, thus leaving us with just   our selfie-taking Polish shot stopper as our only recognized keeper till the New Year), the current issues with the first-team are far more worrisome than having Damian Martinez start in goal later today against a young and talented RSC Anderlecht side.  No no, the issue at hand here that slapped me in the face was the realization that while we really only have six first-team defenders (as if any of us could forget that), we have SIXTEEN midfielders...that is, if you consider wide players as midfielders, which many do.
We don't have poor players, we have too many of one type.  On top of having too many midfielders, we have too many creative players...and it costs us (image courtesy of Arsenal's official Facebook page)
The notion that we have nearly three times the amount of  players in one area of the field than the other throws our entire position from the summer till now into complete perspective.  Simply put, this is not a side that was ever going to compete, but it goes far deeper than that...much to our chagrin.

Unfortunately, the reality of the situation comes down to when you consider just how long a "normal" campaign for us really is.  Thirty-eight league fixtures, a minimum of six Champions League matches, two domestic cup tie's if we get knocked out early on and not to mention the international breaks that come into play.  All told, the MINIMUM amount of fixtures many of our players have to deal with (when taking national team duty into account) is around fifty or more - if you don't get called into contention for your country, you're looking at forty-six if there are no extended cup runs of any kind.  Sure, the midfield may be able to cope and be rotated (wait...we rotate? Hah, no we don't), but the defense will be dragging their tired legs come January.

Perhaps it's a little telling that Per Mertesacker decided to retire internationally aged just thirty.  BFG was quoted in saying that he wanted to concentrate on Arsenal fully, and given the paper thin nature of our options at the back, that was clearly for the better.  However, unfortunately for us, the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers and Kieran Gibbs are all stalwarts for their respective countries, and even young Hector Bellerin and Isaac Hayden are in the fold at youth levels.  Having your players prized away for national duty is part and parcel with being a big club, but when you are a supposed big club, shouldn't depth in quality in all areas of the team also come with the package?  Well, not at Arsenal it would seem.

To go along with our issues at the back, we really only have two strikers that are worth their salt - Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck, and with Charles De Gaulle's hair impersonator being crocked till around January, our only real striker right now is Welbeck.  Sure Joel Campbell and Lukas Podolski COULD feature up front, so could Alexis Sanchez as well as our third choice striker option Yaya Giraffe, but how many of those could come in and do a quality job in that role?  This brings us back to the point at hand - depth in quality, and squad balance.
Vastly understrength and in for a tough battle to remain fit, our back-line may as well be Leonidas and his 300 Spartan vanguard
If you look at our closest rivals at current, all of City, Chelsea, Liverpool and United (somewhat) not only have talented players in every position, but they have multiple options for any area of the park.  All four clubs have been far more successful than Arsenal domestically in recent seasons, and none of that should come as a shock to any one - these teams are built to last a long season...they are truly built to challenge.

Despite the blatant imbalance that currently exists, this can still all be rectified come January...if we are willing to spend.  We missed out on a few defensive targets in the summer window, but we have been linked with a renewed interest in Dutch international defender Virgil van Dijk from Celtic, who would be available for less than to Arsene Wenger's ears.  Unfortunately, it's going to take more than one addition at the back to make things right, however any further potential course of action would depend on our standing in Europe at the time - any chance to progress to the round of 16 will certainly have to see us strengthen further.

Many have resolved themselves on already throwing in the towel on our campaign despite it not even being November yet.  It's true that it is hard to see us ever truly giving Chelsea or City a legitimate run for their money, and with United bereft of European distraction and hitting some sort of decent form as of late, it's looking more and more like we are in for yet another dog fight for fourth...or so we hope.  Southampton under Ronald Koeman now offer another potential threat, and Liverpool are likely to rediscover their form especially when Daniel Sturridge returns to first-team duties - to be blunt, we run the risk of finishing outside of the top four unless we get the balance right.

Arsene Wenger, to his credit for better or worse, truly believes in the side we have at the club - he's done so for quite a while now.  Having your manager maintain belief in your ability is incredibly important it's true, but such faith becomes unfounded when your teams consistently lack balance in all areas.  It always seems with us that we either have too many of one type of player (for example, we currently have far too many creative players), not enough players in one area of the pitch (in the case of this season on defense) or both at the same time.  Truthfully, it's becoming hard to see how Le Prof can keep faith in a team that is not given two legs to stand on in a fight it cannot be expected to win.

It may be difficult, but I have not thrown in the white towel on this season just yet, despite how tempting it really is.  Personally, I am willing to give us till the end of the January window in the hopes that we can fix what i broken and get the equation right.  I love this club, so I truly feel that I owe it to myself, the players, the staff and the fans to try to remain optimistic, but these are trying times and its becoming increasingly difficult to keep the faith when you look around us and see so many clubs doing it right when putting methodology into practice.

Preview by Numbers: Anderlecht v. Arsenal, Champions League Group Matchday 3

Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, Anderlecht
Wednesday, October 22
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials from Spain
    • Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo
    • Assistants: Roberto Alonso and Juan Yuste
    • 4th Official: Angel Nevado Rodriguez
    • Additional Assistants: Carlos Del Cerro and Jesus Gil Manzano
  • All-Time in All Competitions: First competitive meeting, if you ask UEFA (see Match Facts)
  • Arsenal's European Form: L-D // D-W-L-W
  • Anderlecht's European Form: L-D-L-L // D-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 8 C / 48 F
Gunnersaurus will make everything better.
Well, things feel pretty dire now in Arsenal Land, don't they? For that reason, there's very little I can say here that you haven't heard already.

Of course, this running feature is not really about recapping, it's about looking ahead at the relevant informational trends pertaining to the next upcoming fixture. Then again, current form is one of those trends (as it's always one of the six bolded topics of discussion,) so what do I know?

What I do know is this: Arsenal needs a win very badly right now, so let's get to it.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ospina (thigh,) Koscielny (Achilles,) Ozil (knee,) Debuchy (ankle,) Giroud (ankle)
Doubts: Gnabry (knee,) Walcott (knee,) Diaby (match fitness,) Sanogo (hamstring)
Suspended: Szczesny (one match, denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity)

It's not like we haven't gone to Belgium with our third
choice keeper before.
On Matchday 1 in 2009's group stage, Arsenal went to Belgium with their third string goalkeeper. Manuel Almunia had a chest infection and Lukasz Fabianski had a knee injury. A 21-year-old Italian by the name of Vito Mannone got the start, backed up on the bench by 19-year-old Wojciech Szczesny.

Within five minutes, Standard Liege led 2-0. On the first, while trying to clear a corner, Eduardo backheeled the ball straight back to the Belgian side. Minutes later, William Gallas conceded a penalty that wasn't in the box and Arsenal were truly up against it. Arsenal stormed back to win the match 3-2, thanks in part to an equalizer where Alex Song handled in the buildup.

Fun little story, looking back on it, and highly relevant now that it appears Emiliano Martinez will be getting the nod in goal with Szczesny suspended and David Ospina now out for three months (!) with a thigh injury he reaggravated when he replaced Szczesny on Matchday 2 (recall Ospina did not make the bench against Chelsea that weekend.) If first team training pictures are anything to go by, 17-year-old Ryan Huddart might be Martinez's back-up on the bench.

Martinez has made only two appearances for Arsenal, both in the 2012 League Cup campaign; he had very little to do in a 6-1 win over Coventry, but then spotted Reading a 4-0 lead before Arsenal stormed back to win 7-5 in extra time. Last year, Martinez made 15 appearances on loan at Sheffield Wednesday, getting the Owls to the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Calum Chambers will return after missing the weekend through domestic suspension, but with Laurent Koscielny out, Chambers will play in the middle of defense while Hector Bellerin should retain his place at right back.

Ahead of the back four, I don't suspect there'll be too many changes, save maybe Mikel Arteta for Mathieu Flamini. Aaron Ramsey might get a nod as well, as he came back from his hamstring injury much faster than expected.

Predicted XI: Martinez, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Chambers, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck.

Anderlecht Squad News

Out: N'Sakala (knee)
Doubts: Nuytinck (knock,) Vanden Borre (match fitness)

If you thought Ryan Huddart was young, Youri Tielemans is
even younger!
The Belgian side have only one major injury to contend with, as French full-back Fabrice N'Sakala has been out since the beginning of September with a knee ligament injury; he will not be back until November at the earliest. Meanwhile, Dutch center back Bram Nuytinck is a doubt after missing last weekend's match. Ex-Portsmouth defender Anthony Vanden Borre has not featured this season after tearing a calf muscle at the World Cup. The Belgian international completed 59 minutes for Anderlecht's Under-21 team on October 9.

Six of the 11 players listed in the projected line-up below are 21 years of age or younger. 20-year-old Serbian international Aleksandar Mitrovic leads the forward line; he has eight international caps. Youri Tielemans, one of the holding midfielders, is just 17; last year, he became the youngest Belgian ever to appear in the Champions League. He's actually younger, by two months, than the 17-year-old goalkeeper Arsenal might have on the bench. Congolese fullback Chancel Mbemba Mangulu and Belgian midfielder Dennis Praet are also both 20.

Predicted XI: Proto, Deschacht, Nuytinck, Mbemba, Najar, Defour, Tielemans, Conte, Praet, Acheampong, Mitrovic.

Current Form

Dortmund celebrates one of their three goals at Anderlecht
on Matchday 2.
Form? What's that?

Well, it's really bad for Arsenal right now. Across all competitions, Arsenal have now won just two of their last nine games and three of their last 12. The Gunners have just four wins in total, if you don't count the Community Shield, and it's almost the end of October! Last year, Arsenal enjoyed their fifth win on September 14, just after the first international break. The year before, win number five came on October 3. In 2011, it was September 24, and that was the year Arsenal lost 8-2 at Old Trafford and then 4-3 at Blackburn. Astonishing. Arsenal have already drawn six matches, across all competitions, this year. They drew eight all of last year.

Anderlecht are unbeaten thus far in the Belgian Pro League season, winning six and drawing five; they are three points clear of second place Club Brugge. Of course, the Belgian league is a bit strange; with only 16 teams, the regular season ends in March. The top six teams then all face each other twice again in a playoff and the team with the most points from that phase wins the Belgian championship. Anderlecht won the championship last season, their 33rd all-time, despite finishing third in the "regular season."

On the other hand, Anderlecht have gone 10 European matches without a win, dating back to 2012. Their last win in Europe came 1-0 over Zenit St. Petersburg on Matchday 4 of the 2012 group stage. They then lost to AC Milan and drew Malaga to finish fourth in the group. Last year, the club lost five and drew one (away to PSG!) in the group stage to again finish fourth. This year, after a Matchday 1 draw with Galatasaray, they lost 3-0 to Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 2.

Match Facts

Arsenal found themselves 2-0 down at Standard Liege on their
last trip to Belgium, a story I told you before. I included this
picture just so you can see Nick Bendtner's popped collar.
This is the first competitive meeting between Arsenal and Anderlecht, according to UEFA's method of record keeping. Arsenal defeated Anderlecht in the 1970 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup Final, losing 3-1 in Belgium in the first leg before winning 3-0 at Highbury. However, because that cup was not organized by UEFA, they do not consider it part of their records.

Keeping that in mind, the rest of the numbers in this section do not include the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup as part of its totals.

The Gunners have lost just once against Belgian competition; incidentally, that was Arsenal's first match against a Belgian side: KFC Winterslag defeated Arsenal 1-0 in the 1981/82 UEFA Cup second round first leg. Arsenal won the return leg 2-1, but Winterslag went through on away goals. In 1988, Winterslag merged with another club and are now known as KRC Genk.

Arsenal have won all four meetings against Belgian sides since that tie, all against Standard Liege. In the second round of the 1993/94 Cup Winners' Cup, Arsenal won 3-0 at Highbury in the first leg, then 7-0 in Liege in the second to win the tie 10-0 on aggregate. Arsenal went on to win that competition. Then, in the 2009 group stage, Arsenal won 3-2 in Liege on Matchday 1 and 2-0 in London on Matchday 5.

Anderlecht have faced English competition 28 times, losing 18 of them; they've won six and drawn the other four. In Belgium, Anderlecht have a record of six wins, three draws, and six losses against English teams, including finals; they have lost all 13 matches they've played on English soil, including a penalty shootout loss to Tottenham in the 1984 UEFA Cup Final.

The Referee

"Everyone stop doing things, please!"
The match officials are from Spain; the referee is Carlos Velasco Carballo. Arsenal have had Velasco Carballo on three occasions and have won all three: 2-1 over Olympiacos at the Emirates in the 2011 group stage, 2-1 at Montpellier in the 2013 group stage (in which Montpellier opened the scoring from a dubious penalty,) and 2-0 over Fenerbahce in last year's play-off second leg. He was also the referee to send off Wojciech Szczesny for Poland in the first match of the 2012 Euros; for other officials who have sent off Szczesny, see Matchday 2. While he has taken charge of 53 UEFA matches, this will be Velasco Carballo's first involving Anderlecht.

Velasco Carballo came under heavy criticism this summer after taking charge of the World Cup quarterfinal match between Brazil and Colombia, a match which was very much out of hand. Each side were shown two yellow cards apiece, despite there being an astonishing total of 54 fouls whistled. Incidentally, that was also the match where David Ospina first injured his thigh...

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: CSKA Moscow 2 - 2 Manchester City
  • Tuesday: Roma 1 - 7 Bayern Munich
  • Tuesday: Barcelona 3 - 1 Ajax
  • Tuesday: APOEL Nicosia 0 - 1 Paris St. Germain
  • Tuesday: Chelsea 6 - 0 Maribor
  • Tuesday: Schalke 04 4 - 3 Sporting Clube de Portugal
  • Tuesday: Porto 2 - 1 Athletic Bilbao
  • Tuesday: BATE Borisov 0 - 7 Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Wednesday: Atletico Madrid v. Malmo; Vicente Calderon Stadium, Madrid
  • Wednesday: Olympiacos v. Juventus; Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus
  • Wednesday: Liverpool v. Real Madrid; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Wednesday: Ludogorets Razgrad v. Basel; Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia
  • Wednesday: Bayer Leverkusen v. Zenit St. Petersburg; BayArena, Leverkusen
  • Wednesday: Monaco v. Benfica; Stade Louis II, Monaco
  • Wednesday: Galatasaray v. Borussia Dortmund; Turk Telekom Arena, Istanbul

Arsenal 2-2 Hull City; I'm depressed, where's my beer...

You a way I envy Sean.  Our match recap writer extraordinaire is unable to put forth his abilities for us all, so I've been called in to do so in his stead.  Naturally, my style is a little different, so I will try to mold this rant into an informed one to the best of my ability.

Let me lay out a few particulars for you for a minute.  The league campaign is now 8 matches old (a shade over 20% complete), we now have a record of 2-5-1, have only taken 11 points out of a possible 24 and are already 11 points off league leaders Chelsea - this is (correct me if I am wrong) our worst start to the Premier League ever.  We have scored 13, allowed 11, and if both Swansea City and Liverpool take the full three point haul tomorrow, we drop down to 8th - yes, it's still early days, but this is never acceptable...ever.

The scene's on Twitter during and after the match...either in opposition or in defense of Arsene Wenger - sad state of affairs...but hey, thanks Henry Fonda for the humor
Out of the first four home matches, we've only taken three points once, so in a way I am not surprised that we were LUCKY to draw today.  Truth be told, it was a brilliant display from Alexis Sanchez that salvaged the single point capture.  An individual finish from a tight angle in the first half (that was quickly cancelled out by Mo Diame) and then a beautiful solo run in stoppage time that supplied the assist to Welbeck's late equalizer after Abel Hernandez gave Hull the lead early in the second half.

Apart from the Chilean spark-plug, the rest of the side were...well, just average at best, but in truth we were quite poor on the day yet again.  Has it really occurred to anyone that apart from our performances against Villa and Galatasaray, we have not been inspiring, or good...right now, we are just average..and it's painful.

The nature of my distraught tone is not rooted to the ground...things can change and history suggests they will, but isn't that part of the problem?  Does anyone else feel like this season, along with all the other recent seasons, feels like groundhog day?  In case anyone has forgotten, our previous meeting against Hull was an FA cup final back in May that so nearly ended in defeat - a horrendous first half from us was only made to be forgotten because Hull switched off and we realized we had to start actually playing football.

Despite Hull being an average side never being more capable of mounting anything but a mid-table challenge at best, they have vastly improve their side this summer (on paper at the very least), and in Steve Bruce they have a very experienced and capable manager who has faced off against Arsene Wenger numerous, how in the world can anyone be shocked that we struggled today to be honest?  Time and time again, no matter who we play against, we don't change our tactics, but against a Hull side who are physical (especially in the middle of the park), or own rendition of tiki-taka was always going to have a tough time despite us being at the Emirates.

Does anyone really care to try to refute the above?  The man could literally write a pamphlet on how to be deemed insane by definition,  but still lauded at the time same (image courtesy of the inter-webs)
Truth be told, as anyone who wants to be honest with themselves will admit, we are just too predictable, and sides like Hull (and, well, anyone else) are more than happy to sit deep and ask us to break them down before they spring on the counter and hit us faster than Gerd von Rundstedt blitzed France and the Low-Countries.  This match played out in all too predicable and familiar fashion, and while our back-four was patchwork given the inclusion of Nacho Monreal at center-back and the capable but inexperienced Hector Bellerin at right-back, Hull's new look team was always going to ask a thing or two of us behind our lines as well.

To offer further synopsis of the days events, i'll pay a bit of homage to Sean and produce some bullet points to finalize the summary;

  • Apart from Sanchez, we were awful - yes, that has to be re-stated for a second time.
  • Jack Wilshere needs to grow up, and fast; thought he should have won a free-kick, was not given the call, and then not only did he get booked for a foolish foul, but he hurt himself in the process - he'll never be better than a good player who is versatile but does not belong in the XI.
  • Wenger still refuses to let our players off the leash and let us play in any other fashion than an uninspired tiki-taka knock off.
  • Per Mertesacker is 26 feet tall, experienced, and still somehow is inconsistent with his positioning and poor in the air - does my head in how he got beat by Hernandez for Hull's second.
  • Danny Welbeck has shown that he can finish when it matters most, and while he was not good on the day, he came up with the match-tying goal late on when Olivier Giroud could well have fluffed it over the bar in the same scenario - the Frenchman and his perfectly quaffed Charles De Gaulle hair could well find themselves on the bench a lot once they return to the first-team.
  • With Soton inspired under Ronald Koeman, United hitting some sort of form, and City and Chelsea on track to blow the table away, this could be our toughest fight for fourth yet...never mind the fact a "big club" should never target anything but the best finish possible.
While I always TRY to not make it about Wenger, these days, it's hard to avoid the topic truthfully.  Once again, my friends Lawrence and Laura lead the line with their sentiments on the matter;
"2-2 vs hull--welbeck last 90th min equaliser---wenger/some fans will BANG on about hulls 1st goal BUT the BIGGER picture is that we almost lost vs hull, we have 2 wins in 8 games--wengers poor transfer policy. a shareholder asked him at the AGM about "why he didnt buy a CH"---HE REFUSED TO ANSWER THE QUESTION----city/chelski will fin in the top two...i thought we were fighting for 3rd and 4th, Now im not too sure...wenger will be full of bullshite EXCUSES why we didnt win today but what he really needs to do is LOOK IN THE F***ING MIRROR !!!! deluded senile old fool !!!" - Lawrence (it was on his Facebook, excuse the grammar, the language and what not haha)
"We have good players but they're unprepared. issue is coaching, always has been. we spend money, with the same results. AW is the problem!" - Laura (Gooner for well over forty years)
Now, just to make it clear that I am not the only passionate fan that has had his/her fill of the Alsatian philosopher, it's not to say that we aren't thankful, because we are...but this has just got to stop, doesn't it?  Yes, the players were completely uninspired, lacked real fight, lacked preparedness and were tactically found out far too easily, and none of that can possibly be ignored, but let me pose this question; Is it not the job of a general to lead his troops? To deploy tactics that will win the day on the field?  To counter his enemies strengths and exploit their weaknesses?  To train his troops to be the best at what they do, to be efficient, ruthless and to get the job done under any and all circumstances? But most of all, is it not the job of the BEST generals to be tactically flexible to ensure victory?  If that is the case, then why does Wenger refuse to do any of the above?

Hey...hey Arsene, listen up - “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Today was not about our lack of further signings in the summer, because today was easily winnable despite being thin at the back and despite not buying a world class holding midfielder - the real issue today was the same as so many others...we didn't truly fight to win, and truthfully, that falls on the manager.  If Wenger cannot get us to play at our very best and inspire us to be at a level we all know we can hit when our schedule has now "become easier" (even though there are never any easy matches in the Premier League, despite Southampton thumping Sunderland 8-0 today), then what hope do we truly have now?

Sure, you can absolutely valiantly stand on the notion that we are not fully fit right now and that when everyone comes back we will be better off...that is all very true indeed.  However, one must certainly consider the following; what does having a fully fit and strong side on paper mean when the best cannot be extracted from those players?  Having top players is only part of the equation that leads to the answer that is silverware - good players are needed, but so is depth in quality, so is man-management, so is inspiration and motivation, so is proper training and much of that do we truly, truly have?  And what's more, is if the manager is not inspiring you, you have to inspire yourselves to do do better, so in truth, the players are also at fault for the performance, but players also look to their manager for guidance and motivation.

When push comes to shove, at the end of it all, there are many reasons why we failed to win today - Wenger is not the only one, but yes he is one of them, and he certainly was the most prominent in the, in closing, I will leave you all with this...
Simple as...end of...we all love what you've done, but it's time to step down off the framework you provided and allow someone younger and more inspired to build upon in further...

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Hull City

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, October 18
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Roger East
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Adam Nunn
    • 4th Official: Chris Foy
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 0 Hull City
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 13 Arsenal wins, 3 Hull City wins, 3 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-D-D-W-D-L
  • Hull City's League Form: D-L-D-D-L-W
  • Weather: Scattered Light Rain, 19 C / 67 F
"I think I left the oven on..."
There's a quirky thing about Arsenal's season so far that a lot of people haven't really mentioned and that's strength of schedule. Sure, this time last year, the Gunners were top of the league and right now they're in 8th. But, if you look at last year's fixture list, you'll find that their first nine matches were fixtures they had won the year prior (in 2012/13.) In fact, last season, Arsenal did not play a fixture that they had lost the year before until November 10 at Old Trafford.

As for this season, well, Arsenal have, in seven matches, already played four of the other five teams to finish in the top six last year. In just seven games, Arsenal have already played last year's first place, third place, fifth place, and sixth place finishers. Arsenal have come out of those seven matches with just three fewer points than they came out of the same seven fixtures last year (Leicester away and Spurs at home being the negatives.) Bear in mind, comparing Leicester away to any of the three relegated teams last year is a tricky endeavor; the Foxes have not lost at home in the league this year, taking five points from Arsenal, Everton, and Manchester United.

Between now and the next international break, Arsenal play Hull at home, Sunderland away, Burnley at home, and Swansea away in the league in addition to two matches, home and away, against Anderlecht in Europe. Arsenal won all four of those league matches the last time they were played and should be looking for all six points from Anderlecht as well as they navigate the group stage.

It's time for things to turn around a little bit, though that brings me to the injury news...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (Achilles,) Ozil (knee,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Debuchy (ankle,) Giroud (ankle,) Gnabry (knee,) Walcott (knee)
Doubts: Alexis (jet lag,) Ospina (thigh,) Diaby (match fitness,) Sanogo (hamstring)
Suspended: Chambers (one match, accumulation)

Okay, there's so much going on here that I can't even wrap my head around it.

Let's take this slowly...
  • Laurent Koscielny is OUT with the Achilles problem that forced him to return from international duty with France. He doesn't need surgery, which is good, but this injury has been niggling for months and the prognosis isn't great.
  • Meanwhile, Calum Chambers is SUSPENDED one match for yellow card accumulation. Considering he is Koscielny's backup, that means either Nacho Monreal or Isaac Hayden will replace Kos, while Hector Bellerin replaces Chambers on the right...
  • ...because, oh right, Mathieu Debuchy is still OUT long term.
  • Per Mertesacker is GERMAN. It's a really good thing for us that he retired from international duty. It is not a really good thing for Germany, though, as their back four is being held together with cheap duct tape.
  • Also, Gibbs. He's NOT HURT. Probably.
So, that's the back four. On to the midfield:
  • Tomas Rosicky is NOT OUT, despite picking up a knock for the Czech Republic; he specifically spoke of how he could not change speeds while running, which sounds like a really weird injury to have... It's kind of like "yeah, he's out as a precaution because he keeps making these beeping noises when calling for the ball."
  • Fine, it's nothing like that.
  • Mesut Ozil is BROKEN. He's out three months with a partial tear of the lateral collateral ligament. Lateral collateral rhymes, which is funny. This injury is not funny at all, though. I don't know why I said that. It's worth mentioning that there is no truth to the rumor that he told Arsene Wenger he felt a crack and was forced to continue playing anyway. Ligament tears sound like a pop, not a crack (full disclosure: I am not a doctor.)
  • Aaron Ramsey is AVAILABLE MIDWEEK. That's actually good news!
  • Mikel Arteta is BACK. And his hair.
  • Abou Diaby is DIABY. I've just made that sound like a primetime drama in which he's a renegade private investigator who plays by his own rules and has a history of knee injuries. I would totally watch that show.
And, the forwards:
  • Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry are BACK IN FULL TRAINING! I believe both will play for the U-21's tonight, which means they will not be available tomorrow. Actually, Diaby's supposed to play in that too. That is, unless he's needed to solve a jewel heist!!! GASP! What an episode; this show keeps getting better...
  • Danny Welbeck was removed as a PRECAUTION from the last England match, but should be fine.
  • Olivier Giroud is still out until New Year's. I'm not putting anything in capital letters this time, because we've known this for a while.
Good God, how is this section still going?
  • Alexis Sanchez might have JET LAG because he played 90 minutes for Chile against Bolivia late on Wednesday (in that the game was basically early Thursday morning in England.) If Arsenal didn't have 976 other injuries, it might be worth resting him here. But the club might be out of players...
  • OH! David Ospina is a DOUBT with a thigh injury. You may recall that Ospina did not make the bench against Chelsea. He did not feature for Colombia during the break. Emiliano Martinez may be on the bench again tomorrow, but of more concern is the fact that Wojciech Szczesny is suspended for the midweek match in Belgium.
  • I am a DOUBT with the carpal tunnel I've developed just typing this section.
Got it? Now, seriously, who can I pitch this Diaby show to?

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis, Welbeck.

Hull City Squad News

Out: Snodgrass (knee,) McGregor (shoulder)
Doubts: Elmohamady (knock)

Another interesting fact about Steve Harper is that he is
the Prime Minister of Canada.
Two or three injuries? Pffft, that's kid's stuff.

Goalkeeper Allan McGregor is out until November with a shoulder injury; Steve Harper will deputize and... wait, 39-year-old Steve Harper? What happened to the backup keeper they had last year, who started against Arsenal at the KC Stadium in April?

((does research))

Oh, turns out that was Steve Harper. Well, isn't that something. Really, I was certain that Harper was either still at Newcastle or retired. Good for him, then; sorry I doubted you, Steve.

Robert Snodgrass, who departed Norwich for Hull this summer, is out for the season after picking up a knee injury 40 minutes into the first game. Ahmed Elmohamady left Hull's last game before full time after picking up a knock, but should be fine to start. He was called up to Egypt's squad during the break, but did not feature in either of their African Cup of Nations qualifiers against Botswana.

All of that said, it seems unlikely Steve Bruce will make any changes to the XI that beat Crystal Palace before the break. Hull play a 3-5-2 (and they did it last year too and so did Liverpool, so it's not like Louis van Gaal invented it.)

Predicted XI (featuring 3 ex-Spurs): Harper, Chester, Dawson, Davies, Elmohamady, Robertson, Livermore, Huddlestone, Diame, Hernandez, Jelavic.

Current Form

Nikica Jelavic roars like a tiger, I think.
It's been two weeks, so, where were we? Unbeaten in the league no longer. Arsenal have just two wins in their last eight matches across all competitions and three wins in their last 11. If you count the Community Shield, Arsenal have won five of their 13 matches this season. That's the kind of statistic that's really going to need to turn around, though I've already touched on that in the opening.

Hull City's 2-0 win over Crystal Palace on October 4 was their first league win since the opening day against Queens Park Rangers. That speaks to a moderately good record against London clubs, I guess, though they've also drawn West Ham. During that five match winless run, the club lost to Aston Villa and Manchester City (though they did come from 2-0 down to draw level before losing that one 4-2,) and drew West Ham (as mentioned,) Stoke, and Newcastle. That's all good for nine points, leaving the Tigers 11th in the early season table.

Match Facts

In case you forgot.
Arsenal and Hull City met three times last season, twice in the league of course, and once for the FA Cup Final. You will recall Arsenal came from 2-0 down to defeat Hull 3-2 in extra time to claim the club's first silverware since 2005. I think the victory was famous enough that I don't need to go into much more detail about it.

In the league, Arsenal won both encounters via clean sheet. At the Emirates in early December, Arsenal struck first immediately through Nicklas Bendtner, who scored his first goal for the club since March of 2011. Arsenal secured the points with a Mesut Ozil goal just after halftime, winning 2-0. At the KC Stadium in April, a week after it became apparent that both sides would meet in the FA Cup Final, Arsenal won 3-0. Hull controlled the early play, but an Aaron Ramsey goal and a Lukas Podolski brace kept Arsenal in control of their own destiny for fourth place.

Arsenal have won seven straight across all competitions against the Tigers, though Hull famously won at the Emirates just after their promotion in 2008; Geovanni and Daniel Cousin scored four minutes apart to turn a 1-0 deficit into an astonishing 2-1 win. Hull's only other wins against Arsenal came in 1908 and 1915.

The Referee

Roger East uses the rare circular red card, which is clearly
the cause of the Stoke players' confusion.
The referee is Wiltshire-based Roger East, in only his second Premier League appointment of the season to date; he previously took charge of a 0-0 draw between Southampton and West Brom in late August. He also took charge of a League Cup tie between Swansea and Everton in September. East, who was promoted to the Select Group before last season, will be working his first Arsenal match.

East took charge of just five Premier League matches last year, one of which involved Hull. That match was a 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace in late January. Palace led early as Jason Puncheon scored the game's only goal in the 16th minute. In injury time, Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor was sent off for kicking out at Stuart O'Keefe.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Manchester City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Burnley v. West Ham United; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Chelsea; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Aston Villa; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Leicester City; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Sunderland; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Sunday (early): Queens Park Rangers v. Liverpool; Loftus Road, London
  • Sunday (late): Stoke City v. Swansea City; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Monday (night): West Bromwich Albion v. Manchester United; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Next Week, on "Diaby"

Diaby investigates a string of murders that seem to be connected to the board game Battleship, setting up a nail-biting showdown on an aircraft carrier!