Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Aston Villa

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, February 1
8:30 a.m. EST, 13:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Gary Beswick and David Bryan
    • 4th Official: Robert Madley
  • Reverse Fixture: Aston Villa 0 - 3 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 3 Aston Villa
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 78 Arsenal wins, 66 Aston Villa wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-W-L-W-W
  • Aston Villa's League Form: D-L-D-D-L-L
Before the window closes, Arsene Wenger is going to
buy that spaceship.
The transfer deadline is coming up on Monday and Arsenal have already done business, even if the holding midfielder they signed is a 17-year-old. The emergence of Francis Coquelin has taken a little heat off Arsene Wenger in terms of that position, while the center back depth has been shored up with the signing of Gabriel Paulista. So, how are the media going to manufacture a controversy now?

John Cross, who I liked quite a bit as a journalist up until this season, wrote in an article for ESPN that we're too light up front, thanks to the loan departures of Yaya Sanogo, Lukas Podolski, and Joel Campbell even though all three were loaned out as they are excess to current requirements. Arsenal still have an attacking force that consists of Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky... nine players who can play in the forward four positions in a 4-2-3-1. Oh, and Chuba Akpom. And Jack Wilshere when he's healthy again. And Serge Gnabry. So that's 12 forwards and attacking midfielders.

Funny thing is, John Cross isn't wrong in his statements about Arsenal up front; he just doesn't correctly explain it. It's not just a shear numbers game, like the article implies. Arsenal are objectively better with Olivier Giroud up top: since returning at the end of November, Arsenal have won six, drawn one, and lost one in matches where Giroud has started. Arsenal have won 11 of their last 14 since the loss to Manchester United, the day Giroud returned from his injury.

Arsenal had Sanogo, Podolski, and Campbell while Giroud was out. Over the 15 games Giroud missed, Arsenal won six, drew five, and lost four. It's not a numbers game, it's Giroud's talents. Maybe it's time to start giving him credit instead of questioning Wenger for loaning out excess forwards.

Arsenal will look to win three straight league games for the first time this season as they face Aston Villa at the Emirates on Sunday. The last time Arsenal aimed for their third straight, they were toothless without a suspended Giroud, and fell 2-0 to Southampton. Look for the big man up top this weekend to gauge Arsenal's character for this stretch run.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamblerain (groin,) Debuchy (shoulder,) Welbeck (thigh,) Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Diaby (calf,) Gnabry (knee)
Doubts: Alexis (hamstring,) Bellerin (ankle)

There are no tremendous changes to the injury list from last week, except OH MY GOD ALEXIS SANCHEZ MIGHT HAVE A HAMSTRING PROBLEM WHY GOD TAKE ME INSTEAD. Anyway, he'll face a fitness test on Saturday.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is ruled out with his groin problem while Hector Bellerin might still be a doubt. My predicted XI assumes Alexis will make it because his leg would have to fall off and its bionic replacement would have to fail before Alexis chooses to sit out a football match; if he and the Ox don't make it, then Theo Walcott will probably get a start on the right.

Danny Welbeck is still a week away with a thigh injury that has now kept him out for over a month. Serge Gnabry has been photographed as back in training but could use a few run-outs with the reserves before getting a first team nod.

The signing of Gabriel was completed on Wednesday to give the squad some much needed depth in the center half position, but I would not expect him to start just yet, provided Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are healthy. Elsewhere, Tomas Rosicky was brilliant last weekend; might it have been enough to warrant a start in midfield on Sunday?

Of course, the biggest potential flash point for controversy is in goal. Wojciech Szczesny's start at Brighton seems to indicate that he has been well and truly demoted to second string and his visible lack of confidence at times in that match further cements, for me anyway, that David Ospina is the club's current number one until he loses the job himself.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Rosicky, Ozil, Alexis, Cazorla, Giroud.

Aston Villa Squad News

Out: Kozak (broken leg,) Vlaar (knee,) Senderos (calf)
Doubts: Agbonlahor (hamstring,) Delph (calf,) Cole (hamstring)

Seriously, I thought he was still in France.
Wait, that was three years ago?
Where have I been?
While watching the Manchester City v. Middlesbrough cup tie last weekend, I had a conversation with my girlfriend about the mysterious whereabouts of Scott Sinclair. She was correct; he's still at City. However, Aston Villa appear to be close to securing the 25-year-old's services on loan. Sinclair has played in only four games this season for City and I apparently missed all of them.

In terms of injuries, Ron Vlaar has been out with a knee injury since New Year's Day, while ex-Arsenal center back Philippe Senderos has been out since November with a calf problem. Aston Villa's other long-term injury is Libor Kozak, who has been out for over a calendar year now after breaking his leg in training last January.

Both Gabriel Agbonlahor and Fabian Delph missed last weekend's FA Cup tie against Bournemouth with hamstring and calf injuries respectively, but both could be in line for a return. In addition, Joe Cole, who is not still playing in France, is a doubt with a hamstring injury. Cole has made eight appearances for the Villans this season and I apparently missed all of them.

Predicted XI: Guzan, Hutton, Okore, Clark, Cissokho, Sanchez, Westwood, Delph, Weimann, Agbonlahor, Benteke.

Current Form

Tomas Rosicky yells "FOOOOOORM" in an attempt to
illustrate this section of the match preview.
With the 3-2 win in Brighton last weekend, Arsenal have now won four straight across all competitions for the first time this season. They still have not, however, won three straight in the league since the end of last season, something the Gunners could accomplish with a win on Sunday, as mentioned in the intro. In addition, a clean sheet would be their third straight in the league as well, something the club have also not accomplished since their run to the Fourth Place Trophy at the end of last season.

As for Villa, well, things have been complicated lately. On December 20, Christian Benteke fired a shot into the corner of the net against David De Gea to give Aston Villa a 1-0 lead against Manchester United in the 18th minute. The Villans have not scored a goal in Premier League play since. They ended up drawing that match 1-1. They then lost to Swansea 1-0 on Boxing Day, played consecutive scoreless draws against Sunderland and Crystal Palace, lost 1-0 against Leicester, and lost 2-0 against Liverpool. Villa have just three points and no wins from their last seven league fixtures and now sit just three points clear of relegation. Villa had 10 points from their first four matches; they've earned 12 points in the 18 matches since, winning only two of them.

Aston Villa have scored only 11 goals all season, through 22 matches. They are on pace to score just 19 goals in total, which would break Derby County's Premier League record for attack futility; the Rams scored 20 in their disastrous 2007/08 season. Villa's saving grace is that they've only conceded 25, tied for fifth in the league with Arsenal and West Ham.

Of course, Villa have won twice in the FA Cup during this dry spell in the league, winning twice against Championship sides: 1-0 against Blackpool and 2-1 against AFC Bournemouth. Their fifth round tie will be at home against Leicester City.

Back to Arsenal and the Gunners are unbeaten in 27 of their last 28 home games in league play dating back to that season opening loss last year, which you will unfortunately have to read about in each of the next two sections of this preview...

Match Facts

Deutschland hug!
...but first, Arsenal won the reverse fixture easily back in September against an in-form but under the weather Aston Villa side, 3-0. The Gunners scored all three of their goals in an exhilarating four minute span. Mesut Ozil scored the first on a breakaway, then assisted Danny Welbeck for the second. Aly Cissokho turned a Kieran Gibbs cross into his own net for the third. Arsenal finished the match with nearly 71% possession.

The Villans have just three wins in their last 22 matches against Arsenal overall, but one of the wins came in this corresponding fixture last year, the season opener. You likely remember it well. Aside from the referee's decisions, which I'll get to in the following section, Arsenal led 1-0 through an early goal from Olivier Giroud before everything went downhill. Villa's counterattack was dangerous all match and drew a penalty on 22 minutes. The shot was missed but the rebound converted to equalize 1-1. Villa was given a much more controversial penalty just after the hour mark to go ahead 2-1, then the Villans scored a third in the 85th as 10-man Arsenal pushed ahead for an equalizer. Later in the season (last January,) Arsenal won 2-1 at Villa Park.

The Referee

Why, FA? Just... I... I just... why??
Get your conspiracy machines fired up; the referee is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor.

Yes, the very same Anthony Taylor who worked this fixture last year. The very same Anthony Taylor who awarded two penalties to Villa, the latter of which was practically ridiculous. The very same Anthony Taylor who just minutes later sent off Laurent Koscielny for a second borderline bookable offense. The very same Anthony Taylor who was dropped from the next round of fixtures for his performance that day.

Taylor was kept off working Arsenal games for the rest of last season. He took charge of a noncontroversial 1-1 draw at Leicester in August, but then was also in charge of Arsenal's 3-2 loss at Stoke in December, in which he sent off Calum Chambers for two borderline fouls but only booked Charlie Adam for putting Alexis Sanchez in a chokehold. Make of that what you will; Taylor has sent off an Arsenal player in three of the last four Arsenal matches he has worked.

Aston Villa won their season opener with Taylor again this season, 1-0 at Stoke back in August. In October, however, Villa lost 3-0 at Everton with Taylor in the middle.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Hull City v. Newcastle United; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Everton; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. West Ham United; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. Leicester City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Queens Park Rangers; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Burnley; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Tottenham Hotspur; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Chelsea v. Manchester City; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (late): Southampton v. Swansea City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and is a district of the city of Turku, in Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to ask why he's just getting his joke descriptions from Wikipedia articles selected at random now. That's pretty lazy, if you ask me.

Brighton & Hove Albion 2-3 Arsenal: Deja-Vu All Over Again

Picture: BBC

Wait, stop me if you've heard this one before - FA Cup 4th round, away to Brighton, unnecessarily nervy 3-2 win? You have? Well yeah, it was only two years ago that we beat these same opponents at this stage of the competition. Yesterday's overdose of industrial-strength FA Cup Magic meant that winning today was the sole objective, the path to Wembley now mostly clear of other clubs of our size.

Job well and truly matter how it got there.

Arsene Wenger fielded a strong lineup, that still managed to give Alexis Sanchez and Per Mertesacker the rest that both so badly needed. Wojciech Szczesny started in goal, but the one other surprise was that Francis Coquelin was back on the bench after his snarling masterpiece of midfield destruction against Manchester City.

It didn't look like we'd need him, though, as our boys had the ball in the Seagulls' net inside of two minutes. Calum Chambers stormed down the right wing, no blue shirt within 14 postal codes of him. He crossed to Theo Walcott at the top of the box, and he too was bafflingly left unattended by the Brighton backline. He had time to kill the ball, take another touch, and lash an unstoppable shot across former Fulham man David Stockdale and into the net.

Now, I've seen teams react to an early goal against where they immediately come to life and look to hit back right away. But, the home side spent the entire first half in a bleary sleepwalking daze, shambling around like the walking dead while Arsenal held the ball at will. It wasn't too long before the Gunners doubled their lead, looking at the time like they'd already put the tie to bed.

Tomas Rosicky made it all happen, which was unsurprising given the fits he gave Brighton all throughout the first half. I don't know how a man that age has a motor like that, but he used it to devastating effect throughout the full 90 minutes. The play that ended in our second goal looked at he time like nothing was on - almost every blue shirt on the field was back in defensive positions. However, Tommy bisected the entire defense with a wonderfully-weighted through-ball. Mesut Ozil anticipated it perfectly, took a touch, and slotted it coolly past Stockdale. It was a great finish, but the fact that Stockdale did the panic-dive in the wrong direction helped as well. You have to say, that's why the man is playing for Brighton.

The home side's heads well and truly dropped at that point, and if we're being honest, Arsenal should have killed this game dead right then and there. Instead, our boys seemed content to pass the ball around as if they were toying with Brighton. What a mistake that almost ended up to be.

They did give us one warning shot before the interval, though. I didn't see who beat Kieran Gibbs to send the cross over (I was watching on a stream that looked like it was beamed in from one of Saturn's moons), but Nacho Monreal missed his header and Laurent Koscielny got his pocket picked on his attempted clearance. Chris O'Grady won it and fed Baldock at the corner of the penalty area in acres of space. It was a tough angle, but you have to test the goalkeeper from there. Thankfully, he skied it over.

Still, it was dreadful defending all around, and unfortunately it was a sign of things to come in the second half.

Speaking of, halftime is always the worst enemy of a side that is on top and cruising in a match, because it lets the opposition take a second to catch their breath and reassess the game. It also allows the manager to break out the hairdryer, which is what you sometimes need in that situation. Needless to say, the Seagulls came out firing for the second half, and they only needed four minutes to claw their way back into the match.

They never should have had the chance, though. A Brighton counter-attack was mostly dealt with, Rosicky just had to get it away anywhere - up the field, in the stand, behind his own net for a corner, anything. He instead chose to hoof it high in the air, their guy won the header, then O'Grady muscled off Flamini like he wasn't there, Koscielny was too late to cover, and their man had an easy goal. Teams that are switched on and playing like the game isn't over don't concede goals like that.

That said, to Arsenal's credit, they didn't immediately cave in like we've seen in the not-too-distant past. Brighton did have more of the ball from that point on, but the Gunners righted themselves more or less immediately. We can also thank Michael Oliver (a referee I've had my issues with in the past) for calling a pretty good game - he didn't buy Inigo Calderon's risible dive in our penalty area, and later on he applied the intentional handling rule correctly in not giving them a penalty when Chambers had the ball struck into his hand from about five centimeters away. I swear, no one knows this rule. It's amazing.

Anyway, you had the sense that the home side weren't dead yet, and things especially got flipped when Chris Hughton replaced the appalling Bruno Saltor with Solomon March in a like-for-like switch at right back. The young Englishman tore into Gibbs from the off, and all of a sudden we looked much less assured at the back. Unquestionably, the kid was their best player on the day...thankfully he didn't start!

Instead, Rosicky reinstated our two-goal lead with a magical bit of skill. Another barnstorming run into the Brighton penalty area set their backline into panic, and they had no answer for his gorgeous back-heel flick to Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman - out of sync and utterly anonymous otherwise, played it back to him in a perfect one-two, which the Czech master volleyed emphatically past Stockdale and in. Pick that one out.

I'll be honest, I thought that was Brighton done and dusted at that point. There was even one hilarious moment where Baldock got a yellow card for lashing out at Rosicky, clearly in frustration as Tommy had literally ran circles around him. That Warner Brothers moment doesn't normally happen to a team that is going to get back into a game, but here I have to question the substitutions that Arsene made.

First, Chuba Akpom came on for Giroud. Yes, Giroud was not on the same wavelength as his mates and didn't have that good a game, but Akpom was horrendous when he came on. We could have put the game away on several occasions if he had been able to pick out open teammates on either side of him. It was like he played with blinkers on, and it could have cost us. The other one was Alexis Sanchez - who we were supposed to be resting - on for Walcott. Maybe Theo couldn't play the whole 90, but Brighton couldn't go full-bore at us for fear of his pace on the counter. Now, maybe Arsene couldn't know that Alexis would have his worst performance so far for us (seriously, he was dreadful...but he's also earned the right to have one or two of those), but that gave Brighton license to bomb everyone forward. It's not like Akpom was going to make them pay or anything.

Sure enough, they scored again - of course they did. I again didn't catch who played him in, but once again our center got torn apart by a simple ball in between them. Baldock ran onto it and impressively chipped the ball over the advancing Szczesny.

Fifteen minutes to go, Brighton within a goal and their crowd back into it. Was everyone out there bricking it as much as I was?

Oddly enough, as nervy as it was, they never fashioned a serious chance again. Akpom should have scored in the 80th minute, instead denied by a brilliant foot save by Stockdale. Sanchez almost put in a free kick five minutes later, but O'Grady did his job in the wall, his touch just taking it onto the bar and away. Even with the last kick of the game, Ramsey should have volleyed in at the back post after yet another brilliant run and cross from Rosicky.

Despite those near misses, the Gunners maintained possession beautifully and killed off the game on a weekend where so many of our contemporaries weren't able to. That's the thing - as ugly as this was (and it was in bowling-shoe territory by the second half), we won the game.

Manchester City didn't. Chelsea didn't. Southampton didn't. Tottenham didn't. Manchester United and Liverpool have needless replays to deal with.

The mighty Arsenal? We're in the hat for the fifth round. This weekend, that's an absolutely brilliant place to be. As for Brighton, they fought hard and to their credit didn't try and kick us all over the field. Anyone who actually tries to play football is all right by me - good luck to them and hope they stay up.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Monreal 6, Koscielny 6, Chambers 7, Ramsey 7, Flamini 6, Rosicky 9, Ozil 7 (Coquelin 8), Walcott 8 (Sanchez 5), Giroud 6 (Akpom 5)

Man of the Match: There can be only one. Tomas Rosicky is a golden god.

Preview by Numbers: Brighton & Hove Albion v. Arsenal, FA Cup Fourth Round

American Express Community Stadium, Falmer
Sunday, January 25
11:00 a.m. EST, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Lee Betts
    • 4th Official: Simon Hooper
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 10 Arsenal wins, 2 Brighton wins, 2 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 4 Arsenal wins
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Hull City, 2-0
  • Brighton's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Brentford, 2-0
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: D-W-W-L-W-W
  • Brighton's Championship Form: D-D-W-W-L-W
I have found that, in light of last weekend's incredible 2-0 win at Manchester City, I have no idea what to write in this opening section. I'm usually pretty good at taking the long view, trying to see the whole picture, and all that. But, after such a satisfying performance, it's hard not to be a little too giddy.

That's why it's so encouraging to hear the players' quotes afterwards were all along the lines of "this means nothing if we don't continue winning." Sure, we expect athletes to say cliched things like this and saying something and doing it are two different things, but I'm glad it's clear the players haven't gotten carried away like I have.

Let's keep Santi Cazorla-dancing our way forward then, shall we?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Debuchy (shoulder,) Welbeck (thigh,) Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Diaby (calf,) Gnabry (knee)
Doubts: Bellerin (ankle,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin)

Leading with short-term injury news, Hector Bellerin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will face late fitness tests, as they deal with ankle and groin injuries, respectively. It sounds like the young right back is more likely to feature than the Ox. Danny Welbeck remains about two weeks away, as his thigh injury approaches "confusingly long-term," a realm well known to many Arsenal players.

Speaking of confusingly long-term, there's actual news on Abou Diaby! That news is, and I quote, "He is still injured. At the moment he is not in a position where he will be able to play soon because he is not on the field at all." Actually, that's not really news at all, is it? Many tabloids have taken this opportunity to point out that Diaby is out of a contract.

Serge Gnabry is nearing a return with the Under-21 squad; he's missed about 10-11 months now. I believe it's still at least a month for Jack Wilshere and now just under three for Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Debuchy.

Now that the injuries have been discussed, let's talk about the available squad! The biggest question will be whether or not David Ospina keeps his place. I'd be surprised if he didn't, to be honest, but that's just my gut instinct. Elsewhere, perhaps we'll get to see starts for Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott? It's hard to guess how much Arsene Wenger will rotate. Perhaps Laurent Koscielny's dodgy Achilles will get a rest?

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Coquelin, Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla, Walcott, Giroud.

Brighton Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Forster-Caskey, Mackail-Smith, Halford

A bar I used to frequent in Brooklyn (now closed) had this
Brighton flag for a while, despite almost never showing
the sport.
Finding injury news for non-top flight sides can be a tricky proposition; as far as I can tell, the Seagulls have no players who are outright out of this upcoming match. There will, however, be doubts over three players who missed Brighton's midweek win over Ipswich Town: Jake Forster-Caskey, Craig Mackail-Smith, Greg Halford are all questionable. On the other hand, defender Lewis Dunk will return from a one-match ban after being booked twice and sent off against Brentford at the weekend.

Tactically, Brighton might employ a similar formation under new manager Chris Hughton to the ones he used to frustrate Arsenal in the past, specifically in Newcastle's 1-0 win at the Emirates in 2010 and Norwich's 1-0 win at Carrow Road in 2012. The Seagulls attack will certainly include Joao Teixeira, on loan from Liverpool. Teixeira scored twice against Ipswich on Wednesday, following Sam Baldock's opener.

Usually, Teixeira and Baldock play up front alongside either Chris O'Grady (who returned early from loan at Sheffield United) or Craig Mackail-Smith. With the latter an injury doubt and the club in need of a more defensive posture, Hughton could opt to only use Teixeira and Baldock at the front of a 4-4-1-1.

Predicted XI: Stockdale, Calderon, Dunk, Greer, Bennett, Holla, Ince, Forster-Caskey, March, Baldock, Teixeira.

Current Form

Hughton and Brighton look like they could rhyme.
But, they don't. English is tricky like that.
Since David Ospina started in place of Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal have three wins from three, all via clean sheet. Since Francis Coquelin was recalled from his loan, Arsenal have won six, lost one, and drawn one. Since late November, around the time Olivier Giroud returned from his injury, Arsenal have won 10 of their last 13. In fact, Arsenal have lost only one match this year in which Giroud started, the 3-2 at Stoke. With the hugely impressive win at Manchester City, Arsenal have won three straight across all competitions for the second time this season. They have not won four straight since the end of last season.

Through December 22nd, Brighton & Hove Albion had a record, across all competitions, of five wins, 11 draws (including a penalty shootout win over Swindon Town,) and 10 losses. The club sat 22nd in the Championship table and manager Sami Hyypia (whom you may recall from his days at Liverpool) resigned. Despite a draw with Reading on Boxing Day and a win over Fulham at the Cottage on the 29th of December, the Seagulls remained in the relegation zone.

On December 31, the club hired Chris Hughton, who had most recently been at Norwich. Since the hiring Brighton have rebounded, winning three and losing one across all competitions. The Seagulls are now 19th in the Championship, six points clear of relegation.

Match Facts

Theo Walcott scores the winner at the Amex in 2013.
Arsenal and Brighton last met in this very round two years ago, with Arsenal winning 3-2. At the time, Brighton were sitting 7th in the Championshp table, battling for promotion, while Arsenal sat 6th in the Premier League table. In the match, Olivier Giroud twice gave Arsenal a one-goal lead, but Brighton came back to equalize both times. In the end, it was Theo Walcott with the winner, scored in the 85th minute, to avoid a replay. Arsenal went on to lose to Blackburn Rovers at home in the next round, while Brighton would go on to fall short in their battle for promotion.

Arsenal have won three straight against Brighton across all competitions, with the Seagulls' last win coming by a 1-0 scoreline on September 7, 1982. Brighton had spent four years in the top flight from 1979 to the spring of 1983; Arsenal won five of the league encounters, Brighton won two, and one ended drawn.

This is the fifth time the clubs will be meeting in the FA Cup; Arsenal have advanced in all four previous encounters, in 1935, 1980, 1988, and 2013.

That means in 14 total matches, Arsenal have outscored Brighton 27-7.

The Referee

The last time Oliver worked a Brighton match, they...
The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal's record with Oliver is mixed this season, with two league draws against Tottenham and Liverpool and a win in the Community Shield over Manchester City.

Oliver actually took charge of the meeting between these clubs in the 2013 FA Cup fourth round. The only other Brighton match he has worked since then was the first leg of the 2013 Championship play-off semi-final against Crystal Palace, which ended 0-0 at Selhurst Park. You could probably guess how the second leg of that play-off ended, considering Crystal Palace promoted that season (and also, I said Brighton fell short in the last section; pay attention!)

Arsenal have not won a match outside of London with Oliver as the referee since, you guessed it, their visit to Brighton in 2013. Since then, while on the road, Arsenal have lost at Old Trafford and Anfield last year and drew at Anfield last month.

Around the Fourth Round

32 teams remain in the competition; 15 are from the Premier League, 10 are from the Championship, six are from League One, and one is from League Two. There are no teams from outside of the Football League remaining in the tournament.
  • Friday (night): Cambridge United v. Manchester United; Abbey Stadium, Cambridge
  • Saturday (early): Blackburn Rovers v. Swansea City; Ewood Park, Blackburn
  • Saturday: Birmingham City v. West Bromwich Albion; St. Andrew's, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Cardiff City v. Reading; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Bradford City; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Derby County v. Chesterfield; iPro Stadium, Derby
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Middlesbrough; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Preston North End v. Sheffield United; Deepdale, Preston
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Crystal Palace; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Fulham; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Leicester City; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday (late): Liverpool v. Bolton Wanderers; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Bristol City v. West Ham United; Ashton Gate, Bristol
  • Sunday (early): Aston Villa v. AFC Bournemouth; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Monday (night): Rochdale v. Stoke City; Spotland Stadium, Rochdale
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and fictional character from the American television sitcom "Seinfeld". You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat if you think you're awesome enough.

You don't always need silk

It's been Arsenal's bread and butter style of football for years now...tippy-tappy football wrapped in silk...our own tiki-taka.  After frequent meetings with Barcelona in Champions League in years past, Arsene Wenger ushered in a shift in ideology that saw us try to emulate those Catalan masters of the possession game.  It was always pleasing on the eye and it even forced us to change the types of players we brought into the club...but make no mistake, the new Arsenal was far removed from the one of Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Bergkamp and Henry.
Patrick Vieira was vital in the by-gone era of our counter-attacking days...was our performance at the Etihad signaling a return to  our ability to call upon something different? (image courtesy of Arsenal's official Facebook page)
Much to the pure exaltation of Gooners the world over, Sunday's brilliant performance against Manuel Pellegrini's City was a joy to behold...a complete masterclass performance...near vintage Arsenal.  We were, quite simply, absolutely fantastic, but the most encouraging signs I took away from the performance is that there is no reason why we cannot continue to play that way when it's necessary.

Despite the result, many of us still understand that there is a time and place for how we performed on Sunday, just as there is the right time to call upon the silk we have become so accustomed to over recent years.  Yes, what I am telling you is that we now have (potentially at least) that long sought after plan B that has been missing from Le Prof's tactical cupboard for far too long.  Even Pellegrini mentioned it in his post match, citing how we were we knew how to defend, not just go forward.  The beauty of this, is that it has the ability to throw a monkey wrench into many a plan of the likes of Mourinho, van Gaal, Rodgers and others who have no doubt bee chomping at the bit to deploy the same counter-tactics against us that have been proven time and again to bear fruit...this may no longer be the case.
Ramsey's deeper deployment was a key tactical adjustment by Arsene Wenger (image courtesy of Arsenal's official Facebook page)
In the run-up to the match there were plenty of Gooners questioning the inclusion of Aaron Ramsey into the XI at the expense of Tomas Rosicky, and I must admit I was one of them.  Wenger asked the Welshman to sit deeper, being more of that deep-lying playmaker that we would need along side Francis Coquelin who rightfully kept his place in the lineup - it was a move that proved to be one of the key decisions,

With Ramsey sitting deeper, it afforded Coquelin the ability to hunt down City's supply lines and close them immediately - his ability to read the play and always be right where he was needed was absolutely superb.  Despite Santi Cazorla's excellent showing, for me, the man of the match had to be Le Coq.

A second tactical adjustment on the day saw Nacho Monreal asked to sit back far more frequently, an acknowledgement of the potential threat posed by Jesus Navas' pace and ability on the ball that could potentially skin the Spaniard alive.  But with Monreal being held back, Navas was truly held in check from start to finish and rarely threatened us.  Wenger was two for two on Sunday, and the balance throughout the side was spot on...Wenger got it right, and it was a pleasure to see.
Francis Coquelin continues to show us just what can be done with a just a little bit of elbow grease (image courtesy of Arsenal's official Facebook page) 
Perhaps the most important aspect of the performance is something that most have not mentioned enough, or even at all.  Yes the balance was spot on and yes Wenger made the right calls tactically, but the biggest improvement from us of all was our lack of arrogance in our performance, and that is a notion perfectly embodied by Francis Coquelin not only on Sunday, but ever since he's been called upon.  Countless times over recent seasons we take the pitch with a sense of entitlement, and it is those very same sentiments that see us done and dusted by our rivals before the clock even hits the thirty minute mark...but not Sunday, not all.  Arrogance was replaced with hard work, dedication, sweat, grit, but most importantly, the determination to make a statement and begin to show just what we can do even if we were out of our tactical comfort zone.

Common sense will tell you that, in any sport, success comes from the will to work hard enough to achieve it.  When you really consider that fact, is it so surprising that we have not won the league since the Invincibles season?  Surely not, but if Sunday shed light on anything at all, it's that we've always had the fight...but maybe now the players truly believe they have it in them to fight hard enough.
Alexis Sanchez continues to be a driving force for Arsenal, not just with his performances, but his positive influence on us mentally (image courtesy of Arsenal's official Facebook page)
For me, the arrival of Alexis Sanchez to the club has been a major catalyst mentally...the players see his tireless efforts not only during matches, but on the training pitch as well.  His constant refusal to tone it down and relax, and even his warning to Wenger that he does not need to be given a rest has certainly not fallen upon deaf ears.  The performances of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the absence of Theo Walcott have undoubtedly been inspired by our Chilean spark-plug...even the renewed high class showing from Santi Cazorla surely can list Sanchez as a major influence.  Hard work and desire are some of the most infectious character traits that you will ever find when it comes to sports, and it's quite clear to me that those qualities that we all love and adore in Sanchez have spread through the dressing room like the Bubonic know, without the death.

Truth be told, there is no telling if we will turn in another performance like that for the rest of the season...who knows if it was just a one off, but I think it's important to take away from it the fact that we all saw what could be if faith is put into it.  Football evolves constantly, and no league can stake a claim to that more than the Premier League, but such a comprehensive performance against one of the title favorites hopefully will remind Arsene Wenger that you don't always need silk.

Andrew Thompson is a contributing writer at The Modern Gooner and Outside of the Boot.  Follow him on Twitter @AFCBvB1410

Manchester City 0-2 Arsenal: Best Performance in Years

I am never afraid to lay into the team - and even moreso the manager - when things have gone wrong. So, fair is fair. Every last man in a yellow shirt today fought and bled for the badge, and the manager was absolute aces in his tactics and substitutions. Never mind the best performance on the road, or against a big team, this is the single best performance I can remember Arsenal having, since...fucking hell, could it be the 0-0 at home to Real Madrid in 2008?

It was obvious from the opening whistle that we had set our stall to defend, soak up pressure, and hit them on the counter-attack whenever possible. Hector Bellerin was preferred to Calum Chambers at right back, Francis Coquelin kept his place at defensive midfield, and David Ospina stayed in goal (which I disagreed with, and for the record I still do).

Unlike virtually every other match of any magnitude in recent times, Arsenal displayed no nervousness. There was one hiccup early on when Laurent Koscielny took a deserved yellow card, but the men in yellow closed ranks immediately thereafter. The Gunners were compact, disciplined and ferocious in their determination to not allow City any easy path through the yellow-clad Praetorian Guard. Everyone did their bit - I distinctly remember little Santi Cazorla flinging himself into a full-blooded sliding tackle to dispossess one of their lot at one point.

Seriously, how many heroes were there today? Coquelin was a beast in the center of midfield, all snarling piss and vinegar. He broke up attacks, clogged up passing lanes, and made a general nuisance of himself to the home side all game long. Bellerin made a mockery of the idea that he'd be out of his depth, as he calmly locked down City's left wing. Alexis Sanchez didn't make the scoresheet, but he harried their attackers and made it more difficult for them to get into a rhythm in the early phases of their attacks. Cazorla was all over the place, putting in a shift on defense before haring forward as the heartbeat of our attack int he middle of the field. Koscielny and Per Mertesacker looked every inch like the dominant center-half partnership that they were last season.

Also, whatever history we've had with Mike Dean (and believe me, he's been nothing but an odious little troll for years), he called a good game today. Maybe one or two of our bookings were a bit harsh, but he got every major call right. He just did.

Not least of those was the penalty that City conceded in the 23rd minute. Cazorla was the catalyst, unsurprisingly. He played a slick one-two with the excellent Nacho Monreal, setting our left back free in the penalty area. Vincent Kompany - who had an absolute mare on the day - stupidly hip-checked him, and Dean pointed to the spot immediately. It was a stonewall penalty, but I do admit my shock that Dean actually gave it to us. Anyway, Santi showed no guile with his kick. He basically told Joe Hart "I'm shooting to your left, try and stop it." Thankfully, his strike was true, and there was nothing England's No. 1 could do to keep it out. Great hit.

I had feared a ferocious comeback from City once they realized the danger that they were in, but it simply never came. Part of that was on their end, of course. Passes were misplaced, runs weren't made, that sort of thing. But, I think most of the credit has to go to Arsenal's organization and discipline. All told, City had 15 or 16 corner kicks on the day, and couldn't do anything with any of them. What odds could you have gotten on that pre-match, eh?

Manuel Pellegrini made a change at halftime to try and spark his team to life, but I don't think it was the right one. The anonymous James Milner came off, his place taken by Stevan Jovetic. The Montenegrin is a definite talent, but if it were me I would have opted for Edin Dzeko's raw power and physicality. We don't always do well defending against that type of player, and frankly I'm stunned that the Bosnian didn't start.

That said, the home side were slightly better after the interval, but it was nothing that this newly-stout Arsenal defense couldn't handle. Frank Lampard also arrived on the hour mark, but he too did little to change the narrative of the match. As for us, a tiring Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was replaced by action-man Tomas Rosicky. I always bag on the manager for his subs, as I've said before, but that was the perfect change at the perfect time.

Our boys put the match to bed soon after. It was a real "Introduction to the Opposites" moment too, as City defended a set piece we normally do. Cazorla curled a beauty into the penalty area, as the men in light blue stood in a static line across the top of the 18. Olivier Giroud simply ran past them and nodded past the stranded Hart. Get in, you beauty.

That left the home side half an hour to try and rescue the match, but they never did manage to seriously threaten Ospina in our goal. There was one moment where the Colombian should have come for a high ball and didn't, leaving Monreal to try and awkwardly slice it away. It thankfully went to safety, but I've seen those loop into the defender's own net plenty of times.

And that, friends, is why I continue to believe that Wojciech Szczesny should play. He's simply the better goalkeeper out of the two, and his command of the penalty area is vital in matches like this. He would have caught that one, and he also would have caught another where Ospina unconvincingly punched when he should have corralled it. It didn't happen today, but mark my words - if we persist with Ospina in big games, it's going to cost us eventually.

Anyway, Arsene again came up with perfect substitutions in the dying minutes of the match, as he brought on Kieran Gibbs and Mathieu Flamini to shore things up. City half-heartedly attacked a few times in those last few minutes, but Arsenal saw it out with a minimum of fuss and that was that.

So, despite all of the statistics favoring their lot - 65% possession, 8-6 in shots, 16-3 in corners - Arsenal emphatically beat a bogey team on their own patch, and looked brilliant in doing so. Finally, FINALLY, we parked the bus in a big away match and it came up trumps.

Of course, the trick now is to keep this going and to cobble a run of 7 or 8 of these in a row. There's still a lot of work to do between now and the end of the season, but as long as the boys show this level of heart and drive and fight the rest of the way, I can forgive the odd bad result every now and then.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Ospina 7, Monreal 8, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 8, Bellerin 8, Ramsey 7 (Flamini 7), Coquelin 9, Sanchez 8 (Gibbs 7), Cazorla 9, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Rosicky 7), Giroud 8.

Man of the Match:  This was a hard one. Nacho Monreal is making a mockery of my previous criticism of him, Bellerin looked like a player with 10 more years of experience than he actually has, Coquelin bossed the middle of the field and gave us the platform to counter where possible. But, Santi Cazorla was in the thick of everything and was simply the best player on the field.


Preview by Numbers: Manchester City v. Arsenal

Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Sunday, January 18
11:00 a.m. EST, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and John Brooks
    • 4th Official: Roger East
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 2 Manchester City
  • This Match, Last Year: Manchester City 6 - 3 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 94 Arsenal wins, 49 Manchester City wins, 43 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-W-W-L-W
  • Manchester City's League Form: W-W-W-D-W-D
When Arsenal conceded Martin Skrtel's 96th minute equalizer at Anfield a month ago, conversation at the pub turned expectedly sour. It was yet another big road game that Arsenal failed to win. So, it begged the question: when was the last time Arsenal won a big road game?

As you might come to expect from conversation in an Arsenal pub, evidence of results at White Hart Lane were summarily thrown away (though Arsenal have won once at the Lane in the league in the last seven years, last March.)

The table I've attached here shows Arsenal results against the other clubs finishing in the top six places in each of the last four seasons, plus the current standings of this year. There are three wins in the list: 1-0 at White Hart Lane last season, the 5-3 at Stamford Bridge when Chelsea were floundering under AVB, and the 3-0 win at Manchester City that saw City reduced to ten men on just five minutes. That's it.

Arsenal sit fifth in the table right now, just three points out of third, but they're going to have to start claiming some big road victories at some point if they want to start fighting for anything better than the Fourth Place Trophy.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Debuchy (shoulder,) Welbeck (thigh,) Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Diaby (calf,) Gnabry (knee)
Doubts: Gibbs (ankle)

Still not sure how this shove ended up being legal.
This week's bad news centers on Mikel Arteta, who has had a setback that requires surgery and is expected to miss three more months. That would put his return to training in mid-April, which means by the time he's ready to return to first team football, there will likely be about three weeks remaining in the season. LANS?

Speaking of bad news, there's more of it. Mathieu Debuchy needs surgery on his dislocated shoulder. That means three months for him as well, which puts him on the same timetable as Arteta. Astonishing that we might go through this entire season seeing a back four of Debuchy, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, and Kieran Gibbs only once.

Danny Welbeck likely remains out; he's been out since just before New Year's with a thigh injury he suffered at West Ham. Kieran Gibbs could be back in training today, but remains a doubt with inflammation in his ankle.

Between the sticks, Arsene Wenger's history, most recently when Wojciech Szczesny was dropped in 2013, suggests that he'll stick with David Ospina until the Colombian shows a reason to drop him.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Giroud.

Manchester City Squad News

Out: Toure, Bony (international duty)

Here's Bony when he signed for Swansea.
I'm only including this because I own a similar looking blazer.
Earlier this week, Manchester City completed the signing of Wilfried Bony from Swansea to further bolster a front line that had been hit by injuries in the month of December. Of course, there are two caveats: 1) the front line is healthy again and 2) Bony is away on international duty.

Bony and Yaya Toure are both away for the month with the Ivorian national team at the Africa Cup of Nations, but both are City's only absences. The club have no injured players, though they do have three playres who are just on their way back from long layoffs and might lack match fitness. Sergio Aguero had been out since December 6 with a hamstring injury; he came off the bench last weekend. Edin Dzeko has been out since December 10; he did not make the club's 18-man squad last week. Vincent Kompany did make the bench last week but did not play; he's been out since December 13.

Predicted XI: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Mangala, Clichy, Fernando, Fernandinho, Nasri, Navas, Silva, Aguero.

Current Form

Everton came from behind to take a point from City last week.
It's still hard to make heads or tails of Arsenal's form right now. The bitter taste of the draw at Anfield and the New Year's Day loss at Southampton still lingers. On the other hand, Arsenal have lost once in their last eight across all competitions and twice in their last 12. They've kept two straight clean sheets for the first time since the beginning of December. Away from home, however, Arsenal have won just four out of 10 league matches, losing four and drawing three. No real statement victories in the mix, aside from maybe the win at in-form West Ham. If that's the best we can do in terms of road victories, it's a little worrying in the grand scheme of things.

As for Manchester City, they went through a blip at the end of October. They lost at West Ham on the 25th, then crashed out of the League Cup to Newcastle on 29th. That weekend, they steadied enough to beat ten-man United in the Manchester derby, only to then lose to CSKA Moscow in midweek. However, the win against United kick started an unbeaten run that is now at 12 in the league; they've drawn the likes of QPR, Burnley, and Everton in between, but they've done enough to challenge previously unchallengable Chelsea for the top spot. They won in Europe on matchdays five and six to book a date with Barcelona in the Round of 16. Two weeks ago, they left it late but squeezed past Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup to earn a fourth round tie against Middlesbrough.

In the league, Stoke's win at the Etihad in August is City's only home loss dating back to last February, when they lost to Chelsea. You'd have to go back to 2012/13 for the last time City lost more than once at home in the league and that second loss was a meaningless final day fixture against Norwich.

Match Facts

Arsenal were denied a potential statement-making victory
against Manchester City in mid-September.
Arsenal have already played Manchester City twice this season in competitive fixtures, regardless of how competitive you think the Community Shield match actually was. That 3-0 win at Wembley combined with consecutive draws at the Emirates means that Arsenal are currently unbeaten in their last three against City, though they have not played at the Etihad in that span.

In the reverse fixture, Arsenal came out of the gate strong for a change in a big game, but conceded first. The Gunners came from behind to lead 2-1, but Mathieu Debuchy's ankle injury forced a reshuffle in the back line and Arsenal conceded the equalizer from a set piece. City put Arsenal under pressure for a winner, but a potential Samir Nasri goal at the death (wouldn't that have sucked?) was ruled offside.

In this match last year, City led 2-1 at halftime and Laurent Koscielny was lost to injury while conceding the second goal. Fernandinho scored twice in the second half and Arsenal only brought the match as close as 3-2 and 5-3. An injury time penalty finished off the match at 6-3 to the hosts.

Arsenal have not won in Manchester since the hosts found themselves reduced to ten men just five minutes in. Arsenal won 3-0 on October 24, 2010 with goals from a veritable who's who of future Arsenal exits: Nasri, Alex Song, and Nicklas Bendtner. None of Arsenal's starting XI that day remain with the club, though let's be fair, that list includes Sebastien Squillaci, Denilson, Andrei Arshavin, and Marouane Chamakh. That match also remains the last time Arsenal won a road game against a team that would finish the season in the top four.

The Referee

Well, it's not like he has a clear view of this or anything...
The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean. Arsenal last saw Dean for the 2-1 loss to Manchester United, which snapped a five match Arsenal unbeaten streak with Dean in the middle. It's hard to criticize Dean for the loss, since the Gunners failed to take their chances in that match. Sure, he missed Marouane Fellaini being offside in the build-up to the first goal and the fact that he shoved Kieran Gibbs into Wojciech Szczesny. Sure, he missed the challenge on Jack Wilshere that still sees the young Englishman out of action. He also didn't book Wilshere despite looking straight at his attempt to head-butt Fellaini. So, really, total mess all around.

Manchester City have seen Dean twice this season; both matches were draws. Dean was in the middle of City's 1-1 draw with Chelsea, in which he sent off Pablo Zabaleta for two yellow cards. He was also the referee for the 2-2 draw at Queens Park Rangers in November. City are winless in their last five matches with Dean as the ref; their last win with Dean came in the April 2013 Manchester derby.

Dean was the referee for the meeting between Arsenal and City at the Emirates last season, which ended 1-1.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Liverpool; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Crystal Palace; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Stoke City; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. Manchester United; Loftus Road, London
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Chelsea; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Sunderland; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday (late): Newcastle United v. Southampton; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Sunday (early): West Ham United v. Hull City; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Monday (night): Everton v. West Bromwich Albion, Goodison Park, Liverpool
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and Academy Award snub. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to commiserate.

January Transfers, Wojciech Szczesny, Santi Cazorla and Taking Your Chances

So I've just wrapped up watching a few Arsenal Fan TV episodes and perusing around to catch even the smallest sniff of credible news on our potential transfer activity...what better time to get cracking and giving you all a bit of a read.
Who...are you...? (thanks be to the internet for the picture)
To begin, despite it really being only about my opinions on some of the rumors (some are credible, some are just interesting), I actually want to discuss some of the January window bloviating that is making the rounds.  First, let's briefly discuss us being linked with 17-year old Krystian Bielik, a holding midfielder from Legia Warsaw who no one outside of Poland's oh-so-routinely invaded borders has ever heard of.  Normally I don't mind it too much when we chase after young talent...our youth academy hasn't produced many of our own gifted youngsters from scratch these past couple of years, but the frustrating part is the pseudo slap in the face that the one position we've needed a top class player in for years is not being addressed in the now.  Sure, if this deal materializes, I won't hate it in principle necessarily, but it's still clear we need proper strengthening in two key areas, and that's what we need to be focusing on.

Speaking of holding midfielders, the other four players that we either have interest in or are secretly life-long Arsenal supporters are Moussa Sissoko, Loic Perrin, William Carvalho and Benedikt Howedes.  Sissoko is a work horse for Newcastle and capable of playing anywhere in the midfield, but for me, he's too forward thinking and not the sort we NEED...we have too many forward thinking players at the club as is.  So that brings us to Perrin and Carvalho - everyone in the world now knows who Carvalho is, the gifted young holding midfielder from Sporting Lisbon, who is precisely the player we need...hard working, tough in the tackle, physically imposing and able to win the ball and distribute to those ahead of them.  The only stumbling block is the 25million pound price tag, something that we all know Wenger will struggle to justify, despite it being perfectly acceptable.  Perrin, on the other hand, is an undersized center-back also capable of slotting into the holding midfield role who has spend his entire professional career at AS Saint-Etienne, and has never been good enough to even manufacture a move to a better Lique 1 club let alone jump to a league of more credibility...oh, and he's never even featured for France at the top level.  Perrin's upside would be his relatively low fee, something that Le Prof will no doubt swoon over and likely rub fresh Brie all over himself at just the thought of it - for me, this the worst of the lot.
God...I try to not ask for much if you could see your way into letting this happen, that would be great...(again, thanks  internet)
To end the transfer hullabaloo, let's delve into Herr Howedes for a moment...I've got a feeling we have a real shot here, and if you need a reminder, think back to this summer and his defensive contributions to Germany's World Cup winning efforts.  He locked down their left flank at the back quite well, and often times covered for Per Mertesacker before Joachim Low showed him the bench...Howedes then featured at center-back and played equally as well, and he's also able to do a job as a holding midfielder.  Why do I have a hunch? Because Schalke just signed Matija Nastasic on loan from City for the remainder of the season, and the deal includes a 13million pound buy-out clause.  With the influx of German players to the Emirates in recent seasons coupled with our existing needs, a move for Howedes could well materialize and probably for less than 20million - please god, let it be so.

Now on to more pressing matters and some topics of interest in our current first-team.  Can someone tell me just what exactly Wojciech Szczesny is doing?  Listen...when your the clubs number one keeper who so happens to constantly be taking 8th Air Force levels of flak due to inconsistency, the last thing you should do is have a smoke in the shower after a match...and then have the gall to wonder why the gaffer maybe took just a small bit of issue with it.  Part of being a footballer is acting professional, and as Jack Wilshere's exploits on the same matter weren't enough before, you should probably conduct yourself in a more esteemed manner.  The only thing that saved Wilshere was that he was away from the club...Szcz lit one up right then and there and cared not.  Rightly sacked from the team sheet, and this is the moment where Wenger needs to remain firm.
For behold...a first-class fool whilst in his natural habitat (image courtesy of Arsenal's official Facebook page)
I recently read an interesting piece delving a little more into this topic, and the writer brought up an excellent point that Szczesny's actions show that Wenger is losing the respect of his players at a more than acceptable rate.  I don't necessarily blame them if that's the case as he is still the manager, however he's never been much of a disciplinarian...well, at least not for the right reasons.  It's worth keeping an eye on at the very least however, but for the moment I am more than okay with relying on David Ospina.

Santi Cazorla - player of the season for us in his first year, shifted out to the left and marginalized when Mesut Ozil was brought in, now back to his ludicrous best when Ozil was sidelined for three months.  With   his return to full fitness however, just where does Wenger go from here?  You've got to remember, not only is Ozil back but so is Theo Walcott, and that gives Wenger a good selection headache in theory, but the unfortunate reality is that someone is going to be left rather disappointed.  There is no possible way Alexis Sanchez will be sacrificed, so it'll come down to Cazorla, Ozil and Walcott competing for two places. The numbers are in Theo's favor...we're just a better side when he plays and his pace is irreplaceable, not even by Sanchez or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin.  Ozil had a solid debut season for us, but his work rate and questionable attitude are major red flags when considering his re-institution into the first-team, whereas Cazorla as shown just what he is capable when we lean on him just a little bit.  For me, honestly? Ozil has to earn his place drop Cazorla from the XI now would be tantamount to a kick square in the gonads, and he deserves better than that...after all, the truth is, Ozil came to us as a luxury signing.
Like Ospina and Bellerin, Francis Coquelin has done incredibly well and taken his chances well as of late (image courtesy of Arsenal's official Facebook)
In closing, I'd like to talk about the value of taking your chances.  Being apart of a big squad of talented players at a top tier club is never going to be easy, and it's difficulty is magnified by a factor of ten if you're seen as more of a squad player.  Given our wonderful injury bug that prefers our taste above most, full credit must be given to Francis Coquelin, Hector Bellerin and the aforementioned David Ospina. Coquelin has been a journeyman if there ever was one, despite being on our books the entire time...languishing in the Championship or smaller Bundesliga clubs, he's been nothing better than a player who belonged in a tier below, but over the past few weeks he's been simply brilliant in the holding role.  No, he's not our answer for that position, but he absolutely is a better option at the moment than both Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini and deserves to be selected from here on out...he's still young, he'll keep improving.  The same can be said for Bellerin, who had a borderline horrific debut against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, but he's been improving with each and every appearance lately, looking stronger and stronger both at the back and going forward...he too deserves the chance he is currently receiving.

And finally, Ospina.  He came to us after an excellent summer with Colombia, but his promising move was shut down via injury *shakes fist in frustration*.  However, the hilarious yet foolish antics of he who shall not be selected have given him a golden chance to prove his worth.  Much like Julie the Cat coming in for Greg Goldberg against Gunnar Stahl in the shootout in D2, Ospina has taken this chance with both hands (yes, that was a mild goalkeeper pun) and produced two clean sheets while looking self-assured between the posts.  It remains to be seen if this gets the best out of Szczesny in the long run or if he'll continue to pout on the bench, but you really cannot go wrong with having two strong shot stoppers to call upon...dare I say, just ask Chelsea.

I do apologize for being so long winded today, but thank you to all of you who come to read us and continue to do so...we truly do appreciate it.  Until next time, Gooner Family.

Andrew Thompson is a contributing writer at both The Modern Gooner and Outside of the Boot - follow him on Twitter @AFCBvB1410 for hilarity, history nerd moments, and of course, the beautiful game.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Stoke City

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, January 11
8:30 a.m. EST, 13:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Jonathan Moss
    • Assistants: Richard West and Andrew Halliday
    • 4th Official: Lee Probert
  • Reverse Fixture: Stoke 3 - 2 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 3 - 1 Stoke
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 52 Arsenal wins, 25 Stoke wins, 23 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-D-W-W-L
  • Stoke's League Form: W-D-L-W-W-D
We are now well into January and the "WHY HAVEN'T WE SIGNED ANYBODY?!?" machine is firing on all cylinders. To get everyone up to speed, here is a list of players Arsenal have not yet signed:
  1. Isco for a ridiculous £64 million.
  2. Lionel Messi for £250 million to whichever club he follows on Instagram.
  3. Lionel Messo, which is what I typed the first time. He's gotta be available on the cheap, no?
  4. Mathieu Flamini's half-brother Pierre.
  5. Yann M'vila, pending a medical.
  6. Bort.
  7. An actual center back or defensive midfielder, i.e. what the club actually needs.
  8. Uhhhh... Sol Campbell?
  9. A 16-year-old Azerbaijani attacking midfielder, because, let's face it's, that's all we're getting.
I, for one, can't wait to see what Messo brings to the table.

Anyway, yeah, Stoke at home. I've got nothing to add here.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Diaby (calf,) Gnabry (knee)
Doubts: Welbeck (thigh,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Sanogo (calf,) Ozil (knee)

Arsenal suffered a severe lack of handsomeness during
Giroud's suspension.
Up top, Olivier Giroud will return from his three match suspension at just the right time, as his height will surely prove useful at some point against Stoke. This is good news, as Danny Welbeck remains in the doubt column with a thigh problem, Lukas Podolski is already hashtagging it up with Roberto Mancini in Milan, Yaya Sanogo appears to be on his way out on loan as well, and there are rumors Joel Campbell could be loaned out soon too. You know what that means... Arsenal will surprise everyone by making some needed signings in the back this January only to end up short up front.

In midfield, reports indicate that Mesut Ozil could feature, though such a return would almost certainly be from the bench. It's pretty much as you were everywhere else in the squad since last week. There might be a question of Theo Walcott, still on his way back from such a long time out, vs. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain down the right side.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Coquelin, Cazorla, Walcott, Alexis, Giroud.

Stoke Squad News

Out: Diouf (international duty,) Odemwingie (knee,) Moses (thigh,) Sidwell (knee)
Doubts: Bojan (hamstring)

Arsenal would be lucky if Bojan was not 100%.
Mame Biram Diouf is away on international duty with Senegal for the Africa Cup of Nations, which could leave Stoke a little light up front. That means Peter Crouch will likely start as a lone striker.

Elsewhere, Bojan Krkic is a doubt with a hamstring problem; the former Barcelona man has not played since December 28, when he was forced off with the injury after 78 minutes against West Bromwich Albion. Bojan was an influential part of Stoke's win over Arsenal in December and I suspect he'll be ready to play by Sunday.

Among Stoke's other injuries, Steve Sidwell is close to a return from a knee injury he suffered at the start of last month, Victor Moses is about six weeks through his eight-week absence with a thigh injury, and Peter Odemwingie's season is over after needing surgery to repair ligament damage in his knee, an injury suffered way back in August.

Predicted XI: Begovic, Cameron, Shawcross, Muniesa, Pieters, Whelan, N'Zonzi, Walters, Arnautovic, Bojan, Crouch.

Current Form

Stoke avoided an upset at the hands of Wrexham, making them
slightly better than Arsenal of 1992.
Arsenal's consistent inconsistency returned last week as they followed a lackluster 2-0 loss to Southampton with a mostly controlled 2-0 win over Hull City. The win over Hull was the club's 10th clean sheet this season across all competitions and the first for David Ospina. The win maintained Arsene Wenger's streak of having never been eliminated from the FA Cup at the first hurdle.

As for Stoke, they needed to come from behind to beat Wrexham at the weekend; Mark Carrington gave the visiting Dragons a 1-0 lead on 73 minutes. Marko Arnautovic equalized ten minutes from time before Stephen Ireland scored twice in closing minutes to win it. The Potters won a trip to Rochdale in the fourth round; the Dale sit 9th in League One, which is basically two and a half leagues higher than where Wrexham sits (16th in the Conference.)

Stoke entered the reverse fixture of this match having lost five of their last seven; in the seven matches since (including the 3-2 win over Arsenal,) the Potters have won four, drawn two, and lost only once, to Chelsea.

Match Facts

For all of Arsenal's struggles on the road in Stoke-on-Mordor, they have an incredible home record against the Potters. The last time Stoke won against Arsenal in North London, the #1 hit in the U.K. was Soft Cell's "Tainted Love." The date was August 29, 1981. Since then, Arsenal have won 12 straight against the Potters in North London. Nine of those have been league meetings, with three victories in cup ties coming during the time when Stoke was not top flight.

Of course, Stoke won the reverse fixture, played just over a month ago, 3-2. The Potters scored within 19 seconds and built up a 3-0 lead by halftime against a makeshift Arsenal back line that looked overwhelmed from the start. A goal that would have put Stoke up 4-0 was ruled offside, then Arsenal stormed back to score twice and make the game interesting. Anthony Taylor then sent off Calum Chambers for two yellow cards, nixing the comeback.

Mesut Ozil had three assists from set pieces in this fixture last season as Bizarro Arsenal beat Stoke 3-1, all on goals from dead ball situations. Aaron Ramsey, Per Mertesacker, and Bacary Sagna had the goals.

The Referee

I don't think I've ever actually included a photo of
Jonathan Moss. Just Maurice Moss. Or actual moss.
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Jonathan Moss. Arsenal have seen Moss once this year, on opening day, when they beat Crystal Palace 2-1. That win was aided by an 89th minute red card to Jason Puncheon, one of six red cards Moss has shown this season; only Chris Foy has shown more.

Arsenal have eight wins all-time from eight competitive fixtures with Moss as the referee. Arsenal did, however, lose to Galatasaray in the Emirates Cup in 2013 thanks, in part, to a dubious penalty awarded by Moss.

This will be Moss's fourth Stoke match of the season, all road matches for the Potters. They drew Hull 1-1 in August (despite an early red card for Hull's James Chester,) and lost 1-0 at Southampton and 2-1 at Manchester United.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Sunderland v. Liverpool; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Queens Park Rangers; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Newcastle United; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Manchester City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Aston Villa; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. West Ham United; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Hull City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Crystal Palace v. Tottenham Hotspur; Selhurst Park, London
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. Southampton; Old Trafford, Manchester
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and current holder of the Magical Gems of Ta'thazar. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, if the Gems smile upon you.