Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Chelsea

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, April 26
11:00 a.m. EDT, 16:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Lee Betts and John Brooks
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • Reverse Fixture: Chelsea 2 - 0 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 0 - 0 Chelsea
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 71 Arsenal wins, 59 Chelsea wins, 53 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-W-W
  • Chelsea's League Form: W-D-W-W-W-W
Hey, so, this game seems big, no? Just a bit? Kinda important, though maybe not in the title race?

Chelsea now have a greater than 99% chance of winning the league. Arsenal's odds of taking the title are now 0.856%. Even if Arsenal wins all six of their remaining games, their odds of winning the league are still only about 16%. It's a bridge too far, since Chelsea keeps nicking 1-0 results.

So Arsenal are playing for a handful of things here. Pride, for sure. It would be tremendous going forward if they could get the Mourinho-shaped monkey off their back. Second place is the other goal, of course. Four wins from their final six should be enough to finish in the silver medal spot for the first time since 2005.

If Arsenal have finally turned that corner, it's time to make that statement.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Arteta (match fitness)
Doubts: Mertesacker (ankle,) Bellerin (ankle)

There are still doubts over the fitness of World's Fastest
Right Back Hector Bellerin.
Brobdingnagian center back Per Mertesacker has been called "50-50" for this match after he left last weekend's FA Cup Semi-Final with an ankle injury. He has not practiced this week. Elsewhere in the side, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains out with a groin problem (remember, his injury suffered at Old Trafford was originally a hamstring,) while Mikel Arteta is back in full training but still lacks match fitness and will not be included in the 18-man squad.

After Hector Bellerin failed to make the bench at Wembley, word trickled out that the young Spaniard has been playing through an ankle injury of his own. That means I suspect that right back will be the only other point of question in the starting XI. There was no update on Bellerin's status in Thursday's presser. Arsene Wenger said that everybody else from last Saturday (which means everyone in that match day squad but Mertesacker) should be available, but Bellerin was not in that group.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Debuchy, Koscielny, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Alexis, Ramsey, Ozil, Giroud.

Chelsea Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Remy (calf,) Costa (hamstring,) Drogba (ankle)

Here's Mourinho looking glum.
While no Chelsea player is officially ruled out through injury for this match, as far as I can tell, all three of their strikers are listed as doubts. Diego Costa has only just returned to training after missing the last two matches with a hamstring injury, Didier Drogba left last week's match against Manchester United with an ankle problem, and Loic Remy has been sidelined with a calf problem.

My expectation is that one of them is going to have to be "fit enough" to start and my guess is that will be Remy. In the rest of the XI, I expect Jose Mourinho to play a similar lineup to the one that stifled United at the Bridge last weekend, with the main question being whether to continue with center back Kurt Zouma in the holding role or hand a start Ramires.

Predicted XI: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Matic, Fabregas, Oscar, Hazard, Remy.

Current Form

This little howler gave Arsenal their ninth straight win across
all competitions.
On New Year's Day, Arsenal lost 2-0 at Southampton and fell to sixth in the Premier League table, behind Chelsea, City, United, Southampton, and Spurs. In the late game on that day, Chelsea lost 5-3 to Tottenham, suffering only their second league defeat of the season. The Blues maintained their hold on the top spot in the table alphabetically; they were level on points, goals scored, and goals conceded with Manchester City.

Since then, City have fallen off the pace; they've won five, lost five, and drawn three since their New Year's Day win over Sunderland to blow up their hopes of defending last season's title. Chelsea, on the other hand, have not lost since their New Year's Day setback, winning nine and drawing three.

But, no team has been in quite the same form as Arsenal, who have won 11 and lost just once in the league since January 1. The result is that Arsenal have climbed from sixth to second in the table, but they've only closed the gap on Chelsea from 13 to 10 points. Chelsea's win over Manchester United last weekend means that Arsenal go into this weekend one point clear of United for second place, with one game in hand.

Match Facts

Look at how nil this draw was!
Chelsea won the reverse fixture 2-0 in early October. Arsenal had 53% of the possession and generated 10 shots to Chelsea's five, but managed none on target. A moment of brilliance from Eden Hazard produced a penalty when he was tripped by the outstretched leg of Laurent Koscielny; Hazard put the Blues up 1-0 from the spot on 27 minutes and the rest felt academic. Diego Costa put the game to rest on a break a dozen minutes from time.

This match last season was played just before the Christmas period. Chelsea's desire to play for a draw on the road, combined with Arsenal's desire to be cautious one match after their 6-3 loss to Manchester City, combined with a driving rain storm produced what I will call "History's Nillest Draw."

Since 2004, Arsenal and Chelsea have met 25 times across all competitions and Arsenal have won just four of them. It's also well established that Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho, drawing five and losing seven. Arsenal have not beaten Chelsea at home since the day after Boxing Day in 2010 and their last win over Chelsea overall came that time John Terry fell down, in October of 2011.

The Referee

Michael Oliver is having none of this.
The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. You will, of course, likely remember Oliver's performance in Arsenal's sixth round FA Cup victory at Old Trafford, in which he did not let United get away with, for lack of a better term, all their little bullshit.

Arsenal have now seen Oliver five times this season, winning three and drawing the other two. Oliver took charge of the Community Shield at the start of the season, a 3-0 win over Manchester City, as well as the aforementioned win over United and an earlier FA Cup win over Brighton. He also took charge of the 1-1 draw with Spurs at the Emirates and the 2-2 draw at Anfield in December.

Chelsea have seen Oliver four times this season and have won all four, which makes sense, because they've won almost 72% of their league games. The four include a 3-1 at Burnley on the season's opening weekend, a 2-0 win over West Ham on Boxing Day, a 1-0 win over Liverpool in the League Cup (in which he failed to send off Diego Costa for two stamps, one for which he was banned retroactively,) and a 3-2 win at Hull in March.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Southampton v. Tottenham Hotspur; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Leicester City; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Hull City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Swansea City; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. West Ham United; Loftus Road, London
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Sunderland; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Liverpool; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Manchester City v. Aston Villa; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (early): Everton v. Manchester United; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Tuesday (night): Hull City v. Liverpool; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
    • Postponement from April 18 due to Liverpool's FA Cup Semi-Final appearance.
  • Wednesday (night): Chelsea v. Leicester City; Stamford Bridge, London
    • Postponement from February 28 due to Chelsea's League Cup Final appearance.
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and Ace of Spades. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, but be aware that he'll be tweeting a lot about hockey these days.

Preview by Numbers: Reading v. Arsenal, FA Cup Semi-Final

Wembley Stadium, London
Saturday, April 18
12:20 p.m. EDT, 17:20 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Gary Beswick
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 12 Arsenal wins
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 3 Arsenal wins
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Hull City, 2-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Brighton & Hove Albion, 3-2
    • Fifth Round: Beat Middlesbrough, 2-0
    • Sixth Round: Beat Manchester United, 2-1
  • Reading's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Huddersfield Town, 1-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Cardiff City, 2-1
    • Fifth Round: Beat Derby County, 2-1
    • Sixth Round: Drew Bradford City, 0-0; won replay 3-0
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: W-W-W-W-W-W
  • Reading's Championship Form: L-L-D-D-D-L
We have to defend our silverware.
I went back to see what I said in this opening manifesto before last year's semi-final and was rather unpleasantly reminded that Arsenal were tumbling down the table at the time; the Gunners were winless in four en route to Wembley and they had just been shoved to fifth after a 3-0 loss at Everton.

There's a decidedly different mood around Arsenal these days as Arsenal enter Wembley as winners of their last eight games, both overall and in the league in general. Extend that streak to nine and Arsenal will be in their second straight FA Cup Final.

But, make no mistake, it's not going to be easy just because it's Reading. Arsenal did not exactly beat Burnley in convincing fashion last weekend, and the less said about that match at this point, the better. The Championship side are going to be difficult to break down, but Arsenal will have learned a number of lessons about taking them seriously from their adventure against Wigan in last year's semi-final.

Arsenal last won consecutive FA Cup titles in 2002 and 2003; only three teams have won consecutive titles on more than one occasion (and one of those teams is Spurs, so now that I know that, it's inexcusable not to equal that mark.)

We're 180 minutes away from properly defending our silverware. Come on you Gunners!

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Arteta (ankle)

Well, this is weird. There are only two names up there.

I... I don't know what to do in this section now...

...uhhhh, jokes. I usually have something funny here, right?

Jokes, let's see... ... Two guys walk into a bar. The third guy ducks out of the way...

Ughhhhh, yeah, I got nothin'.

I guess I do have to say something. Apparently, Jack Wilshere is fit again after a second run-out for the Under-21s. There has been some suggestion that Mathieu Debuchy could return and start at right back as well. Personally, I wouldn't change a thing in an outfield that has been clicking so well lately.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Ramsey, Giroud.

Reading Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Pogrebnyak, Chalobah

Reading put three past Bradford in their quarterfinal replay
to get here. They had not scored three in a match since
November 4.
Reading's league matches have not carried the same weight as the cup as of late; the Royals have not won since they clinched a spot at Wembley. You would think that manager Steve Clarke might have been prioritizing the cup, then, but in a midweek fixture against Bournemouth on Tuesday, Clarke made only one change to the side that had started at the weekend.

That one change was striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, who was rested after leaving Reading's 0-0 draw with Blackburn on Saturday on 84 minutes with an injury. I suspect he'll still be considered a doubt for tomorrow. The same goes for Nathaniel Chalobah, who faces a fitness test.; he was removed from Tuesday's game on 67 minutes Chalobah is on loan from Chelsea because everyone is on loan from Chelsea.

Predicted XI: Federici, Gunter, Hector, Pearce, Obita, McCleary, Norwood, Williams, Robson-Kanu, Cox, Pogrebnyak.

Current Form

Reading conceded an early goal to Bournemouth on Tuesday,
condemning them to a 1-0 defeat in a match they felt they
could have and should have drawn.
Keep that form train rollin'.

Arsenal have won eight straight in the league for the first time since the Invincibles, but since this is not a league game, that's a little less relevant at the moment; they'll go for nine next weekend against Chelsea. Across all competitions, Arsenal have won eight straight since their loss to Monaco. They've also won 11 of their last 12 since the North London derby loss and 16 of their last 18 since the New Year's Day loss to Southampton.

Arsenal's odds of winning the league have fallen to a paltry 2.2% (from 2.7%) after Chelsea won last weekend, further cementing that status as "pipe dream," but their odds of finishing in the Top Four (capitalized, since it's the name of a trophy, of course) is a healthy 98.9%. Nearly three out of every five simulations sees Arsenal finish second this year.

As for Reading, they are now six without a win in the Championship after a Tuesday night loss at home to table-topping Bournemouth. They are eight points clear of relegation to League One with just four Championship matches remaining, so they are effectively safe from the drop as well. In further "non-ideal preparation," the Royals have not scored a goal in two and a half games, either. Unfortunately, from an Arsenal perspective, that means the FA Cup is all that Reading have left to play for, so you can bet they'll come out with guns blazing.

Match Facts

Now, are you sure this happened? 
Arsenal have met Reading in 12 previous competitive fixtures; the Gunners have won all 12 of them. This includes three meetings during the 2012/13 season, when Reading was last in the top flight.

You'll almost certainly recall the cup tie when they met in the fourth round of that year's League Cup because that game was bonkers. Reading, of course, went ahead 4-0 in half an hour. Arsenal pinged one back just before halftime. Then, they scored three more, including the equalizer with the final kick of regular time. Then, Marouane Chamakh scored to put Arsenal ahead, but Reading drew level again. In the 120th minute, Theo Walcott scored a winner. Then, Chamakh scored again, just to further confuse everyone. 7-5, after extra time. Lunacy.

Arsenal won the league meeting at the Madjeski Stadium a month and a half later by a 5-2 scoreline, as Santi Cazorla had a hat trick. They won at the Emirates in March of 2013, 4-1.

Arsenal and Reading have met three times previously in the FA Cup; all three were played in Reading. You can probably guess how they went given the whole "Reading have never beaten Arsenal" thing. In 1935, Arsenal won 1-0 in the fifth round proper, though they were eliminated by the eventual champion, Sheffield Wednesday, in the following round. In 1972, Arsenal won 2-1 in the fourth round proper; they eventually lost the final to Leeds United. In 1987, Arsenal won 3-1 in the third round proper; they eventually lost to Watford that year. Contrary to the other years, Watford was not the eventual champion that year; Coventry City beat Spurs in the 1987 final (I just wanted to throw that in there...)

The Referee

"Hello? What's that? No, I would not like to switch my
long-distance carrier..."
You are likely, oh regular reader, familiar with Arsenal's troubles with certain referees in the past, such as Anthony Taylor (whom Arsenal have won three straight with now) and Mike Dean (whom Arsenal have lost once in their last eight matches with now.)

Well, Arsenal have lost four of their last five matches with the referee they'll have tomorrow, West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. They have lost two of their three matches with Atkinson this season, and received a red card in the one match they did win. So, let's recap those, shall we?

Atkinson was in the middle for Arsenal's 2-0 loss at Stamford Bridge in October, in which he gave Chelsea a penalty for their opening goal. Of course, it was a penalty, so there't that to consider... He was in the middle for Arsenal's 2-1 win over QPR on Boxing Day, in which he gave Olivier Giroud a red card. Of course, it was a red card foul, so there's that to consider... Atkinson was also the referee for the 2-1 loss to Tottenham in February, which is harder to forgive him for; Arsenal picked up five bookings on the day and I (subjectively, of course) feel that his harsh yellow to Laurent Koscielny is a big reason why Harry Kane was so open to head in the winner. Of course, that's just my opinion; any related debate with a Spurs fan on the topic would stop, objectively, if I point to the current table.

With Reading in the Championship, they have not yet seen Atkinson this season. They didn't see him last year either. Their last Atkinson match was a 2-0 loss to Manchester City at the Madejski on May 14, 2013, which came days after City lost the FA Cup Final to Wigan. He also worked a 2-1 Reading win over Everton earlier in that season.

Atkinson's eight red cards this season ties him for third in the category of most red cards; Craig Pawson and Anthony Taylor are tied for first, with nine apiece. Last year, Atkinson showed only three red cards and they all came in a five day span around Christmas, two of them going to Stoke on Boxing Day in a 5-1 loss at Newcastle.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. West Bromwich Albion; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Burnley; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Swansea City; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Southampton; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday (late): Chelsea v. Manchester United; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (early): Manchester City v. West Ham United; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (late): Newcastle United v. Tottenham Hotspur; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Sunday (FA Cup Semi-Final): Aston Villa v. Liverpool; Wembley Stadium, London
  • Out of Action: Hull City, Queens Park Rangers, and Sunderland
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a goonering contributor to the Writer Modern. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat or Twitter him on zorrocat @follow. ... What??

Burnley 0-1 Arsenal: Boring, But for a Purpose

Photo: BBC

Admittedly, I went into this one fearing that it would be something of a potential banana-skin match for our heroes. Burnley are notorious for their work ethic and the opportunistic finishing of Danny Ings - or, in other words, exactly the sort of side that historically causes us problems. Instead, a throwback "1-0 to the Arsenal" performance - blended just so with our new-wave passing game - was enough to see off the brave challenge of a side fighting for its Premier League life.

Both sides picked exactly the XIs that you would expect, though of course this is not exactly the part of the season where you'd expect much rotation.

Almost from the opening whistle, the match settled into the pattern that would hold for the entirety of the 90 minutes. Arsenal dominated possession and tried to find openings in the Clarets' massed ranks with short passing moves. Burnley worked their tails off and held their positions exceptionally well, often pressuring the Gunners into mistakes in the final third. But, those defensive efforts left Ings and Sam Vokes largely starved of service, and thus a stalemate was achieved.

Still, the home side did fashion a few half-chances off of the counter. David Ospina had to be sharp early on, when Vokes torched Per Mertesacker for pace. Thankfully, the Colombian read the danger well and blocked with his body.

How often has it happened over the years where some opposing keeper would make a smart stop against us, and all of a sudden their lot would come up the other end and score? Well, for once, the roles were reversed and it would prove to be the only goal we'd need. A giveaway in midfield sent our boys away, and it came out left to Mesut Ozil. He uncharacteristically took the shot himself, but Tom Heaton saved well with his legs. The rebound squirmed out to Alexis Sanchez in the center, but his shot was blocked. Luckily, that deflection found its way to Aaron Ramsey on the right, and he managed to find the top corner through a forest of bodies.

The early lead allowed us to let that previously-mentioned stalemate play itself out, though Burnley's most dangerous moments did come soon after they had conceded. Kieran Trippier's free kick tested Ospina, but it was at a comfortable height and easily parried out.

That's not to say that we were entirely bereft of chances, though. Santi Cazorla had a beauty of a free kick himself, but it was on a tough angle from the left and he just couldn't put it the right side of the post.

A long period of bitty, awful football was ushered in from there, though. There was little flow to the match as both sides took turns fouling with abandon and bitching at the referee for the fouls that were called. The Burnley supporters, in particular, seemed to take great offense at the referee calling them for anything. It rather got on my tits, to be honest with you.

Halftime came and went, but The Pattern of Stultifying Football remained. Sanchez had a half-chance with a long-range shot, but Heaton was always going to keep that one out. Beyond that, Burnley was all too happy to let us ramble around the midfield before furiously pressing on their half of the field. Our final ball kept letting us down, too.

Oddly, they never did tire despite that expenditure of energy, and in fact got stronger as the second half went on. Arsene waited forever to make his substitutions, and arguably that allowed the Clarets to take advantage as the match reached the 70th minute. There was one heart-in-throat moment in particular when Hector Bellerin (who had a bit of a mare defensively) was nutmegged by Ben Mee, whose cutback found George Boyd in acres on the back post. Thankfully, the Scot slipped and the chance was gone.

The home side didn't give up though, and only some sneaky-great keeping from Ospina prevented a goal. Sam Vokes won a header in our area and guided it to the path of Ings. Their man's pseudo-bicycle kick connected, though our defenders got a partial block in. It looped to Ospina, who did well to catch and (more importantly) hold it. That was harder than it looked, and it was a damn good thing that he did, with Vokes lurking for a rebound chance.

It was right around here though that Francis Coquelin took the match by the scruff of the neck. He had played well all day, but with Burnley starting to threaten more than they had, he turned it up a level and ensured that we maintained possession through the latter stages of the match. Be it a timely interception or a crunching tackle, he was always there.

Man, imagine if the boss had worked out that a holding midfielder was a good thing all the way back in the beginning of the season, eh?

Anyway, belatedly, the subs came in. Oddly, the hard-working Olivier Giroud was withdrawn for Danny Welbeck, while Sanchez was withdrawn for Calum Chambers. Both of those were odd, as Ramsey was utterly anonymous after scoring the goal - and his constant tucking inside left Bellerin exposed more often than not.

In the end, it was our guys who probably should have killed it off with five minutes left on the clock. Ozil rampaged down the left on a counter-attack, and he played in a good ball to Welbeck. The Englishman made the wrong run though, it got tangled in his legs, and that was that.

Still, despite a ludicrous amount of stoppage time, Arsenal held and three massive points come back to London with them.

I think the key here was in our outlook on the match. Once the pattern of it took hold, we didn't overcommit men forward to try and force a change to it. How often have we been burned by that in recent memory? Instead, there was a calmness to our performance - a willingness to take what the match gave and to stay as solid as possible without the ball. The final result was a match that was not easy on the eye, but a scoreline that couldn't be more beautiful in the end.

Honestly, the title is probably long gone. I can't foresee Chelsea dropping enough points to make that an actual consideration as the season reaches its denouement. However, second place is still very much on, and you have to like our momentum as we head into the matches that really are important now - starting with the FA Cup Semi against Reading.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Ospina 7, Monreal 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Bellerin 5, Coquelin 8, Ramsey 7, Cazorla 7, Ozil 7, Sanchez 7 (Chambers N/A), Giroud 7 (Welbeck 7)

Man of the Match:

I'd say the real MOTM is anyone who stayed awake through all of this. But, since it must go to a player, we'll give it to Francis Coquelin. As things started to get hairy after the hour mark, his now-typical defensive resilience helped steer us through that bad patch and see out what could end up becoming a tremendously-important result.

Preview by Numbers: Burnley v. Arsenal

Turf Moor, Burnley
Saturday, April 11
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Simon Long
    • 4th Official: Stuart Attwell
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 0 Burnley
  • This Match, Last Time: Burnley 1- 1 Arsenal (December 16, 2009)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 45 Arsenal wins, 33 Burnley wins, 21 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-W-W
  • Burnley's League Form: D-L-L-W-L-D
Who would have expected this in November?

At left are the statistical odds that Arsenal will finish in each respective table position, as calculated by Sports Club Stats. As you can see, Arsenal have a better chance of winning the league than they have at falling out of the top four. Considering their goal difference advantage over Liverpool and Tottenham, Arsenal essentially need just four wins from their final seven matches to lock up at least fourth place and the brilliant invisible trophy that comes with it.

However, given Arsenal's current position, fourth would feel like a disappointment. After Manchester City's loss at Selhurst Park on Monday, Arsenal took sole position of second place in the table for the first time since the opening weekend of the season; they were bumped to third on the season's opening Monday.

Of course, the Champions League slots for next season are not awarded in April. There are still 21 points on the table and you cannot expect them to be handed to you. Burnley are fighting for their Premier League lives and they have taken points from plenty of the big boys this year: one from Spurs last weekend, all three from City a few weeks back, one from Chelsea before that, and one from United earlier in the season.

On the other hand, Arsenal are the only club in the league who have not lost to a team sitting in 11th place or worse in the current table. Arsenal have four matches left against bottom-half clubs this year and three against the top-half, two of which are at home.

Arsenal control their own destiny for second place and four wins should lock up at least fourth, but you can only get them one at a time; so, let's get started.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring)
Doubts: Ramsey (ankle,) Koscielny (groin,) Szczesny (ribs,) Wilshere (ankle,) Debuchy (shoulder,) Arteta (calf,) Diaby (calf)

Just as Arsenal's injury list dwindles, some of the lads went
out paintballing. Seems totally safe!
Holy crap, look at that. Only one player listed in the "out" column and even he, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, is back in full training; I believe he's going to be eased back into things as he returns from a hamstring injury suffered at Old Trafford in that super-awesome FA Cup quarterfinal.

All four long-term injured players (Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Debuchy, and even the fabled Abou Diaby) are "back in contention" according to Arsene Wenger. Debuchy has been out since January, Wilshere and Arteta since November, and Diaby since 1643.

As for the short-term injured, Wojciech Szczesny has a "good chance" to be available after he missed last weekend's match with a rib injury. Laurent Koscielny, who came off around halftime with a groin injury, had a "good" scan, but it's uncertain if he'll be risked. I have not heard anything on Aaron Ramsey, however; he came off in the second half against Liverpool with an ankle knock. Reports earlier in the week suggested he would be fine.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck, Giroud.

Burnley Squad News

Out: Marney (knee,) Long (knee)
Doubts: Taylor (Achilles)

The ol' ginger side-eye...
Only two long-term injuries for the Clarets, as both midfielder Dean Marney and defender Kevin Long are out for the season with knee ligament injuries. Meanwhile, midfielder Matthew Taylor is considered a doubt as he comes back from an Achilles problem that has kept him out since August. He's likely short on match fitness as well.

After a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Spurs last week, I'd be surprised if Sean Dyche made any changes to his starting XI. The only possible change could be if Dyche decided to play more defensively, in a 4-5-1 instead of a 4-4-2; since Burnley is struggling for goals and also at home, I don't see that as being likely. If he did, however, Sam Vokes would drop from the front line, Ashley Barnes would slot into a supporting role for Danny Ings up top, and a conventional winger, like Michael Kightly, would be brought in from the bench. But, again, I consider that possibility unlikely.

Predicted XI: Heaton, Trippier, Duff, Shackell, Mee, Jones, Boyd, Arfield, Barnes, Vokes, Ings.

Current Form

Arsenal points earned divided by games played, as it progressed
through this season (red) and last season (blue.) By the
nature of the statistic, the graph will always be more volatile
earlier in the season, then smooth out over time.
Your crazy uncle, the Daily Mail, ran an article this week pointing out that through 31 league games so far this season, Arsenal have the same number of points (63) as they had through 31 games last year. They used this as an attempt to prove that Arsenal are not progressing under Arsene Wenger. Here's why that's wrong.

First off, you remember last year, right? Arsenal were top of the league from September until February, when it became apparent that they could not win big games anymore. Now, you remember this year, right? Arsenal were struggling mightily in the fall, drawing a ton of games they should have won, and are now on a seven-match winning streak in the league, their longest in three years.

Could you make the argument that Arsenal regressed from February through December of 2014 and have now only progressed back to where they were in the fall of 2013? Sure, as that's what the Mail is trying to say. Listen, statistics are great and I use them all the time in these match previews (hence preview by numbers,) but stats also need context to be relevant.

But, in order to discuss whether or not Arsenal are progressing, you have to define a proper baseline. What the numbers really show is that Arsenal's points total is finally recovering from a sub-par autumn, when Arsenal failed to replace Olivier Giroud's scoring output while he missed three months through injury.

Maybe we should wait until, you know, May to compare this season and last?

As for Burnley, they are completing a difficult run of fixtures in which they have played United, Chelsea, Swansea, Liverpool, City, Southampton, Spurs, and now Arsenal in that order. The fact that they've picked up five points from the first seven matches in that list is commendable; their win against City, however, is their only win from their last 11 across all competitions. Those five points have not been enough to keep them above the drop zone. The Clarets are in 19th, two points from safety. After tomorrow's match, however, Burnley's most difficult remaining fixture will be a trip to 9th place West Ham.

Match Facts

Alexis Sanchez celebrates one of his two goals against
Burnley in the reverse fixture.
Arsenal won the reverse fixture by a 3-0 scoreline on the first of November, at a time when they needed to start racking up wins badly (they followed it with two straight league losses and fell to 8th in the table, of course.) Anyway, Arsenal controlled 68% of the possession on the day but still needed 70 minutes to break the deadlock, as Alexis Sanchez scored his ninth of the season. Two minutes later, Calum Chambers scored his first senior level goal to double the lead and Sanchez picked up a brace in the 90th to seal the three points. Theo Walcott made his first appearance since January of 2014 off the bench; he has only made 11 more appearances for Arsenal in the five months since.

Arsenal's last trip to Turf Moor came in December of 2009 in a midweek fixture just three days after a come-from-behind win at Anfield. Cesc Fabregas put Arsenal ahead 1-0 on just seven minutes but limped off with a hamstring injury just before halftime; that hamstring injury plagued the remaining year and a half of his Arsenal career. Burnley equalized from the penalty spot in the 28th minute and outworked the Gunners the rest of the way as the Clarets earned a 1-1 draw. At the time, Owen Coyle was in charge at Burnley; I had forgotten he had been there before Bolton until I pulled up the recap from this match. Coyle left for Bolton within a month of that match.

The Gunners were bounced from the League Cup at Turf Moor in December of 2008 in their last match in Burnley before that 1-1 draw. A year before that, though, Arsenal won 2-0 in Burnley in the third round of the FA Cup, through goals from Eduardo and Nicklas Bendtner. Arsenal have not won a league game at Turf Moor since 1970, drawing three and losing one.

The Referee

The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean, which, if you haven't been paying attention lately, is not as bad of news as it used to be. Arsenal have lost only one of their last seven matches with Dean in the middle, that coming 2-1 at the hands of Manchester United in November. Arsenal, of course, could not beat David De Gea that day, which wasn't exactly Dean's fault. In fact, the referee clearly should have sent off Jack Wilshere for ramming his head into Marouane Fellaini's... well... upper chest, but Dean, who was looking right at the incident, did not do so.

Arsenal had been unbeaten in five with Dean in the middle before that loss, but they rebounded nicely with a 2-0 win at Manchester City in January, in which Dean awarded Arsenal a first half penalty.

As for Burnley, they have seen Dean three times this year and drew all three matches: 0-0 at Crystal Palace in September, 3-3 at Newcastle on New Year's Day, and 2-2 with West Brom in February.

Speaking of Dean, draws, and Burnley, Mike Dean was the referee for the 1-1 draw between these two sides played at Turf Moor in 2009. Back when Arsenal had won just twice in 21 matches with Dean in the middle, that match was the fourth one in the list, so it came pretty early in the "Arsenal doesn't win with Mike Dean era." I feel pretty confident that that era ended in 2013.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Swansea City v. Everton; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Hull City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Crystal Palace; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Aston Villa; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Leicester City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Stoke City; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Sunday (early): Queens Park Rangers v. Chelsea; Loftus Road, London
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. Manchester City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Monday (night): Liverpool v. Newcastle United; Anfield, Liverpool
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and winner of Season 62 of American Idol. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to tell him how much you love his hit single, "Charlie Owes Me 16 Dollars."

Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool: Finishing Masterclass

Photo: Getty Images

So, I don't know about you, but I need a cigarette after that one. 

Personally, I don't remember the last time that we played a team of this caliber, in a match of this importance, and gave them an utter shoeing like the lads did today. There was a bit of a ropey period in the first half where the defense got a bit stretched, but other than that the Gunners played Liverpool off the park.

I don't know if it was the extra rest that some of our players had during the international break or if it was the knowledge that Liverpool were especially vulnerable with Martin Skrtel suspended, but either way Arsenal seized the match by the throat right from the opening whistle. The visitors barely had the ball for the first 15 minutes, as they wilted under frantic pressing from the Arsenal players. You won't see a better example of the concept of defending from the front all season long, I bet.

It seems churlish to say it now, but frankly the boys should have been 3 or 4 goals to the good before a quarter of an hour had expired. Alexis Sanchez went wide after 30 seconds, and Santi Cazorla's clever shot through Alberto Moreno's legs was somehow caught and held brilliantly by Simon Mignolet.

The Belgian had to be even better just minutes later, this time denying Aaron Ramsey from in close after an appalling giveaway by the former Gunner, Kolo Toure. It was a stellar stop, but the Welshman did underhit it and he probably should have scored.

The worry here, of course, was that Arsenal has done this many times in the past. Dominate the early stages, miss some chances, then all of a sudden the other mob go up the other end and score on their first shot. I'll be honest with you, I was bricking it that it would happen again. It did help that the visitors were missing so many key players - no Mario Balotelli, no Steven Gerrard, no Adam Lallana, a half-fit Daniel Sturridge on the bench. What remained was basically the excellent Philippe Coutinho exuding class while the Keystone Kops stumbled and bumbled around him. I'd be on the horn with my agent every minute of the day trying to get out of there, if it were me.

That sucker punch that I was worrying about almost did come to pass, though, prevented only by the fact that Lazar Markovic is horrendous at professional association football. The danger of playing an extremely high line with the resulting pressing game is that you are vulnerable to long ball counter-attacks, especially when the furthest man back is as slow as Per Mertesacker. A brilliant pass from Couthino sent Markovic in all alone. For some reason, he tried to play Sterling in at the back post instead of shooting himself. Thankfully for us, he produced a comedic, sub-Sunday League standard ball that went out of bounds miles ahead of Raheem Sterling's run.

The chance did seem to galvanize our opponents though, and mistakes started to creep into our play. Ramsey in particular had an awful opening 30 minutes, and Cazorla had one giveaway that led to a chance that Sterling will want to have back. The gaps kept appearing in our backline as the half went on, Sterling in the thick of it again as he drifted out to the left and got a cross into Jordan Henderson, who was in acres on the back post. Thankfully, the cross was woeful and the danger passed.

While their man got the better of Hector Bellerin on that occasion, it should be noted that otherwise the Spaniard had him in his pocket for the whole match. Clearly, Liverpool felt that he would be the weak link, as Sterling kept drifting off to the left wing to challenge him 1-v-1. However, he was equal to the task much more often than not. I also wonder if they intended to do that to draw Mertesacker out to help, which would allow a late-running attacking midfielder to attack that channel. But, they didn't really have the personnel for that - Coutinho is more of a creator, and Markovic and Joe Allen were always sitting too deep. Bizarre tactics from Liverpool, if we're being honest.

Bellerin also took time out of his busy schedule of corralling Sterling to open the scoring himself with an absolute peach of a goal. Ramsey came out wide to, in essence, do exactly what Liverpool were trying to do with Sterling. It worked, as Mamadou Sakho bit and came out to challenge. Bellerin made a late run, and Sakho couldn't get back (he took a hell of a knock early on and would have been subbed off if the only available option wasn't the horrendous Dejan Lovren). The fullback turned Moreno inside-out and curled a gorgeous shot past the diving Mignolet with his weaker foot. What a strike that was!

I would have been pleased to bits if we had made it to the halftime whistle up 1-0, but the Gunners had other ideas. A clumsy challenge from Sakho gave us a free kick in a dangerous area. Ozil took it, and in the end it was a mirror image of Bellerin's goal, curled just inside the same post. That said, I have no idea what Mignolet was thinking about with his wall or his positioning. The wall was so poor, Ozil may have had a chance at the opposite post if he had wanted it. Also, as a keeper if you're standing pretty much in the exact middle of where your wall is, you're doing it wrong. Not that I'm complaining, mind.

The Scousers were reeling now, clearly hoping to cling on until the interval. Instead, there was one more gorgeous goal to come to cap off one of the most exhilarating 10-minute stretches that I can remember in all of my 20 years as a Gooner. Another of the legion of bad giveaways in midfield by Liverpool was seized by Bellerin, who played it quickly up to Ramsey. It went on to Sanchez, who skipped past Toure's ineffectual challenge and fired a thunderbolt into the top of the net.

Annnnnnnnnnd, breathe.

Liverpool were able to get it together somewhat after the break, but there was nowhere to go but up for them, really. Still, it was Arsenal who had the best chance early on in the second half, Mignolet parrying spectacularly well to keep a Giroud header out. Meanwhile, Emre Can finally got their first shot of the match just before the hour mark, but it was a comfortable height for David Ospina to deal with.

Mostly, the half was played out with our guys wanting to keep what they held, whereas Liverpool just couldn't get it going. Still, I suppose it wouldn't be Arsenal if there weren't at least a minor scare - this time, Bellerin rashly brought down Sturridge in the penalty area. It was a stonewall penalty kick, and Bellerin was extremely lucky not to walk, having already been on a yellow. Henderson took it, and it wasn't all that good of an effort. Ospina got a hand to it, and really, he should have kept it out.

Unlike so many other times in the past, though, the Gunners kept their poise and closed ranks once again. The visitors couldn't muster any serious chances to get the second goal that would have really made this one go into squeaky-bum time, and in the end they sealed their own doom with one of the dumber red cards I've seen in ages. The substitute Danny Welbeck had the ball over by the sideline, with his back to goal. Despite there being zero danger, Can went through the back of him with a scissor tackle. He was already on a yellow, and that was as obvious of a second one as you'll see.

There was still one order of business to attend to before the final whistle, though. Olivier Giroud had quietly had an excellent match, working hard for the cause and winning the vast majority of his aerial duels. By all rights he deserved a goal of his own, and he managed to get that done as the match went into injury time. Sanchez won the ball from a long goal kick from Ospina, and he quickly played it up to Giroud (notice how several of our goals were from the quick transitions that we don't see when the team isn't playing well). The defense stood off him, so he simply smashed a shot over Mignolet and in. Poor guy - on any other day that would have been the goal of the game at a canter...but today, it might have been in fourth place out of the four!

There's still a long(ish) way to go before the end of the season, and one would hope that the Gunners don't allow themselves to become complacent before then. However, we can talk about the FA Cup Semifinal and the chase for 2nd place later. Today, let's just bask in the aura of kicking the shit out of a major rival in absolute, triple-distilled, 100 proof style. Four brilliant goals, a hilarious red card for their lot, and also the satisfaction of killing their season deader than Dillinger.

It just doesn't get better than that. 

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Ospina 7, Monreal 8, Koscielny 7 (Gabriel 7), Mertesacker 7, Bellerin 9, Coquelin 8, Ramsey 7 (Flamini 7), Cazorla 8, Ozil 8 (Welbeck 7), Sanchez 8, Giroud 8

Man of the Match: I know, I know, the tackle for the penalty was daft. But, for me, this was obviously Hector Bellerin. Not only for the gorgeous finish with his off-foot to open the scoring, but he had a massive defensive responsibility and he passed with flying colors. Don't look now, but it looks like we have a hell of a player on our hands here. 

Extra Bonus Schadenfreude:

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Liverpool

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, April 4
7:45 a.m. EDT, 12:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Darren Cann and Marc Perry
    • 4th Official: Michael Oliver
  • Reverse Fixture: Liverpool 2 - 2 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 0 Liverpool
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 78 Arsenal wins, 83 Liverpool wins, 57 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-W-W
  • Liverpool's League Form: W-W-W-W-W-L
A worrying photo, as four Arsenal starters look perplexed by
this round thing...
There is nothing quite like going from 0 to 60, which is a bit what this match feels like. Arsenal were on a great run of form before the international break brought a halt to proceedings. Now, that break is over, and Arsenal are thrust straight back into action with an early Saturday kickoff against Liverpool, in a huge matchup for top four placement.

Arsenal sit third in the league table at the moment; winning the league is now but a pipe dream, but second place Manchester City are just one point ahead of the Gunners.

Meanwhile, Liverpool's loss to Manchester United just before the break leaves them five points adrift of fourth place United and six points behind Arsenal.

An Arsenal win tomorrow would leave the Gunners nine points clear of Liverpool with seven games to play. A Liverpool win, however, would leave Arsenal just three points clear, and with United playing Aston Villa this weekend, an Arsenal loss could leave them back in fourth by the weekend's closure.

It's a critical match for both clubs, but with Liverpool's key absentees and Arsenal's home advantage, it certainly feels like Arsenal's game to lose. Whether that's good or bad is subject to your own interpretation.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring,) Wilshere (ankle,) Debuchy (shoulder,) Arteta (calf,) Diaby (calf)
Doubts: Welbeck (knee)

How did Arsenal manage to get a photo of three long-term
injured players in one shot?
As you likely know by this point, all four long-term absentees (Jack Wilshere, Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, and yes, even Abou Diaby) took part in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Brentford earlier in the week. Jack Wilshere had a goal as Arsenal ran out 4-0 winners. Combine that with the fact that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also now back in full training and it sounds like Arsenal are very nearly back to having a fully available squad!

Ah, but not so fast! This was an international break after all and the report is that Danny Welbeck is a doubt after tweaking his knee with England; he had been sent back to Arsenal after the England match on Friday.

Without Welbeck or the Ox, I'm really interested to see how Arsene Wenger avoids selecting Theo Walcott this time. I don't think he can...

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Walcott, Giroud.

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Ibe (knee,) Jones (thigh,) Flanagan (knee,) Enrique (knee)
Doubts: Lallana (groin,) Sturridge (hip,) Sterling (toe,) Lovren (abdominal)
Suspended: Skrtel (first of three,) Gerrard (first of three)

Liverpool clearly learned some tactics from Stampy,
the elephant.
There are a lot of question marks in Liverpool's lineup, so let's dive right in to the doubts. A trio of players missed international time with England, as Adam Lallana pulled out with a groin injury, Daniel Sturridge withdrew from the national team after tearing a hip muscle, and Raheem Sterling had a toe injury. Sturridge and Sterling are both expected to play through the pain, though the same is less certain regarding Lallana. Meanwhile, much maligned Dejan Lovren pulled out of Croatia duty with an abdominal injury.

However, with Martin Skrtel suspended for three matches after his stamp on David De Gea at the end of Liverpool's loss to United, Lovren might have to slide straight back into the side. Lovren has not started a league match since March 4, when Mamadou Sakho was injured.

Elsewhere, Steven Gerrard is suspended for three matches as well after his 38-second stamping cameo. Jordan Ibe is out with a knee injury, as are Jon Flanagan and Jose Enrique. Brad Jones is out with a thigh injury, though third-string goalkeeper Danny Ward is now on loan at Morecambe.

Predicted XI: Mignolet, Can, Toure, Sakho, Markovic, Moreno, Henderson, Allen, Coutinho, Sterling, Sturridge.

Current Form

Olivier Giroud celebrates one of his two goals at Newcastle,
while Gabriel somehow rests his arm around the league table.
Excellent work, graphics department!
All winter, the talk was that Liverpool were the in-form team in the league. They were in 10th place after losing to Manchester United on December 14. Their draw against Arsenal on the 21st (discussed in the section below,) kicked off an unbeaten run of 13 matches, including 10 wins, that saw the Reds climb to fifth. Of course, they still can't seem to beat United, and that unbeaten run came to a grinding halt just before this past international break.

So, for all the talk about how in-form Liverpool were, they have 10 wins, three draws, and one loss over their last 14 matches, picking up 33 out of a possible 42 points. Arsenal, over the same time period, have 11 wins, one draw, and two losses, picking up 34 out of a possible 42 points. So really, the in-form team in the league since Christmas, has been Arsenal.

Arsenal's six-match winning streak in the league is their longest such streak within a single season since the spring of 2012, which was a seven-match winning streak. Arsenal did win six straight across this summer as well, winning the last five league matches of last season and the first of this year.

Match Facts

You likely still recall what happened at Anfield last season, possibly to the point where you forget that Arsenal beat Liverpool twice at the Emirates. Last November, Arsenal won 2-0 against the Reds as they remained top of the table and passed their first major test of the season (oh, they failed so many later, but just bask in that memory for a little bit.) A week after losing 5-1 in Liverpool, Arsenal responded by defeating Liverpool 2-1 at home in the fifth round of the FA Cup, en route to raising the trophy. Prior to those two wins, Arsenal had failed to beat Liverpool at the Emirates in three tries.

During that winless streak at home, Arsenal actually had a better record against Liverpool at Anfield, where they had not lost since the 2008 Champions League quarter-final. Earlier this season, Arsenal nearly stole all three points from Anfield when their performance didn't really deserve it. Of course, a Martin Skrtel head injury added a billion minutes of second half added time, only for Skrtel to score the equalizer with that head to see the match end 2-2.

Arsenal have only lost twice to Liverpool in their last 15 competitive fixtures across all competitions. Nine of their last 19 meetings have ended drawn.

The Referee

Why is Anthony Taylor hanging out with Wojciech Szczesny?
Why are they in the net?
The referee is Chester-based Anthony Taylor. Oh, great!

After last season's opening match debacle, Arsenal did not have Taylor again until this season, for the 1-1 draw at Leicester. He was also involved in the 3-2 loss at Stoke, in which he harshly sent off Calum Chambers for two borderline yellow cards.  Since that match, however, Arsenal's luck with Taylor has turned a bit; he took charge of the 5-0 Arsenal win over Aston Villa (a far cry from that fixture last year) and replaced Chris Foy to finish off the 3-0 win over West Ham.

Liverpool's record with Taylor in the middle this season is mixed; the Reds lost 2-1 to Chelsea on November 8, won 1-0 at Burnley on Boxing Day, and drew 0-0 in their derby at Goodison Park against Everton on February 7.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Everton v. Southampton; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. West Ham United; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. Aston Villa; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Hull City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Queens Park Rangers; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Chelsea v. Stoke City; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (early): Burnley v. Tottenham Hotspur; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Sunday (late): Sunderland v. Newcastle United; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Monday (night): Crystal Palace v. Manchester City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Tuesday (night): Aston Villa v. Queens Park Rangers; Villa Park, Birmingham
    • Fixture moved for Aston Villa's FA Cup Semi-Final on April 19.
  • Wednesday (night), FA Cup Replay: Blackburn Rovers v. Liverpool; Ewood Park, Blackburn
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and secret agent for the uhhh, regular person, totally. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat or visit his soon-to-be official Web site,