Arsenal 4-0 Aston Villa: Absolutely Perfect Performance


What else can you say other than "Fuck yeah!!!!"

Look, I'm going to be honest with you - I have multiple people who can back me up on this, but I always knew we were going to win today. Villa are a much better side than their record showed this season, but the simple fact is that we are significantly better than them, and barring any kind of significant goof-up, we were always going to annihilate them.

As it turns out, Arsene decided to play Wojciech Szczesny in goal, and Theo Walcott up top. The rest of the XI was basically as you were. Whatever the thoughts of the most hysterical of our fanbase, both were the right moves for this particular match.

(Side Note:  If you are wondering why I've not done so many match reports lately, or shown up to the pub for that many matches, I've frankly been burned out by the dumber sections of our own supporter base. You know, the "DUUURRRR, OZIL IS SHIT", "DURRRR, SZCZESNY IS SHIT" fucking morons. I don't mean to be a downer on what should be a happy occasion, so I'll kill it here, but those people really have beaten me down over the last few months.)

Anyway, I had predicted a easy-peasy 2-0 win where we were never in trouble, but I had no idea how wrong I was going to be. In truth, it was all even easier than that, where the Arsenal dominated every facet of the match on the way to one of the easier FA Cup final wins in quite some time.

Also, for those mentally-challenged folks that assumed that Szczesny had turned into Helen Keller on the back of one bad match against Southampton, he came up with two absolutely crucial punches on high balls into his area. On at least one of them, I'm not so sure that David Ospina would have gotten there. And, who knows how that would have changed the match if they had scored there?

That said, it did take some time for our boys to get on the board. But, if you've ever played this game, you could see the signs coming from parsecs away. Everything about Villa's game was desperate, from the yellow cards for breaking up scoring chances to the fortunate blocks on the goal line, or the admittedly excellent saves from Shay Given.

Still, I always thought it was a great development that Tim Sherwood decided to play his second-best goalkeeper on the day, and sure enough that told on our first goal. It wasn't Given's fault per se, but I do think that Brad Guzan may have had a much better shot at it.

It was right before halftime when Nacho Monreal crossed into the box. Alexis Sanchez won the header, cushioning it into the path of Walcott. Jores Okore was screening his own goalkeeper, which made Theo's job that much easier. He just lashed it towards the near post, and the unsighted Given's hand was a few seconds too late in getting in front of it. That said, I can't help but think that the taller Guzan may have been able to keep that out.

The goal made things that much easier going into halftime, although I feel that our boys would have handled their business even if it had been 0-0 going into the interval. By way of proving that point, we were two goals to the good just five minutes after the restart. Man, it came out of nothing, too. After a spell of early Villa pressure, we went up the other end and Sanchez had the ball a good 30 yards away from goal. He made himself a yard and hit an absolute thunderbastard of a shot, the swerve of which made it absolutely unsaveable. Seriously, Thor standing on Odin's shoulders would have had no shot at that.

What a goal, and what a time for it. If Villa thought they may have had a shot of getting back into this thing, that strike clearly disavowed them of any such notion.

Poor old Sherwood tried to change things around by introducing Gabriel Agbonlahor, but the simple fact is that their personnel just didn't matter. Arsenal did such a great job of holding onto the ball, their lot could have had George Best, Pele and Ferenc Puskas up top and it wouldn't have done them any good at all. Sure enough, the Gunners put the game to bed right around the hour mark. We won a corner, and Santi Cazorla's fabulous delivery was nodded home by the Big Fucking German himself, Per Mertesacker. For all of the stick that he has undeservedly gotten this season, it was great to see him score such an important goal.

Honestly, from that point, the match was over. All that remained was to determine what the final score would be. I hoped beyond hope that Szczesny would get a clean sheet, if for no other reason than to stick it in the face of all the absolute bell-ends that treated him like he was the second coming of Massimo Taibbi. Thankfully, it turned out that he would get it...although, in fairness, he didn't actually face a single shot on goal all day.

Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud came on for cameos, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was brought on right at the death in injury time. The latter two ended up combining for the goal that put the exclamation point on the afternoon. Ox worked the ball down the right, and crossed it into the box. Giroud ghosted past the static Villa backline, and and flicked it in past the helpless Given at his near post.

That, for the record, was another instance in which an Arsenal player who has gotten a ridiculous amount of unwarranted stick stuck two fingers up at his idiotic detractors. Actually, today's whole game was largely a scathing denunciation of the dumber parts of our fanbase.

Anyway, the final whistle soon came, and the FA Cup was Arsenal's for a record 12th time. It has to be said that Arsenal - and Arsene Wenger - enjoys this competition and truly has taken the chances when they've least in recent times (historical losses against the likes of Swindon and Wrexham aside)..

Hopefully, the majority of Gooners out there treat this as the massively fun day that it is. Trophies are always good, and I personally love the hell out of this competition. And, let's be honest with ourselves - as rough as the beginning of this season was, we are not 5 or 6 or 7 players away from threatening for the title. To surmise otherwise is, well, just plain fucking stupid. Give us competition for Giroud and Francis Coquelin, and that shitbird Jose Mourinho will have a LOT to think about this off-season.

Anyway, for the second time in two seasons, we have a trophy. Let's enjoy it, let's enjoy our summer, and see you all again in late August.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Monreal 8, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 8, Bellerin 8, Cazorla 8, Coquelin 8, Sanchez 8 (Oxlade-Chamberlain N/A), Ozil 8 (Wilshere 7), Ramsey 7, Walcott 8 (Giroud 7)

Man of the Match: Fuck it, everyone in a yellow shirt today. They all were awesome.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Aston Villa, FA Cup Final

Wembley Stadium, London
Saturday, May 30
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Jonathan Moss
    • Assistants: Darren England and Simon Bennett
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 79 Arsenal wins, 66 Aston Villa wins, 45 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 7 Arsenal wins, 3 Aston Villa wins, 3 draws
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Hull City, 2-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Brighton and Hove Albion, 3-2
    • Fifth Round: Beat Middlesbrough, 2-0
    • Sixth Round: Beat Manchester United, 2-1
    • Semi-Final: Beat Reading, 2-1 after extra time
  • Aston Villa's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Blackpool, 1-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Bournemouth, 2-1
    • Fifth Round: Beat Leicester City, 2-1
    • Sixth Round: Beat West Bromwich Albion, 2-0
    • Semi-Final: Beat Liverpool, 2-1
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-L-D-D-W
  • Aston Villa's League Form: W-L-W-W-L-L
Arsenal last won consecutive FA Cup titles in 2002 and 2003,
the latter celebration pictured here.
It's been a weird season, for both of these clubs. I remember a Tim Stillman column, possibly a year or two back, postulating that there have been only two types of Arsenal seasons since the move to the Emirates: the one where Arsenal start strong and their title hopes collapse in the spring and the one where Arsenal start weak and they scratch-and-claw their way into a Champions League spot.

Last season was the former, this season was the latter. In the end, Arsenal finished with 75 points, four points fewer than last season but one place higher in the table. Still, the mood around the club is positive, thanks to an excellent spring run coupled with the avoidance of August's Champions League qualifier. Some, however, will choose to be negative over the fact that Arsenal never truly challenged for the title this season. There's no middle ground with Arsenal fandom, is there?

For Aston Villa, they survived relegation by just three points, sacked their manager in February, and at one point went over six league matches without scoring a goal. They've been better under Tim Sherwood, however, and will relish their position as underdogs in this final. They're playing with house money.

There's less pressure on Arsenal in this year's final, since "one year without a trophy" doesn't have the same ring as nine. Still, a loss would be a massive disappointment for the club.

The FA Cup has been successfully defended on eight previous occasions; Arsenal themselves accomplished the feat in 2002 and 2003. A win tomorrow would make them the fourth club to achieve that accomplishment more than once, along with Wanderers F.C., Blackburn Rovers, and Tottenham Hotspur.

So, that would be one less thing they could say they have over us.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Debuchy (hamstring,) Arteta (match fitness)

Wojciech Szczesny stares off into the distance, wondering if
he will get the start in goal.
The discussion of Arsenal's potential matchday squad is simplest when discussing the injury list, which is refreshing. Danny Welbeck is the only certain absence, his knee injury keeping him out of action. It's a shame that he'll miss the final, as his winning goal at Old Trafford will leave an indelible mark on this cup run.

There are other doubts in the squad as well, though everyone else is at least back in training. I just don't see an appearance on the cards for Mikel Arteta, or starts for Mathieu Debuchy or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the latter of whom looked a bit rusty in a 15-minute cameo last week.

So, that means the difficult part of the squad discussion comes down to actual player selection. There are certain selections that are obvious. Debuchy's injury means Hector Bellerin will start at right back. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny will start as the center back pairing. Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez should all start in midfield.

As for the other four positions... Will Arsene Wenger stick with Wojciech Szczesny as his cup keeper or go with his number one, David Ospina? Will Nacho Monreal return at left back or will Kieran Gibbs, who has started the last two matches, retain his place? Will Aaron Ramsey or Jack Wilshere start? Will Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott start? Will it be some mix-and-match two of the four of them? Ramsey up top! Walcott deep! Mayhem!

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

Aston Villa Squad News

Out: Steer (cup tied,) Herd (knee,) Clark (knee,) Kozak (back)
Doubts: Given (groin,) Okore (knee,) Richardson (calf)

Jed Steer played last weekend for Villa, but will not be
available in goal tomorrow. So much for giving your cup
final keeper a run out in the last regular season game...
Aston Villa have a few more injuries to contend with than Arsenal. To start, they have a similar question in goal: start their number one (Brad Guzan) or go with their cup keeper (Shay Given)? To complicate this, Given missed last week's match with a groin injury, so perhaps Tim Sherwood's mind will be made up for him. Third-choice keeper Jed Steer started in Villa's 1-0 loss to Burnley last week, but he's cup tied for this match, as he played in the FA Cup for Yeovil Town while out on loan. In addition, Kieran Richardson is a doubt at left back with a calf strain. Jores Okore is a doubt at center back with a knee problem.

Three players are out completely through injury: Chris Herd and Ciaran Clark will both miss out through knee injuries, while Libor Kozak is out with a back injury.

Predicted XI: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Richardson, Delph, Westwood, Cleverley, Grealish, Agbonlahor, Benteke.

Arsenal's Season in Brief Review

Arsenal's 2-0 win at the Etihad meant progress was made
in some form this season, even without a title challenge.
Arsenal's early season struggles were marked by draws in matches they should have won, a condition largely exacerbated by the broken leg Olivier Giroud suffered in the second league match of the season. While Arsenal were unbeaten in their first six league matches, they had only won two of them, and a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea left the Gunners in 8th at the October international break.

November was not kind to Arsenal, as it rarely is, and their 3-3 draw against Anderlecht in the Champions League condemned them to a second place finish in the group. After consecutive losses to Swansea and Manchester United, the Gunners were still in 8th after 12 league games. Two straight wins brightened things up a little, but a 3-2 loss at Stoke on December 6 marked, arguably, the season's nadir.

The return of Olivier Giroud to the lineup meant Arsenal started to rattle off more wins, though the three-match ban he took at the end of the 2014 calendar year meant that Arsenal struggled without his influence a bit more, en route to a New Year's Day loss at Southampton. Arsenal still sat 6th in the table with 18 matches left to play.

The noisy neighbors started talking of a power shift when they won at the Lane on February 7, but that match was Arsenal's only league loss over a 12-match span; the Gunners won the remaining 11 and had second place in their sights by the end of April. Unfortunately, their league success did not follow them to Europe; Arsenal crashed out of the Champions League knockout phase at the first hurdle for the fifth season in a row, this time to Monaco.

Arsenal won just twice in their final six league matches, all following their FA Cup semi-final win at Wembley, to essentially stumble from second to third, but if they can retain the FA Cup title with a win tomorrow, their season (and the avoidance of next year's Champions League playoff) has got to be considered a step forward.

Aston Villa's Season in Brief Review

Paul Lambert saw some things this season, man.
You may not remember it now, but Aston Villa were unbeaten in their first four league games, winning three of them, including a 1-0 win at Anfield, though they were unceremoniously dumped out of the League Cup at the first hurdle by Leyton Orient. Arsenal defeated the Villans 3-0 the week after the Villa win in Liverpool, which turned out to be the first of six consecutive losses. Villa followed that with three straight draws. They had 10 points on September 13. They had 13 points on November 29.

Two straight wins, over Crystal Palace and Leicester, briefly bounced Villa to 11th in the table. They then went another 12 without a win, drawing three of the first five in that run before losing seven straight. They went over six matches (specifically, 659 minutes) without a goal during the winless stretch. On February 11, Paul Lambert was sacked.

In early March, Villa beat local rivals West Brom twice in one week, first in the league to snap their losing streak, then in the FA Cup sixth round to punch their ticket to Wembley for the first time since their semi-final loss in 2010.

Under the guidance of Tim Sherwood, Villa won five out of nine league matches after the seven-match losing streak, giving them enough points for safety. During that stretch, they defeated Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Final to earn their spot in tomorrow's final. Unfortunately, they ended the league season on a down note, capitulating 6-1 to Southampton and 1-0 to last place Burnley.

Match Facts

Arsenal's 5-0 win over Villa at the Emirates was their largest
margin of victory of the season.
Arsenal won the two league meetings between these two sides this season by a combined 8-0 scoreline. At Villa Park in September, Arsenal scored three goals in four minutes via Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck, and an Aly Cissokho own goal. That was plenty enough for the Gunners as they maintained over 70% of the possession against a Villa side that was battling through a few illnesses.

Villa had no excuses at the Emirates in February, however, as they had more than half of the possession but generated just two shots on target. Arsenal led on eight minutes through Olivier Giroud but did not open the floodgates until near the hour mark. Mesut Ozil doubled Arsenal's lead in the 56th minute, Theo Walcott made it three in the 63rd, Santi Cazorla made it four from the penalty spot in the 75th, and Hector Bellerin opened his account to make it 5-0 in injury time.

The Villans have just three wins in their last 34 matches against Arsenal across all competitions; bizarrely, all three of those wins have come at the Emirates.

Previous FA Cup Ties

Arsenal's last FA Cup tie against Villa featured a two-goal
comeback. I forgot about that weird "Forward" crest we had
that season.
Arsenal and Aston Villa have met 10 times in the FA Cup; Arsenal have won seven of the ten ties. Three matches ended drawn and required replays; Arsenal won two of the three replays played.

The clubs most recently met in the fourth round in 2012 at the Emirates. Arsenal trailed 2-0 at halftime after goals from Richard Dunne and Darren Bent, but stormed back with three goals in seven minutes, including two from the penalty spot.

Prior to that, the clubs had not met in the FA Cup since 1983 and they have never met later than the sixth round. Arsenal's seven wins came in 1926 in a replay, 1928, 1931 in a replay, 1954, 1956, 1983, and 2012. Aston Villa's three wins came in 1929, 1934, and 1974 in a replay.

The Referee

How the hell is this green stuff supposed to keep up?
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Jonathan Moss. Moss's appointment has been considered an odd political decision by the Football Association, as rumor has it the FA does not want Mark Clattenburg to be the English appointee to the Euros next summer. On the other hand, Clattenburg had to pull out of working Arsenal's match last weekend with an injury, so maybe the whole controversy is moot. Remember, a referee may only take charge of one FA Cup Final in their career.

Arsenal have seen Moss in nine competitive fixtures all-time and they have won all nine of them. Two of those matches were this season: the opening day 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, aided by an 89th minute Jason Puncheon red card, and the 3-0 win over Stoke in January, in which he failed to sanction Marko Arnautovic for the shove that cost Mathieu Debuchy three months with a separated shoulder.

Arsenal are not completely unbeaten with Moss in the middle, as he did take charge of a 2013 Emirates Cup match against Galatasaray, in which he awarded the visitors a dubious penalty following a Didier Drogba tumble, en route to their taking the title.

Aston Villa have an all-time record of six wins, five losses, and two draws with Moss in the middle. One of the five losses was to Arsenal, at Villa Park on December 21, 2011, when Yossi Benayoun scored a late winner from a corner. All four of Villa's other losses with Moss as referee have been lopsided: 4-1 to Southampton and 5-0 to Manchester City in 2012; 4-0 and 3-0 to Tottenham last year, the former coming in the League Cup.

Villa have seen Moss twice this season, first for a 0-0 draw at West Ham in January and most recently for a 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion in March.

On a personal level, Moss was born in Sunderland but played football in the United States in college, for Central Connecticut State, before coming back to England and completing his education at the University of Leeds. He also played junior level football for Sunderland and Millwall before quitting to focus on his studies. His first Premier League refereeing appointment was supposed to be an Aston Villa match, against Wigan Athletic, but it was postponed by snow. His first match ended up being a Birmingham City win over Blackpool in January of 2011.

John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is super excited for summer break this year, you guys. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, so you can keep in touch with him over the break. Maybe we'll have a pool party, or something.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. West Bromwich Albion

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, May 24
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Andrew Garratt
    • 4th Official: Stuart Attwell
  • Reverse Fixture: West Brom 0 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 0 West Brom
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 67 Arsenal wins, 36 West Brom wins, 31 draws
  • Arsenal's Current Form: W-D-W-L-D-D
  • West Brom's Current Form: L-W-D-W-D-W
So, how about third, then?

All of a sudden, Arsenal can't score goals, which is pretty bad a week before a cup final. That said, even just a draw locks up third place for Arsenal. For Manchester United to pip Arsenal for third, United would have to win Sunday at Hull, Arsenal would have to lose to West Brom, and the goal swing between the two matches would have to be at least seven. Sports Club Stats says the odds that happens is 3.16% which seems shockingly high to me. Of course, we're Arsenal, why make anything easy?

In honor of Arsenal's struggles in finishing lately, I'm going to imitate their proficiency in front of goal in each section of this week's preview, by kinda just trailing off into light-colored text. I'll bet this doesn't work properly in all browsers, ruining the joke for some......

Arsenal Squad News

Out: I have no idea yet.
Doubts: Welbeck (knee,) Debuchy (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Arteta (match fitness)

Arsenal still, as far as I know, have the same group of guys out injured. The question is, are any of them going to be available again for this match? Since I don't have the answer to that question yet, I've had to throw them all into the "doubts" category, which also means this might be one of the first times I've had an empty "out" category. I mean, I guess Abou Diaby is out. Now that I've said that, he'll start, or something.

The only other question is one of rotation, with the FA Cup Final coming up a week from tomorrow (or, six days following this match.) Arsene Wenger may not want to risk a number of guys and it's painfully clear our attackers could use some revitalization in advance of such an important game. So I say we start Damien Martinez at striker and see what happens!

Predicted XI: Oooooooooooooo-spina!,  and 10 other guys!......

West Brom Squad News

Out: Foster (knee)

Lately, West Brom's only injured player has been goalkeeper Ben Foster, who suffered knee ligament damage against Stoke in March. The injury required surgery and Foster is expected to remain out until at least October. Boaz Myhill has been deputizing between the poles.

As such, I would not be surprised if Tony Pulis named an unchanged XI from the side that beat Chelsea 3-0 on Monday, which was hilarious until it sank in how well the Baggies have been playing lately......

Predicted XI: Myhill, Dawson, McAuley, Olsson, Lescott, Yacob, Morrison, Fletcher, Brunt, McManaman, Berahino.

Current Form

Since a 1-0 win at Burnley that, at the time, extended Arsenal's winning streak to eight, the Gunners have just one 90-minute win from their last six, plus an extra time win over Reading. They've drawn three and lost one in that time period and they haven't scored a goal at the Emirates since the 4-1 win over Liverpool on April 4. That was seven weeks ago. At least the FA Cup Final isn't at the Emirates.

It's not like West Brom have been conceding goals in bunches; the Baggies are unbeaten in five, conceding just once in their last 450 minutes of football. That goal was against Newcastle, which doesn't make much sense considering their tailspin, and they did benefit from facing a Chelsea side that clearly didn't care anymore, but they took advantage of that to the fullest and won 3-0. They handed United a 1-0 loss at Old Trafford a few weeks back as well, meaning Tony Pulis's side can finish no worse than 13th in the table, but if Palace lose, they can climb to 12th......

Match Facts

Arsenal have won six of their last seven league meetings against West Brom and the Gunners are unbeaten in their last eight league games against the Baggies. In the reverse fixture, Danny Welbeck scored a header on the hour mark as Arsenal won 1-0. Arsenal also won this match last year by a 1-0 scoreline; played in the season's penultimate weekend, Olivier Giroud scored the game's only goal in the 14th minute. The rest of the match was, ultimately, a boring little kickabout.

Arsenal and West Brom, of course, last met in the season's final game three years ago, as Arsenal came from 2-1 down to win 3-2 to lock up another season of Champions League football at Tottenham's expense, because 6th place Chelsea won the Champions League final......

The Referee

The referee is County Durham-based Mark Clattenburg. Many believed Clatts was in line to take charge of the FA Cup Final this season, but some political drama within the FA along with the fact that Arsenal's opponent ended up being Aston Villa instead of Liverpool meant that the appointment went to Jonathan Moss. So, Clatts will have to wait another year, at least. You may recall that I was shocked Clattenburg didn't get last year's final, too.

Arsenal have, over the course of history, had a decent record with Clattenburg as referee, but they've only seen him twice this year: the 2-2 draw with Manchester City in September and the 2-1 win at Crystal Palace in February. West Brom have seen Clattenburg three times: a 2-2 draw with Palace in October, a 3-1 loss to Manchester City on Boxing Day, and a 2-1 FA Cup win over Birmingham City, which is technically considered a derby.

Clattenburg has had a number of highs and lows this year; he worked the second leg of the Champions League semi-final between Bayern Munich and Barcelona last week, but earlier in the season, he was suspended for a week for two breaches of protocol, where he left his crew to go to a concert, but more egregiously called manager Neil Warnock after the match......

Around the League
  • Sunday: Aston Villa v. Burnley; Villa Park, Birmingham......
  • Sunday: Chelsea v. Sunderland; Stamford Bridge, London......
  • Sunday: Crystal Palace v. Swansea City; Selhurst Park, London......
  • Sunday: Everton v. Tottenham Hotspur; Goodison Park, Liverpool......
  • Sunday: Hull City v. Manchester United; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull......
  • Sunday: Leicester City v. Queens Park Rangers; King Power Stadium, Leicester......
  • Sunday: Manchester City v. Southampton; Etihad Stadium, Manchester......
  • Sunday: Newcastle United v. West Ham United; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne......
  • Sunday: Stoke City v. Liverpool; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent......
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and also a ghost!...... You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, which is something something I already made that ghost joke before......

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Sunderland

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, May 20
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Marc Perry
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • Reverse Fixture: Sunderland 0 - 2 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 4 - 1 Sunderland
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 58 Arsenal wins, 50 Sunderland wins, 39 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-W-L-D
  • Sunderland's League Form: W-L-D-W-W-D
Theo Walcott celebrates the Tyler Blackett own goal that
handed Arsenal a point.
I talk a lot about "magic numbers" in this section, that is, the number of points that need to be earned by Arsenal or dropped by the team chasing them for the Gunners to finish in a specific position. Arsenal's very strange come-from-behind draw at Old Trafford was tremendous because it dropped Arsenal's magic number for third place from five to two.

If Arsenal had lost, the number would still have been five and if United win at the weekend, Arsenal would need to win both of their remaining games to earn those five points and avoid fourth. Instead, a win tonight is enough to avoid August's Champions League playoff, regardless of what might happen on Anti-Climactic Showdown Sunday™.

A draw means Arsenal's magic number drops to one, which also means that they could clinch third on a tie-breaker. The Gunners will be three points clear of United with one match to play and a seven goal advantage on goal difference. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, so let's just avoid that if we can. United play at Hull City, who are fighting for their lives, on Sunday.

Sunderland are currently one point clear of Hull City but have a worse goal difference; they will need at least one point from their final two matches to guarantee safety. They play at Chelsea on Sunday.

Arsenal are now five points back of Manchester City for second place with this game in hand. To finish second, Arsenal will need to win both of their remaining games and need City to lose on Sunday; they host Southampton.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Welbeck (knee,) Debuchy (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin)
Doubts: Koscielny (illness,) Arteta (match fitness)

No, seriously!
The big team news at the moment is that Laurent Koscielny might be absent from tonight's match with what Arsene Wenger called "the flu." It's good to have someone like Gabriel to call on in this sort of situation. Still, this poses the largest threat to Arsenal maintaining it's consistent XI; Arsenal have started the same XI in the league for six straight matches for the first time since the Pleistocene era. The last time Arsenal fielded a different XI was at Newcastle when Gabriel started in place of a rested Per Mertesacker, Calum Chambers started over Hector Bellerin, and Danny Welbeck started on the right with Mesut Ozil out through illness.

All that aside, there's very little else to say about the lineup. Welbeck, Mathieu Debuchy, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all expected to remain out with their injuries, while Mikel Arteta is still a doubt over his match fitness (I did spot him in yesterday's training photographs!)

I'll be interested to see if the Aaron Ramsey on the right experiment continues; Arsenal looked much better when he moved back to central midfield at Old Trafford on Sunday. Jack Wilshere could be in line for a start as well, as Ramsey (who has been battling some knocks lately) could probably use a breather. I wouldn't rotate too much, though, as Arsenal can rotate all they want against West Brom if they win tonight.

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

Sunderland Squad News

Out: Alvarez (knee,) Bridcutt (knee,) Gomez (knee,) Brown (knee)
Doubts: Rodwell (hamstring,) Jones (thigh)

Dick Advocaat's squad will be without four players through knee injuries tonight. Jordi Gomez has a patella fracture that has ended his season, while Ricardo Alvarez and Wes Brown are not expected to return tomorrow or Sunday either. Liam Bridcutt could be fit for the weekend, however.

Jack Rodwell has a hamstring strain that leaves him as a doubt for tonight's match, though I do include him in my predicted XI. Rodwell has not played since May 2, so his inclusion is probably a mistake on my part. Billy Jones is also a doubt after he came out from last weekend's match against Leicester with a thigh cramp; Antoine Reveillere might get his first start since March at right back if Jones cannot go.

Predicted XI: Pantilimon, van Aanholt, O'Shea, Coates, Reveillere, Cattermole, Larsson, Rodwell, Wickham, Graham, Defoe.

Current Form

Sunderland cooled off Leicester's hot run with a draw, but it
was enough for the Foxes to ensure safety. Also, this kick is
Don't look now, but Arsenal have only one win in their last four! Prior to the match against Chelsea at the end of last month, Arsenal had won a remarkable eight straight both in the league and across all competitions, having only lost to Southampton, Tottenham, and Monaco in the calendar year 2015. Of course, you'll recall that Chelsea came to the Emirates to get a 0-0 draw and did so. A week later, Arsenal appeared back on track, winning comfortably, 3-1, at the KC Stadium against Hull. Then, the potential blip, as Arsenal huffed and puffed but couldn't beat former Gunner Lukasz Fabianski and Arsenal's newest bogey team, Swansea City, nicked a 1-0 win at the Emirates. Arsenal's first half at Old Trafford on Sunday was not a good response, but they managed to turn it around just enough to take a vital point.

It's still one win from four and it appears to have been enough for second place to be unlikely (those odds are currently at 15%; as mentioned at the top, Arsenal will need to win both and have Southampton win at the Etihad to finish second.)

As for Sunderland, their odds of relegation are currently at just 4.2%. Their three point lead over Hull City is massive considering Hull only has one match left to make up that ground (and it's against Manchester United.) Sunderland were in 17th after a loss to West Ham at the end of March, but their 1-0 derby win over tumbling Newcastle was critical. Despite a 4-1 loss to Crystal Palace the following week, Sunderland have kept their head above water, as they are now on a four match unbeaten streak, thanks to draws against Stoke City and in-form Leicester, as well as wins over Southampton and Everton.

Match Facts

Arsenal might have struggled with Fabianski this year, but
they did not struggle against Vito Mannone.
Arsenal have not had the easiest of times with Sunderland in recent seasons, though their record overall does not quite reflect that; the Gunners have lost just once in their last 22 league meetings. Sunderland's last win over Arsenal came on November 21, 2009, 1-0 at the Stadium of Light, thanks to a Darren Bent winner.

Arsenal have won four straight against the Black Cats, though not all of them came easily. Sunderland entered the reverse fixture having just given up eight million goals to Southampton the week beforehand. Arsenal were not exactly in the best form either, coming off a draw with Hull and an uncomfortable win at Anderlecht. The match was largely even, but Alexis Sanchez took full advantage of two Sunderland defensive errors and Arsenal won 2-0.

This fixture last year was a much more comprehensive victory for Arsenal; Olivier Giroud scored twice and Arsenal received goals from Tomas Rosicky and Laurent Koscielny as well to build a 4-0 lead before the hour mark. Emanuele Giaccherini scored a consolation goal in the 81st.

This fixture does have a history of being frustrating for Arsenal; it ended 0-0 in March of 2011 (the week after the League Cup Final loss to Birmingham City) and August of 2012 (on the opening day of the season.)

The Referee

"This card matches my shirt!"
The referee is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor and I cannot tell if that's good news or bad news anymore.

You'll recall what happened with Taylor at the start of last season, as Arsenal came crashing to a 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa. After his performance that day, Taylor did not work another Arsenal match last season. Arsenal saw him for the first time this season in Leicester in August, in a 1-1 draw. In December, he took charge of Arsenal's calamitous 3-2 loss at Stoke City, in which he sent off Calum Chambers for two borderline yellow card infractions. So, the disaster seemed to continue...

Then, Arsenal had him for their home match against Aston Villa again, but this one turned into a comprehensive 5-0 victory. Against West Ham, in a match Arsenal was already winning, Taylor came on from his fourth official spot to replace the injured Chris Foy, who himself was returning from a long injury layoff; Arsenal won that match 3-0. In early April, Taylor worked another match at the Emirates, the emphatic 4-1 win over Liverpool.

So, you tell me where Arsenal's luck with Taylor resides right now.

As for Sunderland, the Black Cats have seen Taylor four times this season, including a Tyne & Wear derby in December, a 1-0 win. Sunderland's record in other matches with Taylor is not as positive though; he worked a 0-0 draw with Burnley, a 0-0 draw with Fulham in the FA Cup's fourth round, and a 4-1 loss to Crystal Palace last month.

Around the League

I, uh.... I don't know what to type here. This match is a make-up from the weekend Arsenal played Reading in the FA Cup Semi-Final and all other make-up matches have been played already. There's nothing else going on in the league until the weekend, when everyone's 38th match kicks off simultaneously on Sunday.

John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and the world's worst superhero. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, which in Spanish is @gatodelfox. Okay, both are Spanglish.

Preview by Numbers: Manchester United v. Arsenal

Old Trafford, Manchester
Sunday, May 17
11:00 a.m. EDT, 16:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Lee Betts and Simon Long
    • 4th Official: Michael Oliver
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 2 Manchester United
  • This Match, Last Year: Manchester United 1 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 80 Arsenal wins, 93 United wins, 48 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-D-W-L
  • Manchester United's League Form: W-W-L-L-L-W
"Well, joke's on you. These are chocolate."
"Nothing gold can stay." --Robert Frost Me

Arsenal's 10-match unbeaten run has ended after a 1-0 loss to Swansea in which Arsenal had pretty much all of the chances and conceded stupidly. "C'est la vie." --France Me

The bad news is, Arsenal no longer controls their own destiny for second place thanks to Manchester City's absurd goal difference advantage (thanks, QPR!) If both clubs win all of their remaining games, Arsenal will need to make up a nine-goal swing in the process, which is preposterously unlikely, considering City is winning too in this scenario.

Arsenal can, however, lockup third place (and thus, avoidance of the Champions League qualifier) with a win at Old Trafford on Sunday, a place at which Arsenal proved in March that they actually can win. Arsenal can also clinch third with a loss on Sunday, provided they win their remaining two games against Sunderland and West Brom, but how high would their confidence be to do that on the back of two losses?

No, Arsenal would be best served by righting the ship now. Demand the best. Take all three points and put the question of the qualifier to rest.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Debuchy (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Arteta (match fitness)
Doubts: Welbeck (knee,) Ramsey (ankle)

Welbeck's involvement is likely 50-50. I'd like to see him
score another winner at his former place of employment.
There are no major injury concerns in the squad right now, which is probably a first in my four-plus years of writing for this blog. That is, obviously, not to say that Arsene Wenger has a totally full squad to choose from. Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby certainly do not have the match fitness right now to be selected; if they were in the 18-man squad, I would be more than shocked.

Meanwhile, there are still doubts over the more recently injured: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and his wonky groin, Danny Welbeck and his banjaxed knee, and Mathieu Debuchy's utter unluckiness. Of those three, only Welbeck could be in line for a return. Aaron Ramsey has been out of training for a while as well, but will more than likely be good to go.

As such, I would expect no changes to the XI. Monday's loss to Swansea was the fifth straight match for this XI, the first time Arsenal went five matches unchanged since 1994.

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

Manchester United Squad News

Out: Rafael (rib,) Carrick (calf)
Doubts: Shaw (head,) Van Persie (virus,) Rooney (thigh,) Rojo (groin)

"What's the Mata with you?"
Lot of doubts after United's win last week at Crystal Palace. Robin van Persie missed the match through illness, Luke Shaw came off on a stretcher with a probable concussion, and Wayne Rooney could not continue past halftime with a thigh injury and potential dead leg.

Rafael da Silva is out, for sure, with a rib fracture, while Michael Carrick will miss out with a calf problem. There are also doubts over Marcos Rojo with a groin problem, as well as maybe Chris Smalling.

Even with some injury questions up front, Arsenal will have to worry about a revitalized Juan Mata. Mata returned to United's XI when Angel Di Maria served his suspension for the red card in the FA Cup and took his chance well, meaning his resurgence is partially our fault. Careful what you wish for, I guess?

Predicted XI: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw, Blind, Fellaini, Herrera, Young, Mata, Rooney.

Current Form

This came up on a Google search for "losing streak."
Well, nothing lasts forever. Arsenal's 10-match unbeaten run in the league (and 11-match unbeaten run overall) came to an end on Monday against Swansea. It was Arsenal's longest unbeaten run in the league since the end of the 2012/13 season (incidentally, both of those streaks came after losses at Tottenham.) Anyway, let's hope this is a blip and not a roadblock.

Manchester United carried a six-match league winning streak into Stamford Bridge on April 18 and lost 1-0. A week later, their blip became a tailspin, losing 3-0 at Goodison Park. A week after that, they lost at home to West Bromwich Albion (for the second straight year!) extending their losing streak to three. United rebounded last week with a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace that was not entirely convincing.

Match Facts

In case you forgot what happened in the FA Cup tie...
Arsenal broke their terrible streak at Old Trafford (more on that below) with a 2-1 win in the sixth round of the FA Cup on March 9. Nacho Monreal opened the scoring in the 25th minute, but Wayne Rooney equalized within four minutes for the hosts. In the second half, United castoff Danny Welbeck took advantage of a mishit back pass and slotted the winner past a stranded David de Gea to give Arsenal the lead just past the hour mark. United melted down in their attempts to get back into the game by diving, which referee Michael Oliver was having none of. After Angel Di Maria attempted to grab Oliver to protest a simulation call, Oliver rightly showed Di Maria a second yellow. Manchester United received seven bookings in the match.

Prior to March's cup tie, United were unbeaten in ten home matches against Arsenal, winning nine of them and clinching the league title with the one draw. September 17, 2006 marks Arsenal's last league win at Old Trafford. That match ended 1-0; Emmanuel Adebayor had the 86th minute winner. Manchester United had outscored Arsenal 23-5 during that ten match unbeaten run.

United won the reverse fixture 2-1 at the Emirates in November. Arsenal had over 61% of the possession and generated nine shots on target, but a Kieran Gibbs own goal in a massively unlucky sequence gave the visitors the lead against the run of play. Wojciech Szczesny was injured in the sequence, forcing Emiliano Martinez into his first Premier League appearance; United made it 2-0 from a counterattack in the 85th before Olivier Giroud, himself returning from injury, pulled one back in added time to make the scoreline more respectable. David de Gea, playing with a recently dislocated finger, made eight saves.

The Referee

Well, that hair is a bookable offense.
The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean. Arsenal had Dean for the reverse fixture in November, which might not bode well, and of course you'll recall Arsenal's struggles with Dean in recent seasons. However, November's loss to United marks Arsenal's only loss with Dean in the middle of their last eight such matches. The voodoo very well may be broken; Arsenal have already won once this season in Manchester with Dean as the referee, 2-0 at the Etihad in January. He even awarded Arsenal a penalty! Dean was also in charge of Arsenal's 1-0 win at Burnley last month.

Manchester United's record with Mike Dean is starting to look a lot like Arsenal's old record with Dean. The match at the Emirates in November is United's only win with Dean in the middle this season. They lost the opening day fixture to Swansea at home with Dean as the ref, they drew 2-2 at the Hawthorns in October, and they lost 1-0 at Stamford Bridge last month. United were winless with Dean in the middle last year, drawing at Spurs, losing at home to Swansea in the FA Cup, and drawing at Southampton on the final day of the season. So, Manchester United have now won one of their last eight matches with Dean in charge.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Southampton v. Aston Villa; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Stoke City; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. Newcastle United; Loftus Road, London
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Leicester City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Hull City; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Everton; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday (late): Liverpool v. Crystal Palace; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Swansea City v. Manchester City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Monday (night): West Bromwich Albion v. Chelsea; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and an extinct species of fish. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, which doesn't really sound like a fish at all, does it?

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Swansea City

Emirates Stadium, London
Monday, May 11
3:00 p.m. EDT, 20:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: Mark Scholes and Richard West
    • 4th Official: Robert Madley
  • Reverse Fixture: Swansea 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 2 Swansea
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 9 Arsenal wins, 6 Swansea wins, 3 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-D-W
  • Swansea's League Form: W-W-D-L-W-W
Oh, now it makes sense.
Happy belated St. Totteringham's Day to you and yours! Arsenal's win over Hull City, after Spurs had lost to Manchester City on Sunday, means that the Gunners will finish the season ahead of Tottenham for the 20th consecutive time.

But, on to more important matters. Arsenal's magic number -- that is any combination of points earned by the Gunners or points dropped by those chasing them -- is just one to finish above Liverpool (and thus, in the Top Four™.) After Manchester United's loss to West Bromwich Albion last weekend, Arsenal's magic number to pip United is just five. If Arsenal win and United lose this weekend, the Red Devils will be unable to catch Arsenal, no matter what happens at Old Trafford next week.

As for second place, Arsenal's magic number to pip Manchester City is 10, since City can only finish with 79 points. That's three wins and a draw in the final four matches. So, as long as they win their home games, Arsenal can still finish second with a draw at Old Trafford. Of course, it would be delightful to win there twice in one season, so Arsenal should focus on that. Arsenal are only two goals back on goal difference as compared to City, so nine points would be sufficient if Arsenal grab the tie-breaker.

But, as I said, you gotta win your home games, and that continues with Swansea at the Emirates on Monday. As I stress often, Arsenal can't claim all 10 of those magic points at once; the league structure dictates that you can only take them three at a time, no matter how greedy you might be.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Welbeck (knee,) Debuchy (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Arteta (match fitness)
Doubts: Ramsey (ankle)

Aaron Ramsey, shown here being dashing, is about 50-50
after getting kicked 7,000 times at Hull.
Prior to the Hull match, the surprise was that Danny Welbeck did not make the squad with a knee problem. Arsene Wenger's words on that front don't sound very promising, as he said, "there is no major damage but we have to see how it progresses." That could mean anything in the world of Arsenal. He's been out of training for over a week, so there's almost no chance he takes part in this one.

Aaron Ramsey is 50-50 after nearly getting destroyed in the Hull match. He hasn't been in training all week, despite notching a goal and an assist after the initial injury. Mathieu Debuchy, injured in training over a week ago, is still out, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains out as well, and Mikel Arteta lacks match fitness.

The only question that surrounds the squad selection is at right wing, if Ramsey, Welbeck, and the Ox are all unavailable; how will Wenger find a way to not start Theo Walcott now? With that in mind, my prediction is that Rambo passes fit. That would make this five straight league matches with an unchanged XI; the Hull match marked the first time Arsenal kept the same squad for four straight games since 1996.

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

Swansea Squad News

Out: Oliveira (ankle,) Amat (foot,) Routledge (ankle,) Naughton (ankle)
Doubts: Gomis (hamstring,) Bartley (knee,) Carroll (ankle)

The blue team looks sad. Who is that? Sunderland?
Bafetimbi Gomis, who scored the winner in the reverse fixture, is a doubt with a hamstring injury he suffered against Everton a month ago; the French striker has missed Swansea's last three matches. Other doubts include former Arsenal defender Kyle Bartley and midfielder Tom Carroll, who is on loan from Tottenham.

Nelson Oliveira, who is on loan from Benfica, is ruled out with an ankle injury. Ex-Tottenham defender Kyle Naughton is out with an ankle injury of his own, as is Wayne Routledge (technically, he's also an ex-Tottenham player, though he only made five appearances for Spurs.) Jordi Amat, the Spanish center back, has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a fractured metatarsal. Swansea has had to recall two players, Dwight Tiendalli and Jazz Richards, from loans at Middlesbrough and Fulham, respectively.

Oh, also, they have Lukasz Fabianski. I feel like that's a storyline, too.

Predicted XI: Fabianski, Taylor, Williams, Rangel, Fernandez, Shelvey, Dyer, Montero, Sigurdsson, Cork, Gomis.

Current Form

Francis Coquelin is floating in celebration.
The form train keeps on rollin' for Arsenal. Across all competitions, Arsenal are now unbeaten in their last 11 matches. They have also won 13 of their last 14 matches overall since the North London derby loss. Power shift, indeed. There's not much more to be said about Arsenal's streak; five wins from their final five and they'll coast into a second place finish with a trophy in tow. Not too shabby.

As for Swansea, they've been sitting in eighth since the end of March, having pipped West Ham to the slot. Swansea started the season brightly, but settled into ninth spot for much of the winter. They opened the year on a three-match winning streak but then went winless in five and have been comfortably in the top half of the table, yet not challenging for Europe at the same time ever since. The Swans have won four of their last six, with just one loss in that span, though it came against a Leicester side that is, admittedly, fighting for their Premier League lives.

Match Facts

Oh right, this was one of those games where we had to wear
the change kit because our home shorts would've clashed.
Swansea won the reverse fixture 2-1 back in November; Arsenal lost again a week later to Manchester United, marking the only time this season that Arsenal have lost consecutive league fixtures. Anyway, back to the loss at the Liberty, and Arsenal had led 1-0 on 63 minutes through Alexis Sanchez. Swansea, however, scored twice in three minutes, with the winner coming in the 78th from Bafetimbi Gomis, taking advantage of his height... well, advantage, over Nacho Monreal playing at center back.

This fixture last season ended 2-2 in a midweek fixture played just days after Arsenal's 6-0 setback at Stamford Bridge. Swansea led 1-0 at halftime, but it was Arsenal who struck twice in quick succession to take a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, a Mathieu Flamini own goal in the 90th meant it was two points dropped for the Gunners.

Arsenal have only beaten Swansea once in the league at home since their promotion in 2011. They also won an FA Cup replay at the Emirates in January of 2013. Both of those wins came by a 1-0 scoreline.

The Referee

Kevin Enemy.
The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. Arsenal have seen Friend three times this year, for the 2-2 draw at Everton in August, the 2-0 win at Sunderland in October, and the 2-1 win at QPR in March. Many of Friend's calls in that Everton match felt like they went against Arsenal. Four different Arsenal players were booked to Everton's one, while Arsenal were whistled for 18 fouls to Everton's 10. Arsenal's comeback, however, and subsequent wins means they still have not lost a match with Friend as the referee, with six wins and three draws over nine matches.

Friend was the referee when Swansea lost 4-2 at Chelsea in September, drew 0-0 at Everton in November (in which Jonjo Shelvey was sent off,) and won 2-0 over QPR in December.

Friend also took charge of last weekend's Crystal Palace v. Chelsea match, in which he awarded Chelsea a penalty that led, though not directly, to their 1-0 league title clinching win.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Everton v. Sunderland; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. West Ham United; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Burnley; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Southampton; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. West Bromwich Albion; St. James's Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Britannia Stadium, London
  • Saturday (late): Crystal Palace v. Manchester United; Selhurst Park, London
  • Sunday (early): Manchester City v. Queens Park Rangers; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (late): Chelsea v. Liverpool; Stamford Bridge, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is also pretty sleepy. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, which might contain some kind ofzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Preview by Numbers: Hull City v. Arsenal

KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
Monday, May 4
3:00 p.m. EDT, 20:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Mason
    • Assistants: Andrew Halliday and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Mark Clattenburg
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 2 Hull City
  • This Match, Last Year: Hull City 0 - 3 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 14 Arsenal wins, 3 Hull City wins, 4 draws
  • Arsenal's Current Form: W-W-W-W-W-D
  • Hull City's Current Form: D-L-L-L-W-W
The Daily Mail's caption for this photo reads, and I quote:
"Bournemouth's promotion means Arsenal will start
season in second place for the first time in 100 years."
Since they're listed as just "Bournemouth" and not "AFC
Bournemouth" in the table, this is completely wrong.
The news had been so slow; a massive winning streak will do that. But then, draw the league-leaders 0-0 and all a sudden, some weird dramatic shit starts to come out. Since it's not a full-fledged, catastrophic loss, however, the news truly has been weird. Let's investigate, shall we!

First, Arsenal fans were criticized for having the audacity to call Chelsea "boring" after they parked the bus at the Emirates last week. Better adjectives, apparently, would have been "routine," "tedious," or "insipid."

Then, Thierry Henry said that Arsenal could not win the league with Olivier Giroud, which doesn't make much statistical sense because the Gunners' record with Giroud is significantly worse than it is with him. I'm not really positive what point he was trying to make, but it's not like you must have a world class striker to win the league. For example, you can win the league with some boring 0-0 draws...

Meanwhile, Ivan Gazidis gave a presentation at an anti-discrimination conference in which he said that Arsenal was focused on making their fans proud of what the club does and how they do it. The media flipped that to say that Arsenal were not focused on winning the Champions League. Apples and oranges, people.

Theo Walcott talked about how everyone is playing so well that he can't find his way back into the side, which is fine, but the Internet exploded when he said that since the start of the calendar year, Arsenal have been the best club in Europe. People are quick to point out that the best team in Europe would not lose 3-1 to Monaco. Okay, point made. Move on.

Yesterday, there was word that Ainsley Maitland-Niles's mother hit Dick Law at an Under-21 match. Look at that screenshot from the Daily Mail. That's not a headline! That's just a sentence!

Let's get away from this circus (or, as the Mail's headline writers would say, "A circus is a large public entertainment, typically presented in a large tent, but can also be a situation that attracts a lot of attention") and focus on the league again. Mathematically, Arsenal can still win the league if they win all five of their remaining games and Chelsea lose all four of theirs. So, there's that.

More realistically, Arsenal need just four points (or three points plus the goal difference tiebreaker) to clinch a top four finish (and, thus, St. Totteringham's Day and also St. Liverpoolingham's Day which isn't going to catch on.) They will need any combination of 11 points earned or dropped by United to finish above the red side of Manchester, and the total is 13 to finish above the blue side (which would guarantee second place.)

Those numbers could change by Monday, since Arsenal and Hull play the last match of this round of fixtures, but of course, those numbers cannot increase. They're magic like that, or, as the Mail would say, "Magic numbers indicate how close a front-running team is to securing a specific spot in the table."

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin)
Doubts: Debuchy (hamstring,) Arteta (match fitness)

There have been some reports stating the Ox will not return
this season. That's unconfirmed, though...
Oh, interesting, Mathieu Debuchy is hurt again. The French international picked up a hamstring injury in training and might not be fit for Monday. Debuchy has made 15 competitive appearances for Arsenal, out of the Gunners' 50 total matches this season.

Aside from Debuchy, however, Arsene Wenger has said "the rest of the squad is in good shape." I'm not sure what that means for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who picked up that groin injury while rehabbing the hamstring injury he picked up on March 9. This match will mark eight weeks since that FA Cup win at Old Trafford. Aside from the Ox, Mikel Arteta's match fitness is the only real question in terms of availability (though, I suppose Abou Diaby's is as well? Is that worth mentioning anymore?)

Predicted XI: Ooooooooooooo-spina!, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Alexis, Ramsey, Ozil, Giroud.

Hull City Squad News

Out: Jelavic (knee,) Snodgrass (knee)
Doubts: Davies (thigh,) Robertson (ankle,) Diame (knee)

Hull have won two straight despite being without striker
Nikica Jelavic.
Midfielder David Meyler returns from suspension, but might not slip back into the squad, as Steve Bruce could likely name an unchanged XI from the group that beat Liverpool midweek.

Croatian striker Nikica Jelavic is expected to miss out with a meniscus tear, while summer signing Robert Snodgrass has been out the entire season after dislocating his kneecap on opening day. There are doubts of captain Curtis Davies, who is dealing with a thigh strain, defender Andrew Robertson, who has an ankle injury, and midfielder Mohamed Diame, who has a knee problem.

Predicted XI: Harper, Chester, McShane, Dawson, Brady, Huddlestone, Quinn, Livermore, Elmohamady, Aluko, N'Doye.

Current Form

Mario Balotelli does thing.
The 0-0 draw with Chelsea last weekend snapped Arsenal's eight-match winning streak in the league and nine-match winning streak across all competitions, though it does now mean their unbeaten streak is, well, nine in the league and 10 across all competitions, so that's something. Arsenal last had a 10-match unbeaten streak across all matches last season, from late December to early February; that streak was snapped at Anfield. Earlier in the year, they had gone unbeaten in 12 before losing to Dortmund. As for the league, it's Arsenal's first nine-match unbeaten streak since last autumn (which came during that 12-match unbeaten run;) that streak was snapped at Old Trafford. The last time Arsenal had a 10-match unbeaten run in league play was at the end of the 2012/13 season.

Hull City have presently won consecutive matches for only the second time this season (the last stretch came with wins over Aston Villa and QPR in February.) The wins snapped a six-match winless run, helping the Tigers climb into 15th place. They are currently four points from safety, though 17th place Sunderland have a game in hand (which is against Arsenal.) After this match, Hull will play Burnley in a huge six-pointer, but they finish with Spurs at the Lane and United at home. As long as Hull beat Burnley, they should be relatively safe from the drop, unless Sunderland pull off some magic.

Match Facts

Danny Welbeck spares Arsenal's blushes back in October with
this injury time equalizer.
The reverse fixture of this match took place in mid-October, just after an international break. Arsenal led 1-0 through Alexis Sanchez, but Hull City equalized just four minutes later, then took a 2-1 lead within the first minute of the second half. Arsenal pressed and pressed but only found an equalizer of their own through Danny Welbeck in second half injury time and both sides settled for a 2-2. The draw ended an Arsenal seven match winning streak against Hull.

The two sides met again at the Emirates in the third round of the FA Cup, in a rematch of last season's final. Per Mertesacker opened the scoring from a corner in the 20th minute and Arsenal retained their 1-0 lead much of the way. Alexis Sanchez secured safe passage to the fourth round with a goal in the 82nd minute.

Hull's surprise 2-1 win at the Emirates in September of 2008 is the Tigers' only win against Arsenal in the modern era. Hull's other two wins against Arsenal came in 1908 and 1915.

The Referee

This is an old photo (OMG Heurelho Gomes,) but look at
how disgusted Mason looks. After some digging, I found that in
this picture, Gomes had broken his ribs, so that kind of
changed its humorousness a bit. Maybe I shouldn't have told
you that...
The referee is Lancashire-based Lee Mason. Surprisingly, Arsenal have seen Mason only once this season, for the 4-1 win over Newcastle in mid-December. Hull, on the other hand, have not seen Mason at all, so maybe we should talk about both clubs' records with Mason last season, then?

**goes back to preview of Newcastle game**

Oh, this is good: Arsenal are now unbeaten in their last 12 matches with Mason in the middle, with wins over Newcastle, Everton twice, Leyton Orient in an FA Cup replay, Blackpool, Stoke City, Cardiff City, and Norwich City on the season's final day last year, plus draws against Stoke at the Britannia (that's like a win...,) Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, and Southampton. Arsenal's last loss with Mason as the referee came at the end of the 2009/10 season when Lukasz Fabianski helped Wigan overcome a 2-0 deficit inside of ten minutes to win 3-2.

Last season, Hull saw Mason three times. First, they beat Southend United in the fourth round of the FA Cup, 2-0. Next, they lost 2-0 to Manchester City at home, despite City playing for 80 minutes on ten men after an early Vincent Kompany red card. Third and finally, they came from 2-0 down to draw Fulham 2-2 at Craven Cottage.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Leicester City v. Newcastle United; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Everton; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. Queens Park Rangers; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Southampton; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Stoke City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Burnley; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday (late): Manchester United v. West Bromwich Albion; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Sunday (early): Chelsea v. Crystal Palace; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Manchester City; White Hart Lane, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is Batman. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, which is just a cover for Batman. I'm Batman.