Preview by Numbers: Newcastle United v. Arsenal


St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
Saturday, August 29
7:45 a.m. EDT, 12:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Darren Cann and Marc Perry
    • 4th Official: Anthony Taylor
  • This Match, Last Year: Newcastle 1 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 72 Arsenal wins, 66 Newcastle wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-D-W // L-W-D
  • Newcastle's League Form: D-L-W // D-L-D
OH GOD!!!!!!!
When it rains, it pours tricky cup drawings...

The Arsenal-Internetosphere, which certainly never panics or exaggerates anything, has been in a full-on tizzy this week after another scoreless home game. And, I don't intend to sugarcoat anything, it certainly is becoming a problem that Arsenal cannot score goals at home. It's not good that Arsenal have already dropped five points at home; the last two Premier League champions only dropped four points at home in the entirety of their title-winning seasons. At the same time, this team is absolutely better than the three results thus far this season have indicated.

Oh, but then Arsenal is drawn away to Tottenham in the third round of the League Cup on Tuesday, then yesterday gets drawn in the same Champions League group as Bayern Munich. The sky is well and truly falling!

Although, a few notes: 1) Spurs haven't won yet this year. 2) Drawing Bayern from Pot 1 prevented Arsenal from getting drawn against tricky German sides from Pot 4. I mean, look at Manchester City's group. 3) We all know how this movie plays out and I look forward to finishing second and drawing some behemoth in the Round of 16.

There's an international break right around the bend (surprise!) but first, Arsenal heads out of London for the first time this season to face Newcastle, who have not yet won in the league this season. Not much else to say about that except for, well, everything that follows in the rest of this preview...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee,) Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Mertesacker (illness,) Koscielny (back)

"Go on without us!"
Well, Laurent Koscielny's back... no no, he's probably not returning, I mean he's got a back injury. And the word is Per Mertesacker is "likely to miss" the trip as well. It's a good thing Arsenal have depth at center back this season. It's a bad thing that that depth looked... out of its depth at times on Monday.

Monday's match against Liverpool was the first time since April 16, 2012 that Arsenal started a league match without both Per and Kos; that was a 2-1 loss to Wigan, which included a back four of Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Tom Vermaelen, and Johan Djourou.

A quote I read yesterday stated that Mertesacker is the least likely of the two center backs to feature, even though Per is only "likely" to miss the match, while the prognosis on Koscielny had looked much worse on Wednesday. Seems like a contradiction to me, though the turning of phrase regarding both players from Arsene Wenger stems from the fact that Kos could still theoretically pass a fitness test.

Last year, when Arsenal met Newcastle in December, former Newcastle defender Mathieu Debuchy started alongside Mertesacker at center back.

As for the rest of the squad, there was an update on Danny Welbeck! He "should be back after the international break."

Predicted XI: Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Placeholder Center Back that I most certainly did not just accidentally leave in here, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Alexis, Ozil, Ramsey, Giroud.

Newcastle Squad News

Out: Riviere (knee,) Marveaux (groin,) Good (hip)
Doubts: Sissoko (hip,) Dummett (hamstring,) Cisse (illness)

Not sure what's happening here. I assume all three players
are suspended in midair due to some sort of witch's curse.
It's odd to write a Newcastle preview where they don't have approximately 30 players out injured, as was the case for both fixtures against Arsenal last season.

There are three definite absences from the Toon lineup: Emmanuel Riviere is expected to be out long term as he might need surgery on a meniscus tear in his knee. Sylvain Marveaux is out until mid-September with a groin injury, though his future with the club has been in doubt for some time. Curtis Good remains out with a hip injury he sustained in February.

Defender Paul Dummett missed all of preseason training after he injured his hamstring on international duty in June; he returned to the bench for the club's midweek cup tie against Northampton Town. Siem de Jong played 90 minutes in that cup tie; it was only the second time in his Newcastle career that he was able to complete the 90.

Moussa Sissoko is a doubt after he missed last week's trip to Old Trafford with a hip problem. Papiss Cisse is 75/25 with an illness. Daryl Janmaat was suspended last week after a red card against Swansea, but will return to the back line tomorrow.

Predicted XI: Krul, Janmaat, Coloccini, Mbemba, Haidara, Anita, Colback, Wijnaldum, Sissoko, Obertan, Mitrovic.

Current Form

Newcastle won a game this week, something they have not
done a lot of since February...
...it was against Northampton Town.
Arsenal's home form is garbage! How garbage is it? It's so garbage that this isn't even a home game and I still feel like I have to talk about it! The 0-0 draw with Liverpool earlier this week marked the fifth league game at the Emirates out of the last six in which Arsenal were held scoreless. Scoreless! That's Liverpool and West Ham from this season that you can add to the list of teams that have kept clean sheets at the Emirates since April; the other three were Chelsea, Swansea, and Sunderland. Arsenal have only found the net at home against West Brom, in that dead rubber match at the end of last year, since the 4-1 win over Liverpool on April 4.

Away from home, however, Arsenal have not lost since February 7 at White Hart Lane (where they will have to travel for their third round League Cup tie next month.) Arsenal have not had the same struggles scoring away from home as they have had at the Emirates; you have to go back to New Year's Day to find the last time Arsenal were held scoreless in a road fixture.

Newcastle have won just once in their last 14 league fixtures, dating back to last season; they won on the final day of the year against West Ham, 2-0. An eight match losing streak in March and April thrust Newcastle into relegation danger and the near-total collapse led to the sacking of caretaker manager John Carver in June. Ex-England manager Steve McClaren is in charge now; with England he was, of course, most well known for failing to qualify for the 2008 Euros.

The Toon have yet to win in the league so far this season, though they did pick up a 2-2 draw with Southampton on opening day and took a 0-0 draw from Old Trafford last weekend. They lost 2-0 at Swansea in the season's second week, while earlier this week, won their second round League Cup tie over League Two's Northampton Town, 4-1.

Match Facts

Olivier Giroud has scored so many times against Newcastle,
I was unsure which match this was from. Then, I realized this
wasn't last year's kit, so it's from the year before.
Newcastle were one of only seven teams in the league whom Arsenal defeated twice last season. At the Emirates in December, both Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla scored twice in a 4-1 victory for the Gunners. Ayoze Perez scored for Newcastle in the 63rd minute, which had pulled the score back to 3-1 at the time. Cazorla scored the finally goal with a chipped penalty, which led to numerous pundits complaining idiotically about sportsmanship.

Arsenal won at St. James' Park 2-1 in March, in what you could call a class Arsenal-style match: Olivier Giroud scored twice in a comfortable first half and Arsenal coasted to a 2-0 lead at halftime. Then, Moussa Sissoko pulled a goal back in the 48th minute for Newcastle, and suddenly it was the most nerve-wracking match ever played.

Arsenal have won seven straight against Newcastle and are unbeaten in their last nine against the Toon dating back to November of 2010, when an Andy Carroll header gave Newcastle a 1-0 win at the Emirates. Arsenal then drew two straight visits to St. James' Park before winning these seven straight.

Olivier Giroud has scored eight goals against Newcastle in six matches, finding the back of the net in five of those six games.

The Referee

Who?
The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner. After Marriner found himself in the middle of ridiculousness, sending off the wrong man in Arsenal's 6-0 loss at Chelsea two years ago, he was assigned to only two Arsenal matches last season, both home wins and both clean sheets. Marriner was the referee for Arsenal's 1-0 win over Southampton last December and their 2-0 win over Everton in early March. The club successfully navigated Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both starting the latter match, with the Ox being subbed off after 82 minutes.

Newcastle had a mixed record with Marriner last year. They defeated Liverpool 1-0 in November, but then lost 4-0 to Tottenham in the League Cup in December. Later, they played a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace in February with Marriner in the middle.

After the mistaken identity red card back in 2014, Marriner showed only two red cards in 33 matches last season, one to Bournemouth's Yann Kermorgant, and the other to Hull's David Meyler.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Sunderland; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Leicester City; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Crystal Palace; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. West Ham United; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Watford; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. West Bromwich Albion; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Everton; White Hart Lane
  • Sunday (early): Southampton v. Norwich City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Sunday (late): Swansea City v. Manchester United; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and a full hybrid electric mid-size hatchback. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to debate fuel economy.

Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool: OH MY GOD, EVERYBODY PANIC!!!!!!!


Photo: Reuters

Everybody panic!!! Or, you know, act like an adult and don't. Either/or.

Look, I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence and claim that yesterday saw a vintage performance from the men in red and white. Hell, that first half was as utterly dreadful as anything I've seen from this team since Denilson handed Wayne Rooney a written invitation to come on in and have a go at goal.

Also, I hate dropping points to these guys as much as anyone...especially given that their NYC supporters knocked us out on penalty kicks in the semifinals of this year's Supporter's Cup.

But, the drivel that it is being written and spoken about our team out there is more than a sane person can take. The more I read, the more I'm amazed that people who are paid to commentate on this sport seem to have little-to-no idea of what they're actually watching.

For example, the common theme among many of these columns is that there wasn't enough help for Francis Coquelin in the center of the park. Sure, there were several last-ditch saving tackles from the man himself, as well as Gabriel (who recovered from a shaky start to have a massive second half). But, the vast majority of Liverpool's chances came from simple giveaways just outside of our penalty area. Explain to me again how exactly a central midfielder is going to prevent that?

Naturally, Calum Chambers is taking pelters for his performance, as he was responsible for most of the aforementioned giveaways. I get it, he looked like he won a "Play center-half for Arsenal" fan contest out there. But, this is another instance where people just don't think - they forget that this game involves humans who have annoying human things to contend with. A good back four plays together a lot, because you need that understanding and positional awareness of where everyone's going to be. It also helps to know going in that you're playing that day. A completely new center-half pairing matched with fullbacks who bomb forward was always going to present a challenge. Perhaps Chambers could have handled it better, but I guarantee you that this performance does not define him as a player.

And, for all the tut-tutting about how Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal should have sat back, please then explain the tactical value in letting Nathaniel Clyne - a fantastic attacking fullback - and Joe Gomez (who arguably could have been Man of the Match) dominate that space?

Anyway, the giveaways happened, and Liverpool had their chances...but so did we. Coutinho smashed one against the bar, and Alexis Sanchez headed over when he should have hit the target. Meanwhile, there was also the small matter of Aaron Ramsey scoring a perfectly good goal off a feed from Santi Cazorla. Sadly, the lino bottled the decision...swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

I don't know if it was a function of being denied the goal or what, but our boys went to pieces for the rest of the half. The visitors' midfield did well to harry our defenders (Chambers especially) into mistakes, which they converted into chances more often than not. Thankfully, Petr Cech was there to make a mockery of the bellends who moaned about one iffy performance earlier in the year. First, he displayed world-class anticipation and reflexes to deny what should have been a simple tap-in for Christian Benteke, and then made what I feel was an even better save to fingertip a wicked, swerving drive from Coutinho onto the post and away to safety.

The first half thus ended 0-0, but it could have been anything from 1-0 us to 3-0 them. It was wacky and awful and exhilarating and bizarre.

I can't say I know what Brendan Rodgers was thinking with his second-half tactics, though. The Scousers sat much deeper from the restart, obviously intending to soak up pressure and hit us on the break. But, why would you do that when we were such a defensive shambles earlier on?

Whatever the reason, it let us back into the game and we frankly monstered them from then on. Sadly, we were lacking a final ball on most occasions, and the finishing (especially from Alexis in the 60th minute) let us down otherwise.

Cazorla, other than the pass for what should have been Ramsey's goal, was absolutely dreadful. His passing was horrendous and he kept running into cul-de-sacs, but there'll be much better from him to come. Mesut Ozil worked his socks off and had the right ideas, but the execution just didn't come off for him. Alexis is still clearly off the boil from his Copa America exertions. Rambo was a half-tick on the metronome off from everyone else. Olivier Giroud got into good positions but just didn't get any service.

Also, the subs were a little weird. We all know by now that Theo Walcott's value comes from running behind defenses, but he only came on once Liverpool were playing 10 center-halves. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain didn't have enough time to settle in - I'll never understand subs after the 75th minute for anything other than time-wasting purposes. I also thought Ramsey and Cazorla should have come off instead of the excellent Coquelin and Giroud, who still had an aerial threat to offer.

Still, the last 10 minutes saw several chances for us to win. A Ramsey shot skittered off a defender and wrong-footed Simon Mignolet, but the Belgian recovered fantastically well to parry it away. Martin Skrtel was then fortunate not to put through into his own goal, and Mignolet was again the Scouser savior in injury time off an effort from Oxlade-Chamberlain.

This one really could have been 5-5 on another day.

All of this said, I refuse to lose my mind three goddamn games into the season. I'm not going to lose my mind because we're not going to sign the 0.5 goals/game striker from Madrid to replace our 0.42 goals/game one. I'm not going to lose my mind when many of the players are actually playing pretty well, and things just aren't working out at the moment.

We're going to be fine. Fuck's sake.


The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Cech 9, Monreal 7, Chambers 4, Gabriel 7, Bellerin 7, Coquelin 9 (Oxlade-Chamberlain N/A), Cazorla 5, Sanchez 6, Ozil 6, Ramsey 6, Giroud 7 (Walcott 6)

Man of the Match: In a wild, open game like this one, there's no shortage of candidates. Gomez was brilliant for the visitors, both keepers played blinders, and Benteke was a threat all day. But, I have to stump for Francis Coquelin, as we'd have been blown away in the first half without him.

--
Sean Swift is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is honestly tired of the doomers' bullshit. You can follow him on the Twitter machine at @thefallen29.



Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Liverpool


Emirates Stadium, London
Monday, August 24
3:00 p.m. EDT, 20:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Simon Bennett and John Brooks
    • 4th Official: Neil Swarbrick
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 4 - 1 Liverpool
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 79 Arsenal wins, 83 Liverpool wins, 57 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-D-D-W // L-W
  • Liverpool's League Form: W-D-L-L // W-W
13 straight Premier League winning sides have also had the
league's best home record that season. Arsenal's Double
winning side of 2002 was the last title winner that did not.
You gotta win your home games.

Last year, the highest ranked team in the table that Arsenal successfully beat twice was 10th place Crystal Palace. They took four of six points from Manchester City and Liverpool, three from Southampton and Stoke, and just one from Chelsea, Manchester United, and Tottenham. They took nothing from Swansea. They took at least four points from every team placed 10th and below, dropping points to only four of the bottom 11 teams. All of that was good for finishing 12 points behind Chelsea.

Among the other teams finishing in the top nine, Arsenal beat only three of them at home, adding up to, you guessed it, 12 points dropped against the other five at the Emirates. Arsenal are already 0-for-1 in home games this year, losing 2-0 to West Ham (as if you needed to be reminded of that.)

If you want to win the league, you have to win your home games and steal enough draws in your tricky away fixtures. It might still be only August, but I get the feeling that this Monday night's encounter with Liverpool is going to set the tenor to which much of the autumn period will be played.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee,) Welbeck (knee)

"Well, now I see the problem. You have question marks on
your knee!"
Yesterday, Arsenal posted quotes from Arsene Wenger's press conference providing an update on Arsenal's injury situation, as they usually do in advance of any of their fixtures, whether it be Premier League, domestic cup, or Champions League. The entirety of those quotes totaled 58 words. The entirety of this paragraph is also 58 words, thought it was rambly...

But, that really goes to show you how little news there is right now. There's no change in status for anyone from last week to this week. There are no fresh injury concerns from the win over Crystal Palace and no suspensions to speak of either.

So, we focus on the long-term injured. Rosicky is "progressing nicely but he is far away." Word is that Jack Wilshere is expected to be back soonest; this will mark three weeks out of the four he is expected to be out. There were a few quotes earlier this week regarding the mysterious nature of Danny Welbeck's injury, which is something you never like to hear about an injury.

I would not expect any changes to the XI.

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

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Sturridge (hip,) Flanagan (knee)
Doubts: Allen (hamstring,) Henderson (foot)

Jordan Henderson came off after just 52 minutes on Monday.
Liverpool's long-term injured list includes two names, as Daniel Sturridge continues to recover from hip surgery, while Jon Flanagan will remain out until December as he recovers from a knee operation he had in April.

Elsewhere, Joe Allen has been out since picking up a hamstring injury in a friendly against Swindon Town this summer, while Jordan Henderson, who scored at the Emirates last year, was removed just after halftime from Liverpool's 1-0 win over Bournemouth last week with a foot problem that is currently being assessed.

Liverpool's predicted XI includes five players who were not with the club last season, including both fullbacks (ex-Southampton Nathaniel Clyne and ex-Charlton Joe Gomez,) and a new attacking line including ex-Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke and midfielder Roberto Firmino, acquired from Hoffenheim. Also, James Milner.

If Henderson can't start, my guess is Jordan Ibe will start wide with Emre Can and Milner sitting deeper, while Philippe Coutinho and Firmino will pull the strings behind Benteke.

Predicted XI: Mignolet, Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Gomez, Can, Milner, Ibe, Coutinho, Firmino, Benteke.

Current Form

Crisis over! Everything is better!

That's the way I felt after Olivier Giroud's 16th minute goal against Crystal Palace. That opinion changed straight back after Joel Ward's equalizer 12 minutes later. When all was said and done, Arsenal had a difficult result, but all three points in tow. They've climbed from 19th to 11th in the table. Progress!

Liverpool have two 1-0 wins from their two league matches this season, good for third in the table. Philippe Coutinho scored in the 86th minute to give the Reds an opening day 1-0 win over Stoke City at the Britannia. This past Monday, Liverpool won 1-0 over newly promoted Bournemouth in their home opener; Christian Benteke opened his Liverpool account in the 26th minute, but the Reds were unconvincing otherwise (or, so I've heard. I was at work and couldn't watch.)

Match Facts

This beautiful Mesut Ozil free kick gave Arsenal a 2-0 lead
in this fixture last year. It was the second of Arsenal's three
goals in eight minutes to end the first half.
Arsenal took four of six points from Liverpool last year, winning this fixture 4-1 in April after surrendering a late equalizer to draw at Anfield in December. At Anfield, Arsenal snatched a draw from the jaws of victory in a match they really didn't deserve anything from anyway; Martin Skrtel equalized in the 96th minute. Incidentally, there was only so much added time because of an injury Skrtel had suffered earlier in the half. At the Emirates, however, Arsenal dominated, with goals from Hector Bellerin, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and Olivier Giroud; Liverpool scored their goal from the penalty spot, as Arsenal went on to win 4-1. Liverpool had a player sent off toward the end of both matches.

Arsenal have won three straight meetings against Liverpool at the Emirates. In addition to last year's win, Arsenal defeated the Reds twice in London during the 2013/14 season, 2-0 in the league that November and 2-1 in the FA Cup just a week after being hit for five at Anfield. Prior to this streak, Arsenal had gone three without a win at home against the Reds.

Arsenal have only lost twice to Liverpool in their last 16 competitive fixtures across all competitions. Nine of their last 20 meetings have ended drawn.

The Referee

Liverpool are not very fond of Mr. Oliver, after he missed this
back in January.
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 last season, in which he did not let United get away with, for lack of a better term, all their little bullshit.

Arsenal saw Oliver six times last season and were unbeaten across all six, winning three and drawing three. Aside from the aforementioned cup tie, Oliver also took charge of Arsenal's 3-0 win over Manchester City in the Community Shield and an earlier FA Cup win over Brighton & Hove Albion. The draws included the 1-1 with Spurs last September, the also aforementioned 2-2 draw at Anfield last December, and the 0-0 draw with Chelsea in April.

Liverpool saw Oliver five times last season, winning once, drawing once, and losing three. The draw, you already know, was the 2-2 against Arsenal, in which Fabio Borini was shown two yellow cards in 16 minutes. The win came against West Brom last October, 2-1 at Anfield. The only loss in Premier League play came against Manchester City, 3-1 at the Etihad last August.

The other two losses saw Liverpool eliminated from both domestic cups: in January, they lost in extra time to Chelsea in the League Cup in highly controversial fashion; Diego Costa was retroactively banned three matches for a stamp on Emre Can, pictured above. In April, Oliver was the referee as Liverpool lost the FA Cup Semi-Final to Aston Villa.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Manchester United v. Newcastle United; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Aston Villa; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Tottenham Hotspur; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Stoke City; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Swansea City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Bournemouth; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Sunday (early): West Bromwich Albion v. Chelsea; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Sunday (late): Everton v. Manchester City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Watford v. Southampton; Vicarage Road, Watford
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a Renaissance man. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to find out how he got to this time period from the Renaissance.

Preview by Numbers: 3rd Place Crystal Palace v. 19th Place Arsenal


Selhurst Park, London
Sunday, August 16
8:30 a.m. EDT, 13:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Mason
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Edward Smart
    • 4th Official: Robert Madley
  • This Match, Last Year: Crystal Palace 1 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 24 Arsenal wins, 3 Crystal Palace wins, 10 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-D-D-W // L
  • Crystal Palace's League Form: L-L-L-W-W // W
But, hey, thanks for playing!
I was all ready. I had a whole bunch of "Last Place Arsenal" jokes to use throughout this piece (because if you can't find the humor in it, it's just sad.) But no, West Brom had to go and lose by three to Manchester City, and Arsenal lost its place propping up the table. Can't you just think of the jokes for once, Premier League!? Anyway, here we are, 19th place Arsenal, which just doesn't have the same ring to it.

There's been a lot of garbage on the Interwebz this week, which always happens after bad results. My personal favorite is that Arsenal didn't play a strong enough preseason, as if wins against the team that won last year's Premier League, the team that won last year's German Cup and came second in the Bundesliga, and the team that finished second in last year's Ligue 1 made it a cupcake schedule of some kind. Listen, as long as there's money in touring the world in the preseason, then you're going to have to deal with Arsenal playing at least one match against whatever all-stars that area can put together.

Clunkers happen at all points of the season. Problem is, right now, it's 100% of the sample size. ARSENAL ARE ON PACE FOR ZERO POINTS THIS SEASON. Seriously, we're on pace to finish 114 points out of first.

Arsenal will try to right the ship in South London this week as they face a Crystal Palace team that have provided difficult matches over the last two seasons, even if Arsenal have gone on to win all of them. With a win, Arsenal will improve their pace for the season from zero to 57 points, which is quite a jump!

19th Place Arsenal Squad News

Out: Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee,) Welbeck (knee)

Remember this guy? Midfielder, right?
I'll start with some good news, as Hector Bellerin, a mysterious absence from last week's squad, has recovered from his muscle problem and is available for selection. Also available is Alexis Sanchez, who, let's face it, we weren't really that shocked to see get a run-out when we were down 2-0 last week. The man is a machine.

Elsewhere in the squad, Danny Welbeck has returned to full training, though he is way behind in terms of fitness (as he's been injured since April.) He's not yet available for selection. Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere is two weeks into the four weeks he is expected to miss before returning to training.

And then, we come to poor Tomas Rosicky. Injured on international duty this summer, word has come out that the Czech midfielder has undergone surgery on his injured knee. On Wednesday, his agent stated that he would miss one or two months, but then yesterday, Arsene Wenger confirmed that the expectation is he will miss more than that.

Biggest question for the squad is, if Alexis Sanchez come in to start, who drops out of the XI? Alexis tends to line-up down the left flank, meaning the Ox's place should be safe on the right. My guess is Aaron Ramsey will drop.

Predicted XI: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud.

3rd Place Crystal Palace Squad News

Out: Speroni (finger,) Campbell (hamstring,) Appiah (knee,) Chamakh (hamstring)

South London's Barcelona.
Ex-Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh will be short for the match as he recovers from a hamstring injury; the spiky-haired Moroccan has been penciled in for a start with the reserves next week. Also missing with a hamstring injury is Frazier Campbell, who might be out for the rest of August.

Goalkeeper Julian Speroni might also be out for the rest of the month as he deals with a badly injured finger, so Alex McCarthy will keep his place between the poles. Kwesi Appiah suffered an ACL tear on international duty in June and could miss the season; Appiah spent last season on loan at Reading, one of seven clubs he has spent time with on loan after signing for Palace in 2012.

There's a bit of a question as to how Alan Pardew's side will line-up for the match, in terms of personnel. Palace tend to sit deep and use the flanks to counterattack, but they have a number of different weapons at their disposal up front. Their biggest summer signing, Yohan Cabaye, will likely sit deep, but up top, Pardew may opt to start Connor Wickham, signed from Sunderland this summer. Last week, Glenn Murray got the start up top; he scored in this fixture last year.

Predicted XI: McCarthy, Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souare, McArthur, Jedinak, Cabaye, Zaha, Puncheon, Wickham.

Current Form

Simon Hooper is looking to join the illustrious ranks of bald
refs, such as Howard Webb and Anthony Taylor.
Ah, yes. Writing about "current form" in week two of the season. Basically, for Arsenal, you could just say "BAD" and for Crystal Palace, you could say "GOOD." But, again, that was based on one match. Since you probably know how Arsenal's match went last week (poorly!) I won't expound on it any further.

As for Palace, they defeated newly promoted Norwich City 3-1, in a match that was much closer than that scoreline would indicate. Wilfried Zaha and Damien Delaney gave Palace a 2-0 at Carrow Road before Nathan Redmond pulled one back for the Canaries in the 69th minute. Cameron Jerome had what appeared to be an equalizer for Norwich, but it was disallowed as referee Simon Hooper ruled Jerome's boot was high when he kicked it. If you don't recognize that name, it's because this was Hooper's first career Premier League match. Yohan Cabaye scored an insurance goal for the Eagles in stoppage time.

Match Facts

Glenn Murray scores in a scramble to pull Palace within one
with just minutes to play in this fixture last season.
Arsenal won both meetings last year, each by a 2-1 scoreline. Both ended nervously, for different reasons.

These clubs met in the middle of August last year, although on that occasion, it was the opening day of the season, instead of week two. Palace took a shock lead at the Emirates through Brede Hangeland, but (unlike last week) Arsenal were level by halftime through a Laurent Koscielny header from a set piece. The match remained a frustrating 1-1 through the second half, until Jason Puncheon was sent off for a second yellow card in the 89th minute. That left Aaron Ramsey open in the box after another set piece to score an injury time winner.

At Selhurst Park in February, Arsenal led 1-0 through a Santi Cazorla penalty after eight minutes, and doubled their lead thanks to an Olivier Giroud goal just before halftime. It was not, however, a good performance from Arsenal. Palace out-possessed the Gunners and took 10 corners to Arsenal's one. Glenn Murray scored in injury time to set-up a grandstand finish, but he was denied a brace and a 95th minute equalizer by the woodwork.

Crystal Palace have beaten Arsenal only three times in 36 all-time meetings; two of their three wins came at Highbury, one in 1970 in the League Cup and the other in 1994. Crystal Palace have not beaten Arsenal at Selhurst Park since November 10, 1979, when they beat the Gunners 1-0. Since then, Arsenal have won seven and drawn five in South London across all competitions. Overall, Arsenal are unbeaten in 12 against the Eagles, winning eight, including five straight.

The Referee

Oh! Also a bald ref. Forgot him in that list before...
The referee is Lancashire-based Lee Mason. Arsenal won both matches played with Mason as the referee last year, 4-1 over Newcastle at the Emirates in December and 3-1 over Hull at the KC Stadium in May. In fact, Arsenal are now unbeaten in their last 13 matches with Mason in the middle; 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.

Palace were unbeaten with Mason last season as well, drawing 0-0 at White Hart Lane, winning 1-0 at Leicester, and beating QPR 3-1 at home. Palace's home win against Chelsea two seasons ago also came with Mason in the middle. The Eagles are unbeaten in six with Mason as referee, dating back to a 4-1 loss to Fulham in October of 2013; that was Ian Holloway's final match in charge of Palace.

Around the League
  • Friday (night): Aston Villa v. Manchester United; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday (early): Southampton v. Everton; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Norwich City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Newcastle United; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Stoke City; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: Watford v. West Bromwich Albion; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Leicester City; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Sunday (late): Manchester City v. Chelsea; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Monday (night): Liverpool v. Bournemouth; Anfield, Liverpool
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a first-time caller, but a long-time listener. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, where you don't really notice those listening skills.

Arsenal 0-2 West Ham United: Not the Start We Were Looking For

Photo: Getty Images


Well...other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this, because I need to get off of the Arsenal-related internet before I burst a blood vessel in my brain. Honestly, Gooners are straight-up embarrassing themselves on social media today. You'd think it was the 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford all over again.

Look, here's the deal. West Ham played an excellent away match - they defended with discipline, hunted in packs, rode their luck at times and got a brilliant performance from their goalkeeper. We outshot them 23-5, but they did exceptionally well to block our shooting lanes. They took their chances when they got them.

Seriously, it's like we've never lost a match of association football before. Get a goddamn grip, people.

Don't get me wrong...I get that after a result like this, people want to have it fit in a neat little explanation. It was the tactics, or this, or that, or so-and-so was shit, and didn't show PASSHUN. But, it's professional sports, and sometimes this shit just happens. Any low-scoring sport, such as this one, will always be abnormally dependent on one or two key moments. This match was no different.

Also, before I get any further, please go out and play in traffic if you're already non-ironically slagging off Petr Cech. One match does not define ANY player one way or another, even if he was absolutely at fault for Cheikhou Kouyaté's headed goal in the first half. It was the wrong decision to come out, and somehow he got his angle entirely wrong as well - note how he was flailing out with his arms to try and block it.

However, Mauro Z√°rate's dagger in the second half was not on Cech at ALL. First, he had nothing to do with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's first touch of a tranquilized plow horse when he was trying to play his way out of the area. Second, the last replay NBC showed confirmed beyond a doubt that the shot hit Laurent Koscielny's knee and changed direction just enough to matter.

It is utterly astonishing to me how people can go right to slagging off Cech for being wrong-footed, and somehow not sparing a thought for just how that may have ended up coming to pass.

I swear to fucking Odin, what people know about goalkeeping can fit in a damn thimble.

Anyway, I've seen worse performances from this from the Arsenal, no doubt about it. I truly think it wasn't down to mental weakness, underestimating the opponent, or anything else you amateur psychologists out there may think it was. A football team showed up and played a pretty good game, but got beat by another football team that also played a pretty good game and got the breaks when they needed it.

Also, a word for Adrian in the away goal. He's beginning to become the poster child for sticking with a guy for more than 5 seconds in this league. He was utterly dreadful in his first season for the Hammers, to the extent where I thought he was literally the worst in the entire division that year. Last season, if there was a Most Improved Player award, he'd have won it at a canter. This season, if he keeps this up, he may end up being one of the best around.

The save on Ramsey's long dipping effort was good, and the kick-save on the otherwise anonymous Alexis Sanchez (allowances made for the lack of a proper preseason, of course) was even better. The pick of the lot though was when, after we had gone down 1-0, he managed to keep one out that deflected off of his defender's leg. I don't recall who took that shot, but that would have beaten most keepers out there. There was an element of luck to it, but it was still an astonishing save and for my money, it won them the game. We get back to 1-1 there, we're having a much different conversation right now.

So, look. Today sucked, it was awful, and there's no getting around that. We're still only one point behind Chelsea, so perhaps we can all take a breath and calm down a little, huh? Crystal Palace away is going to be a tough test, but three points there and we're off and running.

Are you with us, or not?


The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Cech 5, Monreal 7, Koscielny 6, Mertesacker 7, Debuchy 6 (Sanchez 6), Coquelin 6 (Walcott 5), Ramsey 6, Cazorla 6, Ozil 6, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6, Giroud 5

Man of the Match: NBC gave it to Dimitri Payet, which isn't the worst shout in the world. But, if it weren't for Adrian's saves, we just might have won this thing.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. West Ham United


Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, August 9
8:30 a.m. EDT, 13:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Steve Child and Stuart Burt
    • 4th Official: Michael Oliver
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 3 - 0 West Ham
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 60 Arsenal wins, 33 West Ham wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's End of Season Form: D-W-L-D-D-W
  • West Ham's End of Season Form: L-D-W-L-L-L
Last week, Arsenal retained possession of the
FA Giant Plate.
We've already won the Preseason Treble, what else is there to win?

Oh, right. All that other stuff.

The 38-match round-robin tournament begins now and Arsenal are... well, they're not favorites, but they're not dark horses, either. But, all of those media outlets that always pick Arsenal to finish 5th every season are now picking Arsenal to finish 3rd. So, that's nice. Plenty of pundits are even predicting Arsenal to win the league this season, which is new and exciting and I don't know how I feel about it.

Bear in mind, we all felt really confident going into last season and then the first half of the season happened. The difference now is that Arsenal are finally starting to clear their mental hurdles. You might be wary of putting too much stock in winning the Community Shield, but you cannot deny how important the 1-0 win over Chelsea is for this club psychologically.

So, how about we go for 90 points this year?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Wilshere (leg,) Alexis (match fitness,) Welbeck (knee,) Rosicky (knee)

You can expect a big year from Jack Wilshere if he can... wait, what's that now?

...

...you've gotta be... are you sure?? Pfffffffffff...

I'm willing to believe that Alexis Sanchez never stopped
training. Those wire guys, though...
Well, Jack Wilshere is expected to miss what the club has called "several weeks" (which can literally mean anything with this club) after suffering a hairline fracture in his left tibula during training. I suppose with Abou Diaby gone, his lack of luck has been transferred to someone else.

The good news (if there is good news) is that Arsenal has a tremendous amount of depth at his position; it wasn't even likely that Jack would make the starting XI anyway. So, on the pitch, the club won't really feel the ramifications of this injury until the fixtures start getting congested on European weeks.

Elsewhere in the squad, Alexis Sanchez is back in training but likely to be short for Sunday. Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky, both out with knee injuries, are back in training as well but are also both likely to be short.

That leaves the forward role as the only question in the XI. Arsene Wenger opted for Theo Walcott over Olivier Giroud in the Community Shield, as Theo's pace was deemed more critical against Chelsea's stout positioning. I would expect the selection to be the other way around on Sunday, but I have a feeling my predictions are going to be pretty far off until the team settles into a groove.

Predicted XI: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud.

West Ham Squad News

Out: Valencia (knee,) Carroll (knee,) Jenkinson (loan terms)
Doubts: O'Brien (knock,) Obiang (muscle,) Reid (knock)

Still weird seeing Jenko in claret and blue.
West Ham are light up top, with Enner Valencia suffering a knee injury in the first leg of West Ham's third qualifying round Europa League tie that will keep him out for three months. As Andy Carroll is still slowly on the way back from his own knee injury, the Hammers traveled to Romania for last night's second leg with Modibo Maiga starting up front.

To maintain the remaining health in the squad, manager Slaven Bilic prioritized Sunday's meeting with Arsenal over last night's European match, bringing only two first team players on the trip: Kevin Nolan and Carl Jenkinson, the latter of whom is unavailable to play on Sunday against his parent club anyway. The result, of course, was crashing out of Europe.

Elsewhere, there are doubts over Winston Reid, Joey O'Brien, and newcomer Pedro Obiang.

Tactically, Bilic has opted to play an attack-minded diamond midfield during Europa League qualifying, something that does not often work in English domestic play. He's more likely to revert to the commonly used 4-2-3-1 formation, one which he deployed while managing Besiktas.

Predicted XI: Adrian, O'Brien, Ogbonna, Reid, Cresswell, Noble, Kouyate, Amalfitano, Jarvis, Payet, Sakho.

Last Season in Review

I CONTINUE TO ENJOY THIS PICTURE
Arsenal's season last year started similar to the way this season feels right now: a lot of optimism and a Community Shield win. Throughout the fall, however, injuries exposed Arsenal's lack of depth at certain positions and the Gunners stumbled through the opening half of the season. Falling behind 3-0 to Stoke by halftime marked one of the season's lowest points.

Tottenham fans started to talk of a power shift after winning the North London derby on February 7, but that loss marked Arsenal's only league loss in a 12-match span, which saw the Gunners begin to have second place aspirations. They couldn't maintain the momentum, winning only two of their final six league matches, settling for a third place finish and a second straight FA Cup title.

On Christmas Day last year, West Ham United were fourth in table, with 31 points in 17 games. They would go on to fall drastically, winning just three of their final 21 league games. The Hammers finished 12th and announced they would not be renewing manager Sam Allardyce's contract. They did manage to qualify for Europe, entering the Europa League in the first qualifying round after winning the Fair Play table.

Preseason

Seems to me that if you're going to prioritize the league over
the Europa League, it doesn't make sense to advance two
rounds first.
Arsenal ran the table during their preseason campaign, winning all five of their fixtures and winning three trophies in the process, two of which really don't count when you talk about winning trophies. Still, you have to look at the matches as a success when the Gunners finished with a 100% record. According to the club's official Web site, the only other time Arsenal finished a preseason with a 100% record (wherein that preseason contained more than just one match) was 2005. That might not fill you with a lot of confidence, however; recall that Arsenal needed the help of some dodgy lasagna to finish fourth over Spurs at the end of that season.

I don't really know where to start with West Ham's preseason, because the Hammers have played eleven matches already, six of them being competitive fixtures. I'll cover the five friendlies first: the Hammers picked up wins over Southend United and Norwich City, draws with Peterborough United and Charlton Athletic, and a loss to Werder Bremen at the weekend.

However, as alluded to in the previous section, West Ham have been playing in Europa League qualifying since July 2. They opened with the first qualifying round against Andorran side Lusitanos, winning 4-0 on aggregate after a 3-0 win at Upton Park in the first leg. Diafro Sakho was sent off in the second leg. In the second round, they faced Maltese side Birkirkara, winning on penalties after the tie was drawn 1-1; James Tomkins was sent off in the second leg. Because three's a trend, James Collins was sent off in the first leg of their third round tie against Romanian side Astra Giurgiu, a match which ended drawn 2-2. West Ham played the second leg of the tie last night in Southern Romania and lost 2-1, thus crashing out of Europe.

Match Facts

A lovely curling Giroud strike put Arsenal up 1-0 just
before halftime in this match last year.
Arsenal won both matches against West Ham last year, including a 2-1 win at Upton Park in late December and a 3-0 stroll at the Emirates in March. In East London, ex-Arsenal midfielder Alex Song seemed to have an early opening goal, but it was ruled offside. Arsenal struck twice before halftime to take a 2-0 lead through a Santi Cazorla penalty and a Danny Welbeck goal, but Cheikhou Kouyate's 51st minute goal set up a grandstand finish.

At the Emirates, a beautiful goal from Olivier Giroud gave Arsenal their offensive breakthrough just before the stroke of halftime. Arsenal remained ahead 1-0 for much of the second half, though the match was much more comfortable than the scoreline sounds; Arsenal had 68% possession on the day and West Ham generated just one shot on target. Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini scored in the 81st and 84th minutes, respectively, to pad the final score. The match might be most memorable for referee Chris Foy, returning from an injury, needing to sub off during the second half; fourth official Anthony Taylor finished the match.

Arsenal have now won ten straight against West Ham across all competitions and are unbeaten in their last 15 against the Hammers. West Ham's last win against Arsenal marked the first time a visiting team won at the Emirates Stadium; Bobby Zamora scored just before halftime and West Ham held on to win 1-0 in April of 2007.

The Referee

Atkinson is shown here forgetting the steps to the Macarena.
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Arsenal's recent record with Atkinson is mixed-to-poor. They had lost four out of their last five with Atkinson in the middle leading up to his appointment for Arsenal's FA Cup Semi-Final against Reading, a match the Gunners would go on to win in extra time. Arsenal's one win in that aforementioned five match span came on Boxing Day against QPR last year, in which Olivier Giroud had a moment of madness that saw him sent off. Atkinson also worked Arsenal's losses at Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane last year.

West Ham's record with Atkinson last season was even more mixed than Arsenal's, starting brightly but ending poorly. He worked a match in September in which West Ham came from behind twice to draw Hull 2-2, then worked the Hammers' famous 2-1 win over Manchester City in October. Their record improved even further with Atkinson as referee, with a 2-0 win over Leicester and a 3-0 win in the reverse fixture against Hull. Then, in February, things turned as Atkinson was in the middle for West Ham's 4-0 FA Cup crash against West Brom, in which Morgan Amalfitano was sent off just ten minutes after coming off the bench. He was also in the middle for their 2-0 loss to Newcastle on the final day of the regular season.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Manchester United v. Tottenham Hotspur; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Aston Villa; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Everton v. Watford; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Sunderland; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Crystal Palace; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday (late): Chelsea v. Swansea City; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (early): Newcastle United v. Southampton; St. James's Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Sunday (late): Stoke City v. Liverpool; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Monday (night): West Bromwich Albion v. Manchester City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and King of the Seven Suns. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, which he thinks is funny.

Arsenal 1-0 Bus Stop in Fulham AND Quickie Season Preview



First off, my apologies for not getting this up sooner - I've had my own fairly brutal run of four games in three days (man, imagine whining about Thursday-Saturday in the UEFA Cup!), so this is my first opportunity to do so.

Anyway, the Community Shield has come and gone, and its residence remains at N5 in London for the second straight season. While it wasn't the swashbuckling fun of last season's 3-0 romp over Manchester City, this year's win was all the more sweeter for shutting up that unwashed mob from the West End...and, more importantly, giving us Sad Petulant Mourinho.

Seriously, WHAT a bastard that man is. I wouldn't piss on him if he were on fire.

The match itself was a bitty old thing, largely a contest of tactical fouls in the midfield. However, it was immediately obvious how much more solid the defense was. That can be directly attributed to Petr Cech's presence in the side. Look, I'm as big a fan of Wojciech Szczesny as there is (all y'all haters are wrong and stupid), but the difference that the experience and gravitas of Cech brings us is telling.

It also helps that Laurent Koscielny and Hector Bellerin in particular are, to use the scientific term, Really Fucking Good.

Quick, think back to the match, and ask yourself how many clear-cut chances that Eden Hazard had. Think back to how invisible Loic Remy (and later Rademal Falcao) were. The memes have been all over the Twitter machine this week, and for very good reason.

Offensively, Theo Walcott played as the central striker, and was largely marked out of the match. He did assist on the goal, but other than that he contributed little. Still, I think that's more of a function of a bad style matchup against Chelsea's defense than anything else. There are plenty of sides out there that won't be thrilled to see his name on the teamsheet this season.

Speaking of the goal, WHAT a hit that was, right? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made it out of nothing, too. Marked by arguably the best left back in the league in Cesar Azpilecueta, his quick cutback onto his weaker left foot gave him, at best, half a yard and half a second to shoot. With no backlift, he powered an unstoppable shot past Thibaut Courtois and into the upper 90. Already, there's an early marker for Goal of the Season.

The rest of the match was mostly a rearguard action to maintain the lead - all of which resulted in the pure, distilled schadenfreude of Jose Fucking Mourinho whining to the press about an opposing side parking the bus on him. Karma sometimes takes her time to show up, but when she does, she hits harder than Ronda Rousey does.

So, with three preseason trophies in the bag, where does that leave us for the season proper?

Naturally, we are set in goal to an extent that we haven't been since Jens Lehmann left. David Ospina will be a capable deputy for the domestic cups, but a healthy Petr Cech will be just the thing we need to give us a solid foundation for a challenge at the bigger prizes.

As for the defense, I can't help but think that it'd be nice to have one more warm body back there centrally. We already have two capable players at both fullback positions (I'm as excited for Bellerin's development as I have been for anyone in a long time), and the Kos/Mert starting pair is strong enough, but Gabriel as the only real deputy (and as an unknown quantity at that) is a bit of a worry.

The midfield, as ever, will be our source of strength - and is where I imagine that many of our goals will come from. Francis Coquelin has been the ingredient that we've lacked for so long, though I live in abject fear of a long-term injury to him. If we're left having to field Mathieu Flamini in that position, we'll be well and truly fucked.

Otherwise, we're as well-stocked as you can get. Santi Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain are equally capable of playing alongside Coq, out wide, or in the No. 10 role. Aaron Ramsey looks set for a better season than last, which was decent enough in its own right. Jack Wilshere, if he can recover from his injury issues, gives us yet another dimension. Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky are both not spring chickens any longer, but they have qualities that we'll need over what will be another long season.

Then, of course, there is Mesut Ozil. Despite expectations that hover somewhere around "Score 20 goals, make 20 assists, and give me Kate Upton's phone number", he has been good-to-great since his arrival in the squad. We all know that his languid playing style doesn't sit well with the "DUUURRRR PASHHHHUUUNNN DURRRRR" crowd, but the guy is a unique talent and one of the best players in the world. He's fit, he's bedded into the Premier League now, and he's had a summer of actual rest.

Mark my words, Ozil is going to absolutely monster this league this season.

Finally, up top is where many supporters think we're a bit short in terms of sustaining a serious title challenge. They've gotten their Football Manager games out and want us to buy everyone from Karim Benzema to Tonton Zola Moukoko, but in truth I think we're going to be OK with what we have here.

Alexis Sanchez may start off slowly due to his Copa America heroics this summer, but we still have weapons in our utility belt in the meantime. Olivier Giroud just might be the most disgracefully-maligned player in the entire division. Sure, his "Zut alors!" face whenever he misses a chance is infuriating at times, as is the nature of some of those chances. But, the fact is that he has scored 11, 16 and 14 in the Premier League since he arrived, and you don't see consistent figures like that much further south of the Sergio Agueros and Wayne Rooneys of the world.

Guess what, folks? Those types don't grow on trees.

Besides that, Danny Welbeck should chip in at the 7-10 goals range, in what should be a squad-rotation level of playing time. Walcott, though, is the X-factor. He's talked time and again at how he wants to be the central striker, and now his is chance. As I alluded to above, I think he's going to succeed to a degree that many think he won't, especially against the lesser lights of the league.

Put up or shut up time, Theo.

Anyway, after all this, you'd be within your rights to ask "Well, where's the prediction, then?".

No problem, here it is: Arsenal is going to win the league this season. 

I can't remember the last time I've been this certain that we were going to heading into a new year. I think the squad balance is finally right (though I do wish we had a backup Coq), the spirit is right, and the statement of intent is there.

And, that'd give us Sad Petulant Mourinho again, which really makes it all worth it.