Preview by Numbers: Southampton v. Arsenal and Arsenal v. Bournemouth

Wenger prowls the touchline with confidence.
After their 2-1 win over Manchester City on Monday, Arsenal are now the odds-on favorites to win the Premier League (even though they are still two points behind table-topping Leicester.) We've seen this before from Arsenal; when the Gunners led the table for so long in 2013/14, they were also in second place on Christmas Day, goal difference behind Liverpool. We all remember what happened there.

Something feels different about this Arsenal team and they've won some tremendous home games this season, beating Manchester City, Manchester United, and Bayern Munich by a combined scored of 7-1 at the Emirates. They are unbeaten against everyone else in the top seven of the table, winning five and drawing once against Spurs back when the squad was being held together with duct tape. That's great news, considering their losses to West Ham, West Brom, and West London...

Of course, they're still teetering on the brink of injury disaster, and with the festive period about to get hectic (so hectic that I have to combine two previews in one because I'll be out of town this weekend,) we have to keep all of our fingers and toes crossed that we're still sitting this pretty in a week's time.

So, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everybody! When I speak to you next, we'll be halfway through the season, and if all goes well, we'll be sitting at the top of the table, too.

St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
Saturday, December 26
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Jonathan Moss
    • Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Steve Child
    • 4th Official: Keith Shroud
  • This Match, Last Year: Southampton 2 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 45 Arsenal wins, 18 Southampton wins, 24 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-L-D-W-W-W
  • Southampton's League Form: W-L-L-D-L-L
Arsenal Squad News

Out: Alexis (hamstring), Cazorla (knee,) Coquelin (knee,) Arteta (calf,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)

Remember Rosicky?
Well, it's happened; Alexis Sanchez is now truly an Arsenal player, having suffered "a setback" in his return from the hamstring injury he picked up against Norwich a few weeks back. Arsene Wenger has earmarked him for an "early January" return, which can mean anything from January 1 through January 15. Arsenal play Liverpool at Anfield on the 13th, so how optimistic do you feel like being right now? Also, they play Stoke at the Britannia on the 17th.

Elsewhere, Mikel Arteta is closest to a return, which might mean a disastrous 15-minute cameo sometime soon, perhaps? The long-term injured list includes Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, both of whom should be out until at least... March-ish?

Then, there are the three who used to be what we called the long-term injured. Danny Welbeck has been out since April. Tomas Rosicky got hurt on international duty in June. Jack Wilshere suffered his injury during pre-season training. Arsene Wenger mentioned earlier this week that Rosicky could be back to training in three weeks. Welbeck won't make it back in January because of bone bruising. Wilshere's prognosis appears to hint at a late January return, but who knows?

With all of that in mind, it looks like Arsenal will not be able to rotate straightaway; I'd expect the same XI that beat City to start on Saturday in Southampton.

Predicted XI for Boxing Day: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey, Campbell, Walcott, Ozil, Giroud.

Southampton Squad News

Out: Forster (knee,) Rodriguez (ankle,) Gardos (knee)
Doubts: Stekelenburg (toe)

Southampton's struggles this year have largely involved some
flux at the goalkeeper position, with Maarten Stekelenburg
deputizing for the injured Fraser Forster. Also, they didn't
really replace Morgan Schneiderlin.
Southampton's latest injury news has revolved around their goalkeepers; Fraser Forster has returned to training after missing nine months with a knee injury, but he's not expected to make a first team appearance until the start of the new year. Meanwhile, his back-up, Maarten Stekelenburg, has missed the last two matches with a toe injury, forcing Paulo Gazzaniga to start between the sticks. He allowed three goals across two matches, but the Saints scored zero to support him. In any case, Stekelenburg is expected to be available again tomorrow.

The Saints will be without forward Jay Rodriguez, out for two months now with an ankle injury which required surgery, and defender Florin Gardos, who has not played yet this season with an ACL injury.

Predicted XI: Stekelenburg, Soares, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Wanyama, Clasie, Davis, Tadic, Mane, Pelle.

Current Form

This is an accurate representation of Arsenal's
current form.
After Arsenal's traditional dip in form in November, the Gunners have come on strong again in the month of December. Arsenal have won all four matches they've played since the last turn of the calendar, beating Sunderland, Olympiacos, Aston Villa, and Manchester City by a combined scoreline of 10-2. This all followed a November where Arsenal had a record of one win, two draws, and two losses. Still, the damage wasn't too bad, as they are four points clear of City for sole possession of second place in the league table.

On the other hand, Southampton have plummeted since the November international break. When the Saints beat Sunderland 1-0 on November 7, they had won three straight across all competitions and were unbeaten in eight. They were seventh in the table after that weekend, headed into the quarterfinal of the League Cup as well. Then, losses to Stoke and City were compounded by a 6-1 loss to Liverpool in the League Cup. Three days later, they needed to come from behind to draw last place Aston Villa 1-1 and lost Stekelenburg to a toe injury, as mentioned in the team news section. They haven't scored since, losing 1-0 to Crystal Palace and 2-0 to Spurs. Now, the Saints are 12th, six points clear of 18th place Swansea for relegation, but eight points back of fourth place Tottenham.

Match Facts

Wojciech Szczesny defending his goal.
Not pictured: The goal, because he's nowhere near it.
Southampton and Arsenal split their league encounters last year, with Arsenal winning 1-0 late at the Emirates in December and Southampton winning 2-0 at St. Mary's on New Year's Day. Earlier in the season, Southampton won at the Emirates in the third round of the League Cup.

In that cup tie, Alexis Sanchez scored first from a free kick, but Southamtpon equalized from the penalty spot and won it on Nathaniel Clyne's long range wonder goal. Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring in the league encounter in London as well, but that goal came two minutes from time, as Arsenal won 1-0. Fraser Forster made seven saves for the visitors.

Of course, this fixture at St. Mary's has become famous for Wojciech Szczesny's nightmare day. The Polish goalkeeper was at fault for both Southampton goals and was later caught smoking in the showers afterward. Szczesny only started FA Cup ties for Arsenal from there on out and is out on loan at Roma this season.

Arsenal's last win at St. Mary's was on December 29, 2003; Robert Pires scored the only goal in a 1-0 Gunners' victory. Just seven months earlier, Arsenal had also beaten Southampton 1-0 via a Robert Pires goal in the FA Cup Final. Southampton, of course, were not in the top flight between 2005 and 2012.

The Referee

Moss's car?
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Jonathan Moss. Arsenal had won every match they had ever played with Moss as the referee, including last year's FA Cup Final and a 2-0 win over Stoke City earlier in the season. That streak was snapped in late November with the 1-1 draw at Norwich City, in which Moss did not see or chose not to punish Ryan Bennett, who shoved Alexis Sanchez into the photographer's pit. Arsenal had had a record of 11 wins, no losses, and no draws with Moss in the middle, but right now, they'll have to settle for 11 wins, no losses, and one draw.

Southampton have had Moss once so far this season, for a 3-0 win over Norwich City in late August. Last year, the Saints had a record of three wins (Swansea, Stoke, and Everton,) one loss (Crystal Palace,) and one draw (Tottenham Hotspur) with Moss in the middle.

Around the League

All 20 teams are in action on Boxing Day, playing a usual slate of Saturday games, in terms of time slots. There's an early game at 7:45 Eastern (12:45 in England) and a late game at 12:30 Eastern (5:30 in England.) There's a full slate of 10:00 a.m. Eastern (3:00 p.m. England) games as well. Then, Arsenal and Southampton play later in the evening, in the time slot usually used only for midweek fixtures.
  • Early match: Stoke City v. Manchester United; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Aston Villa v. West Ham United; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Bournemouth v. Crystal Palace; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Chelsea v. Watford; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Liverpool v. Leicester City; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Manchester City v. Sunderland; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Swansea City v. West Bromwich Albion; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Tottenham Hotspur v. Norwich City; White Hart Lane, London
  • Late match: Newcastle United v. Everton; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, December 26
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Roger East
    • Assistants: Lee Betts and Darren Cann
    • 4th Official: Darren Deadman
  • This Match, Last Time: First league meeting
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win
  • Bournemouth's League Form (pre-Boxing Day): L-D-D-W-W-W
Bournemouth Squad News (pre-Boxing Day)

Out: Atsu (calf,) Wilson (knee,) Elphick (ankle,) Gradel (knee,) Mings (knee)
Doubts: King (hamstring,) Stanislas (hamstring,) Tomlin (groin)

Junior Stanislas left last weekend's game through injury.
This picture is not of him being hurt; he looks far too happy.
Joshua King is a major dought for Bournemouth's Boxing Day clash with Crystal Palace after injuring his hamstring in warmups prior to their 2-1 win over West Brom last weekend. Junior Stanislas came off injured from the same match and is also a doubt. Glenn Murray and Marc Pugh are expected to deputize if needed. Lee Tomlin (groin) and Christian Atsu (calf) are also expected to miss out. Tomlin could be back for Monday's match against Arsenal, but that's probably too soon for Atsu.

Elsewhere in the squad, the long term injuries include serious knee injuries to Max Gradel, Callum Wilson, and Tyrone Mings. Mings was signed for a club record fee from Ipswich this summer; he was injured just minutes after making his first league appearance for the club. Tommy Elphick is also out for another week or two with an ankle injury.

Predicted XI for Boxing Day: Boruc, Smith, Francis, Cook, Daniels, Ritchie, Gosling, Surman, Pugh, Arter, Murray.

Current Form

Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, scored against
West Brom last weekend.
Bournemouth go into Boxing Day on fire. Well, not literally on fire, that would be terrible.

In contrast to Southampton, Bournemouth had lost five straight across all competitions going into the November international break. They were in 18th place, with just eight points over 12 matches, and two points from safety. They came out of the break with two draws, against Swansea and Everton, but it was the latter draw, the bonkers 3-3 with the 98th minute equalizer, that gave the Cherries some hope.

They were winless in nine across all competitions by then, but Bournemouth went to Stamford Bridge and beat the reigning champions 1-0. Suddenly, the belief was there. A week later, they beat Manchester United for a famous home victory. Last week, they benefited by playing much of the match against ten men, as they beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1. Now, Bournemouth are 14th and four points clear of relegation.

What a difference a month can make.

Match Facts

Here's the cover of the matchday
program from the only other time
Arsenal has played Bournemouth.
As this is Bournemouth's first top flight season, this will be the first league meeting ever between Arsenal and the Cherries. The clubs have only met once before, in the third round of the 1987/88 League Cup.

At the time, Arsenal were the League Cup holders, having won the tournament in 1987 over Liverpool after famously beating Tottenham in a replay in the semi-finals. In 1987/88, Arsenal defeated Doncaster Rovers in the second round, while Bournemouth defeated Exeter City in the first round and Southampton in the second.

The clubs met at Highbury on October 27, 1987; Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners to advance to the fourth round. They would go all the way to the final for the second consecutive year, where they lost to Luton Town; the Hatters finished 9th in the top flight that year.

Well, that was a certainly a lot to say about one minor cup tie where I couldn't even find who scored the goals...

The Referee

Does he look a bit like Mark Strong or is that just me?
You know, Mark Strong supports Arsenal.
The referee is Wiltshire-based Roger East. This will only be the second time Arsenal have ever had East as a referee; the first was the 2-2 draw with Hull City last year, in which Arsenal needed an injury time equalizer from Danny Welbeck to spare their blushes.

Bournemouth have seen East once already this season, for a 5-1 loss at home to Tottenham Hotspur. Matt Richie scored in the first minute for the Cherries before Spurs scored five unanswered, including a Harry Kane hat trick. Ew.

Around the League

16 of the league's 20 teams are in action on Monday, with five matches at 10:00 and three matches (including Arsenal's) at 12:30. The remaining two matches play out on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • Monday: Crystal Palace v. Swansea City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Monday: Everton v. Stoke City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Monday: Norwich City v. Aston Villa; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Monday: Watford v. Tottenham Hotspur; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Monday: West Bromwich Albion v. Newcastle United; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Monday (late): Manchester United v. Chelsea; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Monday (late): West Ham United v. Southampton; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Tuesday (night): Leicester City v. Manchester City; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Wednesday (night): Sunderland v. Liverpool; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and hot cocoa drinker. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat. If you did, you would've seen a sneak preview of this post in addition to an awesome hot cocoa photo.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Manchester City

Emirates Stadium, London
Monday, December 21
3:00 p.m. EST, 20:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: John Brooks and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 2 Manchester City
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 95 Arsenal wins, 49 Manchester City wins, 43 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-L-D-W-W
  • Manchester City's League Form: W-D-L-W-L-W
Presented without comment.
Let's all just take a moment to once more reflect upon yesterday's sacking of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.


Okay. Bigger issues ahead, namely, a top of the table six-pointer between Arsenal and Manchester City on Monday night. It's a little early to be talking about title implications; there will be 21 matches left in the season for both clubs after all is said and done on Monday. However, with Manchester City struggling at the moment and Arsenal searching for fitness and consistency, the psychological ramifications feel much larger than the three points in the table.

It's a big test for Arsenal, no doubt about that. It's a test of their title winning credentials. Even though these three points count the same in the table as any others, this is the kind of win that can buoy the club to bigger and better things down the line.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (knee,) Coquelin (knee,) Arteta (calf,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)
Doubts: Alexis (hamstring)

All of Arsenal's injury talk right now surrounds
Alexis's hamstring.
Also, Welbeck. And Santi. How's Jack doing?
Remember Rosicky? And, for that matter, when's
Coquelin back? Okay,
all was the wrong
word to use.
With Manchester City's announcement that Sergio Aguero was back in training this week, all eyes moved to Alexis Sanchez, who remains a doubt with the hamstring injury he suffered against Norwich on November 29. There's a sense that if Aguero is back, well, Arsenal will need Alexis back too, like it's some sort of arms race (or, in the case of their respective injuries, more of a legs race.)

Listen, obviously it would be great if Arsenal were at full strength for this top-of-the-table clash, but a less than 100% fit Alexis Sanchez can be a hindrance to Arsenal's offensive flow, especially if his ball control is sub-par by his standards. Arsene Wenger has stated that Alexis has a "very slight chance" of featuring on Monday, which means Alexis is probably writing his name onto the team sheet in indelible ink as we speak.

Elsewhere in the squad, Arsenal will have the same players available that were involved in last week's win over Aston Villa; no new injuries and no further returning players. Mikel Arteta should be the next player back after Alexis; he presumably will be available again during the holiday fixture period.

As for the long term, Danny Welbeck has had a setback in his injury recovery because of course he has. Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky are now hovering in the early and late January range, respectively, which is really putting their LANS status in doubt during the January window. It's probably late February at best for Francis Coquelin's return and we'll have to keep our fingers crossed on Santi Cazorla's recovery from surgery.

Predicted XI: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey, Campbell, Walcott, Ozil, Giroud.

Manchester City Squad News

Out: Fernando (hamstring,) Nasri (hamstring)
Doubts: Kompany (calf,) Zabaleta (knee,) Aguero (heel)

"He's back!" says every article you will read about City
between now and kickoff on Monday.
I've already touched on Sergio Aguero's return from the heel injury that has kept him out since November 28; as is my standard operating procedure, I list any player on their way back from an absence in the "doubts" category, regardless of the size of that doubt. It's almost certain that Aguero will start up top for City; given his injury history, I wouldn't be surprised to see him limp off after a quarter of an hour, either.

Pablo Zabaleta has been out since October with a knee injury and is close to a return. I suspect he'll be short for this one, which would hand Bacary Sagna a start against his former club. Sagna has not looked like the same player since leaving the Emirates, though that might because he cut his braids and literally requires me to do a double-take to recognize him. Captain Vincent Kompany is on the less-likely-to-feature side of doubtful with a calf injury.

Fernando, whose kit still says FERNANDO.R like he's a Transformer or something, is likely to miss out with a hamstring injury, while former Arsenal midfielder Samir Nasri is out with a hamstring injury of his own for a much longer period.

Predicted XI: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Toure, Sterling, De Bruyne, Silva, Aguero.

Current Form

I hope you can click this to expand the graph because
November got really complicated.
On the last day of October, Arsenal won at Swansea and Manchester City scored a late winner at home against Norwich. Both clubs were tied at the top of the table on 25 points, with City ahead by four on goal difference. Leicester City was third, three points back.

A week later, Manchester City were held to a 0-0 draw at Aston Villa. Arsenal had a prime opportunity to take go clear at the top of the table, but had to come from behind to get a draw at home against Spurs. Leicester had beaten Watford the day prior, making the league table 26-26-25 going into the November international break.

After the break, Arsenal lost 2-1 at West Brom, but hours later, City lost 4-1 to Liverpool. Leicester won to go top of the table and Manchester United jumped into second; City were third and Arsenal were fourth. City climbed back to the top of the table with a win over Southampton during the last weekend of November, while Leicester, United, and Arsenal all drew. City were back in first on 29 points, Leicester second on 29 points but eight goals back on goal difference. United had 28 and Arsenal had 27.

Manchester City then opened the next weekend with a dreadful loss at Stoke, while Arsenal finally got back to winning ways, 3-1 over Sunderland. United were held to a draw by West Ham, while Leicester smashed Swansea. Suddenly, the Foxes were clear at the top with 32 points, Arsenal were clear in second with 30, while both Manchester clubs sat tied with 29 points.

Last weekend, City left it late to beat Swansea, United lost at Bournemouth, and Arsenal beat Aston Villa to temporarily go top of the league. With Leicester's win over Chelsea on Monday, the Foxes have gone back to the summit with 35 points. Arsenal are second with 33. City are clear of their rivals for third, on 32 points. United sit fourth with 29. Spurs and Crystal Palace are sitting farther back, with 26 points each.

So yeah, it's been an inconsistent month.

Match Facts

Santi Cazorla scores from the penalty spot as Arsenal won
at the Etihad last year. The Gunners took four points from
City last season.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last four competitive fixtures against Manchester City. That run started with a 1-1 draw at the Emirates two seasons ago and includes three meetings from last season. In the 2014/15 curtain raiser, Arsenal defeated City 3-0 for the Community Shield at Wembley. Regardless of what you may think of the Community Shield, it is still considered a competitive fixture.

Arsenal played well in this fixture last year, but could not find a win. The Gunners came out of the gate strong, but conceded first. They came from behind to lead 2-1 through Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez, but a Mathieu Debuchy ankle injury, the first of his two devastating injuries last season, forced a reshuffle in the back line and Arsenal conceded the equalizer from a set piece. Then, City put Arsenal under pressure for a winner, but a potential Samir Nasri goal at the death (wouldn't that have sucked?) was ruled offside.

In January, the Gunners picked up their first win at the Etihad since 2010, winning a statement match 2-0. Santi Cazorla converted from the penalty spot in the first half and assisted through a set piece on an Olivier Giroud header to double the lead on 67 minutes. Arsenal defended well all game; City had nearly 65% of the possession and took 16 corners to Arsenal's three, but managed only four shots on target.

Manchester City have only one win in the red side of North London in their last 30 league games, a 2-0 win in 2013 aided by a 10th minute red card to Laurent Koscielny. Prior to 2013, City's last league win at Emirates/Highbury came on October 4, 1975 by a 3-2 scoreline.

The Referee

The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner. You remember Marriner, right? Stamford Bridge... red card, mistaken identity... yeah, you remember that game.

Arsenal have had Marriner four times since that fateful day in West London and they have won all four: 1-0 over Southampton at the Emirates last December, 2-0 over Everton at home in early March, 1-0 at Newcastle (including a 16th minute red card to Aleksandar Mitrovic and six other yellow cards to Newcastle) in August, and a 2-1 win at White Hart Lane in the League Cup in September.

This is the first time Manchester City will have seen Marriner this year; they had a record of two wins and one loss over three matches last year and all three matches ended 1-0. First, they beat Everton at the Etihad last December, scoring from a Yaya Toure penalty. In March, they lost 1-0 at Turf Moor, as George Boyd's goal on 61 minutes gave Burnley a stunning victory. And, in the penultimate week of last season, City won 1-0 at White Hart Lane, with Sergio Aguero scoring the game's only goal just before the half hour mark.

Marriner showed only two red cards last season, after his mistake at the Bridge the year before. This season, he has shown three: one to Mitrovic as mentioned, one to Southampton's Sadio Mane for a second yellow card, and one to Lazio's Keita Balde Diao in a Europa League match.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Sunderland; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Leicester City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. Norwich City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Tottenham Hotspur; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Crystal Palace; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Bournemouth; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Newcastle United v. Aston Villa; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Sunday (early): Watford v. Liverpool; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Sunday (late): Swansea City v. West Ham United; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a gooner modern the to Writer Contributing. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to zorrocat twitter On him @follow.

Preview by Numbers: Aston Villa v. Arsenal

Villa Park, Birmingham
Sunday, December 13
8:30 a.m. EST, 13:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: David Bryan and Darren Cann
    • 4th Official: Jonathan Moss
  • This Match, Last Year: Aston Villa 0 - 3 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 80 Arsenal wins, 66 Aston Villa wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-L-D-W
  • Aston Villa's League Form: L-L-D-L-L-D
Giroud waves to his adoring fans.
Back in October, I did a ton of research on the ultimate league record of teams who crashed out of the Champions League group stage into the Europa League. Thankfully, I don't need it. As an aside, if you know of any United blogs I could pass the information along to, that would be great.

It's moderately worrying that at least one English club has crashed out of the group stage in five of the last seven seasons, but you'd have to go back to 1999/2000 to find the last time in happened to Arsenal. 16 years running in the knockout phase. Before we move on, I just want to say that we're all pretty certain we're drawing Barcelona, right?

Anyway, Arsenal will play the early fixture on Sunday (while all of the Europa League teams get to play later) as they travel to Birmingham to face last place Aston Villa. Villa were last relegated in 1987; they are one of seven clubs to have thus far spent all 24 Premier League seasons in the top flight. I mean, Villa were one of the original 12 clubs of the Football League, back in 1888.

Five or six years ago, it would have been lunacy to think Villa would be fighting relegation. When Arsenal and Aston Villa met on Boxing Day in 2009 (well, December 27,) they were third and fourth in the table, respectively, Arsenal ahead only on goal difference with a game in hand. But, hey, five months ago it would have been lunacy to think Chelsea would be just two points clear on December 11.

Back to the matter at hand, Arsenal are still battered by injuries, but they're getting results now. They'll need to keep it up against a last place club, or else it's more frustrating points dropped.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (knee,) Alexis (hamstring,) Coquelin (knee,) Arteta (calf,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)

Mikel Arteta should be back soon, though hopefully he
doesn't put in any more own goals.
No rest for the weary... well, except after this one. Arsenal will have seven days off between this match and their clash with Manchester City the following Monday, which is might mean they get some bodies back. Mikel Arteta should be available the soonest from the list; I think we'd all like to believe Alexis Sanchez will be fit for City on the 21st, but that might be a week too soon for the Chilean.

Team news is usually pretty sparse after a Wednesday night Champions League tie, even more so after a road match. By the time you're reading this, Arsene Wenger might have had his press conference and it might turn out that we've got a whole new slew of injuries.

More likely, Arsenal will make no changes to the XI that won in Greece.

Predicted XI: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, Campbell, Giroud.

Aston Villa Squad News

Out: Gardner (ankle,) Richards (knee,) Amavi (knee)
Doubts: Bacuna (knock,) Sanchez (eye,) Gestede (knee)

Jack Grealish is in line for a return after being dropped from
the first team.
Remi Garde, Arsene Wenger's first signing at Arsenal in 1996 (technically, he was signed on Wenger's recommendation while Wenger was seeing out his contract in Japan,) has taken over as Villa's manager after Tim Sherwood was sacked. He's getting some good news for this match, too, as Ciaran Clark will return from suspension. Captain Micah Richards is close to a return from a knee injury, but likely won't be available for this one.

Gary Gardner, who has dealt with a number of serious injuries in his career, is out as he lacks match fitness. Jordan Amavi's season is over with an ACL injury. Meanwhile, there are doubts over Leandro Bacuna, Carlos Sanchez, and Rudy Gestede.

Jack Grealish is back with the first team after he was dropped for visiting a nightclub in Manchester following a 4-0 loss to Everton. Grealish missed league games against Watford and Southampton, but played for the Under-21s in a win over Derby County on Monday.

Predicted XI: Guzan, Hutton, Okore, Lescott, Bacuna, Veretout, Gueye, Sanchez, Sinclair, Agbonlahor, Ayew.

Current Form

Villa scored first last weekend but had to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Arsenal's critical win in Greece on Wednesday makes this the first time the Gunners have won two straight since October; that was the four match winning streak, which included wins over Manchester United, Watford, Bayern Munich, and Everton. After that, it was two wins, three losses, and a draw over a seven match span before consecutive wins over Sunderland and Olympiacos appear to have righted the ship. But, we shall see...

As for Aston Villa, well, they beat Bournemouth 1-0 on the season's opening day. They haven't won in the league since. They picked up a draw against Sunderland in August, a draw against Manchester City in November, and a draw at Southampton last weekend. They've lost 11 in the league. They are winless in 14. They have six points from 15 matches. They did pick up two League Cup wins over lower division Notts County and Birmingham City before a fourth round loss to Southampton.

Match Facts

Theo Walcott celebrates the opening goal of last year's
FA Cup Final.
Arsenal and Aston Villa met three times last season; Arsenal won all three meetings comfortably: 3-0 at Villa Park, 5-0 at the Emirates, and 4-0 in the FA Cup Final.

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.

Then, in the season's final match at Wembley, Theo Walcott scored just before halftime to give Arsenal the lead. Five minutes into the second half, a beauty from Alexis Sanchez made the lead comfortable. Per Mertesacker added a third just after the hour mark and Olivier Giroud put an exclamation point on the result in injury time to make it 4-0.

The Villans have just three wins in their last 35 matches against Arsenal across all competitions; bizarrely, all three of those wins have come at the Emirates. Villa's last win over Arsenal at home came in December of 1998; Arsenal led that match 2-0 at halftime and lost 3-2.

The Referee

It's been two years since Friend worked an Aston Villa match,
after Paul Lambert complained about his performance last time.
The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. Arsenal have had a mixed record with Friend in the past, but won their only previous match with him this season, 3-0 over Swansea City. Arsenal had two wins, a loss, and a draw with Friend last season.

This is the first that Aston Villa will be seeing of Friend this year. In fact, this is the first time Kevin Friend will be working an Aston Villa match since August 21 of 2013, a 2-1 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. In that match, Friend failed to send off Branislav Ivanovic for an elbow on Christian Benteke; Ivanovic went on to score the winning goal. In second half injury time, Friend failed to give Villa a penalty when John Terry handled a Gabriel Agbonlahor shot. After the match, Villa manager Paul Lambert filed an official complaint to the Professional Game Match officials board. Jose Mourinho later claimed that Lambert "complains too much."

So, for all of those "more like Kevin Enemy, amirite?" jokes I made while Arsenal's record was mixed with Mr. Friend, the feeling is actually like that for Aston Villa.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Norwich City v. Everton; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Southampton; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Swansea City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Watford; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Stoke City; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday (late): Bournemouth v. Manchester United; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Sunday (late): Liverpool v. West Bromwich Albion; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Newcastle United; White Hart Lane, London
  • Monday (night): Leicester City v. Chelsea; King Power Stadium, Leicester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and whiskey aficionado. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to drink a drinkenflahblargingarbled.

Preview by Numbers: Olympiacos v. Arsenal, Champions League Group Matchday 6

Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus
Wednesday, December 9
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials from Italy
    • Referee: Nicola Rizzoli
    • Assistants: Elenito Di Liberatore and Mauro Tonolini
    • 4th Official: Andrea Padovan
    • Additional Assistants: Antonio Damato and Davide Massa
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 3 Olympiacos
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 3 Arsenal wins, 4 Olympiacos wins
  • Arsenal's European Form: W // L-L-W-L-W
  • Olympiacos's European Form: D // L-W-W-W-L
Arsenal need a big result in a stadium in which they've only
previously played dead rubber losses.
This weekend was quite nice for a change, no? Arsenal huffed and puffed their way to a 3-1 win over their newly minted FA Cup Third Round opponent, Sunderland. Elsewhere, Manchester City lost at Stoke, Chelsea lost hilariously to Bournemouth, Liverpool lost at Newcastle, Manchester United were held at Old Trafford by West Ham, and Spurs were held to a draw by West Brom. Arsenal are back into second place, just two points back of first place Leicester City. Yes, that's still a thing. Yes, it is the second week of December.

But now, Arsenal's European fate hangs in the balance. You know the situations and permutations by now. Essentially, Arsenal need to beat Olympiacos better than they themselves were beaten by Olympiacos on matchday two in order to advance to the knockout phase of the Champions League. If they do not, they will be "transferred" (that's the official term) to the Europa League. Beating Olympiacos by the same exact scoreline that Arsenal were beaten by back in October would see the Gunners through on overall goal difference.

Olympiacos won 3-2 in London on matchday two, meaning Arsenal have to win tonight by two clear goals, or by one if they score more than three in the process. Any Arsenal win by a scoreline that is not 1-0 or 2-1 will suffice (which are, of course, the most common scorelines...)

So, let's do this...

...oh? We're in the cup kit? Oh God, no...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (knee,) Alexis (hamstring,) Coquelin (knee,) Arteta (calf,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)

Images from training seem to indicate that not everybody
is hurt.
The ins and outs of Arsenal's injury list did not change over the weekend; Theo Walcott returned to action from the bench for the first time since injuring himself against Sheffield Wednesday while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started for the first time since injuring himself against Sheffield Wednesday.

As for players who injured themselves against Norwich City, Alexis Sanchez is likely to still miss at least two weeks and is taking a winter break while bringing Christmas to Chile. Meanwhile, Santi Cazorla has had surgery on his torn knee ligament, so here's to hoping he recovers faster than Arsenal players normally do.

As for players who injured themselves against West Bromwich Albion, it'll still be February for Francis Coquelin and I have no idea when Mikel Arteta will be over his chronic calf problem.

Suddenly, some of Arsenal's fastest returns (aside from maybe Arteta and hopefully Alexis) will be the previously "long-term" injured, as Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, and Danny Welbeck prepare themselves for January LANS status.

With regards to the XI for tonight, I can't see there being changes from the side that beat Sunderland at the weekend, unless the manager thinks Theo is fit to start.

FYI, Joel Campbell and Mesut Ozil both face an accumulation ban with their next booking.

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

Olympiacos Squad News

Out: Maniatis (knee,) Bouchalakis (quadriceps)
Doubts: Pardo (calf)

Felipe Pardo, #90, shown here scoring the opener on
matchday two, is a doubt with a calf injury.
Olympiacos will be without Giannis Maniatis, who has been out since March with a knee injury, as well as Andreas Bouchalakis, who has been out since August with a quadriceps problem. Felipe Pardo, who scored in the reverse fixture, has missed the last three games with a calf injury and is a doubt.

Tactically, Olympiacos's formation will obviously be influenced by the fact that they have the advantage here; the merely need a draw or a low-scoring one-goal loss to advance to the knockout phase. In addition, they have averaged the fourth-lowest percentage of possession out of all 32 Champions League clubs this season, meaning there's no reason to expect the Greek side to come out firing.

As with Arsenal, Olympiacos have a number of players who will incur a suspension with their next booking; in this case, they are Esteban Cambiasso and Omar Elabdellaoui.

Predicted XI: Roberto, Elabdellaoui, Botia, Slovas, Masuaku, Cambiasso, Millvojevic, Fortounis, Seba, Hernani, Ideye.

Current Form

Arsenal got a much needed win over Sunderland back on
Saturday, even with Olivier Giroud scoring in both nets.
Arsenal's win over Sunderland at the weekend was quite welcome; the Gunners had won just two of their last seven across all competitions. In that time span, Arsenal crashed out of the League Cup and pushed their Champions League campaign to the precipice on which they currently stand. As for their position in the league, well, so many other teams have dropped points that Arsenal's league standing is still decent, in spite of the five points dropped at West Brom and Norwich combined.

As for Olympiacos, their record this season is 100% in the league and 100% in European matches not against Bayern Munich. Olympiacos have won all 12 of their Greek domestic fixtures this season, opening up a 10-point lead on second place AEK Athens at the top of the table. They are unbeaten in their domestic cup, which opens with a round robin group stage. They also have three wins in Europe, but their two losses against Bayern Munich combined with Arsenal's win over the German side in London on matchday three has left the door open for Arsenal to qualify for the round of 16.

Match Facts

Olympiacos won the reverse fixture in stunning fashion, 3-2, on matchday two at the Emirates. Arsenal came from behind to equalize twice, only for Olympiacos to re-take the lead each time. Felipe Pardo opened the scoring for the Greek side, but Theo Walcott equalized for Arsenal two minutes later. Five minutes after that, David Ospina's howler gave Olympiacos a 2-1 halftime lead. Alexis Sanchez equalized for Arsenal in the 65th minute, but the Greeks were ahead again a minute later, through Alfred Finnbogason, whose goal turned out to be the winner.

Arsenal have played Olympiacos in the 2009, 2011, and 2012 group stages and have lost in Greece all three times. Of course, all three of those previous meetings came on matchday six, much like this one, but Arsenal had already qualified for the knockout phase by that point on each occasion. For example, Arsenal's starting center backs for the meeting in 2012 were an out of favor Thomas Vermaelen and Sebastien Squillaci. Jernade Meade started at left back. Marouane Chamakh started up top. Arsenal still led 1-0 at halftime, but went on to lose 2-1.

The Referee

Rizzoli is shown here ignoring remonstrations from the
Argentine players after he penalized Gonzalo Higuain for
getting clattered by a roaming Manuel Neuer.
The match officials are from Italy; the referee is Nicola Rizzoli. Arsenal have a mixed record with Rizzoli in the middle, winning one, losing one, and drawing one. The win was a huge one, of course, being the 2-1 win over Barcelona at the Emirates in the first leg of the 2011 Round of 16 (oh, how long ago that feels now.) The loss came to Bayern Munich, 2-0, in the first leg of the 2014 Round of 16, in which Wojciech Szczesny was sent off. The draw came 2-2 at Schalke in the 2012 group stage.

Olympiacos have split their results with Rizzoli in the Champions League as well, winning 1-0 at Marseille in the 2011 group stage, but losing 2-0 at Standard Liege in the 2009 group stage. Incidentally, Arsenal was in their group in both of those years.

Rizzoli has worked a number of big matches in his career, including the 2010 Europa League final (the one Fulham lost,) the 2013 Champions League final (the one where the Germans beat the Germans,) and the 2014 World Cup final (the one where the Germans beat the Argentines.)

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Paris St. Germain 2 - 0 Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Tuesday: Real Madrid 8 - 0 Malmo
  • Tuesday: Wolfsburg 3 - 2 Manchester United
  • Tuesday: PSV Eindhoven 2 - 1 CSKA Moscow
  • Tuesday: Galatasaray 1 - 1 Astana
  • Tuesday: Benfica 1 - 2 Atletico Madrid
  • Tuesday: Manchester City 4 - 2 Borussia Monchengladbach
  • Tuesday: Sevilla 1 - 0 Juventus
  • Wednesday: Bayer Leverkusen v. Barcelona; BayArena, Leverkusen
  • Wednesday: Roma v. BATE Borisov; Stadio Olimpico, Rome
  • Wednesday: Dinamo Zagreb v. Bayern Munich; Stadion Maksimir, Zagreb
  • Wednesday: Dynamo Kiev v. Maccabi Tel Aviv; Olympic Stadium, Kiev
  • Wednesday: Chelsea v. Porto; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Wednesday: Valencia v. Lyon; Mestalla Stadium, Valencia
  • Wednesday: Gent v. Zenit St. Petersburg; Ghelamco Arena, Ghent
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a string of Christmas lights. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to take part in some holiday cheer. Or not, whatever.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Sunderland

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, December 5
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Robert Madley
    • Assistants: Marc Perry and Peter Kirkup
    • 4th Official: Jeremy Simpson
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 0 - 0 Sunderland
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 58 Arsenal wins, 50 Sunderland wins, 40 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-D-L-D
  • Sunderland's League Form: L-W-L-L-W-W
The current state of affairs in the Arsenal-o-sphere is dire, people. Injuries, injuries, injuries. Dropped points. A critical European fixture on the horizon this midweek.

It all reminds me of this tweet from Twitter genius Jonny Sun, which I will paraphrase for my own purposes (and not make the intentional spelling mistakes):

Look. Things are bad. Everyone's injured. We're not winning games. The sun's gonna burn out in a few billion years. But I'm already going to the pub for the game on Saturday, so are you gonna drink whiskey with me or what?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (knee,) Alexis (hamstring,) Coquelin (knee,) Arteta (calf,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)
Doubts: Koscielny (hip,) Walcott (calf,) Gibbs (calf)

This is a stock photo from when Abou Diaby was in training.
I have no idea when that might have been.
LOL, okay. Is that it?

Theo Walcott could be back, that's something, right? Laurent Koscielny will face a late fitness test. Kieran Gibbs should be available after a calf problem I didn't know he had.

Elsewhere, it'll be another seven years for Arsenal's walking/not-walking wounded.

Also, did you know that Abou Diaby is hurt?

Predicted XI: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell, Ozil, Giroud.

Sunderland Squad News

Out: Larsson (knee,) Defoe (hamstring)
Doubts: Rodwell (knock)

Yann M'Vila will start for Sunderland on Saturday, because
life is funny like that.
Pfffft, three injuries? Kid's stuff...

Sebastian Larsson and Jermaine Defoe are both large doubts with knee and hamstring injuries, respectively.

Tactically, under new manager Sam Allardyce, Sunderland have started to use a three center back system, essentially playing a 5-3-2 in recent wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke City. John O'Shea, Younes Kaboul, and Sebastian Coates are the nominal center backs, while the wingbacks are likely to be Patrick van Aanholt and either Billy Jones or DeAndre Yedlin.

In a fun little "let's kick you while you're down, Arsenal" bit of happenstance, Sunderland will be anchored in their defensive midfield by Yann M'Vila, who is on loan from Rubin Kazan, having apparently passed a medical, I guess.

I would expect Adam Johnson and Duncan Watmore to get starts in the event that Larsson and Defoe cannot play.

Predicted XI: Pantilimon, Coates, O'Shea, Kaboul, Jones, van Aanholt, M'Vila, Johnson, Cattermole, Watmore, Fletcher.

Current Form

Sunderland were aided by a red card to Ryan Shawcross last
weekend, which might be the only good thing Mike Dean has
done this season.
In a testament perhaps to the amount of parity in the league this year, Arsenal have gone three matches without a win and still are only two points off the league-leading pace. It's the first time Arsenal have gone three without a win in league play since the end of last season, when they lost to Swansea, drew at Old Trafford, and drew Sunderland at home. You could argue that the Gunners are throwing away points that a reasonable title winner should pick up (three points dropped at the Hawthorns, two points dropped at Carrow Road,) but given the injury circumstances, it's almost a miracle they have any players with legs left.

Sunderland, on the other hand, are enjoying their best spell of the season, having won two straight for the first time since last May (funny how they keep playing at the Emirates while on the upswing...) Since appointing Sam Allardyce as manager, the Black Cats have won three and lost three; prior to his appointment, Sunderland had won zero, drawn three, and lost five. Two weeks ago, they beat Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park (Palace now have the 12th best home record in the league and the 3rd best away record) and last weekend, they beat Stoke City 2-0. It's been enough to scrape by; Sunderland are now two points clear of relegation, ahead of Bournemouth, Newcastle, and Aston Villa.

Match Facts

This is one of the things that happened in this fixture last
season. I guess.
Arsenal took four of a possible six points from Sunderland last season, winning at the Stadium of Light last October, then playing out a scoreless draw at the Emirates in May.

The Gunners arrived at the Stadium of Light in seventh place after eight games, having just scraped a draw from Hull at the Emirates the week prior; they were already 11 points of the top of the table. In desperate need of a win, Alexis Sanchez scored twice, both from dire Sunderland mistakes, as Arsenal won 2-0. The latter mistake came from Vito Mannone and marked the end of his run as Sunderland's starting goalkeeper. When the clubs met at the Emirates in May, Arsenal had 75% of the possession, but couldn't find a goal; the match ended scoreless.

In fact, this fixture has ended in a scoreless draw in three of the last five seasons. Prior to last year, it ended 0-0 in March of 2011 (a week after Arsenal's devastating League Cup Final loss) and on the opening day of the 2012/13 season.

Arsenal have not had the easiest of times with Sunderland in recent seasons, though their overall record does not quite reflect that; the Gunners have lost just once in their last 23 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.

The Referee

He looks bored.
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Robert Madley. This is the first time Arsenal will see Madley this season; the Gunners saw him twice last year, both victories at the Emirates, first in the FA Cup third round over Hull City in January and in the last league game of last season, a 4-1 win over West Bromwich Albion. The 30-year-old Madley has been in the Select Group since 2013; Arsenal have not lost a match with him in charge.

Sunderland have already seen Madley twice this season, first for a 2-2 draw at Aston Villa and most recently for their 3-0 derby victory over Newcastle. Sunderland scored all three of their goals against ten men, after Fabricio Coloccini was harshly sent off just before halftime.

Madley took charge of the League Cup tie between Southampton and Liverpool on Wednesday night, which Liverpool won 637 to 1.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Stoke City v. Manchester City; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. West Ham United; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Aston Villa; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Leicester City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: Watford v. Norwich City; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Tottenham Hotspur; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Chelsea v. Bournemouth; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (late): Newcastle United v. Liverpool; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Monday (night): Everton v. Crystal Palace; Goodison Park, Liverpool
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is not funny. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to berate him.