Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Everton


Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, March 1
9:05 a.m. EST, 14:05 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Darren Cann
    • 4th Official: Robert Madley
  • Reverse Fixture: Everton 2 - 2 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 1 Everton
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 99 Arsenal wins, 59 Everton wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-L-W-W
  • Everton's League Form: D-D-W-D-L-D
Arsenal's 3-1 loss to Monaco on Wednesday has left many questioning Arsene Wenger's tactics yet again. But, let me ask you: at home, in the first leg of a two-legged tie against a team with one of the stingiest defenses in the world, what are you supposed to do?

In my match preview, I suggested you have to attack. This is the game where you are more likely the score the precious few goals you need to win the tie.

Arsene Wenger's team selection and tactics did that. Monaco adapted, they knew it was coming. Of course they knew it was coming. And ultimately, the match was decided on three factors:

  1. Arsenal created more scoring chances than expected, but wasted nearly all of them.
  2. Arsenal's defense crumbled in "oh so Arsenal" fashion when under pressure.
  3. Monaco executed their game plan well, though not perfectly (Arsenal would not have had so many chances to miss if they had played perfectly.)
That's it. Arsenal's tactics were not wrong, they just didn't work. If Olivier Giroud hadn't been an omnishambles, we'd be having a different conversation right now. That means it's mostly #2 that should keep you up at night. But that's a discussion for others to have. Also, I firmly believe that things like this should not keep you up at night.

Anyway, Arsenal return to the league against an Everton side that have struggled domestically this season but are now the only English side left in the Europa League knockout phase (which might be a bad thing.) The Gunners sit pretty in third and control their own destiny, but anything can happen in the remaining 12 games, especially now that Liverpool and Spurs have crashed out of Europe.

Back to basics and all that. I would love love love to see a defensively calm and controlled 1-0 win on Sunday.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ramsey (hamstring,) Debuchy (shoulder,) Arteta (calf,) Diaby (calf)

Oh, I'm sorry, is this distracting?
As I'm typing this, it's only 24 hours or so after "The Unpleasantness," so there isn't much in the way of team news (and there isn't any updated news for Everton, who are literally about to kick-off in the Europa League as I'm typing this sentence.) So, these next two sections are going to be... worse... than usual.

Now I'm thinking of ways of distracting you so you don't notice how bad it is...

Anyway... Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seems to be back! That was the only pleasant surprise of Wednesday. Jack Wilshere might make a cameo from the bench too. Aaron Ramsey will still be short and it's at least another month for Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, and Abou Diaby. Possibly forever for the latter.

As for the squad, your guess is as good as mine. Was Wednesday's performance enough for David Ospina to be dropped again? I have no idea! Will there be some rotation? Probably! Arsenal do have another midweek match coming against QPR, a team that'll be well-rested after having the weekend off.

Predicted XI: Hastily Constructed Brick Wall, Bellerin, Koscielny, A Rock, Monreal, Flamini's Sleeves, Coquelin, Three Alexis Sanchezes (Sanchi?), Omnishambles.

Everton Squad News

Out: Oviedo (hamstring,) Hibbert (muscle)
Doubts: Atsu (illness,) McGeady (knee,) Pienaar (match fitness)

Romelu Lukaku celebrates his 43rd goal of the tie against
Young Boys.
In injury news building up to Everton's match yesterday against Young Boys, Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman both faced fitness tests as they returned from knee and ankle injuries, respectively. Osman made the bench, but Pienaar did not. Both featured for the reserves last week.

Christian Atsu missed out through illness and could miss Sunday as well. Aiden McGeady, whose name could only be more Irish if his middle name were Paddy (it's John, FYI,) did not play at all in the month of February with a knee injury.

Bryan Oviedo is expected to still be out with a hamstring injury, which he suffered in the first leg of the Europa League Round of 32 against Young Boys. Tony Hibbert is likely out with a muscle injury.

As you can see in the pictures, by this point of typing the preview I've gotten to where Lukaku scored eight more goals... After I typed that, he came out for the second half but limped off after three minutes... Hmmmmmmmm.

Predicted XI: Howard, Jagielka, Coleman, Stones, Baines, McCarthy, Besic, Barkley, Naismith, Mirallas, Lukaku.

Current Form

Young Boys clearly stole their kits from Dortmund.
This, by the way, was Lukaku's 44th goal of the tie.
Arsenal are having one of those seasons where every incremental gain they manage in terms of form over the course of a two- or three-game winning run gets canceled out by one disastrously abject performance, such as Wednesday night. Before Wednesday, Arsenal had won 15 of their last 19 matches across all competitions. Now, the general vibe is that they are a team of human garbage that have lost one of their last one and should be fired out of their own cannon into the Sun. Not that I'm exaggerating for comic effect or anything...

So, let's talk about Everton, shall we? Many of their fans may think they are a team of human garbage that have won once in the league in 2015 and should be fired out of the cannon I mentioned before into their own sticky, sticky toffee. I have totally gone too far with this joke. Better reel it in...

To be honest, of course I cannot actually speak on behalf of Everton supporters about their clubs form, but the Toffees are just six points clear of relegation. In 12th place, they have yet to win on the road this season against a team that is above them in the table. They have won just two of their last 14 league matches.

A large portion of Everton's struggles this season have come down to the ol' European hangover. The Toffees have taken eight of a possible 21 points (38%) from weekend matches that followed Thursday night Europa League matches, and six of those eight points were earned against Burnley and QPR. Compare that to Arsenal's 14 of a possible 24 points (58%) from their weekend matches following Champions League games; they've lost only two of the eight, both away from home.

Arsenal have earned 61.5% of possible points in the league overall this season, so their success rate following European matches is not significantly worse than their season average. Everton's season average is actually worse overall, at 36.8%, which could imply that the fixture congestion is having a lingering effect.

Match Facts

Olivier Giroud applauds the fans after the 2-2 draw in August.
You can see in his face that he's in pain, while he walks
around on a leg that's broken.
The reverse fixture, played back in August during the second week of the season, started out much like last season's match at Goodison Park, as the Toffees jumped out to a 2-0 lead through Seamus Coleman and Steven Naismith. Arsenal left it late, but an 83rd minute Aaron Ramsey goal and 90th minute Olivier Giroud goal earned Arsenal a gutsy point. The luster was lost a bit, however, as Giroud broke his leg on an innocuous attempt to block a clearance and the Frenchman went on to miss three months.

Last season, Arsenal and Everton played twice at the Emirates. In the league match, Arsenal led 1-0 through Mesut Ozil but conceded an equalizer just four minutes later and were resigned to a 1-1 draw. In the FA Cup, Arsenal won 4-1 with goals from Ozil, Mikel Arteta from a penalty he had to retake, and two from Giroud off the bench.

Everton are winless in their last 20 trips to the Emirates/Highbury, dating back to January 20, 1996. They have drawn each of the last two league meetings in North London, however, and four of the last eight.

The Referee

"Is that the right guy...??? Yeah, totally. Nailed it."
The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner. Arsenal's recent history with Marriner is pretty well known after he sent off the wrong man in the 6-0 loss at Chelsea last season. Arsenal have seen Marriner once this year for the 1-0 win over Southampton in early December. Kieran Gibbs remained on the bench for that one, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was removed for Olivier Giroud in the 65th minute.

Three days after that match at the Emirates, Marriner took charge of Everton's 1-0 loss at Manchester City, his second Toffees match of the season. In October, he was in the middle for their 3-1 win over Burnley at Turf Moor.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): West Ham United v. Crystal Palace; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Swansea City; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. Sunderland; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Aston Villa; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Hull City; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Southampton; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Sunday (very early): Liverpool v. Manchester City; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur; Wembley Stadium, London (League Cup Final)
  • Not Playing: Leicester City and Queens Park Rangers
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and exhibits the properties of not only particles, but also waves. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat where he posts with a frequency of [m0c2 / h] / sqrt (1 - [v2 / c2]), where c, of course, is the speed of light.

Arsenal 1-3 AS Monaco: We've Gone and Arsenaled it Again



Earlier today, I thought to myself: "How would I describe this performance if I could only do it in one phrase?", as I toyed with the idea of a one-line report. The best I could come up with was "Helen Keller running an obstacle course".

(Side note: Let's all spare a thought for one of our Arsenal NYC brethren today. As the Ticket Liaison for our fine group, I can tell you that someone paid for a ticket, a flight to London, a hotel...all of it to watch this shower of shit. I am absolutely gutted for him, that's for sure. On the other hand, he's also going to Everton so I hope for his sake that we smash the Toffees.)

I was quite nervous about this one heading in, precisely because so many thought it would be a walkover. Well, we have now shipped six goals in two games, at home, against Anderlecht and Monaco. Once again, our guys turned up in hubris and arrogance, assuming that they would win simply because their shirts had a more impressive name than the opposition's.

As it turns out, Monaco are a much better team than Anderlecht, and we got what we so thoroughly deserved. Again.

I mean, just look at the team that Arsene picked today. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck, Olivier Giroud, and Santi Cazorla all started. It was left to Francis Coquelin alone to protect the back four, and he was left to chase shadows as Monaco picked us apart down the wings all day. Just like Bayern did the last two years. Just like Milan did before that. The fullbacks may as well have been auxiliary strikers for how far up they were. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker got caught out more than once beyond the halfway line, rushing into low-percentage challenges.

We never learn. Or, more appropriately, Arsene never learns. He tore into his players in his post-match presser, but he was curiously silent on who exactly should have been expected to prepare them to play differently. It's a puzzlement, yes?

I don't know why people thought this was going to be a walkover, anyway. We had been on quite the run of form, on paper, but further scrutiny shows that it is more of an indictment of our opponents than anything having to do with us. We were aching to be turned over by the first decent team we played, in retrospect (the Manchester City result aside, and that is looking increasingly like an anomaly).

The match was almost comical in how closely it followed the Arsenal First Leg in Europe cliche, as it earnestly followed the dance steps painted on the floor. Start out semi-quickly? Check. Miss a bunch of easy chances? Check. Get hit on the counter? Check. Get hit on the counter again? Check. Panic and bomb everyone forward, making a bad situation worse? Check.

I know..let's play a game! I call it: "Who was the single worst Arsenal player out there today?"

Some are going to go with David Ospina, but that isn't quite right. His paper-mache wrist on the third goal was utterly dreadful goalkeeping, but there wasn't much he could do about the other two. Seriously, the bend and the dip on the first one was bad enough, even before the deflection. No one saves that, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a doofus. Still, I knew I was always right about Wojciech Szczesny emphatically being our best goalkeeper, and I hope comes straight back into the team now. We move on.

Despite only coming on as a sub, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has to be up for consideration as well. To his credit, he did score a lovely curling peach of a goal when presented with more time and space then Neil deGrasse Tyson could shake a stick at. However, his brain-dead giveaway on the halfway line led to the backbreaking third goal. Of course, 1-3 is far worse than 0-2, so really he was a net negative on the day. Oh, but there are better options for sure, though.

What, then, of Olivier Giroud? Even though he is our only target man of note, he was still unceremoniously hauled off on the hour mark. I still think he's a damn good player on his day, but he was a special kind of awful on this occasion, somehow contriving to miss three glorious chances. There was a weird symmetry to it too, as the chances got easier as they went along, his attempts increasingly more pathetic to meet the challenge of not scoring. He would be a good shout, but there are still further depths to plumb, my friends!

If it were up to me (and it's my report, so it is indeed), I'd call it a two-way tie between Koscielny and Mertesacker. What the BFG was doing on the second one, I have no idea. I don't know what happened with those two today, but they both displayed the positional awareness of a tranquilized tree sloth. Given that we were basically playing a formation with a keeper, those two, Coquelin and six strikers, we needed restraint and discipline from them. As senior players and seasoned internationals, we needed them to show leadership when the rest of the team was panicking. Instead, they were frankly the worst offenders of decapitated-chicken syndrome, and man, has it cost us large.

Still, if we expand it to non-players, then of course Arsene is more culpable than the rest put together. The whole litany probably doesn't bear repeating - I'm sure you all know it by heart by now - but all of the old favorites were there. Our gameplan was overly aggressive, there was no Plan B, there was no adjustment when it was clear that they were killing us on the wings, on and on and on. So naive. So stubborn. So arrogant. The fact that he has the gall to call out the players is just the icing on the cake - if those weren't your tactics, then...umm...what exactly do you do here, mate? Sure, if Ollie had one of his Dr. Hyde days it might have been 2-2, but who else in world football at our level would be happy with even that?

That is why I do not have the old anger any longer at results like this, or against those barbarians from down the Seven Sisters Road. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, so why would I expect Arsene to change now?

But hey, it's not so bad. We only have two more years of this, amirite?


The Modern Gooner Player Ratings: 

Ospina 5, Gibbs 6, Koscielny 4, Mertesacker 3, Bellerin 6, Coquelin 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 5), Cazorla 5 (Rosicky N/A), Welbeck 5, Ozil 5, Sanchez 5, Giroud 3 (Walcott 5)
 

Man of the Match: What a player Monaco have in this Anthony Martial. Strong, lightning-fast, gets in good positions, has drive and urgency...something tells me that he won't be a Monaco player for too long.

--

Sean Swift is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner, and is unbelievably thankful that Carey Price has ensured that one of my teams is not a maddening, schizophrenic train wreck. 

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Monaco, Champions League Round of 16, First Leg


Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, February 25
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials from Germany
    • Referee: Deniz Aytekin
    • Assistants: Guido Kleve and Markus H├Ącker
    • 4th Official: Christoph Bornhorst
    • Additional Assistants: Tobias Welz and Christian Dingert
  • All-Time in All Competitions: First competitive meeting
  • Arsenal's European Form: L-W-W-D-W-W
  • Monaco's European Form: W-D-D-L-W-W
Arsenal, represented by this faceless
yellow blob creature for some reason,
will have to juggle three competitions
at once for the coming weeks.
Last weekend, Manchester United, Southampton, and Tottenham Hotspur all dropped points, leaving the door open for Arsenal to take sole possession of third place in the table with 12 games remaining. That's great!

I'm here to tell you that, at this moment, that's totally irrelevant.

Welcome to the "multiple personalities" portion of the Arsenal season, as the Gunners resume fighting on three fronts: the league, the FA Cup, and the Champions League. When you try to look at the grand scheme of all of this while also adhering to the "one game at a time" cliche mantra, it gets a little complicated around this time of year. Arsenal are nicely poised for a good finish to the season if they can maintain their current form (or improve on it a bit; some of the matches have been getting a little dicey lately.)

First things first, Arsenal will attempt to put one foot in the Champions League quarterfinals with a good result in tonight's Round of 16 first leg against Monaco. The Gunners have not been to the last eight of this competition since 2010 and will be pleased to have drawn Monaco rather than some of the other big boys, though that doesn't mean it'll be a cakewalk. Monaco's defense is one of the stingiest in football. Arsenal's attack force will have to be at their creative best to set themselves up nicely for the second leg.

Snatch a goal or two and don't concede a critical away goal. That's the plan.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Wilshere (match fitness,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Debuchy (shoulder,) Arteta (calf,) Diaby (calf)

Touchdown!
No new injuries to contend with after the weekend win in South London; the only change to the available squad is that Jack Wilshere, who did not make an appearance from the bench on Saturday, was held out of training this week and will be out due to a lack of match fitness. There were questions about the fitness of Hector Bellerin (ankle) and Mathieu Flamini (hamstring) going into the Palace match as well; the Spaniard made the bench while the Frenchman did not, so I suspect the former could slip back into the XI tonight.

At home against an opponent with a defense as vaunted as Monaco's, I would expect Arsene Wenger to continue with the attack-heavy midfield formation that has started the last two matches. The question of Theo Walcott or Danny Welbeck is likely left to how much defensive coverage Wenger will feel like he needs. I've read that David Ospina might have a back problem, but I cannot find that information corroborated anywhere; I am merely including it for the sake of leaving no stone left unturned.

Remember, Olivier Giroud is available again after he had not been registered with UEFA for the group stage.

In addition, both Mathieu Flamini and Nacho Monreal are one yellow card away from an accumulation suspension.

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

Monaco Squad News

Out: Bakayoko (thigh,) Traore (broken leg)
Doubts: Kurzawa (bruised leg,) Ferreira-Carrasco (thigh,) R. Carvalho (calf,) Raggi (knee)
Suspended: Toulalan (one match, accumulation)

Dimitar Berbatov scrunch face.
Monaco could be without up to seven players for tonight's match, though only two of the injuries are long-term: midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko is out with a thigh injury while striker Lacina Traore is out with a fractured tibia. The visitors will also be without their holding midfielder and captain, Jeremy Toulalan, who will serve a one match suspension for yellow card accumulation.

Speaking of yellow cards, both Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and Layvin Kurzawa will incur a one match ban for their next booking, but both are doubts for this match themselves, with a thigh injury and a bruised leg, respectively. Ex-Chelsea center back (and 36-year-old) Ricardo Carvalho and Italian right back Andrea Raggi are both doubts due to a lack of match fitness as they return from calf and knee injuries, respectively.

Predicted XI: Subasic, Fabinho, Abdennour, Wallace, Kurzawa, Moutinho, Kondogbia, Silva, Dirar, Ferreira-Carrasco, Berbatov.

Current Form

Bastia's Sebastien Squillaci (!) celebrates his penalty, which
eliminated Monaco from France's League Cup in the semis.
For the fourth time this season, Arsenal have won three straight matches across all competitions. Three of those four streaks have come over the course of the last 19 matches. Since Arsenal lost to Manchester United on November 22, the Gunners have won 15, drawn one, and lost three out of those 19 games. They are also a perfect nine-for-nine at home in that span.

While we're on the subject of "form since late November," since Monaco lost to Rennes on November 29, they have won 12, drawn four, and lost one of their 17 matches. During that span, they have conceded all of three goals: one to Lyon in the French League Cup (a goal which, itself, came in extra time and not the regular 90 minutes; Monaco won on penalties,) one to Guingamp on February 8 in a 1-0 loss, and one to Rennes in a French Cup win a few days later.

The loss to Guingamp constituted the end of a blip on the radar for Monaco, as they had played two consecutive scoreless draws before that. The second of those draws came in the League Cup semi-final against Bastia, which Monaco lost on penalties. Sebastien Squillaci scored the winning penalty for Bastia in the shootout.

With Radamel Falcao now at Manchester United on loan, Monaco struggle to score goals. Monaco won Group C with 11 points, winning four and drawing one despite only scoring four goals in six games. They conceded just once, in a 1-0 loss at Benfica.

Match Facts

Arsenal lost to Monaco 1-0 in the Emirates Cup because
Martin Atkinson decided that this happened outside the box.
Arsenal and Monaco have never met before in a competitive fixture. The two sides did meet this summer in the Emirates Cup, however, with Monaco winning 1-0 thanks to a Radamel Falcao goal. Of course, he's on loan at United now, so that point is pretty much moot.

This is Arsenal's 15th trip to the Round of 16 over the last 16 years, however, the Gunners have stumbled at this hurdle in each of the last four seasons. Arsenal have not advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions League since 2010, when they defeated Porto 6-2 on aggregate; Arsenal won the second leg 5-0 at home after a 2-1 loss in Portugal.

All-time against French competition, Arsenal have a home record of five wins, three draws, and two losses; the Gunners lost to Auxerre in 2002 and Lens in 1998. They are unbeaten in their last six matches against French sides, taking six points from Marseille last year, six points from Montpellier the year before that, and four points from Marseille the year before that. Arsenal are unbeaten in four two-legged ties against French teams.

The last time Monaco played a competitive match in London, it was the second leg of the 2004 Champions League semifinal against Chelsea. Monaco held a 3-1 advantage after the first leg and came out of Stamford Bridge with a 2-2 draw and a 5-3 win on aggregate. Monaco went on to lose the final to Jose Mourinho's Porto, 3-0.

Monaco have an all-time record of two wins, two draws, and one loss on English soil. The loss came in their most recent match in England, 2-0 at Liverpool in the 2004 group stage.

The Referee

This is a good German referee face right here...
The match officials are from Germany; the referee is Deniz Aytekin. Because Arsenal have faced German competition so often in Europe, whether it was Bayern in the last two Rounds of 16, or Dortmund or Schalke in the group stages, this is the first time Arsenal have had a German referee since the 2010 group stage, when Wolfgang Stark took charge of Arsenal's 3-1 win at Partizan Belgrade.

Aytekin has never worked an Arsenal or Monaco match in his career. This will be his third Champions League match this season; earlier, he took charge of Barcelona's 1-0 win over APOEL on matchday one and Ludogorets' 1-0 win over Basel on matchday three.

Aytekin is German-born and of Turkish descent, so I expect Mesut Ozil to get all of the decisions.

Around Europe
  • Last Tuesday: Paris St. Germain 1 - 1 Chelsea
  • Last Tuesday: Shakhtar Donetsk 0 - 0 Bayern Munich
  • Last Wednesday: Basel 1 - 1 Porto
  • Last Wednesday: Schalke 0 - 2 Real Madrid
  • Yesterday: Manchester City 1 - 2 Barcelona
  • Yesterday: Juventus 2 - 1 Borussia Dortmund
  • Today: Bayer Leverkusen v. Atletico Madrid; BayArena, Leverkusen
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and Circuit Judge for the Court of Appeals for the O'Hanlon's Circuit. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for live coverage of The People v. Singing "Arsene Wenger's Red and White Army" In Close Matches.

Preview by Numbers: Crystal Palace v. Arsenal


Selhurst Park, London
Saturday, February 21
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Ian Hussin
    • 4th Official: Andrew Madley
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 1 Crystal Palace
  • This Match, Last Year: Crystal Palace 0 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 23 Arsenal wins, 3 Crystal Palace wins, 10 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-W-L-W
  • Crystal Palace's League Form: D-W-W-L-W-D
Arsenal players of various heights celebrate Tall's goal.
Arsenal successfully avoided the trap game that was Middlesbrough at home last week to book a date with Manchester United in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. Meanwhile, Liverpool have been drawn against Blackburn Rovers and I've seen plenty of instances of their fans behaving as if they've already won the whole damn thing (hubris, amirite?)

But that's all neither here nor there (well, I guess it is there, if there is Monday, March 9, but I digress.) Fact of the matter is, it's time to focus on the league again, at least for 90 minutes as the return of the Champions League looms on the horizon.

Arsenal sit fifth in the league, just two points out of third place but just seven points clear of eighth place. Every point is precious. Palace away is a tricky fixture (just ask Liverpool, or Spurs a month ago) but the Gunners know they cannot afford to leave points on the table against the 13th place club in the league.

There are 39 points left on the table; let's take everything we can get.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ramsey (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Debuchy (shoulder,) Arteta (calf,) Diaby (calf)
Doubts: Bellerin (ankle,) Flamini (hamstring,) Wilshere (ankle)

Santi Cazorla's game is on form. His hair, though...
Well, the injury list doesn't look too different from last week's: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, and (heh) Abou Diaby remain sidelined. The Ox will return soonest, as he's just about back in normal training. Jack Wilshere has been back in full training for a bit now and could be available from the bench tomorrow.

Arsenal may line up tactically similar to the formation they played against Middlesbrough last weekend, considering Ramsey's injury leaves them a little short in the defensive midfield position. Against Boro, Mathieu Flamini sat deep behind a midfield attacking four of Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, and Danny Welbeck. If Wenger decides he needs two defensive midfielders, something to consider when playing on the road, he'll have to start Tomas Rosicky (as Mathieu Flamini faces a fitness test) alongside Francis Coquelin, while dropping one of the attackers.

So that, in effect, is the question in this lineup: three attackers and two holding midfielders or four attackers and one behind Olivier Giroud? For the purposes of making a safe estimate, I'll assume Arsenal will play it safer on the road and go with the former.

David Ospina should reclaim his place as the league goalkeeper until he does something to lose it. Hector Bellerin faces a fitness test with an ankle problem; Calum Chambers may continue to deputize if the young Spaniard is unavailable.

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

Crystal Palace Squad News

Out: Sanogo (loan terms,) Thomas (thigh,) Lee (shin)
Doubts: Ameobi (match fitness,) McArthur (thigh,) Chamakh (Batman,) Jedinak (ankle)

Marouane Chamakh as "Batman"
Yaya Sanogo has been missing as of late with a hamstring injury, which is very Arsenal of him; he would not have been available to play against his parent club anyway.

Marouane Chamakh suffered a broken nose against Everton a few weeks back and has been playing with the pictured stylish Batman mask for a while now. He was removed at halftime from Palace's FA Cup loss to Liverpool last weekend and certain sources seem to indicate that he'll face a late fitness test, but I don't know what the injury is, so I've just written "Batman" in the parenthetical and I hope it has made you laugh.

Speaking of former Arsenal players, Jerome Thomas is out with a thigh injury, while Lee Chung-yong is out with a shin injury. There are doubts over Shola Ameobi's match fitness, as he has not played all season and just joined with his former Newcastle manager on a free this January. James McArthur is a doubt with a thigh injury and Mile Jedinak is a doubt as well.

Predicted XI: Speroni, Ward, Dann, Hangeland, Souare, McArthur, Ledley, Puncheon, Bolasie, Chamakh, Campbell.

Current Form

Palace had been a bogey team for Liverpool, but not
last week.
Arsenal have bounced back from the loss at White Hart Lane to win two straight, meaning they have now won seven of their last eight across all competitions. The last time Arsenal won seven matches across an eight match span was last January, when they went unbeaten in 10. The Gunners also won seven straight to end last season, but the first win in that streak was over Wigan in a penalty shootout, which counts as a draw for the purposes of discussing form. If you really want to get technical, Arsenal won the first two matches of this season (the Community Shield and the reverse of this fixture) to extend that winning streak. Any way you cut it, it's been many moons since Arsenal last won this many matches in such a time frame.

Perhaps more interesting is that Arsenal have scored at least one goal in each of those eight matches, dating back to the 2-0 loss at Southampton on New Year's Day. That loss was the only time in the last 25 matches where Arsenal were held without scoring, dating back to the 2-0 loss at Chelsea in October. Arsenal have been held without scoring a goal four times this season, all on the road; the other two were in the Champions League: at Besiktas and at Dortmund.

Crystal Palace currently sit 13th in the table, five points clear of relegation. They were 18th on New Year's Day after a 0-0 draw with Aston Villa but have since, under the direction of Alan Pardew, won three draw, drawn one, and lost one in the league. They also bounced Dover Athletic and, more importantly, Southampton from the FA Cup before getting being knocked out by Liverpool last weekend.

Palace had previously defeated Liverpool at Selhurst Park in the league; they've also beaten Tottenham at home this season. Despite those mid-to-high level scalps, Palace are 17th in home form; they've lost six, drawn three, and won three. Palace are a much better road team this year, losing only four on their travels compared to the six losses in South London. The Eagles have won just one of their last seven home fixtures.

Match Facts

Mikel Arteta's red card made this fixture last year much more
dicey than it needed to be.
Arsenal won the reverse fixture 2-1 on the season's opening day at the Emirates. Brede Hangeland, signed over the summer from relegated Fulham, headed the visitors into the lead on the half hour mark but Laurent Koscielny equalized before halftime. Palace looked set to steal a point, but Jason Puncheon was sent off for a second yellow card in the 89th minute and Aaron Ramsey banged in a rebound for the winner early in added time.

The Gunners held on to win this fixture last year, despite a red card to Mikel Arteta. With the match 0-0 at the half, Arsenal were awarded a penalty early in the second half, which Arteta dispatched nicely, but the Spaniard was soon shown red for denying a not-so-obvious goal scoring opportunity. 10-man Arsenal held their nerve, however, and Olivier Giroud secured the points with a counterattack goal in the 87th minute to seal a 2-0 win.

Crystal Palace have beaten Arsenal only three times in 35 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 six and drawn five in South London across all competitions.

The Referee

Mark Clattenburg made few friends among the Portuguese
on Wednesday.
The referee is County Durham-based Mark Clattenburg. Arsenal have a remarkable record all-time with Clattenburg as referee, winning 21 out of 31 matches; they've lost seven and drawn three of those 31. One of the draws came earlier this season, however, as Manchester City came from behind to draw 2-2 at the Emirates in September.

Clatts has worked two Palace matches this season: the 3-1 loss to West Ham in August and the 2-2 draw with West Brom in October.

On Wednesday night, Clattenburg was in charge of the Champions League Round of 16 match between Basel and Porto; with Basel up 1-0, Clattenburg ruled out two potential Porto equalizers for offside before awarding the Portuguese side a penalty later in the second half. One of the decisions took about two or three minutes as the additional referee behind the net, Kevin Friend, consulted with Clattenburg regarding two Porto players impeding the goalkeeper from an offside position. Many of the articles about the incident focus on the controversy itself and not, you know, that the call was right. The match ended 1-1.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Stoke City; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Burnley; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Queens Park Rangers; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. West Bromwich Albion; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Manchester United; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday (late): Manchester City v. Newcastle United; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (very early): Tottenham Hotspur v. West Ham United; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (regular early): Everton v. Leicester City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Southampton v. Liverpool; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner, actress, model, and television personality. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat and talk about which of those things are lies (hint: all of them, especially the first one.)

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Middlesbrough, FA Cup Fifth Round


Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, February 15
11:00 a.m. EST, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Andy Garratt
    • 4th Official: Oliver Langford
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 63 Arsenal wins, 33 Middlesbrough wins, 33 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 5 Arsenal wins, 2 Middlesbrough wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Hull City, 2-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Brighton & Hove Albion, 3-2
  • Middlesbrough's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Barnsley, 2-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Manchester City, 2-0
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: L-W-W-W-L-W
  • Middlesbrough's Championship Form: D-W-W-W-W-W
Theo Walcott always does the "arms out like airplane wings"
celebration.
Arsenal rebounded from last weekend's derby loss with three points, though they were not exactly earned in the most comfortable fashion. Leicester City put up a strong fight in the second half and Arsenal looked devoid of confidence despite their 2-0 halftime lead.

Attention switches now to Arsenal's defense of the FA Cup as they play host to Championship leaders Middlesbrough on Sunday. If you look at a full table of English football, level-by-level, Middlesbrough occupy the spot directly beneath Leicester City, but facing off against last place in the Premier League is much different than first place in the Championship. The Boro are on fire, to the tune of six straight wins, including one over Manchester City in the previous round.

Arsenal will know they can take nothing for granted against an opponent that bounced City. Let's hope they can find their first half confidence from Tuesday and hold onto it for 90 minutes this time around.

Arsenal Squad News

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

He looks grumpy.
When Aaron Ramsey pulled up injured on Tuesday, my immediately thought was, "April. He'll be back in April." It turns out, it is a recurrence of his hamstring injury and will see him out for at least four weeks. Factor in a slow return to training and, yeah, late March at best for the Welsh midfielder's return. The good news is that evidence of the bionic nature of Alexis Sanchez has returned; he should be available despite taking a heavy knock to the knee on Tuesday.

The question is, how much will Arsene Wenger rotate the squad? Boro are probably playing better football right now than Leicester City. Wojciech Szczesny is currently the cup keeper and should get the start. Calum Chambers and Kieran Gibbs could come into the back line, but I wouldn't start Gabriel just yet. Tomas Rosicky might retain his place, with Aaron Ramsey hurt and Jack Wilshere not yet 100%. Olivier Giroud should come back into the attack, while Danny Welbeck could come in for Theo Walcott.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin, Rosicky, Ozil, Welbeck, Cazorla, Giroud.

Middlesbrough Squad News

Out: Forshaw (cup tied,) Ayala (thigh,) Williams (Achilles,) Damia (knee,) Carayol (knee)

If you thought Arsenal players were unlucky with injuries,
Rhys Williams returned to the starting lineup
for literally two minutes.
Manager Aitor Karanka, who spent three years as Jose Mourinho's assistant at Real Madrid before taking the Boro job, made seven changes to the side that beat Charlton last weekend for their midweek win at Blackpool. In the process, however, the club lost center back Daniel Ayala to a thigh injury; the Spaniard could miss three to four weeks.

Boro, however, are secure at the position and will likely start Kenneth Omeruo and Ben Gibson. Tottenham loanee Ryan Fredericks should return to the right back position and George Friend should return on the left. In goal, Karanka is expected to continue to use his cup goalkeeper, Tomas Mejias.

Adam Clayton and Grant Leadbitter anchor the center of midfield, while a start could be in the cards for Patrick Bamford. Bamford, on loan from Chelsea, scored the opener in Boro's 2-0 win at Manchester City in the previous round.

Mustapha Carayol has been out since last March after suffering ligament damage in his knee. He's on the comeback trail now and was supposed to play in a reserve cup tie earlier this week, though that did not come to fruition. Right back Damia Abella has been out since September with an ACL injury of his own. Rhys Williams ruptured his Achilles in the FA Cup tie against Barnsley in January; it was his first start since sustaining a similar injury 11 months prior and he lasted all of two minutes. Adam Forshaw, purchased from Wigan on January 28, is cup tied.

Predicted XI: Mejias, Fredericks, Omeruo, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, Leadbitter, Adomah, Vossen, Tomlin, Bamford

Current Form

BAMford.
The puzzle that is Arsenal's form continues; Arsenal have lost eight matches across all competitions this season and, thanks to Tuesday's win over Leicester, have only once lost consecutive matches. Of more significance to this upcoming match, however, is Arsenal's home form: Arsenal have only lost twice at the Emirates this season in 18 home matches, to Southampton in the League Cup and to Manchester United in the league.

Arsenal are in an interesting string of fixture scheduling as well at the moment. Provided this cup tie does not require a replay, Arsenal will end up playing eight straight matches within the confines of London. That string could reach 10 if Arsenal win this match on Sunday and get drawn at home in the next round, before they travel to Monaco on March 17.

Across all competitions, Middlesbrough have lost only twice since August: 2-0 at Wolves on October 21 and 2-1 at Ipswich Town on December 20. They also lost to Liverpool in the League Cup, but that was in a penalty shootout, which is considered a draw for the purposes of discussing form. That's two losses in 29 matches, including 18 wins and nine draws. In the Championship, they have won five straight, including a 2-1 win on Tuesday at Blackpool. The Boro have climbed the table, from 16th on August 30, to first place as of now.

Match Facts

Boro equalizes against Almunia's bad hair.
Arsenal and Middlesbrough have not met since the Boro were relegated in 2008/09. The last time these two sides met was at the Emirates on April 26, 2009; Cesc Fabregas scored twice as Arsenal won 2-0. The reverse fixture at Riverside Stadium in December of 2008 was a damaging 1-1 draw, where ex-Arsenal striker Jeremie Aliadiere canceled out Emmanuel Adebayor's opener. At the time, the draw left Arsenal eight points adrift of the top spot in the league and while it would prove to be the third match in an 21-match unbeaten run in the league, Arsenal drew nine of those and never climbed higher than fourth.

The two clubs have met seven times in the FA Cup, with Arsenal winning five of the seven ties. Most recently, the clubs met in 2004, with Arsenal advancing by a 4-1 scoreline. Boro would exact revenge a week later, knocking Arsenal out of the League Cup semi-final. The sides also met in the 2002 FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford, with Arsenal winning 2-0, en route to the "It's only Ray Parlour" win over Chelsea in the final. Arsenal also defeated Boro in 1930, 1983 (via a replay,) and 1998. Boro's FA Cup victories over Arsenal came in 1977 and 1984.

The Referee

Vincent Kompany thrusts his complaint at Dean regarding
the first half penalty that gave Arsenal a 1-0 lead.
The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean. Arsenal's negative string of results with Dean in the middle feels like it's in the ancient past now, especially after Dean was in charge of Arsenal's 2-0 win over Manchester City at the Etihad last month. Dean was also in charge of Arsenal's 2-1 loss to Manchester United in November; that loss snapped an Arsenal five match unbeaten streak with Dean as the referee.

Dean has worked three matches this season involving Championship clubs (two Championship matches and last round's Aston Villa v. Bournemouth match.) Middlesbrough have yet to have him for one of their matches. The Boro have not seen Mike Dean since November 29, 2011 when he took charge of a 2-0 loss to West Ham United at Riverside Stadium.

Around the Fifth Round
  • Saturday (early): West Bromwich Albion v. West Ham United; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday: Blackburn Rovers v. Stoke City; Ewood Park, Blackburn
  • Saturday: Derby County v. Reading; iPro Stadium, Derby
  • Saturday (late): Crystal Palace v. Liverpool; Selhurst Park, London
  • Sunday (early): Aston Villa v. Leicester City; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Sunday: Bradford City v. Sunderland; Coral Windows Stadium, Bradford
  • Monday (night): Preston North End v. Manchester United; Deepdale, Preston
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and the longest running sitcom in history. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for all 10,247 episodes.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Leicester City


Emirates Stadium, London
Tuesday, February 10
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Jones
    • Assistants: Mark Scholes and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Anthony Taylor
  • Reverse Fixture: Leicester 1 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 2 - 1 Leicester (May 15, 2004)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 60 Arsenal wins, 28 Leicester wins, 44 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-W-W-W-L
  • Leicester's League Form: W-D-W-L-L-L
Dogfight!
Watching West Ham United lead Manchester United for much of the second half on Sunday only to concede a late equalizer that sent me to the bathroom to vomit (or was that the hangover?), I remarked that there's so much parity towards the top of the table this season that a very talented club is going to come in seventh.

That's the battle Arsenal finds themselves in now: eight points separate third from eighth place. Arsenal basically find themselves in the middle of that pack; three points out of third, yet sitting in sixth place. It'll be a dogfight between Arsenal, Southampton, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, and West Ham United. Four of these six clubs play each other during this midweek round of fixtures, as Spurs visit Liverpool at Anfield and the Hammers head to Southampton, which means points will be dropped.

From Arsenal's perspective, last place Leicester is not the kind of club you can drop points to at home and expect to finish third. Anything less than all three points today will be much more damaging in the long run than last weekend's derby loss.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamblerain (groin,) Debuchy (shoulder,) Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Diaby (calf,) Gnabry (knee)

ALEXIS SANCHEZ IS BACK!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! 

That's really the only change. Jack Wilshere is back in full training, too.

Maybe there'll be some rotation, I have no idea...

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin, Flamini, Cazorla, Alexis, Walcott, Giroud.

Leicester Squad News

Out: Schmeichel (foot,) Wood (foot)

Lol, wut?
In terms of absentees, Leicester City will be without Chris Wood until around next week and Kasper Schmeichel until March, both because of foot injuries.

The big news out of Leicester this weekend, however, was the confusing status of manager Nigel Pearson. On Sunday night, there were a significant number of well-sourced articles claiming Pearson had been sacked following a bizarre incident on Saturday against Crystal Palace where he appeared to grab Palace midfielder James McArthur by the throat. As of right now, it appears that Pearson still has his job.

Pearson has occasionally gone with a defensive 4-5-1 in road games, such as their 2-2 draw at Anfield, but after the £9m purchase of Andrej Kramaric in January, the Foxes have an extra option up top and are likely to stick with their preferred 4-4-2.

No team utilizes the wings as much as Leicester. 76% of their passes in league play have come along the wings; that's the highest percentage in the top flight. I expect much of the attack will come through Jeffrey Schlupp along the left wing; without Mathieu Debuchy for much of the season, Arsenal have been exposed often down their right defensive side. On the other hand, most of Leicester's attacking this season has actually been done down the right, through Riyad Mahrez.

Predicted XI: Schwarzer, Simpson, Morgan, Wasilewski, Konchesky, Mahrez, Cambiasso, James, Schlupp, Ulloa, Kramaric.

Current Form

This lumberjack condemned Leicester to defeat at the weekend.
It's been a season of fits and starts, one where Arsenal just can't put together a month of solid form. The 2-1 loss at White Hart Lane on Saturday snapped Arsenal's longest winning streak of the season at five matches, across all competitions. In preparation for this section, I was all set to point out just how long it's been since Arsenal went a season without a winning streak of six or longer... until I found the answer was two seasons ago.

Yes, in 2012/13, Arsenal's longest winning streak, across all competitions, was five. In fact, that winning streak didn't happen until March 13 through April 13 and it directly followed a 2-1 loss at White Hart Lane (you may remember Andre Villas-Boas saying Arsenal were in a "negative spiral.") Spurs were seven points clear of Arsenal on March 4 following that match; as you may know and as the song goes, it happened again.

Arsenal's struggles for form this season aren't really any different than in seasons gone by; the difference is the quality of the other clubs around them this year.

As for Leicester City, they've been stapled to the bottom of the table since a six-game losing streak in December, which came as the latter portion of a 13-match winless run. They responded in January, going unbeaten in three with wins against Hull and Aston Villa and a 2-2 draw at Anfield, but have since lost three straight. They are four points back of 17th place Burnley for safety. They will play five of the top eight clubs in the table over the course of their next seven league fixtures.

Match Facts

Arsenal learned in August how hard it is to defend when
you're that blurry...
These sides played out a 1-1 draw at the King Power Stadium in the reverse fixture back in late August. It was Arsenal's first league match without the injured Olivier Giroud and the display of toothlessness up front could not have come at a better time; the club bought Danny Welbeck the following day as the transfer window closed. Alexis Sanchez had the opening goal, but Leonardo Ulloa pulled back an equalizer two minutes later by beating a dazed Laurent Koscielny, who had suffered a head injury earlier in the match. Koscielny was eventually pulled for Calum Chambers only four minutes after Ulloa's goal.

The last time this fixture was played, it was the final day of the 2003/04 season, Arsenal had already won the league, and Leicester had already been mathematically relegated. The only question was whether Arsenal could complete the league season unbeaten. The Foxes had other ideas; ex-Arsenal striker Paul Dickov gave the visitors a 1-0 halftime lead. Arsenal were awarded a penalty just a minute after the restart which Thierry Henry put away and Patrick Vieira scored in the 66th to give Arsenal the victory and the first unbeaten season in the modern era.

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 21 home matches against Leicester, across all competitions. The Foxes' last win in the red part of North London came on September 8, 1973 by a 2-0 scoreline. Leicester have won only six of the 58 league matches played between these two sides in London.

The Referee

Here's Mike Jones sending off Samir Nasri.
I figured you'd all appreciate that.
The referee is Chester-based Mike Jones. Jones has taken charge of one Arsenal match so far this season, the 3-0 win at Aston Villa in September. Arsenal have a strong record overall with Jones as the referee, winning 12, losing two, and drawing one. The Gunners split two matches with Jones as the referee last season, losing 1-0 at Stoke to a debatable penalty, then winning 1-0 over West Brom late in the season when the result was academic for both sides.

This will be Jones's fourth Leicester City match of the season; previously, he took charge of Leicester's opening day draw with Everton, their 2-0 loss at Swansea in October, and their 2-2 draw with Liverpool on New Year's Day.

Jones has not taken charge of a Premier League fixture since that New Year's Day match. He worked the FA Cup tie between Birmingham City and Blyth Spartans the following weekend and has only taken charge of two Championship matches since then. Jones was dropped in early December after wrongly booking Sergio Aguero for diving, in what was ultimately a 3-0 win for City over Southampton.

Around the League
  • Tuesday: Hull City v. Aston Villa; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Tuesday: Sunderland v. Queens Park Rangers; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Tuesday: Liverpool v. Tottenham Hotspur; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Wednesday: Chelsea v. Everton; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Wednesday: Manchester United v. Burnley; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Wednesday: Southampton v. West Ham United; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Wednesday: Stoke City v. Manchester City; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Wednesday: Crystal Palace v. Newcastle United; Selhurst Park, London
  • Wednesday: West Bromwich Albion v. Swansea City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and also a ghost! You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for ghost things. Can ghosts tweet? I guess so...

Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Arsenal: Not Our Day

Photo: Getty Images


Sometimes, it's just not your day.

I should probably level-set before I continue. A lot of people out there are losing their minds about this result, given that it's the NLD and that is where their residual irrational hatred lives. Me? I guess being a Yank (so the local hatreds never took with me) and dating back to the early-90s (meaning that Manchester United were always THE enemy) means that the NLD - while a game I always want Arsenal to win - doesn't elicit the same visceral reactions in me that it does for many other Gooners. So, I am able to look at this far more philosophically than most.

Here's the thing - I don't think we played that badly. Gooners are currently frothing at the mouth on social media about a perceived lack of effort, about perceived poor performances, and (this one is just fucking bonkers) a perceived poor showing from David Ospina.

It's just not true.

There are a couple of uncomfortable truths that we as Gooners are going to have to learn to live with. John alluded to it in Preview by Numbers, but this is not your older brother's Spurs. They are a legitimately good side with plenty of quality from back to front. The NLD is no longer a walkover, and will not be for some time to come. Were there to be a combined North London XI, they have three guys - Hugo Lloris, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane - that get into the starting lineup without question.

The other uncomfortable truth is that, sometimes, there is nothing you can actively blame for a loss other than a bit of luck and a moment or two of quality. Losing a football match does not automatically render a starting XI selection incorrect. A team can play relatively well and still lose, which is always possible in a low-scoring sport.

Further, the tactics were not wrong. It is more than a little disingenuous to slate Arsene Wenger for playing defensively in a tough away fixture, what, 2.4 seconds after praising him to the heavens for doing the same thing at Manchester City? Sure, our nearest and dearest had 60%+ possession and 23 shots, but other than their two goals, where was the actual danger?

I'll reiterate: For the vast majority of this game, we let a highly-motivated opponent playing at home huff and puff around to very little effect. Again, what's the issue here?

The one thing I will concede is that we often got trapped deep in our own end for long spells after we took the lead. By the way, let's discuss that one for a second. All of those slating Mesut Ozil after that performance, go hang your head in shame. Danny Welbeck started the move down the right, and he excellently crossed into Olivier Giroud in the middle. Giroud deflected it out left to Ozil, who was played onside by one of their defenders. His one-touch volley was exquisite, leaving Lloris no chance in the Spurs net.

Anyway, while we were often trapped deep, a good portion of that has to be down to the way our opponents played. They attacked with purpose, hunted in packs, and generally played a strong pressing game that our guys had trouble dealing with at times.

Still, most of their shots went harmlessly wide or over the bar. When they were on target, such as Ryan Mason's long-range tracer in the 30th minute, the excellent David Ospina was there to parry away. I've read some criticism of his performance in the immediate aftermath, and I'm here to tell you as a goalkeeper that it is all (ALL) absolutely ridiculous. Frankly, Ospina was the only thing keeping us in the game at times, especially in the second half. If you think he should have caught all of those, allow me to inform you as to how little you know about my chosen position.

That said, there were some of our guys that were a bit off on the day. Aaron Ramsey continues to be an excellent player who is suffering through a protracted indifferent spell. Santi Cazorla, be it fatigue or otherwise, wasn't his usual effervescent self. Giroud, the assist aside, contributed little in a match where we could have used more from the target striker position, especially in terms of holding the ball up.

On the other hand, besides Ospina, there were a few excellent performances. Hector Bellerin was arguably our best player, as he continues to stake a serious claim on the right-back position. Francis Coquelin was excellent in the center of the park, and Danny Welbeck showed some flashes (though was a serious red card danger for most of the second half as well).

But, like I said, matches like this are often decided in a series of two or three moments over the course of the 90 minutes. Their first goal, for instance, was a perfect example. Off a corner kick, Moussa Dembele's flick-on at the near post was going to curl into the net before Ospina brilliantly fisted it away. It was a fantastic save, and it deserved better than its aftermath. Had Kane been standing literally anywhere else, someone clears that away and at worst we get a point. Instead, he was there to tap it in.

Meanwhile, up the other end, Welbeck made himself a yard and curled a beauty towards the Spurs goal, the ball seemingly destined for the top corner. But, there was Lloris, leaping well up into the air to claw it away to safety. Bloody hell, that was a great save.

But, there it is. Small differences. A fortuitous bounce one way, a worldie save the other. Oh, and Giroud really should have scored in the 74th when presented with a free header off of Ozil's cross. I'm a huge fan of the guy but I do wish he had more serious competition.

Their winner, when it came, was a bit of a sucker punch. There was nothing in the overall run of play that screamed out that they were going to find that goal - as I keep saying, it was a moment of brilliance out of nothing. Nabil Bentaleb's cross was like any of the countless others that they had throughout the match. It wasn't that poorly-defended, either. Laurent Koscielny was in attendance, and didn't make it easy on Kane. The guy just managed to fight him off, and somehow looped an unstoppable header into the far corner.

Sometimes, a guy just beats you. It happens.

The fact of the matter is that we lost the derby, and that sucks. Of COURSE it sucks. But, let's take a second and breathe here. Their run-in is a lot harder than ours is. They are not that far away from having to muck around in the knockout rounds of the UEFA Cup on Thursday nights, and this version of their team is good enough where they'll probably stick around in it for a while. Alexis Sanchez will be back soon, and we still have enough weapons where should see off most of the lesser teams. 

We lost, it blows, but it's not the end of the world. We'll see who is where, come May.


The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Ospina 9, Monreal 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Bellerin 8, Ramsey 5, Coquelin 8 (Akpom N/A), Welbeck 7 (Walcott 7), Cazorla 6 (Rosicky 6), Ozil 7, Giroud 5

Man of the Match:  As I said last season, this won't always be an Arsenal player. We got rid of one Spurs nemesis when Gareth Bale got sold off to Real Madrid, but it looks like Harry Kane has taken up that mantle. We'll get you next time, fucker. 

--
Sean Swift is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner, goalkeeper extraordinaire, and all-around bon vivant (...and now, a reading from the gospel according to Shane McGowan...). You can follow him on Twitter @thefallen29 if you are so inclined, though I check it pretty much never.

Preview by Numbers: Tottenham Hotspur v. Arsenal


White Hart Lane, London
Saturday, February 7
7:45 a.m. EST, 12:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Stephen Child and Harry Lennard
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 1 Tottenham
  • This Match, Last Year: Tottenham 0 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 74 Arsenal wins, 54 Tottenham wins, 46 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-L-W-W-W
  • Tottenham's League Form: W-D-W-L-W-W
So, what you're saying is, we'll finish fourth?
Last Saturday, Chelsea and Manchester City met in a top-of-the-table clash that had tremendous ramifications. If City won, they'd be within two points of the first place Blues. If Chelsea won, they'd be eight points clear at the summit. So, with the match level at halftime, Chelsea shut it down in the second half and played out a boring 1-1 draw to maintain the status quo. It felt a lot like knockout round games in the World Cup do; there is so much on the line that both sides play cautiously, as to not make the first mistake (eight out of 15 knockout round games went to extra time this summer, not including the third place game, which did not.)

Which brings me to this North London derby. Arsenal enter the weekend two points clear of Tottenham. Arsenal are in fifth on goal difference behind Southampton, level on 42 points. Spurs are in sixth with 40. Spurs can leapfrog their local rivals with a win at home, but Arsenal can go five points clear of their nearest and dearest with a road victory. Both sides can play with swashbuckling abandon when they want to; they won by a combined 8-0 scoreline last weekend.

It has all the makings of a tightly contested and nervy 1-1 draw, which will ultimately decide nothing because when the match is over, there'll be 14 games to play and 42 available points remaining in the season.

No, this match won't decide anything officially, but momentum is an incredible force in the league table, provided that force is multiplied by time (because physics.) Both sides have a lot of momentum right now. A derby win could galvanize either of these clubs to a third place finish. This match is as big as it gets.

Arsenal Squad News

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

I miss Sanchez...
It's not who you play, it's when you play them. Every team plays everyone else twice during the course of the season, so the timing of your opponents' form and injuries can be critical. By this weekend's end, Alexis Sanchez will have started 20 of Arsenal's 24 Premier League fixtures, yet two of his four missed starts will have been against Tottenham. He did not start the reverse fixture, which followed a midweek League Cup tie, and he will not appear at all this week as he is still dealing with a hamstring problem. He should be good to go for Tuesday's league meeting with Leicester City. Meanwhile, Danny Welbeck will return to the squad after missing just over a month with a thigh injury.

Now, a Tottenham supporter might read that paragraph and think I'm already starting to make excuses, to which I should remind you that Arsenal beat Spurs three times last year without Alexis Sanchez at all. Sanchez's other two missed starts were against Aston Villa this year and Arsenal did quite nicely in those, thank you very much.

Elswhere, smoking aficionado Jack Wilshere returns to full training next week, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is in light training. Serge Gnabry will get a run out with the Under-21 squad on Monday, as will new signing Krystian Bielik. Mathieu Debuchy and Mikel Arteta remain out until April, while Abou Diaby remains Abou Diaby.

With Alexis still unavailable, I don't predict any changes to the XI that beat Villa last week.

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

Tottenham Squad News

Out: None

Harry Kane used to wear my lucky number of 37.
He doesn't anymore.
Algeria's 3-1 loss to the Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal means that Nabil Bentaleb has returned to Tottenham from international duty and could be available to start. It also means that Spurs have a completely full squad; everyone on their roster is available for selection, which is something I've read about in fables but have never actually seen in following Arsenal. Apparently, it is possible.

Without any injury concerns, Mauricio Pochettino is not likely to shake-up his squad too much, considering they handily defeated West Bromwich Albion 3-0 a week ago. Bentaleb might slip in for Paulinho, in the only change I can envisage. It looks like the onus will be on Arsenal's midfield to keep the ball away from Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane. Kane has 20 goals across all competitions this year, 10 of which have come in the league.

Predicted XI: Lloris, Walker, Fazio, Vertonghen, Rose, Mason, Bentaleb, Dembele, Lamela, Eriksen, Kane.

Current Form

I made this a long time ago. Seems relevant...
Two schools of thought here: one says form goes out the window in a derby (if you like cliches,) the other says both clubs are in such good form that they could cancel each other out. The Premier League "club form guide" is a table determined by points earned over clubs' six most recent fixtures. On that table, Liverpool are first (which surprised me) with 16 points over their last six (they're unbeaten in seven,) Arsenal are second with 15 points, and Tottenham are tied with Southampton for third with 13.

Arsenal have won three straight in the league for the first time this season and have extended their winning streak to five across all competitions. Their five-goal victory last weekend was their first league win by such a margin since the 6-1 win over Southampton in September of 2012. The last time Arsenal won by five or more goals while also keeping a clean sheet? 5-0 over Leyton Orient in an FA Cup replay in March of 2011.

Spurs' form would look better on paper if they had not lost to Crystal Palace on January 10. That loss is Tottenham's only loss over their last nine league fixtures, dating back to a 3-0 loss to Chelsea in early December. They have, however, complained of fixture congestion of late, which is a necessary consequence of competing in Europe and advancing to the League Cup Final. Their league form has not suffered, however; Spurs have climbed from 10th to 5th in the table since early December.

Match Facts

Tomas Rosicky scored two of Arsenal's four goals against
Spurs last year, including this thunderbolt from this
corresponding fixture.
Arsenal had the better of play in the reverse fixture, to the tune of 69% possession and a 16-6 advantage in shots taken, but it was Spurs who blew a 1-0 second half lead. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's goal a quarter of an hour from time canceled out Nacer Chadli's opener, as the rivals played out a 1-1 draw at the Emirates on September 27. Arsenal's rhythm had been heavily disrupted in the first half by injuries to Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey.

The Gunners' record at White Hart Lane has been miserable in recent seasons, though they did win this fixture last year 1-0, thanks to a Tomas Rosicky goal scored at the 72-second mark. Spurs had 59% of the possession and outshot Arsenal 17-7, giving it a fairly similar vibe to this season's fixture with the teams switched. Only two of Spurs' 17 shots were on target.

Prior to last year's win, Arsenal had failed to win within 90 minutes in their last seven matches at the Lane. The Gunners did win in the League Cup in 2010, though it required extra time. Otherwise, Arsenal had drawn two and lost four in road games at Spurs dating back to a 3-1 win in the fall of 2007. Arsenal have won just two of their last nine league visits to White Hart Lane.

The Referee

Here's a good image of Spurs' fury with Atkinson and it's
not even from the FA Cup semifinal I mention...
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Arsenal have seen Atkinson twice already this season, for the 2-0 loss at Chelsea in October and the 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers on Boxing Day. His well-deserved red card to Olivier Giroud was one of three Atkinson has shown this season. The win over QPR snapped an Arsenal three-match losing streak with Atkinson in the middle.

Tottenham do not have a great history with Atkinson, punctuated by a 5-1 FA Cup semifinal loss to Chelsea in 2012; Chelsea went ahead 2-0 on a Juan Mata goal that did not cross the line. Spurs went on to implode from there. The following season, Spurs had a record of one win, one draw, and two losses with Atkinson in the middle. They only saw him once last year, for a 3-1 win at Swansea.

This will be his first Tottenham match of this season and his first match at White Hart Lane in 27 months.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Chelsea; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Crystal Palace; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Hull City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. Southampton; Loftus Road, London
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Sunderland; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday (late): Everton v. Liverpool; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Burnley v. West Bromwich Albion; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Sunday: Newcastle United v. Stoke City; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Sunday (late): West Ham United v. Manchester United; Boleyn Ground, London
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John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and he hates Tottenham and he hates Tottenham. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat if you also hate Tottenham and you hate Tottenham, as we are the Tottenham haters. You know, generally as a fan base. Rivalry and all that.