Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Burnley, FA Cup Fourth Round

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, January 30
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Roger East
    • Assistants: Simon Bennett and Marc Perry
    • 4th Official: Frederick Graham
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 46 Arsenal wins, 33 Burnley wins, 21 draws
  • All-Time in FA Cup: 5 Arsenal wins, 2 Burnley wins
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Sunderland, 3-1
  • Burnley's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Middlesbrough, 2-1
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: L-W-W-D-D-L
  • Burnley's Championship Form: L-W-D-W-W-W
You can see on Per's face that he knows what he's done
So, we still can't get over the Chelsea voodoo and that's a shame. Say what you want about Diego Costa's antics, but Per Mertesacker cannot go into that lunge in that manner. He's an experienced professional and he should have known better. That's all I have to say about last week's debacle.

No point in harping on the league race now, either, as we've got ourselves a cup tie this weekend against Burnley, who are third in the Championship after being relegated from the Premier League last season. They're in form at the moment, but haven't won away from home this year against anyone higher than 10th place Brentford, with the exception of their third round FA Cup win over second place Middlesbrough.

In this round last season, both Chelsea and Manchester City were humbled by lower level competition. Arsenal squeaked out a 3-2 win at Brighton in that round, en route to their second straight title. There are no easy matches in England, especially not when Joey Barton is around.

While fixture congestion could create a problem for a title challenge come March and April, a loss here would make it four without a win for Arsenal across all competitions and a draw would necessitate a replay at Turf Moor and a long look in the mirror.

So, let's get in and out of there with a win and call it a day, shall we?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Welbeck (match fitness)
Suspended: Mertesacker (one match, denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity)

Coq's back!
Cup ties make squad predictions very difficult, but in this situation, Arsenal have some long-term injured players coming back into the fold. With two weeks of full training complete for both Francis Coquelin and Tomas Rosicky, both are available for selection, as per Arsene Wenger's Thursday press conference. Danny Welbeck, however, is still short of fitness.

That leaves Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere as the only long-term absentees. Of course, Per Mertesacker will miss out as he serves the one match ban for his tactical red card last weekend.

So, how much rotation is there going to be? Will there be a start for David Ospina? How about Alex Iwobi? Kieran Gibbs? How's Olivier Giroud's ankle? I don't have any answers for these questions, so predicting a starting XI would be pure guesswork and I don't like dabbling in guesswork.

Burnley Squad News

Out: Gilks (elbow,) Jutkiewicz (knee,) Barnes (knee)

"I was a no-brainer," Joey Barton said about how stupid
other teams were to not sign him.
With backup goalkeeper Matt Gilks out injured, Burnley this week signed veteran keeper Paul Robinson to a short-term deal to back up Tom Heaton, their usual number one. You may remember Robinson from all of the goals he has conceded to Arsenal, in that no goalkeeper has conceded more goals in history against a single club than Robinson has against Arsenal.

You may also remember one of their midfielders, a certain Mr. Joey Barton. The Twitter philosopher spent three of the last four seasons with Queens Park Rangers, with a year on loan at Marseille thrown in for good measure. This summer, there had been rumors that Barton was going to sign with West Ham, but the Hammers nixed the deal after fans protested.

Forwards Lukas Jutkiewicz and Ashley Barnes, both with knee injuries, are Burnley's only other injuries. As such, I would expect Burnley's XI to remain unchanged from the side that has been on their winning run.

Current Form

Burnley scored twice from the penalty spot against Derby
in their last league match.
Arsenal are winless in their last three matches, all in the Premier League. The last time they went winless in three across all competitions was back in November, when they lost to Bayern Munich, drew Tottenham, and lost to West Brom. They picked up a win against Dinamo Zagreb in the middle, which helped, because they then drew Norwich in the league the following weekend. As for their league form, it's three without a win for the Gunners for the first time since, well, that same stretch of league games against Spurs, West Brom, and Norwich.

The last time Arsenal went four matches without a win, it was April of 2014 as they blew their league lead. That string started with the 6-0 loss to Chelsea, before draws with Swansea and City, a 3-0 loss at Everton, and the FA Cup semifinal against Wigan which required penalties to win. So technically, that was five without a win (as shootouts count as draws,) before a 3-1 win over West Ham.

Burnley are on a run of good form in the Championship, having won four in a row across all competitions. That run started with their third round cup victory over Boro, 2-1 at Riverside Stadium. Three days later, they trounced MK Dons 5-0, racking up four before Dons had a defender sent off on 75 minutes. Four days after that, they beat Brentford 3-1 on a Friday night, then didn't play again until the following Monday, when they smashed Derby County 4-1 at Turf Moor.

Match Facts

Aaron Ramsey gives Arsenal a 1-0 lead at Turf Moor last April.
Arsenal and Burnley met twice last season in Premier League play, with Arsenal winning both matches. Last October at the Emirates, Alexis Sanchez scored twice and Calum Chambers tallied his first as a Gunner as Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners; still, it took 70 minutes for Arsenal to finally get the breakthrough. At Turf Moor in April, Aaron Ramsey scored after a dozen minutes and Arsenal held on to win 1-0.

Arsenal have met the Clarets on seven previous occasions in the FA Cup; Burnley won twice in the 19th century, while Arsenal have won the last five meetings. The Clarets came away with huge first round wins against Arsenal back in 1896 (6-1) and 1898 (3-1,) but Arsenal returned the favor in 1937, with a 7-1 win of their own. Burnley have not scored against Arsenal in the FA Cup since then, with the Gunners winning 2-0 in 1950, 1953, and 2008, as well as 3-0 in 2009. The four Arsenal goalscorers from those most recent two matches make for fun reading: Eduardo had two of the five goals; the other three came courtesy of Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela, and Emmanuel Eboue.

This is the 70th time Arsenal have progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup; they have faltered at this stage 15 times and have advanced 54 previous times. Under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have lost in the fourth round on four occasions: to Leeds in 1997, to Leicester in 2000, to Bolton in 2006, and to Stoke City in 2010. Only the loss to Leeds, in Wenger's very first season, came at home. Arsenal have only lost at home in this round on three occasions, total.

The Referee

Hey, it's the ref who looks like Mark Strong!
The referee is Wiltshire-based Roger East. Arsenal have not had East very much in his career, although the only Gunners match he has worked this year was only a month ago. That was the 2-0 win over Bournemouth on December 28. The only other Arsenal match he's ever worked was the 2-2 draw with Hull City last season, in which Danny Welbeck scored in injury time to earn Arsenal a point.

Last season, East took charge of two Burnley matches, including a 1-1 draw with Spurs in the third round of the FA Cup (Burnley lost the replay at White Hart Lane) and a 2-0 loss to Southampton at St. Mary's in March. This will be his first Burnley match this season.

Around the Fourth Round
  • Friday (night): Derby County v. Manchester United; Pride Park Stadium, Derby
  • Saturday (early): Colchester United v. Tottenham Hotspur; Colchester Community Stadium, Colchester
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Manchester City; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Bolton Wanderers v. Leeds United; Macron Stadium, Bolton
  • Saturday: Bury v. Hull City; Gigg Lane, Bury
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Stoke City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Nottingham Forest v. Watford; City Ground, West Bridgford
  • Saturday: Oxford United v. Blackburn Rovers; Kassam Stadium, Oxford
  • Saturday: Portsmouth v. Bournemouth; Fratton Park, Portsmouth
  • Saturday: Reading v. Walsall; Madejski Stadium, Reading
  • Saturday: Shrewsbury Town v. Sheffield Wednesday; Greenhous Meadow, Shrewsbury
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Peterborough United; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Liverpool v. West Ham United; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Carlisle United v. Everton; Brunton Park, Carlisle
  • Sunday (late): Milton Keynes Dons v. Chelsea;, Milton Keynes
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and low-power television station. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for broadcast schedules.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Chelsea

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, January 24
11:00 a.m. EST, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and Simon Beck
    • 4th Official: Jonathan Moss
  • Reverse Fixture: Chelsea 2 - 0 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 0 - 0 Chelsea
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 72 Arsenal wins, 60 Chelsea wins, 54 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-W-W-D-D
  • Chelsea's League Form: W-D-D-W-D-D
It's that time of year again! Time to start looking at probabilities for the title contenders! Get excited!

According to Sports Club Stats, the favorites to win the Premier League right now are Manchester City, likely because they have the advantage of playing Arsenal and Leicester at the Etihad over the remainder of the schedule (they also get to play fourth place Spurs and fifth place Manchester United at the Etihad as well.) City's most difficult remaining fixtures are home games.

City's title odds are sitting at 35.8%, Arsenal's are at 29.5%, and Leicester's are at 21.3% (Leicester have to play both City and Arsenal away from the King Power, but their away record is best in the league.) There's a fancy pie chart to the left showing all of those percentages.

It's apparent from that information that home form could decide the title, so what better place for Arsenal to get a confidence-boosting win than at home against a rival? Chelsea have righted the ship a little bit since the sacking of Jose Mourinho, but they are still just four points clear of 18th place Newcastle United and relegation.

Arsenal haven't beaten Chelsea at home since December of 2010. It's time to change that.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (knee,) Coquelin (knee,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)
Doubts: Alexis (hamstring,) Ospina (groin)

Our Coq's back!
It's almost nothing but good news in this section, which is kind of scary, isn't it? The biggest part of that, although not the most immediately relevant, is the return of Francis Coquelin to full training. You'll recall Coquelin left the 2-1 loss at West Brom on November 21 and the original prognosis was "two months." Yesterday, January 21, Coquelin was back in full training "ahead of schedule," as Wenger put it, even though the West Brom game was exactly two months prior. I would personally call that exactly on schedule, though with Arsenal's track record of injuries, I suppose we should take anything we can get. He's lacking match fitness, so I highly doubt he will make an appearance.

Elsewhere, Tomas Rosicky will make an appearance in the Under-21 fixture tonight as the Arsenal boys take on Swansea; I don't believe Rosicky is quite old enough to be any of their dads... Meanwhile, Danny Welbeck (!) will be back in training next week as well. So, that pretty much just leaves Santi Cazorla (out since late November) and Jack Wilshere (out since the moon was last in Pisces) as the long-term injuries.

Alexis Sanchez, who has been out since that same game in November as Santi, faces a fitness test, but we've been saying that about him for weeks now. Arsene Wenger has been so careful with the Chilean's hamstring problem that you have to think he's got to be ready soon, especially for a fixture as big as this one. Mesut Ozil is expected to return after he was protected in carbonite last week.

If there's a question about who drops when Alexis returns to the starting XI, might I suggest Theo Walcott? He's been the most out of form lately.

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

Chelsea Squad News

Out: Falcao (hip flexor)
Doubts: Costa (shin,) Hazard (hip)

Chelsea always seem to have someone who needs a face mask.
This time, it's Cesar Azpilicueta.
Eden Hazard has been out for the past three weeks with a hip injury suffered against Crystal Palace on January 3; he returned to full training on Wednesday, however, and is expected to be in line for a return to Chelsea's starting XI. That's obviously good news for Chelsea, even if Hazard has been anonymous at times this year. The Belgian international has scored four goals across all competitions since the start of this season and they have all been for Belgium and not Chelsea.

There is a question over the availability of Diego Costa as well, as the pantomime villain came out of last weekend's draw with Everton with a bruised tibia on 80 minutes. Costa has nine goals for Chelsea this season; five of those have come since Mourinho's sacking.

Radamel Falcao is the only player fully ruled out from Chelsea's squad; the Colombian has not played since October 31 with a hip flexor. With Falcao out and Costa possibly unavailable, Chelsea could be pretty light up top. Loic Remy has been battling a calf injury of late and is still a little lacking in match fitness. They have recalled Patrick Bamford from his disastrous loan at Crystal Palace, however... I guess Pedro could start, too.

Given the magnitude of the match, I'm going to guess that both Hazard and Costa start, though I wouldn't guarantee either of them lasting 90 minutes.

Predicted XI: Courtois, Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Matic, Oscar, Willian, Hazard, Costa.

Current Form

Stoke fans took the opportunity last weekend to remind
Aaron Ramsey that he is Aaron Ramsey.
Since getting hit for four at Southampton on Boxing Day, Arsenal have gone five unbeaten across all competitions. Two home wins with clean sheets came against Bournemouth and Newcastle before a 3-1 win over Sunderland in the FA Cup. But from there, Arsenal took to the road for difficult fixtures against Liverpool and Stoke and only managed two points out of a possible six, allowing a late equalizer in a bonkers 3-3 draw against Liverpool before battling for a 0-0 against Stoke at the Britannia. On paper, taking a point from Anfield and a point from Britannia isn't terrible; you'd have to go back to 2012/13 to find the last time Arsenal took more than two points from those two fixtures combined.

Arsenal's home form in the league is, of course, much stronger than their road form, as you might expect. The Gunners have won four straight league games at the Emirates and are unbeaten in nine, dating back to their opening day loss to West Ham. Arsenal have picked up 23 of a possible 30 points at the Emirates this season, dropping three to West Ham and two each to Liverpool and Spurs. Only Manchester City (28 points from a possible 36) technically have a better record in terms of total number of points at home, though no team have dropped fewer points at home than Arsenal's seven (and five of those came from the first two games.)

Chelsea have not lost since Jose Mourinho was sacked on December 17, but that doesn't mean they've been running the table, either. In six league games since Mourinho's final match in charge, a 2-1 loss at Leicester, the Blues have won twice and drawn four, in addition to their FA Cup win over League One's Scunthorpe United.

Chelsea's response to the sacking of Mourinho was a 3-1 win over Sunderland, which, to be fair, is something Arsenal has done twice in the last month and a half. They drew Watford at home on Boxing Day, 2-2, before getting a scoreless draw at Old Trafford two days later. Their 3-0 win at Crystal Palace just after New Year's looks like the most impressive result of the bunch, though Palace now haven't scored a league goal since December 19. Since beating Scunthorpe 2-0 in the Cup, Chelsea have played two high-scoring draws, 2-2 with West Brom and 3-3 with Everton, the latter draw coming controversially from a 98th minute John Terry equalizer where he had most certainly been offside.

Match Facts

Arsenal have not scored a goal in a very long time against
Chelsea, unless you count August's Community Shield.
Arsenal and Chelsea have already played twice so far this season, with Arsenal winning in the Community Shield and Chelsea winning the league fixture.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored the only goal of the season's curtain-raising match at Wembley, as Arsene Wenger finally snared a victory over Jose Mourinho. Plus, Arsenal got to win a really shiny giant plate in the process, which is always nice, regardless of what you may think of the competitiveness of the Community Shield.

Chelsea won the league fixture 2-0 at Stamford Bridge back in September under some Mike Dean-ish circumstances. Arsenal finished the match on nine men after Gabriel was sent off in the first for a kick-out at Diego Costa and Santi Cazorla picked up a second yellow 11 minutes from time. Kurt Zouma scored from a set piece on 53 minutes and a Calum Chambers own goal twisted the knife in injury time. Of course, Diego Costa should have been the one to be sent off for head-butting Laurent Koscielny in the first place, which would have changed the tenor of the entire match. The FA rescinded Gabriel's red card and slapped Costa with a three-match ban after the fact, but that doesn't rescue the three points, now does it?

In this fixture last year, Chelsea was nine points clear at the top of the table with six matches to play and two games in hand on second place Manchester City. They came to the Emirates for a draw and got a 0-0 result. Then, the Internet argued for days over whether or not that was boring. Way to go, Internet.

Arsenal have not scored a goal in league play against Chelsea since Theo Walcott pulled a goal back in the 53rd minute of a 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge on January 20, 2013. Chelsea have kept the door shut for 487 minutes, plus injury time. Arsenal are also winless in their last eight league games against the Blues, their longest drought ever against Chelsea; I'd like to point out that pre-Abramovich, Arsenal went 19 straight without losing to Chelsea.

The Referee

The last time Clattenburg worked an Arsenal-Chelsea
match, all of these other people were involved.
The referee is County Durham-based Mark Clattenburg. Arsenal have seen Clatts only once so far this year, for the 2-1 loss at West Bromwich Albion in November. All things considered, Clattenburg did give Arsenal a late penalty in that match, from which Santi Cazorla failed to score.

The Gunners had a record of one win and one draw with Clattenburg in the middle last year, winning at Crystal Palace and drawing with Manchester City at the Emirates. Prior to the loss at West Brom, Arsenal were unbeaten in seven with Clattenburg as the referee, dating back to a 2-1 loss to Tottenham on March 3, 2013.

Chelsea have seen Clattenburg three times this year, winning one and losing two. The win came back in August, 3-2 over West Brom, in which John Terry was sent off. In late October, Clattenburg was in the middle of Chelsea's 3-1 loss to Liverpool at the Bridge, in which Ramires had scored in the fourth minute before the Reds scored three unanswered. Clattenburg also worked Leicester's 2-1 win over Chelsea at the King Power Stadium in December which was, as mentioned above, Jose Mourinho's final match in charge of the Blues.

The last time Clattenburg worked an Arsenal-Chelsea match, it was December 27, 2010; Alex Song scored just before halftime, then Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott scored two minutes apart to give Arsenal a 3-0 lead. Branislav Ivanovic pulled a goal back four minutes later, but Arsenal won 3-1. As I mentioned in the opening, that was the last time Arsenal beat Chelsea at the Emirates. Clattenburg's only other match between these two sides was a 2-1 Chelsea win at the Bridge in March of 2008, part of Arsenal's post-Eduardo injury collapse that season.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Norwich City v. Liverpool; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Tottenham Hotspur; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Stoke City; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. Southampton; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Bournemouth; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Watford v. Newcastle United; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Aston Villa; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): West Ham United v. Manchester City; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Sunday (early): Everton v. Swansea City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a mathematician. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat Σ 5 2 7 9 3 x^6.

Preview by Numbers: Stoke City v. Arsenal

Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Sunday, January 17
11:15 a.m. EST, 16:15 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Craig Pawson
    • Assistants: David Bryan and Simon Long
    • 4th Official: Mike Dean
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 0 Stoke
  • This Match, Last Year: Stoke 3 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 54 Arsenal wins, 25 Stoke wins, 23 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-L-W-W-D
  • Stoke's League Form: D-L-W-W-L-W
Well, Arsenal are no longer clear at the top of the table, after dropping two points to a late equalizer at Anfield on Wednesday. With Leicester's win at Tottenham, which would have been much funnier earlier in the season, Arsenal are now on top only by goal difference again; they have just a three goal lead on the Foxes.

The real concern is Arsenal's road form, as outlined in the "current form" section below. Arsenal's draw at Liverpool might not look too bad on paper, but some of their road losses truly do (see, Southampton and West Brom.) Arsenal have a number of major road tests during their final 17 matches of the season; they will travel to the Etihad, Old Trafford, White Hart Lane, and Upton Park during the final portion of the season.

But up next is Stoke at the Britannia, a place where Arsenal have only won once in seven Premier League tries. For Arsenal, they always approach it like just another road fixture, but for the Potters, it's like a derby. After what transpired in February of 2010 (Arsenal's only win there, mind you,) Stoke fans always get riled up for "Arsenal at home," in a while Arsenal just never seems to for "Stoke away." You could see that last year, when it was 3-0 to the home side at halftime.

I said in my Liverpool preview, "Let's see what mettle this title challenge has in it, shall we?" The question still applies and could very well be answered by the end of Sunday night.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (knee,) Coquelin (knee,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)
Doubts: Alexis (hamstring,) Ospina (groin)


Mohamed Elneny completed his transfer from Basel to Arsenal yesterday and was spotted in training photographs, meaning he will, hopefully, be eligible to join the squad in their trip to the Potteries. I doubt he will start straight away, but Arsene Wenger likely knows more than I do about this situation, don't you think?

The other question is whether Alexis Sanchez will return. Hopefully he gets through training and all of the necessary scans and quizzes and such without issue. But, again, will he start in the XI or come in from the bench?

If both Alexis and Elneny start the game on the bench, then I would not expect any changes to the XI from the side that started at Anfield on Wednesday, as none of the other long-term injured players are ready to return.

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

Stoke Squad News

Out: Given (knee,) Shaqiri (hamstring)
Doubts: Arnautovic (hamstring,) Cameron (ankle,) Muniesa (hamstring,) Ireland (hamstring)

My usual sources for non-Arsenal injury news gave some conflicting reports regarding Stoke's current injury situation, so bear with me here a bit.

Mark Hughes has confirmed that Xherdan Shaqiri will be out of Sunday's match with a hamstring injury, while Marko Arnautovic is a major doubt. Shaqiri, the club's record signing, is expected to miss about 10 days.

Elsewhere in the squad, back-up goalkeeper Shay Given, who must be 100 years old by now, is out with a knee injury, while there are doubts over Geoff Cameron, Marc Muniesa, and Stephen Ireland.

Predicted XI: Butland, Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters, Whelan, Affelay, Walters, Bojan, Odemwingie, Joselu.

Current Form

Even with Arsenal's draw on Wednesday at Liverpool, the Gunners have still only lost once since Santi Cazorla missed that potential equalizing penalty at the Hawthorns on November 21. That's eight wins, two draws, and a 4-0 loss across all competitions in the past two months.

Not too shabby, right? But let's talk about Arsenal's away form a little bit, because as I mentioned in the intro, that's where Arsenal's title bid is going to be decided. In Arsenal's last eight road matches, they have won twice (3-0 at Olympiacos and 2-0 at Aston Villa in consecutive matches in December,) they've drawn twice (1-1 at Carrow Road and 3-3 at Anfield,) and they've lost four. Three of those four losses were by three goals or more (Sheffield Wednesday, Bayern Munich, and Southampton.) The other was, as above, the 2-1 loss at West Brom.

That's not exactly encouraging reading heading to the Britannia, is it?

Meanwhile, Stoke City have been streaky all season. They opened the year winless in seven (though one was a League Cup draw they won on penalties.) Then, they won four straight. Then a loss, a penalty shootout win over Chelsea, and a draw. Then, two more wins, a loss, and two more wins. Then, a draw, a loss, and two more wins. Then, two more losses. Then, two more wins.

Stoke were dead last when they lost at the Emirates in September. They are seventh entering this weekend.

Match Facts

Have I told you lately that Arsenal struggle at the Britannia? Let's investigate this trend, shall we? I promise it won't be too painful:

Stoke City were automatically promoted to the Premier League in May of 2008, after finishing second in the Championship in 2007/08. On November 1, 2008, Stoke beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Britannia, a match in which Robin van Persie was sent off for a senseless shoulder charge on Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen with the game already 2-0. Gael Clichy, apparently, scored a consolation goal in extra time (the only league goal he scored for Arsenal.) Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Bacary Sagna all left that match injured. After the match, Sorensen quipped that Arsenal "lack that bit of spine you need."

A year later, in January of 2010, Arsenal and Stoke met at the Britannia in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Arsene Wenger would later be heavily criticized for his player selection, starting the likes of returning Sol Campbell, Mikael Silvestre, Armand Traore, and Francis Coquelin across the back four, plus Carlos Vela, Craig Eastmond, and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas up front. Regardless, it was 1-1 at 67 minutes when Wenger brought in Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, and Eduardo to go for the win. Stoke then scored twice to win 3-1.

A month later, the sides met in the league and Stoke opened the scoring on eight minutes. Nicklas Bendtner equalized in the 32nd, but the match continued 1-1 into the second half. On 66 minutes, Ryan Shawcross barreled into Aaron Ramsey and the rest is, of course, history. Arsenal needed a late penalty via handball to take a 2-1 lead, then Thomas Vermaelen added an insurance goal two minutes later. It remains Arsenal's only win at the Britannia Stadium.

In late 2011, Arsenal lost again 3-1 at Stoke, though this came at a point (early May) when Arsenal had long stopped trying post-Carling Cup Final loss. Arsenal then earned two draws at Stoke, 0-0 in April of 2012 and 1-1 in August of the same calendar year. Two years ago, during Arsenal's tumble from the top of the table, the Gunners lost 1-0 on a controversial penalty call after Laurent Koscielny handled in the box. Last year, Arsenal spotted Stoke a three-goal lead, including an opening goal in the opening seconds. While Arsenal clawed back to 3-2, Anthony Taylor sent off Calum Chambers with a harsh second yellow and Arsenal's ten-men failed to find an equalizer.

Arsenal, of course, have a fantastic record against Stoke at home, and won the reverse fixture 2-0 back in September; Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud had the goals for the Gunners.

The Referee

The referee is South Yorkshire-based Craig Pawson. Arsenal have only seen Pawson once so far this season, for their 5-2 win at Leicester City in September, which at the time didn't really feel like a title-decider. It was only retroactively that Leicester continued proving that they are actually "for real." This is the first Stoke City match Pawson will be working this season, as well.

Last year, Arsenal split their results with Pawson in the middle, beating Burnley at home before losing to Southampton at St. Mary's on New Year's Day (I don't know if Pawson was smoking in the shower after that one, but I would doubt it.) Stoke had a record of one win (over Newcastle) and two losses (to Liverpool and Swansea) with Pawson last season.

The fourth official is Mike Dean; it's the first time Dean has been involved in an Arsenal match whatsoever since his gigantic clusterfuck at Stamford Bridge in September. I would still be insanely surprised and disappointed to see him actually referee an Arsenal match over the rest of this season (in the same way Anthony Taylor didn't work another Arsenal match for over a full calendar year after that opening day fixture against Aston Villa in 2013.)

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Sunderland; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Norwich City; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Everton; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Crystal Palace; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. West Ham United; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Southampton v. West Bromwich Albion; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday (late): Aston Villa v. Leicester City; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Sunday (early): Liverpool v. Manchester United; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Monday (night): Swansea City v. Watford; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a medieval Byzantine city. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for some Byzantine attempts at humor.

Preview by Numbers: Liverpool v. Arsenal

Anfield, Liverpool
Wednesday, January 13
3:00 p.m. EST, 20:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Jones
    • Assistants: Gary Beswick and Andy Garratt
    • 4th Official: Robert Madley
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 0 - 0 Liverpool
  • This Match, Last Year: Liverpool 2 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 79 Arsenal wins, 83 Liverpool wins, 58 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-L-W-W
  • Liverpool's League Form: L-D-L-W-W-L
Jurgen Klopp has stated that Liverpool have no chance of
beating Arsenal. There's more to what he said to, you know,
qualify that statement, but I'm going to leave finding that as
an exercise to the reader.
So, here we are. Arsenal have entered this round of fixtures clear at the top of the table, by two points over Leicester City, with 18 matches remaining in the season. The last time Arsenal entered a round of fixtures clear at the top of the table, they lost 5-1 at Anfield. Ominous, no?

This is the opening to a tricky set of fixtures for Arsenal; they've got Stoke at the Britannia, a fixture they almost never win, then Chelsea, who seem to remember how to play again, at the Emirates next weekend. During the course of the remaining 15 fixtures that will follow these, Arsenal will play on the road against third place Manchester City, fourth place Tottenham Hotspur, fifth place West Ham United, and sixth place Manchester United.

As you can see, every point is precious. It's fortuitous that Arsenal get to play at Anfield against a Liverpool squad that is dealing with fixture congestion and an injury crisis. Arsenal have performed well at Anfield in the recent past, February 2014 aside, and there may be no better time to play this fixture than now.

Let's see what mettle this title challenge has in it, shall we?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Alexis (hamstring,) Cazorla (knee,) Coquelin (knee,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)
Doubts: Ospina (groin)

Per Mertesacker dances with the ball during training and
There's good news! Just, not immediate good news. Alexis Sanchez has been "progressing well" in training, but is still short for tonight; he is still likely to return at the weekend, on Sunday at Stoke. The news on Sanchez has been considered part of a "double fitness boost," as Tomas Rosicky has returned to training as well; the Czech midfielder was injured on international duty back in June, fully placing him into the "like a new signing" category right now! He's also 35, so it remains to be seen what his role with the team this season will be, anyway.

Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Flamini will both return after having last weekend off; the same goes for Per Mertesacker as well. David Ospina faces a fitness test on a groin injury that kept him from being involved in a game I would have otherwise expected him to start; here, of course, he would've been on the bench anyway.

It's as you were with the rest of the squad and its respective injuries. As the one who is in form right now, I'd start Joel Campbell over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but my gut instinct is often wrong in this kind of thing.

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

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Origi (knee,) Lovren (hamstring,) Coutinho (hamstring,) Skrtel (hamstring,) Rossiter (hamstring,) Sturridge (hamstring,) Ings (knee,) Gomez (knee)
Doubts: Flanigan (match fitness,) Milner (calf,) Ibe (hamstring,) Sakho (knee,) Henderson (foot)

Liverpool have brought in Steven Caulker on loan to help
their injury crisis.
Liverpool have some good news, insomuch as they should have Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho available in the center of defense. James Milner (calf,) Jordan Ibe (hamstring,) and Jordan Henderson (foot) could all be in contention as well.

In bad news, Liverpool have eight players ruled out. Five of them have hamstring injuries: Dejan Lovren, Philippe Coutinho, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Sturridge, and Jordan Rossiter. Divock Origi had knee surgery that will rule him out for another month. Danny Ings and Joe Gomez are out for the rest of the season with knee injuries.

With Lovren and Skrtel out and with Sakho (knee) and Toure (cramp) being doubtful, Liverpool have signed Steven Caulker on short-term loan from Queens Park Rangers; Caulker was on loan at Southampton during the first half of the season and last played in their 6-1 loss to Liverpool in the League Cup over a month ago. Caulker is eligible to play tonight.

Predicted XI: Mignolet, Clyne, Toure, Sakho, Moreno, Allen, Lucas, Emre Can, Firmino, Lallana, Benteke.

Current Form

The last thing Liverpool needed was more fixtures, but they
seem pretty happy to have equalized against Exeter here.
Victory in the FA Cup over Sunderland last weekend has made it seven wins out of eight across all competitions for Arsenal, with the 4-0 reverse on Boxing Day looking more and more like the bizarre blip we all hoped it would be. As mentioned at the top, Arsenal enter the week clear at the top of the table, on 42 points, with 18 matches to play.

Liverpool's form has been sporadic, as they are still in four competitions. Liverpool themselves had won seven out of eight after a 6-1 trouncing of Southampton in the League Cup quarterfinal. Since then, the Reds have an overall record of three wins, three losses, and three draws. They are now 8th in the Premier League, 12 points behind Arsenal. They will face Augsburg in the Europa League's Round of 32 in February. They lead Stoke City 1-0 after the first leg of their League Cup semifinal. In the FA Cup, they'll host a replay against Exeter City on January 20; the winner will play at home against West Ham.

Match Facts

The first of many points Petr Cech has stolen for Arsenal.
In August at the Emirates, both sides played an enthralling 0-0 draw. Arsenal had 66% of the possession, but Liverpool managed eight shots on target to Arsenal's five; Petr Cech saved the point with two crucial saves. Going back to read the BBC's recap of the match, I've found that their pundit managed to blame Mesut Ozil, which was still the cool thing to do back then.

In this fixture last season, Arsenal snatched a draw from the jaws of victory in a match they really didn't deserve anything from anyway; Martin Skrtel equalized in the 96th minute. Incidentally, there was only so much added time because of an injury Skrtel had suffered earlier in the half.

Arsenal have only lost twice to Liverpool in their last 17 competitive fixtures across all competitions. 10 of their last 21 meetings have ended drawn. Since the infamous 2008 Champions League tie, Arsenal have a record of three wins, three draws, and just one loss (the 5-1 two years ago) at Anfield.

The Referee

Hey, remember Sagna?
The referee is Chester-based Mike Jones. Arsenal have seen Jones only once this season, for the 3-0 win at Watford in October. The only thing I can remember about his performance on that day is that Arsenal should have had a penalty when Mesut Ozil was hauled down in the box during the second half, but Alexis Sanchez put the loose ball into the net anyway and I can't recall if Jones appeared to be giving a penalty or not.

Overall, Arsenal have won five straight with Jones in the middle, dating back to a 1-0 loss at Stoke in March of 2014, which the Potters won on a dubious penalty.

Liverpool were also winners in their only game with Jones this season, although theirs was a League Cup tie, a 1-0 win over Bournemouth, which came a week and a half after that aforementioned Arsenal win over Watford. Liverpool drew both of their matches with Jones in the middle last season, including a League Cup tie against Middlesbrough which they went on to win 14-13 on penalties.

Around the League
  • Tuesday: Bournemouth 1 - 3 West Ham United
  • Tuesday: Aston Villa 1 - 0 Crystal Palace
  • Tuesday: Newcastle United 3 - 3 Manchester United
  • Wednesday: Chelsea v. West Bromwich Albion; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Wednesday: Manchester City v. Everton; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Wednesday: Southampton v. Watford; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Wednesday: Stoke City v. Norwich City; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Wednesday: Swansea City v. Sunderland; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Wednesday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Leicester City; White Hart Lane, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a large shield volcano. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for hot spewing lava.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Sunderland, FA Cup Third Round

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, January 9
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Mark Scholes and Matthew Wilkes
    • 4th Official: Lee Collins
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 59 Arsenal wins, 50 Sunderland wins, 40 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 3 Arsenal wins, 4 Sunderland wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-L-W-W
  • Sunderland's League Form: L-L-L-L-L-W
Here's a picture of the last squad to embark on three
consecutive FA Cup victories.
20 games into the league season and Arsenal are, for the first time since February 3, 2014, clear at the top of the table through an entire round of fixtures. They've got a tricky run of fixtures, with Liverpool away, Stoke away, and Chelsea at the Emirates looming on the horizon. In fact, it was Liverpool away that ended Arsenal's run at the top two years ago. But, for now, we divert our attentions to the FA Cup.

Arsenal have had great success in this competition in the past two seasons, becoming just the fourth club to win consecutive FA Cups more than once in their history. They're also the tournament's most successful club overall, as they have now won 12 titles. If Arsenal win a third straight FA Cup this May, they will become the first club to achieve that feat in 130 years (Blackburn Rovers last won three straight in 1884-86; the 1884 winners are pictured above.)

Relegation-threatened Sunderland stand in Arsenal's way as the first hurdle in their title defense. Sam Allardyce knows he needs to prioritize league points; to be honest, the last thing Sunderland needs right now is a cup run. Of course, a shock win from the Black Cats could buoy their confidence going forward too, so don't expect Sunderland to just roll over.

The third round is always a bit tricky, especially when drawn against Premier League opposition, so let's see what happens.

Arsenal Squad News

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

It's always weird to see Wenger on the touchline not in his
Bad news for Alexis Sanchez, as the Chilean international will not be fit to return from the hamstring injury he suffered on November 29. This now counts five weeks out for Alexis, who is "not bad but not ready." With the squad still stretched thin, Alexis unavailable, and Mesut Ozil in need of a rest, there's very little room for Arsene Wenger to rotate up top tomorrow.

Farther back in the formation, Mikel Arteta is said to be available again, while Tomas Rosicky will be back in training next week. There are no changes to the timeline for the other long-term injured players, including Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere, and Danny Welbeck.

There is some room to rotate at the back; with Mathieu Debuchy out of favor and likely to be loaned out soon, Calum Chambers could get a start at right back. I'd expect starts for Gabriel and Kieran Gibbs as well. We'll also wait and see if Wenger chooses to use David Ospina as a cup keeper in this competition, after his, shall we say adventures in Europe.

Due to the nature of cup tie rotation, I'm going to refrain from predicting line-ups in this preview.

Sunderland Squad News

Out: Matthews (ankle,) Kaboul (hamstring,) Larsson (knee)
Doubts: Rodwell (hamstring)

Vito Mannone has earned three straight starts.
Sam Allardyce has indicated that he'll ring in the changes for this match, considering the Premier League has a midweek round of fixtures coming up ahead. What that exactly means for Sunderland's starting XI, I have no idea.

In terms of injuries, Adam Matthews is out with an ankle injury, Sebastian Larsson is out until next week with a knee problem, and Younes Kaboul is out for another two weeks with a hamstring injury. Jack Rodwell is also a doubt with a hamstring injury of his own.

It's worth noting that former Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone, dropped after a few errors handed Arsenal a 2-0 win at the Stadium of Light last October, has returned to the starting position for Sunderland's last three league fixtures. He might be in the shop window, though, as Jordan Pickford has been recalled from his loan at Preston North End.

Current Form

Arsenal made it difficult, but escaped with a 1-0 win  last
Arsenal appeared to be in some trouble when they hosted Sunderland back in December. Since then, including that match, Arsenal have won six of their last seven across all competitions. The only blip, of course, was the heavy defeat to Southampton on Boxing Day, which felt like six losses in itself.

Sunderland went into that match on their first two-match winning streak of the season; they then proceeded to lose five straight. They will, however, come into this match with a win under their belt, as they had last month; Sunderland beat last place Aston Villa 3-1 at the Stadium of Light last week.

There's no real reason to talk about FA Cup "form," since Arsenal haven't played an FA Cup tie since last year's final, but it is notable that they have won 12 straight in the competition, en route to consecutive titles. Arsenal's record for most consecutive cup ties won is 16, between 2002 and 2004, before they lost 1-0 to Manchester United in the 2004 semi-final.

Match Facts

Olivier Giroud scores in the correct net for Arsenal.
Arsenal won at home against Sunderland just a month ago, by a 3-1 margin. Arsenal led through Joel Campbell on 33 minutes, but Olivier Giroud equalized into the wrong net just before halftime from a Sunderland set piece. Giroud scored in the correct net on 63 minutes to give Arsenal the lead again and Aaron Ramsey made the points safe in injury time.

Arsenal have not had the easiest of times with Sunderland in recent seasons, as the Black Cats have gotten a scoreless draw out of three of their last six visits to the Emirates, though Arsenal's overall record against Sunderland does not quite reflect those struggles; the Gunners have lost just once in their last 24 league meetings. Sunderland's last league win over Arsenal came on November 21, 2009, 1-0 at the Stadium of Light, thanks to a Darren Bent winner.

In the FA Cup, however, Sunderland won the most recent meeting between the clubs (in 2012) and have won four of the seven overall ties. That match in 2012 ended 2-0 to the hosts at the Stadium of Light. Kieran Richardson put a deflected shot past Lukasz Fabianski just before halftime, while an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain own goal doubled Sunderland's advantage just 12 minutes from time. That cup tie came just days after Arsenal's worst ever loss in Europe, 4-0 in Milan.

Sunderland won the first of the six other FA Cup meetings between the clubs, way back in 1893, by a 6-0 margin. (Woolwich) Arsenal returned the favor in 1906 with a 5-0 victory of their own. Sunderland won again in 1961, then in the 1973 semifinal at Hillsborough (Sunderland won the cup over Leeds in the final that year.) The Gunners came away with wins in 1991 and 1997 in a replay.

The Referee

"Do you see this? Do you know what this is for?"
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Arsenal's record with Atkinson has been poor of late; in fact, it very well might be worse with Atkinson than any other referee over the past handful of years. He's taken charge of two Arsenal matches so far this season: the 2-0 loss to West Ham and the 1-1 draw with Tottenham.

Arsenal have lost five of their last eight with Atkinson in the middle, winning only against QPR (in which Olivier Giroud was, correctly, sent off) and Reading in the FA Cup Semi-Final (which required extra time, so over 90 minutes, it was a draw.) Last season, Atkinson took charge of Arsenal's losses at Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane.

Sunderland's record this season with Atkinson is split; the Black Cats lost 1-0 at West Brom in October, but beat Crystal Palace in London 1-0 in November.

Martin Atkinson has shown 98 cards this season across all competitions; none of them have been red.

Around the Third Round
  • Friday (night): Exeter City v. Liverpool; St. James Park, Exeter
  • Saturday (early): Wycombe Wanderers v. Aston Villa; Adams Park, High Wycombe
  • Saturday: Birmingham City v. Bournemouth; St. Andrew's, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Brentford v. Walsall; Griffin Park, London
  • Saturday: Bury v. Bradford City; Gigg Lane, Bury
  • Saturday: Colchester United v. Charlton Athletic; Colchester Communit Stadium, Colchester
  • Saturday: Doncaster Rovers v. Stoke City; Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster
  • Saturday: Eastleigh v. Bolton Wanderers; Ten Acres, Eastleigh
  • Saturday: Everton v. Dagenham & Redbridge; Goodison Park, London
  • Saturday: Hartlepool United v. Derby County; Victoria Park, Hartlepool
  • Saturday: Huddersfield Town v. Reading; John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Brighton & Hove Albion; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Ipswich Town v. Portsmouth; Portman Road, Ipswich
  • Saturday: Leeds United v. Rotherham United; Elland Road, Leeds
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Burnley; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Newport County v. Blackburn Rovers; Rodney Parade, Newport
  • Saturday: Northampton Town v. Milton Keynes Dons; Sixfields Stadium, Northampton
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Manchester City; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: Nottingham Forest v. Queens Park Rangers; City Ground, Nottingham
  • Saturday: Peterborough United v. Preston North End; London Road Stadium, Peterborough
  • Saturday: Sheffield Wednesday v. Fulham; Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Crystal Palace; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Watford v. Newcastle United; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Bristol City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Wolverhampton Wanderers; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday (late): Manchester United v. Sheffield United; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Sunday (very early): Oxford United v. Swansea City; Kassam Stadium, Oxford
  • Sunday (early): Carlisle United v. Yeovil Town; Bloomfield Road, Blackpool
    • Carlisle have played home matches in numerous locations over the past month due to storm damage to the pitch at Brunton Park.
  • Sunday (early): Chelsea v. Scunthorpe United; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Leicester City; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (night): Cardiff City v. Shrewsbury Town; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a shipwreck. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for the salvage attempt.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Newcastle United

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, January 2
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Peter Kirkup
    • 4th Official: Stephen Martin
  • Reverse Fixture: Newcastle 0 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 4 - 1 Newcastle
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 73 Arsenal wins, 66 Newcastle wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-W-W-L-W
  • Newcastle's League Form: L-W-W-D-L-L
Happy New Year, Gooners!

Note: If you live west of the Eastern Time Zone, it's entirely possible that you're still reading this from 2015, also now known from my vantage point as "the past." For your benefit, I'll try not to include any 2016 spoilers.

Happy birthday, Calendar!
We are halfway through the league season, everyone has played everyone else exactly once, and Arsenal are on top of the table on goal difference ahead of a Leicester City team that everyone most certainly has to take seriously now. They didn't win their 39 points in a raffle. If Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez stay healthy, they are a title contender. Since you're probably wondering, Leicester come to the Emirates on February 13.

Arsenal's second half of the season looks like it could be trickier than the first, as they'll have to play road games against Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, and Stoke City. Those last two come in the same week later this month. They'll also play away to West Ham and Everton and those aren't exactly easy fixtures, either. Arsenal have a 100% record against top half teams away from the Emirates this season; it feels unfair to qualify that by reminding you that those wins were against Leicester, Crystal Palace, and Watford. Yes, it's been a season marked by more parity than we've ever seen in the top flight.

But, let's focus on the matter at hand, shall we? Arsenal kick off 2016 and the second half of their league slate at home against 18th place Newcastle United. Wins against Liverpool and Spurs buoyed the Toon through early December, meaning this is a match the Gunners cannot take lightly, but they have since drawn last place Aston Villa at home, conceded a very late winner at home to Everton on Boxing Day, and lost at the Hawthorns on Monday.

Arsenal cannot afford to drop any more stupid points. They're top of the table despite losing at West Brom, losing at Chelsea while they were awful, drawing at Norwich, and getting hit for four at Southampton (by the way, the last league title winner to lose any match in the league by that many goals was Manchester United in 1999/2000, who lost 5-0 at Stamford Bridge that October.)

A title contender should not drop points at home to a club in 18th place. That's right, I'm talking to you, Spurs.

Arsenal Squad News

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

Flamini missed Monday with an inflaminned ankle.
Get it? In-Flamin-ned, Flamini? Ahaha.
Mathieu Flamini missed out on Monday's match against Bournemouth after suffering some ankle inflammation in the 4-0 crapfest against Southampton; he's shifted back into the "possible" column for this one.

Elsewhere in the squad, there's good news regarding Alexis Sanchez. You may recall the Chilean was expected to return in "mid-January," whatever that meant. Word from the boss is that he may feature in next week's FA Cup tie against Sunderland, which is good news, since those aforementioned trips to Anfield and the Britannia follow.

Jack Wilshere's injury length is currently a mystery, with Arsene Wenger saying, "I said February, but I honestly don't know." Wenger was then asked if Wilshere will be available for the Euros, to which he basically said that February is not June.

As for Tomas Rosicky, he could be back in February! Wenger said on Wednesday that Rosicky is "three weeks away," which is exactly what he said last week, so clearly, I don't know how to count weeks. Mikel Arteta is back in training but lacks match fitness, so he will not be available. It's as you were with the rest of the long-term injured, including Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, and Danny Welbeck. No updates there.

Arsene Wenger has hinted that there could be some rotation; Calum Chambers impressed in place of Flamini on Monday and could retain his spot. Same goes for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gabriel; perhaps Per Mertesacker can get a rest in here. That's my guess, at least.

Predicted XI: Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny, Gabriel, Monreal, Chambers, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Ozil, Giroud.

Newcastle Squad News

Out: Cisse (groin,) Good (hip,) Haidara (knee,) Krul (knee,) Obertan (hamstring,) Williamson (hamstring,) Lascelles (hamstring,) Taylor (hamstring)
Doubts: Elliot (illness,) Riviere (knee,) Aarons (ankle,) Anita (hamstring)

You gotta be Krul to be kind.
Okay, holy crap there's a lot going on here, so let's take this position-by-position, starting with the goalkeepers. Tim Krul's season is over; he tore his ACL on international duty with Holland back in October. Rob Elliot has deputized this season, but missed Monday's match with West Bromwich Albion through illness. That handed a first Premier League start to 25-year-old Karl Darlow, who allowed a howler as Darren Fletcher's header slipped through his hands; Newcastle lost 1-0. If Elliot's healthy again, he'll start, but he's more likely 50/50.

Newcastle have five injured defenders, yet they are mostly not the starters. Curtis Good is out with a hip injury he suffered last February. Massadio Haidara is out with a knee injury and is expected back in March. Mike Williamson has struggled with a hamstring injury; he had been loaned to Wolves back in October to get playing time, but was recalled to provide cover. Now, he's out injured himself anyway, with no return date listed. Steven Taylor could be back next week from his hamstring injury. 22-year-old Jamaal Lascelles made four appearances through October and November, but is now also out with a hamstring problem.

I mentioned, however, that these injuries will not disrupt Newcastle's usual back four, with Daryl Janmaat and Paul Dummett at the fullback positions and Fabricio Coloccini and Chancel Mbemba at center back.

Vurnon Anita is only 25% likely to feature thanks to a hamstring problem of his own; as such, Jack Colback and Cheick Tiote should start in the holding midfield positions. Rolando Aarons is a major doubt as well with an ankle ligament injury. Gabriel Obertan is out with a hamstring injury, too. That will leave Moussa Sissoko, Ayoze Perez, and Georginio Wijnaldum to play the advanced midfield positions; Wijnaldum is tied for seventh in the league in goals this season with seven, though four of those came in one match against Norwich.

Up top, Papiss Cisse is out with a groin injury and Emmanuel Riviere is very doubtful as he returns from a meniscus tear, which will mean a start for Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was sent off in the reverse fixture.

Predicted XI: Elliot, Janmaat, Mbemba, Coloccini, Dummett, Colback, Tiote, Sissoko, Perez, Wijanldum, Mitrovic.

Current Form

West Brom celebrate their winner over Newcastle on Monday
as Karl Darlow looks for his lost contact lens.
It had been a tale of two months for Arsenal, struggles in November but fully behind them in December to the tune of four straight wins across all competitions. Then, Boxing Day, and a 4-0 setback on the south coast at Southampton. Since my last preview, Arsenal have gone from "title favorites," to "same old Arsenal, choking away their chances," back to "title favorites" now that they are top of the table again.

On November 28, Newcastle United lost 5-1 to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. At that moment, the Toon had 10 points from 14 games and were two points from safety, sitting in 19th on goal difference with Bournemouth. A week later, Newcastle surprised everyone with a 2-0 home win against Liverpool. Unfortunately for them, Bournemouth went on a winning streak at the same time. A week later, Newcastle won again, this time at Tottenham, and they and Bournemouth jumped to 15th and 14th in the table, respectively. Of course, they were just two points clear.

A draw with Aston Villa meant Newcastle dropped back down to 17th place, but they were two points clear of relegation on Christmas. On Boxing Day, they looked to have another point in the bag before Tom Cleverley's late winner for Everton, and suddenly, that extra point dropped the Toon back into the relegation zone. With Swansea now unbeaten in three and with Newcastle losing to West Brom on Monday, the Toon are still in 18th place, two points adrift of Swansea and safety. They are, however, five points clear of their rival Sunderland and nine points clear of last place Aston Villa.

If you ask me, I think Sunderland and Aston Villa are going down come May, but I think Newcastle will scrape together enough wins to be safe. Hard to pick a third team to face the drop, so I'm going to go with the gut instinct I've had for a while and say Norwich City. I know, a lot of this is irrelevant, so I'll stop talking about it now.

Match Facts

Own Goal's second of the season gave Arsenal the win in the
reverse fixture.
In the reverse fixture, Arsenal opted to start Theo Walcott as the lone striker, in an attempt to utilize his pace against Newcastle's defenders. Newcastle opted to try to rough up the Arsenal players, to the tune of six yellow cards accumulated in the match. In addition to those six bookings, Aleksandar Mitrovic was sent off on 16 minutes for a rash challenge on Francis Coquelin.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, Newcastle's numerical disadvantage forced them to sit deeper, which effectively nullified Arsenal's ability to use Walcott for pace. Arsenal managed 22 shots to Newcastle's one and put nine shots on target. In the end, Tim Krul made nine saves, but it was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's angled cross on 52 minutes which was turned into the back of the net by Newcastle center back Fabricio Coloccini. At that point, Own Goal became Arsenal's leading scorer for the season, through four fixtures.

Arsenal won this fixture last year 4-1 in mid-December. Newcastle were without either Tim Krul or Rob Elliot in goal and, more critically, were without Moussa Sissoko in the holding role. Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla scored twice each on third-string keeper Jak Alnwick, though Cazorla was widely criticized for chipping a penalty down the middle to score the home side's fourth of the night.

Arsenal have won eight straight against Newcastle and are unbeaten in their last 10 against the Toon dating back to November of 2010, when an Andy Carroll header gave Newcastle a 1-0 win at the Emirates. Arsenal then drew two straight visits to St. James' Park before winning these eight straight. Arsenal have also lost only one of their last 20 against Newcastle across all competitions, dating back to 2005.

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

The Referee

Anthony Taylor breaks up a shoving match between Mikel
Arteta and Radamel Falcao. One league start between the
two of them, combined, this season.
The referee is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor. Arsenal had a pretty decent 2015 with Taylor in the middle, even if their 2013 and 2014 were anything but. Arsenal's last real disaster with Taylor came at the Britannia last year, when Arsenal were on their way back from a 3-0 halftime deficit against Stoke before a harsh second yellow card to Calum Chambers. From there, however, Arsenal had a record of three wins and a draw with Taylor in the middle at the end of last season, beating Aston Villa, Liverpool, and West Ham (he came in to replace the injured Chris Foy in that one,) with the draw coming against Sunderland in May.

This season, Taylor took charge of the Community Shield and Arsenal's 1-0 win over Chelsea. He was also in the middle for the 3-0 demolition of Manchester United. So, to recap, since the 3-2 loss at the Britannia, Arsenal have a record of five wins, one draw, and no losses with Anthony Taylor as the referee.

Newcastle have split their two decisions with Taylor this season; he was the man in the middle for Newcastle's 2-0 loss at West Ham United in September as well as their emphatic 6-2 win over Norwich City in October, in which Georginio Wijnaldum scored four.

Taylor has shown two red cards this season; I mostly want to bring this up because his 90th minute red card to Adrian in West Ham's 2-1 loss to Leicester City saw Carl Jenkinson grab the gloves to play in goal. He showed his second red card of the season this past Monday, for Nathan Ake's reckless lunge on Erik Lamela in Spurs's 2-1 win at Watford.

Around the League

These are the reverse of fixtures played the weekend of August 29-30.
  • Saturday (early): West Ham United v. Liverpool; Boleyn Ground, London
    • Reverse Fixture: West Ham United won 3-0
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Bournemouth; King Power Stadium, Leicester
    • Reverse Fixture: Drawn 1-1
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. Swansea City; Old Trafford, Manchester
    • Reverse Fixture: Swansea City won 2-1
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Southampton; Carrow Road, Norwich
    • Reverse Fixture: Southampton won 3-0
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Aston Villa; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
    • Reverse Fixture: Drawn 2-2
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Stoke City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
    • Reverse Fixture: West Bromwich Albion won 1-0
  • Saturday (late): Watford v. Manchester City; Vicarage Road, Watford
    • Reverse Fixture: Manchester City won 2-0
  • Sunday (early): Crystal Palace v. Chelsea; Selhurst Park, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Crystal Palace won 2-1
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Everton; White Hart Lane, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Drawn 0-0
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and calendar aficionado. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat any day of the week.