Greater Manchester Nursery School 3-2 Arsenal: I Don't Even Know What to Say

Today's choice of picture is entirely to serve as a reminder of the one thing this team is missing more than anything else. The thing is, the players - individually and as a unit - are good enough to win trophies. But my god, there isn't a thimbleful of fight or spirit to be found among (most of) the lot of them...especially among the English core, who are supposed to be the ones to generate it.

Make no mistake - this is quite possibly the most disgraceful and gutless performance in the 25-ish years I've been supporting this club. This is worse than the 8-2 in this very fixture a few years ago. Why? Well, think of it this way - that happened when we were in a horrible state of flux and forced to blood a bunch of callow youths and other guys played out of position.

Sound familiar?

I don't even really want to do this, so you get bullet points and you'll like it.

  • Before we get to anything else, my god did Arsene ever cock up the team selection. Giroud on the bench, Theo alone up top, Gabriel in place of BFG, Iwobi on as the last sub instead of Campbell...yeah, I'm Monday-morning quarterbacking a bit, but he got literally everything wrong today. Giroud should have come on at halftime, too.
  • Cech, both fullbacks, Ozil and Welbeck were the only ones who weren't an absolute, abject disgrace to the shirt.
  • I am way, way, done with Walcott. Just absolutely done. This is who he is, he's going to flatter to deceive exactly like this for the rest of his career. The one game where we need everyone to stand up and be counted, he was nowhere to be found. I'm so tired of his disappearing side-of-a-milk-carton act. I honestly try not to be the over-reactive "DURRR SELL HIM" type after one bad performance like, say, 75% of Arsenal Twitter. But, he's had a decade or so here now. This is what he is. We can do better.
  • Alexis Sanchez is a great player but it is so obvious that he has nothing left in the gas tank. He's had nothing but constant football for like two years, and the spark that makes him better than his peers just isn't there. I feel like a stronger manager would sit him for a few weeks, both to recharge his batteries and to light a fire under him. It'll never happen though,
  • Gabriel is an utter joke of a footballer, by the way. He was badly at fault for the first two goals, and we never recovered. If BFG is in there, we probably go up 1-0 with our first goal and this is likely a much different story. As someone I was talking to in the pub said today, "Why do we always get the shit Brazilians?".
  • Ramsey is another one who could do with about a million years on the bench, but who are we going to play in that position? Arteta? Flamini? C'mon.
  • We need to talk about that team that they put out, too. Children. Dudes playing out of position. I mean, they had two central midfielders as their center-halves. A zygote came on for Rojo when he got injured. That kid whose name we'll all forget in a season and a half when he runs up against someone who doesn't do the "Ole!" defense up top. There is absolutely no reason that we shouldn't have eviscerated this lot, let alone fucking lose to them. Especially once that kid came on at left back, with both center-halves on yellows, the smart thing to do would have been to go direct and really force the issue on them. But, nope. Same old tippy-tappy sideways-passing glacially-paced nonsense that we've been watching for 6-7 years now. It's enough to do your head in. De Gea was also clearly rushed back from injury - he moved for Welbeck's headed goal like my grandfather - who's been dead since 1984 - and we never tested him. NO shots on target after our second goal, with 20+ minutes to go. I mean, what can you say?

I am usually as optimistic as any Gooner you'll meet, but the title is dead and gone as of today, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. We got outfought, out-hustled and outplayed by a team that inexplicably wanted it way more than we did. How we could have done with a Tony Adams type today.

But, don't worry. We only have to go to the Nou Camp to get wheat-threshered by Barcelona, then the NLD, and who knows if the players will approach it with the fight and heart that it deserves. Fuck this season. Go on and win it, Leicester.

Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford, but fuck's sake, we didn't make it half easy for him.

Preview by Numbers: Manchester United v. Arsenal

Old Trafford, Manchester
Sunday, February 28
9:05 a.m. EST, 14:05 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Craig Pawson
    • Assistants: Lee Betts and Marc Perry
    • 4th Official: Mike Dean
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 0 Manchester United
  • This Match, Last Year: Manchester United 1 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 81 Arsenal wins, 93 United wins, 49 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-D-L-D-W-W
  • Manchester United's League Form: D-W-L-W-D-L
I suppose some congratulations are in order. Barcelona's 2-0 win at the Emirates on Tuesday means they're at least as good as West Ham.

Like all things Arsenal, fan reactions to Tuesday's loss have run the gamut from "whatevs" to "FIRE THEM ALLLLLL". I understand that; there's always going to be a major pang of disappointment when you lose a home game, even as some try to rationalize that Arsenal went toe-to-toe with what is clearly the best team in the world for 70 minutes. Some will say that that means Arsenal are not the best team in the world themselves and that that's a problem for them. For those, well, there are a lot of philosophical and logistical issues that contribute to that, and this isn't really the place to have the discussion.

We move on. We're facing a title race here. Arsenal are two points out of first with 12 games to play, their two biggest of which are among the next three on the fixtures list. Arsenal have United at Old Trafford on Sunday, Swansea at the Emirates midweek, and Spurs at the Lane the following Saturday. I would argue that Arsenal need to take at least seven points out of the possible nine to stay in the race. Take all nine and they'd certainly be favorites, both statistically and with the oddsmakers.

But, you can't win all nine points at once, so let's get the first three in what has often been a house of horrors in the past. The psychology of that could buoy them through the other difficult fixtures as well.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Rosicky (thigh,) Cazorla (knee,) Wilshere (ankle)
Doubts: Gabriel (hamstring)

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left the Emirates on crutches on Tuesday night after taking a heavy challenge from Javier Mascherano and then inexplicably playing, like, 20 more minutes. Arsene Wenger said during his presser yesterday that he would have a scan, but was certainly out for Sunday. There are rumors that the Ox has injured ligaments in both his knee and ankle, which could mean that not only is the rest of his Arsenal season in doubt, but also his potential participation in Euro 2016 as well.

On the other hand, Gabriel is back in the squad today, so Arsenal will see how he responds. He could be available for Sunday; the Brazilian has not played since February 7 with a hamstring injury, which means a near return would fit in the usual three week period.

Jack Wilshere is not yet back in training and there is no update on Tomas Rosicky or Santi Cazorla.

Manchester United Squad News

Out: Rooney (knee,) Shaw (leg,) Young (groin,) Fellaini (hamstring,) Schweinsteiger (knee,) Darmian (shoulder)
Doubts: Martial (hamstring,) Keane (groin,) de Gea (knee,) Jones (knock,) Januzaj (hamstring,) Valencia (ankle,) Rojo (shoulder,) Borthwick-Jackson (knock)

I have no idea where to start with all of this. I should note that because of the fact that I'm typing a lot of this on Thursday, many more players are in the doubt category than normal because it's hard to tell whether they'll be back by Sunday or not.

Okay, so, Anthony Martial picked up a hamstring injury in the warm-ups for yesterdays Europa League tie and had to be replaced by 18-year-old Marcus Rashford, who went on to score twice. Hamstring injuries usually cost you a few weeks, but it's impossible to know the seriousness at this stage. He could be completely fine and start Sunday, but he probably won't. So, into the doubt category he goes.

Wayne Rooney is out, probably until April, with a knee injury. Luke Shaw's season ended back in September after that horrible double leg break. There do not appear to be returns on the cards for Ashley Young (groin surgery,) Marouane Fellaini (hamstring,) Bastian Schweinsteiger (knee ligament,) or Matteo Darmian (dislocated shoulder.)

I'd put money on David de Gea being available because Arsenal are not that lucky. I remember him making nine saves with a dislocated finger at the Emirates last year. He's been out about two weeks with a knee problem. United lost Will Keane, Jesse Lingard, and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson during their FA Cup win over Shrewsbury Town on Monday. Lingard started on Thursday; the other two are still doubts, I guess.

Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo, out since October and November respectively, are back in training but could be lacking match fitness. Phil Jones is a doubt with a knock. Adnan Januzaj is back in training after a hamstring problem; he had been recalled from his loan to Dortmund on January 6.

Current Form

Since Boxing Day, both of Arsenal's losses across all competitions have come at home. The big concern, however, is about scoring goals. Early in the season (and a bit at the end of last year,) Arsenal were struggling to put the ball into the net in home games. They had that 2-0 loss to West Ham to open the season that I mentioned in the intro, then had that 0-0 against Liverpool. In their last eight matches, Arsenal have failed to score in five of them. They've scored 41 goals so far this season, the fewest among teams in the top four.

On the other hand, Manchester United have scored only 33 goals in 26 league games. Since the start of December, they've been in a tailspin. They crashed out of the Champions League after a loss at Wolfsburg on December 8. In the league, since November 28, United have three wins, five draws, and five losses. They have progressed in the FA Cup, but they've done that with wins over Sheffield United, Derby County, and Shrewsbury Town. They've also progressed in the Europa League, even though it took them 150 minutes of the 180 to finally take control against Midtjylland.

Match Facts

Arsenal won the reverse fixture in convincing fashion, 3-0, something you can't usually say about Arsenal-Manchester United matches. Arsenal began the match on the front foot and didn't let up until they had three within 20 minutes. Alexis Sanchez scored in the sixth minute, Mesut Ozil scored in the seventh, and Alexis scored again in the 19th. Arsenal took their foot off the gas a bit at that point, so by the end, United ended with 62% of the possession and twice as many corners as Arsenal, but Petr Cech made five saves to pick up the clean sheet.

Arsenal lost the league fixtures between these sides at the Emirates last year, but they have not lost to United since, picking up that dramatic FA Cup win last March as well as a draw in league play in May.

Before that FA Cup tie, United had been unbeaten in ten home matches against Arsenal, winning nine of them (and clinching the league title with the one draw.) September 17, 2006 marks Arsenal's last league win at Old Trafford. That match ended 1-0; Emmanuel Adebayor had the 86th minute winner.

In 2006/07, Arsenal actually won both league meetings between the sides. Since that year, across all competitions, United have met Arsenal 22 times. Arsenal have won four of those matches, drawn five, and lost 13.

The Referee

The referee is South Yorkshire-based Craig Pawson. This is a huge appointment for Pawson, who has been working in the Premier League for just under three years at this point. Arsenal have seen Pawson twice this season, for the 5-2 win at Leicester City and their 0-0 draw at the Britannia against Stoke.

Pawson has worked two Manchester United matches this season; they were both draws: 0-0 with Newcastle at Old Trafford (that happened?!?) in August and a 1-1 at the King Power Stadium against Leicester City in November.

Before the 0-0 draw with Newcastle, Pawson had worked two other matches at Old Trafford, but they were both United wins. Of course, they came against Cardiff City and Hull City in 2013/14.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): West Ham United v. Sunderland; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Norwich City; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Chelsea; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Aston Villa; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Watford v. Bournemouth; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday (late): West Bromwich Albion v. Crystal Palace; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Sunday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Swansea City; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (League Cup Final): Liverpool v. Manchester City; Wembley Stadium, London
  • Not playing: Everton and Newcastle United
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and AAAAAAAAA! You can follow him on Twitter @AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA for AAAAAAAA AAAAAAA AAAAA A AAAAAAA AAAAAA.

Arsenal 0-2 Barcelona: Well-Fought But Not Our Day

Have a look at Twitter right now and you'd think we have just lost, say, 2-1 to FC Midtjylland. You also will see a ton of lazy "Same Old Arsenal" type analysis from the usual know-nothing brigade, but it's simply not true. Arsenal fought hard and well against arguably the best team in the world (Munich is the only other side in the argument for me), and could easily have won by the reverse scoreline had a few big moments went in the other direction.

Me? I'm proud of my team today.

As you'd expect, Barcelona had a lot of the ball. But, they went the entire first 45 without getting a shot on Petr Cech, a feat that was last accomplished roughly back when Alexander the Great was the real all-conquering force. Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin sat back a lot further than they usually do, and it helped with keeping things tight and closing down space.

(Side note: I was working while watching the match, so I mostly spent the time watching in 15-20 second clips - so, I can't say I saw everything.)

We should have taken the lead, too. I mean, I'm at a point now where I just don't know what to think about Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. All the tools are there, but you can't teach composure or a predatory instinct. A scramble in their area led to Ox having the ball right around the penalty spot, dead central with no blue shirts near him and the keeper nowhere. Somehow, he managed to toe-poke a gentle daisy-cutter right at Marc-Andre ter Stegen's prone body. My god. Stephen Hawking would have put that away.

I suppose in hindsight the game was up there, really. It certainly didn't help that there seemed to be yet another UEFA directive along the lines of "Barcelona Shalt Not Lose". The weird thing is that I reckon that Cunyet Cakir is the best referee in the world right now. He's had some big games, with big decisions to go with it, and he's always gotten them right. His performance today, taken in that light, seems off to me. You know, like some envelopes changed hands or his family was locked in some Swedish allotment shed or something. Odd.

It did mean that Nacho took an early yellow card, and somehow Jordi Alba - that odious little twat - wasn't sent off about 50 times over. They also could have seen yellows for various smelly bits of play-acting, but what can you do?

Playing 11-on-12 the whole game, our guys did OK. I keep coming back to that.

Other than that, their lot really weren't that good. I can easily see Munich giving these guys something to think about if they turn up to the final like this. Bitey Luis Suarez missed a couple of sitters, and we all howled.

Anyway, at some point Ox went off injured, the delayed result of a horror collision with that psychopath Javier Mascherano. Theo Walcott came on in his place, and accomplished exactly nothing that I can remember. Alexis Sanchez was a bit off on the day too, but the guy is coming off an injury and last had a solid period of rest in the Tony Blair administration, soooooo....

There were still opportunities on our end - Olivier Giroud had a fabulous header clawed out by ter Stegen, and the German later used his body well to block a point-blank shot by Ramsey. That was the Welshman's only offensive contribution of the match other than about 12,000 misplaced passes. As for Giroud, his hold-up play and cushioned headers were brilliant, but any time he had to use his feet it looked like he hadn't worked out that the guys in red were the ones that are his mates. There was one pass where Theo made an excellent run and Giroud ended up backheeling to nowhere, and another where he should have had a go when he was best placed.

The sucker-punch came on 70 minutes, as the Gunners let their discipline get away from them. We got sucked in high up the pitch, BFG fell over like a loon at midfield, and poor old Nacho was left to either cover Neymar on the ball or Messi running towards the back post. I'd have wanted him to take away the pass if I were in goal, and take my chances with the shooter. Nacho instead came over, easy pass, easy tap-in.

The worst bit is, even at 0-1, I don't think the tie was over. Gerard Pique took a yellow at one point, leaving him suspended for the second leg. I'd have liked my chances on the counter without him there, but the second goal was a killer. We were doing OK still - Danny Welbeck came on for a decent cameo - but again the defending was ludicrous. BFG - who at this point really needs to be taken out back behind the shed to see the rabbits - fluffed a clearance he should have hoofed somewhere out onto the Hornsey Road. It came out to Messi, and Mathieu Flamini ended up taking his legs away. It never should have been on him though, and pelters he's getting on Twitter is embarrassing. Come on people, we're smarter than this.

So, yeah. Penalty, 0-2, ballgame.

Look, I see it like this: We fought our asses off against an incredible team (of cunts, but still), and remember that last year we were getting turned over by fucking Monaco. We're still in with a shout for two trophies. We're due a good old-fashioned ass-kicking of someone. Why not do it and send LVG out on the dusty trail forever? If our guys play with the same heart and commitment that they did today, we're going to turn them over something fierce.

As for this? I've already forgotten it. On to better things.

Man of the Match:  Messi. Whatever.

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

Emirates Stadium, London
Tuesday, February 23
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials from Turkey
    • Referee: Cuneyt Cakir
    • Assistants: Bahattin Duran and Tarik Ongun
    • 4th Official: Cem Satman
    • Additional Assistants: Huseyin Gocek and Baris Simsek
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win, 4 Barcelona wins, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's European Form: L-L-W-L-W-W
  • Barcelona's European Form: D-W-W-W-W-D
Quick match preview today (and for the United game this weekend, most likely) as I'm out of town on business this week. I considered not writing one at all, but these are massive games this week, so I've got to work out something...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gabriel (hamstring,) Rosicky (thigh,) Cazorla (knee,) Wilshere (ankle)

Not much news in terms of the Arsenal squad; Gabriel remains out with his hamstring injury, which isn't unexpected. He is, however, back in training, so there's some good news on that front. Aside from that, the players who were rotated out for the cup tie at the weekend should be rotated straight back in. It all seems pretty obvious to me.

Perhaps the most worrying thing, however, is the fact that Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, and Joel Campbell are each one yellow card away from an accumulation ban.

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

Barcelona Squad News

Out: Rafinha (knee)

Barcelona should have their strongest possible XI available for this one, with the only injury absentee being Rafinha, who needed knee surgery. Marc Andre ter Stegen usually gets the call in between the sticks for Champions League matches, while Claudio Bravo starts La Liga games.

Like the Arsenal line-up, there's really not much else to say about this squad. I'm not going to wax poetic about their lethal forward trio; you can find that everywhere else on the Internet...

Predicted XI: ter Stegen, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Suarez, Neymar, Messi.

Current Form

A 0-0 draw at home against Championship Hull City is not the ideal way to go into a match against arguably the best team in the world, but football is a funny old game sometimes. Recall that Arsenal's 2-1 win over Barcelona in 2011 came a week and a half after the Gunners blew a 4-0 lead to draw at Newcastle. The magnitude of a visit from Barcelona is such that form almost goes out the window.

Arsenal's form has not been poor; their loss to Chelsea is their only loss since Boxing Day. It's just that they're not winning as many games as they should. Aside from the one loss, Arsenal have six wins and four draws across all competitions and three of those draws were scoreless. The worry is, aside from the magical game against Leicester, Arsenal have been firing blanks when they need goals the most.

And, well, what can you say about Barcelona? They haven't lost since October 3, a string of 24 wins and six draws across all competitions. Their last draw came 1-1 against Valencia in the second leg of the Copa Del Rey semi-final. Of course, they had won the first leg 7-0, so it was all really academic. The draw snapped a 10-game winning streak, which dates back to a 0-0 draw with Espanyol on January 2. Barcelona are sitting pretty at the top of the La Liga table, eight points clear of second place Atletico.

Match Facts

Arsenal and Barcelona have met on seven previous occasions; Arsenal have one win, Barcelona have four, and two matches ended drawn. The clubs first met in the 1999 first group stage, where Arsenal earned a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou before losing 4-2 in the return match, which was played at Wembley. They did not meet again until the 2006 final, which Barcelona won 2-1.

The clubs met again in the 2010 quarterfinals; Arsenal came back from 2-0 down to draw the first leg at the Emirates, but Leo Messi scored four in the second leg, and Barcelona won 6-3 on aggregate. One year later, the clubs met in the round of 16, where Arsenal won at home 2-1 before losing the second leg 3-1 under controversial circumstances.

Overall, Arsenal have a losing record against Spanish opposition; they've won 10, lost 12, and drawn seven of their 29 matches against teams from Spain. In 64 previous Barcelona matches against English opposition, the Catalan giants have 28 wins, 17 losses, and 19 draws.

The Referee

The match officials are from Turkey; the referee is Cuneyt Cakir. Cakir has worked only one Arsenal match in his career to this point, the 2-0 win over Bayern Munich on matchday three. He has taken charge of five previous Barcelona matches, including last year's final, a 3-1 win over Juventus. Barcelona drew the first two of the five matches with Cakir, including a 1-1 with Rubin Kazan in the 2010 group stage and a 2-2 draw with Chelsea in the 2012 semifinal that saw the Blues through to the final. They have won three straight with Cakir as of right now, beating Benfica in the 2012 group stage, Juventus in last year's final, and Roma 6-1 on this season's matchday five.

Cakir has refereed some prestigious matches over the course of his career, including the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup Final, which saw Corinthians defeat Chelsea 1-0, the 2014 World Cup semi-final between the Netherlands and Argentina, and last year's Champions League Final, as mentioned earlier.

Around Europe
  • Last Tuesday: Paris St. Germain 2 - 1 Chelsea
  • Last Tuesday: Benfica 1 - 0 Zenit St. Petersburg
  • Last Wednesday: Gent 2 - 3 Wolfsburg
  • Last Wednesday: Roma 0 - 2 Real Madrid
  • Tuesday: Juventus v. Bayern Munich; Juventus Stadium, Turin
  • Wednesday: PSV Eindhoven v. Atletico Madrid; Philips Stadion, Eindhoven
  • Wednesday: Dynamo Kiev v. Manchester City; Olympic Stadium, Kiev
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and the world's fastest dancing robot. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to get down and funky 1001101101.

I Hate You, Barcelona

John's usual Preview by Numbers will be up in a few hours, if a proper match preview is what you're looking for. However, I'm sick to my back teeth of these jerkoffs, and I can't let this tie go without getting a lot of things off my chest.

I hate Barcelona. I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, HATE Barcelona. I hate them more than Tottenham. I hate them more than us singing Tottenham songs in the pub when we're not fucking playing them (and my god, I hate that so much). I hate them more than Chelsea. I hate them more than Manchester United, or their noisy little neighbors. I hate them more than Real Madrid, who I legitimately think is the worst and most vile club in the world - but hey, at least they're honest about what they are, and that's to their credit.

Barcelona is the quintessential wolf in sheep's clothing. They are a petulant, petty, horrible bastard of a club dressed up as everyone's second-favorite bunch of footballing magicians.

Mes que un club. The balls - the absolute, brass fucking BALLS this club has to trot out that utter tripe. How arrogant can you get? Look, I get that there was a time in history where their very existence was a legitimate protest against an evil dictator. There was also once a time where traveling across the Atlantic Ocean involved a 3-month journey on a leaky sailboat, but we've managed to move on from that, too.

More than a club - yeah, sure. That holier-than-thou sheen sure looks a little faded now that you've got "Qatar Airways" emblazoned on those famously once-pristine shirts of yours. I'm sure the thousands of people dead creating those white elephants out there in the desert are convinced that you're somehow better than the rest of us punters.

Let's be honest with ourselves, here. It is exceedingly likely that these guys are going to turn us over properly, especially when we have to play them in their shithole of a ground. That's fine, but I'm still not impressed. You've spent the GDP of Madagascar to put together a team that monsters what essentially is the Scottish Premier League, Southern Division. If our only real competition was a Real Madrid side that was the living embodiment of Zoolander, we'd have the league wrapped up by St. Patrick's Day, too. Yeah, Messi and Bitey and Neymar are as good a front three as you'd ever want to see.  So what? All you've really proven is that it's easy to get all the shiny metal things when you're playing Football Manager with the cheat codes on, playing against teams with all the fight and spirit of Shane MacGowan after an 18-hour bender.

I mean, fucking Getafe...Sporting Gijon...Las Palmas...Levante. My god. Teams made up of guys working part-time as waiters at the local tapas bars in a town of like 20,000 people, and you call that a league. Get to fuck. Your games against relegation shite-fodder are like hungover kickabouts in the sunshine, while West Brom and Norwich and Villa are flying around at 200 MPH trying to murder us. Can you imagine these show ponies playing in a league where no one bends over just because you have a bit of a famous name on the back of your shirt?

Don't even get me started about that perfect little angel Leo Messi, either. God, what a fucking con and a swindle that guy is. Great player, but don't buy the nice-boy act for a second. Underneath the grinning choirboy bullshit is a vindictive, arrogant little bastard. There is no better example in all of football of a guy who probably did horrible shit as a kid and then got his siblings in trouble for it by running and telling when Mom and Dad came home. Anyway, that synchronized-gymnastics PK they took the other day is a perfect example - what possible reason do you need to pull that bullshit in a 3-1 game after 80 minutes, when the penalty is going to make it 4-1 anyway? Make no mistake, that was a cat toying with the already-beaten mouse for a hot second before it rips the poor thing's head off, for no other reason than because they can. They're bullies, plain and simple. Good thing I wasn't Celta Vigo's keeper, I'd have damn well lamped him one if he tried that one on me.

So yeah, there they are, our perfect little footballing Harry Potters. Pay no mind to that hyperactive lunatic Busquets slyly fouling anything that moves. The only difference between him and their other psycho, Mascherano, is that least the latter is honest about what he does. "Oh, but Busquets can play football too!" Yeah? So what, he's still a cheat and a prick.

It is honestly one of the great joys of my life that we've been able to unload so much useless bullshit on them over the years, in their excitement to poach anyone on our team who could kick a ball. The Fabregas "Barcelona DNA" thing still rankles, and I found it galling to see Thierry Henry in their shirt. But, pawning off Alex Song, and Alex Hleb, and Gio van Bronckhorst, and the way past-it Emmanuel Petit, and Tom Vermaelen? Absolute high comedy. Between these dozy fuckers and Manchester City, they pretty much built our stadium for us. Oh, and cheers for Alexis too, by the way. That one's gone OK for us.

Is this petty and vindictive? Is it ever! As an added bonus, here is the great and mighty Barcelona being undone by a partially-formed Scottish fetus. I mean, imagine, losing to Celtic. They're my second team and all, but I'd be embarrassed if our fucking academy team lost to anyone north of Hadrian's Wall.

Anyway, in closing, there is nothing wrong with FC Barcelona that a well-placed meteor strike on the Nou Camp wouldn't solve. Fuck them, fuck Leo Messi, fuck their supporters, and fuck the fact that they're probably going to kick our asses. How I will HOWL with laughter if by some act of god we somehow knock these preening best-in-show glamour models out.


Arsenal 0-0 Hull City: Tedium

I had a work happy hour last night, which ended up turning into happy-many-hours. Then, in my infinite wisdom, I decided on the way home to stop off at the bodega and buy more beer. That followed with me bolting awake before my alarm, only seeing the ":27" at the end, hoping and praying that the first number was a 5, only for it to be a 6 after all. Bugger.

Why am I telling you this? Because that is as apt of a description as any for the 90 minutes of zombie-shambling shite that I just witnessed.

I get it, neither us nor them really wanted anything to do with this. They're trying to win the second division, and as for us, after two times of winning this thing, it's all starting to feel like we're repeating the 12th grade, doesn't it? We're all at the point where we want to see what that "university" lark is all about.

Danny Welbeck started his first game of the season for us, and there were also starts for Alex Iwobi, both reserve fullbacks and David Ospina in goal. On their side, they started a partially-formed fetus at right back - seriously, I have t-shirts older than that kid. More importantly, they started backup keeper Eldin Jakupovic in place of the truly horrendous Allan McGregor. What a decision that turned out to be for Mrs. Doubtfire on the Hull bench.

Anyway, there was always going to be a karmic redress to deal with in the wake of last week's heroics against Leicester City, wasn't there? We had a few chances on the day (more on that in a bit), but for the most part that was mechanical, tedious and pointless with no end product. It was like watching a bored, loveless suburban couple have their scheduled twice-yearly shag.

The "Credit Where it's Due" department would like to pass on that Theo Walcott had a pretty good game, full of energy and running in direct opposition to, well, everyone else on the pitch. Also, and have a look up in the sky for passing squadrons of pigs, Mike Dean had a fine effort himself. He even booked one of theirs for diving, when normally he'd look for any opportunity to slip the shiv in our ribs. Lambs lying down with lions, and all that.

For their part, Hull offered absolutely nothing. They sat in the proverbial two banks of four, which at times felt like five banks of 80. It was like trying to navigate a Best Buy on Black Friday.

The story, really, was Jakupovic being possessed by the spirit of Lev Yashin. I mean, what is it about Switzerland that has turned them into something of a goalkeeper factory? You know Diego Benaglio and Yann Sommer if you know your football, and that Marwin Hitz guy is doing well at Augsburg. But, I can't say I expected much from a keeper who hasn't displaced That Shit Former Rangers Guy.for a second-division team.

However, there he was, flashing out a leg to deny Theo. There he was again, flinging himself into the bottom corner to claw one out. Worst of all, there he was, reacting to a deflection to deny Theo again. Didn't he get the memo that no one wanted a replay here?

Arsene threw on Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but nothing came off. I can't even say the players didn't try - the effort levels were there, but Hull defended well and otherwise there was a general malaise hanging over the proceedings. Alexis in particular needs a bit of WD-40, definitely some rusty creaking gears there. Don't worry, you watch him have a stormer next weekend.

Speaking of, Manchester United away is going to be quite the interesting one. Wouldn't it be just the Arsenal thing to do to be the first team to lose to that lot since the Dark Ages? It's bad enough that we got zero points out of the worst Chelsea team in living memory...if we don't take six off that collection of overrated dipshits, we don't deserve to win a blessed thing.

As for this, the whole game has already gone down the memory hole. I have no idea when the replay might be, but I'd be perfectly fine if we sent out guys with squad numbers too big to fit on the back of the shirt. Pi would do me just fine, thanks. I love this competition and all, but this season should be about bigger and better things.

Man of the Match: The bacon egg and cheese I purchased on the way home. No? OK, fine, Hull's keeper

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

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, February 20
7:45 a.m. EST, 12:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Adam Nunn and Harry Lennard
    • 4th Official: Paul Tierney
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 15 Arsenal wins, 3 Hull City wins, 4 draws
  • All-Time in FA Cup: 4 Arsenal wins, 1 Hull City win, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Sunderland, 3-1
    • Fourth Round: Beat Burnley, 2-1
  • Hull City's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Brighton & Hove Albion, 1-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Bury, 3-1
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: D-D-L-D-W-W
  • Hull City's Championship Form: W-W-W-L-W-D
This was a pretty big goal.
Arsenal cut the gap between themselves and league leaders Leicester City to two points with 12 games to play thanks to last weekend's bonkers 2-1 win which featured a little bit of everything: "clever" dives, a red card, and most importantly, a match-winning goal from a player making his first appearance in 10 months. How's that for a fairy tale?

Arsenal are now favorites to win the league according to the bookies, but their odds are longer than both Leicester's and Tottenham's statistically, a consequence of still having to play games at Old Trafford, White Hart Lane, and the Etihad, not to mention tricky parks like Goodison and Upton. They'll get two of those fixtures out of the way in short order, with the trip to Manchester United coming on February 28 and the trip to our nearest and dearest coming March 5.

But for now, we take our eyes off the league and focus on Hull City in the FA Cup, with Barcelona looming on the horizon. It's hard to tell what to expect in this match: Arsenal might have one eye on Barcelona, but the Championship leaders might have one eye on their upcoming league fixtures; this will be Hull's third match out of five in a 14-day span. Throw Mike Dean into the mix and we might have another bonkers match with a little bit of everything...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gabriel (hamstring,) Rosicky (thigh,) Cazorla (knee,) Wilshere (ankle)
Doubts: Koscielny (dead leg,) Gibbs (ankle)

Mesut Ozil was a mainstay in Arsenal's FA Cup squads of
past years, but he's been rested for both so far this year.
When Laurent Koscielny was removed at halftime from last weekend's match, my first thought was "oh no, Calum Chambers at center back," which turned out to be a misguided fear, especially after the red card. My second thought was that the removal was likely because Koscielny was on a booking. That was also wrong, because word is he picked up a dead leg in the challenge that led to that booking, which failed to break up the play that led to Leicester penalty. All of that aside, Koscielny is "doing well," according to Arsene Wenger's Thursday morning presser and he "looks positive." With some rotation to be expected, I would think Koscielny starts on the bench, at best.

Meanwhile, Gabriel is out with a hamstring injury and he was even sent back to Brazil for rest and recovery. Hamstring injuries are usually at least three weeks; Wenger has said he is "running outside," though he didn't specify where (London? Brazil? Mars?) Kieran Gibbs is 50-50 with an ankle sprain, which would force Nacho Monreal to retain his place, rather than get a rest before Barcelona's visit on Tuesday. The same goes for Hector Bellerin, since Chambers will have to start centrally. At that point, I believe we are actually out of defenders.

Elsewhere, rotation is le mot du jour; Mohamed Elneny could get a start, though Wenger only stated that "we'll certainly see him against Hull." Wenger is going to have to balance playing a squad that can beat Hull against keeping the legs fresh, since the World's Fanciest Team will play at the Emirates three nights after this one. I would bet Mesut Ozil gets the day off while Wenger will keep the likes of Olivier Giroud, Alexis, and Aaron Ramsey on the bench, just in case we need a goal.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Flamini, Elneny, Campbell, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck.

Hull City Squad News

Out: Diomande, Akpom (loan terms,) Hayden (loan terms)

Chuba Akptom is ineligible to appear against Arsenal while
he plays on loan for Flamingo Land.
Midfielder Nick Powell, signed on loan from Manchester United on January deadline day, is expected to make his first appearance for Hull City at some point in this match, though it is questionable as to whether he will start. Steve Bruce mentioned that Powell arrived with a bit of an injury, which has kept him out of action thus far. Hull will need the depth for this match, as Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden are both ineligible.

Norwegian striker Adama Diomande is Hull's only injury concern, according to Who Scored, but I've scoured news Web sites unsuccessfully to find out what his injury might be.

Steve Bruce is expected to rotate a lot for this fixture (which means I'm not going to try to guess at their line-up;) Hull play league fixtures against Ipswich Town on Tuesday and Sheffield Wednesday on Friday (there are too many days of the week in this sentence.) Hull are likely to prioritize their bid for promotion over advancing in the cup.

Current Form

Isaac Hayden reacts to missing a chance in Flamingo Land's
0-0 draw with Seagull Land.
After going winless in four league games, Arsenal have now won two straight, but there's no telling how important Danny Welbeck's 95th minute winner against table-topping Leicester last weekend will help this club's psyche; it's the kind of goal that transcends trends. That said, this is another match against a table-topping club, though that table is the Championship. As a cup tie against lower-league competition combined, this is the kind of game where form goes out the window.

Hull City played midweek, drawing 0-0 against Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday. With 60 points, the Tigers are first in the Championship, though Middlesbrough are just two points back with a game in hand. Through late November and December, Hull went through a rough patch, winning just three of eight. Starting New Year's Day, Hull have won seven of their last nine across all competitions to climb back to first. Aside from that draw with Brighton, they also lost to Burnley, 1-0, on February 6. They've advanced to this round of the FA Cup by defeating Brighton and Bury.

Match Facts

A sassy Sanchez celebrates making Arsenal's lead over Hull
comfortable in last year's third round.
This will be the third consecutive season in which Arsenal and Hull will meet in the FA Cup. Of course, Arsenal beat Hull in the 2014 final, 3-2 in extra time, storming back from Hull's 2-0 eight-minute lead. Last year, the clubs met at the Emirates in the third round; Arsenal won 2-0, with goals from Per Mertesacker and Alexis Sanchez.

In addition to last year's final, Arsenal beat Hull in the 2009 sixth round and the 1930 semi-final, which required a replay. Hull's only win over Arsenal in the competition also required a replay. That came in the first round in 1908.

Hull did take a point from the Emirates in the league last season; Arsenal needed an injury time equalizer from Danny Welbeck to earn a 2-2 draw. Arsenal had won seven straight against Hull across all competitions before that draw. The Gunners beat the Tigers 3-1 at the KC Stadium in May.

The Referee

This is one of my favorite Mike Dean pictures. He's awarding
Tottenham a penalty while three Arsenal players try to show
him that the linesman disagrees. This put Spurs up 2-0 before
Arsenal stormed back to win 5-2.
The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean. I have to be honest with you, I really didn't expect Dean to be assigned to another Arsenal match this season after what happened at Stamford Bridge in September. But, the state of officiating in England right now is such that there are only so many experienced referees available (just look at how Martin Atkinson, who got several big decisions wrong last weekend, is going to the Euros this summer). Considering the FA was going to have to ease Dean back into working Arsenal matches, a home cup tie against a Championship side is probably their last chance to do it this season.

Incidentally, Arsenal's record with Mike Dean as referee had considerably improved over the last few years, before Diego Costa got involved. Going into that match against Chelsea, Arsenal had lost only one of their last nine with Dean in the middle. I noted in my preview of that match that, in terms of match officials, "It's Martin Atkinson you should currently fear." Funny, that.

Dean has not taken charge of a Hull City match so far this season; last year, Dean was in the middle for two matches at the KC Stadium: a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace and a 1-1 draw with Sunderland.

Around the Fifth Round
  • Saturday: Watford v. Leeds United; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: Reading v. West Bromwich Albion; Madejski Stadium, Reading
  • Saturday (late): Bournemouth v. Everton; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Sunday (early): Blackburn Rovers v. West Ham United; Ewood Park, Blackburn
  • Sunday (regular): Tottenham Hotspur v. Crystal Palace; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (late): Chelsea v. Manchester City; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Monday (night): Shrewsbury Town v. Manchester United; Greenhous Meadow, Shrewsbury
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a land plant phylum. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for chlorophyll jokes.

Arsenal 2-1 Leicester City: Chat Shit, Get Banged

Hold on to your butts, Gooners. We got ourselves a title race.

So yeah, on a quick personal note, the only thing more appalling than my pub attendance this season has been my lack of match reports. Sorry about that. Real life beckons at times, the bastard that it is.

Anyway, we learned something about our club today, and I reckon they learned something about themselves. There's a lot of work to do still before the job is done, but at this late stage we're still in the conversation, and that's all you can ask for.

Whatever happened today, those guys are no mugs. They've proved it against the big teams over and over, so for us to take all six against this lot is really something. They were always going to sit back and try and hit us on the counter, but Arsenal showed their intent in the opening exchanges. There were two solid chances to score before most of us could address our first pints.

Still, for a club known for their big attacking names like Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, they can defend a little and it was bloody hard work trying to get through them. I can tell you that shouts of "Shoot" could be heard every ten seconds in the pub, but two things: 1) Fuck's sake, we're on the halfway line...give them a minute.  2) Their defenders are as aware of how to close down space as any team I've seen in ages. Every time someone got half a yard, there was a blue Praetorian Guard lined up like a fucking Roman phalanx in front of them. Try it with a row of chairs in your living room and see how far you get.

There weren't that many gilt-edged chances in the first half, but there was Peter Schmeichel's kid doing his best Manuel Neuer karaoke performance, and Petr Cech keeping Vardy out with a worldie up the other end. Bit of a goalie show, that. I can't say I'm all that thrilled with the sprog of that fucking racist Danish cheese farmer coming up against us with the season on the line, though. Gooners of a younger persuasion, Google "Ian Wright racist abuse" and learn up on a bit of our history. Somewhere, our old # 8 is smiling right now. Also, just know that his pigface dad broke our hearts a million times over back in the olden days.

Mostly though, the balance of the match was Martin Atkinson getting conned by the Leicester players over and over again. I get it, I think we all have to some extent, with this "everyone's second-favorite club" bit. Yeah we don't want the Scum or Dirty Oil Money FC winning anything, but let's not lose sight of the fact that these guys are like one of those jovial Grand Bazaar merchant types who are all "my friend" this and "my friend" that, then an hour later you're heading home with a pile of useless shit and an empty wallet. We're sussed your lot out now, Mr. Tinkerman.

Keeping that in mind, I can't say we should have been surprised when Funny Twitter Guy did his best dying swan over Nacho Monreal's leg and swindled a penalty out of it. I mean, this ref is going to the Euros and Michael Oliver will be home for the summer. Reckon. Anyway, Vardy sent Cech the wrong way, and we all had the miserable hump on during halftime.

There was always something a bit lucky about the Foxes' performance on the day though, and you figured it had to run out sometime. Queue up Danny Simpson taking one of the stupidest second yellow cards I've seen in 25 years (which still doesn't excuse the ref's performance - broken clock, twice a day, etc and so on). Francis Coquelin was lucky to not walk himself for pushing Mahrez on the way out - with Atkinson in this kind of mood, you'd have think it was nailed on.

It was always a siege on the Leicester net from then on, though. Mahrez came off immediately, I think Marc Albrighton did later. Vardy was left alone up front waiting for Godot while his mates tried to keep the door locked. The subs though, I don't know where they found these guys. The first guy killed in Eastern Promises came on first, followed by Kid...or Play...never was able to tell them apart. And these guys are trying to win a title here. Amazing.

As for the good guys, red card waiting to happen Coq came off, Theo came on. Smart, Arsene. It wasn't too long before that bore fruit, either. Hector Bellerin's cross was nodded on by Olivier Giroud, and up popped Theo to rocket it past Schmeichel. Get in you beauty.

There was never any danger of getting anything less than a point from then on, but you could tell how desperate our boys were for the win. Red shirts poured forward, blue shirts repelled them time and again. Alexis Sanchez grafted, but something was off all day. Mesut Ozil was on a World Cup-winning wavelength that his teammates couldn't get near. As for Aaron Ramsey...I said on a Facebook group page: "What is the point of a Ramsey? What does it do? Is it bigger than a breadbox?" I mean, I think he'll have something to say between now and the end of the season but he was an appendix out there today.

Arsenal had their tails up by then, but Atkinson's presence meant it was still 11-on-11. Danny Drinkwater should have walked for a horror tackle on Rambo, but I have to think the sad man in yellow got caught up in the underdog story.

Time was running out though, and Arsene had one last throw of the dice. The busy-but-ineffective Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came off, Danny Welbeck came on. Good to see him back, that's for sure. Somewhere along the way, Giroud sent a tracer through a forest of bodies in the area, and somehow Schmeichel got a big paw to it. How he even saw that, I have no idea. I'll admit it, I felt like we'd been done by a Danish brick wall once again.

Injury time was just about up when Eastern Promises Guy was guilty of The Most Needless Foul in the History of Association Football. Mesut stood over it, and floated in a beauty. Somehow, Welbeck rose highest, fought off the challenge of his own teammate Calum Chambers, and got the slightest of glances on it. All I remember was the net bulging and then jumping screaming hugging bedlam. Absolute magic.

You have to win these games if you want to fight for the championship. That goes both ways - you could see the stuffing go out of their guys the second that one went in. It'll be interesting to see how they respond.

Speaking of, our nearest and dearest just got done beating Oil Money FC. Fine. It's one thing doing it against those shagged-out mercenaries, let's see if you can do it in a proper NLD come next weekend. They've had this annoying thing this season where they've won the games they're supposed to in a decidedly Un-Scum fashion, but now it's the sharp end. We have guys who have won things...World Cups, Copa Americas, you name it.

We'll see you then. Bring your A game, cause we're going to bring ours.

Man of the Match:  Danny Welbeck's noggin.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Leicester City

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, February 14
7:00 a.m. EST, 12:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Michael Mullarkey and Steve Child
    • 4th Official: Roger East
  • Reverse Fixture: Leicester City 2 - 5 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 1 Leicester City
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 62 Arsenal wins, 28 Leicester wins, 44 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-D-L-D-W
  • Leicester City's League Form: D-W-D-W-W-W
Goooooold-jersey. Bah-baaaaah-daaaahhhhh.....
This is it. The battle to end all battles. The most February title-decider ever played. The Game of Thrones. King Kong. Star Wars. Ummmm, Goldfinger... Toy Story... I forgot the question quite a while back, who are you again?

Anyway, there will be 12 matches remaining in the Premier League season when this weekend is over and Arsenal could find themselves anywhere between two and eight points back of Leicester City. I guess that's why they call these six-pointers, since that's exactly why they call these six-pointers.

Since Arsenal still have to play away fixtures against Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur (not to mention West Ham and Everton, which aren't exactly easy, either) it's really hard to see them coming back from an eight-point deficit. But a two-point gap with 36 points still on the table? That's not bad at all.

It's hard to say any match in the middle of February is must-win, but this is probably as close as it gets.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Rosicky (thigh,) Cazorla (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Welbeck (match fitness)

Well, he looks pretty fast here.
There are no changes to the available squad from last week to this week; Tomas Rosicky remains out with his new injury, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla are both back running, so it's a question of weeks and not months for them, and Danny Welbeck is not yet match fit but could be a possibility for Hull in the FA Cup next week.

That means the real questions lie in player selection. Per Mertesacker has been dropped since his red card against Chelsea. Even though he is the most experienced option at center back, his lack of speed would be suicidal against Leicester's counterattack. If Arsenal intend to win this game, Gabriel has to retain his place.

In the center of midfield, I certainly hope Francis Coquelin is ready to return to the XI, with Mathieu Flamini, he of the unnecessary lunging slide, dropping to the bench.

The other question would be on the right wing, where I'm guessing Theo Walcott will start, though it could also be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Joel Campbell. Theo just seems the most likely choice to me, even if he frustrates me to no end.

Predicted XI: Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Alexis, Walcott, Ozil, Giroud.

Leicester City Squad News

Out: Schlupp (hamstring), James (knee)
Doubts: Amartey (match fitness)

Leicester City's human pyramid.
Leicester City will be without Jeffrey Schlupp, out until the end of the month with a hamstring injury. Matthew James has been out since May with an ACL injury; he's off crutches now, but is not ready to come back. Elsewhere, Daniel Amartey lacks match fitness.

This all means that Leicester should be unchanged from the XI that ripped Manchester City apart at the Etihad last weekend. The Foxes are, of course, led up top by Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki, who tends to play more of a support role. Riyad Mahrez is the creative man on the right wing, while Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kante have been tenacious at winning the ball in midfield this year.

On the backline, Wes Morgan and Robert Huth are moderately immobile, which means they need support from Drinkwater and Kante as a shield; it also adds further reason for Arsenal to start Theo Walcott on the wing. The fullbacks tend to play narrow, providing even more support for those big center backs.

Predicted XI: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs, Drinkwater, Albrighton, Kante, Mahrez, Vardy, Okazaki.

Current Form

Mesut Ozil's goal celebration remains pretty creepy.
So, where are we now? Arsenal had gone three league matches without a goal before scoring twice in 88 seconds at the Vitality Stadium last Sunday, in a 2-0 win over Bournemouth. It was Arsenal's first win in the league since January 2, snapping a four match winless run.

With all of that said, Arsenal's 1-0 loss to Chelsea is their only loss since Boxing Day. The problem is those pesky draws. Since the 4-0 loss at Southampton on Boxing Day, Arsenal have five wins (two in the FA Cup,) one loss, and three draws. That's why they've gone from two points clear after match number 20 to five points back of Leicester after match number 25.

Over those five matches, Arsenal have dropped nine points, while Leicester dropped just two (and they were to Aston Villa!?) Going into the second half of the season, my initial expectation was that teams would not be as surprised by Leicester as they were the first time around. However, they've beaten Tottenham, Liverpool, and Manchester City in the past month, putting paid to that theory.

After their trip to the Emirates this weekend, Leicester will have only one road fixture remaining against a team in the current top nine; that's a trip to Old Trafford the final weekend in April. In total, they've only lost twice in the league all season: to Arsenal in September and at Anfield on Boxing Day.

Match Facts

Theo Walcott rolls a ball towards the net in the reverse fixture
and I literally have no idea if it went in or not. Guessing no...
Arsenal handed Leicester their first loss of the season on September 29, as the Gunners won 5-2 at the King Power Stadium; Leicester have lost just once in the league since then. Jamie Vardy opened the scoring on a textbook Leicester counterattack on 13 minutes, but Theo Walcott equalized for the visitors just five minutes later. Alexis Sanchez then took over; the Chilean, who had not scored for Arsenal up to that point in the season, netted a hat trick to put Arsenal up 4-1. Vardy picked up a brace to pull a goal back on 89 minutes, but Olivier Giroud restored Arsenal's three goal lead three minutes into injury time.

This fixture last season took place around the same time of year (February 10, in fact); Arsenal took a 2-0 lead through Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott. However, Andrej Kramaric pulled a goal back for the Foxes just after the hour mark, leading to what felt like a 30-minute siege on the Arsenal goal. At the time, Leicester City was five points from safety, bolted to the bottom of the Premier League table; over the final 13 matches that followed, Leicester picked up an astonishing 24 points, winning seven of their last nine.

Leicester have not beaten Arsenal in their last 20 tries, dating back to a 2-1 win on November 23, 1994. The Foxes did, however, advance past Arsenal via a penalty shootout in the 2000 FA Cup fourth round, after consecutive 0-0 draws.

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 22 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 59 league matches played between these two sides in London.

The Referee

Martin Atkinson is shown sending off Olivier Giroud in last
season's Boxing Day match. Flamini looks upset, but he
might think head-butting is legal.
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Arsenal have lost five of their last nine with Atkinson in the middle, winning only against QPR last Boxing Day (in which Olivier Giroud was, correctly, sent off), Reading in last year's FA Cup Semi-Final (which required extra time, so over 90 minutes, it was a draw), and Sunderland in this year's FA Cup Third Round. Prior to the win over Sunderland, Atkinson also took charge of Arsenal's opening day loss to West Ham and their 1-1 draw with Spurs in November.

Leicester City have seen Atkinson twice this season, but they haven't won either of those matches. Atkinson was the man in the middle for the Foxes come from behind 1-1 draw with Spurs (just as he was for Arsenal!) He also worked Leicester's 1-0 loss at Anfield on Boxing Day.

Atkinson, who will be one of two England referees to represent the nation at the Euros this summer (the other being Mark Clattenburg), is the only Select Group referee yet to show a red card this season. Last season, he showed the joint most, with 10.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Sunderland v. Manchester United; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Stoke City; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Watford; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. West Bromwich Albion; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. West Ham United; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Southampton; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday (late): Chelsea v. Newcastle United; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (regular early): Aston Villa v. Liverpool; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Sunday (late): Manchester City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a gravitational wave. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for inane sports commentary.

Preview by Numbers: Bournemouth v. Arsenal

Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
Sunday, February 7
8:30 a.m. EST, 13:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: David Bryan and Peter Kirkup
    • 4th Official: Neil Swarbrick
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 0 Bournemouth
  • This Match, Last Time: First meeting
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 2 Arsenal wins
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-D-L-D
  • Bournemouth's League Form: L-D-L-W-D-W
Over time, I have come to learn that there are two types of Arsenal fans: wild optimists and wild pessimists. There is very little grey area when it comes to supporting this football club, even when the reality lies somewhere in the middle. And while people in the grey area certainly do exist, they're never as loud as the ones on either side of the spectrum. That tends to be true across much of the political spectrum as well, but I digress.

Arsenal Twitter, which occasionally resembles one of the nine circles of Hell (Anger? It's anger, isn't it?), seems to be under the impression that Arsenal are out of the title race, despite the fact that they are five points out of first, still have the opportunity to play the three teams ahead of them in the table, and have 14 games to play in the season. If you think a five point gap is insurmountable with 42 points remaining on the table, there's a problem there.

Let's not be too optimistic, either; Arsenal's form right now is legitimately concerning, so I don't want you to think that I'm all sunshine and lollipops here. Arsenal might only need to make up five points over the next 42 available, but they have only won three of the last 12 possible and they haven't scored a goal in league play since Thatcher was in power, I think.

After this, Arsenal host Leicester in a match that will do much more to decide the title race than a draw with Southampton, then it's a cup tie with Hull, Barcelona at the Emirates, United at Old Trafford, a midweek home game against Swansea, and a trip to the Lane to face Spurs. Things aren't exactly getting easier for Arsenal, so they might as well get back on track now!

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Rosicky (thigh,) Cazorla (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Welbeck (match fitness)

Okay, I don't believe anything has changed regarding Arsenal's injury list since the midweek fixture, so I'm at a loss for things to say in this section. I suppose we could talk about rotation.

After serving his one match ban against Burnley, Per Mertesacker returned only to the bench on Tuesday, as Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel started at center back. It's starting to look like Kos is in desperate need of a break, in my opinion, but it's not like Arsene Wenger is known for giving his center backs that much of a breather.

Speaking of breathers, I would expect Francis Coquelin to come back into the squad after he was held out of Tuesday's match; he would have played two matches in four days if he had been picked to start against the Saints. It'll be Mathieu Flamini almost certainly dropping in that place.

The only other question is whether Theo Walcott returns to the XI after coming off the bench on Tuesday to do absolutely nothing. I've got a feeling Theo starts for Joel Campbell, even though I wouldn't be too happy with that.

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

Bournemouth Squad News

Out: Gradel (knee,) Wilson (knee,) Mings (knee)
Doubts: Stanislas (knee,) Rantie (muscular)

Bournemouth have a pretty astonishing four players in danger of missing this one through knee ligament injuries. Three are out long-term, as Max-Alain Gradel is out until March, Callum Wilson is out until April, and Tyrone Mings, the club's record signing at the time, is out until September after he was injured just six minutes into his Bournemouth debut.

The other knee injury is an MCL sprain for Junior Stanislas, who is listed as a doubt by some sources. The other doubt is Tokelo Rantie, who might miss out with a muscular injury of some sort; sources are not clear about which of the human body's 640 to 850 muscles he has injured.

I mentioned earlier that Tyrone Mings was the club's record signing at the time back when that deal was finalized in the summer window. They have since broken that record on the purchase of Arsenal academy graduate Benik Afobe, whom they signed from Wolves for £10 million. You can bet that he'll be fired up to score against his old club; Afobe never made an appearance for Arsenal's first team.

Predicted XI: Boruc, Smith, Francis, Cook, Daniels, Surman, Ritchie, Pugh, Gosling, Arter, Afobe.

Current Form

So, it's four now. Four in the league without a win. Draw, draw, loss, draw. No goals scored in the last three, either. Worrying, to say the least.

This is Arsenal's longest sequence without a win in the league since the end of the 2013/14 season, as they blew their chances in that title race with the 6-0 loss to Chelsea, draws against Swansea and City, and a 3-0 loss to Everton. They bounced back from that to win their final five, rebounding from a fifth place scare to finish fourth, as per usual. As for the last time Arsenal went winless in five league games? You'd have to go back seven years to a string of five straight draws in January and February of 2009. That came in the middle of a string where they were unbeaten in 21 though, so it's not really the same.

The fact that Arsenal have gone three without scoring is perhaps the most worrying feature of their current form. The last time Arsenal went this long without scoring in the league was... well, that same run of draws I just spoke about; the first draw in the sequence was 1-1 with Everton (in which Arsenal needed a late equalizer from Robin van Persie.) That was followed by 0-0 draws against West Ham, Spurs, Sunderland, and Fulham before Arsenal broke the stretch with a 3-1 win at West Brom. It was Nicklas Bendtner who broke the streak, FYI. Much like this current run, that stretch was not a winless streak across all competitions, as the Gunners beat Cardiff in the FA Cup and won the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie against Roma during that span.

As for Bournemouth, they are 15th in the Premier League, but are seven points clear of relegation. They have advanced to the last 16 of the FA Cup with victories over Birmingham City and Portsmouth, earning them a home game against Everton in the next round (perhaps we'll see a reprisal of that 3-3 draw...) After going winless in four over the holiday period in the league, the Cherries are unbeaten in their last three, beating Norwich 3-0, drawing Sunderland 1-1, and beating Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park 2-1.

Match Facts

As this is Bournemouth's first year in the top flight, the reverse of this fixture, played back on December 28, is the only historical league meeting between the two clubs. Arsenal won the match 2-0, with goals from Gabriel and Mesut Ozil.

The clubs have only met once before this season, in the third round of the 1987/88 League Cup; Arsenal, the League Cup holders at the time, ran out 3-0 winners. They would go all the way to the final for the second consecutive year, where they lost to Luton Town, who finished 9th in the top flight that year.

Both prior meetings between these two clubs have been played in North London; this is Arsenal's first ever trip to Bournemouth.

The Referee

The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. Arsenal have seen Friend twice this year; both were on the road and both were clean sheet victories. In late October, Friend was in the middle for Arsenal's 3-0 win over Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium, then in mid-December, he was the referee for Arsenal's 2-0 win at Aston Villa.

Bournemouth are unbeaten with Friend this season as well, beating Sunderland 2-0 in September, in which they scored both goals within the first nine minutes. He was also the man in the middle for Bournemouth's bonkers 3-3 draw with Everton in November.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Manchester City v. Leicester City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Norwich City; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. Sunderland; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. West Bromwich Albion; St. James's Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Everton; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Crystal Palace; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Watford; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday (late): Southampton v. West Ham United; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Sunday (late): Chelsea v. Manchester United; Stamford Bridge, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is beyond human comprehension. You can follow him on Twitter @žờŗŕŏĉẫţ.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Southampton

Emirates Stadium, London
Tuesday, February 2
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Mason
    • Assistants: Andrew Halliday and Matthew Wilkes
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • Reverse Fixture: Southampton 4 - 0 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 0 Southampton
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 45 Arsenal wins, 19 Southampton wins, 24 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-D-D-L
  • Southampton's League Form: W-L-L-W-W-W
Quick turnaround this week, so I can only put together an abbreviated preview. Deal with it?

Arsenal are through to the fifth round of the FA Cup where they will have their annual cup tie with Hull, so that's nice. But, the fixture congestion ramps up as we get February underway and Arsenal are sitting third in the Premier League. They haven't won a league game in exactly one month and they'll be facing a mid-table Southampton side that gave them their worst loss in two years back on Boxing Day. The Saints have won three straight in the league to climb up to 8th.

If Arsenal don't get back to winning ways soon, they're going to find themselves out of the most open title race in years pretty quick and that would be a massive disappointment.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Rosicky (thigh,) Cazorla (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Welbeck (match fitness)

There's bad news again for Tomas Rosicky as the Czech international picked up a thigh injury in his cameo on Saturday which will see him out for another six weeks. Elsewhere, Jack Wilshere has reportedly suffered a setback, but Arsene Wenger has denied that. Wenger has said it'll be four weeks before Jack's return.

Danny Welbeck is back in full training but lacks match fitness; he'll need a run-out or two for the Under-21 side before he gets back into the first team.

Players who were rested against Burnley should come back into the side here; I would expect Francis Coquelin to get a breather as well. The Coq made it through Saturday's match unscathed, but two games in four days is a bit much for a player coming back from a two month layoff. Alexis Sanchez, on the other hand, should get his first league start in two months. Personally, I hope Theo Walcott drops for him, but that's just me (and probably quite a few others out there.)

Per Mertesacker will return from his one match suspension.

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

Southampton Squad News

Out: Rodriguez (foot,) Gardos (knee,) Davis (knock)
Doubts: Pelle (knee)

Southampton have won three straight and have kept clean sheets in all three. If you're looking for a specific reason why they've turned it around, look no farther than between the poles. Fraser Forster has returned from the finger injury which had kept him out all season to this point and he's returned to kick ass and take names. What perfect timing for Arsenal to play them, then...

At the forward position, Jay Rodriguez remains out with a foot injury and Graziano Pelle is a 50/50 doubt with a knee problem. It could mean a start for Charlie Austin, purchased this transfer window from Queens Park Rangers. Austin has made an immediate impact with the Saints, scoring the winner at Old Trafford last weekend.

Predicted XI: Forster, Soares, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Wanyama, Clasie, Targett, Mane, Tadic, Austin.

Current Form

While some may think that Arsenal's progression in the FA Cup could spell problems for their league title bid (thanks to fixture congestion,) I argued last weekend that a loss or draw to Burnley would have psychologically been worse for the Gunners. That's because, as I noted in the intro, Arsenal have not won a league game in a month. After the win over Newcastle and victory over Sunderland in the FA Cup, Arsenal have drawn 3-3 with Liverpool, drawn 0-0 with Stoke, and lost 1-0 to Chelsea. Regardless of what the fixture congestion might end up looking like in spring, it's hard to imagine Arsenal coming into this match with confidence if they had pushed that winless streak across all competitions to four. As it stands, Arsenal are still okay: they're into the last 16 of both the FA Cup and the Champions League (for now,) and they are still within striking distance of first place in the Premier League with 15 matches to play.

As for Southampton, they have been massively inconsistent all year. Their 4-0 win over Arsenal on Boxing Day was the club's only win over a 10 match span, from November 21 to January 9, when they were eliminated from the FA Cup by Crystal Palace. Now, with just the league to focus on, the Saints have won three on the bounce, and they've kept clean sheets in all of them: 2-0 over Watford, 3-0 over West Brom, and most importantly, 1-0 over Manchester United at Old Trafford. Their elimination in the cup means this is their first game in 10 days, while it's Arsenal's second game in four.

Match Facts

Arsenal have struggled against Southampton in the past couple of seasons, though the Saints have not won at Arsenal in the league since November 21, 1987. Earlier this season, Southampton pummeled Arsenal 4-0 at St. Mary's on Boxing Day. Cuco Martina scored the prettiest goal he'll probably ever score in his life to give the home side a 1-0 lead on 19 minutes before Shane Long took over in the second half. Long scored Southampton's second, arguably fouling Laurent Koscielny in the build-up, but Jose Fonte's free header from a corner on 69 minutes put the match to rest. Shane Long added a fourth in the 94th minute just to really throw salt in the wound.

Arsenal did win this fixture last season by a 1-0 scoreline, with Alexis Sanchez finally putting in the winning goal on 89 minutes. Arsenal had controlled the match, but Fraser Forster made seven saves.

Arsenal have won all three league meetings with Southampton at the Emirates since the Saints won promotion in 2012, though Southampton did win 2-1 in the third round of the League Cup last season.

The Referee

The referee is Lancashire-based Lee Mason. Arsenal have two wins from two matches with Mason in the middle this season, beating both Crystal Palace and Everton by 2-1 scorelines. The Gunners are now unbeaten in their last 15 matches with Mason in the middle, dating back to a 3-2 loss at Wigan in April of 2010 (in which they, and by they I specifically mean Lukasz Fabianski, blew a 2-0 lead.)

Southampton, on the other hand, have two losses from two matches with Mason in the middle this season, losing 1-0 to Stoke in November and 2-1 to Crystal Palace in the third round of the FA Cup a month ago. Both of those Southampton losses came at St. Mary's. Dating back to last year, Southampton have lost three straight with Mason in the middle; their last win with Mason as the referee was over Stoke in last year's League Cup, 3-2 at the Britannia.

Around the League
  • Tuesday: Crystal Palace v. Bournemouth; Selhurst Park, London
  • Tuesday: Leicester City v. Liverpool; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Tuesday: Manchester United v. Stoke City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Tuesday: Norwich City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Tuesday: Sunderland v. Manchester City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Tuesday: West Bromwich Albion v. Swansea City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Tuesday: West Ham United v. Aston Villa; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Wednesday: Everton v. Newcastle United; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Wednesday: Watford v. Chelsea; Vicarage Road, Watford
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and made all the pictures disappear. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to vehemently complain.