Preview by Numbers: Watford v. Arsenal

Vicarage Road, Watford
Saturday, August 27
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: Ian Hussin and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Simon Hooper
  • This Match, Last Year: Watford 0 - 3 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 13 Arsenal wins, 10 Watford wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-D-W // L-D
  • Watford's League Form: W-L-L-D // D-L
By the time you're reading this, we might have bought this guy.
FYI, I said that two weeks ago, too.
Hey, question for you. Does anyone remember what winning a competitive fixture is like? I'm asking because a certain team I like hasn't done that yet this season.

Arsenal have a whole entire point from their first two games, putting them squarely five points back of Hull City (and some other teams.) The good news is, there are 36 games remaining. The bad news is Arsenal are already three points back of the pace they set in corresponding fixtures last year (when Arsenal drew Liverpool at home and beat Leicester at the King Power Stadium.)

With an international break right around the corner and Arsenal looking like it has most of its midfield together again (sans-Aaron Ramsey,) this feels like an ideal time for Arsenal to pick up a win, against a Watford side that hasn't won yet either and is adjusting to a new manager.

If they don't get a win, it's going to be a difficult two weeks in Goonerland (also known as the uncomfortable depths of Twitter.)

Champions League Draw

Liverpool failed to qualify out of a Champions League group with both
Basel and Ludogorets just two years ago.
The drawing for the 2016 Champions League group stage was yesterday, so I would be remiss if I didn't take a couple of seconds to go through Arsenal's group, which is Group A (as in Arsenal.)

Out of pot one, where title holders Real Madrid are lumped with the reigning champions of the top seven European leagues, Arsenal drew French champion Paris Saint-Germain, who are now Zlatanless.

Out of pot three, Arsenal drew Basel, which I believe is a culinary herb and also the club from which they purchased Mohamed Elneny in January (in the process, they avoided Borussia Mönchengladbach, the club from which they purchased Granit Xhaka much more recently... although, it turns out, Xhaka came out of Basel's academy, sooooo....)

Out of pot four, Arsenal drew Лудогорец Разград, which looks like a table with a curved leg and a little robot guy, and a bucket, and there's a 3 in there... oh, it's Ludogorets Razgrad, from Buglaria. Did you know Bulgarian uses Cyrllic?

Elsewhere, Manchester City got a nicely awful group, as they drew Barcelona (Hi, Pep!), the aforementioned 'Gladbach, and Celtic (Hi, Brendan!) Tottenham rented out Wembley so they can lose to Chicharito and Bayer Leverkusen, as well as CSKA Moscow and Monaco. Leicester benefited from being in pot one to avoid all the heavy hitters, as they'll face Porto, Club Brugge, and Copenhagen. That's the benefit you get from winning the league, I guess (also, you get the benefit of a trophy and being able to call yourself champions, and all that other stuff, so I've heard, it's been a while...)

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Iwobi (thigh,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Gabriel (ankle,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee,) Jenkinson (knee,) Gnabry (match fitness)

Ram. Page.
There's good news in here, kinda! Laurent Koscielny started (and had a storming game, by the way,) and Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud both came off the bench last week, meaning our players whose training was delayed by the Euros have settled back into the squad. I would expect all three to start tomorrow. That means a drop to the bench for two players, likely Theo Walcott (I hope) and perhaps Francis Coquelin?

Jack Wilshere came off the bench as well last week as he returns from a knee injury and I was a bit surprised he came on for Granit Xhaka instead of Coquelin, the latter of whom was on a booking. This means that the holding midfield position is probably the most debatable spot in terms of who should be starting. I've put Xhaka and Santi Cazorla in there for now, but that could be dead wrong.

Also, if Theo starts, I will rampage. Ram-page (see image. That's me, if Theo starts.)

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Koscielny, Holding, Monreal, Xhaka, Cazorla, Özil, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud.

Watford Squad News

Out: Dja Djédjé (foot)
Doubts: Success (muscle)

Isaac Success was the club's record
signing for a month and a half, before
spending more on Roberto Pereyra.
Watford have only one injury absence, as Ivorian defender Brice Dja Djédjé, purchased from Marseille this offseason, is out until after the international break with a foot injury. There's also a doubt over Nigerian forward Isaac Success, whose full name is the less zippy Isaac Success Ajayi, with a muscle problem.

Midfielder Ben Watson was sent off in the first match of the season against Southampton and served a one-match ban last week against Chelsea. He returned on Tuesday in the League Cup and should be available tomorrow. He most likely won't start, as he didn't in the league opener.

New manager Walter Mazzarri is a staunch user of the 3-5-2 formation and is not expected to make any changes from the XI that started each of the first two matches just yet. New signings Younès Kaboul and Roberto Pereyra might not be ready to slot straight in. Then, after I wrote this section earlier in the week, they signed Daryl Janmaat from Newcastle as well.

Predicted XI: Gomes, Cathcart, Prödl, Britos, Holebas, Amrabat, Behrami, Guédioura, Capoue, Ighalo, Deeney.

Current Form

Watford lost to Gillingham on Tuesday. Pictured here, for
Gillingham, is former Arsenal academy product Jay
Emmanuel-Thomas, who is own loan from QPR.
To this point, both of these clubs have failed to win a competitive fixture this season, across five total matches combined. Arsenal, of course, fell to Liverpool 4-3 during the opening weekend of the season, then traveled to Leicester last week to settle for a scoreless draw with the defending champions (who also have not yet won this season.)

Arsenal's struggles to open seasons have been well-documented in the past few years, but you have to go back to 2012 to find the last time Arsenal failed to win either of their opening two fixtures; those were both draws, with Sunderland and Stoke. A year before that, Arsenal took one point from their opening two fixtures, just as they have this year. They followed that with a six-goal loss at Old Trafford. The last time Arsenal had zero points through the first two matches? 1992. They finished 10th that year.

Watford have scored first in all three of their games this year, but have still failed to win. They've reached what could be a bit of a nadir this week as well, as they lost at home to League One's Gillingham in extra time on Tuesday in the second round of the League Cup. On the opening day of the season, Watford had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Southampton, then blew a lead against Chelsea to lose 2-1 last week.

There are eight teams remaining who have not won yet this season in league play. Three of them have already been mentioned as such in this section; the other five are Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, and Bournemouth. The latter three have zero points.

Match Facts

Gabriel decapitates Hector Bellerín after his goal against
Watford at the Emirates back in April.
Arsenal won both league meetings against Watford, who were playing their first top flight season since 2006/07, last year. The Hornets did, however, knock the Gunners out of the FA Cup at the Emirates in the sixth round, dashing Arsenal's hopes for a third consecutive FA Cup title.

Both sides met at Vicarage Road last October, with Arsenal winning 3-0. It took Arsenal over an hour to find a breakthrough, but Alexis Sánchez fired a loose ball into the net on 62 minutes after Mesut Özil was fouled in the area and the floodgates opened. Olivier Giroud doubled Arsenal's lead six minutes later and Aaron Ramsey made it three just six minutes after that. Watford were left frustrated by a match in which they had played so well for over an hour, but ultimately managed just one shot on target, from Troy Deeney in the 11th minute.

In March, both sides faced off in the FA Cup sixth round. Arsenal had 71% of the possession and 20 total shots, but they only managed to get four of those on target. Odion Ighalo and Adlène Guedioura scored in the 50th and 63rd minutes, respectively, to give the visitors a 2-0 lead. Danny Welbeck came off the bench to pull a goal back in the 88th, but agonizingly missed the net on a sitter just minutes later when the chance to dramatically force a replay fell to his feet.

Arsenal got some measure of revenge on Watford three weeks later, when they won the league fixture in London by a 4-0 scoreline. Alexis put the home side on top just four minutes into the match and Alex Iwobi doubled the lead by halftime. Hector Bellerín scored on a deflected shot just after halftime to put Arsenal comfortably up 3-0 and Theo Walcott later did what he does so well, scoring an inconsequential goal to make it 4-0 in the 90th.

Overall, Arsenal have a mixed-to-mediocre record against Watford; in their 18 league encounters, Arsenal have won nine of them and Watford have won eight, with one draw. Of course, those were almost all in the 1980's, leaving them not particularly relevant to this fixture anymore.

The Referee

The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. After having a mixed record with Friend in years past, Arsenal won all three matches in which Friend was the referee last season, keeping a clean sheet in all three. Arsenal were 3-0 winners at Swansea in October, 2-0 winners at Aston Villa in December, and 2-0 winners at Bournemouth in February with Friend in the middle. Here's a boring statistic: the match at Aston Villa was the only game last year in which Friend showed no cards, out of 31 he worked. Dazzle your friends with that one at a party tonight.

Watford only saw Friend twice last season and drew both matches: 1-1 against Everton in April and 2-2 against Sunderland on the final day of the season. If you need more factoids with which to dazzle your friends this evening, you might be interested to know that both goals in that match against Everton came in first half injury time. Wowza!

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Liverpool; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Burnley; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Bournemouth; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Stoke City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Swansea City; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Sunderland; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday (late): Hull City v. Manchester United; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Sunday (early): West Bromwich Albion v. Middlesbrough; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Sunday (late): Manchester City v. West Ham United; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a silent comedy film star. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, but... wait, if he's a silent comedian, then how would Twitter work to his advantage? Funny pictures? GIFs? I guess Twitter isn't audio-based, perhaps I'm just rambling.

Leicester City 0-0 Arsenal: Sideways Passing Clinic

I suppose that a point away to the champions is not the worst fate that could have befallen us after last week's epic shitshow of a defensive "performance", but you also can't help thinking that this one might have been there for the taking if we had gone about it in the right way.

Thankfully, Laurent Koscielny came right back into the side in place of the main culprit of last week's disaster, Calum Chambers. Immediately, one could see how much more solid we were throughout. Leicester did threaten once or twice, but ultimately they were kept at bay as the Frenchmen ran around in the madcap fashion, putting out fires here, there and everywhere.

As for the midfield, we were basically all right there, too. With the main deadwood gone, there are few bad options that Arsene has to choose from in those areas.

But, and as much as I love the guy, Alexis Sanchez is a center-forward in the same sense that I happen to be the Tsar of all the Russias. A gentleman at the pub (I forget your name, sorry) pointed out that we were still playing like Olivier Giroud was up top to hold up the ball, but of all the skill sets Alexis has, that's not one of them. His movement and dribbling get lost up there, too. Square peg, round hole. You'd think that lesson would have been learned last week, but, well, *shrug emoticion*.

The first half was a bitty old thing, lots of running around with little in the way of purpose or end product. Basically, it was like Waiting for Godot on a treadmill. As usual, Arsenal had the majority of the ball, but continued to sportingly halt until the defenders could get back and set up the usual wall between themselves and the goal. I imagine we'd have been the toast of the Victorian Era. There was little in the way of invention or guile to try and break it down, either. Sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, etc. I will say this though, at least Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tried to take his man on now and again. He'd be a hell of a player if he were, say, 5% better.

We did have one sneaky-good chance though, right around the half-hour mark. Ask Hugo Lloris about these ones - he got beat on the same thing on the opening day. Santi Cazorla whipped in a free kick, which happened to elude everyone in its path. The keeper generally has to assume that there will be contact somewhere, so it's difficult when there isn't. Unfortunately, Kasper Schmeichel was there to paw it to safety.

Up the other end, the Foxes thought they had a shout for a penalty just before halftime, as it appeared that Jamie Vardy was scythed down by Koscielny in the area. We were originally relieved when Mark Clattenburg didn't give it, as it looked bad in real time. Replays show that our Kos won the ball with a majestically-timed tackle, though. Once again, isn't it amazing what happens when you have a grown-up in central defense?

The second half meandered along much as the first did, with the notable exceptions of Petr Cech's hilarious dragback to escape Vardy's pressing and the unfortunate one-car accident that Nampalys Mendy had. That looked like a bad one...we can only hope the Leicester man gets well soon.

It was beyond obvious that changes were needed, and on the earlier side of things as well. There were several candidates to come off, too. Granit Xhaka is clearly still adjusting to life in this league, and hadn't done much. Francis Coquelin was on a yellow, and already benefited from a spot of lenience from Clattenburg by this point. Theo Walcott's main contribution was to incessantly lose the ball and find new and interesting ways to get caught offside.

Someone will have to explain to me, then, why we didn't make any changes until the 73rd minute, and why 1) Walcott didn't come off, 2) Giroud wasn't one of the guys coming on and 3) why we risked a red by leaving Coquelin on.

I know, I know, I've managed 0 games...etc and so on.

Anyway, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere came on for Xhaka and Cazorla, and we did look a bit more incisive. Still, the fulcrum wasn't there, though. A good target man does affect everything behind him, and the lack of Giroud meant that we still didn't create all that much in terms of gilt-edged chances.

He finally did come on with 10 minutes to go, but that isn't enough time to put your stamp on things though. I should say, at least in general. Ahmed Musa came on with just a few minutes left on the clock and should have won a penalty about four nanoseconds after he came on. Clattenburg was right there and in fairness some benefit of the doubt should be given since he had a excellent game overall, but I think he got that one wrong.

We still almost didn't escape, though. Riyad Mahrez was a peripheral figure for much of the match, but he struck in the 92nd minute with an excellent run into the penalty area. Thankfully, Petr Cech was off his line decisively to block at his feet.

So, here we sit. One point in the bank after two matches, five points behind the usual suspects...oh and Hull City, too. There's no reason why we couldn't have had all six here with a little luck and, oh I don't know, a signing or two? Anyway, we have Watford and Southampton coming up next - not easy by any stretch, but sides that we should have more chances against. Six points from that and we're probably in decent shape heading into the weeks to come.

That said, I am a few days out from my annual European holiday - looks like Berlin, Dublin and Oslo this year. Have a great time while I'm gone and don't do anything I wouldn't do.

Man of the Match:  Laurent Koscielny

Preview by Numbers: Leicester City v. Arsenal

King Power Stadium, Leicester
Saturday, August 20
12:30 EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and Simon Bennett
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • This Match, Last Year: Leicester 2 - 5 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 63 Arsenal wins, 28 Leicester wins, 44 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-W-D-W // L
  • Leicester City's League Form: D-W-D-W-D // L
In spite of it all, Alexis Sánchez is here to remind us that he's
all muscley and stuff.
It's a battle between last year's number one and number two, or, in current terms, it's 15th place Leicester v. 14th place Arsenal! Arsenal's three-goals-while-still-losing were enough to at least make them top of the table of teams that lost their opening match. Arsenal went into last week's second match in 19th place, so hey, improvement!

But, I digress. Liverpool put up a four-spot at the Emirates, the first club to do so since Chelsea in May of 2009 (that, in turn, came five days after Manchester United put up three at the Emirates in what was, before the match, a finely-poised Champions League semi-final.) Moreover, the last time Arsenal scored three at home and lost? March 31, 1962. 5-4 to Aston Villa. (The last time Arsenal scored three at home and drew is much more recent, coming against Anderlecht in 2014; in the league, Fulham nabbed a 3-3 draw in 2012.)

Meanwhile, Arsenal go into a difficult road fixture at Leicester tomorrow, they're not quite but very nearly desperate for a result, and they haven't done any new transfer business to prepare for the season ahead.

Why even be surprised anymore?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Iwobi (thigh,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Gabriel (ankle,) Wilshere (knee,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee,) Jenkinson (knee,) Gnabry (Olympics,) Giroud (match fitness,) Özil (match fitness)
Doubts: Koscielny (match fitness)

I blame the hair.
Arsenal were already in a precarious situation with their threadbare squad going into last week's match. Then, two midfielders got hurt! Alex Iwobi (thigh) and Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) will both be out through the upcoming international break, meaning their possible return can only be as soon as the match against Southampton on September 10.

Among the players coming back from the Euros, none of the three of them have had any practice in full match conditions as of yet, but Laurent Koscielny might be forced back into action out of necessity, since, as you might have noticed, we're a little light on center backs.

The Gunners might not have had to rush Koscielny back if they had, oh I don't know, purchased a center back. But that's not the way Arsenal do things! Transfer business early? Surely you jest!

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Chambers, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Coquelin, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Alexis.

Leicester City Squad News

Out: None

Do you want to borrow some of our injuries?

Robert Huth returns from a one match suspension in what should be Claudio Ranieri's only change to the XI.

Predicted XI: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs, Drinkwater, King, Gray, Mahrez, Musa, Vardy.

Current Form

This week's form is brought to you by the letter L.
It's hard to talk about form just one week into the season, but the "form" for both of these clubs right now is a big, giant L. We've covered Arsenal's loss already on this blog, at great length, but the reigning champions didn't cover themselves in glory either.

In fact, they became the first reigning champion in the Premier League era to lose the opening fixture of the following season. You'd have to go back to 1989 to find the last time the reigning champs lost the following opening day match. You might realize, from looking at that number, that that must've been Arsenal, who lost 4-1 at Old Trafford three months after winning so dramatically at Anfield.

The fact that Leicester's loss came to newly promoted Hull City is all the more astounding. Hull had no manager, made no off-season player moves, and made no substitutions in last week's match. No substitutions!

If you count the Community Shield (and you should know that this blog does from reading over the last two years,) then Leicester are 0 for 2 this season, as they lost to Manchester United 2-1 in the season's curtain-raiser two weeks ago. It's a sharp contrast for a club that lost only three of 38 league games last year.

Match Facts

Alexis Sánchez scoring one of his three goals at the King Power
last season. I'm not sure which one this is. The first one?
Arsenal won both league meetings against the eventual champions last season; they were two of Leicester City's three league losses on the season (the other came at Anfield on Boxing Day.)

Jamie Vardy scored three goals against Arsenal over the two matches, including the opening goal in both fixtures. But, at the King Power Stadium in September, Alexis Sánchez had a hat trick for Arsenal while Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud chipped in goals of their own as the Gunners ran out 5-2 winners.

At the Emirates in February, Vardy scored the opener from the penalty spot after it appeared he initiated the contact with Nacho Monreal in the box. Because football is a subjective sport, subject to the narrative of the person covering the game, this was deemed "clever" by most pundits. Martin Atkinson gave a bit of a make-up call after halftime, sending off Danny Simpson a bit harshly after two yellow cards. Theo Walcott equalized in the 70th minute and Danny Welbeck, returning from months out injured, scored a dramatic winner at the death. Arsenal pulled within two points of Leicester with 12 games to play with that win, then proceeded to lose two in a row and never challenged for the title again.

Leicester have not beaten Arsenal in their last 21 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.

The Referee

Here is a picture of Mark Clattenburg with his
new ink and a tattoo artist who is probably
not from Los Angeles.
The referee is County Durham-based Mark Clattenburg.

Mr. Clattenburg had a pretty busy summer for himself, which you might know from his new tattoos. Since the Premier League season ended, Clattenburg has taken charge of the FA Cup Final, the Champions League Final, and the Euro Final. What other major finals are there? The Olympics finals are coming up this weekend, but Clattenburg already did that one in 2012.

Arsenal have historically had a decent record with Clattenburg in charge, though they had a mixed series of results last year. Clatts was in charge of Arsenal's 2-1 loss at West Brom last November, but he did give the Gunners a controversial late penalty, which Santi Cazorla missed. He was in charge of Arsenal's 1-0 loss to Chelsea in January, in which he sent off Per Mertesacker for tripping up Diego Costa on a counter-attack. Arsenal went on to win the other two matches in which Clattenburg was the referee, 2-0 over Everton in March and 4-0 over Aston Villa on the final day of the regular season.

Leicester City had a good record with Clattenburg last season, but since they only lost three times, that's not surprising. Clattenburg took charge of Leicester's 2-1 win over Norwich in October, their 2-1 win over Chelsea in December (which saw Jose Mourinho out in the aftermath,) their 2-2 draw to West Brom in March, and their comprehensive 4-0 win over Swansea in late April as the Foxes surged towards the title.

Around the League
  • Friday (night): Manchester United v. Southampton; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday (early): Stoke City v. Manchester City; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Liverpool; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Hull City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Crystal Palace; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: Watford v. Chelsea; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Everton; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Sunday (early): Sunderland v. Middlesbrough; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Sunday (late): West Ham United v. Bournemouth; Olympic Stadium, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a time traveling wizard. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for notes from the future.

Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool: Same Old Story

Today's center half options, all like...

All you need to know is that the money quote from Arsene's press conference was: "We lacked experience at the back and we were physically short..."

The final of Euro 2016 was over a month ago, so we knew that Laurent Koscielny would not be available. We also knew that the injury that Per Mertesacker suffered in our very first friendly - also a month ago - would have him out for ages (never mind whatever you think about his deterioration as a player). Gabriel was injured a week ago today. Either way - we knew that we were three short for a week, two short for a month. Mertesacker and Gabriel both had question marks about their ability anyway.

But sure, awesome, throw the kids that played the best that they could under the bus when they were out there specifically because a decision was made that they were equal to requirements. Great. Terrific.

I get that these early games are always a little bit problematic, especially in a year with major tournaments. But, we have won exactly one opening fixture in the last six years, that being a fluky win over Crystal Palace. By the way, that includes losses to Aston Villa (!) and West Ham along with dire draws against Newcastle and Sunderland.

Still, who would have thought that at one point we'd be down 1-4 when we were 1-0 up with just a few minutes to go in the first half? I swear, this team's ability to fall completely apart at the drop of a hat is almost impressive in its scope and comprehensiveness.

It's funny - this was a match where even the guys who did something well had those things far outweighed by their failings on the day. Theo Walcott's finish (aided and abetted by awful positioning from Simon Mignolet) was nice, but previous to that was one of the worst penalties I've seen in some time - it had no pace and could not be at a more comfortable height for a keeper to save.

Calum Chambers scored a nice header off of Santi Cazorla's free kick, but conversely he was our worst defense performer on a day when none of the back four played well. Rob Holding wasn't that good either, but frankly one can expect more from Chambers given his greater range of experience. Positionally, he was all over the place, never knowing where to be at any given moment. Nacho Monreal kept feeling like he had to come over to cover, and often got dragged out of position because of it. Liverpool's second goal doesn't happen if Nacho was where he should have been.

The fourth goal, though, was far more inexcusable. Sadio Mane had a brilliant game to be fair, but Chambers was still in a good position when Mane began his run. The nanosecond it became apparent that Mane was going to beat him for pace, he should have fouled him and taken the yellow. The ongoing frustration of how bloody nice we are (zeeeeeeeero killer instinct) is a separate conversation, but just about any defender alive knows to take the foul there. Literally unbelievable.

That's the thing - we probably could just about get by if either one of Holding or Chambers were playing next to a veteran that could talk them through the game. If you are flailing, and your partner is flailing, your covering fullback is now flailing, and the whole thing breaks down. You don't need a goddamn UEFA A License to know this. Especially with Mertesacker being out for much of the season, there's room for another center-half no matter what. Factor in that Chambers would get some games at right back anyway, and there's just no excuse.

Besides that, goals either end of the halftime break are killers, and we managed to concede on both ends of it. Again, the absolute lack of fight and strength is astonishing. There was nothing anyone could do about Coutinho's brilliant free kick, but it was a needless foul from Holding that allowed it to happen. Nacho getting sucked into the middle happened for the second, just after the break.

After that? It all went remarkably pear-shaped.

Oh, and Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi both got hurt, too. Perfect bloody day.

Hell of a goal from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, though. Also, Granit Xhaka came on and contributed naught other than fouling anything he could reach. I'm sure there'll be better days for him though.

So, yeah. An utterly preventable loss against a nothing-special Liverpool side, in exactly the same basic fashion as years and years and years and years past.

Not much nice to say today.

Man of the Match:  Coutinho.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Liverpool

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, August 14
11:00 a.m. EDT, 16:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Edward Smart
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 0 - 0 Liverpool
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 79 Arsenal wins, 83 Liverpool wins, 59 draws
  • Arsenal's End of Season Form: D-W-D-W-D-W
  • Liverpool's End of Season Form: W-D-L-W-D-D
This season's Premier League match ball has been
"designed to be completely visible at all times."
As opposed to last year's half-invisible ball.
Oh. We're doing this again.

It's been another tumultuous summer in Arsenal-land. When we last left you, it happened again to Tottenham Hotspur, allowing Arsenal to pip their bitter rivals to second place on the final day of the season.

That moment of delight aside, Arsenal's 2015/16 campaign was not, in my opinion, a step forward. While they finished second for the first time since 2005, they did so on 71 points, 10 points behind Leicester City. They had a nightmare of a jaunt through Europe, with a home win over Bayern Munich and an Olivier Giroud hat trick in Greece as the only bright spots. They crashed out of the FA Cup at home to Watford.

There were losses that asked some really troubling questions last year: at Dinamo Zagreb, home to Olympiacos, by three at Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup, by four at Southampton on Boxing Day, at home to Swansea as the title hopes slipped away. And, in an era where the league's TV deal means everyone continues reloading, it's hard to be optimistic. That doesn't mean Arsenal is a bad team, far from it. This team has more than decent pieces in every position.

But will they ever get over the injuries and mental blocks that have cost them so dearly over the last decade? Only time will tell.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gabriel (ankle,) Wilshere (knee,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee,) Jenkinson (knee,) Gnabry (Olympics,) Koscielny (match fitness,) Giroud (match fitness,) Özil (match fitness)
Doubts: Cazorla (match fitness)

It's entirely possible Arsenal have completed the signing of
this younger, shorter, faster version of Per Mertesacker
between the time I hit publish and the time you're reading this,
but he's not going to be available for Sunday anyway.
Ah, a new season, a new crippling list of injuries. We might as well start with what's left over from last season. Danny Welbeck's terrible injury luck continued with a knee injury in May which required surgery. At the time, his absence was quoted to be nine months. Since that was three months ago, subtraction will tell you that he's looking at another six months on the shelf. However, in Arsene Wenger's press conference this week, he referred to Danny Welbeck's remaining time out as "four to five months." The same goes for Per Mertesacker and his knee injury.

Meanwhile, Carl Jenkinson (remember him?!) suffered an ACL tear in January while on loan at West Ham and now slots comfortably back into the Arsenal injury list. Serge Gnabry, recovering from a devastating knee injury and a bad loan spell at West Brom, is currently back with Arsenal but presently in Brazil, having himself quite a tournament for Germany.

Now, to the current-er bad news, as Gabriel is expected to miss "six to eight weeks" with the ankle injury he suffered at the very end of Arsenal's 3-2 win over Manchester City in the preseason's final friendly last weekend. This leaves the Gunners with an inexperienced pile of rocks in their depth chart at center back, since Laurent Koscielny is not yet available after his European Championship-delayed vacation time. The same goes for Olivier Giroud and Mesut Özil, though photos from training on Wednesday showed that all three are back in London.

There's some good news in that they are Arsenal's only summer tournament related absences, as Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sánchez, the latter of whom had an ankle scare after winning the Copa America for the second straight summer with Chile, are both expected to be available and both featured against City last week.

Perma-hurt Jack Wilshere is back in training after picking up an ankle injury that kept him out of Arsenal's trip to Scandinavia, but he will be short for Sunday. Elsewhere, there has been some suggestion that Santi Cazorla might be rested a bit at the start of the season, after he missed most of last year following knee surgery.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Chambers, Monreal, Gibbs, Xhaka, Coquelin, Ramsey, Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis.

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Karius (hand,) Lucas (hamstring,) Gomez (Achilles,) Sakho (Achilles,) Ilori (Olympics)
Doubts: Sturridge (hip,) Grujić (ankle,) Milner (heel,) Lovren (knock)

Not ideal to see your new goalkeeper with his hand all
bandaged up like this.
Well, it almost looks like Liverpool's injury concerns are as bad as Arsenal's, so much so that I almost don't know where to start with this.

I'll go with goalkeeper, where the Reds purchased Loris Karius from Mainz, only to have him suffer a broken hand which will keep him out until October. That means Arsenal will face Simon Mignolet between the poles on Sunday, while Liverpool also brought in ex-Arsenal keeper Alex Manninger (!?) on a free this summer.

A trio of players are facing fitness tests, as Daniel Sturridge missed recent friendlies against Barcelona and Mainz, James Milner was forced off during the first half against Barcelona, and Marko Grujić was taken off against Mainz. Dejan Lovren suffered a knock against Mainz as well, but will more than likely feature on Sunday.

Lucas Leiva is expected to miss another week, at least, with a hamstring problem, while two players with Achilles injuries (Joe Gomez and Mamadou Sakho) are not expected back until September. Portugal's advancement in the Olympics means Liverpool's depth on defense will not yet be helped by a return from Tiago Ilori just yet.

Predicted XI: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Moreno, Can, Henderson, Firmino, Coutinho, Lallana, Mané.

Last Season in Review

I don't recall if Arsenal ever won wearing their navy blue
kit last season... I've also just realized that I'm on a good
streak of posting pictures of Germans so far in this preview...
Arsenal started last season with a two-goal loss at home to West Ham United, which catapulted them directly into last place in the Premier League. They only remained there until the next day, when West Bromwich Albion lost by three to open their season. The Gunners rebounded nicely, only losing once more of the following 11 fixtures, and that was a Diego Costa-fueled Mike Dean-hellscape disaster. Arsenal looked truly to be title contenders after a 2-1 win over Manchester City at the Emirates, but a 4-0 loss on Boxing Day at Southampton raised serious red flags, flags which had been visible all year if you consider how they barely escaped their Champions League group despite a home win against Bayern Munich.

As will be noted again below in "match facts," Arsenal twice came from behind to lead against Liverpool at Anfield, only to concede a late equalizer, which kicked off a streak of four league games without a win and suddenly, Arsenal were hanging on for dear life in the title race. A late Danny Welbeck winner over league leaders Leicester gave the Gunners some hope, but they followed that result with a loss to Manchester United, a loss to Swansea City, a draw to Tottenham Hotspur, and a crash out of Europe at the hands of Barcelona. When they lost in the FA Cup sixth round at home to Watford, the season reached its lowest point, but the Gunners have not lost a competitive fixture since then. They ended the year with five wins and four draws in the league, not nearly enough to catch the Foxes for first, but a nice Spurs implosion allowed Arsenal to claim second place for the first time since 2005.

Liverpool won only three of their first eight matches of the season and, after a 1-1 draw with Everton, Brendan Rodgers was sacked and replaced with former-Borussia Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp. Klopp helped the Reds regain some respectability during the course of the season, but their Premier League campaign was already dead in the water; the Reds never ended a match higher than sixth in the table after August.

While they lost in the FA Cup in a replay to West Ham United, the Reds qualified for two other cup finals. They lost the League Cup Final to Manchester City on penalties. However, it was their trip through the Europa League which gave their fans the most to cheer for throughout the season, including knockout round wins over Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, and Villarreal. In the end, though, they lost the final to Sevilla, 3-1. It was Sevilla's third consecutive title in Europe's secondary cup. The loss, combined with Liverpool's eighth place league finish, means the Reds will not be competing in Europe this season.


Serge Gnabry imitates Theo Walcott's goal celebration at
the Olympics. This isn't really relevant to this section, but
now this German player streak is getting serious.
Like last year, Arsenal have completed the preseason unbeaten. It didn't look so positive for much of the first match, as Lens held a 1-0 until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struck a beauty of an equalizer. From there, the Gunners flew out to the United States for a two-stop trip to California, in which Arsenal defeated the MLS All-Stars 2-1 in San Jose and Chivas de Guadalajara 3-1 in Los Angeles. From there, Arsenal took a brief weekend jaunt to Scandinavia, where they beat Viking 8-0 and, more importantly, Manchester City 3-2.

Liverpool started their season with a number of clean sheet wins over lower division clubs, picking up a 1-0 victory over Tranmere Rovers, a 5-0 win over Fleetwood Town, a 2-0 win over Wigan, and a 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town. From there, the Reds also traveled to the United States, but, unlike Arsenal, failed to pick up a win in Los Angeles when they lost 1-0 to Chelsea at the Rose Bowl. They did, however, pick up a win in the Bay Area as Arsenal had, when they beat Roma 2-1. Back in London, the Reds were impressive in a 4-0 win over Barcelona last weekend at Wembley, but a day later, a much changed Liverpool side lost 4-0 to Klopp's former-former club, FSV Mainz 05.

Match Facts

Okay, fine, I can't find a relevant picture of a German here.
Both meetings between Arsenal and Liverpool last season ended drawn, both wildly different, but each wildly entertaining matches.

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 Čech 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 Özil, which was still the cool thing to do back then.

In January at Anfield, the sides played an even more bonkers 3-3 draw. The sides traded goals through the opening quarter of the match, as Firmino twice put Liverpool ahead, with Arsenal equalizing within four and six minutes, respectively, first through Aaron Ramsey and second through Olivier Giroud. Giroud had what should have been the winner in the 55th minute, but substitute Joe Allen scored in injury time to rescue a point for the Reds. It was the second consecutive season in which Arsenal conceded a late equalizer to draw at Anfield.

Arsenal had entered that match top of the league, but the result was the first of a run of four without a win in the league. Arsenal never led the league again after their loss to Chelsea a week and a half later and Olivier Giroud, who had had a brace, did not score again in a Premier League match until May.

On the other hand, Arsenal have only lost twice to Liverpool in their last 18 competitive fixtures across all competitions. 11 of their last 22 meetings have ended drawn.

The Referee

Here's a shot of Eric Dier getting away with a second yellow.
The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. After Oliver's high-water mark at Old Trafford, in the mind's of Arsenal fans, during the 2015 FA Cup Sixth Round, the Gunners' record with Oliver was mediocre last year. Arsenal saw Oliver twice, both rather large fixtures, and both matches ended drawn.

In fact, Oliver took charge of this fixture last season, the 0-0 draw in August. Not much to speak about in terms of Oliver's performance in that one; he showed five yellow cards in total, four of them to Liverpool.

More notably, however, Oliver took charge of the chaotic North London derby at White Hart Lane in March. You'll recall Francis Coquelin was sent off for two yellow cards in that one, which was correct to me, as Coquelin's second challenge was reckless for someone already on a booking. That said, Oliver failed to send off Eric Dier when he, already on a yellow, hauled Olivier Giroud down by the shirt, as pictured.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Hull City v. Leicester City; KCOM Stadium, Kingston-upon-Hull
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Swansea City; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. West Bromwich Albion; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Tottenham Hotspur; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Stoke City; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Watford; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday (late): Manchester City v. Sunderland; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (early): Bournemouth v. Manchester United; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Monday (night): Chelsea v. West Ham United; Stamford Bridge, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and needs to come up with, like, 60 more clever things for this for the season. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to offer suggestions.

2016-17 Season Preview - The Great EPL Rock Fight

So, here we are once again, a few days out from the return of proper football. The summer has been long and tortuous (and humid as hell here in New York City). While the exploits of Iceland's conquerors were a pleasant diversion, the Euros were a bit boring in the end. This Premier League season, by contrast, is shaping up to be perhaps the most competitive and exciting season in the PL era.

Before we get into specifics about Arsenal, we need to talk about the league itself for a second. The more articles and comments I read out there, the more I become convinced that the world at large isn't getting how drastically the landscape has changed. The new TV deal that the league signed has made it so that even a newly-promoted team can spend at the levels that upper-percentile German and Spanish clubs have traditionally done.

Put another way, we are living in a world where Middlesbrough can sign players from Valencia, Bournemouth can spend 15M on a Liverpool cast-off, and Southampton can bring in a guy from Bayern Munich.

The obvious inference is that the old cliche about no easy games in football has never been truer. The good news is that our direct competition at the top all have significant flaws, the bad news is that virtually no one other than perhaps Hull City can be looked at as three easy points - even at home. We as supporters are going to have to recalibrate our expectations accordingly.

I said this on Twitter, and I believe it: I predict that this year's champions will have the most losses for a title-winning team in Premier League history.

Still, as mentioned, there is no runaway favorite for the title. Manchester City are my admittedly-shaky favorite before a ball is kicked in anger, but they have a goalkeeper whose head is gone and an ancient, creaky defense. Sergio Aguero is also fairly injury-prone, and it isn't obvious where the goals will come from if he misses significant time again. However, the mere presence of Pep Guardiola has to make them favorites in my mind.

Manchester United are the Guardian's pick to win it, but like their neighbors, their defense is utterly unconvincing. They also have had a bit of a Football Manager window as a ton of offensive talent has come in, but there's only so many minutes to distribute among them. Either they are going to make Wayne Rooney unhappy, or stall the development of Anthony Martial/Marcus Rashford. Further, the Community Shield aside, I'm not sold on Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Premier League. You're not in Ligue 1 anymore, homeboy. Oh, right, and let's not forget that Jose Mourinho presided over one of the worst title defenses in PL history just last season, a true 7-alarm dumpster fire. He has a lot to prove.

Spurs are Spurs, and will always be until they prove otherwise. They're still horribly over-dependent on Harry Kane, and serious questions have to be asked about their depth in both defense and midfield.

Chelsea are an interesting one, with Antonio Conte coming in to try and deal with the wreckage left by Mourinho. They haven't been their usual extravagantly-spending selves, but Michy Batshuayi has come in to give Diego Costa competition. More importantly, they have added steel in their midfield (and weakened a direct rival) by signing away N'golo Kante from the champions, Leicester City. They, like many others, have questions in defense to answer and there's the small matter of getting Eden Hazard's head back on straight. But, ignore these guys at your peril - there are still pieces here and Conte has a proven track record everywhere he's gone.

Finally, anything I have to say about Leicester was already said much better by Jonathan Wilson over at the Guardian. The TL,DR version is "regression to the mean."

Now, enough about the riff-raff,,,what of the Arsenal?

If you ask Twitter - and generally you shouldn't - we are dreadfully short at every position and need to spend the GDP of Brazil on 813 players for us to keep up with these mega-teams noted above (despite the obvious flaws that each has, money spent or not). Coming back into reality, we're the second-placed team from last season, who has an outside chance of winning the title ourselves despite our own obvious deficiencies.

Starting from the back, we have the defending Golden Glove winner in goal in the form of Petr Cech. There were a few shaky moments last season, but no more or less than any other top-level goalkeeper will have over the course of a long season. I always say that what the average person knows about goalkeeping can fit inside a thimble, and I stand by that. People tend to forget that we had one of the meanest defenses in the league last season - 36 goals against in the league, same as the champions, and one fewer than Spurs/United, the joint leaders with 35. Cech was a big reason for that, both with his match-winning saves and with his experience in organizing his defense.

The backup logjam has been solved with Wojciech Szczesny going back out on loan to AS Roma, meaning the deputy role is in David Ospina's capable hands. Real talk, if one bad gaffe against Olympiacos is enough to outweigh a brilliant Copa America and World Cup, as well as steady play when Cech wasn't available, then really just go take that nonsense up the road. We're much better off than a lot of clubs in this respect. Hell, Ospina would walk into quite a few starting XIs around the world.

Defensively, our starting fullback options might be the best in the league. Hector Bellerin has evolved into a devastating weapon down the right, assured on the ball and intelligent with his pacy gallops down the wing. Nacho Monreal, he of the shaky first season, has matured into a real Steady Eddie type. He rarely makes mistakes, though he is still guilty of not closing down his man fast enough at times. Behind them, Kieran Gibbs is a completely fine backup, and Calum Chambers can do OK out on the right if needed until Carl Jenkinson returns from injury. Mathieu Debuchy...well...hopefully he's moved on before the window ends. It would be better for all parties, especially with his frankly horrid preseason.

The middle is more of a worry in the short-term, with Laurent Koscielny not match fit after his extended holiday and Per Mertesacker and Gabriel both out with long-term injuries. That leaves Chambers and newly-signed Rob Holding - unless we move Monreal into the center and play Gibbs out left. Holding in particular looks like a bright prospect, but he's also 20 and coming off a relegation season with Bolton Wanderers. A gentler introduction into the first team would be best, but there may not be a choice.

That said, it's strongly reported that Germany international Shkrodan Mustafi is about to join for 35M from Valencia. That would be a hell of a signing if it ends up happening, but until he's at a press conference holding up a shirt, we should assume nothing.

 The midfield has been a problem area over the last few seasons, but we come into this one with an embarrassment of riches in both the deeper two slots as well as further up the pitch. Whereas we had no defensive specialists in recent times, we now have added 35M buy Granit Xhaka to complement Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny. Sure, only Coquelin is an actual ball-winning midfielder in the traditional sense, but all three are fighters and provide energy and bite. Xhaka and Elneny are both comfortable on the ball as well, and should complement our usual tactics nicely. It's hard to say what the Swiss man's offensive output will be, though. He has as many goals for Switzerland (6) as he scored for Borussia Monchengladbach, and in 60-something less games, too.

Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere can both play back there too, but you'd expect to see them higher up the field. Wilshere is unfortunately nothing more than a wild card at present - a fabulous player on his day but the jury is still out on whether he can ever be durable enough to last a full season. Ramsey, on the other hand, runs spectacularly hot and cold. If we can get a Wales-level performance out of him more often than not, he could be the difference between a great season and a mediocre one.

Besides them, we still have two unquestionably world-class players in Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. Ozil in particular has made an absolute mug of anyone who ever questioned him, while Alexis will hopefully benefit from a longer break than he's had in eons. Ozil is crucial to everything we do, as he's one of the few who can unlock the kind of Praetorian Guard massed defenses that we see so often. Alexis may be our more instinctive and predatory finisher, and perhaps may end up playing at the striker position more than he has in the past. It bears watching, at any rate.

Of course, there's a lot that Santi Cazorla has left to give, too. Like Ozil, he can eviscerate a phalanx of defenders with a through-ball or mazy dribble. But, at 31, it's getting to the point where Arsene is going to have to be judicious with his minutes. He still should play more often than not when fit, but in bigger games especially he may end up being more useful as an impact sub.

Out wide, I am beyond excited to see what Alex Iwobi can do.

He couldn't stop scoring this pre-season, to complement his excellent play for us last term once he broke into the first team. I admit my skepticism when he first came in, but he's quick, direct and shown he can finish if he gets half a chance. My only worry is that he won't sneak up on anyone this time around - defenses will know he's a threat and adjust accordingly. It's up to the young winger to rise to that challenge, but I suspect that he will. He looks a player, that one.

The opposite end of the spectrum can be found in the persons of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both of whom feel like they're in the Last Chance Saloon this season. They're strikingly similar in basically every aspect - pace, can play on either flank, have scored important goals in the past, both frustratingly inconsistent...I can't say that I know what to think about either one. It's a long season, both will absolutely get their chances, but I'm sanguine on whether they'll be able to do so. I hope that they can - we may need it.

As for Joel Campbell, who knows? He's shown that he can play at this level in flashes, but he can't seem to marry that to the times where Arsene trusts him. There are also no shortage of guys who can play out wide, so you have to wonder about whether he'll get an extended run in the team.

Up top - now that's an interesting one. Danny Welbeck is injured until the end of time, and we know nothing about new man Takuma Asano other than that he's having a half-decent Olympics (speaking of, Serge Gnabry now has about 14,927 goals for Germany over there, but how on earth is he going to get into the team?). Olivier Giroud is a human case study in how ridiculous and fickle people can be out of sheer groupthink alone - yes, he misses his share of chances, but he's consistently scored goals in the PL for years now. He scored big goals for France at the Euros. Of course, it sucks that his dip in form coincided with the run of games where we couldn't afford for it to happen, but the guy is class and deserves so much better than his club and country supporters have given him.  

I do wish that we could bring in one more to give Giroud a rest, competition, or both. But, who would have it been? Gonzalo Higuain, who turned up to Juventus looking like he did his off-season training at a buffet? Karim Benzema, the sex-tape blackmail guy? Alexander Lacazette, who would cost a metric ton of money for a disturbingly average player in a bad league? Some of these dudes are being given mythic qualities simply because they'd be new, though I'm not sure any of them would be a good fit/ As stated. maybe Alexis goes up top at times. Maybe this Asano kid will actually be something. It's a flaw, but as mentioned above, everybody's got 'em.

That is precisely why I think we could win the title. Note that the key word is "could", My suspicion is that we'll probably finish third behind City and Chelsea, with Man United and the Nearest and Dearest not too far behind us. But, with the league being stronger top-to-bottom than it's ever been, I'd put our range somewhere around Champions at the top end to 6th or 7th at worst. A lot will depend on where the goals are coming from, and if we bring in someone like Mustafi to shore up the back line. 

2016-17 Predicted Table:

1. Manchester City
2. Chelsea
3. Arsenal
4. Manchester United
5. That Other North London Lot
6. West Ham
7, Liverpool
8. Leicester City
9. Everton
10. Stoke City
11. Middlesbrough
12. Southampton
13. Sunderland
14. Crystal Palace
15. Bournemouth
16. West Bromwich Albion
17. Swansea City
18. Watford
19. Burnley
20. Hull City